Let’s Hope Samuel Johnson Got It right

Maybe it’s just old age, but as I push through to my 97th year, I find myself wondering what life will be like 100 years from now for a child born on my December 27th, 96th birth day.

I haven’t yet come up with an answer, and there is a school of thought that says I never will because mankind, by neglect, will have eliminated life on our home planet before the next century runs its course. But, clinging to the hope that mankind will wake up and avert the forecast cataclysmic end to life on Planet Earth, I continue to wonder what life will be like for new-borns hitting the century mark in 2120.

Maybe intrepid readers can make it a family game of guessing what BC will look like 100 years from now. They will have to be wild guesses because the leap from 2020 to 2120 will surely be as nothing when compared with the leap in my not-quite-a-century starting in 1923.

In the year I came caterwauling into life in the front bedroom of No. 23 Botterill Street, Nuneaton, Warwickshire, houses and streets were lit by gas. Each night, the lamp-lighter on his bicycle carrying a long pole with a flint wheel sparker on the tip, provided dusk entertainment as without even a pause, he wheeled down the street, pole aloft, to touch and spark to light each street lamp. At dawn, he would ride his route again to turn the street lamps off for the day.

That street entertainment ended the day they laid electric cables and hooked street lamps and houses with the new-fangled and highly suspicious electric light. Children adapted quickly, but housewives, new brides and young mothers, born and raised in homes where an oil lamp or candle was the only after-dark light source, took longer to appreciate the blessing.

There were no monthly statements for monthly power use. Supply was more “cash and carry” with a cash meter in every house. If the power went out while dinner was being served, a silver coin would bring it back to life – briefly.

It was years later that the houses lining the streets discovered running water from electrically heated tanks, and the new-fangled electricity brought its multitude of gadgets to make life a little easier. And, supply became “friendlier” but was not always blessed. Television brought the world in colour to our living rooms and the insidious cell phone – once “owned” only by Dick Tracey in the comic strips of newspapers -threatened our every awakened moment.

The restrictive boundaries of life that once held all but deep-water mariners, intrepid explorers or invading armies close to home, began to fade.

I remember as a juvenile, my father taking me in summer to see barnstorming Royal Air Force flyers put on a Post WW1 flying show. They were selling brief joyrides for a few pence, but the great depression was on and even most minor expenditures were restricted. I remember watching with awe as the two already-old biplanes took off in tandem, fooled around a bit, looped and banked, and landed to great cheers from the crowd of mostly out-of-work men. It was beyond dreams that summer day that years later, I would sit with my own sons and watch a man land and walk on the moon, and that flying for my children and me would one day become a tiresome necessity.

On a far more important note, consider the advances in health care over the past 100 years. I was the fourth child in a five-child family, which had been reduced to a two-child family by the time I was 14. A sister Phyllis dead at 10-months of meningitis; a brother Douglas age five, the same disease; a brother Tom, 18, peritonitis. Those diseases can still be fatal, but not with the impunity of 100 years ago, when sanitation was not a high priority and our hospitals lacked the high standards demanded and, for the most part, met today.

I have only scratched the surface of the changes for the better in the close to 100 years I’ve managed to survive, aided considerably by love of friends and family, better diet than I could ever have hoped for and medical care I shall probably always complain about, but which I know is light years ahead of the best ever offered my original family.

In between the egg nogs and the Christmas cake nibbles, count your blessings. One hundred years ago we thought we had for ever to develop and harness our most spectacular inventions.

We were wrong, but I believe the young people of today are smarter at recognizing problems and correcting them than we have been. I believe they have accepted climate change scientific truths the majority of people of my century chose to ignore – and some still do.

And, in hope, I am reminded of a truth spoken to a friend by Samuel Johnson more than 200 years ago: “Depend upon on it,Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

5 comments

  1. I am 18 years younger but almost everyday I marvel at the material advances achieved during my life, in technology, prosperity and medicine. I live near a museum that exhibits artifacts from the 20th century, such as steam engines, coal-fired cookstoves and buggies.

    I often visit this place, particularly when my grandchildren are in town. To them it’s a surreal display; to me it’s a reminder of my early years and the progress I’ve witnessed.

    The new-borns hitting the century mark in 2120 will still be middle-aged.

  2. Thank you for all your thoughtful and very interesting articles. Merry Christmas to you and all the best in the New Year!

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