We live in a golden age. Ah, yes; I can hear your bitter laugh as you contemplate your mortgage, the price of petrol, the bloody awful British weather – but trust me (I’m a historian) it used to be a LOT worse.
In the sixteenth century, my own special period, even the King of England did not have such a comfortable life as most of us enjoy these days. Those quaint four-poster beds are not designed to be cute and old-fashioned. Tudor houses were so cold that you had to sleep in what amounted to an indoor tent in order to protect yourself from hypothermia. It had the added advantage of providing a modicum of privacy in buildings that usually had no corridors, so that you might be subjected to people traipsing through your bedroom to get to the next room. Imagine that! Just when you were trying to enjoy some quality time with your chosen bedfellow!
The King himself, of course, had plenty to eat and even a fireplace in his bedroom and servants to keep it alight. His parents had been able to afford a very good education for him and he could afford the best medical care. Unfortunately even the best medical care was pretty useless at a time when nobody understood how disease was communicated, when the most common practice to help recovery was to bleed your patient, when the only anaesthetic was alcohol. I don’t think any amount of gin and tonic would inure me to having my leg sawn off!
Even the greatest in the land could die in childbirth or of complications soon after. Jane Seymour, the King’s third wife, died of milk-leg fever. (Don’t ask. I don’t know. Only that it was something to do with post-partum complications.) And money and power were no protection against child death. The King’s first wife; Katherine of Aragon had something in the region of twenty pregnancies, of which all but one resulted in miscarriage, still birth or infant death.
The first Elizabeth almost died of smallpox; her recovery was a matter of luck rather than the result of medical knowledge.
And as for ordinary poor people like you and me (if you’re rich you shouldn’t be reading this; you won’t like the end) - we lived in hovels hardly better than mud huts, or in dreadful city slums, rife with disease. We suffered regular famines. If we lived in the country we were practically owned by the local lord of the manor.
And we STILL had to contend with the bloody awful British weather!
For thousands of years the set-up generally, was that a few rich and powerful people or, if you prefer, thugs who took everything they wanted by brute force, dominated a great many impoverished and defenceless people: a set-up that, once established, is terribly difficult to dislodge. Despite a couple of worrying peasant rebellions, this situation persisted well into the nineteenth century during which the only government response to social care was the workhouse and we all know how popular that was.
The British people only really began to experience a modicum of comfort when the government launched a welfare programme which became the envy of the world.
Beginning with the introduction of free state education for 5 to 10 year olds in 1891 the Welfare State was slowly and painfully introduced, culminating gloriously in 1948 (incidentally, the year I was born, but I don’t suppose there’s any connection) when the NHS was launched. This was partly funded through nationalising the utility industries, which strangely managed to make a profit at that time, and by taxing the rich at a level which forced them to make a realistic contribution to the welfare of the people.
Since then we have become accustomed to the idea that we have a right to free education, health care and a state pension. We expect the government to ensure that the destitute are cared for, that in times of need we should have the ‘safety net’ of benefits.
We don’t have a right to it. It can be taken away by the next rich thug who doesn’t see why they should spend some of their money on the poor. All these things people fought and died for can be taken away at the drop of a hat by any government dominated by millionaires.
To demonstrate this, I have only to point out that Thatcher sold off the remaining state-owned businesses - British Telecom, British Airways, Rolls-Royce, British Airports Authority, steel (which had been renationalised by Labour in the 1960s), the British Gas Corporation, water and electricity. John Major’s government sold off the remains of the coal industry and the railways.
All these had been providing a good income for the British people but the profits now went to line the pockets of the rich.
May is now continuing the practice with her hell-bent determination to destroy the NHS and state education by selling them off to private suppliers.
We can just let this go on as we did for thousands of years, submitting to rule by individuals whose only claim to power and wealth is that one of their ancestors was handy with a sword, or we can do something about it.
For the first time in decades we have a genuine alternative to rule by the rich. Whatever you think of the individuals involved, consider the difference in policies.
If we allow Theresa May one more term there is a very good chance we will no longer have an NHS at the end of it. And we can kiss goodbye to the golden age.
About Jenny Twist
Jenny Twist was born in York and brought up in the West Yorkshire mill town of Heckmondwike, the eldest grandchild of a huge extended family.
She left school at fifteen and went to work in an asbestos factory. After working in various jobs, including bacon-packer and escapologist’s assistant (she was The Lovely Tanya), she returned to full-time education and did a BA in history, at Manchester and post-graduate studies at Oxford.
She stayed in Oxford working as a recruitment consultant for many years and it was there that she met and married her husband, Vic.
In 2001 they retired and moved to Southern Spain where they live with their rather eccentric dog and cat. Besides writing, she enjoys reading, knitting and attempting to do fiendishly difficult logic puzzles.
She has written three novels - Domingo’s Angel – a love story set in Franco’s Spain and harking back to the Spanish Civil War and beyond - and All in the Mind – a contemporary novel about an old woman who mysteriously begins to get younger and The Owl Goddess.
She has contributed short stories to many other anthologies, of which two –Doppelganger and Uncle Vernon have been released as short ebooks.
Other works include the Mantequero series: novellas about a Spanish mythological figure, and An Open Letter to Stephen King & Other Essays, a compilation of non-fiction essays and articles. Her latest novella, The Minstrel Boy, was published in the anthology Letters from Europe in 2016.