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Utopia? .......Any Takers?

As I was sitting watching the raindrops running down the window the other day, as dismal summer day succeeded dismal summer day, I wondered what kind of weather we would really like, were I granted some kind of utopian wish. Would it indeed be sunshine every day, with rain permitted between the hours of 2am and 5am to keep the flowers and lawns perfect? What would my Utopia actually be like?


In my experience, placing control of what we would like, entirely in our hands often leads to problems. We are far too simplistic and shallow in our desires, always listing all the nice, positive features and failing to acknowledge that true perfection is always leavened with some apparently negative characteristics. In my lifetime so many things have been improved, made easier, more comfortable, safer and more exciting, but are we significantly happier than fifty years ago? I would say not.

Of course I’m speaking from a fairly privileged background; I’ve never known grinding poverty, unemployment, disease or abuse. My world, as a youngster in 1950s middle-England, was safe, well-provided-for and relatively comfortable; but by today’s standards my early life would place me firmly well below the poverty line. Our home, although large and well furnished, was not centrally heated, double-glazed or insulated, and was, in winter, almost unbearably cold; I frequently remember thick ice forming on the inside of my bedroom window. No duvets then; instead we slept under several heavy blankets, eiderdowns and counterpanes over crisp, but cold white sheets, and, if we were lucky, a hot-water-bottle was a rare treat. Bathrooms were shivering necessities of short duration and even hot water on tap was scarce.

Food was plain and simple, as rationing in Britain after the war did not end completely until July 1954; but even then it was to be another decade before even the basics we take for granted today became widely available. No supermarkets, just the town high street with the grocer, butcher, baker and greengrocer; all of whom knew our family and often delivered. In those days food was simply fuel, and although I had few dislikes, I don’t remember many taste sensations either. Pocket money in the 50s was sixpence (2½p), and two ounces of sweets a week were all we were allowed from the meagre selection on sale. Clothes were often coarse, utilitarian, colourless and style-free – not that I’d know the difference. Shoes were heavy, inflexible and took weeks to break-in, with many a blister. It’s scarcely believable now, but in summer three or four of the kids in my class at primary school came without shoes at all. We had no jeans, tee-shirts or football strip (Thank God!), our clothes simply scaled down versions of what our parents wore.

The newly formed National Health Service saw to our well-being as children; I have never known a Britain without the NHS's overarching protection. I had pretty well all the childhood diseases, and was treated by an ancient doctor who seemed to have stepped out of the pages of a Miss Marples book. Dentists struck true fear into my young heart; their surgery a torture chamber, as the dentist peered at me through thick ‘bottle-end’ spectacles with a humourless half smile playing hauntingly on his lips. Extractions were common then, even for ‘baby teeth’, and nitrous oxide was the palliative of choice, administered through a large, revolting, perished-rubber mask which terrifyingly, being adult-sized, covered my entire face. These traumas kept me away from dentists for the next 20 years, until the profession learned the psychology of care. But once childhood was behind me I seldom troubled the NHS for the next 45 years; perhaps a strong testament to its success?

Primary school was disciplined, narrow and, although well-meaning, made few concessions to individuality or slow learners. Classes, even in our tiny, four-room, village school, were huge in the 1950s; we were the ‘baby boom’ after the war, so classes of 40 were not uncommon. We learned by rote, our ‘times tables’, our religious catechism and numerous facts about the world, and do you know what - I can still remember most of it 60 years on! Is there a lesson here - Hmmm?

In those post-war days everything was in short supply, textbooks, art material, even paper, and in my earliest class we wrote our elementary 'three-Rs' with chalk on slates! I guess this, along with the image of my barefoot classmates must seem quite Dickensian, in this 'modern' age of the Atom bomb and Queen Elizabeth's coronation,  but at the time we thought nothing of it, and certainly didn't feel deprived or underprivileged. Discipline was strict, immediate and enforced by corporal punishment. We received smacked legs, and beyond age eight we were given the 'stick' administered hard on outstretched hands. Were we damaged, brutalised, cowed, or emotionally scarred by this? Not one bit - this was the way things were done then, and both I and my schoolmates accepted this as a natural part of education; school was still fun for the most part. We walked a mile to and from school, with mum until I was seven, then under the charge of my eight-year-old brother. We didn't have school dinners, and therefore walked a mile home and back at lunchtime too; in later years we were allowed to take our bicycles.

I was no great scholar but I loved most of my schooling. A rather strict, but wonderful old lady called Mrs Crilley taught us reading. We each had to stand and read aloud from a textbook, but she also spent half the lesson reading to us from literary classics like Treasure Island, Oliver Twist and 20,000 Leagues under the Sea; I was soon enthralled with Dickens, Stevenson and Jules Verne, and the incentive to acquire reading skills was immense. Mrs Crilley also taught us ‘nature studies’; rare I suspect in those days. Occasionally we were taken as a class on nature rambles around the nearby hills, fields and, my favourite, around the grounds of a neighbouring former manor house. At age six or seven Manor Park was a wonderland as Mrs Crilley gradually revealed to us the plants, trees, animals, insects and fascinating facts with which she too was obviously captivated. No risk assessments here, no CRB checks, no PC issues, no dilution of the message by three teaching assistants – 40 kids listened and learned in awe and wonder as a real teacher taught, and fun, freedom and adventure were encouraged and promoted.

So what am I saying, did we have Utopia way back then? Certainly not – it was often cold, hard and uncomfortable, but it was a time for me of simplicity, happiness, freedom and infinite possibilities. Since those times life has become gradually easier, more comfortable, faster, slicker, safer, with entertainment permanently on tap. Information is just a mouse-click away; we can even virtually walk down any street, anywhere in the world, and we can travel the globe indulging any whim we might desire.

And yet I believe we have lost too many basic freedoms and experiences; happiness has never been more sought-after, and so seldom found, and simplicity seems to be anathema to the modern world. Simple courtesy and basic politeness among strangers is rare and we have become largely selfish, acquisitive, rude, vulgar and thoughtless, inhabiting a personal bubble through which we encounter the world, without the world being permitted to interact with us, except in emotion-free cyberspace. Facebook and Twitter disseminate trivia that we have imbued with significance far beyond its merit, while real, day-to-day human interaction with new and different people slips behind the veil of suspicion and mistrust; is this person a terrorist, a paedophile, a criminal?

No, my Utopia would marry the best of both these worlds with, I admit, the bias tipping quite noticeably toward the past. But I'd not make the mistake of cherry-picking just the good bits; it’s vital we appreciate the good by occasionally having a bad day.  My Utopia would be quite a simple place where intelligence reigned, common sense was intrinsic in justice, where honour was mundane and truth, respect, courtesy and charity were all all-pervading. Yes, a place full of fun, beauty, adventure and, Oh Yes – Love.     Any takers?



Regrettably and annoyingly the CLA Game Fair at Belvoir Park, 20th - 22nd July, next weekend, has been called off due to the continuing appalling weather. If you've bought advance tickets, or need further information, please CLICK HERE to go directly to the CLA website.

This on top of Chatsworth Horse Trials and the Great Yorkshire Show being cancelled last week, after only one day, makes Country Attire's show attendances this year a bit of a shambles. We're very sorry not to be able to see all our loyal customers who make a point of seeing us at these shows.


However, there is some good news - Country Attire will be at the Bakewell Show in Derbyshire on Wednesday 1st & Thursday 2nd August - CLICK HERE to see the show website and get directions and further information. It's a great show in a beautiful town and we're really looking forward to it.

The organisers have boldly said, "The Bakewell Show WILL NOT be cancelled. We will go ahead as planned, but please wear suitable footwear".


Suitable Footwear can, of course, be purchased ready for the event right HERE.


Hopefully our remaining show attendances BELOW will go ahead as planned - Surely it can't keep raining..... can it?


The Chatsworth Country Fair

Chatsworth House, Baslow, Derbyshire 31st August to 2nd September 2012


The Lowther Game & Country Show, Penrith, Cumbria

11th & 12th August 2012


Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials, Woodstock, Oxon

6th to 9th September 2012


Midland Game Fair, Weston Park, Shropshire

15th & 16th September 2012