19 March 2010


A friend's son - aged eighteen - recently set off with two of his mates on an adventure. Back in the day, "when I were a lad", some young people bought "Interrail" tickets and travelled to the far flung corners of Europe while stay-at-homes went youth hostelling or raspberry picking in Scotland. The friend's son - always quiet and homely - has gone first through Russia and then into Mongolia before exploring China, Hong Kong and Singapore. It is his "gap year" before beginning mathematical studies at the University of Leeds. Oh my - how expectations have changed!

And furthermore, when I were a lad in my idyllic East Yorkshire village, I would sometimes visit the local grocer's shop. There were no free plastic carrier bags to carry your purchases. You had to take your own bag or basket. Seasonal vegetables - there were no others - were weighed and placed directly in your bag. Biscuits came from big wholesale tins and were bought by weight. The choice of goods in that shop was very limited. In contrast, you visit a modern day supermarket and you are overwhelmed by multitudinous choices. You leave subconsciously wondering what alternative items you might have bought to achieve greater personal fulfilment.

Returning from the grocer's shop, I re-entered a home in which there was no central heating. In each room there was only one light-bulb apart from the living room in which my mother had a side light to help with her late night craft work.Television - in flickering black and white - lasted from five o' clock to roughly midnight when the national anthem was played and many viewers would stand up in an act of patriotic respect before taking their cue and getting to bed.

Back then, only 13% of any one generation went on to university compared with 35% today and rising. Back then when my family went on holiday with our caravan to the Lake District, France, Italy, Scotland - we were outside the norm - not just because of our unusual holiday destinations but because we had a car with wheels - a real car. See pictures of nineteen fifties Britain and there are kids playing football and hopscotch in streets that are utterly devoid of parked cars.

And when I were a lad say of ten, I had never heard of homosexuality or condoms or prostitution, curry or cannabis, paedophilia or perverts. Our village was populated entirely by white Anglo Saxons and when we travelled into Hull we very rarely saw anyone who wasn't the same. Once I saw a black sailor - the first black man I had ever seen in real life and my jaw dropped. This was real - not the Saturday night "Black and White Minstrels Show". Multicultural Britain was a long way off.

How expectations have changed and in environmental terms it is easy to see how big the price has become. Most homes have central heating. People in work almost expect to have cars, computers, holidays abroad, weekly visits to supermarkets where we buy haricot beans from Kenya, rump steaks from Argentina, wines from New Zealand while back at home our student offspring plan gap years in Thailand, Mongolia, South America.


  1. Life moves on and there is always a mixture of good and bad changes but one thing I wouldn't like to go back to is the house without central heating. :)

  2. JENNY Yes. Like me you probably remember ice on the inside of our bedrooms in winter, bare feet on freezing cold linoleum, the perpetual raking and making of fires in the hearth. Much simpler. Today how many homes are centrally heated even when there's no one in? And empty rooms that are as warm as toast in mid-January.

  3. I agree with you almost 100%. Your post is almost perfect. It would be perfect if you removed the word almost from the final sentence (thinking of U.S. readers in particular).

    In addition to all of your deprivations, I grew up without indoor plumbing.

  4. 'heated when there's no-one in' - not ours, YP, that's for sure and it's not heated during the day either unless I have clients. We poor pensioners have to be careful wi't'brass tha knows!
    Btw, my turn to pull you up on spelling - you missed a 't' from your title. ;)

  5. Elizabeth11:47 am

    I,too, grew up with an outside loo, the hard work of heating water on the stove for washing and baths and Jack Frost patterns on the windows. No television and no car. And yes, cold lino. I still don't have a television or central heating and I try to use the farm suppliers for seasonal food, whenever I can.I've never been further than the Isle of White, 'though I'm hoping that may change shortly! That's not sour grapes - just the way it is,partly through choice, partly not.
    I think there are two things at play here;
    Yes, I guess expectations have changed, YP, and so have the socio-economic factors that enable those expectations to be fulfilled, on the whole, but there are still big pockets of inequality, poverty and demographic limitations that need to be challenged so that every person has the opportunity to reach for their dreams.
    Secondly, there is a sadness that those expectations beget more expectations and often produce an avarice and self-seeking that wasn't apparent in our younger days.Had you not have been able to get out to the grocer's shop, your neighbour, who you would know the name of, would no doubt be pleased to get a few bits and bobs for you and had you not been able to go to far away climes like Scotland for your hols, you would probably have been just as satisfied with a picnic on the beach. x

  6. RHYMES It must be particularly awful to be poor and disadvantaged in America as - in my view - the angry. ALMOST venomous lobby against Obama's health reforms has demonstrated.
    JENNY I think you need to visit Specsavers ma'am. There is no error in my title...well not now! Thanks.
    ELIZABETH Thoughtful additional reflections. The notion that "expectations beget more expectations and often produce an avarice and self-seeking" approach to life is as you say sadly true. I think that was the point I was trying to get at - that and the ecological impact of this spiral.


Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.