Some people assume that historians and historical novelists are obsessed with the past. They suppose that we think everything was better in The Good Old Days and oppose every innovation. Some might even imagine we are all Conservatives politically.
They are wrong, at least in my case.
- I do love history and believe we can learn a lot from it. I am in favour of keeping links with the past: physical ones such as monuments, listed buildings, archives; and less tangible ones such as old traditions, mottoes, folklore. Then there are words and expressions that link us to their origins. Swing a cat. Keeping your light under a bushel.
- I do question the assumption that change is always for the better. What Americans call ‘progress’. (I wish they would pronounce the word properly). There is such a thing as throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Privatisation has not necessarily led to improvement every time.
This is the coat of arms of the old county of Monmouthshire.
The motto means ‘loyal to both’, i.e. England and Wales. Like me.
On the other hand, I do want to see real progress in many fields. I do not believe that we live in the best of all possible worlds. I want to us take advantage of new technology wherever it offers benefits.
- I rejoiced when they invented the satnav as I have a hopeless sense of direction.
- I know that I need to make more use of the social media to contact lots of people whom I am unlikely to meet in person. The trolls are the downside but we must not let them keep us from seeing the benefits. They include making the World more open and democratic. So did the printing press.
- I am glad the Army keeps some of its old traditions, like Trooping the Colour but I want our soldiers to have the most modern weapons available and to use the tactics to defeat today’s enemies, not Napoleon.
The people we look back on as history makers were mostly innovators. They were the ones who changed the world. Winston Churchill was proud of having ridden in the last full cavalry charge in British history but he was also one of the first people to see the potential of aircraft, almost as soon as they had been invented.
I would probably not like to literally live in the past. I value modern comforts too much. And the NHS.