I am sure I am not alone at my time of life (83) when I find myself increasingly looking back to the days of my youth and marvelling at the many changes I have experienced over the years. If I am honest I cannot in all conscience – as a cynical old codger – welcome many of them as being beneficial or life enhancing, but that might just be me. The really outstanding characteristic about these remembered changes is the pace and scope of them which have left me adrift in a world I barely recognize now and (frankly) rather dislike.
When the TV palls (as it frequently does of late) I inevitably drift back in time to revisit what I recall of my youth, set in the postwar years of the 1950’s. The exercise is similar to that experienced when one looks down the wrong end of a telescope. Although time has obliterated many of my memories, a surprising number remain, although I sometimes wonder if they were real or did I just read about them or see them in very old black-and-white films.
My first primary school was in Grangemouth, Scotland where I was issued with a piece of slate and some chalk in lieu of an exercise book. I kid you not, although admittedly this was in the late 1940’s. The advent of the book was a real boon for all concerned as it replaced the appalling screeching of chalk (and apparently the custom of spitting and cleaning the slate with your sleeve was a contributory factor in the spread of disease).
I moved to England shortly after and – in common with my fellow inmates – partook of the mid-morning bottle of milk kindly provided by a compassionate government to aid growth among our generation. I recall this was dispensed by a milk monitor – no doubt selected by the powers that be as his first step on the ladder to management and power over the hoi polloi.
Who can recall the madness of Saturday morning cinema? It was undoubtedly the highlight of the week. Hordes of youngsters paid a trifle to sit in a darkened auditorium in eager anticipation of the flickering excitement to come. Our local cinema tried to pre-empt this by laying on an attempt at community singing before Bugs Bunny. This involved an adult on the stage attempting to cajole the house into following the words of the song which were displayed on a drop-down sheet behind him. This was then followed by the selection of films likely to appeal to the discerning audience and included Westerns (Tom Mix and/or Roy Rogers); The Three Stooges; cartoons; etc. When it was all over the customers (well, the lads anyway) leapt on their – imaginary – horses and went whooping down the High Street firing their Colt 45’s at those pesky redskins.
We did not realize it then, but for literature we were lucky enough to have access to The Eagle; probably the finest ‘comic’ ever produced, complete with centre-fold cutaway diagrams of jet aircraft, nuclear power stations etc., etc. For law and order we had PC 49; while science fiction was more than adequately covered by Dan Dare (remember the eyebrows?) and his nemesis the Mekon. Those were the days. But change was coming, whether I wanted it or not.
As a result I subsequently lived through the transition from biplanes to Concorde and watched the moon landing on a black-and-white TV. But that has all gone now, and I am today left marooned in a world that shows every indication of having gone collectively mad. Where does one start? With war raging in eastern Europe and tensions rising round the globe one would have thought we might have had our fill after two World Wars but seemingly this is not so. Add to that it seems we must endure significant civil unrest and frequent strikes impacting on both our lives and finances. Britain in particular has gone overboard in response to the latest existential threat – Climate Change – leading to unrealistic targets (and crippling costs) in pursuit of an ephemeral goal lauded as net zero. The madness is further exacerbated by the advent of such novelties as the trans controversy; woke culture; AI; etc. I soon realized I was too old (and set in my ways) to engage with any of the latter and have simply adopted the ostrich solution and stuck my head in the sand.
As I indicated at the onset, my personal belief is that it is the pace of change which has bedevilled our lives. For centuries our ancestors in this scepter’d isle lived a rural, agricultural existence, conducted at the speed of the shire horse pulling the plough. Very little changed from one generation to the next. Even the introduction of the Agricultural Revolution was conducted at a fairly leisurely pace and rural life proved to be remarkably resilient even when assailed by the arrival of the Industrial Revolution. One only has to read ‘Cider with Rosie’ or ‘Akenfield’ to catch an echo of that period.
Of course the arrival of the Industrial Revolution really smashed the 20 mph pace of change and set the proverbial cat among the pigeons. But perhaps it was not solely to blame for this. It has been suggested that War is the ultimate engine of change and there is plenty of evidence to support this contention. So should we perhaps allocate a share of the blame for our current predicament to The Kaiser and Hitler?
The blame game gets us nowhere. It is my belief that we humans have succumbed to the very pace of change in our world, so that where once upon a time we had ample opportunity to accept and adapt to it, the sheer speed of innovation in the last couple of hundred years (and especially so in the current century) has left us trailing woefully behind, struggling to come to terms and unable to assimilate the volume of chaotic development which assails us on a regular basis. We need more time. Sadly, it does not look as if this catch 22 situation is going to improve any time soon.
And so I return to my opening comment: ‘Stop the World’, in response to which I can only fervently add: ‘I Want to Get Off!’