This is what my grandmother used to say with astonishing regularity whenever she perceived the world to be a Worsening Place.* “Bring back National Service” was another regular supporting feature.
So. The necessity for another war. Even as a child I used to think this was a wicked thing to say and told her so. I had read about the two World Wars and I’d seen Vietnam and Palestine on the news; who could possibly want a repeat of that?
The problem is, I now know what she means. She didn’t want bombs, terror and death, she wanted an environment where people, looked after each other, valued what they had and didn’t whinge because they felt hard done by all the time. She saw what was coming and feared the dissolution of society.
Last night, Sister the Second and I watch ‘Housewife 49’ the real life story of Nella Last, a housewife during WW2, who wrote a diary for the Mass Observation Project. It is the sixth time I have watched it. Thank you to my cousin Long Lost 1 for introducing me to that.
Before the outbreak of war, Nella Last had been a timid, nervous and unfulfilled women with limited life experience, who was married to a suffocating and emotionally fearful man. The war gave her the courage and the opportunity to break out and learn who she was and what she could do. She joined the WVS, undertook practical, useful work and made friends with people who liked and valued her and it changed her life.
Many people today feel undervalued either at work, at home or in their social sphere. Women feel they have to have a career, children, an ideal home, foreign holidays, regular orgasms and a perfect body. Men are under tremendous pressure to support all these things and be a hands on father, a passionate and sensitive husband and maintain their masculinity at all times without feeling emasculated by their thrusting wives. And yet it’s still not enough.
Why are we doing this? Why do we have all these ‘time-saving’ gadgets and machines to help us in the home and yet we still have no time? Why can no-one bear to be quiet? Everywhere we go there is noise; music in shops, radios, television, traffic, ‘phones, computers, iPods. You see shuffling families walking together in shopping centres and half of them have earphones on. Trains are a cacophony of mobiles, laptops, fizzing high hats and people shouting into slivers of plastic that ‘I’M ON THE TRAIN!’
What are they trying to block out I wonder? I put it to you that they are drowning out the loudly gnashing teeth of greed. Strugging to suppress the wailing of their perceived inadequacy and desperately trying to quench the crackling flames of failure. No really.
Many people lead pointless lives. They are de-skilled, de-motivated and devolving. How many people are capable of sitting quietly with no sound, no flickering images? Even supposing that anyone can sew, knit or make things, how many would do it without the TV, radio or stereo piping away in the background?
I’m not suggesting that we should all be sitting in silence, just that we shouldn’t be frightened of doing so. We should allow ourselves time to reflect on what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and whether we’re on the right track.
I think we also need to have activities in our lives where we can actually see the end result of what we’ve being working towards. Many people never see a ‘product’ at work and never experience the satisfaction of a job well done and there’s not always a lot we can do about it. But we should try to find windows in our manic schedules in which to say ‘I am going to do this; I’m going to put some effort and skill into it and at the end, I will have this and I will like it’.
It doesn’t have to be anything grand or ambitious – it could be an Airfix model, a flower arrangement, a knitted scarf, a wooden toy, a jigsaw, the taking of photographs, a painting, writing a letter, building a model railway – anything that allows you to calm down, focus and create something.
And maybe some form of National Service wouldn’t be such a bad thing, particularly in view of the rising levels of youth unemployment. Not necessarily military, but a year or two’s community service might well be just the thing to drag disillusioned, unskilled young people away from their Nintendos and alcopops. Discuss.
Technology and communications are wonderful things and full of potential to enhance our lives, but if we’re not careful, they will become substitutes for self reliance, independent thought and creativity. Technology is only a tool. My grandmother didn’t want another war, she just wanted someone to restore the factory settings.
* Just for record I really, really regret that I didn’t realise what an interesting person my grandmother was until after she’d died. Although, in my defence, she was 77 when I was born and I was only 13 when she died. If you’re out there Nana, you were much loved and I’m sorry for being an ungrateful git.