Many of us look forward to retirement, myself included, some activities are lost but reading, writing, talking, watching television or listening to the radio or even just sitting thinking, last as long as eyes and ears and mind remain active. Eyes and ears can be helped to extend their range, such is the power of the National Health Service. The NHS is a much more prominent part of my life, than it used to be when it began in 1948. I give thanks to Aneurin Bevan, Sir William Beveridge and all the other politicians and civil servants who assisted at a rather protracted birth.
I have recently discovered two authors who in their different ways add much to my pleasure in the English language; one is Bill Bryson, an American who now lives in England and has written many factual books in such an exquisite and delightful way that a person as static and non-scientific person as myself feels that I can understand a little more of the modern, ever-changing world in which we all live than without Mr Bryson I could ever hope to. The second writer is also an American who writes for the New Yorker, is Adam Gopnik. In 1995 he moved with his wife and baby son from New York City to Paris, why I enjoy his writing I find hard to say, although clearly I am one of an ever growing band . He enjoys life both in New York and in Paris, his book about Paris is,” Paris to the Moon .”
Gopnik is a happy man in another book, ” At The Strangers’ Gate- Arrivals in New York “. He writes of the setting up of their first home together with his young beautiful wife, Martha, and very little money. Both he and Martha are studying so the only apartment they can afford is a very small basement complete with cockroaches. Somehow the young couple accommodate themselves to these dreadful conditions. He comments on her choice of beautiful clothes, amazingly their love blossoms in horrible conditions. The writer choses the most apt words:
“And meanwhile all the ambitions really came together, as a single task, around the only thing I have ever been any good at! putting the right set of words in their one possible order.”
I do hope it is not too late for me to emulate Mr. Gopnik. The years have rushed past me with an unforgiving speed. A word which has recently become part of my vocabulary is ‘downsize’. This involves so many different activities my head is in a spin. What to keep but much more importantly what to get rid off. So much stuff! Books, papers, files, folders, clothes I haven’t worn in years, crockery, pans too big for our smaller appetites. Well truthfully I’m a great fan of ready meals, vegetables to pop in the micro-wave, pies, pasties, fresh soup in a plastic container, cakes covered in delicious cream and icing. My brain warns me too much sugar, too much salt, if only they didn’t taste so delicious!
I try to be sensible, I have to confess sometimes I’m tempted. The woman that I used to be decades ago is still part of me. The visible part shows all the signs of ageing; missing teeth, short sight, creaking, aching bones, forgetfulness of what happened last year or worryingly last week. I am quite partial to a little snooze after lunch. My brain is still functioning, indeed my understanding is more perceptive than when I was in my twenties. If only I could move as easily as I did just a few years ago. Stop moaning, I’m really very fortunate. Him and me we look after each other and at the moment we are doing alright. Ive just read something, I don’t remember where, that the only moment that matters is the present one. I’ll keep that in mind.
Idly looking through my emails, I read one about interesting facts and figures including the age range in different populations. One category stood out, the towns with the largest percentage of an older population, this immediately caught my attention. (you can guess why). At the very top of the list was the city of Sunderland, the city of my birth and the first thirty years of my life. I immediately asked myself the reason for this strange fact.
When I was a child several large industries: ship-building, coal mining and engineering employed thousands of men. In the twenty-first century those industries are totally gone. I wonder what industries have taken their place, the one which springs most readily to mind is education. By law every child from the age of five years must go to school and a very large percentage stay there until the age of eighteen Education is a very labour intensive occupation and has a very high rate of turn over, teachers burn out many of them in less than five years. As a former teacher I have complete understanding of their daily trauma, the government has introduced a system of frequent testing which many children fail, the corollary is that in fact the teachers are failing. Many teachers decide to leave before they are pushed while they still have command of their own senses.
In addition to primary and secondary schools, the city has its own university. This developed over many decades from a small technical college teaching the draughtsmen, engineers, the skilled men of the shipyards and the mines the more focused education they needed to take up their skilled work, the Sunderland Technical College was established in 1901, a time of increasing industrial activity. In the 1950s the college expanded the number of courses it taught to include : typing, business English, short-hand, also O level and A level subjects such as French and German.
In 1969 the Technical School of Art and the Teacher Training College were absorbed by the then Polytechnic. The activity continued every day from 9 am to 9 pm. In 1992 the college gained university status.
In the years 2016-2017, there were 10, 725 undergraduates and 2,300 post graduate students. The university also had a bases in London and Hong Kong, the motto chosen was, ” Sweetly Absorbing Knowledge.” Pharmacy and Naval Architecture were also part of the specialist areas. It was regarded as one of the best universities in the North-East of England. There were two campuses in the city; the Sir Tom Cowie campus based around St Peter’s Church, and Scotia Quay and Panns Bank across the river from St. Peter’s campus. In depth learning in this area has a very long history going back to the monastery established by Benedict Biscop in 674 AD.
There is currently in place a new ten year strategy costing around £700 million to create 300 new academic posts and increase the size of the university to 21,000 students, especially more international students; including a state of the art Media Centre near St. Peter’s Church. This is by far the biggest economic enterprise of the county.
This small city is the administrative centre of the county, the civil servants who organise the public amenities work in a building on the riverside. In addition Durham city has a hospital and on the outskirts a prison both employing a lot of people. It would seem that most jobs in the future will involve providing a service for people rather than producing goods to buy. According to the economic expert Robert Peston the UK is still a rich country, perhaps the wealth could be shared out more fairly.
Friday 20th April, 2018, so far so perfectly ordinary, I switch on the radio, just like every day, 8 am the weather forecast. An excited voice announces that this is the warmest April day for seventy years, I put my cup down, can this be true? The announcer states again, the last time this temperature was reached in the month of April was 1947. I was eight years old, living in an upstairs flat with my parents and sister. I can’t claim to have any memories of this special day, I went to school as usual, ran around in the playground and enjoyed my lessons but nothing stands out. My mother was keen to get through the next few weeks, she was due to give birth to my brother in July. Of course no-one had any idea that the baby would be a boy.
My dear brother was born on the twenty-seventh of July 1947, he was a hungry, healthy baby, I was almost nine years old and my sister was seven years old. Dad was recovering from rheumatic fever, so all in all Mum had a very busy life. There were no labour saving devices, washing, cooking, cleaning required enormous amounts of physical effort and it all fell to Mum’s lot . If I could say there was plenty of money around that would have been a great help but alas there wasn’t. Buying the essentials necessitated much careful calculation, again that fell to Mum and somehow she managed it, a Wonder woman indeed.