So Much Change in a Single Lifetime


Before this month’s tale an announcement: This year’s East Leeds Old Codger’s Reunion will be held at the Edmund House Club, Pontefract Lane, Leeds 9 from noon, on Tuesday 5th Nov 2019. Light refreshments will be available. All welcome.

If we are lucky enough to look back on a decent life span we cannot fail to notice the significant changes that have taken place.

Taking the changes that took place in my father’s lifetime: he was born in 1903 before man had powered flight and lived to see man fly to the moon!

Now, to consider our own generation: those babies born just prior to World War Two, the war babies themselves and the so called ‘baby boomers’, which were born when the heroes came home. I’ll try not to be judgemental and not even tackle bourgeoning inflation – the spiralling cost of things, which goes without saying and is perpetual. I consider, we who fall into those groups, to have been the luckiest of all the generations, although, it has tagged off a bit towards the end – more of that later. We were born into a god fearing society who told us that the world was created in seven days and Adam and Eve arrived fully formed without any evolution. Oh! And Eve was made out of Adam’s rib. Now the favoured view seems to be that we started off as single cell pond life. Quite a leap!
The war was, over Britain was broke but on the up. We left school at 14/15/16. And there were jobs for everyone. By the time modern youths are leaving Uni with a mountainous debt – you could have established yourself in a career and be on the housing ladder if you chose. Social accommodation was also available as they were still building council houses. Now large percentages of modern youth, although better educated than we, find it a monumental task to get on the housing ladder without a helping hand from our generation.
The population was mostly indigenous and there were few beggars. I cannot ever recall seeing folk sleeping rough on the streets, and never a food bank. Your mam took you to school on the first day thereafter you went on your own there was no ‘Chelsea tractor’ school runs. When your teacher pinned the world map up on the blackboard it was coloured predominantly in the red of the empire the Victorians won for us and we were proud. The Victorians set a high world platform for us that we have found impossible to maintain. Now colonialism is a dirty word and we are told we shouldn’t have been in those countries at all!
When they played God save the king/queen we stood to attention. We had capital punishment, hanging and corporal punishment – the cane. We did our courting around mellow street gas lamps (you could kick them to make them come on). The streets were mainly cobbled and the loos outside or down the yard. Now new houses have to have two loos at least and often more on-suite. We went to work or leisure in good old tramcars and our lovely red telephone boxes have given way to mobile smart phones and the sci-fi skype. When you looked up into the sky you saw spitfires, hurricanes and Lancaster bombers now you only see vapour trails.
In May 1953 – the same year as the coronation, Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzzing, were the first men ever to conquer Mount Everest. It was seen as the ultimate achievement. In a recent picture published in the papers it could be seen that hundreds of people were queueing up to take their turn to stand on the summit. What happened there?

In 1954 Roger Bannister nearly expired after falling through the tape to break the four minute mile. Now they are doing in in 3 minutes 43 seconds! You were a big lad at school if you were in the top half of the five foots but that makes you a midget among metropolitan youth of today who are usually well over six foot. We were happy to have a holiday in Blackpool, now they go inter-continental.
Our generation was lucky enough to be the first to experience the new emerging ‘youth culture’ mainly imported from America but we saw the demise of many of our beloved places: the back street boozers, charabanc trips, local cinemas, local primary schools, red telephone boxes, friendly chatting on the doorstep, the demise of our beloved High Street department stores: Lewis’s, Schofield’s, Marshall and Snelgroves and Woolworths where you could buy your mam a birthday present with your pocket money. Taws and conkers have given way to electronic games, plastic, once hailed as the wonder material is now demonised as destroying the planet. Smoking, once the height of sophistication, especially on the cinema screen is now banned in most public spaces. Pints and pounds gave way to litres and kilos to suit the Europeans but America stayed true to imperial, bless ‘em. Things that came and went: National Service. If it came back today I wonder what percentage of the population would manage be ‘conscientious objectors’? And of course in the world of equal opportunity females would have to be conscripted too! For we in East Leeds there were a few places came and went too; Skelton Grange Power Station, Cross Green/ Copperfield’s School, built in the fifties gone already, Quarry Hill and to Leek Street flats gone too. But we enjoyed the football World Cup win in 1966, The Rugby Union World Cup win in 2003, the 1948 and particularly the 2012 Olympics and of course the Last Night of the Proms every year. Britain knows still how to put on a show!
The upside is medicine has improved, we still have the NHS (just) and generally we are living longer although we do inevitably lose good old friends along the way, We have social media I can send this ‘blog’ in the blinking of an eye for anyone around the world to read if they should wish. I like Alexa she can make bird song and sounds of the sea which sooths me. I’m quite proud that we have a tolerant metropolitan society and that people from all around the world are willing to risk great dangers to come and live here in spite of Brexit but I can’t help but think it is a less friendly place that we leave than that we entered. Surveillance is everywhere – like in Orwell’s 1984 ‘big Brother is watching us’. Live facial recognition, clip a bus lane and it’s a £60 fine similarly if you get caught in the yellow Hatching or just drop someone off where you shouldn’t or tarry too long on a meter or park where you shouldn’t and you would think you had committed a capital crime Then there is the congestion charges, emission fines, £75 if you are caught daring to feed the pigeons. The penalty always seems to far outstrip the crime. Fighting, knife crime and terrorism is ongoing all over the world and poverty and opulence exists side by side. Political correctness, ‘elf and safety, traffic wardens, yellow lines and carbon footprints, request for the public to nark to the police, sixty quid if you take your kid out of school for a holiday. It’s OK now to be gay, lesbian or trans gender, which is fine but if you touched somebody’s leg twenty years ago you had better look out!  Now I hear the courts are reviewing eighty laws as the sentences are too lenient!, no doubt all brought in with good intensions and no doubt are warranted, but it does tend to make life less fun and unfortunately, accelerating I.T. goes too fast for us geriatrics to keep up, and Oh! VAR and The Irish Backstop!

I keep finding more things to moan about. So Scotty, beam me back to the more friendly society of the fifties and a bit of decent music.

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10 Responses to “So Much Change in a Single Lifetime”

  1. Doug Farnill Says:

    Yes Peter, and the litany of woes could be extended: plague, nuclear war, terrorism, biological warfare, and climate catastrophe. It would be depressing to focus only on these although, tongue in cheek, the loss of the old places that you mention has been far more grievous than any of the above. I’m told by someone who visited Leeds a year ago that it is a much cleaner and tidied up place than it used to be. We really did have a lot of soot and smog back in the 1930-40’s, and the cleaner air probably has a lot to do with our living longer. But among the best of all these days, is this monthly blog that stirs fond memories and thankfulness for being brought up in a decent society where kids could play on the street and walk home from school safely. I enjoy my monthly fix of nostalgic recollections.

  2. Maureen Beanland’ Says:

    Just brilliant, thank you once again for an excellent read I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  3. Elaine Beaumont Says:

    That’s brilliant Pete!!

  4. taskerdunham Says:

    Thank you for that post, it’s great, although I do feel I need to go and lie down now for a bit.

  5. John Holloway \(Stronsay\) Says:

    Thanks again Peter. Just a bit before my time – the majority of your latest piece, but the last ‘item’ does ‘ring a bell’. My class at St Hilda’s went to see the film ‘Conquest of Everest’ (documentary we would call it now I suppose!) at the Majestic in Leeds City centre shortly after the event. The image that sticks in my mind from that day is of Sherpa Tensing on the summit holding a flag (did Hillary take the photo or is my mind deceiving me – perhaps he was also in the photo, the snap taken by remote control?) . Did you also go to see the ‘film’ at the Majestic. (Please don’t tell me I’ve got the wrong ‘picture house’ as we sometimes called cinemas.) I remember the ‘Bug Hutch’ and when we moved to Gillingham the ‘worst’ cinema was known as the ‘Fleapit’. I still remember those wooden benches at the Easy Road ‘flics’. What else did a kid need? Keep in touch. John & Sue.

  6. e-mail mark.c.wilson Says:

    What a wonderful, regretful, but also optimistic post!


  7. Eric Says:

    A wide ranging & thought provoking piece this one , Pete. The ups & downs are well explored and it’s fairly clear into which era you prefer.
    I believe that most of us are materially far better placed in many aspects than in the early post war years. However , the community life of those times has to a large extent , suffered badly & the respect, courtesy & consideration for others has certainly taken a turn for the worse , for a myriad reasons. So , I agree , there’s been ups & downs but on the whole , I think I would opt for today rather than yesteryear. But, a great piece Pete.

  8. Edward Blackwell Says:

    I enjoyed your tale Pete and the comparisons you made were well thought out and described. We have lost a lot as you so rightly mentioned and Big Brother is certainly watching us. I agree with Eric that manners have deteriorated, and I would opt for today rather that yesteryear. Forward is the only way, rather than going back lets try to improve the future from the present, it’s for those not yet born I worry. We have a grandson, a great granddaughter, and a great great grandchild to look forward to in the first three months of 2020…

  9. peterwwood Says:

    Fom the comments the consensus of opinion seems to be that the present is preferable to the past. I stand corrected. I suppose it’s for the best

  10. Edward Blackwell Says:

    Pete, I think we all have cherished memories of the past, but we can’t go back there, and if we could we’d have to take the bad times as well as the good, holes in your socks, patches to the seat of your trousers bombs dropping on Richmond Hill and Marsh Lane. I don’t think anyone’s knocking the past. It’s a great tale that brings back happy memories for us all. We can’t improve the past in the present, but we can influence the future.

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