The Past Is A Foreign Country; They Do Things Differently There...

Issue 80

In a recent assembly to highlight the upcoming Queen's 70th Jubilee, I discussed some of the major events that have taken place during this period of history, including the fall of the Berlin Wall and the invention of the mobile phone.

Despite what my students may think, I was not alive when the Queen came to the throne, but this reflection on historical events made me consider a few events from my lifetime that teenagers would find difficult to understand.

The Wireless: In our house when I was a child, the radio was always referred to as the ‘wireless’ and we had a grand wireless/gramophone combo in the hallway. Once I was attempting to explain to a class that I was teaching that a protagonist in a novel written in the 1970s was upset that her wireless was not working. As one, the students were appalled: how could anyone cope without Wi-Fi? I tried to explain that wireless meant the radio and that Wi-Fi did not exist in the 1970s, which led to even great horror and incredulity. How did anyone live their lives without the internet?

Emails: Regarding the internet and all things related, for half of my life I did not have the internet or have any concept of it. When I was doing my PGCE in Cambridge thirty years ago, we were working with a school in Peterborough on an innovative project called ‘Electronic Mailing’, using the hilarious BBC computers with green screens that gave you a migraine. None of us Luddites on that English PGCE course thought that this would catch on; indeed, I did not send an electronic mail again- or email as became known- until 1996. I bet some of the recipients of the 1000s of emails I have sent since wish I had never started!

Death of Princess Diana: I was not alive when JFK died so, for me, the most prominent ‘Where were you when you heard’ moment was the death of Princess Diana in August 1997. The images in my head of the tunnel in Paris are still extraordinarily clear, and Earl Spencer’s speech at the funeral was like nothing I had ever heard before. The outpouring of public grief on this occasion was unprecedented in the UK, and the mutinous mood music at the time almost precipitated a constitutional crisis. Smoking: I have never smoked a cigarette in my life but, like many non-smokers in their fifties, my lungs have ingested thousands upon thousands of the things via front rooms of adults chain-smoking and in cars where the combination of combined space and smoke made one’s chest heave and eyes smart. Oh, and the lack of seatbelts in use also added to the sense of devil may care!

Fame: It is brilliant that Strictly has introduced young people to the delights of dance of various kinds, but for many teenagers of my generation, the only dance show on the box was Fame, with its lurid legwarmers, catchy tunes and heart-tugging storylines. Thinking back, I cannot imagine any modern teenager tolerating more than five minutes of the schmaltz. However, if you are a fifty something, this was hugely popular, especially the tagline: You want fame? Well fame costs, and here’s where you start paying. In sweat.’ This adage was years before Malcolm Gladwell’s popularisation of the 10.000 hours rule, but it was a lifelong lesson to me about the need for perseverance and persistence, despite the fact I was never destined to be on Broadway or the West End.

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