How often we have we said or heard that phrase, as an excuse to justify something not justifiable. The old find it difficult not to draw comparisons today, as things have changed so rapidly in less than a lifespan, and not always for the better. Those of us born at the end of the Great War or as far forward as the 30s, will have been subjected to the confining mores of the Victorians, to which today’s standards bear no relationship whatsoever. Indeed in most cases they have been reversed. I was brought up with phrases like ‘Little boys should be seen and not heard!’. Subjects today, which are commonplace, such as a family divorce, social and sexual relationships, were never discussed in front of the children, say anyone younger than 12 or 15. In my case, I was not allowed to go to the wedding of a relative who had been cohabiting with a married man, whom she was marrying after his divorce. A high proportion of people of the lower and middle ranks had a door key on a string, accessible through the letter-box, without fear of burglary. I wont bore you with any more of these comparisons, there are endless. The majority of the admonishments were for what were considered bad taste; assumed rudeness to adults; boisterousness, referred to as hooliganism; and speaking out of turn were all crimes for which a clip round the ear was a minor punishment, but could also warrant a thrashing or being sent to bed. It was the parents who took this seriously, while the children accepted it as part of daily living, anything else would have been too weighty. I firmly believe that these minor punishments never served the purpose for which they were intended, but made us more resilient, and taught us to duck and dive, which was a much better education for adulthood. Taking my case and those of my closer friends I’m convinced that our psyche was in no way damaged, it merely taught us the rules of the war between the old and the young, and us and our educators.
My interpretation of the behaviour between the Edwardian classes, the-haves, and the-have-nots, was mainly on a par, with where they could afford to live, the poor lived in large numbers in small accommodation, which meant that most of their activities took place outside the home, in public houses, on commons and in back-streets; while the rich could hide their extremes in large houses, clubs, and country estates. The Victorian era allowed the have-nots to introduce what became a middle class, in a size that made it noticeable. This in its turn created something for the ambitious to aim for, and with time the Victorian era ultimately totally changed peoples view of what was good or acceptable taste. Just consider the time that has elapsed, between when Queen Victoria came to the throne, and the 1950s which I feel was an amazing turn-around in our way of life. Then strictures were ignored or turned upside down, and an imaginary freedom where everything went was in vogue, and the meaning of ‘went’ covered so much, in a very short time.
What followed was first of all, a throwaway society, in which possessions were no longer respected, tastes could change overnight, taking with them inherited possessions that had come down through the generations. Strangely, with the aid of television, these rejected articles suddenly became collectors’ items in a small number of cases, but this did not stem the change from the old to the new. Designs in every walk of life seemed to bear little relationship to what had gone before, and the mores that went with these designs, including the taking of drugs, a total sexual freedom, and to some extent also, a disrespect for the tastes that has been the norm in society generally. Laws were brought in right across the board, without careful thought or testing, until we had situations which were totally ridiculous, and should never have been broached without more thought. One case is that of the chastisement of children in school by corporal punishment. One must assume that a number of cases of malicious treatment by teaches, up and down the country were used as the basis of condemning all corporal punishment. As one who was caned more than most, for less than most, I can’t say that I have any serious hang-ups on the matter, nor on some teachers who were vicious bullies. Their actions should not have limited the options for a responsible teacher to maintain decorum in a class. This business of the few determining the future for the many by the actions of the few, appears constantly in legislation today. This is one of the differences between now and the 20s, the legal eagles have got the country by the throat. Engineering, medicine and a host of other useful and valuable work is being hampered and made more difficult and costly by the ability of the individual to find advertisements advising him to possibly claim. It is only recently that doctors and dentists etc. have had to carry heavy insurance against being taken to court on a whim, or the hope of gain, something my forebears would have eschewed if they had heard of it.