I get some mighty strange emails sometimes, even including the odd spam in the Romanian language, but today I got an unusual missive.
It was one of those “chain” emails, where someone forwards it to someone else and then they forward it to someone else and then they forward it to you. I certainly get chain emails from time to time but what’s odd about this one is that it is about British life.
I say that’s “odd” because very few people know that I lived in England during the early 1980s. I don’t usually talk about it simply because it’s boring. It’s far more exotic and interesting to talk about my life when I was in Israel or Yugoslavia.
Nonetheless, this chain email, whether sent to me intentionally or not, is so incredibly incorrect that I became inspired to write a post about it.
By the way, the topic of the email was about how great life used to be in Britain and how it isn’t so great anymore. As the English say, it’s a complete load of bollocks :)
My mum used to cut chicken, chop eggs and spread butter on bread on the same cutting board with the same knife and no bleach, but we didn’t seem to get food poisoning..
Uh, why was your mum cutting chicken and spreading butter with the same knife? Most people have one wide-bladed (and not very sharp) knife for spreading butter and a narrow, sharper knife for cutting meat. Even very poor people would have two different knives, wouldn’t they?
And then what’s especially weird about the opening line of this email is all the talk of chicken and (chicken?) eggs.
I realize that today in Britain “curry” dishes with chicken meat and tikka masala are popular, but that’s a rather recent trend. Traditionally the popular meats eaten in Britain were mutton (sheep) and beef (cattle) and there’s a good reason for it – the climate.
Chickens are essentially a tropical animal. Sheep and cattle can handle the cold winters in Britain but chickens cannot. They need to be kept indoors in a heated shelter and so they were never very common. It’s only recently that cheap imports made it possible to eat so much chicken meat.
That being said, I suppose that it is possible that in the “good old days” the email writer’s mother was indeed serving up chicken but mutton and fried fish (and chips) were far more popular when I lived in England.
Unfortunately, as I pointed out in my post Losing our Religion, it’s rather astounding how little people know about hygiene and infectious diseases.
“Food poisoning” is a catch-all term that could mean anything from eating deadly mushrooms to feeling a bit queasy after eating a greasy meal. That being said, the primary source of “food poisoning” from chicken is c. jejuni which is found naturally occurring in many bird species (including chicken).
Washing or not washing mummy’s cutting board with bleach won’t make a lick of difference. What matters is that the meat is cooked at a high enough temperature that the bacteria are killed. Chicken is somewhat unique in that undercooked meat is rather easy to spot by even an amateur cook – it has a bright pink color and is gelatinous and very unappealing.
Furthermore, what’s far more important than using bleach (or not) is whether mummy used water to wash her cutting board and that everyone washed their hands before eating. I realize that many people today put great stock in antibacterial soaps and bleach and other things but frankly it is overkill.
Let me put it more simply: washing your hands does 99% of the work in preventing infectious diseases while bleach and soap does the last 0.9% of the work.
The second most common source of “food poisoning” is salmonella, which can be found in a lot of animals, including but not limited to poultry (and chicken). Again, cooking the meat properly and washing your hands (and the cutting board) will do 99% of the work to prevent infection.
If dear old mumsy was cutting raw chicken and then making sandwiches on a dirty cutting board, she was awfully sloppy.
All that being said, I assure the author of the email that plenty of people got sick from food poisoning even in the “good old days” as King Henry (of England) can certainly attest.
Our school sandwiches were wrapped in wax paper in a brown paper bag, not in ice pack coolers, but I can’t remember getting e… coli
Again, this shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how infectious diseases propagate. A chilled lunch containing e. coli is just as lethal as a room temperature lunch packed in wax paper.
That being said, there is a huge difference between modern farming techniques and the “good old days”. Hooved animals (primarily cattle) do not have e. coli in their systems unless they eat corn (maize). If they eat only grass, they will never, ever be susceptible to an e. coli infection (and thus pass it on to the person eating their flesh).
Nowadays, all cattle are fed corn before they are slaughtered while in the past it was a much rarer practice.
Furthermore, the only way an animal (or human) can ever contract e. coli is by consuming feces (shit). So one glob of infected shit in a modern high-volume slaughterhouse can contaminate an enormous amount of meat. So yeah, kids eating in those halcyon wax paper days certainly had a lower risk of dying from e. coli consumption but mostly that was because slaughterhouses were smaller and because more cows ate grass, not the temperature of their lunches.
Almost all of us would have rather gone swimming in the lake or at the beach instead of a pristine pool (talk about boring), no beach closures then.
Swimming pools in Britain were (and still are) extremely rare, so “boring” or not, most kids would’ve had no choice but to swim in the beach or a lake. Even wealthy Britons today rarely have swimming pools, which is a cultural choice derived from French and continental ideas about gardens and landscaping.
Furthermore, maintaining a swimming pool requires a lot of chemicals, especially those derived from chlorine (such as chloramine). Making those chemicals cheaply enough to use for swimming pools requires a well-developed chemical industry, which really only took off after World War 2. It’s not likely that the average Briton would’ve had ready access to chloramine until recently.
We all took PE ….. and risked permanent injury with a pair of Dunlop sandshoes instead of having cross-training athletic shoes with air cushion soles and built in light reflectors that cost as much as a small car. I can’t recall any injuries but they must have happened because they tell us how much safer we are now.
The one time the writer is correct is in this paragraph.
I used to be horrified and yet fascinated by the now-extinct Chinese custom called foot binding. By carefully wrapping and stretching the human foot (of girls), the Chinese discovered it was possibly to radically deform it for aesthetic purposes.
But what most people don’t know is that wearing shoes, any kind of shoes at all, does the exact same thing. If you’re reading this and you wear shoes regularly, your feet are deformed. People who grow up without wearing shoes (as millions of people do, but usually in places without the internet) have much wider feet and their toes are splayed or spread further apart.
Secondly, it turns out that the more padded and cushioned the shoes, the greater the injuries you will suffer:
Okay, but what about a good pair of athletic shoes? After all, they swaddle your foot in padding to protect you from the unforgiving concrete. But that padding? That’s no good for you either.
Consider a paper titled “Athletic Footwear: Unsafe Due to Perceptual Illusions,” published in a 1991 issue of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. “Wearers of expensive running shoes that are promoted as having additional features that protect (e.g., more cushioning, ‘pronation correction’) are injured significantly more frequently than runners wearing inexpensive shoes (costing less than $40).”
According to another study, people in expensive cushioned running shoes were twice as likely to suffer an injury — 31.9 injuries per 1,000 kilometers, as compared with 14.3 — than were people who went running in hard-soled shoes.
So yeah, those thin-soled shoes from Ye Olde Good Days were actually much healthier than the most advanced, modern shoes that kids wear today.
We were punished for doing something wrong at school, they used to call it discipline yet we all grew up to accept the rules and to honour & respect those older than us.
Of course this is utter bollocks as well, as Alice Miller and thousands of studies have shown.
Corporal punishment and/or “discipline” is what is called negative reinforcement. You do something bad and then something bad is done to you. Positive reinforcement is when you do something good and something good (a reward) is done to you.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re dealing with cats, dogs, humans or parrots, positive reinforcement always works much, much better. Even casinos know to design their jackpots and other games along these principles. Nobody gets a nasty electric shock when they lose money but they damn sure get a lot of flashing lights and rewards when they win.
Furthermore, if “respecting elders” was such a common thing in Ye Olde Good Days then why is it the Fourth (or sometimes Fifth, depending on how you number it) Commandment in the Bible?
Clearly if people were already “respecting the elderly” then Moses wouldn’t need to inscribe it on his stone tablets, would he? After all, there’s no Commandment to “sleep when you’re tired” or anything else people do naturally.
I also don’t see a shred of evidence that “youngsters” are any less respectful of older people today than they were at any other random time in history.
We had 30+ kids in our class and we all learned to read and write, do maths and spell almost all the words needed to write a grammatically correct letter……., FUNNY THAT!!
Strangely enough, there’s a lot of studies that show that class size follows an inverse “U”, which means that if class sizes are too big or too small then the kids don’t learn as well. The upper effective limit (subject to intense debate in education circles) is somewhere around 20-22 kids so I highly doubt that “30+” was effective.
That being said, there is also a second debate (educators love to debate!) about whether to teach English by the “whole word” method (learning entire words by rote memorization) or the “phonics” method. In the Good Old Days the “whole word” method was more common, and it does seem that this is far more effective than the more modern “phonics” method.
Of course this is only an issue in English as most languages in the world are highly (but not entirely!) phonetical. The only completely phonetical language is Finnish but Romanian, Spanish and Russian come close. English, having been descended from a wide variety of sources, is practically impossible to spell and is nowhere close to being phonetical, which makes it damn difficult to learn.
Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, had to learn English as an adult. His difficulties in learning the language are what prompted him to write the children’s books (and advertising slogans before that) the way that he did (as I’ve written about before).
We all said prayers in school and sang the national anthem, and staying in detention after school caught all sorts of negative attention.
Yeah, I know this system quite well, because it freaked me out.
We all had to gather every morning to belt out God Save the Queen and then we got a little religious homily from the headmaster. Mind you, all of the religious stuff was Church of England, a religion I never once belonged to, so it was all in a strange and mysterious format to me.
Did those prayers or singing God Save the Queen do anything beneficial to me whatsoever? Hell no. Frankly the only purpose it served was to reinforce obedience to authority and didn’t help me learn anything or improve my education.
We also learnt our times table by reciting them every day. I thought that I was supposed to accomplish something before I was allowed to be proud of myself.
Yeah, in Britain I also got introduced to this concept (which was odd to me) of reciting things over and over. In America we just did the fucking math problem without standing at attention and reciting things like little parrots.
I’ve since been introduced to other school systems in different parts of the world and I still find it bizarre to have the whole class stand up and chant things in unison.
And if you can recite the times tables, does that mean you’ve really learned anything? I mean I listen to Icelandic swing music (here’s a YouTube video) and I can sing along to the words but do I understand them? No sir, I do not. I’m repeating the sounds because I’ve heard them so often but I still don’t speak Icelandic or understand what it is that she’s singing about.
If you really want to learn basic math skills, you don’t need to recite things like a twat, you need to get yourself an abacus. A lot of people think of these as something only Asian cultures use but I know some people in Romania grew up learning with them as well. They were also part of the education system in the Soviet Union (which includes Moldova, where I now live).
I actually learned basic math (in America) with something called a “minicomputer”, which wasn’t an electronic gadget but a cardboard square.
It was a weird way to learn arithmetic but it made understanding a lot of computer programming easier, including the base 16 or hexadecimal system. Every single color you see on your screen is notated in HTML using Base 16, which is why the color white is FFFFFF.
I just can’t recall how bored we were without computers, Play Station, Nintendo, X-box or 270 digital TV cable stations. We weren’t!!
Of course kids in Ye Olden Golden Days weren’t bored by not having things that didn’t even fucking exist. I am sure kids today aren’t bored because they don’t have jetpacks or flying cars or lasers or whatever else will be commonplace in the future as well.
Likewise, I am sure that Victorian Era kids weren’t bored because they didn’t have telephones and I am also sure that Elizabethan Era kids weren’t bored because they didn’t have phonographs.
Oh yeah … and where was the antibiotics and sterilisation kit when I got that bee sting? I could have been killed!
Again, a colossal failure to understand basic hygiene and infections. Nobody today (or ever) needs antibiotics for a bee sting. What causes people to suffer and die is something called anaphylactic shock, otherwise known as an allergy.
Assuming you don’t have an allergic reaction to a bee sting, the puncture wound of the insect’s stinger is not big enough to radically increase your risk of infection from a secondary source. In other words, either a bee sting hurts but you have no other injury or else your body rapidly goes crazy and you die.
In fact, some people go into anaphylactic shock from taking antibiotics so the very last thing a doctor will do is administer antibiotics to someone who was stung by a bee. Jesus!
For people who do have allergic reactions to bee stings, the modern course of treatment is the administering of epinephrine, which is a form of adrenaline.
We played “King of the Hill” on piles of gravel left on vacant building sites and when we got hurt, mum pulled out the 2/6p bottle of iodine and then we were punished.
Now it’s a trip to the emergency room, followed by a 10 day dose of antibiotics and then mum calls the lawyer to sue the contractor for leaving a horribly vicious pile of gravel where it was such a threat.
The author is right about this one, but not for the reasons that I am sure he thinks.
To put it simply, throughout most of history, infant and child mortality rates were a lot higher than they are today. Even as recently as the Victorian Era, there was a tradition of not giving a child a (formal) name until he or she was 5 years old. Roughly speaking, 4 out of 6 kids would’ve died in infancy or early childhood.
That’s pretty horrific to think about, children being (essentially) expendable, but it (again) was due to a lack of understanding about hygiene and nutrition. If kids are regularly dying, and large families are the norm, then yes, it’s perfectly understandable why you won’t mind (overly much) if the kids go horse around and get themselves injured.
Nowadays, when you’ve only got a single child (or possibly two), then of course the kids are going to be more precious and valued, so yes, rushing them to the hospital makes perfect sense.
By the way, this isn’t just me making grand statements without evidence. In Britain there was a popular magazine targeted at young boys called Boy’s Own Paper that was published from 1879 to 1967.
If you look through those editions, you will notice that many of the activities and projects that were encouraged for boys were incredibly dangerous. There are recipes for building (small) bombs and projects that required handling unstable and toxic chemicals.
As time went on, and infant mortality rates dropped, the hobbies and projects got a lot safer and more in line with activities that are recommended for children today.
A hundred years ago, British families had an average of 3.5 (surviving) children while today it is fewer than 2 (with almost no deaths), meaning many, many parents have just a single child.
To top it off, not a single person I knew had ever been told that they were from a dysfunctional family.
How could we possibly have known that?
The novel Anna Karenina was published in 1873 and starts with the famous line:
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
The word “dysfunctional” wasn’t used but clearly “unhappy” families existed long before the author was born.
What’s even weirder is that studies have shown that people from dysfunctional families sometimes are driven by that circumstance to be extremely ambitious.
Winston Churchill, probably the most famous British person in modern history, was estranged from his family, raised by a nanny and was sent off to boarding school at a young age. He later said that his father “almost never” even spoke to him.
Is that a “dysfunctional” family? Well, you tell me, but it certainly was not a happy family.
We never needed to get into group therapy and/or anger management classes. We were obviously so duped by so many societal ills, that we didn’t even notice that the entire country wasn’t taking Prozac!
Prozac was first sold in 1987, so of course nobody was taking it before then.
That being said, a similar drug called Miltown (also known as Equanil) was released in 1955 and rapidly became the most prescribed (and most profitable) drug in history. Obviously, people in Britain, even in Ye Olden Golden Days, were taking a lot of this shit.
Miltown had a lot more side effects and was far more addictive than Prozac, and there are many Hollywood movies from the “Golden Age” and stories about celebrities becoming junkies and zoned-out zombies because of Miltown, which is why it’s banned today.
As for “anger management classes” and therapy, it is believed today that shell shock (now known as PTSD) incapacitated more British soldiers in WW1 than all physical injuries combined.
How did the British government respond to this? By censoring all mention of it, of course. Yes, keep a “stiff upper lip” and repress everything, I’m sure that’s the healthy way to take care of it, wot, wot!
Fucking hell. God knows how many British fathers came back from that war and did unholy things to their wives and children.
How did we ever survive?
LOVE TO ALL OF US WHO SHARED THIS ERA.
AND TO ALL WHO DIDN’T, SORRY FOR WHAT YOU MISSED.
I WOULDN’T TRADE IT FOR ANYTHING!
Pass this to someone and remember that life’s most simple pleasures are very often the best.
AAAAh, those were the days my friend, yes those WERE the days.
Yes, those were the fucking days. Personally, I’d rather have my computer and internet, my adrenaline shot and my therapy (if I need it) and my (theoretical) kids not getting tetanus from playing in abandoned construction sites.
But hey, that’s just my opinion as someone who actually lived in the “good old days”.