Tuesday 12 December 2017

Kevin Myers: In almost every regard, childhood is richer and more interesting than it was when I was a boy

IT is one of the central axioms of history that, unless you were in a cellar in Stalingrad in 1942, or a trench in Ypres in 1917 (you get the picture) the present is generally better than the past. Yet despite this axiomatic truth, another axiom has recently emerged: that childhood isn't what it was. And that's entirely right. It's much, much better.

In almost every regard, childhood is richer and more varied and more interesting than it was when I was a boy. Food certainly is, which is one reason why so many children are obese. But in my childhood, I didn't have spaghetti or yoghurt or hamburgers or American fried chicken or mousse or taramasalata or pizza or profiteroles. Yes, my middle class family ate well: but the working classes usually ate twigs, and for Christmas, if they were lucky, would sit down to a warm haunch of road-kill. Otherwise, it would be spam or cat, and rickets for the rest of the year.

The nearest we got to central heating was two lumps of coal and occasional rumours about the Gulf Stream. On winter nights, children would slide into cold damp beds that clasped them with the clammy iciness of an undertaker's winding sheet. In the morning, we'd wake up with a couple of extra panes in each window frame, namely ice on each side of the glass. Toilet-paper seemed to consist of discarded butter-wrappings that slithered, slipped and slid. That was for us middle-classes. The upper working-classes used old newspaper. The poor used their imaginations.

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