The Times They Are A Changin Part 1

July 12, 2007 at 8:28 am 5 comments

snowball

Communication

 I’ve been having a contemplative morning. The wood-smoke scent of last night’s real fire gently pervades the lounge. The dishwasher quietly murmurs in the kitchen beyond. Maslow (our cat and furball baby) is noisily preening himself in a sunspot on the sofa beside me. Radio 5 is entertaining itself in the background, playing through the Freeview digital-TV.

Yesterday’s newspaper (the Times), multiple magazines, and other supplements are gently gathering dust on the coffee table. I admit I do tend to lose interest a little bit after I have completed the Killer Su Doku and the Times 2 Crossword, but there is something quite satisfying about the weekly visit to the recycling bins at Waitrose. If you ignore the fact that so many trees were felled to make the stuff in the first place, and, so much CO2 was spewed into the atmosphere while transporting the stuff around the globe, it makes me feel as if I am doing my little bit for the planet and the next generation. And, so I do. Ignore the fact that is.

The news is much, much more accessible these days. This might explain why there is also a growing pile of CDs tottering on the coffee table. CDs which, not unlike my free copy of the Harvard Business Review, are likely to remain unopened, never to see a PC disk drive, or CD player, or the light of day. Give-away CDs from papers or received unsolicited through the mail: “Paul McKenna’s Deep Relaxation: Programme Your Mind to Feel Good”, “Charlotte’s Web: Help is Coming from Above” – an audio CD, “Full Circle: Alaska and Russia – The Michael Palin Collection”, “Coast: Exmouth to Bristol”, “Teach Yourself Mandarin Chinese Conversation”, (I joke not !!), and, “Make a Contribution to a Cleaner World” – an educative missive from our supplier of home heating oil, trying to justify why they are five pence per litre more expensive than their nearest rivals……. There’s probably a degree in social studies in the making right there on our coffee table. In fact I am sure there is. Especially if you add in the other reading materials which are to be found there. “The Dangerous Book for Boys”, “Mr Jones’ Rules”, “The Rough Guide to Thailand”, the Laura Ashley catalogue, and the “Radio Times”.

The Dangerous Book for Boys

The Dangerous Book for Boys (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These days you can learn everything you ever wanted or needed to know about the world without even leaving your bedroom, visiting a museum, stepping into a library, trekking across the Sahara, or undertaking a balloon safari in deepest, darkest Africa. We have News 24, broadband and Wikipedia. Amazon.co.uk delivers. Wine Direct delivers. Tesco Direct delivers. The local Indian takeaway delivers. I am seriously considering becoming a recluse. But a recluse who is well-fed, well-informed and worldly-wise.

The recent snowfall that paralysed much of the Midlands, Wales and the London Tube (Southern Jessies!) in March, closing all of the schools, reminded me of an incident from my own childhood. It made me think about how technology has changed. How our experience of the world has been altered, and, how the online, virtual nature of communication tools today have coloured our response to incidents such as a snow storm.

When I was about 11 or 12, at Grammar School, it snowed one day. This was proper snow, mind you. Not like the stuff you get these days – the wrong kind of snow. This was heavy snow. A blizzard. Drifting snow. Dickensian winter snow. It had started in the morning after lessons had already started. We watched it eagerly through Victorian windows, pleased to see that it was settling and anticipating break time and the snowball fights that would inevitably follow. Frozen balls of ice would be sculpted and thrown. Knitted mittens and gloves would soon be sodden. Little hands would freeze, and turn blue, to be thawed in excruciating, delightful agony on the old iron radiators, accompanied by the smell of burning flesh and scolding woollens. By first break there was a good couple of inches. By lunchtime there must have been a foot or so. It was a veritable blizzard. The gritters had failed. Snow-ploughs were nowhere to be seen. The roads were becoming blocked, even in the city centre. And, then all public transport (it sounds very grand doesn’t it – I mean the buses) was brought to a halt or returned to the depot on safety grounds. And so, at lunchtime, school was declared closed. School was closed, and all the little tykes like me were abandoned, thrown out into the streets to fend for ourselves and find our own ways home. Without a shovel, spade, or snow-shoe between us.

Home seemed a long way away that day. It was six and a half miles away. Six and a half miles around the Birmingham Outer Circle number eleven bus route. And, as there were no buses. Six and a half miles, on foot, in about a foot of snow, in the middle of a blizzard. So off I set. I set off with no idea how long a walk such as this would take. I was alone. I was small. I was very cold. I had no way of letting mom and dad know of my plight. Even if I had had the two pence for a call home (which I didn’t) the phone boxes around Handsworth were generally vandalised and rendered inoperative. Even if I had found a phone box which was working, we didn’t have a phone at home… But I did know a neighbours number, just for emergencies. But, even if I had been able to phone, I knew it would have gone unanswered. Everyone I knew would be at work. Out. These were the days before voicemail and answer-machines. I was small, cold, and alone, and without the means to tell my mom. She would be worried. I was frightened. I cried.

I walked all the way home. My feet were frozen. My tears were frozen. Everything I was wearing was soaking. It took me hours. But, I made it. And, I soon found myself slowly thawing in front of the bar heater, with a cup of hot milk simmering in the pan. Heaven.

milk

How different the events of this week seemed to be by contrast. First of all, the met office seemed to have got its act together. In my childhood, the weather forecast, if you were lucky, would tell you how the weather had been today, rather than what it was going to be like tomorrow. Nowadays, you can get a pretty good idea how it is going to be over the next five days, anywhere in the world, or, just for your post code (or zip code). And so, this week, the schools in Birmingham knew what the weather was going to do. They were able to predict the chaos that would ensue. And, so, they were able to take the decision to close the schools even before the weather broke. What is more, they were able to communicate that decision, so that parents would be able to keep their kids at home, and plan for their care. Bulletins were sent out 24/7 via radio, TV, and the web. No doubt headmasters and headmistresses and their staff across the region were able to contact parents by phone at home, by mobile, leaving voicemails or text messages where necessary. No doubt, news of the decision was also sent out by email and received on many a parental desktop, laptop, palm held, or blackberry.

Even if a rogue child had slipped through the net (how apt) and made their way to school only to find it closed, it would not have been a problem. There are not many 11 or 12 year olds these days who are not fully equipped with mobile phones. No doubt they would have been able to contact their parents, and entertained themselves with IPOD, MP3 or GameBoy, until mom or dad or the nanny arrived in their air-conditioned 4WD to usher them home………to the central heating, a microwaved latte, and, a multi-media heaven of their own.

Oh, and the snow only lasted 24 hours. 

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Entry filed under: childhood memories, middleman, School. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

Fighting Part 3 The Times They Are A Changin Part 2

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jennifer  |  July 14, 2007 at 4:33 am

    Hello! I just found this wonderful article. I read almost all school bus or on your way to school articles. This one is particularly from an interesting prospective.

    I hope you will enter it or something else about going to school into my blog carnival called “On Your Way To School.”

    This site is truly great and should be spread to the masses. Hope you will, best of luck.

    Like

    Reply
  • 2. Middle Man  |  July 17, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    Jennifer, thanks for your comment and good luck with your own blog.

    Like

    Reply
  • 3. Wingnut  |  January 22, 2013 at 10:30 am

    The response to the snow is bordering on psychotic. The press have been particularly sensationalist. Headlines such as “Killer freeze grips Britain” and “Snow: no one is safe” asides from being completely inaccurate are totally irresponsible.

    Maybe I’m biased having lived in a country where snowfall and ice are a daily occurrence in the winter!

    Like

    Reply
  • 4. appetire control  |  January 25, 2013 at 11:09 pm

    I don’t know if it’s just me or if perhaps everyone else
    encountering problems with your blog. It looks like some of the text in your content are running
    off the screen. Can someone else please provide feedback and
    let me know if this is happening to them as well?
    This might be a problem with my web browser because I’ve had this happen previously. Kudos

    Like

    Reply
  • 5. Middle Man  |  January 26, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    Thanks Appetite Control. I think/hope that the problem might be your end.

    Like

    Reply

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