One hundred years ago is not much more than one lifetime, in fact my lifetime. I confess my own memories do not go back a hundred years, my research into family history and the relationship I had with both sets of grandparents convinces me that I can understand something of the childhoods of my mother and father. My mother was in 1917 6 months old, my father was 2 years and 2 months old, they were born a few streets from each other, in the same town, Sunderland. My father was the first child of a young couple, although at that time he lived with his grandmother. This young couple were tenants occupying a couple of rooms in a shared house, George, my grandfather worked in the shipyards which stretched out on both banks of the river. He was a labourer, the skilled men jealously guarded their status, apprenticeships were for their own sons.
The River Wear had for most of the previous century become the focus of industrial activity. The extremely valuable mineral coal had been discovered, for the most part close to the surface 10 miles upstream at Chester-le-Street. The best way to transport this material was in flat bottomed keels, to the port. The coal was then loaded on to larger ships and carried to the Midlands and the south east to fuel the mechanisation of the developing industries and heat the homes of the wealthy manufacturers and traders. The establishment of the railways in the mid nineteenth century both transported the coal to other industries and used a great deal of it to power the increasingly efficient steam engines. Glass, lime and pottery also developed and of course Sunderland overtook Newcastle as the biggest ship-building town in the world, in addition mast and rope-making would in time become the town’s greatest industries. During the nineteenth century thousands of young people were attracted to the town with the promise of regular work, mainly from rural areas in northern England, Scotland and Ireland.
I have been able to trace the arrival of my great, great grandfather, Thomas Taylor Pickering in the 1840s
This morning the sun was shining and I was expecting a visitor. My friend was coming to do my hair, she arrived at 10 o’clock like a breath of fresh air. My friend can comb and brush and curl my hair in a way that is quite beyond me. Yes, I know the fashion is for long straight hair, but when I grew up the mark of a mature woman was the neat, precise shape of the curls on her head. Such a woman was well turned out, ready to tackle the complicated business of living. It seem that a woman today has to look like a teenager without a care in the world, casual to the point of carelessness.
Pat enquires how I am and I bring her up to date on the small happenings in my life, although at present there is something very big happening. My brother is very ill in a hospice, I mention that he is sixty-nine years old. I was the firstborn child in my family, I was nine years old when he was born. Pat stops her careful combing: No you are not seventy-eight! There is astonishment and disbelief in her face. She stands in front of me: I can’t believe it! I have a great big grin, this is the best compliment I have been paid in a long time. Her surprise seems genuine. For the rest of the day I am smiling, an old woman like me, but at present I don’t feel old, I feel much, much younger.
I’m angry, just as I get myself together the world falls apart. I will not mention a certain American, in this country we have an entirely British stupidity. The entirely erroneous idea that the Welfare State costs us money is accepted by our politicians and those multi-millionaires who stand behind them. The truth is the W. S. preserves our peace and security, it supports a fairer, more equitable society: we have less need for prisons which are extremely expensive places ; we have a more peaceful and secure society where the anxiety of just managing on a day to day basis has no place. Everyone feels that they have a place in society and they will not be left to sleep on the streets or die of hunger.
Alas this is not the society we have today, the reluctance that politicians have to increase taxation, their multi-millionaire friends would rather bury their millions in a hole in the ground in Switzerland or on an island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean with the mistaken believe that this keeps them save. Do they ponder for a moment the temptations put in front of their children and grandchildren, by the unscrupulous and the greedy. Do they consider that all doctors, nurses, radiographers and the vast range of medical specialists whose training is paid for by the taxpayer; the hospitals, the buildings and equipment maintained for the most part by taxpayers working in shops and offices, schools, colleges, repairing the roads, driving the buses and many other routine ordinary jobs.
Most of us grumble a bit about paying our taxes every week, but we pay them. We know they pay for the roads we drive on, the schools our children go to, the hospitals which we hope will be there when we need them and our pensions. We none of us know what the future holds: unemployment, sickness, marriage breakdown, old age and loneliness. But we hope that as members of society there will be collective support there should we ever need it. Some countries are much better at understanding these facts, countries like Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and France and Germany. These countries remember what happened in the 1930s and 1940s. In Britain it seems we have wiped clean our memories and in the USA their media tells them a Fairy Story and looks for an east target to blame as is happening at the present time.
The odd thing is time does not pass in a uniform way. Even in the face of those hours measured out in sixty minutes on every clock face. In the morning when I ride downstairs to my breakfast, the hour hand on the clock is racing away. Breakfast, washing and dressing, sorting out the most pressing matters of the day and suddenly its noon. The morning is over and so little progress made. Early afternoon is slower, a quiet, even nap time. New energy, time to be creative. The computer is an amazing machine but it is oh so easy to be side-tracked; do you want to know a secret about this famous face? My finger presses the button and I find an advert, fooled again. How many times am I going to fall for this old trick? Not a moment to waste, time to gird the loins and plunge in.
What has happened in this crazy world? No I’m not going to mention Trump, its absolutely too horrible for words. A disciplined mind, OMG if only I had one. It has occurred to me recently that a hundred years is the lifetime of one person. Our Queen herself is ninety. I am astonished that she walks and talks and stands so straight. Myself I cannot claim to have lived a hundred years but my mother was born a hundred and one years ago and my father a hundred and three years ago. I lost them both more years ago than I care to remember. They did not talk to me about the past, they were much too busy sorting out the difficulties and problems of each day as it passed. I knew both sets of grandparents and the houses they lived in, they owned no property and had no savings in the bank. Like many other people I have done some family research and have not found a single ancestor who was rich or who was famous in their own time or indeed who managed to squeeze into a single history book. The truth must be faced, I come from a long of the anonymous masses. No famous person has any connection to me at all, ‘Who do You Think You Are?’ would consider my story much too common place to have any interest for anyone. There are days when I feel that way myself . Tomorrow more meanderings.
In recent weeks my family has cause to be very grateful to the NHS. We both form part of the group considered by some politicians to be expensive, pensioners which the government regards as an unaffordable luxury. I find their reasoning very curious, by far the majority of pensioners are spending their money in the UK economy; income tax, council tax, food bills, rent, gas and electricity, clothes and entertainment. Most of us have no millions to put in an off-shore tax haven, our pensions go directly into paying for the goods and services in this country. Many of the older generation are also carers, caring for partners, adult children, grandchildren and volunteering in the wider community. Yes we have a free bus pass, where would the bus companies be if we stopped using the buses?
Medication and treatment for ageing bodies are free at the point of need, as they are for every citizen, as the great reformer Nye Bevan founder of the NHS said:
” Illness is neither an indulgence for which people should have to pay, nor an offence for which they should be penalised, but a misfortune, the cost of which should be shared by the community.”
But this is only part of the story. Adult Social Care must be cut back, it must feel the harsh wind of austerity; no cups of tea, no help in getting dressed, no trips to the toilet, no hot meal during the day. This frail old person who would like to leave hospital and spend what precious days are left in the familiarity of home. This cannot be, no family member is left, no neighbours have time, no carer can be paid out of the limited social services budget. So a hospital bed becomes a prison with only one release possible. and another individual goes on in pain at home.
A very few have a secret hoard of money buried deep in a dark place where no revenue man can catch a glimpse of it. It buys power, not health, not affection, not regard and not peace of mind. A society where everyone has a decent house, a good school for their children, a job and a regular income and a just legal system; is a stable, peaceful society. A society where everyone, including the super-rich, pays their taxes is a society which benefits EVERYONE. A well established health care system FREE AT THE POINT OF NEED provides sufficient health care professionals, hospital beds, continuing care at home for all those who need it. The paradox is we none of us know when that will be, it may be tomorrow or 50 years hence. Are we going to follow the USA example that health care is only for the very rich? At the moment it looks as if that is the road we are on.
In the early hours of this morning, my brain was in overdrive. Lacking the appropriate off switch I started to twitter on (verbally) and hubs was forced to act as if he were listening. I was rambling on about the wonders of the internet hubs immediately reacted to my use of the word magic. Not magic, that is for fairy stories, the internet works on established scientific principles, according to the laws of physics and mathematics. Don’t ask me to explain further its beyond me.
Later when we were up and dressed, no simple matter these days! Conversation turned to the television, for some weeks past the words, ‘there is no connection’ have appeared at regular intervals on the screen. All recordings and iPlayer programmes have been mysteriously vanished. After scrabbling around on shelves and in drawers booklets which explain how absolutely simple it is to have the programme of your choice appeared. I had (yes it was me), had the bright idea of putting new batteries in the remote control. We stared earnestly at the connections, the telephone link up, the plugs in the wall and wondered what on earth we could possibly do. Hubs gently pushed one plug gently into the socket. Suddenly the screen flashed, fingers crossed we pressed the programme listings. It was there on the screen! Can we get our recorded programmes, yes! The extensive list appeared at the press of a button. Who is non-scientific now?