Only time will tell what the future holds

How would the States of 1957 have predicted what Guernsey would be like today? Horace Camp wonders why so much time is put into analysing what might never happen

Much has changed since 1957, when islanders put on a fishing-themed display at Cobo for the Queen's visit. (30311050)
Much has changed since 1957, when islanders put on a fishing-themed display at Cobo for the Queen's visit. (30311050)

Who remembers 1957? That was 64 years ago, quite a long time. Guernsey was a very different place then. We, of course, had the obligatory Peter Ferbrache-style outside toilet, which was built quite a considerable way from the back door of the kitchen. And to get to it was quite a daunting prospect on a dark, wet winter’s night with no outside lights and a lumpy farmyard to cross.

Possibly it was in 1957 that Dad caught me outside the kitchen door doing what I should have been doing in the dark, spider-infested toilet. He broke me of that habit with a few well chosen words to the effect that we had ducks and they enjoyed nothing more than pecking off things that resembled worms.

Guernsey was a very different place then, more akin to The Darling Buds of May than The Wolf of Wall Street.

I fancy we had far more of the equality that politicians crave these days because most people had very little and the gap between the poorest and the richest was probably just one had margarine on their bread and the other butter.

We were all very green in those days, with most of our clothes being recycled through things called jumble sales and very little was thrown away because make do and mend was a big thing then. I don’t remember us ever worrying too much about cars causing congestion then because there weren’t many. And like lots of others, I was a car number collector. Not like now when people pay thousands for ‘special’ number plates, but really collecting car numbers by writing them down in a little book.

Unlike many we did have a TV, I believe a four-inch Alba, and Mum had electricity piped into our sitting room especially for it. All courtesy of a win on the football pools. Ah, the heady delights of Watch with Mother and the Potter’s Wheel.

There were lots of kids around in those days, presumably a result of pent-up demand caused by the war? And schools were pretty packed. Of course we walked to and from school by ourselves after our first day when Mum took us. Went home for lunch as well. Looking after a house full of kids was a full-time job in those days, with few of the conveniences we rely upon today to ease the burden.

Washing day was a great example, with Mum washing our clothes and sheets in the bath using a washboard and a bar of soap. For those unfamiliar with a washboard, think of Lonnie Donegan singing the Rock Island Line. Then she would put the sheets through the mangle (look it up) to squeeze the water out before heaving everything into a basket to take them out and hang on the line to dry.

Yes, life in Guernsey was very different then and I’d love to find some dusty old document produced by the States in 1957 predicting what Guernsey 2021 would be like. Given the baby boom, I expect it would predict a huge explosion in the local population. With the fertility rate of the ’50s used to calculate population in 2021, the main demographic concern would be creating enough jobs in the greenhouses and on the farms to keep up.

Possibly we would need to reclaim from the sea large areas of south-facing land and start a major greenhouse building policy. Water would be a major issue, not just to meet the needs of an exponentially growing population but also to satisfy the enormous growth in water usage required for the vast new vineries. Yes, in 2021 we would need significantly more desalination plants as well as damming a few more valleys. Perhaps we could investigate towing icebergs here to ensure a supply of potable water.

Exporting all the extra fruit will require a major increase in the port facilities, which are predicted to be our major transport link for both goods and people well into 2021. Aircraft are unlikely ever to be used beyond transporting the most wealthy in society and little expenditure will be required on the airport between now and 2021.

All balderdash of course, yet we have no problem in imagining Guernsey 2085, which is as far away from us in time as 1957 and suggesting we use those predictions to guide current government policy.

Just last week in this very newspaper there was a headline that read: ‘Number of over 85s could treble by 2085’. And that was to be read as a bad thing. Well, back in the ’50s I recall helping my elderly grandfather mix and lay the concrete for a new stable floor. I wasn’t a great lot of help with my little tin bucket and spade. Who knows, in 64 years, just how capable over-85s will be?

I very much hope that medical science will make 85 the new 55 by 2085 and, who knows, if a healthy lifespan extends dramatically, perhaps second families in later life will become common and our descendants will be pioneers establishing Nova Guernsey somewhere in the Martian Great Plains.

I wouldn’t worry too much about demographics and the private sector because The Market if unhindered will sort out any problems. There are issues with demographics and the public sector – for example, the public sector gobbles up too great a proportion of the workforce and it also provides too much support to too many who really must take responsibility for themselves.

Let us not get bogged down by looking too far into the future because the future is unpredictable. If the statisticians and economists who predict the future could really do it then they wouldn’t be working for the States of Guernsey – rather, they would be competing with Elon Musk and his ilk to be the richest man on Earth.

And you know Guernsey 2021 is nothing like the States of 1957 would have wished for, but that doesn’t make it a failure.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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