Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The best of times, the worst of times

The Today Programme this morning featured a fascinating discussion between two historians on whether it was possible to come up with an objective criteria to find the worst year in UK history. It followed a claim by one of them that the answer was 1812, not because the Prime Minister got assassinated in that year but because there was such a general level of anger amongst the populace that the news of his assassination was actually greeted by cheering.

I can't find a link to this, although Iain Dale has taken it up and got a bit of a discussion going as to worst years of people's lifetimes.

In a comment I left on Iain's blog I named 1979 as the worst year, but this was deliberately provocative. If it was a bad year it wasn't so much because it was the year Margaret Thatcher came to power as the fact that it was the year we handed Zimbabwe-Rhodesia over to the tyrant Robert Mugabe.

Politically speaking I think you would have to say that 2001 was the worst year in living memory. The first half of it was dominated by the sight of plumes of smoke going up from the funeral pyres of millions of dead cows, the second half by the sight of plumes of smoke going up from the World Trade Centre.

I think the best political year I can recall was probably 1977, the year of the Queen's Silver Jubilee. It was a period of benign and enlightened government under Jim Callaghan and David Steel and I recall a general sense of national uplift around this time, though sadly it didn't last.

But what of my personal good and bad years? Here's a potted history of the four and a half decades of my lifetime with the highpoints in blue and the lowpoints in red.

* 1963 - BAD. I am told this winter was the harshest in living memory, and that on one occasion when my mum tried to bath me I turned blue.

* 1970 - GOOD. The year of Mungo Jerry's "In the Summertime" as well as the last real White Christmas I can remember.

* 1972 - BAD. My first pet, a goldfish called Highfield, was eaten by the cat.

* 1974 - BAD. My grandad died - my first, and deepest, bereavement.

* 1979 - GOOD. Fell in love for the first time, with one of the bridesmaids at a family friend's wedding.

* 1983 - GOOD. Fell in love again and went on a memorable camping holiday to Ireland.

* 1987 - GOOD. Celebrated my 25th birthday with a legendary party at my flat in Nottinghamshire that still gets talked about occasionally.

* 1990 - GOOD. The summer of Italia '90, Ambient House, and beer. Enough said.

* 1995 - GOOD. Achieved my career ambition and became a lobby correspondent.

* 1997 - BAD. A real belter. I got dumped by a long-standing partner and my landlord tried to attack me during a period of drug-induced psychosis.

* 2001 - GOOD. Got married.

* 2004 - GOOD. My son George was born, and we moved to Derbyshire.

* 2006 - BAD. My American brother-in-law Mitch died in a road accident.

* 2007 - GOOD. Little Clara arrived, and we moved again to a new home we now hope to stay in for a lot of years.

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David Boothroyd said...

Um, actually Robert Mugabe did not become Prime Minister of Zimbabwe until 1980; in fact he did not even spend any of 1979 in the country, being still in exile at the time of the Lancaster House Conference until the conference's truce came into effect. PS 'Zimbabwe-Rhodesia' was a name which only applied from 1 June 1979 until 12 December 1979, and after that it was Southern Rhodesia again.

Worst year of the twentieth century? 1938, for the Anschluss and the Munich Agreement selling out Czechoslovakia must come quite high.

Anonymous said...

1997 looks interesting Paul, you don't make clear who was suffering from drug-induced psychosis.

Paul Linford said...


Clue: it wasn't me.

Anonymous said...

1977 a good year politically - wasn't that the year we were bailed out by the IMF, who were then effectively in charge of the economy?

Anonymous said...

No, that was 1976.