On the passage of time

It really should not surprise me in the slightest to see "Proud Grandfather" on the twitter bio of someone I was at University with. Nor should it surprise me much to see that they are retired.

If I am fortunate enough to retain my health I won't want or need to retire for quite a few years yet, but there are some people who retire when younger than my present age and plenty who become grandparents a lot younger. My family, by contrast, tends to marry late and have children late - to such an extent that the last three generations of my family, as will be explained below, overlaps the entire 20th century at both ends.

Nevertheless the evidence of the passage of time comes as a bit of a shock. 

So many of my friends have told me that the passage of time seems to accelerate as you get older that I have to accept that is the experience of many, perhaps most people, yet I have never found the individual days, months or years flying by as I lived them. I have read that many people's metabolic rate changes as they get older, making time seem to accelerate: I don't think mine has.

What certainly does happen as you get older is that periods of time which would once have seemed an eternity become a smaller proportion of the span you have lived and do not seem as long as they once would for that reason. I still have vivid memories of arriving at University, and it seems really strange to look back on those first days in Higher Education and realise that in a few week's time they will be forty years ago.

There have been  some pretty incredible changes over the years. And the rate of change is accelerating in astonishing ways. 

Twenty years after Apollo 11 it was often suggested that the average OECD household had more computing power than NASA had when they sent men to the moon.  In the last decade people in my industry would refer to particular models of telephone (the iPhone Six springs to mind) as having more computing power than NASA had when they sent men to the moon. In 2020 I strongly suspect that the computers in my main car have more computing power than NASA had when they sent men to the moon.

The social and technological change through the lifetimes of my family from my grandfather, who born in the nineteenth century during the reign of Queen Victoria and was a veteran of the First World War, to my children, who were born in the 21st century, are already immense and will almost certainly become much more so.

My grandfather worked for the former Darwen Borough Council for fifty years. His long-service award presents were a painting of Coniston Water and Old Man Coniston which now hangs in my home, and a watch.

My father worked for ICI for a little shy of thirty years. At twenty-five years his long-service award present was a teasmade - I don't know if they still exist but basically it was an combined alarm clock and kettle which made you a pot of tea when it woke you up. (The noise of the boiling water usually woke you before the alarm.) The instructions described it as the world's second best tea maker, adding "we wouldn't dare compete with a woman." You can bet your life no company in Britain would put that on a product today. 

Provided I remain employed with Openreach for another few months, which seems likely as we are one of the few companies for whose services COVID-19 has not wrecked demand but sent it through the roof, I will notch up thirty-five years with the BT group this year. My thirty-year long service present was a credit card with a sum of money which I put towards the operation to replace the lenses in my eyes so that I no longer need to wear glasses or contact lenses. It turned out that I was in the early stages of developing a cataract - so the operation also saved my sight in at least one eye.  

I know my dad and grandad appreciated their long-service awards, but mine went to something truly life-transforming.

With the changing nature of the economy, it is unlikely that my son and daughter or many of their contemporaries will spend anything like as much of their working careers with any single employer as I have and my father and grandfather did, so for their generation long-service awards may be a thing of the past. But I hope and suspect that some of the gifts they may receive in their time may be things which would be as astonishing to me as the idea of rebuilding someone's eyes would have seemed to my grandfather.


Popular posts from this blog

Nick Herbert on his visit to flood hit areas of Cumbria

Quotes of the day 19th August 2020

Quote of the day 24th July 2020