Monday 30 December 2013

Kirstie Allsopp and the Blitz Spirit

Earlier today, Kirstie Allsopp criticised those who had received compensation for losing electricity over Christmas and made reference to the lack of 'blitz spirit' during a twitter rant.

Now, mostly ignoring the immense amounts of privilege that her approach to this shows (she is, after all, the Honourable Kirstie Allsopp as well as being a TV presenter, being the daughter of a Lord) other than to point out that heating alone could be enough of a major issue for some older people without electricity to warrant it being an issue, the 'blitz spirit' point irritated me.

A lot of people romanticise or trivialise the blitz and the responses of those who survived it. It's almost as if their entire understanding of the blitz is confined to 'Keep Calm and Carry On' as if the pesky Germans were swatted off by pure British pluck.

When I look at the Blitz Spirit, what stands out to me is that it was such a painful and desperate time. That's what makes it amazing, but it's important to remember what it was.

I live in North London near Bounds Green. It's a nice area and I'm very fond of it. The tube station there dates back to 1932 and is particularly nice inside. It's a modernist style, as is much of the Piccadilly line - I'm a bit of a geek over this kind of thing and I find it absolutely gorgeous.

It was also, during the blitz, used as a shelter. Again, as much of the underground was. People would bed down there, cut off from the buildings above and, all things considered, fairly safe. And, at times, not knowing if they'd emerge the next morning to find the street they left above the way they left it.

This isn't unusual in that area. One of the things you begin to realise when you live in London is that you can spot where the bombs hit. They're often the parts in a street where the gorgeous, larger and older houses are suddenly interrupted by a run of 50s and 60s buildings that emerged out of necessity. The face of London was forever changed by the constant assault.

One of these assualts caused part of Bounds Green station to collapse while people were sheltering in it, killing seventeen people and injuring another twenty. Hiding in a dark station deep underground while the world collapses on top of you. I find it difficult to imagine a more terrifying thing.

And that's the thing about the blitz spirit. It occurred when Britain was getting the absolute shit kicked out of it and people didn't know if they would survive the night, let alone win the war. Many, many people died and the majority of the survivors lost people they knew. The blitz spirit came out of fear, grief and loss. It came about despite some people who took advantage of the confusion and damage in order to commit other crimes during the blitz as well - and I feel it's important that this is remembered as well. It wasn't mythical and it wasn't something that just naturally occurred. It was something deeply amazing that came out of the ultimate adversity.

This is why it offends and bothers me when someone invokes it in a way that trivialises it or reduces it to just meaning 'making the best of it' or even 'oh, we had to get the candles out'. It bothers me when people romanticise it and ignore the loss that occurred at the time. It annoys me when people miss the point and treat it as if it was some romanticised 'jolly'.

And why it really pisses me off when someone invokes it in order to make a meaningless, ill-thought-through point about people seeking compensation for losing power during winter.

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