Seeing recently, as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Jules Horne’s evocative and moving play ‘Thread’ with its fifties style dresses and references, has sent my thoughts digging back to my childhood. To me it doesn’t seem so long ago, yet it now has the aura of a different age. An enlivening age though, with the back door closing on the old while the front door was thrown wide to welcome the new. Hopes for a better future sprouted to the blare of Rock ’n’ Roll. The future beckoned as daring, challenging, audacious.
Sitting here typing this on my laptop, the ability to surf the events and happenings of the world at my fingertips, I wonder if my generation, the Rock ’n’ Roll kids, has witnessed the most radical changes of any generation. I used to think it was my grandparents’ generation that had lived through the most significant period. My grandfather never dreamed he would see a man walk on the moon. That was the stuff of Jules Verne. Science fiction.
Born in 1882, in a period now relegated to history, and brought up on a smallholding in Blantyre, where his parents supposedly supplied milk to the family of David Livingstone, he saw in his lifetime the invention and introduction of much that we now take for granted in transport, household appliances and communication. The culmination for him was that walk on the celestial body that had provided the only gleam of light on many of his youthful walks home.
Leaving school at fourteen he went to work in the company that used to be known as J & J Weir of Cathcart, a company that played its part in the construction of the great Clyde-built ships. He worked there for sixty years, staying in a nearby tenement, was an elder in the local Congregational church, cultivated his allotment, throughout his life was a great walker, smoked a pipe and enjoyed his glass of whisky. Life was taken at his own measured pace with stress having no part in his existence. He loved watching television, especially if football was being shown, but walked to the local library reading room every day, except Sundays, to read the newspapers.
Of course he was one of the old school, an Edwardian, whose wife had his slippers by the range fire and his mince and tatties on the table as soon as his key was heard in the door. Not for him the sharing of household chores, though he had his own which the family were expected to help with – the black-leading of the range and the polishing of brasses every Friday evening. I don’t think he ever made a meal or washed a dish. He was born when Victoria still ruled the roost and retained the delightful anachronism of calling married women Mistress rather than the more mundane Mrs. Dramatic changes, whether wars or technological advances, shaped his life.
Yet the pace of progress is cumulative, and the great gains of my grandfather’s generation have been more than outstripped in mine. From childhood holidays spent on the Isle of Cumbrae in the Clyde estuary, when there was only one car (the doctor’s), and no electricity, when the hamper was sent on ahead and we travelled by train, to my mother being liberated by her first electric washing machine. We acquired a television set and were connected to a limited range of family and friends by telephone, and that led to all the gadgets, gizmos and sophisticated paraphernalia we can’t now live without, the flights abroad, car ownership, advances in medicine and technology, to another landing – that of a robotic buggy set to explore distant Mars’ red surface. All set to the strident squawk of politicians.
Change is gathering pace. The question is, will it, can it continue? Or will the ever increasing freak weather events that we’re seeing on our planet accelerate and change the world we live in beyond recognition, and bring about more change than anything that’s taken place in the world during my generation, my grandfather’s generation and others too. Changes, not for the good of the world’s population, but changes with drastic negative effects. Perhaps now is the time we need to be more daring, challenging and audacious than ever before.