Nobody plans on becoming obsolete, but suddenly we are. One minute we are at the cutting edge of life – right up there with the ‘in crowd’ then suddenly we are old farts. Sometimes I feel that I should be put in a glass box and trotted round to schools as a piece of living history.
Take sex – well you can definitely take it because I don’t want it. I now flip through or fast forward through sex scenes in books and films – when he starts to rip the thin silk from her bosom I’m off. I’m delighted for (other) old people to have sex, I just don’t want to hear about it. On the whole scrotums (should that be scrota?) look as though they are in need of a good iron and most naked old people look like wrinkled cheap linen suits – or is that just me?
Recently, I heard a woman complaining that she had been traumatised that because of Covid 19 her husband couldn’t come to their baby scan with her. We didn’t have scans and fathers were only tolerated in the delivery room and certainly not encouraged. My husband was of a squeamish nature and on father’s night at ante natal classes he fainted when the redoubtable Betty Parsons drew a diagram on the whiteboard. The last thing I wanted was to have him in with me when I was actually giving birth. In the old days men were actively discouraged from being present and I’m sure that my grandfather was at his club when his children were born. I think my father was in the hospital for my arrival but he was almost certainly handing out and smoking a cigar on the ward!
Don’t think I’m one of those people who constantly maintain that life was better in the old days – some of it was and some of it wasn’t. Satnav is the most marvellous thing – and has probably saved a lot of marriages when the husband has to argue with Tom Tom rather than have a go at his wife for losing her place in the map – or perhaps that was just my marriage? Communication now is brilliant – what would we have done without Zoom, Skype, Houseparty, et al in lockdown? Online research – it is amazing to have all that information at our fingertips. The old Enclyopaedias were great, but never up to date – they became obsolete the moment they were published.
But not everything is better – the bossiness of notices. They drive me crazy when I’m out and about – ‘Danger deep water’ ‘Don’t drive when tired’ ‘Don’t drink and drive’ (all very sensible but we’re either walking on our own or driving, and have therefore passed our driving tests, we’re not ten years old, and then there’s my personal favourite ‘Keep apart two chevrons’ – what on earth does that mean? (Please don’t write and tell me – I can work it out it just offends me as it is not even grammatical.) As for indoors – ‘Keep away from children’ presumably a direction and not a lifestyle choice. There are very few people who would leave a two year old alone to play with an opened bottle of bleach. As for Serving Suggestions – do I really need a picture of a water biscuit with a morsel of cheese on it so that I can work out what to do with it? And a wonderful one I heard the other day – a washing powder that gets rid of invisible stains – excuse me! An oxymoron if ever I heard one. Shirley Conran famously wrote that life was too short to stuff a mushroom – it is certainly too short to be dealing with ‘invisible stains’.
Just in passing we are in the middle of an obesity crisis – in those far distant days of my youth when we had to walk or cycle everywhere and there were no fast foods or takeaways people were not so fat. Food as quite dull – women were sometimes described as being good plain cooks which was a reflection on their cooking skills and meant as a compliment not a comment on their morals or their appearance. There were no TV chefs until the advent of Fanny Craddock and her hapless husband Johnny who appeared in the 1950s but her cooking was very dated by today’s standards relying a lot on radish rosettes and piped potato. Now there is food on every corner and people eat everywhere (we were only allowed to eat ice-cream in the street) and Macdonalds are offering a triple cheeseburger for £2.19!
When I was seventeen I was sent, as an innocent abroad, to live with a family in Spain. It was an incredibly exciting but terrifying time. The father of one of my father’s friends was an extremely charming Spanish grandee with impeccable, if rather dated, English. He often said that things were ‘The cat’s pyjamas’ and the expression ‘top hole’ peppered his speech. One day he asked me for my advice. He confided in me that, when in London, he always stayed at the Cumberland Hotel, as in his youth he had been told that it was ‘fast’, but he was under the impression that this was no longer the case. Could I recommend a ‘fast’ hotel for him? I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. I now imagine that he meant somewhere that you could go with someone other than your wife with no questions asked. I had spent my childhood on a farm in Kent or boarding school and visits to London were mainly to go to the dentist and London hotels, fast or otherwise, did not come in to my life. This was in 1960 – just before the advent of Swinging London – if only he had asked me again five years later I would have been able to tell him that nobody cared any longer. It happens to us all – eventually we swap fast hotels for life in the slow lane and we start to become obsolete.