This song reminds me so much of the many changes that have occurred since my teenage years and the way of life with the young today; in all areas of a teenager’s life, especially the differences between then and now in the communication channel change of life that has occurred in 60 years. Please note, I merely identify these distinctions and leave it to yourself to decide whether or not they represented an improvement in the lives of the growing teenager.
A quick run through these differences will highlight the stark distinction in being a young person then and today. First, there was greater and more discipline in the community, school and the home. Get caught doing anything wrong and you’d get a good cuff around the head as a standard and acceptable reprimand of the times from neighbour, teacher and parent. Next, all children and young persons were at the bottom of the pecking list of consideration (excepting infants). Children respected their elders and they stood up straight in public as opposed to the slovenly slouch that is too often seen today. They also automatically gave up their seats on public transport to all women and senior citizens. They may have had as many nasty thoughts in their heads as do children of today, but the thoughts remained unspoken in the presence of adult company and at least the pretence of parental respect was there for all to see and the younger children to learn from.
When mum placed a plate of sandwiches on the table should guests be present, the golden rule for all children and young persons was never to take the first sandwich or the last sandwich standing; even if one was starving. Even the teenagers, when we fought a street fight, we would use only our fist. few fights between lads would rarely produce more than a black eye or split lip, and no fight would ever continue when the boy losing issued the words to stop,'give up!' Were we to kick the other youth, the community would ostracise us instantly and the other boys would brand us 'dirty fighters' and 'cowards', This condemnation from one's peer group was sufficient to shame the offender thoroughly While the teenagers sometimes carried knives in their pockets, these were pen-knives used for cutting string and paring apples and never cutting up other boys in skirmishes or unprovoked assaults!
Most working-class boys and girls left school at 15 years of age and entered the mill or factory, or if they were very lucky, they obtained apprenticeships. The farthest a factory or mill worker would hope to progress in a lifetime’s service to the same firm would be to become a working foreman and get paid by monthly salary instead of a weekly brown wage packet. The lucky boys got a trade under their expanding waist belt whenever possible, and the lucky girls became office workers or got an apprenticeship as a hairdresser, with dreams of one day working for themselves.
Their 5-year-apprenticeship hardly paid them enough to live and keep as a bit of spending money. Such small wages made this a profession only for girls with wealthier parents, who would take a reduced rate of 'board and keep' off them weekly. Their first two years as an apprentice hairdresser would see the apprentice making cups of tea, washing up and sweeping the floor all day and all week long. Only on their third year of apprenticeship would they be allowed to exchange washing floors for washing the hair of clients, and it would be year four before they got their hands on a pair of scissors or perming tongs! Privileged hairdressing apprentices might be allowed to take out the rollers in the permed head of some clients. Lucky office workers would be invited to attend night classes to advance their typing skills. Their ultimate job to aspire to would be that of a 'personal secretary' or an 'office manager'.
All young workers of the 1950s and 60s handed their unopened wage packet to mum each wage day and received ‘spending money’ in return. They had no grounds for complaint as their father, the main breadwinner also handed his unopened wage packet to his wife; the financial manager of the house. The only exception occurred if the boy or girl was officially engaged to be married in the distant future. Were that the case, they would then be charged a peppercorn 'board and keep' rate that allowed them to save up for their ‘bottom drawer’.
This is the way things were and remained until the 1960s got into stride. By the end of the 1960s and the 1970s was ushered in, the world had been turned upside down, and society and its social conventions had gradually changed beyond recognition.
My early life witnessed very few murders in the country in a year, and when the culprit was apprehended and arrested (which they always were), they were sentenced to be hanged by the neck until dead, without exception! The last person to receive the death penaly in England was 1964. Even by the early 1970s, many young offenders caught committing a second theft, or a common assault would receive a minimum Borstal sentence of two years. They would enter Borstals with little work prospects as an offender, but would all be eventually discharged having completed a recognised apprenticeship in the building trade, carpentry, plumbing, painting and decorating or car mechanics. One of my very close friends today willingly admits that ‘being committed to Borstal for a couple of years at the age of 14 years educated and prepared him for working life better than any school ever could’. He has never signed on the dole in his life, even during times he had no earnings, and he has worked for himself for the past 40 years.He works hard and earns a modest wage, but is proud to be able to do so.
Today’s song reminds me of those older days before society was to witness significant changes in all the aforementioned areas mentioned, and none more than in its communication chains between boyfriends and girlfriends.
When I was a romantic 16/17-year-old and had a girlfriend, between one date and another, there would often be a deadly silence of nil contact to endure. These were days without laptops, computers, mobile phones or any of the methods teenagers use today to correspond with girlfriends from the sanctity of their bedroom. If ever a boyfriend and girlfriend wanted to speak to each other between one date and another, unless the young man was prepared to knock on her door and risk the wrath of her father opening it, there was only one other resource open to him.
He went up to your bedroom and wrote her a letter and posted it before the last post that day (these were the days of two posts daily). If you were lucky and she still held you in high esteem, you would get a letter back from her the very next day, smelling of sweet perfume and suggesting all manner of improprieties when you next met without making any specific promises!
These were the days when all young boys and girls were good spellers and were able to do mental arithmetic and add up quicker than any fast-fingered youngster today could access the answer by computer. These were the days that boys and girls needed to be able to spell good enough in order to write letters to each other! These were the days they needed to be able to mentally calculate, so that they could instantly work out how many minutes they would have to spend alone before next being in some girl or boy’s arms! Simple!
Love and peace. Bill xxx