Family - W G Hoskins - Further reflections

Further reflections

... on Hoskins' beautifully written and deeply moving plea for people today to value and conserve their family stories.

Unfortunate individuals who have lost the capacity for short-term memory are sometimes said to be "surfing the Infinite Now" – even though their longer-term memories may be quite unimpaired and retentive. The late Dr Oliver Sachs has written many wonderful accounts of this. And all of us, as we get older, become aware of this in ourselves – I myself sometimes spend hours looking for my glasses, keys, credit-cards or mobile phone.

But there is a converse situation in which the latest generation of whole families can by neglect have lost their collective memory of their distant progenitors – and sadly this can be accompanied by a puddle-in-the-carpark attitude towards history in general – "olden days people were uncivilised and stupid". Oh no they weren't – in many respects they were a lot smarter and more resourceful than we are today, for all our iPads, iPhones, iTunes and so on.

If they were suddenly transported to modern times, our ancestors might well make a better fist of coping with contemporary life than we would if retrograded to their day, without electricity or running water etc. In a modern cultural parallel, this has been cleverly satirised by the Crocodile Dundee films, in which an outback-savvy Australian consistently outwits the sophisticates of modern New York, whereas they are completely out of their depth in the primal simplicities of the Aboriginal environment.

And if we could set aside our technological hubris, we might realise that our forebears very often made better use of their lives than we do today. They had a more practical and realistic take on what was truly important – and that generally meant family first and foremost. They may not have lived so long as us, but by golly they made each day count. Just see Pepys' Diaries to see just how much they accomplished in each day God granted – and yes that included (in Pepys' case anyway) a good deal of misbehaviour too!