In Hertfordshire, Herefordshire and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly ever happen – but it certainly blowed a ‘hooley’ on Saturday night where we were staying, in Yateley in Hampshire with dear friends from our days in Norbury SW16 way back in the mid 70’s. Brandon and Sarah Ashton are one of our few remaining contacts from those far off days when I was a curate in south London – and I was fortunate enough to have been asked to officiate at their wedding just two or three years after our own conjunction in 1975. In recent years I’m glad to say we have seen more of each other and it was really good to visit their lovely home this weekend and for them to be so relaxed over the fact that I am not currently enjoying A1 health and for them to take my situation in their stride. One simply couldn’t wish for more from one’s friends, however there was more because they had kindly arranged for another couple from St Oswald, Norbury days to come for lunch on Saturday. I seem to recall I had something to do with choir member Michael Graves meeting newcomer to the area, Kay Winger and introducing her to the choir. Well like ourselves and the Ashtons, Michael and Kay are no longer at St Oswald’s, but after thirty years of marriage they are still together, still singing in a choir and it was a great treat to see them.

You know how it is when together for a couple of days, you go over old ground and recount stories from days of yore and reminisce about long forgotten characters and situations – and inevitably, at one point start putting the world to rights and comparing life today with the golden days we all recall from our youth. Well, of course, there’s a certain amount of gazing through rose-tinted spectacles involved, and as ever, one tends to recall the better aspects of one’s past rather than those bits best forgotten and brushed under the carpet. I think we all agreed, however, that society has changed quite markedly from that in which we grew-up thirty, forty or more years ago, and not necessarily changed for the better when it comes to basic morality, manners and mode of living. There seems to us to be less general respect for others; people are less mannered, more self-centred, tend more to violence, have thrown tradition to the wind, turned away from the practice of religion…. need I go on? I guess people from every generation of a certain age bemoan the fact that “it wasn’t like that in my day!” In that sense nothing changes!! But just as it was said of the Dickensian area that life for the masses was “nasty, brutish and short,” that same sobriquet might be applied to the families of Baby P and Shannon Matthews and so many of their ilk in the United Kingdom of today, and yet we all look back on some halcyon age when life was of a different quality.

Perhaps, despite the depression of the early 30’s and the gathering war clouds later in that decade, the inter-war period seems such a time. People were beginning to enjoy the benefits of medical advances and of easy travel and indoor privies. It was a time of tea-dances, flappers and all the romanticism captured by television series like Poirot and Jeeves and Wooster. School teachers, clergy and policeman were respected; we stood up for the National Anthem; all was well with the Empire and we went to Boots the Chemist to change our library books. Was there in fact less crime at that time? Was there really – in general terms – more respect for others throughout British society? Was life gentler and less intimidating than it is today? Or is it all a pipe dream, a fiction of our own wishful imaginings? Well, if life did have its good points in the 20’s and 30’s Brandon hit on a very good reason as to why that might be so. It’s probably obvious (sorry Brandon!) but it had simply never occurred to me as to why that should be – it is because, due to the losses of The Great War, there were not that many young men around – and lets face it, when it comes to street crime, burglaries, robberies, muggings, drug trafficking, road rage, raping and pillaging and the rest – it’s young men who are in the frame nine times out of ten. What is more, of course, what young men there were, all had to do National Service, and arguably that was a good way for so many youngsters to learn how to care for themselves, to gain some personal discipline and self-respect and to discover a sense of duty and of belonging.

Well, it’s a thought isn’t it?

We had a great weekend on the Hampshire, Berkshire and Surrey borders. Great to see old chums, to relax over the Saturday Jumbo crossword and to enjoy – amidst other delicacies -Sarah’s chocolate bread & butter pudding. I’m now fully prepared and ready to see the medical team in Bristol on Tuesday afternoon – more news of course on Tuesday evening.