A Quick Reminder

Times change. They just do. But so should we. Or at the very least, learn and adapt. Consider some of the words spoken during a ceremony by both the bride and groom at a Church of England marriage service and which are a part of the sacred vows they speak, which are: ‘For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health’. I am sure that in many other cultures and ceremonies, similar words are uttered. They should all perhaps remind us that change is constant, they should tell us that despite whatever any of us may encounter in our lives we should all try our best to live a good, honest life. Those words were heard by me so many times, along with others as I sang in various choirs for quite a number of years, but I didn’t really realise their full meaning or significance at the time due to my young age. Only later did I begin to understand, especially as I met more and more people of different races and cultures as well as seeing how some people treated this lovely world. To my mind it was yet more to learn from. Over the many years that I was employed, technology changed and I learned to use new things, new skills. As I grew older and became a teacher of certain skills, as part of my training I learned that we do not all learn in the same way, some comprehend or become more skilful far more quickly than others. After a while, things that we do routinely we manage at a much faster rate, we become more adept. Likewise with our senses we see and hear a great many things but more often than not we learn to ignore the sounds that we are used to hearing and the sights that do not seem to change. I know I do. People I see on a regular basis hardly change, but I have been back to see folk who haven’t seen me for a number of years and they do not recognise me, nor I them. Time passes, my life is very different from what it was just two years ago, when I was living on my own in a flat. I had a routine which I had been following for many years, but that was all changing. To be fair though, it needed to. When I was a lad way back in the 1950s and 1960s, children went to either a secondary modern or over to a grammar school, dependent on whether you passed an ‘Eleven Plus’ exam. I didn’t, neither did my two elder brothers, so for us it was the good old secondary modern route. We lived in Whittlesey, a small town some seven miles east of Peterborough. Things were different then, we had a doctor who went out on his rounds, it seemed like we all knew each other and people like me just couldn’t get up to mischief because my dad was a teacher. Or if we did, everyone knew about it! The father of another of my schoolmates was the bank manager, the police lived locally and many of the families were often related. We didn’t have mobile phones, we could be out quite late at night but we did have a help system which came in the form of carrying around four old pennies to use in a telephone box to phone home. That was our “In Case of Emergency’ (ICE) system! Folk moving from other areas weren’t always welcomed, even from other parts of the British Isles. Fun was made of people over some of the accents used by certain folk, or not even understood. At my school there was one person who had poor eyesight so needed glasses which clearly had very thick lenses and that did make the person look odd. In my case, I learned to minimise my own physical disability as far as possible but I learned much later that it was the equivalent of having had a stroke, where my right side was much weaker than my left. Others have had to cope with disability and in years gone by, sadly they were somewhat ‘looked down on’ by some, but happily not all. Moreover, much more is accepted now than in years past. As I say, times change. I have detailed in previous blogs that we were on the edge of the flat Fen country. Many of the folk stayed living in Whittlesey and got jobs in the town, they often met and married the folk they were at school with then settled down in the town. My eldest brother joined the army and when he left them he was sent to a training place in Leicester, I think to acclimatise to civilian life and work. Whilst there he met and married, settled down and moved around as jobs required. My other brother met, married, divorced and when work required it he moved away. Since then he has remarried, they had twins who themselves married and have children. I know of people I used to work with who for many and various reasons have left the Peterborough area, some reside in Canada, some in the U.S.A. whilst others have gone further afield to Australia and New Zealand. As for me, after my initial upbringing in Whittlesey and subsequent move with parents to Peterborough I spent the first nineteen years of my working life there. It may have only been seven miles, moving from Whittlesey to Peterborough, but we thought it was worth it and my parents had heard of then seen a lovely bungalow which had a superb large garden. Though it did mean that I lost contact with just about all of the people I knew back in Whittlesey and only now, through the Internet, am I having some contact with a few of them again. It is easy to look back at that and wonder quite how different life for us all might have been, but changes and chances in this transitory life do occur!

During my early years of work I learned much, not just about the jobs there in British Telecom but about people in general. There are some good, lovely folk around but equally there some very unkind, even spiteful people. Selfish ones, too. I still smile at the old attitudes and behaviours back then because in 1969 when I joined, it was still a part of the Civil Service. Three months later it was changed to a Corporation, but was largely still run in the civil service manner. Managers were called ’sir’, never by their first names. It was all hierarchical. On my grade of job I was only allowed to use a chair without arms, as chairs with arms were for higher grades! In Peterborough we had people from different countries living there as I saw quite a number of Polish people, probably due to World War II. We also had an Italian community, but not a great deal from anywhere else. One lady was clearly African, her skin was indeed black and I found her to be a quiet, friendly, helpful person. Until then I had never seen anyone from another country with such dark skin. In school I had learned to minimise my own disabilities as far as possible as by then I had more than accepted how and who I was. Some tasks proved to be difficult, in fact the change of duty from one department to another meant having to use a date stamp repeatedly using my weak right hand. That aggravated the epilepsy and resulted in my first epileptic fit whilst on holiday a short while later. Thankfully I was given appropriate medication following several checks and tests at different hospitals, whilst at work I was eventually moved to a different job which did not require use of that date stamp! Promotion moved me to another duty, management had already asked me if I planned to make the company my career and after a few more years I was moved into the Sales department. I have said before about my time there and it was all good experience, but when the opportunity came for me to move on further promotion I took it. Almost every cloud has that proverbial silver lining and so I moved to Leicester and beyond. My thirst for knowledge has remained throughout my life, the only thing I have had to do is to learn the skill of not being ’side-tracked’, spending my time more on things which would be of value to me and which I could perhaps then help others to do. There are those whose culinary skills I find utterly amazing, as I know of people who seem to throw items into a pan then mix, stir or whatever, cook for however long it seems necessary without a glance at a timepiece and the food is cooked perfectly! Still, we cannot all be the first violin in the orchestra. It took me a while to get used to ‘work’, so very, very different from school. I learned to plan and to look forward to holidays! Almost all our family holidays were to Devon and Cornwall as we liked the area and had relatives living in Plymouth. But time passed, my parents retired, I was then living in a flat on my own and after a while was able to to spend time in Jersey and Guernsey. Some of the local alcoholic beverages there were quite strong. Mum and dad had a few good holidays together but sadly dad’s health failed and he passed away because of cancer. I am sure it wasn’t just him smoking, that it was the poor air in London. We know how it affected my mother, who also smoked a little but gave that up. Secondary smoke inhalation from sitting on the back seat of the car as we travelled wouldn’t have helped my asthma, although I was doing a great deal of singing and that probably minimised the effects of the smoke to a degree at least. So it has meant that whenever I see a new doctor or need to give details of my medical condition, they are always pleased to learn that I haven’t actually smoked directly. I am residing in a Care Home now, time will tell for how long but I have a good routine here which seems to work. I send greetings every morning to a few friends, something I started a while ago when I realised that this pandemic had isolated so many of us. Quite a few have families it is true, but it isn’t like it was when our parents and perhaps grandparents were alive. Back then they often lived either together or maybe in the same street, certainly in the same town. So they had regular contact. With there being large factories involving manual labour, many worked together and consequently met and married. It is why when we perhaps look at details of those who lost their lives in the two World Wars of the last century, so many had complete families wiped out. I do think that we can all too easily forget the numbers of human lives lost and whilst in this century there have been no worldwide wars, the loss of life attributed to the pandemic has been similar. I am also concerned that some appear to give the reason for someone passing away as being simply due to the pandemic, when other health conditions could have been contributory but no mention is made of those. The ‘bottom line’ though is that it is still a loss of a human life. I know some who seemingly turn a blind eye to the fact that whilst prevention may not be completely achieved it may be at the very least minimised by simple, basic rules. At one time car drivers never wore seat belts, whilst cyclists never wore helmets. Nowadays we take far more care. Times change and we do change with them. At the beginning of the twentieth century there was the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919, also known as the Spanish flu, which lasted between one and two years.

Emergency Hospital, Kansas Camp, Funston, Fort Riley, Kansas 1918.
Image courtesy of the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, D.C.

That pandemic occurred in three waves, though not simultaneously around the globe. In the Northern Hemisphere, the first wave originated in the spring of 1918, during World War I. Although it remains uncertain where exactly the virus first emerged, the earliest cases in the United States were detected in March among military personnel stationed at Camp Funston in Fort Riley, Kansas. Movement of troops probably helped spread the virus throughout the U.S. and Europe during the late spring. By summer the virus had reached parts of Russia, Africa, Asia, and New Zealand. This first wave was comparatively mild and had begun to die down in some areas, but a second, more lethal wave began about August or September 1918. During this wave, pneumonia often developed quickly, with patients usually dying just two days after experiencing the first symptoms of the flu. As social distancing measures were enforced, the second wave began to die down toward the end of November. But once those measures were relaxed, a third wave began in the winter and early spring of 1919. Though not as deadly as the second wave, the third wave still claimed a large number of lives. By the summer the virus had run its course in many parts of the world, but some historians suggest that there was a fourth wave in the winter of 1920, though it was far less virulent. The Spanish flu was the most severe pandemic of the 20th century and, in terms of total numbers of deaths, among the most devastating in human history. Outbreaks occurred in every inhabited part of the world, including islands in the South Pacific. The second and third waves claimed the most lives, with about half the deaths occurring among 20- to 40-year-olds, an unusual mortality age pattern for influenza. India is believed to have suffered at least 12.5 million deaths during the pandemic, and in the United States about 550,000 people died. Some scholars think the total number could have been even higher. Sadly there are always going to be loss of lives, from natural causes. Earthquakes and similar disasters, like Aberfan. Then there are disagreements, wars and folk just not following what some see as simple precautions. Technology has enabled us to do much more than in the past but we are human, we still make mistakes. We try to cope with events, with disasters, adjusting and adapting as necessary. After the major events when routines are disrupted it can be difficult for a time. As a simple example after World War II it took quite a while for food stocks to be back to normal so rationing with some items continued for several years. In our family our meals were organised, with things like fish on Fridays and a roast dinner on Sundays. Certain foods were available only at certain times of the year and were looked forward to. I wonder if we may find ourselves going back to those ways at times in the future. I do believe that one thing is certain though, which is that times will change and will always continue to do so.

This week, Language.
There are times when just a few words put together can express a thought very easily, when a statement is very clear in its meaning, but more often than not the opposite is true – especially without a little bit of thought on phraseology!
As an example, I give you the following:
“Don’t let worries kill you – let the church help”

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