Tuesday, April 18, 2006


The Lost World Of Alison Graham

I managed to catch most of 'The Lost World Of Friese-Greene' on BBC2 tonight. For those who didn't see it, Dan Cruikshank, everyone's favourite panama-hat wearing, avuncular figure, was driving through Britain in an old, 1920s car. He was re-tracing the route of Claude Friese-Greene, who in 1924 drove from Lands End to John O'Groats in just such a car, filming much of what he saw along the way. What's more, he did it in colour, allowing those of us somewhat younger than the first days of colour TV a rare chance to see the world before it in all its glory.

Interesting stuff, I'm sure you'll agree. In many respects, the programme was a delight, although also a slow and contemplative one, as Cruikshank, never one to hurry, busied himself with stopping at vegetable stalls to talk to venerable old boys and examining vintage postcards. Nothing was blown up, let's put it that way.

However, as with everything in my life, I can't enjoy something without an attendant niggle. In her otherwise perfectly reasonable praise of the programme in the Radio Times, reviewer Alison Graham wrote the following:

''The Lost World' is a delightful peek into a Britain that now seems so very far away, in every possible sense. (And is it just me, or did people seem to enjoy themselves so much more back then?) Though of course Friese-Greene wasn't to know this, the fact that the idyll would end with the looming Depression and later, with the Second World War, makes it all the more affecting.'

Got that? People didn't enjoy themselves more, or a bit more, or that much more, they enjoyed themselves 'so much more'. Really? I don't believe it. Graham is busy being nostalgic for an age that she never knew on the basis of pretty thin evidence, if you ask me.

Remember, in 1924, the First World War had only been over half a decade, and together with a flu outbreak that really was a pandemic, Europe's population had been considerably more than decimated. Most people were incredibly poor by today's standards. My grandparents weren't quite born, and it would be another thirty years before they didn't have livestock living in their back yard (I use that term advisedly). None of this is to say that people weren't happy - as if it were possible to measure such a nebulous concept anyway - but merely to point out that this 'golden age' had its own problems too. Graham really bases her judgement on nothing more than the fact that people were smiling for the camera. However, it seems to me that this reaction is more likely to be predicated upon their happiness at being filmed, when this was an incredibly novel experience, at a time when cinemas were just becoming more widespread, rather than because they were all totally satisfied about everything.

Admire the footage for what it is, Ms Graham. There's no need for dreamy, speculative nostalgia. After all, you've never had it so good.

Uncle Arnold didn't realise the danger of sitting near working parts on his combine harvester.

I'm happier about Arnold than I am about anything else that happened to me today.
Yes, what an odd thing to say.

How can anyone judge the sum of human happiness? Sure times of misery are pretty easy to spot but overall contentment is a difficult one. This bloke looks pretty happy at the moment this shot was taken. Although his job and his its toll on his lungs look to have been pretty tough. That's not to say he didn't derive satisfaction from them or enjoy his weekends, the pub, his family, football and so on. I dare say he'd have enjoyed a bit more money though but who wouldn't?

Are we happier because we have central heating and electricity - of course. Are we happier because we have television and iPods - not really, nice to have but not really essential. Are we happier than my grandad who became an orphan aged about 9 in the mid twenties when his parents succumbed to TB? I think so. Are we happier than his uncle who was flung over a cart to his death when it became unhitched from the horse while he was stood eitherside of one of the shafts? I guess that is just one of those things with present day equivalents: car crashes.
SafeT - How come? What's gone wrong?

Mark - That's exactly it. There's no way of knowing that sort of thing. I know it was just a throwaway remark, and maybe I'm reading too much into it, but people do seem to look back with misty-eyed nostalgia at the past, without ever really explaining what it is that they think was better then.

That bloke does look more than a little dirty, doesn't he? There's not a day goes by I don't give silent thanks that I'll never have to go down a coal mine.
Just a bunch of work emergencies. They've finally blown over, been addressed, and are handled.
I'm better now!
Good to hear it!
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