Tomorrow, 7th March 2012 my mother will be 93 years young. This means she was born in 1919 just after the first world war. She says that one of her strongest memories is of the General Strike that took place in 1926. Although she now lives in a retirement home I am happy to say that she is ‘still very much all there’ as they say. She has many physical problems that arise from her age but her mind is sharp and she is still funny and fully in-tune with the world around her. She reads the newspaper every day and knows what is going on. Her life is quite a remarkable one in many ways. She was brought up in Hull in the North East of England; the eldest of two daughters of a local watch maker. Her grandfather had owned a fleet of sailing ships and he took my grandmother to St Petersburg before the Russian revolution (amongst many other places). My mother’s life might have remained comfortable and sedate had she not met my father who was younger than her, was training to be a Congregationalist minister and had decided to become a missionary. I have heard that my my Grandfather was not too smitten with the idea of his eldest daughter marrying a man who was intending to take her off to live a life of financial poverty in some far flung corner of the globe. Well she did marry him and shortly after the second world war they set off for Madagascar where they were to stay for nearly 20 years.
Now the point about this short piece of writing is not just to talk about how marvelous my mother is as a person. Aren’t nearly all our mother’s the most wonderful? What I really want to talk about is the impact of change on this woman’s life. I think she belongs to a generation that has seen more widespread change in their lives than any other that has existed on this planet. Sometimes when I talk to my mother she is confused by the constant reference to the internet and WWW this and WWW that. She has no interest in getting on the web and I am not sure that she has ever touched a computer in her life. I don’t think her life is in any way diminished by this. But it brings me back to my point. Just a brief run through of the changes my mother has witnessed in her life time is quite extraordinary. She grew up when the car was in its infancy. Commercial air traffic was non-existent. The telephone was a novelty. There was no television. Childhood illnesses such as Scarlet Fever were still very dangerous killers. She was friends with Amy Johnson who became the first woman to fly from England to Australia. Her mother used to cover mirrors in the house with paper when there was a thunderstorm. She saw the rise of facism in Europe and was in the army during the second world. She lost her young Air Force sweetheart in the 2nd world war. She heard about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. She celebrated peace at the end of the war. She left for Madagascar with my father on a boat from Marseille through the suez canal to Djibouti and on to Madagascar (there were no commercial flights Madagascar at this time). She celebrated the crossing of the Tropic of Capricorn on a boat. She travelled through the rainforests of Madagascar carried on a sedan chair. There were no phones in Madagascar to ‘call home’. Then she matured during the post war years. The return to England in 1965. The arrival of television, the commercial airlines, the swinging sixties, she witnessed the building and the break-up of the Eastern Block, the creation and the removal of apartheid in South Africa. She has gone from being friends with a pioneering female aviator to seeing the first space flight and then witnessing with me and my brother the first man landing on the moon.
Quite a journey. During her lifetime the world has gone through so many profound changes, political, cultural, social, economic and technological. She, like all her cohort have seen so much change. Perhaps she is allowed at her age to say she is not interested in the Internet. She has been witness to real change. She has changed. She has memories of places and things I can only glimpse at. I celebrate her and her generation. I hope she has a wonderful Birthday. She always says she is eighteen in her heart so despite all this change she has witnessed she is still a teenager.