COLLECTING.

I have to say I don’t consider myself a collector, on the other hand a piece of paper with printing on may come in useful someday, such papers are mounting up with startling rapidity. Of course dictionaries and reference books still have their usefulness, (yes I know about the internet). Old birthday and Christmas cards well it would be callous to put them in the recycling bin. My scribblings may one day find their way into an actual printed memoir, I hope I’m alive to see it. On this beautiful sunny morning I ought  really to be drinking in the fresh air in the garden but first I have a few words I want to put down.

     It doesn’t help that we have lived in this very same house for fifty-one years, before the New Year of 1968 husband and I moved into this new build house. It was our first home, apart from electricity, gas central heating and water, the rooms were bare, only a sink in the kitchen and bath and toilet upstairs. Much has changed in the intervening years, every room has its own collection of ‘stuff’. On this beautiful sunny morning with the sun filling the house with light and warmth I am very grateful that the gods have been very good to me. I could tell myself that I have been sensible and careful,  true, but luck has played a much bigger part. In the late 1960s new homes were being built and the prices were within the range of people on very ordinary salaries like teachers buying their first home. People looking for a home today are not so lucky, house prices are exorbitant and bear no relationship to annual salaries. As a wealthy nation we could remedy this, we choose not to.

     The thought of downsizing has occurred to me, obviously a sensible thought at this stage in our family life, him and me we tire so quickly long before everything is in order. We have the luxury of space, space to be together and space to be apart. He chooses some comedy programmes that frankly I find terribly unfunny and I turn to the internet. It has to be said often just wasting time or on the odd occasion using my own brain and allowing time to pass in a more interesting way. The question which is always waiting in the wings, which stuff to get rid off and which to keep (obviously a much smaller section) until it becomes someone else’s problem.

     I am an enormously lucky person, much of it due to the time and place I was born in this beautiful country of England. Politicians can do good things, the Welfare State, 70 years old this year. They can also do bad things when influenced by the extremely wealthy. We can only hope that the new generation will have men like William Beveridge, Clement Attlee and Jennie and Aneurin Bevan  in it.

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Notes on Sunderland.

Stuart Miller & Billy Bell, ‘ Sunderland in old Photographs.’

900 years ago. Angles and Saxons permanent settlements–the monastery of St. Peter’s at Wearmouth in the Golden Age of Northumbria, a centre of faith, learning and culture.( 8th century?)

Vikings and Scots reduced it to splendid remains.

In 1565 Bishop of Durham, in great decay of building and inhabitants. True history of town starts in late 16thcentury (1570s+). Production of salt from brine- development coal export trade

+other industries; lime, alum, copperas  and glass.

Adjacent village of  Bishopwearmouth, most important trade Coal Export.  Keelmen, casters, trimmers and ballast men.

1717 River Wear Commissioners, creating dock facilities. Bishopwearmouth, Monkwearmouth and Sunderland grew rapidly in C18. Bishop became more fashionable in C19. Wide streets, good houses. Middle class flow into Hendon and Grangetown, fine terraced housing.

end of C19 S. highest infant mortality rate in country , dreadful squalor. early C20 soup kitchens and dole queues. Building of extensive council estates.

Post 1945, long, painful adjust . Also more building of council houses, e.g. Pennywell. A very large estate without schools; a good frequent bus  service, a Cof E church, shops nearby. A doctor’s surgery at Grindon, also a library there.

CELEBRATIONS.

Three very important things to celebrate; first the seventieth birthday of the NHS, secondly a hundred years since women won the vote and third amazing technology. I’ll begin with technology, is there one machine which has altered women’s lives out of all recognition. Of course it is, the automatic washing machine, you probably use yours several times a week as I do mine. I remember watching my mother possing the clothes before the first washing machine appeared in our lives, it was the late 1950s. Washing clothes was physically laborious and time consuming, it usually took most of the day. Now its so quick and easy, I throw the clothes  and the washing tablet in, close the door and press the button. I walk away and the machine does its work, easy!

    The computer, another amazing machine I would find hard to live without, this is mainly a fun recreational machine, the same is true of the television set, although it appears that rubbish proliferates at a tremendous rate. The computer frequently seems to have a mind of its own, from time to time I lose my temper and switch the thing off and walk away. Its probably my limited technical ability that causes the problems. Making meal usually calms me down.

    The setting up of the NHS seventy years ago, a service that has saved many lives and enabled most of us to live longer pain free lives. Something that we in this country can be really proud of, it improved the lives of so many millions of people. The cost of this amazing service is paid for out of general taxation and most importantly it is free at the point of need. My most recent connection with the NHS was a hip operation which gave me back the ability to walk, I am now independent mobile person. The cost of providing this extremely valuable service continues to rise, new drugs and new treatments are being developed. Most people are already paying their taxes but there is one group of people who could contribute much more.

     The Professor Danny Dorling having studied the facts and figures has worked out that this fantastically wealthy group could in fact contribute much more in a wealth and income tax. He calls this group the 1%; the rest of us are mathematically the 99%.  Dorling states the average income in the UK in 2007 was £24,596 and this times 15 is £368,940  and that is the mean 1 per cent income. A society with huge inequalities of income, and the UK is such a society is on a path to more criminal behaviour and more unrest and violence which can erupt anywhere. Such a society is moving away from a healthy, prosperous and peaceful condition into a very unhappy condition.

     This year is a very happy 100th anniversary of the first time women in the UK were allowed to vote.  In New Zealand women already had the vote, some came over to England to enjoy the celebrations which were taking place in London. Women had to be thirty or over and householders, it was another ten years  before women got the vote on the same terms as men.

THE PLEASURES OF RETIREMENT.

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.