Kids I thought I would write you all a series of letters to help you make your way in the world and maybe learn a bit about your dad in the process.
Where to start?
In the early 1970s when I was between 8 and 12 the country I lived in changed from the 60’s of The Beatles, flower power and the Rolling Stones, to one of strikes, the three day week, glam rock, disco and power cuts. At that age I wasn’t paying much attention to the news but I did have some idea of what was going on. Arab Oil Sheiks, who always wore white robes and drove Rolls Royce cars to London hotels on the TV had suddenly increased – maybe doubled, the price of oil and as a result stuff happened.
For me the main thing that happened was that on those nights when the electricity, and therefore the TV went off my family would light some candles and play board games – a welcome activity to have everyone seated together talking rather than silently watching Des O’Conner or Morecombe and Wise.
I may have been a bit mixed up, perhaps it was prime minister Harold Wilson – the one with the pipe, or Edward Heath – the one with the jolly shoulders and the Striking Unions that caused the power cuts and not the Oil sheiks. Most of my political understanding did after all come from a comedian impressionist on the telly. I did learn that Inflation was a bad thing because it made pensioners poorer and that often people went on strike because they wanted more money to pay for things which had got a lot more expensive, but sometimes they went on strike to keep their jobs when actually no one wanted them to do those jobs anymore.
After a bit we got over the 70’s and started the 80’s. This was different again. I was a student at University and Margaret Thatcher wanted to cut our grants, and get rid of all the Unions, starting with the Miners. We had North Sea Oil by then and didn’t have to worry about those Oil Sheiks raising the prices again. We didn’t need coal any more so the Miners could go learn to do something else, – alternative comedians perhaps. Apparently we didn’t need steel workers either as they could make that in China for less.
I was lucky enough to be interested in computers just at the start of an era when everything started to need computers. The first IBM Personal Computer (PC) came out the year I graduated and not long after the first Apple Macintosh. All my life I had a fairly well paid job because of my lucky timing.
The thing is the world changed in 1982 – it could have gone one way and it went another. The modern age was built on cheap energy, first coal and then oil and gas. I even remember when our old coal fire was replaced with gas central heating. By the 70’s the Arabs had realised that the oil wouldn’t last forever and they were selling it way too cheaply, so they raised the price. Everyone got very excited and started talking about how we should live sustainably, recycle our waste, put solar panels on our roofs and invent electric cars. If we had things would be rather different by now.
What actually happened is that the oil companies looked around really hard for new sources – and found them: in the North Sea, in Alaska, Russia and the Gulf of Mexico. And so everyone thought great there is lots of oil we don’t have to worry about all that eco stuff instead we can get on with enjoying having lots of cool things instead. And so did lots of other countries around the world; which was a shame for me because I rather liked the idea of running my life on sunlight.
Funny thing though – all of those new oil fields – they pretty much knew about them already in the 60s. They just hadn’t gotten around to tapping them. And since then they haven’t been finding many new oil fields. not ones you can easily use anyway. And so the party is about to come to an end. Maybe this year, maybe in 5 years but eventually and we can probably expect some of the same stuff again, power cuts, inflation, people losing jobs and getting angry.
My point is this – no one in 1975 could have predicted what 1985 or 1995 would have been like. The world went in an unexpected direction. Today you can’t know what 2015 or 2025 will be like – the changes coming up are going to be even more unpredictable and surprising – and for a lot of people not nice surprises.
So I can’t really tell you what you should study, or put your time and money into. You are going to have to stay awake, keep your eyes open and watch what is going on, try to be lucky, try to be good at things that everyone else finds difficult.
I can tell you that life is going to be a whole lot different and I’ll be doing my best to help you.
More next time