The Times They Are A'Changing

I have a brother who still lives in England but we chat for around an hour every couple of weeks or so. In fact we probably chat more often now that we live in separate countries than ever we did when I still lived in England. He is a few years younger than I am, but still old enough for my granddaughters to think of him as old. We were catching up on Sunday evening. We are rarely online at the same time, so we each use Skype-out to call the other’s landline at local call rates. All this was brought to mind by the turn that our conversation took. Our childhoods are now part of history so far as school kids of today are concerned and we do have an increasing tendency to look back. My brother commented that our parents would have been largely unable to comprehend the world that their sons now inhabit. As a young man, I used to think of the changes which my own grandparents had lived through. Born in the final quarter of the nineteenth century they were witness to and part of the mass migration from the country to the fast growing industrial cities of Manchester and Salford. Canals with their horse-drawn barges were giving way to the rapid growth of railways. Later, horse-drawn trams gave way to motorised buses, especially in the urban sprawls. Gaslight superseded candles and oil lamps, and was then displaced in its turn by electric light. I could reel off a whole host of other ways in which their lives had changed by the time of their death. Now, though, I look back at my own life and the changes that they experienced seem to pale into insignificance compared to what my brother and I have adapted to. We sit at our laptops typing away whereas my mother handwrote everything; for calculating as part of her office work she used a comptometer, a state of the art calculating machine whose operators enjoyed an elevated status in office work, whilst my father used a slide rule. Back in the 1950s one of my older cousins was a member of the team which built the first proper computer (the Atlas) at Manchester University. It was constructed within a specially adapted building, designed to have a dust free atmosphere and constant temperature and humidity. It was valve driven, and when switched on for the first time ran for a whole twenty seconds before it crashed. Those precious seconds, however, had established that what they had designed in theory could be made to work in practice. Today we are surrounded by computers in all forms and sizes and don’t even think of them. as such. I remember, as many people do, the birth of the internet and its rapid expansion into what we have today. My father had a wind-up gramophone and a cherished collection of 78s (if you know what those were); I have a subscription to Apple Music which allows me to stream whatever music I want to listen to from the cloud to my laptop, my iPad, my iPod or my iPhone, depending on which is more convenient at a particular time. If I have a problem with any of these devices, I call in my twelve year old granddaughter and she solves it in minutes. Our parents lived through two world wars which devastated Europe, whereas I only know war from my small child years, and my brother not at all. Seventy years without any wars in Western Europe. From Salford, Southport or Blackpool were a day trip away. My wife and I pop back and forth to England without giving it a second thought, and our daughters think nothing of coming to stay for three or four days whenever they can get away. So - which perhaps is the point of this rambling post - as I sit here settled into a life which has its annual cycle of seasons and festivals and fiestas and regular goings on in the village, wondering what on earth to write about that I didn’t comment on last year, or the year before, or the year before that, it’s chastening to think how much change actually happens that I don’t really pay attention to.

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