This piece is mainly written to amuse and possibly confound my readers who are in their 80s, but is also general. Recently there has been the First World War veteran, and Second World War veterans being interviewed on television, and a lot of interest in people like Douglas Bader. A chap I know, with a glass in his hand, looked at me over the glass and said, ‘You’re an endangered specie.’ I laughed. ‘You can laugh,’ he said, ‘but how many people do you think there are now who were evacuated at the beginning of the last war? Sometime ago a Sunday programme of the Antiques Road Show where they were valuing an original diver’s helmet, stated that the use of the old fashioned diving helmet and suit with its bronze shoulder mounting had stopped in 1960, when all the other forms of pressure suits, diving bells were introduced. The whole thing was much more technical, than just grubbing about in the mud, flat on your stomach, dragging yourself along with your hands in the mud. That was what it was like for us, trained helmet diver’s away back in the 50s. At the time of the programme, it had surprised me, but I hadn’t realised that now in 2009, there was no such animal as a helmet diver, and those who were trained divers, probably at the age of 22, would now be 71.
In 1928, 81 years ago, I lived as a six year old small boy in the depths of Rhodesia, as part of the British Empire, which now people call the Raj. There won’t be many of them left. Out of interest I looked up the current UK Census and discovered that roughly there are 32,000 people 80 and over. If you take that half of them are women, which is an underestimate, then throughout the UK there are only something like 16,000 men 80 or above.
I firmly believe, and constantly remark, that the changes that we have seen give us a much more balanced perspective than those born since the 60s, who are now in their 50s. Our experiences between the 20s and the 50s, our formative years, were lean, disrupted to an incredible extent, but nonetheless simple in outlook. We hadn’t anything like the pressures, except in war conditions, we knew what it was like to go hungry, to be bombed, to have to live in the large company of other men, from every walk of life, and every type of character, some of them unsupportable. We learned stoicism, self-confidence, compassion, and the ability to be solitary without it having any psychological effect. Pleasures were simple and mostly cheap, our food was natural, we weren’t bombarded continuously with hype, and the celebrity was beyond our horizon, because we could rarely afford to go to the theatre, entertainment, at the cinema and on the radio was ‘nice’, generally amusing and light-hearted.
We are now too old to be able to influence the future, but it is interesting to note that the financial situation is in some ways putting back the clock. When you think about your days in the LDV on the Downs waiting for the German paratroopers, and the total absurdity of it, fire watching during the raids in Docklands, being in the services for five years, and then having to start all over again – in another few years this will all be forgotten.
These examples are part of the natural progression, and inevitable. But there are other endangered species which are more important to the future of this country, and the world. They are not only human, there are natural things, and inert resources. We still have coal beneath us, but the miners, and mining is in this category. Due to the rape of quality timber in this country, abroad, and especially in South America, we now only have a few quality cabinetmakers, because the materials are no longer seasoned in the way they were. There are a number of trades which are almost non-existent or of poor quality, because there is not the training, nor the work being carried out today in this country, shipbuilding and the motor industry are glaring examples. Go into any high-quality furniture retailers, and all you will see there is furniture made of composite materials, veneered and coated with a scratch proof, heat proof varnish, French polishing is another casualty. When I heard, that RBS, who had taken over our conservative and well run bank, is laying off staff in this country, and sending the work overseas, I was appalled, because the taxpayer would now be paying unemployment benefit on top of bolstering up the bank, another example of undermining the future, symptomatic of the way in which skills are being watered down to an endangered level, and our island philosophy of self sufficiency is now an endangered specie, and we are seriously in danger of becoming totally dependent on the rest of the world. To us 80-year-olds, who knew in the 40s what it was like to have to stand alone, are worried, not for ourselves, but for those who are coming after us. Be Warned