Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Saturday 11 July 2015

Half a century

Back in the early 1970s, thanks to the wonder of television, we knew what the future would look like.

By the 21st century, the Space Age would be well and truly under way; ordinary men and women (the latter, for some obscure reason, invariably clad in form-fitting bodysuits or miniskirts) would be going about their daily business in moonbases and interplanetary spacecraft, while back on Earth, families would subsist on daily protein pills and pursue a life of leisure while robots did all the work.

Contemplating these wonders, it was daunting to think that, when the millennium rolled around, I would be approaching the inconceivably advanced age of 35; anything beyond that was so remote as to be hardly worth considering so I never gave it much thought.

Somehow, over the intervening 40 years, it feels as if I've never quite got round to the business of growing up; it is thus with some astonishment that I now find myself staring down the barrels of my 50th birthday. Here I am in the distant future and, to be honest, it isn't at all what I expected. Where, I ask myself, is my personal jet-pack? What happened to those robots to take over the housework?

Granted, I have at my personal disposal better communication equipment and more processing power than than the Apollo space programme. There are computers hidden in my household appliances, I scan and pack my own groceries (though the robot servant would come in very handy there) and I can manage my finances or buy virtually anything I want over the telephone or internet at any time of the day or night.

But - although I appreciate the ability to download pictures of cats doing silly things in Anchorage, Alaska - much of the rest of life is business as usual. What has changed is my own attitude, and it's made me wonder how much of that has been formed by those early aspirations.

For those of us born in the summer of '65, just as the first space-walk was taking place and Bob Dylan upsetting his fans by 'going electric', progress was a given; emerging from the Winter of Discontent, we came of age in Thatcher's Britain where, whatever your politics, it was impossible not to feel the impact of technological advances (remember your first Walkman?) or to compare our bright new electric-blue youth culture with the perpetually brown-and-orange 1970s.

Then came the 1990s - grunge and recession - and, before we knew it, the magical 2000 was upon us with the 'River of Fire', setting the scene for the arrival of middle-aged cynicism and disappointment. On top of that, 24-hour news coverage has given us the ability to see our political masters as never before, warts and all, and it's not a pretty sight. At the same time, we are old enough to recall the failures of successive administrations and see the pitfalls and hidden agendas of every new government initiative.

With the potential of the internet, this growing cynicism was able, for some, to manifest itself in blogging, which leads me to an interesting (for me at least) observation; of the dozen or so general-interest blogs I read regularly and with which I frequently find myself in agreement, often with a shock of recognition at an opinion that precisely matches my own, at least two are written by my exact contemporaries.

That being so, I should like to raise a virtual glass to Kath and Pavlov's Cat, both of whom turned fifty in the last fortnight, and to any other bloggers hovering around the half-century mark (I suspect at least one more, which would make it a significant proportion of my sidebar born in 1965 or thereabouts).

Given the political, social and technological developments of the last 50 years and they way they have shaped my generation, I wonder whether this affinity is, in the words of Heinrich Böll, 'neither accident nor design, but simply unavoidable'.


  1. You kids, must go my jet pack needs servicing before I go up to my satellite second home.

  2. "For those of us born in the summer of '65..."

    Try the winter! No Bryan Adams songs for us... :(

    Many happy returns!

  3. Demetrius, I'd expect nothing less from the greatest cynic of all.

    Julia, thank you! I worked out some time ago that we must be the same vintage; you're just the ice wine version.

    ('... ice wine is very refreshing due to its high acidity.' Wikipedia)

  4. Congratulations MacHeath, on surviving this long.

    Here's a couple of thoughts on 'space age' technology.

    Firstly, I don't remember much worry at all in the old days about an asteroid strike wiping out humanity. Is this something where the actuality of the risk, realised through our technology, has not been preceded totally by imagination and fictional accounts?

    Secondly, quite a few years ago, I bought this book (The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900) by David Edgerton. It makes very interesting reading, on and why, technological advances are different from the common perception.

    Meanwhile, I continue to doubt public predictions, not least the timing of the widespread use of autonomous autos.

    Best regards

  5. "a shock of recognition at an opinion that precisely matches my own"

    Not often reflected in the mainstream media either in my experience. The internet is teaching us to be cynical which may change things in unpredictable ways - eventually.

  6. Sorry I can't oblige with the 50 anymore. However, I can tell you it gets better.

    For some time.

  7. Presume it hasn't arrived just yet, the bidet.

  8. If you hadn't been brought up on a diet of Dan Dare, you really were going to miss the new world...

    And I'm not sure how much Roy of The Rovers was paid, but it was probably about £12 a week!

  9. NS, thank you.
    I suppose you can trace the asteroid worries back to the 'discovery' of the Chicxulub impact and the realisation that we could all go the way of the dinosaurs at any time.

    The book sounds interesting. We may be mistaken in the impact of progress but I find it more than a little worrying to think that, while the West has long since abandoned the idea that we are in decline from a more perfect past, there is a population out there who not only believe it but are dead set on forcible regression.

    AKH, we are - assuming reliable information is available - better informed than any previous generation; society and the media have not yet caught up but, when they do, I suspect there will be a significant upheaval (unless, of course, the startling superficiality of our young is being deliberately engineered to prevent such a thing occurring).

    JH, that's good to know - as for modern plumbing contrivances, I believe the Romans had it all sorted long ago; shame the Dark Ages intervened.

    Michael, one of my favourite possessions as a child was an old Eagle Annual...

    *short pause to fetch it*

    ...with an article beginning:

    "Cape Canaveral, on the east coast of Florida, looks like the setting for a Dan Dare adventure story. Until a few years ago, it was no more than a small uninhabited peninsula. Now, at any moment of the day or night, the silence may be shattered by the blast of powerful rockets as America's newest, most secret guided missiles leave their launching ramps and head out over the Atlantic."

    Heady stuff indeed!

  10. Ah, I meant birthday - b day - bidet. Never mind, I'll fetch me coat.


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