Two Old Codgers

How the World strikes us

I can remember my Father saying that when I was young. I try to avoid saying it but the thought is there in my head. If I try to analyse it I suppose it is harking back to a time when you were young; when the future stretched out in front of you; when eyes were bright and the sap was still rising.

I was thinking the other day of the things that have come and gone in my life time. No wonder we get nostalgic for ‘The good old days’.
Thatched cottage
It’s a bit like looking at an old calendar - thatched cottages, Hollyhocks, smoke curling up from the chimney, snow at Christmas, sunshine throughout the Summer and eating food when it was in Season. It’s a trap most of us ‘Old ‘uns’ drop into. If we take a step back to the beginning of the 20th. century it perhaps wasn’t so rosy. In Britain average life expectancy was about 48 now, in 2015, it is up to about 80. That lovely thatched cottage had no running water, it was hand pumped from a well in the garden (Imagine that on a cold February morning). The lavatory was a tiny shed at the bottom of the garden and when the tub was emptied it was often spread raw on the fields as fertiliser. (Yes it was ! I can remember walking through it!)

So let’s try to get some balance into the discussion. For a start, how should we measure if ‘Things’ are better or worse? Life expectancy? Wealth? Contentment? Happiness? Technology? Peace? None of these seem to give the answer I am looking for. The best I can think of is ‘Quality of life’.
Old woman

A child born in 2015 can expect to live until about the age of 80. That must be good - mustn’t it? I am lucky. I am reasonably fit and can still remember what I had for breakfast and the name of the Prime Minister. However, for many of my contemporaries I don’t see much in the way of quality in their lives. Oh! they may have sufficient money, a comfortable centrally heated house and plenty of food but advancing years have brought, arthritis, heart complaints and Alzheimer’s disease. Quality of life is obviously very subjective but does an extended life automatically indicate that things are better?

Poverty must be a relative thing. Someone living in Afghanistan where the minimum monthly wage is about £55 a month would see you as someone of great wealth. No wonder the Afghan aspires to come to England where it must look as though the streets are paved with gold.

The media seems to try to persuade us we are a hard up but generally speaking the population of the UK has never been better off. Of course, there are people living in modern day poverty but for the majority we’ve never had it so good. The signs are there for you to see. In 1930 there were two million motor cars in the UK. Now the figure is close on thirty-eight million. Yet the stories persist. How about this from an acquaintance? "Do you know, my son can’t afford to take his wife and kids abroad for a holiday - that’s poverty for you!"

Within ten or twelve miles from Barrowford where I lived as a child, there were probably less than ten places where you could eat out. Now? It’s impossible to
Eating out
guess but there must be over a hundred. What’s more, whereas in the old days you could probably have boiled ham and chips, sausage and mash or something similar, now the World’s your oyster. Chinese, Indian, Italian, Thai, Mexican, Spanish - you name it, it will be somewhere within striking distance. This from the internet. "While the national average spend on eating out is £44 a week - younger Britons (18 to 29-year-olds) are more than happy to shell out double that - with the average spend emerging as a whopping £88 a week for the younger generation"

My Dad worked as a tackler (Don’t ask!) in a cotton mill. He worked five and a half days a week from something like 7am to 5.30pm and had a weeks holiday each year. Often our family of Mother, Dad and three children would spend the holiday on days out.

Occasionally, it was a week at Blackpool or Southport. These weeks were spent in ‘Digs; where the landlady would cook the food you had brought with you. We all thought it was wonderful

I remember my mother talking about the life in the 1930s. The hardships must have been real. Three children and dad out of work, little if any social benefits. The chance of any luxury was out of the question and even necessities of life were hard to find. And yet, even as a young boy, when Mum talked of those times I sensed that life was good.

I’ll just finish off with a couple of digressions. The quotes are paraphrased:

1. When the Berlin wall was relatively new, East Germans risked life and limb to cross over to the West. I remember hearing a BBC journalist talking about it. "It would be good to think they are trying to cross to live in the West’s political system. I’m afraid the truth is that they wish to cross for Cadbury’s chocolate and Nylon stockings"

2. I knew an Engineer who went from Preston to help with a factory in East Germany. When he returned he said "You know Arthur it is quite remarkable. There are queues for food and times are hard for the people and yet everybody smiles!"

Berlin Wall

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