Looking Back

It doesn't seem possible that the baby boy who entered the world in the early days of what came to be known as the phoney war, back in 1940, could be celebrating his seventy fifth birthday today, but that's what I'm doing. Well possibly marking rather than celebrating. We had intended to eat at one of our favourite restaurants up in the top part of the village this evening but a particularly grim weather forecast of several hours of torrential rain this evening caused us to change our minds. And that is perhaps fortunate because my wife had an almost completely sleepless night assailed by constant stomach cramps, and has spent most of today tucked up in bed. This year's birthday outing was to the ambulatorio, the walk-in medical centre in Nerja to get a reassuring diagnosis of gastroenteritis, and some pain relief and anti-spasmodic medications.
Having time to sit and reflect led me to two thoughts in particular. Firstly it is with a slight degree of surprise that I can look at myself, obviously showing signs of age, but assisted only by a walking stick as a mobility aid, or more probably an old man's comfort blanket. I could get by without it but I feel happier to have it with me. If I think myself back to late teens and early twenties and then look forward, my expectations were much more limited. I was born and brought up in Salford, an unhealthy industrial city with a horrendous level of air pollution that took its toll with a vengeance. Although my paternal grandparents lived well into their eighties, my father and two of his brothers died in their late fifties; as did my mother's brother. That was not unusual. They were not thought of as premature deaths in that city in those days. Anybody making sixty had had a good innings. So looking to the future from that time, my ambition was to actually see the arrival of the twenty first century. That was indeed ambitious. And now, nearly sixteen years beyond my youthful target, today I finally move out of the zone which nowadays constitutes premature death.
The second thing which strikes me is the quite incredible change in daily life that has come about during my lifetime. Very few people had cars. Very few had a phone in the house. Every morning my father had to clean the ashes out of the grate and light a fresh fire - in the cold of a poorly insulated house. Then he would boil up a kettle of water so he could shave. For me as a child there are memories of setting off to walk to school wearing a gabardine raincoat in the pouring rain and at the end of the school day struggling back into the heavy, sodden, icy coat for the walk home. Food came from the various local shops, milk arrived each morning in churns on the back of a horse drawn cart and my mother would take her large jug into the street to have the milk measured into it. She went food shopping most days; supermarkets were still way off in the future. Coal was delivered in sacks and tipped into the coal shed (or the cellar if you had one), and the firewood man came round every week with his pony and cart. We had chimney sweeps who cleared the soot build-up from the chimney flues; neglect that and before long you would have the chimney on fire! Soot, sulphur and other chemicals were heavy in the air and every winter brought choking, dense smogs, the lethal combination of coal smoke and fog which had the buses struggling to find their way back to the depot, leaving would-be passengers to somehow navigate the blanket on foot.
So many things that we now take for granted were unknown only fifty years ago. I need a lot of persuading that I was born and grew up during 'the good old days'.

1 comment:

  1. Happy birthday and hope your wife will soon be well enough for a belated celebratory dinner.
    The good old days? Perhaps in some respects, but in many definitely not. I grew up in 1950's small town on the west coast of Scotland and experienced many of the things you describe. Often wonder about the effects of inhaling all that air pollution. I can still smell the stench of the coal fuelled train at the crossing in our town and being enveloped in the dense, black smoke.