Our Age-Of-Distractions

It’s an old topic for me, but do you ever take notice of the town you live in?  I admit it’s something I do more since getting older and hitting thirty.  Now I can’t get from point A to point B without standing for ten minutes and wondering what some palatial Victorian building used to be, before it was a Pound Shop.  I can’t pass a post box without taking a photo of it  and marvelling that it’s stood there for over 120 years with who knows how many different kinds of people popping post into it – World War One soldiers home on leave, Boar war wives posting fresh socks to South Africa and starving marchers walking from Jarrow in the thirties, sending a postcard back to tell their families they’re fine.

This week, with Manchester Meanders shortlisted for the MBA I discovered another shortlisted blog, The Pubs of Manchester  which has certainly reminded me of the heritage surrounding us.  Is it just me, of when you see the old black and whites of grumpy factories and bedraggled slate roofs, do you feel a sadness?  When I see old industrial scenes I always remember the smell and feel of my late granddad’s old house in Withington, the dusty tea leaf kind of smell and the nicotine stained walls.  Regime and uniformity were more important then, life was lived around rules, habits and schedules.  Even TV stuck to certain schedules instead of the constant squirt of drivel we know today.  I’m not saying the past was perfect (what a cliché) with its domestic abuse, drink driving, homophobia and other isms, but something about the fact a whole different world has almost completely disappeared makes me very unhappy.  I’m not going to start wailing about Carlos Tevez and todays demonstrations in New York, it’s just that the past is important and I feel like I have to search Greater Manchester myself trying to make some sense of it.  I have to try to patch together an idea of my ancestors and the lives they lived, and what they’ve passed on to me, meanwhile thanks to my comprehensive education I can talk for an hour on the Romans, the Vikings, the Nazis and the Spanish Armada.

I got in my car this afternoon, in this mood, and drove around Leigh, Westhoughton and Atherton, taking lots of photos and getting out and having a walk around too.  In Westhoughton there’s a huge area of desolation where there used to be open cast mining.  It’s the location, funnily enough of the oldest colliery shower-block in the world, and it’s still standing.  I walked into the mucky countryside which the council have tried to establish on top of the slag-heaps and theundulating ground and there was a fire burning somewhere and it was raining and it all felt very depressing and atmospheric. And in the middle behind a mesh of barbed wire and over a very abnormally orange stream, there was a lonesome telephone pole and four horses standing still in silence.  I know they’re not pit ponies, it’s the eighties since these mines were working, but it felt timeless.  I fed them an apple and wondered how many people had walked into this landscape and wondered what life would have been like before our age-of-distraction. 

Lots of cultures value the past and their ancestors but I get the feeling we’re not all that bothered.  So I took some photos and tried to make them look retro, and I wrote a poem for your Sunday evening pleasure.  Have you discovered your family’s history, your local heritage, your national past?  Do you marvel at signs left over from another era, or do you think it’s best to move on, plug your I-pod earphones in and try not to think about anything? (A bias question perhaps?)

History Lessons
The kind of history schools teach is shite
A history of facts and figures, and I ask what and why
And it is Hitler – and they say ‘so we don’t forget.’
Instead of our past they learn Jews and Krystalnacht
They can list Auschwitz deaths but not Pretoria’s or Peterloo’s
They don’t know that their granddads died, what they did, or didn’t do
So we won’t forget and repeat –  but – since World War Two
There’s been more killed than those five-point-two million Jews
From the Polish pogroms when those Jews got home to more abuse
And Poles living in their homes dispatched them in the woods.
Russian allies slipped four times as much at least
Up the Road of Bones, to the gulag cemeteries.
In fifties China Mao’s Great Leap Forward
And another forty million people dead.
Then across to Indonesia five or six million died
In the sixties – almost as many as Hitler’s genocide.
What do you call four million Vietnamese?
Burnt in napalm sweeps of jungle incinerating trees
Over borders in Cambodia two million died
At the hands of the Khmer Rouge nineteen seventy five.
So genocide has happened ever since around the globe
Genocide continued before the Jew’s had even got home
So why do British kids not know their history?
Of collapsing mines, closing mines, front lines and hard times
Of means tests, unions, rationing and picket lines
Of grandparents and their parents trying hard to make things better
So their offspring won’t have to work as hard and suffer
Forgotten – folks who built our roads, and tracks and trains and rivers
Working six days and on the seventh thanking God for all he’s given.
It’s sad about the Jews but what about voting, war and oppression
Empire, cotton, pubs and parks and LS Lowry’s impressions.
The school kids think evil comes in one shape and size
It’s German, dressed in black and has bespectacled eyes
And when America dropped bombs on Japan it couldn’t do otherwise
And likewise it was for freedom when they fought the Vietnamese
And now,  the war in Afghanistan must be right?
Who knows, since the history they teach in schools is shite.
Thanks for comments etc.

6 thoughts on “Our Age-Of-Distractions

  1. Great post. 🙂 I love looking at all the old buildings in Manchester. The city is very eclectic but you don’t notice unless you take the time sit back and look up.

    You should take a look inside John Ryland’s Library – It’s like Hogwards. Have you ever walked around the inside of the town hall? I’ve been to a couple of meetings in there and I’ve been to the café, but I’ve been told you are allowed to wander around the place. If you’ve ever looked in at night when it is lit up you’ll see some of the rooms are very intricately designed.

    Great poem too – I didn’t take history so I can’t really comment on what they teach. I don’t remember learning any modern history.

    • I hate Harry Potter so sell it to me another way!!
      Joking, I know the library from the outside, and I can go in, I have joint membership at my uni, but no I’ve never been in the TH, tbh I was walking past the other day and there was an art exhibit on and I didn’t have the guts to go in because art exhibitions are sometimes a bit, you know, glam, and I was just on my way to primark to buy some socks. I’ll go in for sure when I’m next nearby. Do you think you can roam around with a camera??

      • Loads of people were roaming around with cameras when I was in there.

        There were a couple of exhibitions on when I went – they were in dark gloomy rooms (one of the things I loved about the place – Forget Harry Potter – just enjoy the spooky gloom!) You can’t photograph the exhibitions but you can everything else.

  2. I’m also one who wonders what it must have been like in the past when others now long gone were going around their daily business in the cobbled streets I am walking down, or once treading the worn down stone steps I am walking on.
    No time in history has ever been perfect, one imperfection, or “ism” or whatever the ills of the day usually is replaced by another, be it racism with materialism etc. but each phase of history has good bits too and we need to remember the good with the bad.
    I think that trying to learn from the mistakes of history and to not take on the worst faults of our own time is one of the hardest lines to walk for all modern societies, treasure and respect the past, but live like there is a good and less greedy, self indulgent future for us and our kids… and let’s try and make a future one that generations to come will not look at us in shame for.
    There are always two sides to the coins of injustice, war, evil, and no country that ever fought a war can truthfully claim that they carried out no atrocities towards innocents… it’s right to remember that too.
    Great post.

    • I always have some residual anti-American feeling when I write angry poems…I love Americans but I hear a lot about American foreign policy at my work and it blows my mind how they get away with some of the stuff they get away with. Of course you’re right, Britain has done some rotten stuff over the centuries and I don’t mention that, but we focus so much on making one bad guy, and everything else black and white. We need to know the history so we can see where we’re going…what if we’re getting more greedy and self indulgent and can’t see it. Things are changing so fast with all this technology, in ten years we’ll look back and not recognise our own era. I do that about the nineties, it might aswell been biblical times it seems that different when I think back!! Thanks for commenting! how’s your 101 in 1001 going?

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