It’s a phrase you hear so often, particularly in my age group – The Good Old Days – things were so much better in the Old Days! But were they? Rose tinted hindsight can make us believe that everything about our youth was golden. Life was so much simpler then – in some ways it was, but not necessarily better. Not many children today would put up with school food as we knew it! My grandchildren get a choice! We ate what we were given or presumably we would have starved. I don’t remember a single child who was allergic to any food – certainly no one would have been allowed to be a vegetarian or Heaven forfend, a vegan. We wouldn’t have known what that was – the nearest we came to it was learning about herbivores in biology. Home food wasn’t much better – but at least the Brussel Sprouts weren’t actually put on before church although they were certainly on the mushy side and an avocado pear (as they were called) was unbelievably exotic. If you had asked for one in the local town you would have been eyed with deep suspicion. I remember when our farm manager’s daughter went to France on a school trip and her mother told me that she had a terrible time as she obviously couldn’t eat anything because there was garlic in everything!
If you were at boarding school, as I was, there would have been no point in complaining about anything. In the Good Old Days we didn’t have mobile phones to contact our parents and moan about how much we hated school. We were made to write home once a week and we believed, although I’m not sure this was ever substantiated, that our letters were read and censored. If children today tell their parents they’re unhappy the parents bend over backwards to rectify matters – when I was young we were just told to buck up. No one cared if children, particularly boys, were beaten at school. I remember my brother showing me, with pride, scars that he had acquired from a thrashing he has received for some small misdemeanour.
Medicine certainly wasn’t better when we were young. Penicillin only became available in 1945 and I remember when I got pneumonia I was treated with the sulphonamide M&B. It was given in an enormous pill the texture of chalk and it had to be ground up and mixed with jam before I could swallow it!!! You frequently saw children with their legs in callipers as the result of polio. The vaccination against measles was only invented in 1963 and before that we all got it and happily everyone I knew survived, but many didn’t. As for dentistry – it was very expensive and I do remember that the local blacksmith (who I was told had taken a correspondence course in dentistry) would pull a tooth for the price of a pint – I have a feeling that not many women availed themselves of this service. However, my dentist told me that in the 1920s fathers would take their daughters to have all their teeth pulled (presumably not by the local blacksmith) and have her fitted for some dentures as a present for her 21st birthday to make it easier for her to find a husband as she would never have toothache or the need to see a dentist!
Communication is a million times better today – we can be in touch with our family and friends. Parents can anxiously track their gap year children – although I’m sure there are many times when they’d prefer not to know that they are inside a club in Thailand at 4.00 am! A far cry from the stilted, expensive, three minute conversations we had every Christmas with my grandparents in Scotland.
And as for snobbery – Nanny, who was mainly responsible for bringing us up, was the most terrific snob and there was a long list of things that were beyond the pale! Being car sick was frightfully common! I’m not sure if I was horrible little snob or that I just have a naturally strong constitution, but I have never been car sick. Complaining about one’s feet was common! This could have been because we, as highly privileged children, used to be taken to the children’s shoe department of some large store where when we tried on shoes we stood on a platform with our feet under an x-ray and there were three viewing holes, one for the wearer, one for the salesman and one for the parent. We all looked earnestly at the picture of our toes wiggling about showing how much room for growth there was in the shoe. As far as I know none of my generation got cancer of the foot as a result of this, presumably highly dangerous, practice. However, it did mean that we always had well- fitting shoes.
Many prejudices have disappeared, after all homosexuality was illegal and as far as any black people – they simply didn’t come into my life in the English countryside. As for anyone being transgender or a transvestite – if they existed they suffered in silence. Although sometimes I wish that everyone was not so ‘out and proud’ today. All I require from my Member of Parliament is that he look after the interest of his constituents and I have no desire to know the details of his sex life. Who he does what to and with whom should, in my opinion, be his own affair.
So, of course there are things that were better when we were young but every generation thinks theirs was the best. My father felt so sorry for me being young in the Swinging Sixties as he compared it to his youth. As he put it, when he was young singers wanted to look like a prince and but in the Sixties young princes wanted to look like a pop star. Long haired oiks filled the society pages of the glossy magazines and he was appalled. His parents felt the same about their generation and were horrified to think that their children might have to grow up without any servants!!!
There is no point in bemoaning the past – the present is all we’ve got so we might as well enjoy it!