Thursday, July 03, 2014

A hundred years

I don't know much about E equalling MC squared - happy to take Einstein's word for it - but it's certainly true that something odd happens to time when you get older. Not only does it whizz by, propelling you smartly towards decrepitude and the grave, but something happens in reverse too - to the past.

There's a lot in the media at the moment about World War 1, since it's the centenary of its beginning. When I was little, or even just young, World War 2 was a lo-o-o-ong time ago and World War 1 was more or less prehistory. And now I think: gosh, it was only 100 years ago and that's nothing. Nothing at all. 

It seems to have become more recent; which is a bizarre sensation.

I was born in 1950 and as I've said in this blog before, my parents were both very much affected by the Second World War. My dad was in the Royal Engineers from the ages of 19 - 25 and for most of that time he was overseas, in Egypt doing bomb disposal and then Belgium and Holland, building or destroying bridges. He could easily have been killed. My mother went to London at the age of 17 and was working there during the Blitz and some time thereafter. She too could easily have been killed. Naturally both parents spoke quite a lot about their war experiences - particularly my mother - and yet for a long time I felt that it all happened in such a distant past that there was little connection with my life. Yes, the past: five years before I was born. Really, really, really no time at all.

And my grandparents, of course, lived through two world wars. Two! Twenty-one years apart! Again, hardly any time at all. If the first one had finished in 1993, which feels more or less like yesterday, then what would it feel like for the second to be starting now? Appalling. Unthinkable.

My maternal grandfather, above, was in the Royal Scots and, as I've also mentioned before, was shot in the hand at Gallipoli. Again, he was lucky to survive when so many didn't. He was a printer, a compositor, in civilian life, and operated a sort of typewriter to set the type. His war injury left one of his forefingers permanently bent down to his palm and so from then on, he had only nine working fingers. I thought nothing of it (ancient history...). And as for what he witnessed at Gallipoli and elsewhere - I have no idea. I never asked. I probably didn't want to know.

Anyway. 100 years. Less than twice my life - considerably less than twice my life - and that seems to have passed in a flash. It makes you think. And even though many other people have said much the same thing, it's not till you get older that you really appreciate how short life is and how events are which you used to think were far back in time are actually quite recent.

So. Must get on.


  1. It does make you think. Was it you who said to me the other day that dates in the 1990s still feel quite recent? They do to me, too.

    This webpage is a bit American-centric (no idea who some of the people mentioned are) but it also has some food for thought about how our expectations of how time and history work are often a bit askew...

  2. i'm dropping by to wish you the happiest of birthdays, dear Isabelle!

    we'll watch the fireworks to celebrate with you!!!

  3. I certainly agree with you, and think of this often. I was born in January of 1945. I've personally known people born in the 1870s. My oldest sister in law knew a relative born in 1848. I didn't think WWII was long ago when I was little, but I did rather think WWI was long ago......We are only here for such a short bit of time. It just makes me want to be as kind as I can to everyone I meet. Many difficult things happen in even the luckiest of lives.

    And Happy Birthday! May all your days be good ones.

  4. Happy birthday, Isabelle! Way back when I was a child WWI was back in the mists of time, WWII was over a couple of years before I was born. My father spent some years in the army in the War of the Pacific during WWII, but unlike your father never spoke about it, never ever. It obviously affected him deeply - he was never a truly happy man.

  5. Yes it is the changed perspective of time left to do things that is exercising me now that I have hit 60. All the time in the world - when did that stop? 50? 40?
    It's just as well I'm minded to believe we have more than one life to get everything else done. There is a saying that one life on Earth is but a day in school.
    Happy Birthday!

  6. Happy Birthday, Isabelle. When I was a child WW2 seemed very recent as it was fresh in people's memories. My mother's parents were born in 1871 and married in 1888. and being youngest of a large family she lost 2 older brothers in WW1 and one in WW2.
    1993 seems very close, though last week is a bit hazy!

  7. Seems like yesterday. My grandfather served in the British army WWI was injured and my grandmother was his nurse. My father was in the British army WWII. My mother lived in Belgium and my grandmother(born 1883) hid British and American soldiers in her attic from the Germans. My parents married after the war. They immigrated to the US in 1950 and I was born. They are all my heroes.Patty McDonald

  8. My late great aunt married a local man, a compositor too. He left on their wedding day and she never saw him again. He is buried in Jerusalem. She never saw his grave, but lived until she was 100. My own father fought in Burma, leaving my mother with a tiny baby - I often think of the worry, and whether it contributed to the cancer that later killed her.
    I'm five years younger than you (and Happy Birthday), but I'm also shocked when I think of how recently these events took place.
    More than anything, I'm sad that in this world of so called instant communication, we don't seem to have found a way to settle differences without fighting.

  9. Tempus is certainly fugiting! I remember my dad, aged 94 and at the time living in a nursing home, saying 'Don't think time drags in here because it doesn't'. Both of my parents lived through both world wars and my dad was already a regular soldier in the Royal Army Medical Corps when WW2 broke out. He'd been orphaned at the age of 5 when his father, who survived active service in the Great War, and mother died within a week of each other in the flu pandemic. Such a lot to experience in one lifetime.

  10. Anonymous2:31 pm

    Wishing you a very happy birthday!

    I was born in 1946 and I feel that my birth might have been the culmination of celebrations to mark the end of WWII!

  11. Best wishes for your birthday dear Isabelle! This post is rather a sombre reflection on a day of celebration (?) for you...(some people don't like celebrating birthdays any more once they reach a certain age). My hubby tells them they should count themselves lucky to have lived so long. Unlike those who have been killed in wars at a young age. I found The Veg Artist's comment very sad, and the last sentence on there is so true.

  12. ARGGGGHHHH! I missed your birthday!!! I hope it was a happy one!!!

    Isn't it funny how we think about time so much more now too? Maybe because we wish we had a lot more of it? I think about this sort of thing all the time. Thinking even back to the middle of the 19th century. My g-grandmother, who was born in 1888 lived until I was 17. I knew her quite well, which gave me a connection to her parents which she knew quite well and they were born in the mid 1800's. Really, not all that long ago!

    I hope you're still birthday partying!!!!