Sunday 16 September 2012

I have a troubling relationship with time. As I get older distances back seem smaller.

Now I want you to think back.
Think back ten years.
What were you doing then?
In school?
In your first job?
In any case you can remember it.
Relatively clearly one hopes.
Now I want you to imagine a couple newly married who had just had a baby.
They can remember back ten years.
They remember clearly when they found out that two atomic bombs had been dropped on Japan.
The war with Japan was over.
Dancing in the streets.

I was that baby.

I was born in 1956.
(Ok it's eleven years back... But I was born within minutes of the anniversary of Nagasaki)
I grew up in military camps all over England and a couple overseas.
It was a different world to today.
Virtually no plastic.
Indoor plumbing was a relative luxury.
Loo was outside.
There were no super markets.
Very few cars.
Still had carts and horses in places.
(I still remember the night cart)
As a very young child I was washed in the sink.
My father worked in the steel mills and the bathtub had to be hauled in from outside.
My mother boiling water for that bathtub.
And hooking her brand spanking new iron into the light socket hanging from the roof.
We had ice cream once a year.
It came in a cardboard box.
The wonders of the brave new world were upon us.

In 1962 I met my great-grandmother.
I remember her distinctly.

Think about that.
She was born just as the American civil war was starting.
Her parents would have avidly read the papers about how it was going.
And her great grand parents would have waited with bated breath to see how Waterloo turned out.

I think sadly that I never *knew* my great grandmother.
What great memories she would have had.
Of a world before mine.
But I met her.

Different from today.
Different when I hitch hiked through Europe in the mid 70s.
No MacDonalds.
Hardly anyone spoke English.

Different when I learnt to program.
And migrated to C and C++
Then perl, java, ruby et al.
I remember using the first ever mouse.
I remember using the first graphical windowing system.
I remember setting up the first ISPs for this new fangled thing: The Internet.
I remember.
I remember so much.

And I haven't got any one to tell.

And now when I hear people talk about the American civil war as OVER 150 YEARS AGO!
Or the like.
I find myself struck by the fact that I have a visceral connection to that time.
And, if I had been capable of discussing things with my great grandmother, would have a similar connection to the Napoleonic era.

Which makes me feel a sense of connection with the people who walked this planet only a few generations ago.
The Wars of the Roses.
The English Civil War.
The American Revolution.
The Middle East.

My GG might have had a connection with her GG and hers and hers and lo...
I can almost feel connected to Shakespeare.
A few more GGs and we're at 0AD.

And we look at children playing in the school yard and think...
They may live to the year 2100.
They may travel to other planets.

Brings the distance in time into perspective.
So I urge you...
You may yet be a great grandparent.
Tell your kids your memories and get them to tell their kids their memories.
Fill them with the sense of wonder and yes even horror that was your childhood.
So sometime, a 100 years from now, someone will write an article like this and actually have those memories.


  1. It is one the best creations I have ever read.
    Nice , Awesome... :)

  2. I have stories in me that reach back from my mother to her grandmother, from 150 years ago. And on other branches of the family to the settling of New Amsterdam. Like you I feel a keen sense of ... frustration?... at not having any little ones to pass those stories along to. So I write them down, hoping that my nieces and nephews children might one day find them and pick up that chain once again.

    I asked my mother one time how she came to have this amazing store of family history. She said, "We washed dishes. I'd wash, your Aunt Sis would dry and Mother would sit at the kitchen table and tell us these stories. We loved hearing about them." This was before the house got wired for electricity, so no radio or TV or "entertainment." Just Mother telling wonderful stories... They were very poor in one way, but so very rich in others.

    Thanks for writing this. :)