“We shall have a harder Christmas than we have known since the war.” So said Ted Heath, addressing the nation on December 13 1973; they really knew how to do austerity back in the Seventies. Since the Brexit vote I have been thinking fondly of 1973, the year the United Kingdom joined the EEC, and wondering if our departure from the EU will return us to those less complicated times.
Life seemed so much simpler and more straightforward, one might even say binary: the Iron Curtain divided the two sides in the cold war; domestic politics had an air of permanence, dominated by the Gladstone-and-Disraeli-style double act of Heath and Wilson; boxing seemed to be one perpetual bout between Ali and Frazier; and when it came to venturing out into the London night, it was a choice between Annabel’s or Tramp.
Of course, returning to 1973 would require us to resume our place in the world as the sick man of Europe (except that we are now out of Europe) and leave us facing a future of runaway inflation, power cuts, the three-day week, social unrest, rumours of a military coup, unburied corpses, rubbish piled high in Leicester Square and rats the size of dogs roaming our streets and mauling children. (OK, I made that last one up – however, there was a 1974 horror novel written by James Herbert called The Rats.) Happy days indeed.
But as well as 1973, another period in our modern history seems to be recalled by current events: the prospect of a female Tory prime minister and a Labour party with a far-left leader of uncertain dress sense – although so far le style Corbyn has yet to achieve the sartorial impact of Michael Foot’s Cenotaph moment. Yes, it could be 1980 all over again, or at least that is what I am telling myself as I try to justify the purchase of a gold-braceleted Patek Philippe with a lapis lazuli dial from vintage and antique watch dealer George Somlo.
I was ambling along the avenues of Masterpiece London, minding my own business when this outrageously brilliant watch caught me by the eye and dragged me onto George’s stand. It is, quite simply, the late Seventies and early Eighties distilled into horological form – a generously proportioned, straight-sided timepiece, the case and bracelet of which were characterised by gold godrons. I tried it on and it fitted as if it had been made for me, which of course, it had not, as I was 15 in 1980 when this beauty came out of the Patek factory.
It is a masterpiece, a watch that combines the exuberance of the high disco years with the flamboyance of the Wall Street era that was beginning to dawn. It is the sort of watch that could just as easily be worn on the dance floor of Studio 54, swapping bon mots with Halston and Minnelli, as at the wheel of a Porsche 911 consulting your Filofax and wrestling with a brand new carphone.
I am in the process of convincing myself that it is a sound investment and I think I might have succeeded; clearly, with the British pound collapsing it would seem sensible to get out of sterling and into something more wearable… sorry… of course I mean more valuable.