Echoes of A New Tomorrow: Life after Revolution in the Commonwealth of Britain

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The 80s I have some ideas for – more musically than for tv/film, but still involving sci-fi stuff. (*Kraftwerk, OMD, Heaven 17 etc etc). Obviously always up for input along the way.
Do shoegaze and acid house still come in around OTL time, do you think? Or does the American cross-pollination starting only in the '60s delay things? I mean, all the important influences for both only start around the late '60s anyway, but still, I imagine less of a rock and dance culture among the youth to start with might affect things a bit. Checking back through previous updates, you mention R&B coming in through Radio Free Europe, but it's not quite the same as having skiffle bands all over the place in the 50s and early 60s, I suppose.
 
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DensleyBlair

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Do shoegaze and acid house still come in around OTL time, do you think? Or does the American cross-pollination starting only in the '60s delay things? I mean, all the important influences for both only start around the late '60s anyway, but still, I imagine less of a rock and dance culture among the youth to start with might affect things a bit. Checking back through previous updates, you mention R&B coming in through Radio Free Europe, but it's not quite the same as having skiffle bands all over the place in the 50s and early 60s, I suppose.

The development of British dance music culture of the 1980s and 90s (specifically Acid House) is something I actually studied closely at undergrad, so this is something I've been giving a fair amount if thought to – although I haven't settled on anything yet.

For now I'll give a little recap of what popular music and dance music is like by the mid-Sixties.

The last significant cross-pollination in Transatlantic pop-music culture took place a generation ago during the Pacific War (much as in OTL WWII), when contact between European and US troops invigorated the emergent CW dance music tradition with 'hot' styles of jazz and early bebop. Although hardly present within the mainstream, which by the mid-Forties was still pitched around 'easy' styles of big band music (Al Bowlly, for instance), these harder jazz undercurrents continued to develop in the subculture into the 1950s. In particular, bop music became associated with the culture of the Left Opposition, who took to the more avant-garde currents in jazz as a sort of natural response to the Mosleyite hegemony. This is significant because British jazz became linked in this way to the opposition side in the 'culture war' of the 1950s, when Mosley attempted to secure his position by going after the Socialist Youth and other such organisations. So jazz becomes the music of something like the first identifiable subversive youth (sub)culture in the Commonwealth.

(Incidentally, there were youth groups who continued to support Mosley – "Ozzie Boys" – who favoured a continuation of the status quo, which is to say the paternalistic, patriarchal, developmentalist society these kids had known all their lives, being the first generation to have been born after Mosley came to power in 1934. There were muted attempts by the Mosleyite regime to formalise this culture as "Youth Action", in opposition to the counter-cultural heirs to Socialist Youth. YA never really got off the ground before Mosley fell from power, but they will come up again about a decade later during the Blues Explosion.)

When Bevan comes to power in 1961, his government's cultural reforms mainstream the jazz counter-cultures that had been associated with his allies in opposition. This is huge, because one thing Bevan's government does really well is recognise the utility of the CBC, so at just the time that the censorship is lifted and David Attenborough comes along to shake up television programming, the music being played is a version of what OTL we might call trad jazz. If you want to hear the sound of 'Nye Bevan's New Britain', you'd do worse than listen to something like this:


So what about contact with American rock 'n' roll? As you say, RnB is problematised because it comes over via RFE in something like an act of cultural sabotage. Therefore being into Blues by the end of 1964, at a time when tensions with the US are extremely strained signifies something like what being in jazz signified in 1954: a certain anti-establishmentarianism; fairly typical "blue jean and rock 'n' roll" Cold War pro-Americanism. (Think Rolling Stones tax-exile outlaw imagery, but with more of an immediate political bite.)

The thing about most of this coming in through RFE is that, by necessity of broadcasting, Blues becomes concentrated around London and the south east of England. So the North and the Midlands have offshoot local scenes, but as a subculture it's far from ubiquitous and very diverse. In places where American Blues is less heavily concentrated, what prevails at the grassroots is the continuation of a sort of skiffle analogue (which I think I've referred to before as "busk") but with its roots far more in the trad jazz tradition than in rock 'n' roll. The consequence I suppose is that there is a very lively national music scene (and dance music as well as pop music) but the aspirational figure of "the rock 'n' roll star" is very different. This will become more of a significant issue towards the end of the Sixties.

Into the Seventies there will be more cross-pollination over the Atlantic, which will shift things into a different gear and slightly further towards a more recognisably OTL pop music. But there is no getting around the fact that the British Invasion hasn't happened (which of course should have as much of an impact stateside as in Britain. Maybe in the Echoesverse Gram Parsons is the future…?) and this will have knock-on effects into what "punk" looks like, and what its ethos is, when something like it arrives.

(Of course there are also emerging scenes among immigrant communities. Calypso evolving into ska by the mid-Sixties and then coming over to Britain will make its mark, as will the various currents of reggae and dub moving towards the Eighties.)

I realise after all this I haven't got to Shoegaze and Acid House. The short answer is that something like both will arrive more or less on schedule, but they will probably sound different. Really both scenes project a little beyond what I've planned so far, so I'm still sort of working it out. For Shoegaze the operative question is maybe what [punk] sounds like when it comes. And then Acid House is dependent on how House emerges in the US (or whether it does), and then more specificity on all sorts of questions like what's going on in Ibiza, what Kraftwerk end up doing, what's going on with the global development and use of Ecstasy…

Lots of fun things to consider. The long and short of it really is that dance music still exists, so don't worry: it's not earnest renditions of The Red Flag from here until the end of time…
 
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DensleyBlair

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I'm really curious to see how Cuba plays out.

I'm glad! I'm looking forward to it too, I have to say. In the longer term it's still a bit up in the air.

Incidentally how open to immigrants is the Commonwealth? Can members of the former colonies immigrate to Britain very easily, and if so, how are they treated?

One particular character is a few years away from become incredibly prominent making a big deal out of this issue, so it's timely you bringing it up. Up to now, Mosleyite developmentalism has forestalled any major shifts in population between Britain and the former colonies. His colonial policy rested on the age-old tactic of offering an elite few within the colonial population access to British institutions (the universities and so on) while keeping the vast majority in place to 'maintain the economic strength of developing nations' etc etc.

I don't think we'll have anything like Commonwealth citizenship as per the OTL 1948 definition (the only time for it really to have come in would have been pre-1934, which I don't think it would have done), but as Britain moves to normalise its relations with the Afrosyn – and as remaining colonies get closer and closer to proper autonomy – there is certainly scope for citizenship and immigration reform.

As for how are immigrants treated… I'd like to say that with 35 years of socialism under its belt Britain has become less racist, but frankly I don't imagine it would have done so automatically. Politics in general is obviously a fair degree further left than OTL, but society is probably comparably less diverse. I'd be tempted to say something like, Less racist in theory; who knows in practice.

Race will become much more of a focus in volume 2, or so goes the plan.
 
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American rock's influence and status in the Commonwealth is an interesting, tricky subject. The Soviets and Warsaw Pact countries gave a pretty free hand to jazz as the acceptable face of modern music partly to keep the those damn Yankee-Bluejeans out. However (relatively) liberal Yugoslavia had quite a strong rock scene, with some some good post-punk bands right before The Fall. But Yugoslavia's unique postion made such openess acceptable to by then global styles of music. Things like Cuba probably aren't going to endear Britain to cultural openess on that level - perhaps. Excited to see how the Commonwealth walks the tightrope culturally as well as geopolitically.
 

DensleyBlair

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American rock's influence and status in the Commonwealth is an interesting, tricky subject. The Soviets and Warsaw Pact countries gave a pretty free hand to jazz as the acceptable face of modern music partly to keep the those damn Yankee-Bluejeans out. However (relatively) liberal Yugoslavia had quite a strong rock scene, with some some good post-punk bands right before The Fall. But Yugoslavia's unique postion made such openess acceptable to by then global styles of music. Things like Cuba probably aren't going to endear Britain to cultural openess on that level - perhaps. Excited to see how the Commonwealth walks the tightrope culturally as well as geopolitically.

You're right – hopefully it will be fun to watch the balancing act. It's certainly fun to think about, for me at least. I'm trying to work out what line the CBC might take on it all, because obviously the OTL BBC was paternalistic enough in dictating what was and what wasn't acceptable (banning the Monster Mash for being too morbid, anyone?). My own view is that most of the disputes will play themselves out at the subcultural level, and the overt politics will sort of stay out of a lot of pop culture – at first at least. But we'll see what it's like once hip cat Nye Bevan leaves the stage and his successors have to pick up all the pieces…

I think a fun and instructive case study for what we might see in the Commonwealth, just as an aside, is OTL Brazil. Bossa nova and MPB became highly politicised through links to the anti-military Tropicalia movement, and then became subject of quite a fierce cultural nationalism while more or less evading the globalising post-RnB American influence. This I think might be particularly fitting in *France, where there is quite a lively tradition of chanson and 'gypsy jazz' and so on that did withstand Anglicisation pretty well OTL. The analogue in Britain (or England anyway) maybe means a much more prominent legacy of stuff like Fairport Convention, the Critics Group, the Canterbury Scene … basically the folkier, jazzier end of the spectrum.

In Europe you also get some pretty funny piss-take pop songs like this one:


And who can forget this infamous track:


This sort of irony is something I am considering leaning into for *punk, but I'm yet to entirely settle on that score.

I saw some of those Yugoslavian New Wave compilations kicking about on YouTube once, btw. They're very good fun.

And great to have you in thread! Hope you enjoy the ride.

--

After frying my brain over real world stuff at the weekend I decided writing Echoes would be a fun diversion today, so I did get a fair amount of a piece about food production and grocery shopping done. With any luck I'll be able to finish it tomorrow, so @El Pip can look forward to that. :)
 

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So I did get a fair amount of a piece about food production and grocery shopping done. With any luck I'll be able to finish it tomorrow, so @El Pip can look forward to that. :)
Well that is indeed something to look forward to.

Also the entire discussion of music mostly made me think about Jazz Club, which was...

 
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DensleyBlair

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Well that is indeed something to look forward to.

I got a bit too hung up on the mechanics of price controls, so I changed tack and went for an entirely more literary approach. Will be a fun diversion when it comes from my point of view, and hopefully not without interest for others as well.

Also the entire discussion of music mostly made me think about Jazz Club, which was...


Reeaaally nice.
 
Commonwealth 1965: A Trip to the Shops

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ECHOES%20HEADER.jpg



COMMONWEALTH 1965

"A Trip to the Shops"


Jemima Cogan-Jones stepped off the bus and out onto the street. Not for the first time that week, it was raining in Ystradgynlais. Not as badly as on Monday at least, she thought as she pulled up the hood of her macintosh, setting her trolley by the bus stop a second as she did so. The wireless had promised a break in the clouds around noon, so if she timed it right then she could at least look forward to a dry journey home.

The co-op market hall was only a couple of hundred yards from the bus stop, which was not a coincidence. Most of the daytime traffic into Ystradgynlais these days was from the villages: women coming in for items which the smaller shops couldn’t carry, not without big fridges. Meat and fish and the like. Onllwyn had its own co-op, stocking bread, flour, milk, cereals, tins… The dailies, as Jemima thought of them. But it wasn’t a farming community – not unless you counted the pigs people kept in their gardens, or the allotments some of the terraces shared – so a proper shop didn’t make sense, really. Not with Ystragynlais twenty minutes away on the bus and one running every hour. In the circumstances, it seemed churlish (or so it was in Jemima’s head) to worry about your tatws a fresych making the extra trip when they’d come all the way from the Gower already.

Nowadays, of course, it wasn’t just your potatoes and your cabbages that you could get hold of in the market hall. Not like when Jemima was a girl, in the years before everything changed, when dinner was cawl and oatmeal dumplings, or bara lawr and bacon, or maybe salmon with fennel if Vaughn the fishmonger had it on for cheap in town. These days food came in from all over: hard cheeses from Somerset, spiced sausages from Cumbria, vegetables of all shapes and sizes: asparagus, marrows, squashes…



1965 MARKET HALL.jpg

This is the covered market in Derby, some time in the 1960s.
I see this typology as providing a much more natural evolution of the co-op than a supermarket, which was after all an American innovation.


More expensive now, mind, Jemima would say. Only last week she’d bumped into Maureen Davies at the cheese counter and neither of them could believe what the Cheddar was on for – twenty pence a pound! Twice what it was when she’d first started shopping for herself, Maureen had declared, and Jemima couldn’t disagree. The last fifteen years it felt like the cost of living just went up and up. Her Wynford was only two years off collecting his pension. Forty years he’d been down the pits, and what a forty years they’d been! But even with everything else taken care of – the house and what have you… the television they’d bought to watch that satellite being put into space three years ago, the Galileo – it might all very soon come to not much at all if things kept on as they were.

If, of course, she thought rather morbidly, we’re all still here in two years’ time. She walked past a counter selling vinyl records and noticed a few with Christmassy sleeves discounted and set to one side. Funny Christmas it had been, hearing Tony Benn on the wireless after dinner saying Mr Khrushchev has called for peace in Cuba. Duw mawr, all this fuss over nothing! Wynford had said. Jemima reckoned that it was just as well it had been over nothing, otherwise they would’ve all been in real trouble.

A wonder that life had just continued, in Onllwyn at least; you just sort of had to learn to live with it, really, Jemima decided, the threat of all being blown to bits. Not much to be done about it, was there? No point fretting too much over what was out of her hands.



1963 ONLLWYN.jpg

Onllwyn in 1963, looking very unloved, though served by its own school, chapel and billiard hall.
For Echoes purposes, the Victorian-era miners' cottages in the top right were likely renovated some time in the 1940s, although in our history the houses were pulled down shortly after this picture was taken.


She turned a corner and found herself back in the food section, as it happened face to face with the Continental stall. Incredible the things you could get there nowadays, the oils and the cheeses; the meats, the wines; garlic and onions and tomatoes and all sorts. In the cities (this is what Jemima had heard) they’d had all of this stuff going on five years, ever since Bob Boothby had gone off to France, but you wouldn’t think of it in Swansea, never mind Ystradgynlais. Between the war in Cuba and the deep-green bottles of balsamic vinegar on the shelf in front of her, the whole world felt like it was closing in itself. As if in a few years all that would be left were a single point, where everyone would be living together in exactly the same way.

She and Wynford had been to the Continent once before, of course: a week in Brittany six years ago. She’d loved the seaside. A lot like Wales, of course – really no different to Mumbles, just facing the other way. But the weather had been good to them, and Jemima had enjoyed the fish, and being around new people. As a young woman, when the war in Spain was still going on, she’d been to a benefit concert for the Republicans at the Union Hall. Arthur Horner himself had arranged for some Spanish musicians to come over and play, apparently. Refugees they were, displaced by the Fascist army. How glad she was that these days going to a foreign county just meant seven days in the sun!

Jemima moved on from the Continental stall without buying. Everything on those shelves was too expensive for the weekly shop. Butter, milk, a bit of beef… that’s all she’d come into town for. But it was good to look around. Better than waiting for the bus out on the street. Jemima couldn’t yet tell whether it was still raining outside, but a look at her watch told her it was time to head off, so she pulled up her hood and found the hall exit. Then it was back to the bus stop with her trolley in tow, groceries inside, and her purse ten shillings lighter.
 
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As the forum apparently decided that it had enough bothering to tell me that this thread had updated, I'm now caught up after a month!

I can never get over how amazing your attention to detail is with the slice-of-life in your AAR. It's incredible and brings a certain liveliness to it that my AAR always seems to lack (though part of that I'm sure is because I'm hard history book'ing whereas you've worked in more narrative elements). Lovely, as always!
 

DensleyBlair

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As the forum apparently decided that it had enough bothering to tell me that this thread had updated, I'm now caught up after a month!

Excellent to have you back with us! Thankfully the last month has been fairly quiet in pure update terms, so the forum picked an ok time to blip. :D

I can never get over how amazing your attention to detail is with the slice-of-life in your AAR. It's incredible and brings a certain liveliness to it that my AAR always seems to lack (though part of that I'm sure is because I'm hard history book'ing whereas you've worked in more narrative elements). Lovely, as always!

Thank you very much! I do worry sometimes that stuff like this is a bit indulgent when most people, I imagine, are here for 'the wider view'. But I think it's important to take a closer look every now and then; to check on how people are doing. Thank you for the vote of confidence!

And as I mentioned above in my reply to Pip, this update only really came about because I got fed up thinking about it as straight history. So I took what straight history I'd come up with and wrapped it into a little vignette. Being able to flit between a few styles keeps me sane so far as actually writing is concerned, so I really admire people who can pull off a consistent voice from start to end – particularly over years!
 

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I do worry sometimes that stuff like this is a bit indulgent when most people, I imagine, are here for 'the wider view'.
I'll be honest I'm more here for updates like this and things like the US or Cuban updates are the filler between the 'good bits'. So rest assured it is not an indulgence to do such things.

Being able to flit between a few styles keeps me sane so far as actually writing is concerned, so I really admire people who can pull off a consistent voice from start to end – particularly over years!
I can fully agree with this, being able to switch styles helps keep it interesting as a writer after the initial rush of starting the work. I suspect this need for variety is why having multiple AARs running is surprisingly common, a way to mix things up while allowing each work to maintain it's own style. Certainly that is my excuse for doing so.

EDIT:
Forgot to actually comment on the update, whoops.

It was good obviously, even if it did induce a few flashbacks to rural living (once an hour buses in particular). Hints at the growing problem of inflation, which is what you would expect, but there is at least food around so clearly the initial changes after the revolution didn't do that much damage, or more likely were rapidly changed again.

My congratulations to Wynford on managing to even get within 2 years of claiming a coal miners pension, a rare achievement indeed. It is a testament to how dangerous and unhealthy the job is that the Miners Pension Scheme continues to have a healthy surplus to this day, almost entirely because so few have survived to claim it and those rare claimants tend to die earlier than average as well. The attachment of mining communities to such a brutal and unrewarding way of earning a living remains baffling to me.

Minor historic point of amusement, one of the last surviving coal mines in Wales is near Ystradgynlais. Last year the owners applied for an extension to the mining activity, they got a Coal Authority licence, local planning permission agreed, financing lined up and mitigation bond to fund restoring the site was in place. All good to go, then the Welsh Government vetoed it. The Labour Party intervening to get mines shut and miners sacked always makes me chuckle. I don't even disagree with the decision, but given their history it is darkly amusing to me.
 
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DensleyBlair

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I'll be honest I'm more here for updates like this and things like the US or Cuban updates are the filler between the 'good bits'. So rest assured it is not an indulgence to do such things.

The Cuban sequence I think has been something of a chequered experiment. I had hoped it would be a much faster paced affair to offer a shift in tempo fitting for a global crisis, but between all of the IRL troubles me and KH have been made to deal with in the process it's rather broken down. I think the basic idea remains sound enough, so I might try again with revisions (and stronger insurance against outside evils) at some point in the future.

I can fully agree with this, being able to switch styles helps keep it interesting as a writer after the initial rush of starting the work. I suspect this need for variety is why having multiple AARs running is surprisingly common, a way to mix things up while allowing each work to maintain it's own style. Certainly that is my excuse for doing so.

Aye, I think you're right there. Speaking from experience with projects on and off the boards, having multiple outlets at once is an excellent method for keeping up enthusiasm – provided they don't all start to get on top of each other, which is the worst possible outcome.

From the start, this project was meant to be able to take the slack of a few different styles in one to combat against diminishing momentum, but I think that got lost a bit when I found myself with loads of time and energy and kept churning out essay update after essay update, all in more or less the same voice (regardless of in-character author). I'm glad that recently a bit more of the 'free play' has returned, although it still doesn't stop me looking at the contents every now and then and thinking, I wish this thing would make its mind up about what it wants to be!

Lesson is, of course, that you cannot have it both ways.

--

I'm aiming to get the next vignette written this evening, to publish early next week perhaps. Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed ('may' doing a lot of work there…) that the upcoming titles are already up on the contents page, in case anyone would like a hint as to the subject matter.
 
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DensleyBlair

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Apologies, Pip. I missed your edit yesterday (looking at the timing we may have crossed each other…).

It was good obviously, even if it did induce a few flashbacks to rural living (once an hour buses in particular).

In my case this was a bit of 'write what you know'. The bus in my village is about once every 75-90 minutes, and obviously every day it toddles about with something like three people on it, so a mere once an hour was my way of painting the Commonwealth as a land of milk and honey.

Hints at the growing problem of inflation, which is what you would expect, but there is at least food around so clearly the initial changes after the revolution didn't do that much damage, or more likely were rapidly changed again.

I hinted that I had written a more monography text on this subject before scrapping it in favour of the slice-of-life vignette, so I'll give a little detail on what I think happened to farming just for the record.

After 1929 the CPGB appropriated the land from all of the big landowners, most of whom had fled to Canada or the like in any case. The requisitioned land was parcelled out to farm workers who were invited (I'll let you decide what 'invited' means) to carry on farming as smallholders organised into co-operatives. Food production and distribution is regionalised, with local co-ops as far as possible feeding their wider communities. As hinted above, new worker housing being built also comes (again, as far as possible) with allotment access and maybe space for a pig or something. So in the years after the revolution there's a shift towards self-sufficiency to accompany something like the old commons being revived.

(Incidentally, the pig example in the update is true. Wales is very bad for farming pretty much anything except sheep, so a lot of people got quite resourceful until well into the second half of the 20th century.)

This is all basically fine for a few years, but then in 1934 Mosley seizes power. He doesn't immediately do anything to change the situation, but because he is Oswald Mosley he doesn't like the idea of Britain having anything except a centralised system of food production and distribution. In the years of the Anti-Fascist Wars (1936–44), which aren't total wars but give Mosley cover to expand his government's powers, he gradually seeks to bring things under the control of a new Bureau of Food – naturally within the Office for Economic Planning, which he heads unchallenged between 1929 and 1945. In cases where smallholders get fed up of smallholding, the BoF comes in to take over the land. This is the beginning of a 'mixed' system, characteristic of Mosley's economy more broadly at the time, supporting collective and dirigiste operations in parallel. As Mosley sinks his claws in further and further, things progress more and more to the dirigiste side: the smallholdings are consolidated and Britain's food network is taken more and more into state control.

The major trigger for a mass change is the winter of 1946/7, or more accurately the following spring. There is an update about this period, and the effect it had on industrial relations more broadly, which you can read if you wish. (It's actually in two parts, here and here.) The long and short of it is that devastating floods in spring 1947 wipe out a load of Britain's agricultural productive power (as they did historically), leading among other things to a reliance on French and Spanish imports to stave off food poverty in the final years of the 1940s. Mosley decides that this is proof that agriculture must be run by the state (ie him) and he presses ahead with centralising measures in order to bring Britain back to self-sufficiency on a national level.

(Mosley being Mosley, this may or may not also involve the systemic appropriation of food from the colonies. Putting that 70 per-cent white ownership of land in Kenya to good use, for example…)

The 1940s and '50s also see mechanisation efforts along OTL lines, which obviously entails a further consolidation of land where eg smallholdings are too small for combine harvesters.

This is pretty much still the system by the 1960s: probably some of the original co-ops surviving, maybe in more isolated areas, but otherwise a return to a system of larger farms managed by a state organ, and distribution standardised so that available produce is more or less even across the country. The one innovation of the Bevan era is that exciting food now comes over from the Continent thanks to Eurosyn agreements, but it is expensive.

I strongly foresee this being reformed again post-Bevan. Maybe in the Seventies more people will also get their own fridge-freezers.

My congratulations to Wynford on managing to even get within 2 years of claiming a coal miners pension, a rare achievement indeed. It is a testament to how dangerous and unhealthy the job is that the Miners Pension Scheme continues to have a healthy surplus to this day, almost entirely because so few have survived to claim it and those rare claimants tend to die earlier than average as well. The attachment of mining communities to such a brutal and unrewarding way of earning a living remains baffling to me.

Thanks to the phenomenal power of the Miners' Federation, in the Commonwealth the miners take their pension at 57, so it is perhaps not quite as grand a feat as one might think, but still undoubtedly a fine achievement.

As for the attachment of the communities to a brutal and unrewarding way of earning a living… I suppose the post-Thatcher answer is that there is really very little else to be attached to in many cases (particularly in Wales). But even before then mining has a very long and Romantic popular history. There is a great Richard Burton interview where he talks about how he never wanted to be an actor, he wanted to be a miner (he actually calls them 'the aristocrats of the working class'). I guess some of it is probably for the very reason that it is so horrible: in a perverse way, there is a pride in doing that sort of work.

Minor historic point of amusement, one of the last surviving coal mines in Wales is near Ystradgynlais. Last year the owners applied for an extension to the mining activity, they got a Coal Authority licence, local planning permission agreed, financing lined up and mitigation bond to fund restoring the site was in place. All good to go, then the Welsh Government vetoed it. The Labour Party intervening to get mines shut and miners sacked always makes me chuckle. I don't even disagree with the decision, but given their history it is darkly amusing to me.

I picked Ystradgynlais because it's where my family lived for hundreds of years before my grandparents moved to Cardiff, so that is indeed an amusing historical coincidence.

Welsh Labour have not exactly been known for their political acumen in recent years, so this news does not surprise me too greatly. But then it should also be recalled that Wilson closed more mines than Thatcher (iirc), so the decision ironic perhaps only in the popular imagination.

We will be getting into mine closures soon, btw.
 
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Commonwealth 1965: Moonraker

DensleyBlair

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ECHOES%20HEADER.jpg



COMMONWEALTH 1965

"Moonraker"


Right as Jemima Cogan-Jones was leaving the Co-Op Market Hall in Ystradgynlais, about 180 miles north-west David Kennedy had just stepped out of the foyer of the Salford Odeum.

It was not usually his habit to haunt the cinema at this time of the day. Indeed, it was not usually his habit to be awake at this hour. David worked the night shift as a sorting clerk in the post room at Manchester Piccadilly Station, and in hours of daylight he was most likely to be found in the bedroom of his Ordsall Park maisonette, stuffed under the covers with his curtains firmly drawn against the white northern sun. But this week, for whatever reason, he had been unable to sleep as he normally did. However tired he felt, it just wouldn’t happen: he would get undressed, slide into bed and turn off the light on the side table, only to lie there, sometimes for hours on end, thinking of everything and nothing.

Janet said (Janet was David’s girlfriend) that this was his body’s way of telling him that it didn’t want to work nights at the train station any more. David said that this was Janet’s way of telling him that she didn’t want him to work nights at the train station any more. That he should rejoin the world of the living, as she was so fond of repeating. Janet still lived with her parents in a thirty-year-old terraced house in Hulme. The pair had met two years ago on the first floor of the Manchester Central Library, he reading for pleasure (W. B. Yeats) and she studying for her teaching exams. Now Janet assisted at an infants’ school in Moss Side, while David was always far too tired to read.



1965 MANC CENTRAL LIB.jpg

Manchester Central Library, 1965.
I debated with myself whether the neoclassicism of the OTL 1930s building would be appropriate here. Ultimately I decided the ease of using an historical picture outweighed any alt-historical aesthetic arguments, but I do have reservations about this style being applied uncritically to the Commonwealth at a time when Lubetkin-influenced Modernism was far more in vogue than OTL.


A few weeks ago, David had asked Janet to move in with him in his maisonette. She refused. She reckoned that it would only drive them both mad, living together on two completely different schedules. It would be like sharing a house with a ghost.

This had not gone down well with David. He took it personally. I don’t leave for work until nine, he said. We could still see each other in the evenings. And it would be a lot easier than it is now, me having to call in on my way across town, only catching half an hour here and there for a cup of tea. As far as David could tell, the only way that being under the same roof as each other would be worse than how things were now was if Janet didn’t actually want to live under the same roof at all.

When he put it like this, Janet couldn’t disagree. She did want to live with him, she promised, but it just made her sad, the thought of always missing each other; of always facing opposite directions. Even if we eat together in the evenings, you’ll just be starting your day and I’ll be having my tea. Every day would be like walking away from each other, she thought, only catching each other backwards. Like seeing ourselves reflected in a mirror, unable ever to touch.



1965 ORDSALL PARK.jpg

Ordsall Park in the Commonwealth is a very different proposition to Ordsall Park in our world…
This delightful selection of terraced houses comes from the Southwood House Estate in N6, a built between 1958–62 on the site of an old country house. Structured around a communal garden, the houses attracted an artistic sort of occupant. Apparently one of the first residents was Christopher Nolan.


If he stopped to think about it, this argument was probably the root cause of David’s recent insomnia. And, in an indirect way, it was an attempt to put the argument out of his mind that had led him to spurn his bed in favour of the darkness of screen one at the Salford Odeum.

He hadn’t paid much attention to what film he picked from those on show. The Odeum was good because most weeks you could see stuff from all over the Syndicate, which David liked because buying a ticket for something from France or Italy made him feel like he was making something of himself. David’s father worked on the railways. Every evening, in the time between having his tea and going to bed, he would read: the social realists, like Hanley, Greenwood and Ethel Holdsworth; the Modernists, like Joyce, Woolf and Dos Passos; work in translation, even: Zola, Sartre, Oyarzabal… David’s dad said that it was always important to read. It gave a person a sense of perspective.

After almost a full day awake, watching a film was just as good as reading. In the end, David had picked out the new Digby film: Moonraker, it was called. (He had no idea why.) He had decided that a spy thriller would, at the very least, keep him from inadvertently falling asleep. His ticket had cost five shillings and six (about half an hour’s work, David thought) and the theatre had been virtually empty. (What else would you expect at ten a.m. on a Thursday?) It felt luxurious in a surreal way, having the huge screen nearly to himself. Or maybe it was just a novel way of dreaming.



1952 JAMES HANLEY.jpg

James Hanley, painted by Gladys Vasey in 1952.
Hanley was a prolific and well-regarded author and playwright, acclaimed by the likes of E. M. Forster, T. E. Lawrence and Anthony Burgess, but this critical success (as is so often the case) did not translate all too well into a wide readership. In the Commonwealth, he is a much more major figure.


The film itself had been alright. David had seen the first one when it came out two summers ago, with Janet. Buying his ticket from the man at the box office, he’d forgotten this detail. Funny how things come back to you. At the time, he remembered thinking that Cary Grant seemed a bit old to be playing a spymaster, although what he really meant was that Cary Grant was too old to be playing the hero in a thriller. Janet had told him to be more open-minded.

He wondered what Janet would have thought this time, now that Grant was starring opposite Jeanne Moreau, a French actor young enough to be his daughter. Grant was a very young sixty-year-old, granted – but it did feel a little odd, David thought, seeing Digby running about Paris foiling CIA agents and German arms dealers who were all fifteen years younger than he was.

Much of the film had been like this, broody chase sequences through the boulevards interspersed with strikingly modern scenes of science fiction intrigue. The director was quite young, David remembered; his name was Richardson or something like that. He had not directed the first one, which was far more standard Hitchcockian in David’s memory, like most films that had come out of Heatherden in the last ten years. Moonraker felt much more alive, but at the same time it felt like it couldn’t quite decide what it wanted to be: old or new, thriller or comedy, English or French… If Janet had seen it she would probably have defended its right to be all of these things at once, David decided. But maybe that was just him being unfair, frustrated that he couldn’t find a way to make that sort of thinking practical.



1965 CARY GRANT PARIS.jpg

Cary Grant reprising his role as Digby after the success of 1963's The Man Digby.
Digby is not an exact analogue for James Bond. He is older, for one thing, and (originally at least) a spymaster rather than a field agent. Thinking about it, he is probably closer than 'overgrown stunt man' Sean Connery to the 'refined' character that Fleming originally had in mind. As the series develops (which it will), I anticipate that the Digby character will shift with it. Unlike Bond, there is no existing canon of books to draw from, so there's more freedom in that sense.


The plot was timely, David had thought, sat in the theatre two weeks after the world had almost ended over a few missiles in Cuba. In the film, Digby has been sent to France to keep an eye on ESRA, where a senior engineer has died mysteriously in a car crash. A few days later, one of his colleagues has a fatal heart attack and is found dead at home. The authorities call foul play. The engineer had been working on the latest project in the Eurosyn space programme: the launch of a new satellite called the “Leonardo”, built to photograph the lunar surface like never before. Digby's bosses are worried that the CIA are trying to wreck the mission from within.

Of course, it cannot possibly be so simple. Digby meets Jeanne Moreau, playing a French agent codenamed “Mimi”, who disagrees with the idea that the deaths are American interference. She believes that they are linked instead to a German crime ring with CIA connections, led by an aristocratic arms dealer called Dr Hans von Sturm. Sturm is played by another young French actor, Jean-Louis something… (David was too tired to catch the whole name, but he had an idea it started with a T.) Sturm wants Germany to go to war with the other European powers because he stands to make a lot of money from the trade in weapons, and he decides that the best way to make this happen is to meddle with the Leonardo launch. He passes on false intelligence to the CIA, feeding them stories about duplicitous European schemes, while simultaneously stoking European paranoia by framing the CIA for the assassinations. Eventually, Sturm reasons, the situation will become so tense that war will be inevitable.

David wasn’t entirely convinced by the finer details of Sturm’s plan, but part of him wondered if that was just because he wasn’t alert enough to take it in. Afterwards, he decided that it didn’t really matter: The whole thing was very entertaining as a two-hour spy caper, but it wasn’t exactly finely tuned drama. No doubt it would make Heatherden a lot of money, and no doubt David would be sat in this exact cinema screen, twelve months in the future, watching Cary Grant doing it all over again.



1965 JEANNE MOREAU.jpg

Jeanne Moreau as "Mimi".
The decision to cast a French actor in the co-star role, aside from being a natural development of setting the film in Paris, is an intentional reflection of the opening-up of Commonwealth culture to the rest of the Eurosyn as we approach 10 years since the Treaty of Paris. The implication is that the Sturm actor whose name David cannot recall is Jean-Louis Trintignant, so Moonraker has a very strong cast indeed.


Outside the cinema, reaching into his coat pocket for a cigarette as he began the walk back to the tram stop, David decided that the world would be a lot better off if all of its crises could be traced back to nefarious criminals. That way, he reasoned, there would be a sense of right and wrong; of order and chaos. The villains would all be on the one side, greedy and diabolical, and the governments of the world would be on the other, locked in a constant battle to make everything alright again. Maybe that was why Digby was so popular, David thought: it pre-empted the suggestion of a moral argument.

But he was too tired to mull over the implications of Digby’s morality. Around him, the street hummed steadily with life. Buses passed by in both directions, half full in the middle of the day. It was fairly warm for a January afternoon and the sun was dazzling as it hit the light-grey pavement. People were walking about with their overcoats undone, some of them in sunglasses. David wished he had brought a pair out, but months of nocturnal living had dulled his sense of dressing for the daytime. He’d come out in full winter wear – a hat, a scarf and gloves – and the further he walked the more he regretted it. He wondered if passers-by could tell that he was a foreigner to their world: a visitor from after dark.

Next to the tram stop, a small cafe was filling up with people starting their lunch breaks. David thought about joining them, waiting for his tram inside with a bowl of soup, but a look at his watch told him he only had a few minutes until the next car pulled up. He’d be home inside the half hour.



1934 MOSS SIDE TRAM.jpg

A tram running through Moss Side in 1934.
Manchester lost its tram network in the middle of the 20th century in favour of diesel buses, although nowadays the city has a decent tram system once again (at least, it did when I was there last). In the Commonwealth, the tramways stay.


It shocked him to realise, now that he thought about it, just how eagerly he was looking forward to getting back into bed. Being out in the sun had made him forget how tired he was. Maybe Janet is right, he thought. Maybe I don’t want to spend my days in bed any more. All these people, on the street and in the cafes, they all seemed happier than David. He wanted to be of their world, too: more contended, not so pale.

For a second, he thought about stopping at the phone box on the way home and calling the post office to ask for the night off. He would say he was ill, which wouldn’t be wholly untrue. He was ill, he judged. He was out of step with the rest of the city.

But he wouldn’t skive, not tonight. He would go in and speak to the postmaster, ask to switch to the daytime shift. Then after work he would call Janet and tell her they could move in together. Everything would work itself out, David knew then, just like in the films.

The tram wires buzzing overhead brought him out of his thoughts. A car was slowing down on its approach to the platform, its seats about a quarter full so far as he could tell. It came to a stop and the doors opened. David fished into his coat pocket for two shillings, which he handed to the driver as he stepped into the car. He took his ticket with a nod and shuffled towards an empty seat, then sat down gratefully. Two stops and home, he thought, resting his head on the window. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. The rumble of the tracks through the glass would have to stop him from falling asleep.
 
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Slice of life update number two there, taking in both the Heatherden machine and the *Bond franchise in a very roundabout way. (I'll leave it to you why the film is called "Moonraker". There is a reason, and it's not just idle theft from the Broccolis…)

The point of this post is not, however, to state he obvious by telling you there is an update above. No, not at all. Instead, this valuable AARland real estate is being put to service to advertise the fact that voting in the prestigious YAYA's, that is the Yearly AARland Year-end AwAARds, have been extended until Sunday 14th! So seeing as Valentine's Day is no doubt going to be a miserable old time for many of us in lockdown, why not spread some timely love and affection by filling in a ballot and sending some joy to your favourite authAARs? The voting thread can be found here.
 
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Well I suspect they could have built nothing else but something neo classical or neo gothic, considering the town hall is right there and the most neo gothic thing on the planet.

And the trams remain excellent, and in working order. They had just extended the line again all the way to the Trafford Centre, opening just as we went into national lockdown for the first time...
 
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Well I suspect they could have built nothing else but something neo classical or neo gothic, considering the town hall is right there and the most neo gothic thing on the planet.

Nothing is ever so certain when dealing with architects!

Neo-Gothic would have probably made more sense, if anything. It would perhaps be a bit much with John Rylands down the road, but the politics would maybe work better.

Then again, we could have some Ivan Fomin-like “proletariat classicism” emerge to give us some bilge about a universal architectural style and the necessity of monumentality. So yeah, it could go any which way. Certainly too early for anything like the old Birmingham Central Library…

And the trams remain excellent, and in working order. They had just extended the line again all the way to the Trafford Centre, opening just as we went into national lockdown for the first time...

I am very glad to hear this. I have very happy memories of zipping about Manchester on the tram. I’ve hardly been to the city in recent years except to go to Old Trafford. Definitely due a visit once the deadly killer virus is out the picture.
 
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Its a nice place. May become nicer still now the wall in picxadily gardens is gone and they're going to pedestrianised even more of the centre.

Neo gothic is probably the way to go. That whole area is either very neo gothic, or high victorian temples to commerce. The town hall, John Rylands Library, and all the former banks and hotels spring to mind.
 
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I rate Manchester a lot. I could easily see myself living there in a couple of years time, or else in Sheffield.

Mind you, what will be a big test post-pandemic is how Manchester’s cultural world holds up. The music venues were great, but a few I know have been seriously threatened by covid. Would be really sad to see it lose its music scene.

Neo gothic is probably the way to go. That whole area is either very neo gothic, or high victorian temples to commerce. The town hall, John Rylands Library, and all the former banks and hotels spring to mind.

I reckon what may well happen would be a building in a post-Morrisonian Lutyens-esque Arts and Crafts style. Almost a halfway house (no pun intended) between the gothic and the classicist.

These sorts of references spring to mind (both Lutyens)—
D1AD11EF-B561-4D1E-A020-1A6B9535FDC4.jpeg

D5B6F3DC-4B28-41E1-94E9-9601096364A4.jpeg
 
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