Imagine the world of Jane Austin: a Georgian terrace sweeps round in a gentle curve with a soft green lawn laid out before it. Across the lawn nannies push prams full of treasured young from the pampered homes of the families who employ them. In side those homes the families, and those who grind away their lives caring for their needs go about their business. Little groups are gathered in clusters chatting about this and nothing. Outside the fence along the road, gentlemen ride their horses, moving round or escorting the carriages were ladies in bonnets sit plotting their strategies for the dinner dance they will attend that evening. Everywhere is bustle and movement as a community goes about its daily life. Everyone knows everyone so that privacy is at a premium.
Now sweep to today and another Georgian terrace. Mind you, this one was built in this century but the curve of the buildings and the grass before them is almost identical. The houses are now split into flats, of course, and the stables are alloted car parking spaces with a number set aside for visitors. The neatly cut grass outside it is empty of people and the numbers of the inhabitants who can name more than two of their neighbours can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The quality of the residences implies prosperity although, in this day and age, we can never be sure if some are not clinging onto respectability by the thickness of a credit card.
None of them are local and all moved into the development recently and work for companies and industries as remote from each other as it is possible to be. Or perhaps they work in the same industry but, never speaking to each other, no one would ever know. No one resident is bound by necessity to another and their independence gives them the opportunity to achieve introspection without the knowledge or interest of their neighbours. Many have moved there from other localities and are now far from family and childhood friends.
Are these modern residents happier or sadder than their historic forbears. Has the invention of the mobile phone or satellite television allowed them to achieve a more fulfilled or peaceful life, extended by the many marvels of medical science. We are not sure. The moon which passes overhead has seen many changes, or perhaps , on some levels, has seen no changes at all. The power of choice is more certainly ours, but the uses we make of it leave us wondering at the innate wisdom of our species. Unlike other animals, we have been given the ability to understand the things we destroy, whilst living in the hope of a better future.
Some years ago, while on a journey of discovery I came across the grave of a relative who died in the 1880’s. The discovery was strangely comforting and I remember touching the stone and looking around me at the view. “We’re still here” I told him. I wondered how similar or different our lives and thoughts would be. Would our common ancestory be evident in our approaches to life.
So here we are, wriggling this way and that, saying our generation is the first, then possibly the last, or even insignificantly in the middle as, with age, the awareness of our own mortality grows. To be alive, for me , has always been a privilege. Somewhere along the line I have met people who place a value on my existence. Sometimes, if you are lucky, the sense of space around you grows till man with his whole history and the earth on which we live can seem to sit patiently at your side. In the night sky, in the eyes of someone who you love or in the courage of a child both I and my ancestor could find a common theme regardless of the age in which we were born. At that point you look up at the moon and say. “Hello, you. Were still here: different wardrobe but the same spirit”