|The Early Days of a Better Nation|
Monday, June 13, 2011
The stairwell still smelled of concrete. There was plenty of green space around, but you knew that the new housing had just been built where a year or so before there had been nothing but green space, grass and gorse. For me at that age there was a thrill in the thought that this hectare or two of habitat had just been hacked out of raw nature. That increment of suburban sprawl felt like a frontier.
In the past few months I've seen documentaries about that time - a series about Scotland on film, a piece on Harold Wilson - and remembered what it was like when visible, tangible progress just kept happening. We didn't appreciate it enough, and I think I know why. Millions of people moved out of much worse places than my friend's family's old flat, out of slums and ruins and into new towns and suburbs. For the generation who'd been through the Great Depression and the Second World War - our parents - this and all that went with it was as good as socialism. For them the war was the revolution. This was their victory, this was what they'd fought for. It was their kids who didn't appreciate it.
Some guy who'd grown up in a New Town - it may have been Pat Kane, talking about Cumbernauld - said that it was a great place for young families with young children, and a great place to be a kid. You could scoot out the door on your bike and ride for miles and never worry about traffic, because the pedestrian lanes swooped over and under the roads. The school buildings were new and as bright and airy as high-tech factories and office blocks, which they often looked like. But once you'd grown up a bit and stopped being a kid and became a teenager, the new towns and suburbs had a lot less to offer.
My friend and I and the rest of our clique spent a lot of teenage Saturdays up in the hills above the town, looking down on the new high school and the gigantic IBM factory just a mile along the valley from it, loftily despising those of our cohort whose highest ambition was to move from the one to the other, and to live in one of the little boxes on the hillside. Most of us made haste to live in bedsits and squats and inner-city tenements, until we had kids and jobs ourselves and of course moved out to the suburbs, where ...
I want to breathe that air again and the smell of concrete and victory.