The past is a scarily strange place. When I was Fraser's age, I was told stories of my dad, when he was a boy, stopping in his tracks to watch the airplanes flying overhead. As all nine-year-old boys have come to an abrupt halt at the sight of a flying machine ever since the Montgolfier brothers first put a sheep, a duck and a rooster in a basket and sent it skywards attached it to an absolutely enormous balloon, I could relate to these tales. That the planes were painted with Swastikas and were dropping bombs, however, seemed like something from another age even then. If the punchlines had involved dinosaurs rather than Nazis, the anecdotes wouldn't have felt a whole lot further removed from my way of life. Weirdly, tales of foreigners trying to launch livestock into space would have been almost topical in comparison...
Now I'm a dad and telling my kids stories of when I was nine myself, it doesn't feel like the world of today is so radically different from the world of my youth... OK, I suppose I don't have a stockpile of bin bags and tinned food in anticipation of nuclear Armageddon. And there's peace in Northern Ireland. And apartheid is over. But, you know, Last of the Summer Wine and Songs of Praise are still on telly on a Sunday evening and Fraser recently got pyjamas with Imperial Stormtroopers on them. Life hasn't changed much...
Er... Has it?
I used to think not but a couple of things in the last week have made me think again. May I present Exhibit A:
Ah, yes, The Game of Life, circa 1982. We picked it up while on holiday for a couple of quid in a charity shop (because four games consoles, digital TV, numerous DVDs and a small library of books apparently weren't enough to keep the children quiet). Sarah and I both have fond memories of playing the game as kids and hoped it would lead to many happy hours gathered round the board with our own family.
Well, it was worth a shot. Seen through adult eyes, The Game of Life isn't vastly more involving than Snakes and Ladders - it's just much more complicated. There's plenty of reading and accounting to keep players busy but it mostly comes down to spinning the spinner and moving the indicated number along the path.
Nonetheless, the real shock was how anachronistic it feels. Players have jobs for life, get married young and frequently end up with five or more children. (Spouses and kids are represented by extra pegs in the plastic car playing-pieces. The cars only have space for four children each but the instructions encourage extras to be packed in any old how, 'just like in real life'. Frightening.) Buying stocks is bound to pay off in the long-term, life insurance can't fail, attending university always brings financial advantage, donating to charity is compulsory and a life of endeavour ultimately leads to retirement with a big bundle of cash. Best of all, if you discover uranium, you make pots of money rather than dying mysteriously and painfully.
Life is apparently about achievement and acquisition, with a touch of philanthropy on the side. How very Baby Boomer. Or am I reading too much into it? Maybe humanity always appears the same in every age when looking back with hindsight.
Fortunately, we haven't always had to wear knitted tank tops:
Gosh. Don't they look ready for a refreshing drink of SodaStream and a Pot Noodle. There's probably a photo of those parents that was taken a decade later yet in which they look ten years younger thanks to a combination of a change of clothes, a make-over and their kids having left home. Of course, the '90s edition of The Game of Life is unlikely to have these rejuvenated individuals on the cover. I imagine that that features impossibly excited kids, little plastic pieces flying everywhere and a small disclaimer about how the pieces don't really fly and that the kids aren't included.
Times have changed...
Also on holiday, we went to see some clowns putting on a show in the local town hall. I wondered why there was a steaming DeLorean parked outside but then I went in to discover that the clowns in question had clearly escaped from a kids' party in 1985. Their backdrop was worn and faded and was hung with a string of triangular Union Jacks that were almost certainly left over from the royal wedding (or, worse, the Silver Jubilee). In the interval they sold crisps and plastic bowler hats while Agadoo played in the background. For added authenticity, the music was on tape - we could tell because it warbled in that way which happens when the cassette needs taken out and banged against a table. The memories... It was like being back in an age when watching someone balance a broom on their chin was the pinnacle of entertainment.
I dozed off and dreamt about vampires and a fridge full of hamsters. Pie-shaped hamsters. It was far more riveting.
Then again, maybe it's not the world that's changed, so much as me. The children loved the clowns (brooms and all) and insisted on playing The Game of Life every night. Bearing this in mind, I'm thinking I might go and top up my supply of bin bags and tinned food in case the whole swine flu thing escalates. There's probably an energy crisis and a Tory government around the corner too.
Not sure I'm quite convinced enough to buy any stocks just yet, though...
Yours in a knitted tank top,