Optimism revisited

One of the recurrent arguments I had with my dad was around his belief that on the whole 1950s Britain was a better place to grow up than 1990s when my kids were in their pre teenage years. He would cite some awful atrocity as an example.

2015-06-27 12.28.09

Not many windows in a black house

I visited a recreated Blackhouse on the Isle of Harris recently with its cozy peat fire and antique dresser and cot beds with their seaweed mattresses. In the kitchen there were so many items that reminded me of visits to my Nana’s as a child.

2015-06-27 12.47.02

Some of this takes me right back to Caterham, circa 1962/3, though Nana never had this much stuff

Neatly patterned tea cups and saucers, milk jugs with weighted muslin covers, a colourful tea cosy. I remember visiting my Nana for tea. We’d sit in front of her coal fire, the Archaeologist and me, eating garibaldi biscuits or fig rolls and playing chess or draughts, dominoes or a game called Halma. She told us about her family, about summers during harvest, farmer’s dances, working as a volunteer nurse during World War One, a VAD.


My nana circa 1916

She made it seem glamorous, universally happy times and, in my memory, times with my Nana were happy, sunny times.

Life in a Blackhouse was tough. You shared your home with your livestock in winter. TB, cholera, rickets: these were recurring problems. There was no real schooling, no opportunities beyond hard work on the land or at sea. There was no NHS, no safety net.

My Nana’s life was hard. No labour saving devices, a fairly boring routine of physical toil, a husband out of work and then whose nerves meant working was difficult. Holidays? Once every ten years maybe and then to the seaside. No savings, no safety net. Schooling stopped at 14 and, for women, inequality was endemic.

We are all prone to look back and select memories that fit a narrative we want to tell. Like Dad we can pick a time, an age and edit the highlights.

I stood in that wee kitchen and allowed myself a few minutes of harmless nostalgia. Then I pulled myself back to the reality of 2015 and reminded myself that I’ve never had it so good.

At one point the fear was that there would be so little reason for youngsters to stay on Harris or the Uists that the islands would lose their lifeblood. But the enduring popularity of Harris Tweed, enabling the ultimate in cottage industries to flourish and the introduction of superfast broadband may well enable a proper renaissance.

Really I believe that is possible for a large and growing proportion. Both in Britain and, indeed, elsewhere.Β  Of course this is not a universal truth and we must continue to fight injustice, refuse to accept bigotry and inequality and offer up as much hope, compassion and opportunities as we can to both young and old. But what we shouldn’t do is look back and think the best has gone. With effort, constant vigilance and determination the best will be when the future becomes the now. It will take work but as the wise and wonderful Maya Angelou once said:

β€œWhat you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.”

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published four books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars, Salisbury Square and Buster & Moo. In addition I have published two anthologies of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand and Life in a Flash. More will appear soon, including a memoir of my mother's last years. I will try and continue to blog regularly at geofflepard.com about whatever takes my fancy. I hope it does yours too. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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34 Responses to Optimism revisited

  1. Sue Vincent says:

    Central heating versus getting dressed to go to bed in a Yorkshire winter with ice on the insides of the windows? No contest…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. colinandray says:

    Your father’s perspective was interesting in that he saw immediate post-war Britain as better than the1990’s. With the greatest respect to your father, he was either comparing a very narrow view of the two eras, or he was not keeping up with the times. There is a tendency to look back at “simpler times” and reflect. It is so easy to look at the mess the world is in today and shake our heads however there is a huge difference. Communication! In the 1950’s (I was there), our news came from the local and national newspapers and the whole world was condensed into 15 or so pages. Even before the internet, in the 1990’s we had ongoing radio and tv news stations if needed. Then there is the population increase. Of course crime rates have increased simply because the population has increased. Of course there are far more traffic accidents than there used be. There are far more cars on the road!. We lived in a nice little newly built bungalow ……… which did not have central heating; no air conditioning; hot water was only available around 2 hours after the fire had been lit! In the 1950’s we did not own a car so we were totally dependent on buses …… or biking………. or walking.

    I loved the1950’s and 1960’s ………….. but living was so much easier in the 1990’s ….. and even more so today! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

    • TanGental says:

      I think the only thing I might take issue with is the idea of the world as a mess; I see it with problems but I also see it working in many ways and those areas where it singularly fails to work are both more obvious and more likely to change. There are messy sections rather than the whole a mess. As for Dad, well, yes he did like a narrow view, and even things that he hated at the time (the restrictions of his schooling and its institutional violence) he would cite as ‘not doing me any harm’ when patently it soured for him some of his education. He could see how both my brother and I were educated very differently, how we took so much more from it and yet… thanks for the thoughtful coomment

      Liked by 1 person

  3. gordon759 says:

    Some years ago someone wrote a letter to the press, saying how much better and stronger beer was in their youth. A historian noticed how similar the comments were to an opinion voiced a hundred years ago. He then looked in the obvious sources (opinions of grumpy old men) and found that the same opinions had been voiced back to the sixteenth century!
    So if these opinions were correct, Tudor beer had an ambrosial flavour and was about 600% proof!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Nostalgia is not all it’s cracked up to be

    Liked by 1 person

  5. jan says:

    I love the picture of your Nana – so lovely! I agree, looking back and thinking the best days are gone is not healthy. We have a lot of that going on in the US but it’s mostly fueled by racial prejudice. Sadly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Here to, sadly. I was talking to a Greek and he said that over the last ten years their population had grown 10 percent (650K) by way of immigration from the middle east africa and asia. Add their dire economics and it is a recipe for a tinder box. He despaired of the rise of their far right parties. We in the UK have it easy by comparison so I’m not complacent but those sort of easy targets because of simplistic differences cause so many issues. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Jan.


  6. Ali Isaac says:

    Your Nana was beautiful! She looks like a lady of the manor, not someone who had to do hard work to get by! Another lovely, thoughtful post, Geoffle!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. noelleg44 says:

    What interesting memories! We do tend to remember the pleasurable things so much better than the hard work and deprivation. I cannot imagine sleeping with your animals but it must have been a good way to warm up the inside of the house, Thanks for the insight and the picture of your Nana – she is very striking!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love the photo of your Nana. My impression of the 1950s is that they were pretty difficult times; everyone worked extremely hard and had very little leisure time. They did not have access to as many mod cons, shops, education, social services,medicines and medical services either, or even transport to get them anywhere!

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I think that’s a fine summary. From dad’s point of view, there was stability after the war, a growing level of comfort, little crime (at least so far as it was reported) and a certainty around things like how society functioned. He happily ignored some realities

      Liked by 1 person

  9. trifflepudling says:

    -15 at Didcot station followed by port and Dundee cake! There was ice in our little loo that night. It wasn’t so bad, Geoff!
    The 60s were pretty Spartan too. What strikes me about our childhoods is that we spent far more time in the same room as our parents than subsequent generations, probably due to there being only the one source of heat in the entire house, and I loved that time spent actually being in their company. Whether that was better I don’t know!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ll add to the voices that have already said that your Nana was a very beautiful woman, Geoff. I don’t think I could have coped with living in the 1950s what with food rationing and all. It seemed to go on well after WWII had come to an end. Then again, I look back at the 1970s and think how wonderful they were compared to now yet, back then, there were no computers, 24 hour TV, or Strictly Come Dancing!

    Fig-Rolls are still a big favourite of mine.

    Liked by 1 person

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