Saturday, 8 October 2016

The Good Old Days?

Were they ever? Good? The old days?

Those were different times.
All the poets studied rules of verse
And the ladies they rolled their eyes.
(Lou Reed, 'Sweet Jane')

What is it in us that reflects so wistfully on bygone eras - whether they be 5, 50 or 500 years ago? I suspect there is a tendency over time to enhance the happy constituents of memory and press the fader on less pleasant aspects.

I know that's a sweeping generalisation. I have several friends who tell me that their happiest days were in their childhood, which always strikes me as a rather poignant statement to make. It is also sadly self-evident that many people - both nations and individuals - are in a worse predicament now than they were a few years ago.  We always hope that such setbacks (war, austerity, one's football club being on the skids) are temporary and recoverable from. I'd like to think that generally, over time, things do improve. I can't really accept that on balance life was better in the sixties or during the war or in the Victorian era or the Middle Ages than it is now - and this week's poem attempts to make that point. So why so much mooning for past times? I'm pleased that I was a teenager in the 1960s. I think it was the most exciting time and it was great to live through that but I wouldn't want to be back there.  Move on.

It might seem like a complete non sequitur (stick with me), but neon lighting recently celebrated its centenary. Thank you, Georges Claude. Happy birthday to neon lighting, or liquid fire as it was colloquially known when it first began to illuminate our main streets and city squares. It has made the world a more switched-on and exciting place. There is an exhibition of neon artworks, Neon: The Charged Line, at Blackpool's Grundy Art Gallery for the next three months and it's well worth a visit if you're in the North-West.

I love neon signs and the one I've chosen to illustrate this week's blog reminds me immediately of two things...

One is the obvious Orwellian reference (obvious, that is, if you've read Animal Farm). The animals in that parable, pigs and dogs excepted, discovered that liberation from the yoke of human overlords only resulted in the greater tyranny of pig rule and the exhortation to work harder than ever before. They may even have longed, briefly, for the good old days.

The other is of a colleague from the English department of a large London comprehensive school back in my teaching days.  The way she shaped her hand-writing had an unfortunate tendency to link o and r together in a way that looked uncannily like a and n. All school reports had to be hand-written in those days and approved and counter-signed by the head teacher before being issued to pupils. Imagine my colleague's disquiet when she was ordered to completely re-do 150 reports  because when she wrote "work" it looked like "wank" and many of her reports appeared to  contain  one of the following phrases: "must wank harder", "wanks well", "needs to learn to wank unsupervised", "a most industrious wanker" and "carry on wanking like this and the reward will come." You couldn't make it up! (I didn't make it up. Take a curtsey, Jenny Jackson.) Now, if we hadn't been in the good old days back then, the whole lot would have been word-processed, could have been corrected online in seconds and presto!

Enough - the poem...again a work in process because I haven't had the opportunity to finish it to my satisfaction. I don't like sending these compositions out into the world half-formed, but needs must and this one will just have to grow up in public.

Olden Daze
O do not envy the people of olden daze
as they suffereth by comparison in notable ways:
for they haveth not much comfort in their lives.
As children they getteth little schooling to be wise
and enjoyeth but a dearth of toys,
for they goeth out to graft while girls and boys
and then they marrieth whom they are told
but chooseth not their husbands nor their wives;
so slaveth all from dawn till after dusk,
and they batheth only weekly, but their musk
preventeth not their falling pregnant far too often
and their babies dieth young too easily.
For they are always fighting someone else's wars
and sometimes voteth for a change - in vain
(unless they're women, then they voteth not at all).
Then their teeth becometh rotten in their heads,
and all their bones they groweth weary on the frame
before they've seen out fifty winters. In their beds
they suffereth from frequent ills,
no antibiotics aideth their distress.
Thus they liveth their hard lives on earth without demur
but in a hopeful haze - for here's the telling twist:
they are promised their reward in heaven - which doth not exist!

Thanks for reading. Keep looking forward! Steve ;-)


Annie Walton said...

Steve this was hilarious from start to finish! Apart from the imagery around your Orwellian reference

All animals are equal... but some are more equal than others..... the justification to swap one tyranny for another. I am thinking ( rightly or wrongly ie ) about the fall of Saddam... oh and that much better regime and lifestle the Iraqi people were left with !

Loved the poemeth so mucheth !
Cheers Steve
Annie xx

Steve Rowland said...

Thank you Annie. Yes, I was thinking not only of Iraq but also Syria, and closer to home our own Northern Poorhouse.

The poem has grown up a bit during the week. I think it stands on its own feet with the changes I've made since it was originally posted.