Being retired with a relatively new, small house, and few responsibilities. I have time for things I never had time for in the recent past, and which so many people don’t seem to have time for today. No! Not flying of to a Costa, just sitting in a deck chair and crowd-watching, reading, walking for a purpose – to look and see and admire nature, not charging along daily, round the houses, to keep fit.
Before WW2 few people as a percentage owned their own house. The smaller properties were rented on a weekly or monthly basis, and the larger were leased, on 99 or 999 year leases. Families lived in the one house for generations. Today there is little rented property and people move about four times during adulthood, resulting in the second and third purchases being progressively dearer. In the 30s and after WW2, we, in our early years, had security, no pension worries, no fear of redundancy. Life was so much slower, you can’t envisage just how slow.. with no electronic communication; few even had a telephone, so questions of any sort were either verbal or written; thus giving time for thought, to mull, to make a decision and then change it, if necessary, before an answer was needed., not ‘knee jerk reaction’, a 21st centaury complaint. This applied particularly in business dealing and politics.
Most were in a stable environment, could predict what we would be doing this day next year. There was little peer pressure, because there was no rat race. Salaries changed little, year by year, and taxation was stable. Most of us followed in our fathers footsteps, if a tradesman, it was apprenticeship, Journeyman and a chance at Foreman. In the professions the route was mainly through written exams such as City and Guilds, or institution exams, mugged up for by correspondence course, not university, Development in design was slow, and mainly for the wealthy. One bought an article and if some part of it wore out one could replace it from a local shop. In Belfast, this state of affairs lingered until the Troubles, when the IRA blew up a shop and warehouse of long standing and we lost valuable spares, and ever since we have joined the throw-away society How that helped the cause I fail to see. There were door to door collections for insurance and the HSA, Hospital Saving Association. The doctor’s fee was seven shillings and sixpence, when the weekly wage was between 33 and £5 a week.
Advertising was not honed to the insidious level it is today. The placards and news paper ads were cosy pictures with banal messages, not warnings of doom and disease if the product was not bought and used. There was little pressure selling, Radio Luxembourg did not transmit until the mid to late 30s, ‘Auntie’, the BBC, had a clear field untrammelled by commerce. The working classes generally hated being in debt, there was a stigma attached to being insolvent, and pawning, while frowned upon, was for some families a regular ritual, popped on Monday, redeemed on payday, and the window of the pawnbroker’s shop held a fascination for most, especially children. There was stress, but nothing like today. With just news papers and the radio programmes, which had a censorship code, we were not clued up as people are now, we had taboos, we didn’t openly discuss things which were not ‘nice’, we were not faced with murder on the doorstep daily, or exhortations on health. The generally low level of wages, coupled with the fact that we walked so much, kept us healthy, eating good wholesome food, with little that was pre-prepared or likely to cause obesity. .We were without the stresses of driving, public transport took the strain, and with so little money, and the fact that furniture was handed down from generation to generation, so well made it could stand the test of time, shopping had not the significance it has today, when it has become a regular family outing. If iin difficulties we could call on relatives who lived close by, and families tended to remain in the same locality for generations, rather than being scattered as they are today.
Am I wrong to consider much of the stress today is self-inflicted? That affluence has spawned a desire for acquisition, self betterment at any cost, peer pressure, permanently sailing close to the wind, making life a race, with no let up, and no time to take the long view. Too much emphasis placed upon nonessentials, such as status and conforming It is difficult enough to maintain one house, let alone two, and some have even three, the maintenance must be stressful. Possessions induce stress, and pride can often induce acquisition out of proportion to need. We in the 20s and 30s had such a limited horizon, due to our financial situation, that we led a simple, relatively stressless existence. Surprisingly it was not dull or boring, but our pleasures were possibly more simple and cheaper.