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'.