They say the past is another country, and though foreign travel is currently not recommended, here's where the staff at AG would like to go back to
Garry Coward-Williams, editor
If I could live in any period in time I would go back to 1958 to enjoy the end of the 50s and the whole of the 1960s as an adult, rather than a child.
Why? Well, it’s mainly about music, but also a lot of cultural elements too. Assuming I have money and the knowledge of what the future holds, I could make sure I was always at the right place at the right time.
What an experience to pop on the ferry at Felixstowe, travel to Hamburg and see The Beatles perform in the dingy Bambi Kino nightclub, then months later take a steam train to Liverpool and watch them at The Cavern. Catch The Rolling Stones at The Station Hotel on Eel Pie Island. I could see The Doors at The Roundhouse, Eric Clapton and Peter Green playing with The Bluesbreakers, Sid’s Pink Floyd at the UFO and Jimi Hendrix at The Speakeasy.
I could go to football matches and see George Best and other great players in tired old stadiums full of noise and humour — not the plastic cathedrals we have today. And after the match and a few beers I could go to the chip shop and get a thick piece of cod in batter not the slither we get these days and I’d have it in old newspaper.
But it’s not just about entertainment. I could buy beautiful made-to measure-suits of almost any style from a proper tailor for a few pounds at a time when people liked to look smart and wouldn’t have been seen dead in a shell suit. I could go to most pubs and have a sing-along at the piano and it not be unusual.
I could travel all over the country and enjoy hearing genuine regional accents, seeing largely unspoilt countryside and enjoy the juxtaposition between that and the industrial towns of the North.
I could drive a British made car with leather bench seats and walnut dash that needs constant attention and have a genuine sense of achievement whenever I arrived anywhere without breaking down.
Of course, it wouldn’t all be great. I’d have to accept that the available food is hugely limited and if I wanted anything faintly foreign I’d have to make it myself and I’d have to travel to find the ingredients. Imagine a two-hour round trip on a double decker bus to get some lasagne sheets and they wouldn’t even be fresh.
But I wouldn’t mind that, perhaps my biggest challenge would be cooking without non-stick pans! I would also have to do without central heating, waking up in an unheated room on a frosty morning and re-engaging with smelly paraffin heaters. Having said that, you can’t beat the feeling once a coal fire gets going and the room is aglow.
Lastly, I would also have to cope with the old-fashioned British Sunday when nothing happens, the shops are closed and the pubs have even more restrictive hours, but I think I could live with all that…lots of people did.
Ruth Hayes, gardening editor
It may sounds slightly odd, but I want to visit to the Iron Age because living in West Dorset, as we do, you can’t help but notice how that era imprinted itself on the very landscape.
For starters, our house is right next to a Roman road on the other side of which is an Iron Age hillfort – ancient history is everywhere.
The Bronze and Iron Ages left their massive physical mark in the form of imposing hillforts and eerie burial mounds, known as barrows. The forts were thriving settlements and their chieftains and nobles were buried with great honour and many valuables, tools and weapons in the barrows (long since looted) that crop up in fields and woodland across the county.
Dorset’s landscape is humped with more than 30 hillforts, including Eggardon Hill, Chalbury, Badbury Rings and Hambledon Hill, but the largest is Maiden Castle, an hour’s walk away.
Many of you will remember it from the erotic ‘fencing scene’ in the film Far From the Madding Crowd, starring Terence Stamp and Julie Christie.
It is the size of 50 football pitches, was built in 1BC and is accessed via a series of winding paths through towering earthen ramparts.
From its flat top you can see for miles and hear the wind, local flocks of sheep, traffic on the Dorchester bypass, the sounds of modern semi-rural life. But run down into the ramparts and all sound is deadened and you’re surrounded by a deep, eerie silence.
Maiden Castle is a stunning feat of engineering and I want to know what it was like to live there, when it was newly build and, apparently, a gleaming chalk-white monument to tribal authority. Yes, it would be chilly, the rough clothes and furs would play merry hell with my allergies and I’m not convinced about the diet, but I quite fancy a woad tattoo and need to get among the people who called it home.
They were the Durotriges, a Celtic tribe who minted coins, traded across the Channel and got disatrously on the wrong side of Vespasian and his Roman legions (a late Iron Age cemetery on Maiden Castle contains many bodies showing signs of grotesque injuries).
I want to explore the landscape as it was then and see how society worked, how people lived, interacted (many of the forts are within sight of each other which suggests some form of communication between settlements), traded with other tribes and countries and how they tried to defend themselves against the Romans.
Much of life would have been short, brutal and bloody, but it would be fascinating to put warm flesh on the bones of our important, long-dead local civilization.
Janey Goulding, assistant editor
It was the year we narrowly avoided being hit by two giant asteroids. Cliff Richard released his 100th pop single. TV cameras entered the House of Commons. The World Wide Web was born. And Cher sang ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’.
So, like Quantum Leap’s Sam Beckett, I would travel back to a magical era within my own lifetime: 1989. And like Back To The Future’s Marty McFly, I would strive not to make any significant changes to my own history, and preserve the sanctity of school dances, clock towers and sports almanacs.
Because much as I’d love to go back to the Victorian era and rub shoulders with Marie Curie and Wilkie Collins, I don’t think I’d be much cop with cholera and crinolines. And with much regret, while I adore 1950s fashion and music, I suspect I’d be a bit rubbish at that whole pre-feminism and workplace inequality trip. And the thing is, I know 1989 was my year.
There are a few empirical reasons why this was a moment in history unlike any other: interpersonally, culturally, socio-politically: the end of the Cold War era, and the beginning of New Europe (all the more poignant as we witness the end of it). A year where the future felt like a promise we could keep, where global fears and restrictions were dissolving, the old guard was falling away, walls of division and isolationism were literally coming down – and anything seemed possible.
As a wave of revolutions swept across the Eastern Bloc, divided families and friends linked arms and stood side by side on the crumbling walls flanking Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate and chipped away at the old guard with hammers and pickaxes. Years of surging activism was culminating in a quest for reform that would ultimately bring down that wall for good.
In tandem with this revolutionary arc of transformation, as the Iron Curtain buckled, as a human rights protester stood in front of an oncoming tank in Tiananmen Square, and as Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile teetered on the brink – alongside all that, another revolution scuttled in quieter shoes along the corridors of change.
Softly spoken British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee outlined proposals for a dynamic information-sharing space, which he then implemented and developed into the World Wide Web. The internet was born.
There were still tragedies, specific and shocking, but they were underpinned with a commitment to lessons learned to ensure that we might move forwards, humbled but progressive, to a more thoughtful, inclusive and socially conscious mindset. This momentum coloured all, from the beginnings of the dissolution of apartheid with the presidential election of Frederik de Klerk in South Africa, to football terrace safety reforms in the wake of the Hillsborough tragedy.
My younger, less cynical self delighted in the possibilities of a world where good could triumph over evil in the minutiae of our lives as well as in the big global events. Life was better, because Robin Williams as English teacher John Keating in Dead Poets Society urged us to carpe that diem – ‘seize the day’ – and make our lives extraordinary, while When Harry Met Sally advocated the exquisite pleasures and comedic pratfalls of male-female friendships, a blueprint that I would spend my adult life researching dutifully and enthusiastically.
The Stone Roses, De La Soul, The Pixies and The Cure released career-defining albums. Madonna challenged the establishment (back when it was still interesting) with pop art as personal meditation. And rave exploded in the climactic throes of the second Second Summer of Love.
And in the ultimate celebration of good triumphing over evil, Coronation Street super-villain Alan Bradley got flattened under a tram in Blackpool, and Dirty Den found out the hard way that you should never trust a man carrying a large bunch of daffodils.
Historians tell us our understanding of the past is a developing creature that is never fully complete. It’s all relative, and many extraordinary moments end up as footnotes in bigger stories. But 1989 truly was one of those catalytic years when the world shifted irrevocably – and I was there. And what I wouldn’t give to be there again, and tell everyone what an extraordinary moment we were living through.
In his book The End of History, brilliant political scientist Francis Fukuyama wrote: “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution.”
Important cultural concerns, progressive ideas and emotional truths were embraced and consolidated. Things changed radically, and they changed for the better. And if life is an elastic band that has the potential to stretch and lift us as far as possible from repression towards enlightenment and hope before we get snapped back to the darkness, then I believe wholeheartedly that 1989 was that year of optimum stretch and maximum freedom.
A pivotal moment of illumination, courage and discovery: of new beginnings, and unforgettable adventures. And Madchester, obviously.
Kathryn Wilson, features co-ordinator
Blame Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton – or maybe the cast of Carry on Cleo – but I have always been fascinated by Ancient Egypt, and in particular the women who ruled during the Dynastic period.
The gold! The incredible feats of architecture and engineering! The eyeliner!
Apparently, life in Egypt was so good that the afterlife was imagined not as some perfect existence that no one could quite imagine, but simply as more of the same. Even for the lower classes there was time for sports, games, reading, festivals and catching up with friends and family, while happiness, both individual and communal, was seen as an important goal.
Writers (or scribes) were considered immortal and the profession was open to women as well as men, as was medicine and the priesthood, something that was unheard of in Europe until centuries later. In fact, women and men had almost equal rights.
And best of all? The Egyptians knew how to party. Along with the birthdays of their (numerous) gods, there were anniversaries of the current ruler’s deeds, funerals, wakes, housewarming parties and births. Any excuse for a knees-up, complete with feasting and beer.
Wendy Humphries, letters
The period of history that I would love to ‘visit’ is the roaring 1920s, I am passionate about both historical fashion and dance. Put me to the set of The Great Gatsby films or in the chorus line of my favourite musical is 42nd Street and I’d be deliriously happy.
I would arrive early in the decade, it was an optimistic period after the horrors of the First World War. You can only imagine the relief that the long years of fighting were finally over and the effect it had on on society and culture.
Twenties fashion evolved with simpler styles without layers, I love the flapper dress. The dress style had a dropped waste and higher hem line giving a glimpse of a ladies knees!
Evening dresses were embellished with beads, sequins and embroidery for ultimate glitz and glamour, many were attributed to styles designed by Coco Chanel. Hair was cut into a bob and finished with a cloche hat.
I’d enter wearing the red dress covered in black tassels made for me by my aunt 35 years ago for a fancy dress party. Designs were easy to copy and make at home using cheaper materials such as artificial silk and cotton.
The looser fitting and angled hemline allowed girls to move more freely and they said goodbye to the restrictive girdle while out dancing. The foxtrot, tango and waltz were all popular dances of the 20s. The Charleston started in the Cotton Club, New York, and was the dance that anyone could pick up, you didn’t need a dance teacher, or a partner.
Nearly 100 years on, I would love to re-visit my house, a former Manse. At the time the Minster was John James and he lived here with his wife Anne (shown). We were lucky to have a surprise visit by the great niece of Rev. James and she brought clear photographs taken in 1926 of the house and the couple in the garden. Apparently churches held dances to attract young people – I’d love to think John and Anne enjoyed a bit of Charleston on our parquet floor!
Lesley Upton, features editor
I would like to visit – not necessarily live – in Egypt during the period when the Great Pyramids of Giza were being built about 4,500 years ago. Just visiting would enable me to be a ‘fly on the wall’ at that time, while still being able to return to the present day with all its advantages of medical care, education and advances in technology that make our lives ‘easier’ and enable us to we live longer.
There are three Pyramids at Giza, and the oldest and largest – and only surviving structure of the famed Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – is the Great Pyramid. It was built for Pharaoh Khufu, who reigned for 23 years (2,589-2,566BC).
The Great Pyramid is 481ft (147m) tall. It is believed around 2.3 million blocks of stone, weighing around 2.5 tons each, had to be cut, transported and assembled to build the Great Pyramid.
There are many theories about how the pyramids were built, but even today scientists can’t be sure how they did it. Early theories suggested that slaves built these huge structures, but now it’s generally believed that the pyramids were built by skilled well-fed workers who lived in a temporary city nearby.
The pyramids were primarily tombs for the great and the good of the time – the Pharaohs, who expected to become gods in the afterlife. The pyramids, as well as being tombs, were temples to the gods, and when the pharaohs died they were filled with all the things needed to guide and sustain the Pharaoh in the next world.
Imagine living during those times and seeing these huge structures being built. It must have been amazing.
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