Poynted remarks

IssueFebruary - March 2023
Comment by Claire Poyner

Nostalgia, as the old joke goes, ain’t what it used to be.

I was reminded of this a while back when I read a Guardian ‘Long Read’ on nostalgia, or as they called it ‘binmenism’. I’ll explain that in due course.

There are a few nostalgia Facebook pages with posts urging people to ‘share if you remember this’. ‘This’ being random things such as wicker shopping baskets on wheels (my Yorkshire Nana had one), four fruit salads or black jacks for a penny (an old penny), and TV’s Watch with Mother.

Other posts seem to sing the praises of living in a house with no heating, so, presumably, implying that people shouldn’t be so concerned about not being able to afford their fuel bills? One post asked readers to ‘share if you remember beans on toast’. Huh? I had beans on toast for my breakfast yesterday.

So, binmen. Remember ‘Proper Binmen?’ went one post. What, you may ask, is a ‘Proper Binman’? It would appear a proper binman is a white working-class man, who is always cheerful (as if!), can lug a refuse bin without mechanical aid (never mind that the bins were much smaller, and that he’d probably throw the metal lid on the ground with it consequently getting out of shape and not fitting on the bin any more) and doesn’t care about ‘Health & Safety Shite”. Well, at least his bosses didn’t.

Anyone not concerned about health and safety for those doing such a heavy manual job has clearly never seen Cathy Come Home. My dad, once a NUPE union official (that’s National Union of Public Employees, so mostly school dinner ladies, hospital cleaners and, yes, binmen) could have told them a tale or two of the consequences of having no care for health and safety. Of course, those much-maligned wheelie bins are a sign of moral decay.

The Guardian columnist called this social media-led nostalgia ‘binmenism’. Reminded me of the Pythons’ ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ sketch, which some of you may remember. One-upmanship on how bad we had it in the ‘good old days’.

The article came to the conclusion that things were bad in the ‘good old days’ therefore they were better. Nothing like a bit of ice on the inside of your bedroom window to bring home how much better off we were in the ‘good old days’.

Some years ago, I was on a course on IT for women and one of the women, of a certain age, was telling the group how she used to do her banking. She’d sit down with the manager, no less, have a cup of coffee, while she did her banking. ‘So much respect in those days.’

Not like today, when you don’t even know who your bank manager is. In fact, you might not even know where your bank is, if it has a physical branch at all. But, then, so many people in the ‘good old days’ didn’t have a bank account at all, so there’s that.

The group (apart from me) agreed that things have changed ‘and not in a good way’.

Another woman on that course maintained that, back in the day, ‘men had proper respect for women’. Ah, yes, the ‘good old days’ when I could barely walk down the street without being told to remove several items of clothing, just for fun, just banter.

In the ‘good old days’, a husband could not be accused of raping his wife because she didn’t have the right to refuse.

Going back a bit further, I believe a man could legally beat his wife if the stick was the ‘correct size’.

A ‘battered wife’ (remember that phrase?) couldn’t leave because of the financial situation, but then she’d be asked ‘why do you stay with him’?

And children died of infectious diseases. Take a walk round any old cemetery and look at the ages of those buried there. Ah, yes, the ‘good old days’.

Some of this nostalgia is critical of a modern world that doesn’t actually exist. A post that pops up constantly asks people to ‘share if you think British history should be taught in schools again’ – as if it’s not actually taught in schools.

Some of it verges on the racist. Some of it is undeniably racist.

But things were bad in the ‘good old days’, therefore they were better.

‘You try and tell the young people today that… and they won’t believe you!’

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