In an age of social media, and constant connectedness- we’re sadly becoming more and more disconnected from the wisdom and insight of the older generation. It’s no secret that life is a lot different compared to what it used to be. But what was it really like – and what can we learn?
The first man I had the pleasure of meeting, Jeff, having grown up amidst the German bombings in London, gives us a brilliant insight into how life has changed since the 1940s.
“It’s all changed now. People – you always see them walking around looking at their phones or sipping on plastic bottles of water. When I was a kid, we used to go on a cycle ride, about 20 to 30 miles long and we never took a drink. If we were thirsty we’d stop and knock on someone’s door and ask for a drink”.
His wife explained ‘People are in such a hurry to do things now. In the past, people would choose to be stay at home mums. Or you’d walk everywhere and know your neighbours really well. When everyone travels in cars, you don’t get the chance to see people. You’ll say hi if you see them, but it isn’t the same‘.
I ask them whether they think things are better now, or whether they preferred them back then.
Jeff promptly replies, ‘Oh if I had a time machine I would go back. Even though back in those days, when I was growing up in London, we had no water, no electricity, no flushing toilet’.
‘You wouldn’t go back’ his wife says in astonishment.
‘I would’ Jeff insists.
It seems that material wealth, safety or even health holds no match to the prospect of going back the good old days for Jeff. I’m intrigued to find out why.
‘Where I lived, it was like paradise. We had so much freedom back then. There were no cars and as kids we could play on the streets. If I took you back to my village I could show you a wall which we drew chalk on to play cricket. And I’d take you to a plantation with so many trees. We used to battle with each other with branches. And if you got hit you’d have to lie down and you’d wait 20 seconds and then carry on battling! We were out making dens and playing on railroads. If you saw kids doing that now you’d think they were bad kids, but we weren’t, we were just having fun.
And you know I learnt to swim in the river trent! My dad was a great dad he would always get involved and wouldn’t shy away from fun. With him I built a diving board and every day before school – I was so keen to swim – that I would dive off this diving board and swim in the river trent! Baring in mind I was only a kid – I was 9 years old. Kids were more free back then’.
It’s a romantic idea hearing all of Jeff’s stories, and I can’t help thinking all children’s childhoods should involve battles with branches on plantation fields. But is it possible now?
‘These days parents are with their kids all the time. It’s sad that schools put red tape around everything for fear of being sued. I know my granddaughters’ sports day got cancelled recently because it was pouring down with rain. So they rescheduled and the next week it was a beautiful scorching hot day. And the headmaster cancelled again because he was afraid of someone getting sunstroke. It wasn’t like that with us – we’d play football in all sorts of weather. Our referee used to wear a huge camouflage waterproof cape. Now the children would be told to go inside for fear of the parents complaining that their kids got wet’.
‘But my grandkids – they do the same things that we did. I think in part it’s due to the influence that we had on their parents. My kids were out climbing trees, but I know others who wouldn’t allow their kids to climb because they were afraid of them falling. Funnily enough those are the same kids who owe tens of thousands of pounds of debt and struggle with money. My kids don’t. I wonder if it’s because their parents wouldn’t let them climb trees’.
If there’s any thread to pick out from my conversation with Jeff, it’s the sense of freedom of the past that stands out most profoundly. In a society where we’re constantly bombarded with information that tells us we ought to bubble wrap ourselves with precaution, comfort and convenience- Jeff’s stories challenge us to wrestle with the more meaningful aspects of life – of pursuing adventure, having a free spirit and investing and journeying with others in meaningful ways.
It seems we’re not the first generation to have been seeking a ‘yolo’ culture then! While for people like Jeff, this may have been expressed through running through railroads and swimming in the river trent, for us – perhaps the desire for adventure and freedom is revealed through our generation’s notable desire for travel, and for going out and partying. It does make me think though – perhaps if we gave the children of today a little more freedom, a little more adventure – they might be a lot happier, fulfilled and less likely to go off the rails at the slightest taste of freedom and independence.