55 minus 31: Lest we forget

Posted: 17 July 2019 in 55 minus, life, don't talk to me about life, media, social media
Tags: , , , , ,

We’re going to start today with a meme, talk about the young, then the dead.

So that’ll be fun.

Every so often, something will do the rounds of Twitter and other social media, ostensibly just a ‘huh, kids, eh?’ But something that strikes me – on the umpteenth repetition, anyways – as something a bit… snotty. A bit condescending and inherently unpleasant.

It’ll be something like: Our children will never know the connection between these two things!

The answer, of course is usually in the replies, sometimes blatant, sometimes allowing onlookers [‘the kids’] to have an ‘ohhhhhh’ moment as the penny drops.

I’m not entirely sure when these kind of digs – for that’s how I take them – at those younger started to really bug me; I only know that they did.

The at times seemingly ever-present ‘our experiences meant more’ digs, the ‘kids have it easier these days’ nonsense, the ‘we had [xxxx], kids have [yyyy] and [xxxx] is inherently better/more valid because we had it’ rubbish. But it’s replicated in everything from politicians with their ‘we survived the war, we can survive Brexit’ bullshit, to sidebars and cheap gags at their expense online.

As for when it did start to bug me, I suspect it was after listening to a topical comedy show wherein a couple of comedians were discussing a newspaper piece about how ‘kids today’ don’t understand pre-decimalisation currency, or something similar.

The comedians made the valid point ‘why the hell should they?’

I mean, ok, if the younger read novels set in, or non-fiction about, time periods before 1971, then it might help to appreciate the terms used for the British currency of the time.

But any author now writing about that period knows most people won’t have strong memories, beyond the very personal, of pounds, shillings and pence, and will account for that. And any books of the time are… of the time. They were written during that time. And there are more than a few things that’ve changed since the 19th century; currency is one of the lesser ones.

And of course, occasionally, authors will sometimes acknowledge that readers might not be familiar with pre-decimalisation and provide… help.

(The above from Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett)

In one of the later Letters from America, Alistair Cooke mentioned that it came as quite a surprise – a much needed corrective, he acknowledged – when some friends of his grandchildren didn’t know the details of Watergate. He then realised that it fell, for them, into that period of time between

  • what you live(d) through, and
  • what’s in the history books.

I was born in 1964. My first memories start in the very late 1960s, early 1970s. The history books I read at school pretty much stopped at the end of the Second World War, perhaps a couple of years later.

Anything that occurred from, say 1950 through 1968… well, that falls into that gap identified by Cooke. Much as the Boer war fell into that gap for him. He was born in 1908. The Boer War ended in 1902. It was current memory for adults when he was born, but not yet into the history books for the children as he grew older.

For me? Well… even if American history was in my school history books (I honestly don’t know) I certainly don’t recall reading anything in detail about McCarthyism until I’d left school and was actually studying US politics.

I remember reading about President Roosevelt and his successor, President Truman… but not about Eisenhower. And all I knew about JFK was that he’d been shot by someone who shared my first name, spelled the same way as well! (When I was growing up, my first name was as often spelled – for boys and girls – ‘Leigh’ as it was ‘Lee’.)

Sorry, this has drifted a bit.

But why should kids know that a pencil and a cassette tape should provoke memories of inserting the pencil, rotating it, correcting the twisted magnetic tape…? It’s not in their personal experience.

Any more than it’s in mine how to powder a wig. Or to make a crystal radio set (my dad did it when he was a kid) Or how to jive? (My mum used to dance when she was younger… a lot.) Or how to balance a budget with a ration card – my grandparents, during and after WWII. None in my personal experience. And something that was in previous generations’.

But if there’s anything that truly – to me – does raise the ‘they do it different these days’ in a way that doesn’t piss me off, but does make me wonder what the future brings… it’s people, contact with them, how they’re regarded by others, and how they’re appreciated… while they’re alive, and after they’ve died.

Or not, as the case may be.

I’m unconvinced that any generation views other people, and especially the departed, in the same way as either the previous generation or the next generation does.

A couple of generations before mine… adults were fighting in wars, different cultures, different backgrounds, different experiences, thrown together in military service. I’m certainly not suggesting it as a objectively ‘good’ thing – as a general rule of thumb, I’m against war – but it unquestionably changed how those in the forces regarded those they’d never have come into contact with otherwise. And how they regarded death at a young age.

Let’s leave death for a paragraph or two, and just stick to people.

I grew up in the 1970s; playing in the street with other kids, cycling off to the woods and hills near Luton, playing with kids you’d just met… and if you were an hour or two late back, and they couldn’t contact you – no mobile phones – the main consequence was that your mum gave you a telling off and punished you. It wasn’t called ‘grounding’ in the UK, but that was the usual punishment.

The idea that you might have gone missing if you were an hour or more late back was just never A Thing. That I’d not called them was just… naughty. But wasn’t expected, not really. And, I mean, still before the days of mobile phones, but when I went to uni, I called my parents once or twice a week.

My lad speaks to his mum almost every day; most people, most adults, I know speak to their parents very often. They speak to friends less often, but are in contact much more often, online. By text. On messaging apps.

Despite the stories of ‘everyone knew each other, everyone knew how everyone was’ back in the day, these days, people are in contact in one form or another far more often… with people they care about, and people they want to stay in contact with.

And then there’s what happens when people die.

I remember back when my brother died. After the burial, the shiva… my sister-in-law certainly had people contacting her all the time.

But my late brother himself… I have no idea how often people thought of him. Nor, on the whole, what people thought of him while he was alive. Not truly. I know what people said afterwards but it’s easy to say nice things afterwards.

At least with Mike, there was a book after his death containing tributes, what friends and family thought of him. I’ve genuinely no idea at all whether he knew it, appreciated it, before he died, though. [I’ve no doubt, by the way, that he knew how much I loved him as a brother; I’m fortunate in that at least.]

But a book about a departed one is, was, unusual. Mike’s widow wanted to do it for a specific reason.

These days? There’d be – if the family wanted – a preserved Facebook page, a tribute for people to leave online messages. People would write on their own facebooks, and tumblrs and twitter feeds that they missed him.

(And, yes, idiots would chime in with their own unwanted, unwarranted, idiocy about how they never liked him anyway.)

But that’s something that’s changed, and will change more in the future. Whenever someone dies, people say “I hope they knew how much they were loved” or “I wish I could have told them how much they mattered to me”.

(Caveat for famous people, big stars; I don’t believe for a moment that they are – completely at least – unaware of how much their work has mattered to people, nor that they haven’t been told so by many, many people.)

Flip side of all of this – and a nicer consequence of the changing ‘openness’ in society; it’s far easier, far more acceptable, to tell someone how much they – or their achievements – have mattered to you.

Sure, that’s as much for you as it is for them, but I like that people tell them, anyway.

“No one ever dies regretting they didn’t spend more time at work” is a trite remark, and in part – but only in part – true. I’m sure there are people who die regretting that.

But no one should ever die thinking that they didn’t matter. They should know – before they die – that they, that their work, mattered; to family, to friends, to people who liked them, to people who loved them. To admirers and critics alike.

So tell them.

Something else a bit more together, and a whole lot more serious, tomorrow…

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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