Nostalgia is a cruel liar

Why a yearning for days gone by is holding back many within British society

When it comes to pining for days gone by, few nations do it more intensely and as frequently as Britain. Certain members of a generation have a longing for the ‘glory days’ of when Britannia ruled the waves and when ‘we won the war’ as well the days of simpler times in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Where it may have been better for some people back then, the truth is that nostalgia can be dangerous and misleading.

Going back to the height of the British Empire is perhaps the most misleading period of history. Whilst colonial wars and the stealing of land was the name of the game overseas, millions back in Britain were living in abject poverty. The wealthy were enjoying the benefits of financial gain and travel to the newly globalized world, but the majority of Britons were toiling in dangerous, low paid jobs and barely made ends meet.

The 1930s was a brutal decade for many. The Wall Street Crash of the previous decade had set the world into a depression which would only begin to lift at the outbreak of war. The hard, physical labour of the mills, factories, coal mines and ship yards dried up and left millions out of work.

We are reminded of just how brutal this period in history was by photographs which have survived from the time. One pic in particular dated 1937 shows a row of houses in a northern industrial town with no windows on the street. There may have been practical reasons for this, but the image is something which can’t be unseen and it represents everything which was not ‘glorious’ at this point in history for the vast majority of Britons.

There is absolutely nothing warming or nostalgic about the grinding nature of society at this point. The main take from this is the utmost respect and pride we should have for the people who worked incredibly hard and who almost always had the odds stacked against them.

Fast forward to post Second World War Britain and things had changed little. The rosy days of the war years which people in 2020 bang on about were nothing of the sort. Millions were killed overseas and millions more back home were experiencing rationing and the threat of being killed in their own beds by enemy bombs. Things haven’t been perfect this year, but surely it’s better than bleating on about a period in history which was hard for all involved?

As the 20th century rolled on, the periods which people in the present day yearn for continued to be disappointing and difficult for many people. LGBT and ethnic minorities faced constant discrimination, but the only people who didn’t suffer would be the ones financial gaining through the exploitation of those who worked hardest and get the fewest breaks in life.

You can argue that whilst some aspects of British society have improved this century, others have worsened; this is fact or opinion depending on where your stance is. What can’t be disputed is that nostalgia is a blatant liar, and what people might have thought were the ‘good old days’ were in fact a life which they themselves would struggle to live.

Written by

I am a journalist with an honours degree from Coventry University. Passionate writing about politics, culture, sport, society and more

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store