Funny how rubbish skips creep up on you
Wednesday 25 June 1997
At least, I can't remember there being such things. When I rewind the patchy and faulty video that I call my memory, I see no pictures of skips in it. I don't know how rubbish was taken away 40 years ago, but I am pretty sure it wasn't in skips. Which leads me to the amazingly simplistic theory that things we all take for granted arrive sort of stealthily and then behave as if they had always been there.
Bar codes, for instance.
They haven't been around very long.
I can remember a time when nothing was bar-coded, and not so very long ago either, a time when Sainsbury's check-out cashiers did not pass objects over little glass screens which then beeped and put the price on the bill. (Incidentally, has there ever been a case of bar-code fraud? Has anyone ever gone into a big store and put labels with their own bar codes on objects to make a cheaper price ring up? Just a thought ...)
I can remember a time before cash machines and credit cards. I can remember a time before LP records. I can remember when there was no such thing as ITV, a time when my mother listened to Mrs Dale's Diary every day, a time when my father took our car abroad and got it into the ship by driving it into a big net which was then lifted into the boat by a crane. I can remember when people roamed freely inside Stonehenge, and I even have a photo of myself doing that very thing.
What I can't remember is when any of that stopped and when any of the modern things started. I have no vision of a newspaper headline saying, "Rubbish Skips Start Operations in Britain tomorrow", or an announcement to the effect that all the Dale family would be killed off in a final cataclysmic episode. This all steals up on us unawares. Very occasionally things come in with a bang and drum roll, like parking meters or seat belts, and sometimes they go out with an obituary, like National Service, but most things just arrive unnoticed.
Or depart without saying goodbye. A modern child who has seen a car drive on to a ferry would find it hard to believe they were lifted by cranes in the old days. I can remember seeing my first musical postcard - a souvenir postcard which was actually also a 45rpm record so that you could play souvenir music on a souvenir picture - and I thought it was so clever that they would always be with us, but I don't think I have seen one for 20 years.
Another example. My son's Cub troop recently did what we used to call Bob-a-Job Week. We don't have bobs any more. We don't have shillings or coins with names any more. So what do you think the Cubs call Bob-a-Job Week these days? I'll tell you what they call it. They call it Bob-a- Job Week still because it's still the best possible name, a rare instance of something being preserved from a former age. (I recently went to Spain at a time when the exchange rate was about 230 or 240 pesetas to the pound, and it suddenly struck me that this meant the peseta was worth exactly what the old pre-decimal penny was worth, and that therefore 100 pesetas was eight shillings and fourpence, and a fat lot of good this discovery was to me ...)
Another example. I met a man recently who owns a 1930 Bugatti racing car. There was something very odd about it. It had a passenger seat. What on earth did a racing car need a passenger seat for?
"To take the mechanic," he said. "Up to about 1932 all racing drivers took mechanics with them. This was because races weren't just around closed circuits - they were also long distance, from Moscow to Paris for example - and they needed mechanics badly."
"Why did they dispense with the extra seat, then?"
"Too many mechanics getting killed."
Now, this was all news to me, but the Bugatti man took it for granted. I just hope someone is making notes of all these changes.
Last example. My nine-year-old son does not know what a Belisha beacon is. Well, he knows what it is, but he doesn't know it is called that. Yet I can remember my father not only telling me the name, but the origin.
"It's named after the man who introduced them, Hore-Belisha. Same man who introduced mandatory driving tests."
"Strange name, Hore-Belisha."
"Well," said my father, "the story is that his real name was Horeb-Elisha, but that he felt this sounded too Jewish, so he moved the hyphen one letter and changed it to Hore-Belisha."
I was too young to doubt his word at the time, but I am not now. Unfortunately, my father is no longer alive. And if anyone is wondering what this piece is all about, you know now. What I want to know is this: does anyone know if there was any truth in what my father said?
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