January 2011 Newsletter
Keith bemoans the change in our society; he believes we no longer have any resposibilitoes, just rights!
For one born in the 1930s - to be living in the second decade of the 21st Century seems extraordinary. I remember very little of the 30s, but I remember an awful lot about the 40s and 50s (and less and less of most of the ensuing decades!). It is fashionable (fashionable among serious historians, as well as more casually) to think of the 1960s as the decade of change, as though the liberation of women by the arrival of the pill was the most important event of the 20th century.
I am inclined to think that the decades of deep change were the 40s and 50s. That was when we stopped collecting the milk at our front doors in enamel jugs from a horse drawn cart carrying churns of milk. That was when we stopped doing the white wash every Monday morning in the boiler or the copper in the scullery. That was when we stopped getting the children to sit on the back doorstep to strip the peas from the pods for Sunday lunch. That was when housewives still bottled fruit, salted beans, made marmalade and pickles, when we still had pantries, when we all went nutting or picking blackberries, sloes and elder flowers. That was when cars lost their running boards and the wheels disappeared into the bodywork - when cars stopped always being black. That was when the first diesel (ie not steam) engines ran on the lines of the newly nationalised British Railways.
We now live in a time when everything is questioned - apparently on principle. We have no respect unless it is 'earned' (until about 50 years ago, respect for teachers, parents, doctors, police etc was due by default unless and until it was lost), yet frequently respect cannot be earned, if it is initially and automatically denied.
We were always a tolerant society, even though many lorded it over others who had no right to do so; and many were downtrodden who did not deserve it and could not find a way out. But now, we are a licentious society - we have no responsibilities only rights. I was brought up to believe that a parent had a duty of responsibility to his children. Of course, many did not live up to their responsibilities, but most did. In the 50s and early 60s working class parents (like mine) wanted their children to do well and saw education as a way forward - working class children thrived in the Grammar Schools and Universities (although many left to the Secondary Modern Schools were badly and poorly educated). But now, parents have very limited rights over their own children and are denied the rights of responsibility. It's not so long ago that a bizarre teaching profession complained about parents who sought to teach their children how to read, because they did not use the latest in-fashion method. It is an undeniable fact that an incredibly larger percentage of our 11 year old children nowadays go to secondary school unable to read, write, count or talk intelligently and fluently than in the first half of the 20th century - because they have a right to be lazy and no one has the responsibility or authority to ensure that they are not. Obedience and duty are words with no effective meaning.
With our newly found liberties to do anything we like and to seek redress (in Court if necessary) from anyone who accidentally or otherwise does anything to hurt us, we have lost our tolerance of those who do things differently. Instead of having a culture that includes and welcomes as many as possible, we have a multi culture, with pockets of isolation and exclusion. The English feel the need to express their Englishness, to define it, defend it and shout it out, rather than simply letting new thoughts and ideas become part of our Englishness.
We are ashamed of much of our cultural heritage and it is fashionable to decry traditional attitudes and beliefs. It is possible in 2010 for the Commission of the European Union to publish a School Diary, which mentions Hindu, Sikh and Islamic festivals, but omits any reference to Christmas. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with that, but it is significant in demonstrating how, in Europe, we are losing our cultural heritage.
Many (maybe most) who have followed this diatribe thus far must be thinking that I am beyond redemption- a stupid old f-t, who needs to be put into his wooden bed as soon as possible. But make no mistake, I had a happy childhood, but would not want my children or my grandchildren to have to have their childhoods re-written to the 40s and 50s. The Good Old Days never happened. There never was a 'Merrie England' - as Hobbes put it, life was 'nasty, brutish and short'. My grandfather died in his 40s, my father in his 60s and I hope to see my 80s and who knows how much further. My grandchildren can expect to be centenarians as a matter of course. We eat better (more, if not more healthily), we dress more comfortably and we have so much leisure that our main problem is to learn how to use it wisely and happily.
I am not a little Englander - I have lived in Gibraltar, Germany and France and in India and Japan (over 12 years in total at different times) and have children and grandchildren living in the USA and the Middle East. I am excited by geography as much as by history, by Japanese mythology as much as by Roman, by Indonesian food as much as by Lancashire hotpot, by Bollywood as much (well nearly) as by Hollywood. What I regret and, to be truthful, resent is the loss of our interest in our own history and culture. Most especially I am saddened by the lack of interest and knowledge of the Christian religion in this country. Teaching comparative religion in schools has meant teaching no religion at all. The PC requirement to be even handed to other (hitherto alien) religions, just because there are some people here who quite properly subscribe to them, is nonsensical, although we should be tolerant of them. Our culture is Christian based and we dump our Christian teaching at the cost of dumping our identity. Our moral codes of behaviour and community responsibility are collapsing because we have a disappearing base upon which to maintain them. Don't come to Church to be seen there or to be converted (unless you want to be or are that way inclined, in which case - Welcome) - but do come to the Church to rediscover the stories and the language that have underpinned our culture, which is threatened and which we are losing.