The veteran Folk musician, Martin Carthy, in a fascinating interview, recalls meeting Bob Dylan in London in 1962 – a time when the city was re-adjusting itself to the social, economic and structural upheavals consequent upon the aftermath of war. Two years later Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’ appeared in our record shops and London had established a new, cool identity, the vibes of which were being felt around the world.
Times, of course, are always changing, even though it may not always appear so: my recollection of the 1970s, for instance, is one of stagnation and of having been washed up in the backwaters of history. It felt as though nothing was going anywhere. But what I failed to detect at the time was the undercurrent of change precipitated by the decline of heavy manufacturing and the effects this was going to have on my expectations. I certainly never expected to find myself, years later, sitting outside a wine bar in Manchester, on a warm afternoon, sipping pinot noir: and not just any pinot noir – an English pinot noir! I was more likely to have imagined myself in a traditional pub beer-garden with its tired offering of industrial beer, cider, plonk and pub-grub. Pubs are now fewer on the ground due, in part, to the rise in the popularity of wine and of drinking at home, but beer-gardens still thrive and I am pleased to report that they offer better-quality fare – a reflection, perhaps, on the power of competition to drive up standards and of the adaptability of capitalism to switch from quantity to quality in order to maintain margins.
Not everyone likes change. Some would argue that it nurtures a dangerous tendency to discard the old – along with any merits it may have – in favour of the un-tried and un-tested new. They are right to be cautious: it is said that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. London’s post-war housing projects, for example, did not take into account the negative consequences of breaking up established communities (although the fact that many such communities were doomed anyway by disappearing employment opportunities goes to show how hard it is to predict outcomes). Perhaps we should all be vigilant for the unintended consequences of change. Sometimes they can be quite surreptitious, as I noticed yesterday when I spent some time printing out, signing, scanning and emailing back a set of documents which, not so long ago, would have been posted to me, along with a pre-paid envelope. The presumption that I possess the necessary equipment, know-how and time to perform this task suggests that those of us who do, risk becoming de facto, unpaid bureaucrats for organisations which cut their costs by outsourcing tasks to us without paying any compensation.
I was ruminating on this during my customary five-minute walk to the gym. The route goes down a busy China Town street, across a main road and continues through the Gay Village. It is always thronged with tourists taking selfies by the ornamental Chinese Gate, beggars cadging their share of the pink pound, delivery drivers causing chaos and bus drivers taking a smoking break at the bus stand. What caught my attention on this occasion was the fact that two Bentleys and a Rolls Royce passed as I waited to cross the road: normal in Mayfair, maybe; average in Alderley Edge I suppose; but unusual ‘round here, for sure. I speculated on whether this might be a sign that the economy is on the up or, more specifically, whether it could have been Jose Mourinho and his entourage driving around, acquainting themselves with their new home-town – which, I suppose, amounts to the same thing. Put simply, football replaces manufacturing as the economic powerhouse, while we are all kept busy acquiring secretarial skills.