Watching the steady rise in the level of prices and the staggering fall of money’s purchasing power, it is all too easy for elderly sages (you’re making me blush!) to compare the past favourably with the present.
“The past is a foreign country,” wrote L.P. Hartley in his novel ‘The Go-Between.’ “They do things differently there.” And he said a mouthful there, even if he was chewing the end of his pen at the time. When I describe my early years to members of the younger generation, they look at me as if I’m talking about a different century. And come to think of it, that is exactly what I am doing.
You can’t erase the past but you can reinterpret it and pull down its statues as you come to view its heroes in a different light. Read history without your rose-tinted glasses, is my advice. Were you trying to cheer yourself up by buying them? History, like people, doesn’t always age well.
The past, arguably, had its moments. There were no parking meters, but then hardly anyone owned a car. We didn’t have global warming but neither were there Winter Fuel payments for pensioners. People may not have laughed more, but they scowled less. Jobs were available, unemployment benefits less so. And there were trams capable of travelling backwards. Best of all, some might say, families dined together at tables, using cutlery, rather than fingers for pizza and creaking jaws for king-size burgers. How swanky was that?
Not possessing so many gizmos and woofers and tweeters and multi-track dubbing, popular music had to be more inventive in times gone by. When did you last find yourself humming a rap lyric as you sat watching a beautiful sunset? Sunsets were visible in those days without intervening high-rise buildings. And there was no smog in Hong Kong Harbour, to name but one, and one could sit and watch the ships depart, even at sunset.
Kids are more tech-savvy nowadays, when it comes to sitting bleary-eyed in front of Xboxes and PlayStations, but are ignorant as to how those sophisticated toys work, as we all are. Although I used to be able to change a blown fuse or bring a dead car battery back to life with jump leads.
It is the future that has turned out to be a foreign country, different from the one most of us envisaged, where we were lottery winners who played in a band and won Nobel prizes in our spare time, however did we manage all of that? It has recently been a world of masks and lateral flow tests and keeping other people at arm’s length, except nurses with needles in their hands.
Life was cheaper in the past — ask any war veteran — and unlike now, shopping was just a thing you had to do, rather than a hobby. But just like now, vaccination was free, whether we liked it or not. Life is much dearer now, double entendre intended, which is, I suppose, why very few people refuse a jab or four. Don’t buy one, then get three more free. I wish some shops had offers like that.