Archive | June, 2015

THE SUNDAY SCHOOL TEACHER

30 Jun

THE SUNDAY SCHOOL TEACHER

 old bicycle photo: Bicycle Bisikleta.jpgThe saddest thing I know when it comes to the path a human being takes through life is the increased tendency, with age or blind conviction, to see only extremes of things. To see black and white and no shades of grey. To be blind to the obvious because the skewed impression that is the gift of extremity gives him/her a weird kind of short-sightedness.

I may be accused, in this, to be “getting at” an individual, but in truth I’m not – and, contradictorily, I am – but the man is dead, has been for ages and if he’s sitting plumb in his afterlife where he was sure he’d end up and reading this then there’s sod all he can do about my words. So it’s perfectly all right.

Let me describe him so that those with egos bigger than the condoms they’d like to think they need and who still think I might be inferring them can finally put their minds at rest. It’s not them, unless they’re sitting somewhere near the feet of a dead two-thousand year old hippie in Paradise. Honestly.

No real names, no pack-drill, nothing like that. So I’ll call him Wally. He lived in another town, and when I was young I lived there too. He was, in truth not a great deal older than me and he had a moustache that made him look a bit like Baldrick with a dead slug on his lip.*

I knew him at Sunday School, the advanced class known as the Youth Group to distinguish us from the kiddies. We were too old to be with them. Probably too old to be going to any kind of Sunday School, but the leader with his dead slug was remarkably faithful to a concept I struggled with. Had it not been for Wally I might have followed the masses to the big church and been metaphorically trapped there for all eternity.

I never counted the number of times he seemed to disappear into a trance and tell us about his personal faith, as though it was the only faith going. I wish I’d kept a tally: it might give this account more depth. His words were always similar, though, recounting how he knew with an unshakeable certainty that he would go, hopefully a long time in the future, to meet his Maker in a glorious environment in which everyone he’d ever known, even his ancestors going back through the ages, would be there to greet him and show him around. And the certainty in his voice and on his face, it held a kind of spooky conviction.

Somehow it was as if he was taking a tour round his Afterlife, standing by his lectern and speaking in that monotonous voice of his supported by this or that visual aid that he must have spent hours preparing. And against his intent, it was there, with me in my teens and he only about a dozen years older, that I began to see through the veil his words were drawing across reality. I can remember, with such vividness, the expression on his face, one of a kind of rapture. He even held us, teenagers, with a kind of hypnotic power.

And despite the conviction in his voice I finally saw through it. It was obvious. This is what his faith was. It was a white promised perfection based on no real evidence with black reserved for his Antichrist, his devil, his Satan, also with no real evidence supporting his/its existence. And between the black and the white he had no room for shades of grey.

And he really ought to have, for soon after I gave that Youth Group up I heard that he’d had an accident.

You see, he had a hobby, exploring the countryside on a bicycle. Now, this is was in the nineteen-fifties and that bicycle was far from new and decidedly not modern – and being not modern back then meant it was probably Victorian. But a hobby’s a hobby, and Wally loved his hobby. Warwickshire (the county) is criss-crossed by country lanes and these were food for Wally’s dreams as he rode along.

Until, that is, he had a dispute with a tractor going down Bilton Hill when he was still short of being thirty and newly married. I don’t know what happened or who was at fault, but he ended up in a coma from which he never recovered. And in that coma who knows how many shades of grey fought each other in his closing mind before they were washed away to the nothing we none of us see once we’re dead.

And that was Wally. I’d like to think he made it to his Heaven but I’m as sure as sure he didn’t. That’s what graveyards are and always have been for – the Wallys and all of us.

Amen.

© Peter Rogerson 30.6.15

*British sit-com “BlackAdder Goes Forth” reference. No particular relevance here, though.

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TOMORROW, TOMORROW AND TOMORROW…

29 Jun

TOMORROW, TOMORROW AND TOMORROW…

evolution photo: Mortal Evolution MortalEvolution5-1.jpg
When Charles Darwin noted that species change slowly according to the demands of their environment he might have added that the change was slow and steady.

So when his mockers, the disbelievers of the nineteenth century, cackled because they believed he suggested they had evolved from chimpanzees, they missed the point entirely. Darwin wasn’t suggesting that anyone in their immediate ancestry had been a chimpanzee but that somewhere in the dimmest of the dim past everyone had an ape-like creature in their lineage.

Indeed, you could go back to before the wheel was invented or fire discovered, to when men modified their environment as best they could with crude stone tools, and wonder why they didn’t look like chimps. In fact, you would find yourself wondering how come they look very much like us (though with different grooming habits and a penchant for very different fashions) and not at all like the apes from which we supposedly evolved. Why, you might exclaim, here’s proof that Darwin was wrong! And if you were to exclaim that then it would be clear as glass that you don’t have the foggiest notion about evolution.

Evolution, the imperceptibly slow reaction of a species to changes in its environment, doesn’t happen over night, but when it does occur it can make quite massive strides if they’re called for.

All this is my way of suggesting that over the past, oh, dozen or so generations, there’s been no change that you’d notice about human beings though sometimes, to look at the weird obsessions the young can have periodically, you might be tempted to think otherwise.

And a dozen or so generations ago they were burning witches for being in league with the devil. Not many more than a dozen generations ago they were lopping the heads off believers in the wrong version of Christianity. Back then, not all that many generations ago, they constructed tiny hidden rooms in their houses in which the priest could hide because he was outside the remit of current thinking. Priest holes, they called them. His wasn’t even a different faith serving a different God, just a marginally different version of theirs!

And that same number of generations ago men were the same as men today and women the same as women today. Evolution can’t do much in so few generations. Brain size was the same though life-expectancy for the majority was considerably less, but that’s been down to an improved understanding of what causes death and how to postpone it, not evolution.

Given the right push, the right impetus, and we could return to the jolly old days of trial by ordeal. Dump an old woman in the duck pond and it she survives and doesn’t drown then the devil’s saved her but if she does drown you’ve made a mistake, what a shame. This might sound a little absurd, but look at what’s happened quite recently when the right little push has been applied to perfectly rational and honest people. There was Hitler, for example, and the dreadful things he dreamed up for those he perceived to be his enemies and convinced the masses that he was right. And there have been others.

The easiest way to stir a people to obscene action when normally they’d be quite loving and ordinary is via their belief system. We, as a species and long ago, seem to have evolved to need something to believe in. Maybe, and for thousands of years of pre-history, there was the need to consult the local witch-doctor over matters concerning health and fitness, and that evolved painfully slowly into a need to believe what the witch-doctor said was true and he needed a reward or something nasty might happen to you… something like that, I wasn’t there and absolutely no records were made by societies that totally lacked any degree of literacy. But it’s there. That’s why the Tudors lopped heads off. It’s why old ladies with warts were burned at the stake and their animal familiars disembowelled. It’s why, centuries before then, the Crusades were fought. It’s why the Romans, for the first time in centuries observing their Empire as it grew weak, looked to the East for another religion (there old ones didn’t seem to be working) and promoted the hippie Jesus. It’s why, in short, there always seem to have been religions to hinder man’s progress!

And it’s emerging again. This time it’s the Islamists who are seeking guidance in their ancient texts, and the only real difference is a single man can kill dozens before he finds himself being shot because he’s got what his fellows in the past didn’t have: really powerful weapons. And that single man might seem more dangerous than whole armies once did, but he’s no different, really, from the terrorists of history. He’s responding to something inside him, something that has been brought to the surface and egged-on by this or that old man who seems to have wisdom beyond that of mortal man, and certainly has access to fine words. They’re the Guy Fawkes of a more technological generation but with more power at their finger tips than Guy Fawkes would have dreamed possible in his wildest fantasies.

The danger is to assume that the terrorist is a brutish, unintelligent throw-back, a crass individual who has somehow escaped the miracles of evolution and ought to be living awkwardly in his stone-age cave and chewing on old bones for supper. He’s not. He’s modern man but he’s responding dreadfully to whispered encouragement and the twisted words of an ancient book.

And I haven’t the foggiest idea what to do about him.

© Peter Rogerson 29.06.15

BINGO’S OLD TESTAMENT

28 Jun

BINGO’S OLD TESTAMENT

 old man photo: OLD MAN ATT00115.jpg“Bingo” Boycott lost his faith when he was ninety-one.

All his life he had sort of believed in what he’d been taught when he’d been knee-high to the proverbial grasshopper without particularly thinking about it. But he’d been guided by the wisdom of those early lessons and had lived, in his own mind, a fairly good life.

As a boy he’d been given a copy of the Old Testament and had read it through and through, not understanding a great deal of it but it had, in truth, done him one fine service – it had been instrumental in teaching him to read. And it had guided him as he had ploughed his way to living that fairy good life.

Everyone he knew agreed with that assessment. “Bingo” was an all-round good egg. “Bingo” was the sort of guy you could depend on, a useful friend to have when the skies were black. “Bingo” was trustworthy.

As a young man he’d courted Mary-Jane and wooed her and made love to her in woodlands and by the stream down the Vale and married her when she fumblingly told him she was “expecting”.

Their son was an oddity. He seemed to be without the power to distinguish between good and bad, between kindness and cruelty, between what was acceptable and what wasn’t. When he was adult they threw him out, he with the reluctant acquiescence of Mary-Jane.

“It’s no good. We can’t take any more. We’ve done all we possibly could to give you a good home and a moral upbringing but you’ve gone too far this time. The drugs we could manage, and the drinking, but not this …”

It turned out that the son was gay and that was one fault too many, or so “Bingo” thought. You see, “Bingo” was a very moral man and that morality included adherence to what he saw as the rules for life that he found in his treasured Old Testament which he still consulted from time to time when the mood took him.

When he was still quite young Mary-Jane had died. It had been cancer that took her and it had been that cancer that, in his eyes, totally ruined his life.

“I’m dying, Bingo,” she had said, her breath coming in short painful bursts. “I’m dying and there’s something I’ve just got to get off my chest…”

“There’s no need to exert yourself, Mary-Jane…” he had murmured.

“But I must, I just must … I’ve lived most of my life with you, Bingo, and for most of my life you’ve been a bastard!”

He was shocked by those words, and when he asked her what she meant because he’d always done his best to be good and righteous he found she couldn’t answer because she was dead.

With her last breath she had called him a bastard! And he didn’t know why! How could it be … and in the end he decided it must have been the delirium caused by his Lord taking her soul by its hand and slowly guiding her to Heaven that had given her words she didn’t actually mean.

As I said, Mary-Jane had been quite young (in her late fifties) when she had died and that left a yawning space in Bingo’s life. He had to learn to do things that he’d never done before. He had to learn to cook and clean and change the sheets on his bed every so often and wash his clothes.

He had to learn so much that it confused him, and he never quite mastered the washing machine. It had complex controls which led to him boiling his woollens and shrinking them and failing to make any inroads on the garden stains that persisted on appearing on his best white shirts.

Not even a deep consultation of his Old Testament helped. It said a great deal about who a man or a woman should lie with and how often and why he should beat his slaves and wife, but nothing about washing machines.

It didn’t take him long to find another woman prepared to share her life with him. He bumped into Cynthia when he was trawling the neighbourhood looking for a suitable woman to take the burden of his life from his shoulders by at least explaining the washing machine to him if nothing else, and by some miracle she said she loved him and hadn’t they better get married if he wanted carnal things with her.

He didn’t really, but marriage offered a permanence that promised he might never have to touch the washing machine again, so he agreed.

They were married and she moved into his home with him and, miracle of all miracles, she produced a child even though they both thought she must clearly be too old for pregnancy to afflict her. Yet it did. She grew large and after the requisite nine months produced a second son.

In all honesty “Bingo” thought he was a bit too old for the nappies and vomit of babies and took to going to the pub instead, whenever he could, leaving Cynthia to do the woman-stuff of caring for the child.

And that son grew up to be almost an exact clone of his first venture into fatherhood. There was nothing right with it, not as a boy and not as a youth and not as a young man. It was a wretched piece of human scum, and took to drink and drugs like an expert when he was still quite young and got thrown (by Bingo) out of the family home when it turned out he wanted to be gay.

“This is too much!” raged Bingo, and he was so angry at Cynthia, declaring that the imperfections in the son were clearly her fault seeing as he hadn’t been around too often for much of the time, that he made her ill.

By this time, of course, they were both getting well stricken with years, and her illness became increasingly severe until she lay in her bed like a skeleton with skin stretched across it and was quite clearly dying.

“Bingo, … you’re a … bastard,” were the last words she managed to cough out before she died, and he thought it poetic that the only thing his two wives had in common was a mistaken doubt about the state of wedlock of his own late parents.

It wasn’t long before his renewed attempt at controlling a washing machine, after due consultation with his well-thumbed Old Testament, began to have an adverse affect on his own life and this was noted by benevolent Authority after his third almost-fatal electric shock, and he was admitted to a council-run home for the elderly and infirm.

He was getting really very old, being past his ninetieth birthday, when he met Gladys, a fellow inmate, and they got on so well that he decided to propose to her. He might, he thought, have another bash at the marriage game.

“If you like,” she grinned, “but I’d better warn you…”

“What?” he asked. “There’s nothing that could mar the perfection with which you lighten my days anyway,” he added, meaning it because, despite her age there was something riveting and captivating about Gladys and he knew that he truly loved her.

“Well, that’s nice,” she said, “then you won’t mind … I’ve been reassigned..”

Reassigned? What did that mean? He didn’t like to ask. It seemed too personal, some how.

And it was then that he lost his faith, when this most perfect of all women showed him her penis…

© Peter Rogerson 28.06.15

A LOOK AT VIOLENCE

27 Jun

A LOOK AT VIOLENCE

ruined church photo: ruined church 100_0336.jpg
I’ve just returned from a short holiday in the company of some fine people, and, you know, there wasn’t one religious zealot amongst them. There might have been some Christians I suppose, though they never mentioned it and certainly didn’t push their beliefs down my throat. And even though the coach we travelled in had only white English passengers (any other colour or ethnicity could have paid their fare and joined us but chose not to even though they would have been made welcome), there didn’t seem to be any believers in other religions either.

The news from other parts of the world was less harmonious, though. That dreadful affair in Tunisia, murder by any other name is still murder and that was mass murder. And in France, too, with a medieval-style beheading. That was murder too, no matter what they called it.

It’s pretty clear to me that those who revel in murder and bloodshed and use this or that religion to justify it are cowards, incapable of stating the real reason for their activities, which is a deep-rooted personal defect that can be roused to violence by a few nasty words and fanatic phrases by usually older and considerably more bearded men who like to think they’re clerics. But whatever the motivation, murder is murder is murder.

Christians used to do it. They’d murder Muslims and each other. Even monarchs were soiled by the desire to see rivers of blood. Protestant monarchs slaughtered Catholics and Catholic monarchs slaughtered protestants. And all, of course, in the name of God.

If we really want to see an end to the excuses and shadows behind which the thugs hide then it’s up to us to do something about it. While the monstrous criminals can give themselves an excuse, they will, so let’s take the excuse away from them.

Politicians are very often keen on being seen attending church services, thus advertising the possibility they may believe in the faith espoused by that church. Even monarchs (the present queen being an example) make a public exhibition of going to church. What they’re saying is this is a Christian country and as leaders they’re setting the right tone for the rest of us to follow.

But I would dispute that it’s a Christian country. Forgetting for a moment the number of believers in other faiths (mostly Islam) the rest of us might, if asked which religion we serve reply “Christian” and that’s actually a lie, and good souls like us shouldn’t be liars. Most of us don’t believe there’s a big bearded bloke somewhere among the clouds, in the skies, orchestrating life on Earth, listening to prayers (and demonstrably not answering them). Most of us give no credence to the wisdom of the Holy Bible, which is a text-book of cruelty and hatred, particularly of women, and contains virtually nothing I would call wise. Most of us, in short, though we might say “Christian” in response to the big question, are nothing of the sort. Most of us know a fairy story when we read it and snigger and try to forget it.

Yet the big wigs in our society publicise, actively, our very Christianity and by doing so provide a sort of twisted reason for morons urged on by the clerics of other faiths to have a go at us. They misrepresent us. And by doing make us into unwilling targets.

True, there may be a few men and women so indoctrinated whilst they were young that they still cling on to the notion that they’re Christian, but they’re not unless they interpret the word Christian to mean a desire to live a good and harmless life. By that definition I try to live a Christian life, but I don’t believe with even a corner of my mind in the trinity, the three in one, the Father in the skies nonsense, the son who made gullible revellers believe that water was wine and even more gullible followers feel well-fed in their hundreds from a repast of a tiny quantity of fish and bread. And the holy ghost – what in the name of goodness is that? I’ve never seen it, and neither have you, any of you.

Yet the big wigs who proclaim a belief they can’t possibly have are providing a reason for the insane criminal classes of another faith to have a go at us, and it’s so unfair! It does make you wonder, though, why a bronze-age book, copied and recopied and translated and re-translated and morphed from one thing, by degrees, into something else, keeps so many people in thrall!

I guess it is an irrational belief in the wisdom of the ancients, which is odd seeing as the latest set of Middle Eastern bully-boys are so intent on destroying ancient artefacts left by those same ancients. But then, there’s precious little sense in any of their thoughts.

So in conclusion, let’s proclaim what we really are: a secular people in no way enslaved by any religion, a community of humanists with no agenda save but to live in peace with each other and our neighbours at large, and hope that’s enough to make the thugs forget us.

©Peter Rogerson 27.06.15

HOLIDAYS 1950s STYLE

21 Jun

HOLIDAYS 1950s STYLE

MUM AND BROTHER AND ME photo image0-32.jpgIt’s a short trip from Rugby in the Midlands to the coast when measured in these later days in which we don’t think twice about climbing aboard a holiday coach to foreign parts, yet back in my childhood Skegness was a long way from home.

It’s odd how things have changed so much in a single lifetime. Distances have shrunk. Time has become compressed. The years speed by like so many frames in an old film. It gets to be terrifying!

Back in the day we went to the seaside most years. My mum, a widow with a minute income, somehow managed to afford a week in a caravan every August. I don’t know how she did it, only that it must have been bloody hard for her. There was me, herself and my (slightly) younger brother. I only hope we weren’t what they call a “handful”, he and me.

It was still dark when the taxi came to take us to the station, so, being August, it must have been very, very early in the morning. It was still dark when we got to the station, us and lots of other people waiting for the train to Skegness.

It wasn’t always Skegness. A couple of times we went to Great Yarmouth and on one occasion we went to North Wales. But mostly it was Skegness. I’ve got pictures to prove it. One of them adorns the top of this piece.

What a beast that train was at it thundered, slowing, into the station. I’m talking of the time when trains were still real trains and pulled by a steam locomotive. No diesel or electric nonsense here: we were taken on holiday in a proper train pulled by a fire-breathing monster. Sparks flew as it ground to a standstill. The fireman frantically shovelled coal into his furnace, the light of which flickered hot and red into even the darkest corners of the station.

We were going on holiday and the flickering monster marked the start of our journey. It meant the joy had begun.

It was always a caravan holiday and when I had a camera of my own, a box affair as old as the hills but working, I took a picture of the caravan we had that year, and joy of joys I’ve still got it. It’s here!
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All those boyhood holidays morphed into one as the years that have rolled by since then have massaged them into a homogeneous portion of memory called childhood holidays. The digging of sand on the beach, the making of fragile canals for sea water to run down for a moment before washing away, the small crabs that were there for us to admire and, I seem to remember, play with. I hope we weren’t cruel to them. The candy-floss on sticks – you know, the stuff that health and safety killjoys have shoved into polythene bags for modern kids to have less to remember. The ice creams that dripped down shirts. The fish and chip lunches from newspaper sheets as we walked down the street.

Back then we didn’t have much in our wardrobes. There was still so much austerity around you’d be shocked it you found yourself suddenly living in 1950ish. Back then we wore our school clothes on holiday because our school clothes were all we had. Men – other children’s fathers because my own father was in his grave – wore suits, even on the hottest days. But then, if they wanted to be seen in their best things the only best things they had would most likely be a solitary suit. So my brother and I were in our grey school shorts, probably last year’s because the new ones for the new school year were being preserved in their newness for the start of the Autumn term.

The train puffed off. There was nothing on this planet more exciting than being on a train pulled by a steam locomotive as it puffed off, and nothing that smelled better than the mixture of aromas that clung to the smorgasbord of steam and smoke that belched out of the engine.–

I can remember very little about the caravans we spent our summer holidays in. I guess that after the journey to get there everything else was a bit of an anticlimax. I know we slept in them at night (of course) and the light was produced, brilliantly, by a gas mantle. Those lights were my solitary experience of gas lighting and even now I’m surprised (as I gaze at them through the lens of memory) at their white brilliance.

I can distinctly remember becoming a bus during the days when mum was peeling spuds and my brother was on the swings. There were concrete paths round the caravan site on which we stayed, and I spent quite a lot of at least one holiday (and probably more) being a bus and jogging along as if on an unkempt road, dinging my inner bell when I wanted to stop at a planned bus-stop. Was I imaginative or just plain bored? Who knows… after all these years I don’t.

You know, excited as I was by the journey from home, I have no recollection of any return journey. It’s as if they never happened! But they did and it’s a huge credit to my mum, who’s been dead for above fifty years, that I have so much to remember. Her life was hard and became harrowing, but she worked wonders and created the Peter who’s writing this now.

© Peter Rogerson 21.06.15

BREEZE BLOCKS AND WET PANTS

20 Jun

BREEZE BLOCKS AND WET PANTS

Circa 1946, in Rugby, Warwickshire photo image0-4_zpsmjphicfu.jpg  I must have been four, maybe still only three, when our family moved into the council house I was to live in for the rest of my childhood and into adulthood. It was on a large estate of hastily erected houses, the upper floors and roofs being made of steel and the ground-floors pebble-dashed on top of breeze blocks.

There was a great need for housing back then. The second world war had seen huge destruction of domestic properties as German bombers targeted anything and everything. I was born during the conflict and our family at first lived in lodgings and then moved, temporarily, into a remnant of wartime, a Nissen hut vacated by the army. But not for long. That housing estate leapt into being and the roads were still virtually unmade and the pavements mud when the furniture van with us boys in the back arrived at Number Four of our new road.

Number Four was a proper house and I was so excited that I wet myself. Feeling full of shame I decided to run up and down the road, still unfinished, in the vain hope that running would help my short trousers to dry!

I rather suspect my parents were too busy unloading and sorting and carrying to take much notice of a son who had suddenly developed incontinence. Maybe the fact that I was racing around trying to create enough wind to dry myself kept me from being under their feet. All I can remember is the dampness and the running along with the ungrassed verges spaces between roads and pavements.

Despite the fact that they were built in haste those houses were good. They even had part central-heating, they came with a cooker and a copper for washing clothes in, they had a bathroom complete with bath and toilet as well as a downstairs loo just outside the back door. The heating was via smokeless solid fuel, a novelty back then, and cheap as coke was a by-product of the production of gas. Many of the features were remarkably advanced bearing in mind many people still lived in terraced housing with outside loos.

We hadn’t been there very long and my father passed away. I don’t know whether I’d been aware that he was ill though I’ve recorded elsewhere that I can remember with three-dimensional vividness the day I was told that he was dead.

The welfare state was in its earliest stages when my mother found herself an unwilling widow, but she was entitled to a small widow’s pension on the state, which meant she didn’t have to do the impossible and bring up two very small boys and earn sufficient an income to pay her bills. Life was cruel to her anyway, but it could have been a damned sight more cruel.

I don’t think that my brother and I suffered much, being fatherless. We had birthdays, went away for annual weeks at the seaside and enjoyed Christmas just like most other children.

But birthdays weren’t as significant then as they are to children today, and I was born in December so birthday and Christmas sort of merged together and although my mother did her best to ensure that I had presents for both occasions I’ve a feeling I took precious little notice of my own birthday.

You see, the place where my father had worked up to his death held parties for children of employees, and my brother and I received invitations despite the fact that nobody in the family now worked there. They were generous to the kids of deceased employees, and the Christmas parties, as I recall, were extravagant affairs, with food and presents and as well, I seem to recall, some entertainment which can’t have been particularly memorable because I’ve forgotten just about everything about it.

When it came to be time for Santa to distribute gifts we had to line up at serving hatches (the party was in the works canteen) in age-order and on one particularly cringe-worthy occasion I got into the queue for boys of the age I had been last week but wasn’t any more. I’d forgotten that I’d had a birthday! I told them I was seven when I was eight! That must say something about the significance of birthdays to me.

Every year at the festive season one of my uncles came to fix the fairy lights. Some years he arranged them in a ring around the light on the ceiling and others he draped them, more traditionally, on the tree, if we had one. There were twelve lamps and every year began with searching for the one that wasn’t working. Then, Christmas over, every year we would walk the mile or so to a different uncle’s house and watch Boxing day programmes on his television. Not many people had television sets back then. We certainly didn’t.

My mother had three brothers and I’ve no idea who the third one was. Maybe I never met him. Maybe he had disgraced himself in the eyes of his siblings – I don’t know. And another thing I don’t know – my father seemed to be a solitary figure in terms of family, and when he passed away everything to do with his side of the family seems to have been almost, but not quite, extinguished, as may be revealed elsewhere.

Well, that’s Christmas and Boxing Day over. I may tackle seaside holidays soon!

© Peter Rogerson 20.06.15

OUR GENERATION

19 Jun

OUR GENERATION

Baird Televsion. photo bairddisplay_zpsr8f8gg86.jpg
When I was eleven it was all the rage to build your own crystal set radio and I made one which persisted in playing classical music to me from earphones hanging by my bed at night. I lived only a few miles from the Third Programme transmitter (now called Radio Three) and it was (and is) dedicated to classical music, and that channel dominated the simple tuner of my crystal set. No pop music from Radio Luxembourg, then! Yes, that was the height of the technology available to me as a growing boy. But things were about to change.

“How on Earth did that do that?”

That was my response when I first saw a small hand-held electronic calculator work out a complex and one would have though time-consuming sum. I can’t remember the numbers involved nor the mathematical functions the calculator was asked to perform but I can remember how astounded I was that it didn’t apparently take even a fraction of a second to do it.

I’m pretty sure that tens of thousands were involved, and possibly division as well as multiplication. And I know the answer appeared without any discernible delay. It was amazing. I was gob-smacked.

Explain this to a young person of today and they would, probably quite rightly, think I’m three sheets to the wind (an old nautical term involving sails and ropes and implying a drunken inability to think straight). But those young ‘uns have grown up with pocket calculators as standard. When I was a lad the standard was a pencil and, for advanced calculations, a slide rule, but these days it’s just got to be the pocket calculator.

And, by the way, that early model that astounded me had five functions: add, subtract, multiply, divide and is equal to. It didn’t even do percentages! These days a common-or-garden pound-shop calculator has goodness knows how many scientific functions. The only thing they don’t seem able to do is the washing up!

All this is my way of illustrating the changes that have occurred in my own lifetime. They’ve been huge, immense, mind-warpingly gigantic.

Look at it like this.

It took thousands of years for early inventors of the Industrial Revolution in the UK to improve on the ancient Greek steam engine which was entertaining but fundamentally useless. All it consisted on was a jet of steam playing on a sort of fan and making it spin. Harnessed up to machinery it would have been hard-pressed to perform any useful task. Yet thousands of years were to elapse before Newcomen invented a useful steam-engine in the eighteenth century. Such progress would never have happened in one man’s lifetime! Progress was painfully slow, often retarded by religious bigotry and fear of the unknown.

Then came the twentieth century.

Here was I, alive and excited, witnessing the birth of something truly awe-inspiring. And shock, horror – at about the same time something else new crept into my consciousness – the digital watch with an LED display and no winder! True, they were such a novelty that you spent ages pressing the button to illuminate the time, making batteries last for mere weeks even though they were expensive to replace, but this was something so new and part, it seemed of the world of the pocket calculator with its unbelievable modernity.

You see, I was of the generation that could bask in the wonders of television. True, it was invented in the twenties and the first demonstrations of Logie Baird’s system (almost completely different from the one we have today) occurred in 1926, but it wasn’t until well after the second world war that television became sufficiently widespread for a little Peter from a council estate in Rugby to see one.

Our present queen was crowned in 1953 following the death of her father George 6th in 1952 and it was the for broadcast of that ceremony that people went out in their tens of thousands to buy or rent television sets. Another bit of social history lurks in this sentence. These days we own our television sets (and just about all of us have at least one) but in the early days many people rented them. Shops with names like (and including) Radio Rentals offer a clue!

Technology raced on and black and white television gave way to colour. Tubes gave way to flat screens. It seems that a quantum leap was performed by inventors just about every day! Even I, who watched the whole parade of discovery, ranging from my uncles snowy small-screen monochrome television set in the late 1940s and early 50s (we went every Boxing Day when films were shown on the one and only channel) to the HD set we have today (and that’s eight years old!)

A single television channel! How impossible! Not BBC 1 but the BBC! Auntie, as it was affectionately called, because it had about it the ambiance of an elderly maiden aunt wanting to keep the nation on the straight and narrow by being ultra-careful what it broadcast and ensuring proper elocution and the absolutely correct enunciation of the English language.

Things have moved on in every direction. Goodness knows how many channels, not many of any real value, and regional accents abound where once they were quashed. And the BBC iplayer, of which more, possibly, some other time.

We live in the computer age, and I reckon that deserves a post of its own, which I may write one of these days. Until then share with me, I beg you, the gratitude I feel to have been one of the first generation to witness throughout their lives the soaring wonders of human invention. And don’t get me on to the Wright Brothers and Space exploration! Well, not yet anyway!

© Peter Rogerson 19.06.15