Saturday, 26 November 2011

an outbreak of nostalgia: the good-old/bad-old days

Yesterday I met my sister in Birmingham for “Christmas Shopping”. Neither of us is particularly addicted to retail delights and very little actual purchasing took place, but we did spend the day nattering and eating lunch and drinking cups of tea. It was also the opportunity for a little nostalgia.

Back in the day when we were growing up in Lichfield, Birmingham was our closest big city for shopping and there were only two department stores, Lewis’s and Rackhams. Despite being only about 15 miles away we only visited Birmingham once or twice a year and one of those visits was the annual trip to visit Father Christmas and Mr Holly in the grotto at Lewis’s . We also remembered Rackhams, which was the posher store, having a particularly magical toy department, which would have a model railway with full landscape and running trains as a centre-piece and other mechanical toys performing their tricks. There were wonderful soft toys and walkie-talkie dolls and rank upon rank of matchbox cars and lifelike farm animals. I can report that House of Fraser, which has taken over Rackhams, no longer has a toy department of that calibre.

Obviously those childhood memories are overlaid by memories of visiting Birmingham as I got older. I was probably about fifteen before I was allowed to go on the train for a shopping trip with friends. Visits to the pantomime at “The Alex” and later other theatre at Birmingham Rep were highlights. I remember Spaghetti Junction being constructed to great media excitement. Like many major cities, the central shopping area of Birmingham has altered almost beyond recognition since those days and it got me thinking about the speed of change.

Coincidentally the book I started reading on the train yesterday is a memoir by P D James; Time to Be in Earnest. Writing in 1997 about her early life in the 1920s she remarks that “a Victorian child of the same class – the Pooters’ daughter perhaps - received into our family would have felt immediately at home; a modern child, transported to a house without electricity, central heating, television, telephone or the use of a car, would feel himself banished to a dark age.” In many ways I feel that my own childhood in the 1950s was still more similar to hers than to a childhood at the beginning of the 21st Century. Obviously we did have electricity in my first family home, but no central heating, telephone or car. It was still a world of coal fires, liberty bodices and chilblains. Change began to accelerate in the sixties and has continued to run faster and faster ever since.

I’m not quite sure what point I’m trying to make here apart from offering it as an observation. I’m certainly not decrying progress – after all how would I be communicating these thoughts on my fancy interwebular device if we were still living in the fifties?

Photo: Steve's and my teddies from the fifties. I don't think Antiques Roadshow would be interested.

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