Actress Joanna Lumley is reported to have said that British kids are being raised with “slack” morals. The 64-year-old Absolutely Fabulous star said the younger generation needed to be given “hearty pursuits” like building camps or working on farms.
How right she is. In the fifties, boys used to join the Boy Scouts. Flat feet, bunions, pigeon toes, corns, ingrowing toenails – nothing would get you out of the Scouts. You had real “man’s” morals drilled into you. The scoutmaster had probably been in Burma or somewhere in the war and would regale you with tales of hardship. Like, how he and his platoon were lost in the jungle and had to live on a banana between twenty of them for a fortnight. A bit like Get Me Out Of Here, I’m A Celebrity.
That was the life. Summer camps for poor kids were in North Wales. The scouts would get up at four o’clock in the morning, not having slept since they left home, days ago, and have a leisurely dip in the crystal clear Welsh mountain stream, dodging the ice floes as they went thundering by. Funny, though, you’d find that when the scoutmasters got up, at mid-day, they’d boil a kettle of water for a wash, because “you can’t shave in cold water.”
Uniforms. That’s what gave kids strong morals in Joanna’s day. Everyone wore a uniform. Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, Wolf Cubs, Brownies, Boys’ Brigade, Cadets… and the grown-ups wore them, too. Bus drivers and conductors, postmen and postwomen, cinema usherettes, brass bands, butchers, bakers, coalmen, milkmen, dustmen, railway porters (they were people who used to carry your bags and generally help you at the station). Police, ambulance crews, firemen (sorry, there weren’t any firewomen) and nurses, shop workers and factory workers. There was a hierarchy of uniforms in factories. The foremen and supervisors wore white coats, as did clever people who worked in the labs or testing. Shop floor men wore brown “cow-gowns” and the women wore dark blue smocks. Maintenance men would dress in dark blue boiler suits and carpenters in brown bib and braces. Cleaning ladies and tea trolley ladies were special because they got to wear flowered smocks.
The point is, everyone knew their place. You knew who to respect and who to look down on. Who wears uniform these days? Very few in civvy-street. Postmen – Men in Shorts, and…not many others.
Joanna said, “There was one ‘crime’ during the whole time I was at school, when a fountain pen went missing. Stealing just didn’t happen. I was taught not to shoplift, not to steal, not to behave badly. We weren’t even allowed to drop litter.” Unlike the scout troop camping near Penmaenmawr in 1957 who, to avoid recognition, would all tie their shoelaces as they marched past the window of the village shop where they’d nicked postcards, rock, fags, Mars Bars, kites, baked beans, comics, pencils. Oh, and a fountain pen. The thing is, though, in those days, at least they knew they were doing wrong, because their parents had drilled it into them.
Ms Lumley also added that in Ethiopia, a seven-year-old is expected to take 15 goats out into the fields for the whole day with only a chapati to eat and his whistle. Well, to be fair, on council estates across the UK in the spud picking season you used to find tractors loading up their open trailers with mums and kids as young as two, going out into the fields for the whole day with only bread and jam to eat and no whistles. Maybe Joanna herself used to do that, assuming her mum went spud-picking, of course. But she’s on the right track – that couldn’t happen these days. The nanny state is very over-protective where under-fives and farming machinery are concerned.
Joanna is simply bemoaning the passing of a Golden Age when life in Britain was organised, when kids respected adults and neighbours knew each others’ names. St. George’s Day parades saw dads marching together, para-military style, in black berets, ahead of the sons in Scout troops with half-a-dozen military bands making the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. The Scouts. Great young kids, marching along, armed to the teeth with sheath knives, hand-axes, six inch bladed flick-knives, better equipped, you might say, than… well, the Brigade of Ghurkas, following behind with just a single Khukhri knife each. But they were safe, back then. They were educated by their parents not to use this armoury irresponsibly and so they just used their weapons to chop up a few twigs for the camp fire at cocoa time.
By comparison, British kids of today are rotten to the core. A bunch of monkeys – losers and wasters who are doomed to a life of uselessness from the moment they speak their first word, which, as likely as not will be, “Facebook”, or “Twitter”, or “Topup.” By the age of seven, they can configure the TCP/IP settings on a laptop, diagnose speed problems on a broadband link, and discuss the latest iPhone apps. Can they carry an empty cup from the table to the sink? No. Can they switch a light off? No. Are they the most inconsiderate, disrespectful, idle, slovenly, selfish, greedy people it’s been your misfortune to have known in your life? They sure are.
So, what’s to be done about this problem? Well, any parent will tell you it’s up to the British Government and the teachers to sort it out. Any teacher will tell you it’s up to the government and the parents. If the teachers taught the kids to behave, if they knew how to control their classes, then the children would get a decent education and get good jobs and all turn out to be model citizens. So the government should make sure they get better teachers. Until then the kids aren’t going to change. If the parents taught the kids to behave, if they taught them respect and good manners, then they’d behave at school and get a decent education and good jobs… you know the rest.
It seems then, that the parents and the teachers can’t agree. Nobody seems to want to discipline anyone any more. The roots of this attitude can be traced back to the Golden Age when Love was all around. When Peace was the watchword. In fact, when Joanna’s generation were the young mums and dads. Oh, Happy Day.