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U3A Writing: Better And Worse

John Ricketts considers improvements in modern life, and things that were better way back then.

The first thing that comes to mind is the advantage of getting up in a warm room in a morning. It was not so long ago that our bedroom windows in the morning were covered in beautiful ice patterns, fronds and flowers. And that was on the inside. Now when we poke our noses above the bedclothes they are not pinched off. We enjoy the warmth of our central heating. How wonderful!

When I went to school as an infant it was not unusual for some of the children to be hungry and inadequately dressed. There were no school dinners and a third of a pint bottles of milk had just been introduced, but they had to be paid for; a halfpenny a day. This possibly meant that those who needed the milk most did not get it.

In Birmingham where I lived there was the Mail Christmas fund which provided clothing and boots for the most needy. Unfortunately what they provided was a uniform of poverty which everyone, even the other children in the school, recognised. Nowadays no one should be hungry or inadequately clothed. Where it does happen there is usually selfishness on someone’s part to blame.

In the past few years the world has shrunk. It took me six weeks to come home from Singapore to Britain in 1948. Today it takes a few hours. We used to spend two weeks on a Union Castle liner going from Southampton to Cape Town, now just a few hours.

In the past we heard the news from the other side of the world, weeks or even months after the event. Radio brought the news closer but without the urgency of today when with television we have the sights and sounds over the news. We now have to acknowledge that it is no longer them and us but all us. We can no longer think of the North Korean for example as of no interest, too remote from us. We are all one people on a same planet in a huge universe. We can no longer ignore any peoples anywhere on earth. I find it hard to decide whether this should go on the plus or minus side.

In the last few decades there have been huge advances in medicine. We routinely immunise against polio, measles, rubella and the rest. An uncle of mine died of TB. The son of a friend contracted polio. I was on a unit in Malaya which had a company of Malayan police attached to it. Smallpox was found in the Malayan Camp and three died from it. Unless some fool reintroduces it we have conquered smallpox. Many people used to die from diseases like pneumonia and influenza. The flu epidemic in 1918 killed millions. Antibiotics and immunisation help doctors to prevent the worst effects of these diseases.

We have advanced medically in other ways: heart, lung and liver transplants, new hip and knee joints. Things that a few years ago were in the realms of science fiction I think very much a plus.

On the other hand we have to look at AIDS, which is like the black death was in the Middle Ages. We are told that a third of the people in some of the countries in Africa are infected with HIV and there does not seem to be cure on the horizon. I think that this is a result of a moral breakdown not only in Africa but thoughout the world and in many ways.

It seems to me that the rates of crime have increased tremendously over the years. People did not need to lock their doors in the past. Maybe that was because they had nothing worth stealing but some people seem to think that they have the right to take anything that they want without thinking of the right of others.

Another way in which we have gone backward is in the blame culture which we seem to have adopted from the Americans. In the past people used to accept that mistakes can be made without anyone being at fault. That no longer applies. Every little thing that goes wrong for whatever reason causes people to look for someone to blame. Someone from whom they can abstract money.

The worst cases have happened in America with the suing of tobacco companies and now the same thing is happening here. Everyone has always known that smoking was bad for you. We used to call cigarettes coffin nails but now people pretend that it all comes as a shock to find that they make you ill. To me the claims are dishonest, but someone must take the blame and pay through the nose. As a result all our insurance premiums are going up by huge amounts.

At one time I taught in boarding school. There were four dormitories with sixteen children in each one, so we had thirty-two boys and thirty-two girls. The girls were all looked after by the female teachers and the matron while the men teachers looked after the boys.

One evening I was on duty and went round to see that all the boys had settled own when I heard sobbing coming from the younger boys’ dormitory. All the boys were asleep except the one who was sobbing his heart out. I realised that he was a boy who had just come in that day. He was about eight years old and had never been away from home before. I sat on the bed and talked to him until he had settled down a bit and then I tucked him in and waited until he was asleep. And then I left him.

If the same thing happened in today’s climate I couldn’t do that. I would be accused of being a paedophile. Horror! he sat on the bed, put his arms round the child and then tucked him in bed. I think it’s a bad thing that we can no longer show affection for children without coming under suspicion.

Another fault of the modern age is that we want immediate gratification. I remember that I had to save to get my first bike. What a pleasure it was to go along with my dad and get it, even though it was probably tenth hand and unknown to me my dad had paid some of the cost up front.

Now people do not have that pleasure of achievement. They see something that they want and put it on their credit card to be paid for sometime never. Akin to this is the feeling that everything has to be perfect. Recently I heard of a couple, living together, but putting off the wedding for eight years until they could afford to spend ten thousand pounds on the perfect wedding. When I got married we had twenty at the wedding breakfast though many more attended the actual ceremony at the church. That seems to be what happened then. Now it seems that there are a hundred at the reception and two hundred at the dance in the evening. All too much.

It seems that we are all much better off in many ways than we were in the past but human nature hasn’t changed and we seem to want all we can get without worrying about others.

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