In our world of iPhones and fast food on every corner, I think it’s difficult to appreciate historical achievements. Even in the first world countries, a hundred years ago it pretty much took all of your life just to put a meal on the table. Things weren’t much different forty years and two world wars later. These days we depend on a massive production and distribution infrastructure to keep our lives going, and it alters our perspective.
One thing that makes me realize how amazing it must have seemed for an airplane to break the “sound barrier” was the picture above. It is the HMS Conway, anchored in Bangor in Wales. It’s not the best photo and it wasn’t the sunniest of days, but the picture was taken for a reason; later that day my dad boarded the Conway and began his naval training. When my daughter saw this picture she thought my dad had been a pirate (and I’m sure my childhood would have been much more exciting if he had been).
The Conway was considered old even when my dad stepped on board (about 100 years old in these pictures), but I think the powers that be relished in the idea that a real sailor could sail a tall ship (even though she was moored just offshore). Either way, it was a normal occurrence in a person’s life; if you joined the Navy, you learnt to sail a ship.
But the people who waved their sons off on that boat would turn around and pick up newspapers reporting that half a world away a man had climbed into a rocket plane and gone faster that the speed of sound. It’s a contrast that helps me appreciate their achievement.
Do you have things that help you understand the perspective of history from the eyes of the people for whom it was news?
PS. The HMS Conway was moored off the coast of Wales in a place called Plas Newydd in Llanfairpwllgwyngyll.
Or as the Welsh would say Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.
And no, I’m not kidding. It’s no surprise that Spelling Bees have never caught on in Wales.
Really liked this post, Nigel.
My parents were born during the depression, mom in the city, dad on a remote farm. Already their stories from their childhood experiences have helped shape the atmosphere in one short story. I think, too, that their personal accounts add flavour and realism to pictures and film, I can apply their words to a movie set in the thirties and feel I know a little more about the characters’ lives than what is presented on screen.
A huge regret is that I never sat down one on one with my grandfather, who fled Russia during the revolution. I heard third party versions of his stories of soldiers coming for his father in the night. How much more he deeper he’d have taken those reminisces had I only asked, but alas, always thought there’d be time.
I have to say that I heard little of my family story from my parents. My daughter already knows more about us than I ever knew of my parents past.
The Russian revolution! Now that would be some story. I bet they thought it was just day-to-day life for them. One day baked bean cans will be treasured artifacts.
I love that photo of the HMS Conway–she was a beauty. The non-Dreadnought type ships had so much more appeal visually. Although there’s nothing wrong with a nice ironclad.
I agree that we’ve lost sight of just how much was involved in doing things “back then.” When you read about things like the clipper ship races to see which ship could get across the Atlantic fastest, or which could make the trip from the east coast of the US to California in the shortest time—it seems comically quaint now but back then it was a huge deal and so much depended on the outcome.
So you do gain a much greater understanding and respect for what life was like and a lot more respect for the accomplishments of people in earlier times.
Hello Madame Weebles.
I’m glad you like the Conway, those two pictures are quite special to me. Yes, in the days when those boats were built just getting across the Atlantic was like landing on the moon.
Hi Nigel –
I’m a living example of the history/technology contrast. I remember using a crank telephone with its big dry cells hooked up by bare wires, and I’m writing this on a laptop with a wireless connection. I grew up in a house with no running water or indoor plumbing, and I’m sitting in a $300/night hotel room with amenities we didn’t even dream of. I’ve cooked on a wood stove using a cast-iron frying pan, and when I first heard about microwave ovens and non-stick coatings, I thought they were smoke-and-mirrors gimmicks to suck in unwary consumers. We played thick, heavy 78 rpm records on a phonograph, and now I have a tiny MP3 player that holds a weeks’ worth of music. I could go on…
That makes me sound as if I was born at the turn of the last century… but it was actually years after the first manned space flight. “New technology” to me was already old news to the rest of the world. It just took a while to find its way out to the sticks.
The nice thing about growing up with primitive technology is that I never cease to marvel at today’s innovations. And, hey, if there’s ever a zombie apocalypse, I’m ready with all my low-tech survival skills. 🙂
Hummm, born at the turn of the last century? You mean you had a crank telephone in 1999? Sorry…couldn’t resist.
I remember 78s, and the piece of furniture we had to play them on. Perhaps if we do have a zombie invasion I’ll be able to lull them into defeat with a little Pat Boone before they stomp on my iPod.
I wonder if today’s children will marvel at the inventions of the future?
Have a good weekend, Diane.
Gah! Now I’ve really dated myself with that “turn of the last century” comment. But it’s not as if anybody else would date me…
All together now, awwwwwwwwwwww.
Hope you have a great weekend 😀