By Richard Dickenson
When I was growing up I set myself certain targets which I reasonably felt would be within my grasp as worthwhile achievements. I started out in life with practically nothing and I’ve still got most of it left. It was much the same with those planned accomplishments. One or two things have got crossed off the list, but the list never really seems to get any shorter.
I suppose one shouldn’t worry too much. In the crazy sort of world where Henry Kissinger, Yasser Arafat and Mother Theresa could win a Nobel Peace Prize anything has to be possible. Heavens, we now believe we can stop sea-levels rising by separating tins from bottles in big coloured boxes.
Mind you, we faced a lot of hurdles in those early days. As kids we were exploited as slave labour in the kitchen, the garden and the scullery. We had to clear our plates, even if it was Brussel sprouts. We only lived on a street or a road, no Drives or Groves or Ways or Closes or Views. It was much later that the council cut down all the neighbourhood trees then named their new roads after them. We did fearful things, mostly now forbidden or forgotten. We played conkers, without gloves or protective glasses. We rode clapped out old bikes without crash-helmets. For Heaven’s sake, we climbed trees. We went bird-nesting. We had dustbin lids for shields when we played Knights of Old with our wooden swords. We played Cowboys and Indians, and the Indians were always the baddies, not misunderstood and vilified scalp-hunting Native Americans. We wasted a lot of our time playing.
In many other ways we were deprived. We had no anorexia or bulimia. We had no peanut allergy and no lactose or gluten intolerance. Attention Deficiency Syndrome was common especially in physics lessons, though in those days we called it boredom. But we had no dyslexia, and only one kid per village was allowed to be fat. We played a lot of hide and seek, mostly as a way to lose the unpopular kids.
We loved anything we could eat. We went everywhere that didn’t have a lock. It was a four mile walk to school which accounts for why some days we never actually got there. Nowadays the maximum permitted walking distance appears to be about a hundred yards. In Geog and on the news we realised that bits of the empire kept falling off and, as that happened, most of us were left wondering why on earth we had ever wanted those bits in the first place. We had no protection to compare with the modern essential of being watched over by an official security group if we were ever to go near a scoutmaster or an RC padre.
Illegitimate kids were regarded as a cause for shame. Our parents were all very placid and unexciting. It was a huge puzzle that those 1920s flappers who did the Charleston and the Black Bottom had ever made the quantum leap into being our dull parents. All sports worthy of the name were contact sports especially rugger which was the only place you could beat someone up and get away with it. We had to be good sports. We almost never kicked anyone when he was down, though we all knew there was no better time to kick him. We didn’t jeer, pump fists or swap high-fives. And we never hit girls or little dogs. I suppose the arrival of ‘grass’ in the sixties did rather help slow the hectic world down to a sensible speed.
Looking back it’s hard to imagine how we got from that state to today’s. Nowadays people go to work wearing rags that my mother wouldn’t have used to clean the oven. Kids carry six-inch switchblades even to school. They think that in Exodus pharaoh was the good guy, and Easy Rider had a happy ending.
Yes, there was a lot to be said for old days and the old ways. But despite all those blessings, or handicaps, one eventually found that one’s sheer zest for living eventually gave way to the need to work for one. So we sold out to the best offers. Our innocent adolescent beliefs were sacrificed on the altar of the need to hustle a buck. We gave up on Johnny Ray and Jack Jackson and Lonnie Donegan. Even the Stones and the Beatles came, and went.
And now, as we’re all knock, knock, knockin’ on that door, we ask, who the hell was that Harry Rarmer bloke anyway?