I’m a 5:2 diet follower so when I was asked if I’d like to host a guest piece on gluttony by William Sutton to celebrate his latest book Lawless and the Flowers of Sin, how could I refuse?
Today William ponders how we moved from austerity to gluttony in a thought provoking guest post.
Lawless and the Flowers of Sin
A Foundation for Fallen Women. An automaton chess-master. An impossible theft.
As reluctant inspector of vice, Lawless undertakes a reckoning of London’s nighthouses, Lawless is fascinated by Felix, the forlorn maestro driven by mysterious sufferings to establish this charitable foundation. Every secret he uncovers points to many more covered up. When reputations are at threat, those running the show can be merciless in defending them…
Seven Sinful Blogs – Gluttony
A Guest Blog by William Sutton
Gluttony v Austerity: a Visit to the 1940s
It’s not often we return to the past. For a historical novelist, an event like Southwick’s D-Day Revival Weekend can be eye-opening. I learnt something not only pertinent to my novels, but to today’s politics.
What pleasure we have in dressing up. What pleasure in returning to the past, even if it is a past of make believe. My in-laws loved it, reminiscing about the styles, fashions, vehicles and ration books of their earliest childhood.
The hog roast was what struck me as dissonant. Everyone was dressed in 1940s outfits (or thereabouts: there were teddy boys and Brylcreem merchants amongst landgirls and flappers). There were wartime buses, uniformed gents strolling the village lanes, jazz in the pub, brass bands playing down the road. Make do and mend stands, jumble sale trestles, Dig for Victory allotments, military vehicles, and village tea stalls.
Returning to the past. A wonderful dream (especially for a novelist). People nodding politely as we passed. Bus driver tips his hat. The theatricality of village life. The air raid warden. The steam-powered bus. The larger than life pub landlady.
Nothing to jar.
Except the plentiful food. I’m sure the odd hog was roasted on the sly by canny Hampshire farmers. Nonetheless, we visitors to Southwick expected an endless bounty, and we got it.
Our modern ease with gluttony and abundance made me pause. I didn’t realise how much I had absorbed the wartime (and post-war) tales of ration books, thrift and waste-not-want-not. At the ’Allo ’Allo hog roast stand, by the Red Lion pub, we ordered hog roast, sausage butties, Pimm’s and more – and it felt strange. After visiting the Map Room, where Eisenhower and Churchill gave D-Day the go-ahead, we sat down for a cream tea. Then a cheeky pint in the Golden Lion, listening to a rather wonderful old jazz band. (I mean the jazz was old; though the band were too.)
Jam, butter, cream, scones, milk, sugar, tea. Hog, bread, butter, ketchup, sausages. Pimm’s lemonade. Disposable cups, disposable plates, disposable food, disposable income.
Ladies and gentlemen, I offer you the war of the centuries:
Gluttony versus Austerity.
The 1940s is not my period (though the 1860s didn’t seem so far away, with bowler hats, flat caps and demure dresses). Yet something struck me: about the tales we tell of the past; about the lies we tell of the present. Our government sells us a story of austerity that excuses and justifies many a cut, a shortcut, a politicised shrug. And yet this is very much a land of plenty. If the plenty is not divided equally, is that our problem or not? Is it the government’s problem?
In 1864, the country’s wealth was divided even less equally than today. Thousands were made homeless by the building of the Metropolitan Line; thousands more by the shiny new Embankment. But who cares? Nobody really important had to move. Or if they did, they were compensated.
These developments began the inexorable vortex that still consumes London now: that those who are prepared to do manual and menial jobs in the centre of the City cannot afford to live there. With the advance of Progress promised after the War, such inequality and unaffordability had decreased.
Why is it now again on the rise?
“Take your country back,” we were told.
Back to the 1960s, before all the wishy-washy-pinko-egalitarian nonsense?
Back to the 1860s, before women’s rights, worker’s rights, free education, enfranchisement?
Back to the 1060s, and throw in a bit of feudal deference?
Wonderful dreams are perhaps always just dreams. The polite nods, the theatricality , the larger than life pub landlady seem less cosy, even a little threatening, when we reflect how shoddily the promises of post-war Britain are being treated now.
I loved my visit to a 1940s town, and I congratulate the people of Southwick on a wonderful job. I think it’s wonderful to commemorate the wartime spirit, and there is a healthy patriotic fervour to that commemoration. But there is a strange fetishisation – like Monty Python’s sketch about deprivation – of a past that never was; or a past that was less comfortable and unified than we pretend.
I also am reminded how quickly gluttony, with austerity as its pompous ally, consumes our sense of justice.
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