Friday, 21 July 2017

You Can't Stand in the Way of Progress

You CHARGE!!! into the future and then realise nobody’s following you, so you sheepishly go home. A group of high-minded idealists builds a Utopia without hedges or clothes, practising free love and bringing up children in common, but 
conformity to the outside world creeps back.

The Light that FailedA woman who changed her name to Margaret Sandra was stuck explaining to employers and bank managers that surnames are patriarchal.

In the 60s and 70s some “dropped out of society” while living on the dole/their parents. They dropped back in again. (And the lookers-on, who thought the dropouts had done something rather marvellous, forgot all about it.) Others, after 20 years touring the country with an agit-prop theatre group trying to smash capitalism, got jobs in further education and acquired mortgages and pension schemes.

In the 60s and 70s lefties abolished boyfriends and girlfriends and experimented with alternative living arrangements. People went right on pairing off and getting married, and we can even say “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” again. (There was a long gap before “partner” when we experimented with terms like Significant Other, or POSSLQ: Person of the Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters. I wonder why that never caught on?)

Topless beaches
were popular in 70s France, but now the French cover up.

In the 70s, liberals simplified weddings. Now couples want a wildly over-the-top theatrical display.

(See also British Communists who lived as if the Revolution would happen any day now, and the Christians who thought the Second Coming was just around the corner. The Age of Aquarius never dawned.)

A member of the Oxford committee of the Prayer Book Society, said [the popularity of Evensong] reflected a wider interest in older styles of worship, including greater interest in the Prayer Book among trainee clergy. “The era of jaded folk worship is coming to an end. Indeed I think the people who want that sort of thing are the older generation now and the young are coming back to traditional worship and the choral tradition [of the Church of England]. (Daily Telegraph, 2016)

In 2007 Pope Benedict gave permission to all priests to use Latin and the Tridentine Mass. (After Vatican II in the 60s, the Tridentine rite was only allowed a few times a year, and special permission had to be obtained from a Bishop – each time). Benedict had the vernacular mass “retranslated” to bring it nearer to the original Latin (and adherents are outraged because they’d got used to the new one). But the most unpopular aspects of the “New Mass” were quickly dropped (“Happy are those who are called to his supper”, “Fruit of the vine and work of human hands”), and the “kiss of peace” quickly became a “sign”, ie a handshake – even though Catholics were told there was NO appeal. Now the Church wants new music to incorporate more plainsong (2009). Mass from St Peter’s at Christmas 2014 was almost entirely in Latin.

Early American settlers didn’t celebrate Christmas (it’s a pagan festival), but it slowly came back into favour.

In the 1810s reformers in Hamburg brought Jewish worship practices up to date. In the following decades, most of their radical liturgical reforms were undone, as practices they had cut as unnecessary, superstitious, repetitious, old-fashioned or un-European crept back because people liked them. Confirmations became bar mitzvahs again. (“Secular” kibbutzim are building their own synagogues, says The Jewish Chronicle in 2011. And they no longer make children live in dormitories and see their parents for only two hours a day.)

A half-century ago, the Liberal haggadah (Passover service book) omitted most of the traditional passages relating to the flight from Egypt, including the Ten Plagues. These were restored in 1981. (Jewish Chronicle)

Pharaoh Akhnaten abolished all Egyptian gods but one: the sun-disk or Aten. After he died, around 1335 BC, the priests of the other gods reopened their temples and it was business as usual.

In the 20s, architect Le Corbusier planned to demolish the whole of central Paris and replace it with skyscrapers.

In New York, some suggest digging up Times Square’s pedestrian precinct and putting it “back the way it was”, with cars. (It has become infested with topless dancers and costumed characters who harass tourists.) American urban highway removals are increasing, and streets depedestrianising. Buffalo is reopening Main Street to cars. (According to Buffalo News, cities have been removing their malfunctioning pedestrian malls for roughly 15 years.)

The Pedway was a “boldly stupid” idea to connect London with walkways. (They have almost all gone and now we miss them. But for a long time there were areas where you couldn't walk at street level – you were supposed to take a walkway that hadn't been built yet, or was impossible to find, or had been shut. And once you were on the walkway, you had no idea where you were going because you couldn’t see any landmarks, signposts or maps.)

Try Googling for “empty business park” – it gets lots of hits. Try “dam removal”, too.

Made-up months like Pluviose and Thermidor, brought in by the French Revolution, were as popular as the movement’s temples to atheism. The Revolutionaries also introduced a ten-hour clock, and a 20-hour day. This regime lasted two years. Russia tried a five-day-week calendar in the communist area with a complex days-off system that caused people to be quite detached from their family and friends. In the end it made them less productive, and it was abandoned after three years.

Sign language was banned in the 19th century, but returned to schools for the deaf in the 1960s and 70s. The Whole Language method of teaching reading, in which the child is encouraged to memorise EACH WORD as if it was a pictogram, is fighting a desperate rearguard action against Synthetic Phonics, which actually teaches children how to read.

Open-Plan “Learning Pods” Fail in Bexhill: After a £38m investment in open-plan learning was completed in 2010, another £4m is now being invested to revert the classrooms back. Business is booming for Portable Partitions, a company that manufactures and supplies mobile room dividers to Australian businesses and schools. (Nov 2015)

In the 60s home-owners boarded up Victorian doors, replaced brass knobs with plastic handles, and covered plaster ceilings with polystyrene tiles. In the 70s people put the olde worlde details back. (But now they’re ripping out Arts and Crafts details.)

Lenin, after his collective farming plans caused a famine in which three million died, backtracked and allowed 20% of the Soviet economy to be market-run. Collective farms set up by the Vietnamese communist government were unproductive, and there was a lot of corruption. In 1986 the government abolished the farms, and many private coffee plantations sprang up and flourished.

London’s Barbican Arts Centre, designed in the Brutalist 70s, was later “humanised” by a pink and green carpet and a huge impressionist mural in pastel colours. Both have thankfully disappeared. (The grand entrance is now for pedestrians rather than cars only, but they keep “improving” the interior layout.)

A Dutch conservator ordered to destroy paintings hid them instead. Now they're back in the Rijksmuseum. (During periods of iconoclasm, medieval locals hid statues in walls.)

British Airways is reinstating its company crest on airliners – marking the final reversal of the “groovier” rebranding that so offended Baroness Thatcher in 1997.

German spelling: The Rechtschreibreform abolished the umlaut and the esszett, but the prohibition quickly softened, and only hung on in schools. The government brought court actions, but the courts decided it had no legal power to tell anybody how to spell. Now Germans are confused between several systems. (RI)

John Lewis’s haberdashery department used to cover a large part of the ground floor. It was banished to the fourth and given a quarter of the space, with a fabric selection restricted to bridesmaids’ dresses. Gradually over the past 20 years it has grown and is now as big as it ever was, with the full range of old-fashioned staples like dress patterns, shoulder pads, suspenders, hooks and eyes, and bra elastic.

In the 1930s, speed limits in the UK were abolished as it was assumed that the British would drive like gentlemen. They were swiftly brought back.

In 2014 the Secretary of State for Transport said that the Euston Arch should never have been knocked down, and that he’d like to see it rebuilt. (After it was demolished, despite protests, it was “lost” – most of it was eventually found at the bottom of the River Lea. In 2015 a few of the original stones are on display at Euston.)

After spending years covered in grime and graffiti, in 2009 the modernist concrete Apollo Pavilion in Peterlee was restored and listed Grade II*.

Leningrad went back to being St. Petersburg. Stalingrad has been Volgograd since 1961. But in 2013 50,000 Volgograd citizens signed a petition to have the name changed back to Stalingrad.

And why don't we just reinvent...

Protest Never Changed Anything

We can’t stand in the way of progress, we can’t turn back the clock, as the Powers That Be told us in the 60s and 70s, when they were trying to demolish our cities and streets and replace them with estates, malls and motorways. Or can we? There was a lot of protest about Dr Beeching’s railway line closures, and the destruction of communities (“slum clearance”) to make way for tower blocks. But we were patronisingly told that our protests wouldn’t be acted on, and that fewer railways, more tower blocks and the disappearance of whole districts was somehow good for us. 
Ian Nairn’s Outrage was published in 1956. He coined the word “subtopia”. Nobody ever told us that there’d been a protest movement against modern architecture and the destruction of old buildings and communities for 20 years.

So, does protest ever change things? 

The “new Routemaster”, with its conductor and open back platform, is losing its open back and its conductor and turning into an ordinary London bus.

800 “Roasting” Routemasters to Get Window Refit at £2m Cost to Londoners. 
Work has begun fitting new Routemaster buses with opening windows & will be completed by September June 2016. ( They’ve got windows that open, 2017. And they’re the sliding kind that actually admit air.)

A package of laws seeking to force the homeless into shelters by such methods as seizing their belongings acknowledged as a failure after less than a year. Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s scheme included a “sit-lie” law – a tactic used in other US cities – that banned sitting or lying on city pavements. It also allowed the belongings of homeless people to be confiscated in a bid to force them into shelters. Critics argued that, effectively, it criminalised homelessness. (Guardian June 18 2016)

In 1855 rector T. Jackson made a determined effort to pull down old St. Mary's but the local inhabitants regarded the building.... with affection and showed such hostility to the idea that it proved impossible... (A. J. Shirren, 1950 @HistoryOfStokey)

The Ringways awoke a great level of protest. People campaigned heavily against the destruction of their neighbourhoods, and the plans were abandoned in 1973. (Douglas Murphy, G April 2015 on a misbegotten plan to surround London with motorways.)

Reprieve for oak tree after public pressure on Burger King plans. (June 2017)

Demolished Maida Vale Carlton Tavern must be rebuilt 'brick by brick', inquiry rules. (July 2016-07-09)

After mass protests, Romania withdraws decree decriminalising some corruption offences. (2017)

Gary Neville pulls plan for twin Manchester towers after backlash. (March 2017)

Badger cull: Government decides to cull badgers – protests – condemnation – “It will never work” – marksmen shoot fewer than expected – end of badger cull. For the moment.

BBC cancels Sky at Night; Sky at Night continues by popular request.

Bendy buses: Introduced, loathed, withdrawn. (And in 2017 people are looking back on them nostalgically.)

Bridge tolls: After nine years of protests, tolls on the Skye Bridge were abolished. (And Welsh and English bridge tolls have been dropped, July 2017.)

Cabvision: The infuriating in-taxi screens that you couldn’t mute or turn off had gone by 2011, as have talking signs and bins. And Tesco has dropped its “unexpected item in bagging area” message.

Clippy: Word’s patronising assistant “Clippy” (a talking paperclip) was removed after furious complaints.
Coco Pops: the name was changed to Coco Krispies to bring our cereal in line with the Continent. It was changed back within the year.

Communal changing rooms: London Fields Lido intended to make changing rooms unisex, but plans were changed after protests. Communal changing rooms in shops were introduced as modern in the late 60s, were universally loathed and became cubicles again sharpish.

Consignia: Around 2000, the UK Post Office group adopted the label Consignia. After widespread derision, it quietly became Royal Mail Holdings.

County names: New names like Cleveland, Humberside and Avon were created in 1974, and abolished in 1996 (bringing back Rutland).

Exploiting jobseekers: The government’s “back to work” schemes, in which benefit claimants worked for nothing at Poundland, were vilified and swiftly withdrawn.

Garden Bridge: After millions were spent on this unpopular white elephant (a “garden bridge” across the Thames that would have cleared existing trees and blocked the view), the project was dropped.

Government wants to close down Lewisham A&E; people of Lewisham protest; Lewisham A&E stays open.

Mixed-sex hospital wards: introduced, loathed, phased out.

Modern classical music: Radio 3 pushed it relentlessly, telling us that everybody would like it one day. Harmony and melody came back.

Museum charges: Brought in with great fanfare in the 70s, loathed, dropped.

New English Bible (1960/70): It was deliberately translated into “modern English”, thought-for-thought rather than word-for-word (periphrasis rather than translation). We were told we’d better learn to like it. It vanished within a few years, to reappear in 1989 looking somewhat different as the Revised English Bible, says Wikipedia. “The New English Bible astonishes in its combination of the vulgar, the trivial and the pedantic.” (TS Eliot)

No picnic: A San Francisco plan to make people reserve space on the grass in parks for picnics and parties lasted 24 HOURS.
Paddington tower: Plans for a ridiculous cylindrical tower were withdrawn 2016-01-30 ...but be prepared, says Nicholas Boyes Smith of Create Streets. They’re now coming back with the shorter version they planned all along.

Pathfinder: In 2010, this “controversial” housing regeneration scheme ended four years earlier than planned, said the BBC. (As usual, “regeneration” involved tearing down terraces that could have been renovated.)

Preston Bus Station was threatened with demolition. It was listed in 2013.

Pruitt-Igoe: The Pruitt-Igoe urban housing project in St. Louis, Missouri was built in 1955, demolished 1972-76.

Shark-fin soup: Fewer and fewer sharks are being slaughtered for their fins, and shark-fin soup restaurants are closing down in Japan.

Southbank undercroft: The Southbank Centre threatened to turn its undercroft, used by skateboarders for decades, into retail space. Everybody: “You can’t do that!” SBC: “Oh yes we can!” In 2014 the Centre agreed to leave its skatepark and undercroft as they are.

Spiegelhalters, a Victorian shop in the middle of an ostentatious Edwardian department store façade, was threatened with replacement by a rusted steel sculpture. After widespread protest, it’s staying where it is.

The Strand: 18th century houses threatened with demolition by a Kings College rebuilding scheme have been granted a stay of execution.

Tower blocks: Their destruction began in the mid-70s, about ten years after most of them went up. Unfortunately they are being replaced by a whole lot of new tower blocks, or ugly “traditional” housing with tiny windows. All 12 tower blocks in Cumbernauld have gone or are going, as have Glasgow’s Red Road flats. In Killingworth, north of Newcastle, 27 slab blocks known as Killingworth Towers were built and demolished in under 15 years. Much the same happened to the Nursery Farm Estate in Gateshead, consisting of four 17-storey blocks: approved 1966, completed 1968, demolished 1987 due to “deterioration and unpopularity”. ( Birmingham’s torrid love affair with high-rise was ending by the late sixties. (

UK companies move call centres to India, customers complain, firms move call centres back home. (Something similar happened to companies who thought they could do without IT departments, and comms companies who thought they could do without helplines. But publications still think they can do without sub editors.)