Past, caring: Tony D’Souza’s Thought for the Week

‘These were the greatest adventure playgrounds imaginable.’

Photo of children in the London blitz, New Times Paris Bureau Collection

My childhood memories are of carefree days spent playing on the old bomb sites of London. These were the greatest adventure playgrounds imaginable. The fallen masonry, the crushed arches, and the little culverts where you could hide, giggling, while your playmates looked for you. We played for hours on end. Sometimes, in summer, you could put your hand on the bricks and almost feel the heat from the fires of the blitz.

My childhood was overshadowed by the second world war. Boys’ comics were full of military derring-do, of victory over caricatured and hapless foes. The racial stereotypes and the insulting names are barely believable now, and certainly unrepeatable. But that was how it was.

Despite the overt racism (I remember being told by a classmate that if I had a hot bath, I would perhaps become white – and what’s worse I actually tried it), I remember a childhood of peace and prosperity. At least our friends and our enemies were very clear. At the Saturday morning picture shows, the bad cowboys had black hats and the good ones had white ones, which made it easy to tell the difference. The cold war was on, and we were pitted against people behind a big wall called the iron curtain. They were out to destroy the west and we had to protect ourselves by having bigger bombs. Strangely, some people seemed to quite like the people on the other side of the curtain, and many of these, including some in the public eye, as well as my teachers, thought the way they ran their society was better than ours. None of us stopped to ask why they had to build a wall to keep their people inside their socialist utopia, or why they shot people who tried to escape. But that was how it was. At least we had a clear enemy. They were over there, and we were over here. They had black hats and we had white ones. Now the enemy is everywhere, in cyber warfare, and if that doesn’t work they can come to your country and poison you with a military-grade nerve agent.

Later on, there was something called the sexual revolution. We were all told that sexual freedom was a good thing. According to the psychologists, it was healthy. If only we had known that this new-found freedom, blessed by Sigmund Freud and sanctioned by the contraceptive pill, would lead to the proliferation of sterile and shallow relationships, and the continued commodification of women’s bodies. Instead of freeing anybody, it trapped us all in the soulless pursuit of an empty hedonism. But that was how it was.

At least we had the best bands. The soundtrack of my generation was incredibly inventive: simply the best ever. When I listen to pop music today it’s like drowning in warm jam while listening to someone in the next room sobbing. No. Wait a minute. Maybe that’s how living in the twenty-first century feels, and they too are sobbing for their misspent youth…

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