Friday, 6 February 2009

Things a'int what they used to be!

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!


Sal said...

I am glad that I lived through some of the 'good old days'..and no, you are not being too simplistic.
However,many young people have not lived through those days and have therefore no idea what you are on about!!
I'd be very happy to get back to those 'good old days' where there was less greed,less silly rules and far more common sense !! ;-)

Unknown said...

Hello Weaver,

I'd love to be able to change your view but, sadly, don't think I could!

The 'good old days' are, of course, relative. "Progress" is often seen as retrograde as things become ever more impersonal, larger, centralised. But "we" also have to take some of the blame. Modern working life is a world away from that of your and my childhood. Many people, these days, don't even know their neighbours (and don't want to!), let alone the bus driver. And no-one would trust the bus driver, or anyone else, to be responsible for their child.

We can never go back but we could try to make 'now' better. Sorry!

Jinksy said...

I totally agree that small is beautiful. Those people who lump together great swathes of land /people have gone potty in the head - common market thinking, I call it. Countries are better off sorting their own rules and regulations so at least those in charge have an idea of local culture/customs/law. Nothing that's happened on a global scale gives one much faith in 'all in together chaps' attitiude. Maybe the world is heading back towards small scale thinking, as the present credit crunch is putting paid to many of the large conglomerates. In any case, while there's life there's hope, folks!

Grizz………… said...


Things are much the same here in the U.S. We've made great strides in such areas as medicine and technology, but our lives are less rich, less fulfilling than ever.

Much of this, I believe, comes from a "bottom line" mentality. More profit, less quality; do the least job possible and charge the maximum. Workers, customers, management, owners, no matter—it's an "us" against "them" stance. We think only of ourselves, only of what we can attain, and never mind the people and lives we trample to get there. There is no moral code to back up our behavior, no real social restraints on how we act and what we do; right and wrong are becoming meaningless notions. The end increasingly justifies the means. There's little incentive to do the right thing without a personal pay-off.

We've settled for quantity and glitter in our lives versus quality and value. And we've regulated and litigated ourselves into near strangulation.

Sure, we have more in the way of creature comforts than ever before; our medicines and technology keep us alive today when years ago we'd have suffered and died; we have access to knowledge and a level of communication like no people before; our homes are comfortable, there's food on the table…yet we're profoundly unhappy. Why? Because we've forgotten or ignored what it is to be human. We now talk AT one another, when we used to talk WITH one another. Do we know—really know—our family, friends, neighbors? We may share in our stuff, but we seldom share in ourselves.

Personally, I don't think I live as good a life as my parents or grandparents. Yes, their lives weren't as easy as mine, in some ways; but they had a comfort and a peace…and possibly a joy I'll never know. The simple pleasures mattered. People mattered. Loyalty mattered. Hard work mattered. Skill mattered. Decency mattered. Life had value, a "good" name had value, honesty had value. We cared about one another, forgave one another, united with one another.

I'm not saying life is terrible and we're all bad people. Just that somewhere along the line, and particularly in the last half-century, we seem to have lost our way. Just my opinion, of course, but one I sincerely believe.

Cat said...

I think most people look back at their childhoods and see things as simpler. I am constantly telling my children about what it was like growing up. In my household, we talk period. I try to my best by all of the children but there are so many outside influences now that it hard to read what is going on with them individually at times. Much to my daughters dislike, I am using the same rules for dating as I had at their ages.
It's the little things we can do as parents that produce fine adults. It is a "me" world so we have to continue reenforcing the need to look out for one another. If more people would give up on having everything and put more into their families things would change.
I am hoping with a new era in our country with Obama that people will change the ways they are living. I am also glad some have had to move back into homes with family. Multigenerational family homes are more stable.
I'm glad I read your blog today. I feel very positive at the moment. Thank you.

Gigi Ann said...

I enjoyed reading your post today, and I can't add anything that hasn't been already said. Such fine well thought out comments today. The post was thought provoking and the comments were great today.

artinthequad said...

Weaver, May I disagree? We remember the good old days of our youth because for the most part we were wrapped up in ourselves and totally unaware. Older now I have the opportunity to march through the streets with my eyes wide open and in awe of the spectacle. I need give but one example. Your writing has reach across many miles of sea and land. I came to your site from Arizona, USA, through Abe Lincoln's blog after reading posts on my own long list of blog sites this morning. In a matter of minutes I went from the high desert to verdant valleys to your snow shrouded farm.
The dross is always around us as are the inconveniences. That's given, even in Socrates' time. What's different is us, old days or new.

Reader Wil said...

It's as if you talk about the Netherlands. We had the same situations here .Small schools with a headmaster. Fortunately we have three elementari schools here, one of them is, what we call " the School with the Bible". We have a population of 6,607 in 2008. I am happy I don't live in Rotterdam, which has a high crime rate like all big cities. In the old days there was the old bobby walking everywhere where he was needed. Now you have to phone 112 and to choose one of a number of options and once you have been connected with the right persons you have to wait hours before they come. When my husband died in 1999 we still could phone the doctor at night, now we have to ring an unknown doctor some 30 kms from here, after explaining what the matter is to a medical receptionist, often to be fobbed off with the advice to go to the local medical practice next morning or wake up your neighbour and ask him or her to take you to that far away practice. My husband died at night and I phoned the doctor, who came immediately. But then that was 1999.

Unknown said...

It doesn't make sense the way some things are run nowadays, and talking to humans instead of taped voices is so frustrating. Wonder what it'll be like in another twenty years..?

Leslie said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly.
If I could just pick up the phone and get a human on the line when I need something it would be a surprise. Canned messages with on options I that I can not use has caused me to stop doing business with some companies.

I love my computer but, kids here have no imagination when it comes to playing, it is all video games. and cell phones. I know 10 year old kids with cell phones. One better than that is a 20 yr.old that is deaf and can not speak !!!
Well, I won't go on but, I could.
Stay warm. Hugs ~~~~ Leslie

Gwil W said...

In our street there was one telephone box for 37 houses, and if you count the other streets around and about it was probably used by more than 100 households. My mother's time for using the phone was 'understood'. It was between 7pm-7.15pm on Friday. If she went earlier another woman would be there. If she went later another woman would be there. Men rarely telephoned. Children never.
I guess in that respect things have improved. But having said that I have a real worry about the amount the time people spend talking on mobile phones. Sometimes on the tram wher two seats face each other so that 4 people can sit, I'm surrounded by 3people telephoning. This cannot be healthy. I don't believe it when they say it can't harm me. They said that about smoking didn't they?
Hope all the gas leaks got fixed.

Elizabeth said...

Word verification very APT:

I had to ponder this one long and hard - and haven't read others' comments on purpose.
I, too, long for the past, but, in truth, life was hard for many women ( and men).
No dishwashers, no reliable contaception. Diptheria, polio.
Educational opportunities often limited to those with money.
Horrible snobbishness.
I love the fun and information gathered from the internet. I adore playing with my digital camera. (Think of those hours spent pestering Boots for prints....and the expense.)
So, all in all it's a mixture of things.
So I'm forcing myself not to wallow is nostalgia.
Will now read and see what the others have to say.

myrtle beached whale said...

wow, you certainly inspired some lengthy comments. I am with you.

Heather said...

I agree with everything you have said - and you have expressed it very well, as usual. If only common sense was back in fashion we might be able to improve things. I must admit that I don't like change, but I know I have to accept it. However, I do think that there are many instances where there has been change for the sake of it, and not all our latest newfangled systems are better than those they replaced.

Rachel Fox said...

I think partly what happens is that we get frustrated because all the good things about this modern age are supposed to make lives easier...and they do sometimes...but other times it works in quite the opposite way and then we say ARGH! Plus everything is so expensive now too so we sometimes feel like we pay a lot for...things to not work so well!

I don't think frustration is new though. I think people always get frustrated with life and how we live least some of the time. We get frustrated with ourselves, with our loved ones, with our surroundings, with our computers...and then the next day we wonder 'what was I moaning about yesterday?'

Or you could just try reading a different newspaper. Does Murdoch monsters inc still own the Times?


Rowan said...

Don't want to change your mind - I absolutely agree with you!

Janice Thomson said...

"We've settled for quantity and glitter in our lives versus quality and value. And we've regulated and litigated ourselves into near strangulation." - I think Incorrigible Scribe has part of the answer and to that I would add that children are now taught not to "do their best" but to "be the best" no matter what. No longer is there team work, caring about the neighbor or your co-worker. Now it is all about me, me, me. Along with the "me" comes "my things." Thus materialism has become more important than moral values. Until me becomes we there will always be "the good old days."

Anonymous said...

The comments say it all: things stopped being what they used to be when we lost sight of the edges of our neighbourhoods. But look at us now, a group of men and women from all sorts of backgrounds and at all points of the compass, talking to each other over the electronic garden fence. Community hasn't disappeared, it's changed. Values haven't altered, they've adapted. As the great American anarchist Joe Hill said, "Don't mourn, organise!" As long as we're here posting to our blogs and talking to each other like this, community thrives and values are disseminated. Rejoice!

Shaista said...

I loved your story about the bus driver who watched over you. When I came to England from Bombay at 15 the bus drivers nearly broke my spirit. I was bitterly shy and was never sure about my stop as all of Cambridge looked the same to me in the dark and the cold, but not once did they help me, or smile, or feel a twinge of pity. My mother always told me not to think of it as racism, but I just could not understand the lack of caring responsibly for a young girl.
I think independence and selfishness have become entwined, and so the best thing we can do is be that kind person we wish others to be.
So, long live the good old days!

Babette Fraser Hale said...

Weaver, the world you describe was such a personal world. In the small country area we live in now much of the time, it is less radically different. We do know many of the people we deal with on a personal basis. But it is different from the idyllic world you experienced.

I think the core of the issue is more than just one of money in the narrow sense. I think it has to do with the fact of so many people. The population of the world has exploded. So has that of the US. I imagine some of the same thing has happened in the UK,if not overwhelmingly so where you live. We've lumbered ourselves with a mass culture--and with it, ever more consolidation among businesses so that the larger numbers of customers can be served "efficiently." Actually, I deplore this as much as you do. One feels a greed at work, and that is never a good thing.

On the other hand, as one of your commenters says, we do have this: the internet, your blog, connection. As E.M Forster wrote: Only connect.

Rob said...

I know I qualify for an old person these days but I think you're so right. I remember the guy on the council who kept the village clean, I also rememebr the headmaster who kept us in order both in and out of school. I also remember the village policeman who's house you could go to if you had a problem, now you have to go to the nearest town and even they close at night, even though they're in the police station they won't answer the door. I also remember then the bin men would come down your garden, carry the dustbin to the truck and empty it and bring it back again. These days you put the bin out for them and you're not even sure if they will collect it or not. Having said all that had somethings are better now than then, I would probably have died from cancer had this been the good old days. Everything has to be paid for with money these days but it seems we pay more and get less, and being well thought of in a company isn't about how hard you work or what sort of a job you make, its about how much sucking up to the boss you do. Well I could go on but I won't, its a darn good job some of the old ways were in the old days because a lot of people these days couldn't cope with them.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Wow - I really opened a can of worms there, didn't I? Thanks for all the comments - can't reply individually - it would take all afternoon - but some thoughts on your comments:
I was not suggeting that the "good old days ".were altogether better than now. I agree with artinthe quad that the internet is a marvellous invention. The other week I took a photo of the farm and came straight in and put it on my blog and within five minutes I had a reply from madbush in New Zealand - I find that amazing and very uplifting.
I also agree with Patteran that there is much to rejoice about - I find life quite wonderful and enjoy every moment of it - and will continue to do so (as long as I don't have to telephone some large organisation full of "press this number"!
Really the point I was making - and maybe I didn't make it as well as I thought - was that things have got far too big and impersonal
and therefore we can't expect a sudden movement of "national pride" to combat the recession.
Well, bloggy friends, thanks for all the interest - it has certainly made us all sit up and hover over the keyboard. Thank goodness for most modern inventions I say - nobody wants domestic drudgery like our parents' generation - all I would like to see is more neighbourhood things rather than multinational.
And Rachel - I used to take The Guardian but i got fed up with it sitting on the fence. At least with the Times, if I disagree I can do a blog on it, or write to the paper - and the cryptic crossword keeps me going for many an hour. Best wishes to you all.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Here in the states, it is difficult to find an owner operated establishment anymore. When you do, the difference in service and care is remarkable. We try to frequent those places as much as possible. Ironically, we have found the situation much, much better on our travels to the UK, so you can deduce from that how bad we think it is here!

Mistlethrush said...

I miss the sense of community and national pride too.
Maybe national pride has faltered because we are becoming a nation in transit with lots of folks both entering and leaving the country.
Does a sense of both national and village community require a large percentage of the inhabitants to remain static to create a sense of stability and belonging?

Joyful Heart said...

There is something to be said for the way we are raised as to how we operate life, business and such. We were taught early the Ten Commandments, The Golden Rule, etc...When we follow them, our business dealings and our relationships are far better. If we are not careful, we replace kindness and relationship with greed and a bottom line profit. We exchange crude humor (media) for real comedy that in years past brought laughter & fun and taught values that were enjoyed by many. I once read that all evil needs to flourish, is for good people to do nothing. When I feel like everything around me is not as good as it was 'in the good ol' days' I remember that line and work hard to 'do something of value'. Thanks for reminding us of how it was and now hopeully we can work to uphold some of those values!