“When Gordon Brown said he wanted to invoke the spirit of the Blitz to see us through the recession, I didn’t think that meant he’d get the Luftwaffe to blow my bloody house up,” says forty nine year old Gordon Pithlade. “My family have been forced to spend the last four weeks living in an unheated cellar with a tarpaulin for a roof – it was the only part of the house left!” The Pithlade family’s ordeal began after their street was selected for a government-sponsored pilot project to investigate whether the ‘wartime spirit’ which helped see Britain through the dark days of World War Two could be recreated and harnessed to fight the current economic downturn. “People just don’t seem to grasp what desperate times we’re entering, they’re too bloody complacent about this economic downturn, all thinking that the job losses and repossessions will happen to somebody else,” explains Harvey Dippshyte, a partner at Wang-Trussock Associates, the private company contracted by the government to carry out the study. “They need to be taught that their homes, belongings, families and livelihoods could be snatched away at any time. They need to be learn that this recession is a ruthless jack booted bastard out to destroy their very way of life!” What better way to ram home this message, Dippshyte and his colleagues reasoned, than to replicate the even more desperate days of World War Two? “When those bombs were falling people really pulled together, even though their houses and families were being blown to bits,” he enthuses. “There was a real sense of community – if we can invoke that again, then it isn’t just this bastard recession we’ll be able to see off with our bulldog spirit, but I’m convinced we’d be well on the road to solving most of this country’s other problems – crime, juvenile delinquency, drugs, binge drinking, social breakdown, the lot!” Consequently, Gas Pipe Avenue, a quiet street in suburban Staines, found itself transformed, without warning, into a war zone. “We got up one morning and the street was full of soldiers putting up sandbags and anti-aircraft guns,” recollects Pithlade. “They started requisitioning vehicles and billeting troops in our houses! When anybody asked what was going on, they just told us it was the recession!” As the social experiment progressed, the street’s residents quickly found their food and fuel rationed. “They wouldn’t let us shop anywhere except the local corner shop, and we couldn’t use money, just these daft coupons – we could barely survive on what they let us have,” says the still indignant Pithlade. “As if that wasn’t bad enough, they started restricting our movements – there were roadblocks at either end of the road and they wouldn’t let you out without the proper papers! You couldn’t even go to work unless you could prove your job was vital to the war effort! Instead, you’d either find yourself conscripted or forced to work in a munitions factory they set up in the local community hall!”
Pithlade refused to do either after being prevented from going to his regular job as a financial adviser, and suffered terrible consequences. “Every time I left the house I found myself pursued by mobs of youths shouting ‘Coward!’ because I wasn’t in uniform,” he claims. “On one occasion several women spat at me whilst screeching that their brave sons were risking their lives fighting the recession whilst draft-dodging war-profiteers like me had it easy!” The campaign of terror culminated with a brick being thrown through the family’s front window and four white feathers being posted through the letterbox. Dippshyte, however, has little sympathy for Pithlade and views his treatment as a positive sign. “It just goes to show that the majority of the test subjects quickly entered into the spirit of the experiment, developing a sense of close community in the face of adversity,” he explains. “If the Pithlades had only joined in more and pulled together with the rest of the community, they wouldn’t have found the experience so difficult.” For his part, Gordon Pithlade claims that the events on Gas Pipe Avenue went beyond being a mere social experiment. “The soldiers, rationing and restricting our movements were one thing, but when they hired that Messerschmitt Bf 109 to strafe my 76 year old mother as she returned from the shops one afternoon it went beyond a joke,” he says angrily. “The use of live ammunition was particularly irresponsible” Things got worse when their house was bombed. “We were forced into a communal air raid shelter they’d built at the end of the street one night,” claims Pithlade. “We just thought that the sound of explosions were special effects, but when we emerged our house was in ruins, but amazingly the rest of the street was unscathed!” Having been rendered homeless, the family found their two youngest children, aged nine and eleven, forcibly evacuated to the country and resettled with a family of complete strangers, whilst their eldest son found himself conscripted into the army and sent to a brutal training camp on his seventeenth birthday. Forced to live in their cellar, the family were horrified to find that their fifteen year old daughter had been made pregnant by an American GI, who had seduced her with silk stockings, Hershey bars and tales of the fabulous life that awaited her in his luxurious one-room shack in Tennessee. He was subsequently shipped off to Dagenham to fight the credit crunch by helping to downsize Britain’s car making industry, leaving the Pithlade’s daughter to run a gauntlet of fishwives calling her a ‘whore’ and a ‘trollop’ as she went to and from school everyday. Eventually the family were forced to take her to a drunken backstreet abortionist, whose only surgical instrument was a button-hook sterilised in gin.
With the experiment now complete, the Pithlades have been given temporary accommodation in a Bed and Breakfast, and are planning to sue both Wang-Trussock Associates and the government for the alleged trauma they suffered. Despite this legal threat, both Dippshyte and the government consider the pilot programme a success, and are looking at ways of extending it nationwide. “It wouldn’t be the first time the authorities had attempted to create a national state of emergency so as to create national unity,” says Dippshyte. “But the trouble with the ‘War on Terror’ was that, despite the government and media’s best attempts at scaremongering, the majority of people didn’t believe it would actually harm them. Unlike the Luftwaffe, suicide bombers only seemed to threaten people using public transport – they never managed to bomb Buckingham Palace. It’s seeing that even the ruling classes are suffering that helps easier to instill a sense of ‘togetherness’ and to strengthen social cohesion in the face of adversity.” Indeed, Dippshyte had revealed that their original plan to recreate the ‘wartime spirit’ had involved having the Queen and her family evicted from the Palace. “We felt that the sight of Her Majesty having her home repossessed would show ordinary people struggling with debt and facing the loss of their houses that we’re all in this downturn together,” he explains. “Unfortunately, as one of our consultants pointed out , the fact that she’d simply move into one of her other palaces might undermine this message. I just thank God we ran it past him before we’d spent any money on it – his £500,000 fee was public money well spent.” Despite this cost-saving, the eventual pilot project has been criticized for being too expensive. In particular, the hiring of the Luftwaffe to destroy the Pithlades’ house has been condemned by MPs, who queried why the RAF couldn’t have done the job. “Are they insane?” says Dippshyte. “Have they any idea how much the RAF quoted us for the job? The Germans were much cheaper – this is taxpayers money we’re trying to save! Don’t these people know there’s a recession on?”