On July 1, 1946, two days before I was born, the Americans conducted the first in a series of nuclear tests called ‘Operation Crossroads’. The tests took place in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, at the Bikini Atoll in Micronesia. On July 5th, two days after I was born, the French fashion designer, Louis Reard, launched a new two piece, swim-suit design in a Paris fashion show. He named his new design the bikini. Both these ‘bikini’ incidents caused some international controversy, thus allowing me to slip unnoticed into this world. Not surprisingly, throughout my life, I have always had a fondness for bikinis.
I was born just ten months after the Second World War ended with the surrender of Japan, and just over a year after the war ended in Europe with the death of Hitler. But memories and signs of the war were everywhere throughout my childhood. Wounded men wearing their ‘de-mob’ suits were a common sight and most cities showed signs of German bombing raids. Playing hide-and-seek with other kids in bomb sites and air raid shelters was just part of the world that I was born into.
My paternal grandfather was a captain in the British Royal Navy, stationed in Portsmouth, an important Naval base where I was born, next to Southampton. Obviously, I was too young to remember, but most of the streets and buildings where my mother gave birth had been demolished by unrelenting German bombing attacks. As a result, following the war, housing was in desperately short supply and my parent’s and my first home was a prefab. Prefabricated homes had been erected during the war as a short term measure for temporarily housing bombed-out families, but prefab estates remained part of the British landscape well into the 1970s.
I was too young to know what I was missing, but the war had caused such food shortages that everything was rationed. My earliest memories are of shopping with my mother and her precious Ration Book. Sugar, butter, cheese, margarine, cooking fat, bacon, meat, and tea were all strictly controlled and carefully accounted for in the Ministry of Food Ration Book. I was almost ten when rationing finally ended and I had my first candy-bar.
Despite the austerity, the rationing, and the ever present bombsites, the Britain I was born into was truly Great Britain. It had emerged victorious from a terrible world war, it was the center of the greatest empire that history had ever known, its language was spoken and recognized worldwide and, along with the United States of America and the Soviet Union, it was a world Super-Power. On the day of my birth, July 3, 1946, Great Britain was still at the pinnacle of its power, but in the almost eighty years that have passed since then, there has been a slow, steady, cruelly inexorable decline; Great Britain has become Brexit.
In my mid 30s I moved to the United States and have lived here ever since. After all the gloomy English class divisions and labor unrest of the late 70s, the America where my family and I settled, was a sunny, friendly land of boundless optimism; our friends were equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, political discourse was cordial and there was a widespread understanding that with hard work and a cheerful disposition, anything was possible. Growth and steady progress was seen as an ineluctable Law of Nature. But today I live in a nation bitterly divided between Blue States and Red, where political discourse is impossible, gun violence and mass-shootings are a common occurrence and most people are fearful for their future.
The purpose of this book is to trace Great Britain’s national decline and show how my fellow countrymen and my generation of fellow ‘baby-boomers’ have accepted and adapted, or ignored and denied that sad transformation of our once proud heritage. It will also trace and describe, if not explain, how the sunny and optimistic America of the 1980s has become a dark, distrustful nation of fear. The book will show how the baby-boomer generation, born with such promise and blessed with such wealth, is leaving the world a darker and a sadly poorer place.