Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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In '75 we Were Just Alive
If 1973 was the year of paganism and magic (and it was), then 1975 was the year of dystopia - or at least of that particular brand of British dystopia in which Britons are thrown back on their own resources in a world suddenly bereft of infrastructure. Clearly all those power cuts during the miners' strike of the previous year had gone to our heads. Speaking for myself, I'd found wandering round W. H. Smith by candlelight wonderfully romantic, and Romsey Abbey was even better, but I gather that the grown-ups found it more unsettling.

So, in 1975 we had the original Survivors, by Terry Nation, in which the devastation is caused by an escaped plague virus. That year also saw the publication of John Rowe Townsend's Noah's Castle, in which hyperinflation is to blame. In a rather more comedic mode there was the first series of The Good Life, where Tom Good's midlife crisis is the principal catalyst for a life of self-reliance.

And we had the TV version of Peter Dickinson's The Changes trilogy (published '68-'70), in which the cause of the trouble turns out to be (and I still remember my feeling of disappointment and betrayal about this when I first read The Weathermonger) Merlin himself, who's awoken in Wales, become addicted to drugs, gone on a bad trip and is flinging spells about to make everyone turn against post-mediaeval machinery. As a child I felt this to be very disrespectful towards Britain's greatest living wizard, but I suppose that that book too was of its time - in this case the late '60s. And I forgave it because so much of its action was set near my own home.

I don't remember whether the TV series of The Changes goes as far as that book. I've just bought the DVD, which begins with the last (but chronologically first) novel, The Devil's Children, and tells us of the beginnings of the troubles. You can get a flavour of it from this trailer. We started watching at my mother's a couple of nights ago, but unfortunately saw only one episode before her DVD player started packing up (we didn't smash it, honest); but on that basis it's just as good as I remember, even if unintentionally hilarious in the way it sets about separating Our Heroine, Nicky, from her father and pregnant mother. As they're hurrying through the chaotic streets to catch a "cart" to the south coast and thence to France, Nicky (who is as affected by the anti-machine madness as anyone else) stops for a moment to attack a Ford Cortina with a spanner, as you do, while her parents go on without her. When they realize she is missing, her father searches for a whole five minutes before deciding to leave her behind in the mayhem. "She's a sensible girl," he assures his wife. "She'll go back to the house and wait. It'll only take a couple of days for me to see you safely to the coast and I'll come back for her." Then next time we see them he's about to put his wife on a boat heading for France, when she has some kind of pregnancy-related pain. A few minutes later we cut back to them again, now both in the boat, and the father is saying, "I'll just see you safely over to France, then sail back, walk to the city, and find Nicky. Now, you're not to worry about her!"

Children were tougher in those days. Luckily, Nicky attaches herself to a Sikh family, who look after her, and then - but I must say no more.

I do recommend the series, though.
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There is something very Monty Python about those ladies attacking bicycles in the trailer. But I'm glad the adaptation was good (I didn'r read the books until after the TV series).

There is something very Monty Python about those ladies attacking bicycles in the trailer.

It's the headscarf. I did find it interesting that they attacked bicycles, given that (as Mark Twain reminded us) they could be built with tools with which Merlin would have been familiar, but I guess for this trippy wizard there's a strict historical cut-off.

I read some/a book(s) about life after machines in the '70s but had forgotten until I read this. But those don't seem familiar. Perhaps it was a different book. It is true that in that time we were all waiting for the apocalypse, the only clear post-apocalyptic novel I can remember is Riddley Walker (sp?) about rediscovering gun powder and Punch and Judy, all in a new dialect.

Riddley Walker is one of my favourites - not a children's book, though its author (Russell Hoban) wrote some great books for children, too. Set in a future Kent, if I remember. The Ardship of Cambry was the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Might it have been John Christopher's 'Tripods' trilogy? That's one I remember fondly from childhood. I have read other Peter Dickinson books but not this series, I might give it a go.

Or, now you mention John Christopher, perhaps his Prince in Waiting trilogy, based in a post-industrial Hampshire? I don't think it was very good, but I liked it because it mentioned my home town (Romsey), which no book ever did.

Oh yes, good point. I agree with your assessment on both levels, as someone who liked to go to Romsey Abbey on an occasional daytrip, and is also very fond of Winchester. At least my home city of Southampton had Cynthia Harnett's The Wool-pack, set in probably its best (mediaevel) period.

Peter Dickinson's The Changes trilogy (published '68-'70), in which the cause of the trouble turns out to be (and I still remember my feeling of disappointment and betrayal about this when I first read The Weathermonger) Merlin himself, who's awoken in Wales, become addicted to drugs, gone on a bad trip and is flinging spells about to make everyone turn against post-mediaeval machinery.

I remember picking up The Weathermonger as a child and not getting into it, but Dickinson's Merlin Dreams (1988)—a collection of short stories bound by the conceit of old Merlin dreaming under his stone, magic forming and breaking like ripples in a pool—was one of my elementary-school imprint books.

I don't think I've ever read that one! I must put that to rights. (Could it be a twenty-years-on palinode?)

(Could it be a twenty-years-on palinode?)

I don't know! I was just wondering if there's any relation. Let me know!

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I absolutely love the British brand of dystopia, so that sounds right up my street.

Coincidentally (or maybe not?) I was born on the 8th January 1975.

*Shivers* And belated fortieth birthday wishes, by the way!

It's certainly one of the good ones.

Edited at 2015-01-09 01:06 pm (UTC)

What you say about Nicky reminds me of a true story from Sartoris or someone equally reliable. I hope it could have been as late as The Saturdays, but perhaps earlier.

A couple were splitting up; the children were left with the father and the mother moved cross-country (NY to Chicago, iirc). The father got tired of the children (ages 10 and 6, maybe) and put them in a local orphanage. They escaped and set off for Chicago with no luggage, clothes on their back, and some portion of train fare.

With full success, no hassles at any stage. A succession of strangers helped them, supplied pocket money, oranges, etc.

/cane waving warning/

So there was a time when EVERYONE considered children to be tough enough for ... getting around on their own in what we'd think a very dangerous situation. No one asked for their ID, called police, nor thought they needed any more help than the casual oranges given.



Ah, the days when mollies were uncoddled!

I started with The Weathermonger and probably liked it more without the series expectations, as I don't think I would have expected morphine-addicted Merlin from the earlier books either!

A friend of mine was, as a small child (4ish) handed over to another woman while his family were escaping Cambodia by foot, and then they found him again on the other side of the border - alone. Eek.

Eek indeed!

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