Real Life: The Good Life?


James Macnaughton, my Father-in-Law, writes in a guest blog about how times are not so different today than over 30 years ago!

It’s funny how one’s mind works, sometimes ! The wise French proverb “The more things change, the more they are the same” reminded me of events in 1973-74 (when our Probus Club was formed), which have many similarities to those of Spring 2012, a generation later. The Yom Kippur War in October 1973, in which Israel was surprise attacked by an alliance of all its Arab neighbours and promptly routed them all, resulted in an OPEC oil embargo on the U.S.A., Britain and Japan , because these countries had re-supplied Israel with all the vital arms and ammunition it needed to fight the war. This embargo lasted for five months and resulted in a four-fold increase in the price of oil. Mind you, in 1973 petrol was 42p PER GALLON compared with £1.40 PER LITRE today.

The oil shortages, along with a miners’ strike and other striking Unions(who will be in action again in Spring 2012 !) resulted in power cuts through the winter months of 1974(“The Winter of Discontent”). This enforced a three day week in industry and commerce, and with prospects of a poor world grain harvest , there were severe food shortages. Also, worries about agricultural policies , prompted by the animal feed shortages, and involving the slaughter of thousands of calves and breeding cows – the basis of the nation’s future beef supplies- caused some concerned folk in the highland village of Aberfeldy, Perthshire, to get together to form an Action Group to discuss whether Aberfeldy, and Highland Perthshire in general, if the worst came to the worst, could become self sufficient.

We did a survey of old walled gardens belonging to the many castles and mansions in the district, finding that they could in the main easily be put back into production of fresh fruit and vegetables : the local mixed farms could produce the meat, grain, milk, butter, cheese and eggs; the forests and hills could provide game, the rivers fish and the Mill (which belonged to our family business McKerchar and Macnaughton Ltd.), could carry on production of oatmeal, wheat meal , barley meal and maize meal , even if there were power cuts. When I joined the family business back in 1961, my father had encouraged me to spend time learning each of the skills and trades involved, and becoming a proficient oatmeal and provender miller was one of them. The old mill, with its water wheel providing around 8 horsepower and which was only set at the right speed, in the words of one of our millers, if it was “singing”, was a fascinating place in which to work. The Action group included the Provost, the local G.P.( an enthusiastic member of the Soil Association), some town councillors , several farmers, as well as myself. Fortunately, the national situation improved gradually, so we did not have to swing into action, but it is interesting that in 2012 many people are growing their own fruit and vegetables.

Other depressing background events in Spring 1974 included the IRA bombing mainland Britain – now it is Muslim terrorists !- and a “Hung” Parliament with Edward Heath as Prime Minister. His solution – a “Coalition” with the Liberals led by Jeremy Thorpe – now it is Cameron and Clegg ! – but Thorpe did not agree to Heath’s conditions, so Labour came back in under Harold Wilson in March. The Stock Market crashed – shades of 2008! –Inflation was at the horrifying rate of 17.2% , GDP fell by 3.9%. Now we are teetering on the brink of a double recession, although inflation, thankfully, is only 3.9%. The words of the Labour Manifesto eerily echo those used recently by the Conservatives. We must, they said, have a Social Contract and Share Together to build a Fair Society. A Coalition Government, they asserted, “tends to trim its policies and fudge its decisions(Sounds familiar ?!)The crisis, they maintained, “Was made worse than it need have been, because of the financial disasters Labour inherited from the Tory Government”. ”The regeneration of our economy isn’t going to be easy, even with a Labour Government.” All very familiar claims made recently by the Conservatives ! And now we have the threat of a strike by petrol tanker drivers and the possibility of the army having to help out to keep the country on the move. “Plus ca change !”

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