Young babies learn amazingly quickly when they are hungry they cry and someone feeds them, when they are wet someone changes them. At the same time the baby responds to mother by gurgling and smiling at this caring person. The caring person responds in very much the same way and also by adding some words: whose a beautiful baby then. Very quickly mother and baby are communicating with words. Some time later Bill or Sue will learn to walk and then walking and talking will develop with astonishing rapidity. Much of this learning is a one to one business, one person speaks and the other listens, they take turns. Sitting in front of a television set is completely different. There is no to-ing and fro-ing , the programme has no interest in the person watching whether that person is two years old or eighty-two. It is totally unresponsive.
I heard on the radio that some children in England starting school in their fifth year are scarcely able to talk. Teachers expect children to follow simple instructions and to be able to respond using brief sentences. It is inexpressibly sad that young children in a rich country like this one start school at such a terrible disadvantage. There is a view that the education of poor children is an unnecessary expense because they will get ideas above their station. In this rapidly changing world who knows what skills and knowledge will be required in 20 or 30 years. Countries where only a small wealthy elite are educated like Saudi Arabia or Syria tend to develop very unhappy populations ripe for any demagogue who appears. What follows is hundreds if not thousands of deaths and a society always in poverty. In countries where the education of every child matters for example Finland, Sweden or The Netherlands populations, societies are at the forefront of modern developments and their societies are peaceful and prosperous.
The phrase ‘the past is another country’ describes in very few words the strangeness and absence of familiar landmarks which studying in detail our own past of a hundred and fifty years ago. The circumstances of everyday life; living conditions, working, eating and sleeping are so different from anything we know today it could be the Brazilian rain forest or life in the Arctic snows of Greenland. For anyone interested in family history like me it is relatively easy to go back a hundred and fifty years and discover where my ancestors were and what they were doing. Of course the words written down on the page have nothing like the huge visual impact of seeing living people living in one dirty depressing room, no bright colours, no soft furnishings, broken windows, nothing to look at at all.
The narration by Michael Mosely filled in some of the extremely harsh facts which formed the background to the lives of the families flooding into London at that time. My ancestors came to the industrial towns of the North-east of England in search of work, mostly from the more rural parts of the country. A hundred years later Parliament recognised the huge gap in living conditions between the 1% of the very wealthy and the poverty of the vast majority of ordinary people. There had been talk and actions by the trade unions to improve the lives of working people. Most members of Parliament were very much against the amelioration of working peoples lives but the Lloyd George Liberal government passed the first Old Age Pensions Act of 1908, a non-contributory scheme paid to those over 70 (the deserving poor) and in 1911 the first National Insurance Act, a contributory scheme to pay out sickness benefit for a regulated time to the worker to ill to work. This was the beginning of the Welfare State.
Mosely mentioned in the programme that the average age of death was 40 years and many people did not survive beyond 20 years and many children died of malnutrition and infectious diseases. The broader aspects of the Welfare State were debated in the early years of the 2nd World War when there was a Coalition Government. The Labour Party was keen to introduce a system of health care for everyone, free at the point of need; an improved free system of secondary education to continue until the age of fifteen and support for those too ill to work. The Conservative Party appeared willing to go along with these ideas in order to get the cooperation of everyone in the efforts to defeat Hitler and bring an end to the war.
Yesterday I went out to the shops, not exactly an adventure, more of a routine everyday shopping trip. For me it was in fact special, I had my amazing new walking frame with me, I think its called a rollator; it has four wheels, two handles and a seat in the middle. My dodgy knee and my bionic hip need a little help with this walking business. I walked to the bus stop and hubs folded up the frame and in no time I had a seat on the bus. You will be amazed to learn that a caring government actually pays the fares. I think the Chancellor plans to bring in another austerity measure to put a check on extravagant pensioners.
At the shopping centre I alighted, there are extensive building works going on so the easiest thing was to go to Sainsbury’s and have a stroll round. I was perfectly in control of my body and my machine. Its some little while since I’ve been able to pick up my own tomatoes and bread, today I could. Some bananas, some salad, a small packet of chocolate biscuits and it was time to go to the check out. I avoided those self check-out stands, I’m paying my money I want a shop assistant to serve me. Just time to make our way to the bus-stop. Perfect. The talking I can do all by myself, hearing is another matter. So my first outing with the machine went off splendidly. I had a little nap when I got home, I read in an important paper, half an hour refreshes every part. I’m in total agreement.
THere’s an old woman who lives next door, her hair is different shades of blonde and she walks with a stick. She doesn’t go out to work so she must be old, I think they’re called pensioners, her name is Mrs Wilson. Sometimes I post a letter for her or bring some bread from the shop, she usually gives me two shillings. I don’t know her Christian name but she always calls me Margaret, its actually my sister’s name but she gets us mixed up, my name is Pam. Margaret used to do some shopping for her, she’s busy with her college work so now I do the shopping.
Mrs Wilson is pretty small, I’m as tall as she is and I’m only eleven. Mum says I’m growing out of my clothes far too quickly. The old lady’s skirts almost reach to her ankles, she told me one day her bones are shrinking. I’m not sure if that’s true, I think when you reach your full height you stay the same height till you die. Mum said she must be in her seventies, we’ve lived here sixteen years and Mrs W. has always been a Pensioner. Yesterday’s news said there are more and more pensioners and its costing the country a lot of money to keep them. Perhaps we should put them all in the Workhouse, in history the teacher told us, along time ago, nearly a hundred years, when people were too ill or too old to work they had to go into the workhouse. It was horrible just a bed in a room full of beds and no private space at all. I would hate it! In my room I have my computer, my mobile and my books and I do pretty much anything I want to do. Its MY SPACE!!!
I’ll begin the way all the best stories begin. Once upon a time the city I live in was small and compact which was a very fortunate thing because it is built on a number of hills with a river winding its way through the centre of the town. In the days not so long ago when most people walked and the lucky few had a horse and cart, there were plenty of green spaces and lots of trees on the slopes of the hills. It was and still is the administrative centre of the county and in the nineteenth century established its own university close by the Cathedral which has been there for a thousand years. So you will see the history of this spot today places a very important role in the twenty-first century life of the place and its people.
The geography is another important factor the river forms an oxbow loop and the cathedral and castle were built on the hill protected by the river, a superb defensive position. Other important buildings were built in a square on this protected hilltop, the approach by land is narrow and steep. In the Middle Ages this worked perfectly, in the twenty-first century with a huge population increase the daily business of life becomes very inconvenient. The roads leading to the city are now packed with cars and buses, at this present time road works are causing delays and inconvenience. It seems to me the shorter the distance people have to travel, the more a car is seen as absolutely essential and parking close to the shop or office, school or factory is a must have.
I suppose what I’m grumbling about is we can’t seem to value what we have until someone threatens to destroy it. Action not words.
To be honest I’m not talking about an Olympic medal, I’ve always been barely adequate at athletics, not able to make the netball team or any other team come to that. But something happened to me when I was 11 that changed my life. I passed the 11+ exam to go to grammar school. For me it was a chance to start believing in myself, there was something I could do.
Now there are quite legitimate criticisms of that exam, I have made some myself. A once in a life-time chance is by no means a good idea, and chances for the few are shameful in a wealthy country like ours, and the destruction of all our hopes for the future. Children have a large number of different talents and abilities and every boy and girl should be encouraged to be the best that they can be, we all change as we grow older so there must be; second, third and further opportunities to acquire the skills that in this complicated life we will all need. That is why the re-introduction of grammar schools is a bad idea because it carries with it the idea of success for the few and failure for the many. Of course the idea of success for the few still is present in our society in independent schools. There the deciding factor is money, if your parents can afford it that’s accepted by society.
The world is changing at an astonishing rate, if computers take over most office jobs what are the office workers going to do? Probably more impotent than skills is the self -belief that every human being needs that they are versatile,flexible with the ability to change whatever the circumstances they find themselves in. We know this to be true in the brief history of mankind since they left Africa and settled in the snow and ice of the Arctic, in mountainous terrain to bleak inhospitable deserts. There is no one right answer just many adaptations.
Many changes come about almost unexpectedly to most of us but some come slowly and with a great deal of effort on the part of a few. The Suffragettes began organising in 1903 to gain the vote for women on the same terms as men: this was finally achieved in 1928. New Zealand gave all women the right to vote in 1893, the ability to stand for election came in 1919. Many provinces in Canada and in other countries were ahead of Britain. This may seem a detour from the railways, although not from the making of a nation. I was delighted to see that a young woman, Liz McIvor presented this series of programmes with great skill and the ability to organise many factors into a coherent narrative.
I was struck by the number of female academics and historians who appeared in the programme. I believe that over 50% of undergraduates in British universities are now women, an amazing increase in my life-time. There was a time when academic education was thought completely beyond women, their brains could not cope with it. Some male academics were convinced that this was simply a statement of fact.
The change in business methods; the accurate keeping of accounts, the organisation and training of the work force and the careful organisation of safety procedures. All these were set up by the numerous private companies in the 1830s, 40s and 50s who decided that faster, more efficient transport could more profitably be arranged if heavy goods like coal, iron ore and steel ran on wagons which ran on steel rails directly from production to required use.
The first public steam railway system was opened in September 1825 from Phoenix Pit, Old Etherley Colliery to Cottage row Stockton, with a half mile extension to Darlington. It could be said that County Durham saw the birth of the railway system unaccountably this fact was missed out of Professor McIvor’s programme.
The photography was superb, a few sketch maps could have been added to add to the understanding of the land covered. The story told was extremely well done. Films are a wonderful addition to the story of how change takes place and the often unintended consequences. Who could not be interested in history when the pictorial and the verbal explanations are married together so expertly?
I’ve seen another episode and there is still no mention of the Stockton, Darlington Railway. This is beginning to look like another of those London-centric programmes, real Liz I thought better of you!