Londoners see themselves as more sophisticated than the rest of the country’s plebs and look down their noses at people in the north of England. They put gravy on their chips for goodness sake!

One London journalist wrote that for every 50 miles you drive out of the capital, civilisation goes back 10 years.

By my simple maths, that means we in Northern Ireland are still in the 1920s. The cynics among you may well think that’s about right.

Are we still living in the past? Have we not moved on at all?

Of course, in all sorts of ways, whether it be technology, housing conditions or whatever, we live in a modern society.

But what about divisions along traditional tribal lines and the mistrust in hard hearts which stubbornly resist change?

The first episode of the BBC series Spotlight on the Troubles: A Secret History intrigued me in that I sat watching a historical account of events from the 1960s onwards which I remember all too vividly.

There’s been some commentary of the merits or otherwise of the series, but overall I feel it’s so important for us to look back and reflect on half a century of turbulent and violent times. If we do not learn the lessons of history, we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.

The series should challenge us to look at the factors which unleashed decades of shocking bloodshed, the personal hurt and tragedy of which many, many individuals are still feeling today.

The 1960s wasn’t the start of the trouble. However long you go back in considering the genesis of our conflict, whether it be centuries or back to the beginning of the last century, though, the 1960s marked the beginning of a phase which was brutal for decades.

The nature of Northern Ireland society was explained in the documentary by a former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Lord Brookeborough in an archive clip when he said: “The fact is that the Roman Catholic by and large is out to destroy Ulster and bring it into a united Ireland. The Protestant is out to maintain Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom.”

Too simplistic and a generalisation?

Perhaps, but sadly by the 1960s it was pretty accurate as a general rule for explaining the divisions and mistrust which proved such a breeding ground for unrest which, in turn, saw a descent into a pit of death and destruction.

The programme reminded us of some nuances in the assumptions we make today about the start of the violence.

In 1966, the IRA was dormant having failed in a previous campaign of violence which ended in 1962.

So it was loyalists who were active with the murder of teenage barman Peter Ward, a Catholic having a drink in a Protestant area of Belfast. Ward was shot dead by the UVF.

And it was loyalists, fearful of being overwhelmed by an increasing Catholic minority, who carried out bombings in the knowledge that it would be blamed on the IRA to bring down Unionist leader Terence O’Neill for proposing concessions to Nationalists.

As community strife continued, the British Army was brought in to protect Catholics from loyalist violence, but in a few short years the newly-formed Provisional IRA took on that role and went on the attack to attempt to violently overthrow Stormont and the state of Northern Ireland.

It is in that context that we saw such bloody violence in the 1970s which lasted a quarter of a century.

It should, of course, be noted that the vast majority on both sides did not resort to violence, but it is a sad fact that violent bloodshed dominated the lives of us all for so many years and remains a blight on many people’s lives.

We need reminding of a few things. The awful nature of violence, the futility of violence which didn’t achieve anything. And the many missed opportunities to finding an accommodation.

It seems to me that as time moves on, younger people don’t grasp how shockingly brutal it was, and even people of my generation became a little bit inured to it.

It was truly, shockingly dreadful. People in hotels and shopping centres suffering unimaginably painful deaths, people shot dead in the street or taken in the dead of night. People assassinated for their political beliefs. And much, much more.

One of the more striking images of the BBC programme saw former IRA man Tommy Gorman break down and ask “What the f… was it all about?”

He talks about a waste of time and a waste of life. It’s a strong message that Republicans spent decades trying to violently overthrow Stormont at the State of Northern Ireland and ended up working the same system.

Yet today, young people in Derry are being used by men who see themselves as successors of Gorman.

So, while we feel we have in many ways moved on from the 1960s and even the 70s and 80s, there are basic issues of division that remain.

Honest conversations need to be held. An acknowledgement that all sides were hurt. While Republicans and loyalist combatants inflicted most deaths, there were killings and other wrongdoings by the State, and when the terribly difficult issue of how to deal with legacy is being discussed, that needs to be addressed.

The truth will be difficult to get, not least because protagonists want to focus on their truth and make it a simple case of the other side being totally to blame.

Unionists need to accept that the days of Brookeborough have long passed, and the simple demographics of majority rule don’t apply. They genuinely need to accommodate and live with their Nationalist neighbours.

Republicans need to accept that if their war really is over, they shouldn’t just pay lip service to acknowledging the hurt of their Unionist neighbours.

We need to accept, too, that all voices must be heard. Including dissident Unionists who feel their culture is being stripped away.

And, indeed, there are Republicans who are not happy with the mainstream leadership, but who do not advocate a return to war.

We have many ideological differences and over generations haven’t managed to work out how to live with those.

I heard of one man in a Border graveyard looking at the graves of his murdered colleagues. He said, sadly, that he could never forgive the people who put his friends there, but for the sake of his grandchildren he was prepared to live with that.

Whatever the future holds, it must be better than the past. I don’t want my children and grandchildren to be sitting in years to come looking at a historical documentary of their earlier life thinking “how sad that we couldn’t live together and we sank so low into the abyss of wasted lives and wasted years.

What was it all about?”