There was a letter in yesterday's Times, urging a revival of "national Spirit". The writer cited the closure of our schools and the failure of our buses to run because of the snow, and the lack of public pride in a job well done, as examples of why that so-called national spirit has evaporated. He says that these things would have been the norm in the 20's, 30's and 40's (which, let's face it, were all decades of adversity). I thought about it a lot yesterday and came to a few conclusions, but I don't want to be seen as a carping old hag harping back to the "good old days!" So let's get one thing clear before I start - for me these are the good "old" days - I don't have a single complaint about my life, so I generalise with my thoughts on the old days.
I once read a quote which was along the lines of - things were much better in the old days and I don't know what young people are coming to these days. I found that the quote was from either Socrates or Aristotle or Confucius - so nothing's new, is it? It was ever thus - things usually seem better in retrospect.
But I would like to share these thoughts with you and hopefully get a response - which may or may not change my argument, depending upon the strengths of yours.
There used to be a school in almost every village. There would be a Head teacher and maybe one or two other teachers - and everyone would know them. Children would stay there until they were eleven and then go to a fairly near Secondary school which they were old enough to get to under their own steam. Snow was just an excitement and could be put to good use in lessons:- for maths you could measure it and plot its disappearance, for geography you could find out where it came from and how it got here, for art you could examine and draw snowflakes - and so on.
My teaching was done in an inner-City Comprehensive which was very large (and is, incidentally, now doing very well indeed). The pupils, boys and girls, came from Secondary Modern schools in the vicinity. In one of these schools there was a very charismatic Head who used to go through the register each morning and then get in his car and go to every house where there was a non-attending child - if they were truanting then he would collect them and make them come in to school. Now these pupils came to a large school where, if they didn't teach you, the teachers would not even know your name. Needless to say, a lot of disaffected youth left school at the end of their schooldays.
When I was a child there were three bus companies which served our village. All had the owners as drivers, with perhaps one or two extra drivers who we all knew. If my mother wanted to send a chicken to her brother, fourteen miles away, she would kill it, tie a label round its feet and hand it to the bus driver, who would stop at my uncle's door and hand it to him.
My first journey alone to Lincoln (three miles away) was supervised by Mr Gelsthorpe, the bus driver. He dropped me off in Lincoln and told me exactly what time I had to be standing outside "The Durham Ox" pub for the return journey. And he watched out for me. Now our National bus companies are huge and we are unlikely to get the same driver twice.
Now we come to national pride in a job well done. Our village used to have a Road Man, who lived and worked in the village - he kept the gutters clear of rubbish, cleaned the snow from the paths, swept up the autumn leaves, unblocked culverts - any job that needed doing. If the road flooded because the culvert was blocked with leaves you would call and tell him, he would see to it and you would call again and thank him.
We have gas leaks down our lane. This is what happens. You ring and get a recorded message from which you choose one of about six options. This puts you through to another recorded message with another choice of six options. Eventually you get to a human and tell him about the gas leak. Then a man comes to check it and mark the road with yellow paint. Another week passes and then along comes a man in a van, from another company, to leave the fencing ready to be put round the hole in the road. Several more weeks pass and a team comes along - from another company - to mend the leak. When this happened recently the farmer pointed out another leak nearby to the mending team - they couldn;t mend that because it wasn't on their list - we had to go through the whole procedure again. As for the fencing being collected - we still have some which has been here for three years!
There seems to me to be a common denominator in all this. Size. Schools have got too big (yes I know the argument about resources) Companies have been taken over until everything now is part of a large organisation - this goes for biscuits, to engineering parts, to water supplies.
No longer does The Boss walk round and chat to his employees and know most of them by name.
In my Dad's day he worked for an internationally known engineering firm, Ruston and Hornsby.
Old Joey Ruston used to regularly walk round the work force and knew many of the men by name - many of them had worked there for years - in my father's case 50 years. There is no longer a Ruston and Hornsby - it was split up - Turbine division to one national company, Boiler division to another - and so on.
How can we expect loyalty to one's work place when the bosses are faceless individuals and when any redundancies do not seem to take into account anything about loyalty and hard work - but are seemingly indiscriminate?
I know the arguments about consolidating resources in one place, about heating and maintaining small buildings, but I would hazard a guess that the money wasted by large organisations would more than take care of this. Isn't it always about money in the final analysis?
Please - give me your views. Am I living in the past? Have things all gone so far ahead that things can never be like that again?
Even our local Defra office (which changed from MAFF overnight during the Foot and Mouth epidemic) now has limited use - any real problems and we have to go on the "press 1 for this" circuit. No longer can I ring Mr Bloggs, who knows our farm intimately, for advice. It has all gone National. And while I am on the subject - did Defra have to have new note paper etc? I would have been more impressed if they had crossed MAFF out and written Defra underneath.
There! That's got that off my chest! Am I wrong? Am I being far too simplistic? See if you can change my mind!