Pre WW2, the 30s, A comparison, then and now

A little history gives a slant on what people say. We thought we were Middle Class, we had the social graces, the accent, the interests, but not the cash. We, my mother, brother and I, had just returned from Africa under the British Raj, where we had lived and, I suppose, acted like landed gentry, with a fleet of servants. We were part of an extended family, and from time to time, through difficult circumstances, farmed out round the family for periods ranging from months to years. So, we had no airs and graces, no strong drives, living took up most of our attention, but we did not feel deprived, we, the children, accepted and mostly enjoyed life. Those circumstances alone are rare today, with two bread-winners per household and few extended families.
At Christmas we all had fixed routines and protocols which seem to have gone, mostly through affluence and expediency. Then, indeed in our case up to the 70s, the children and often everyone hung up a stocking, either over the fireplace, on the end of the bed, or were given one on Christmas morning, even grannies. We knew we would get nuts, an orange of some sort, a piece of coal, carefully wrapped, sweets and three or four items. Today, the children have entirely different tastes and expectations. We have watched great grandchildren growing up and never cease to wonder, not only at the presents they receive from friends and relatives, from the moment they hatch, but the number, size and quality. They would never fit into a stocking now.
Granted we were married in wartime, but we thought our wedding was super and it didn’t cost an arm and a leg. Now there are hen parties in foreign countries and the men, not to be out done get drunk in another country as well. The wedding is in a remote romantic spot, and, what with the travelling and the presents, over recent years the exponential rise in these standards, because that is what they are – standards, has left me amazed – and that is only for the relatives and close friends. The honeymoons are also unbelievably lavish at a time when the young people are only starting out. I’m not being a Scrooge, nor a party poppa, although I sometimes can be, what people do with their lives is their business. I have just watched, and wondered where it will finish. Those Joneses, everyone seems to feel they have to keep up with, have a lot to answer for! With the rising cost of housing, weddings and life generally, one cannot be surprised the younger folk are cohabiting, if they can even afford that, and unlike our generation – not many of us left – marriage itself can be tenuous.
Chauvinism exposed. I can’t remember, but I don’t suppose that the word chauvinism featured very much in the vocabulary of the man in the street, in the 30s and 40s. There used to be a silly story, which had more truth than humour, about an Italian who was asked his views on life, and he answered ‘ I digga da pit, to earnna da mon, to buya da bread, to getta da strength, to digga da pit!’ As I was brought up by women, it was only after the war that I lived in a house where the head of the house was a man. None of us at that time took exception to the fact, that he and I contributed very little to work in the house, other than maintenance and gardening. One came home, read the paper, ate the evening meal, and spent most evenings with the family. Occasionally, at times of pressure one might help with the washing up but it was rare. Similarly, we wouldn’t have dreamed of attending a birth, let alone participating.
Recently, Sophie, my wife, had been so ill she was incapable of doing more the sitting still, with the result that I found myself as a carer, with all that entails. I’m not suggesting that I found it irksome, merely time-consuming, in many cases time wasting, and very tiring. I of course, in my 80s, would be more tired than most. But what it did do was make me realise, in the past, just how much we had denigrated the work of the housewife as being ‘ woman’s work’, something simple and easy, and I suppose, beneath us. Over the years things have obviously changed not only in my own household, but even more with the younger people where it seems, the roles have no clear definition, they are certainly interchangeable. In those ancient times the head of the house, was exactly that, what he said went, and the fact that this was only superficial in many cases, and those laws were modified by those carrying them out was never discussed. Today, chauvinism seems to be found more in the workplace than in the home. You never know, it might just disappear from there too.

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