Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Edwardian Pram

I do not know why they called it an Edwardian Pram; it seemed quite timeless to me, more 1950s than anything. But then someone suggested to me that it might have belonged to someone called Edward, with that being the era of the so-called Teddy Boys in Britain - guys in lounge suits, winklepickers and quiffs named after a King Edward who gave the word Edwardian its derivation...or have I got my history completely wrong? Not that Edward owned the pram as such, if that was the name of the baby who was originally pushed around in the pram. That particular jurisdiction of ownership was down to Edward's parents who hopefully bought the pram from a posh shop pre-dating Mothercare...

If I could travel back in time to the 1950s, you'd probably call me the Doctor. Well, I am a doctor, but not that time-travelling sort. A Doctor of Philosophy. Not philosophical philosophy as such, because, frankly, I don't know my Kant from my Descartes. No, my Social History degree is in the customs and artefacts of twentieth century Britain...which brings me back to that pram. That Edwardian Pram. And, yes, you've guessed it. It was the pram itself that was the time-traveller. Or is.

The clever question to then ask, I suggest, a question worthy of a Doctor of Philosophy like me, is that, if the Edwardian Pram can travel through time, does that necessarily mean that any occupant of that Edwardian Pram will go with it to wherever or whenever it is going? We do take certain ideas for granted, but my research meanwhile is intended to question them. When we see those Edwardian gents board an HG Wells type contraption like the one he called a Time Machine, we always assume that it will take those gents with it and one day they may become Teddy Boys in the 1950s or modern people with nothing but computers and iPhones today. But my strong factual belief is that only inanimate things like a pram or other contraptions can travel through time - but the human passengers of those contraptions will simply be left behind. That is why all those stories about the Tardis carrying passengers through time is so far-fetched.

You may feel that I am exceeding the brief of my Social History Doctorate in studying matters like who or what can time travel. But why I am here today, in front of you all on the stage in this lecture hall, is to demonstrate that such things are vitally entwined with the very fibre of our social interaction from the Twentieth Century onward, a period of our history when most of us here were born. You see, you were hand-picked to be invited to this lecture. This is really an experiment, rather than a lecture, but it's probably both. Ah, I see you are shuffling awkwardly in your seats. You obviously think I am mad. But be patient. All shall become clear ...eventually. But do feel free to leave if you wish. Good. I see that only one person has left. More or less as I expected.

Well, before I reveal the Edwardian Pram itself - indeed it has not yet arrived - let me tell you one further thing about yourselves, assuming, that is, that all the small talk among you before I arrived on the stage has not already revealed a certain specific common factor true to everyone here, even to that person who has just left the hall.

You may think some of you look slightly older than others, and therefore some look slightly younger than others, too. But you must have at least realised that you are all likely to be from the same generation. But let me tell you that there is one particular year in your era of birth, a year that all statistics and subsequent research has shown, with the give and take of some good fortune and some bad fortune in what has been made available by successive British governments since that year, yes, that year, when all of you, yes each and every one of you, was born, yes, that year, your year, was the luckiest of all years to have been born, when taking everything into account. Yes, I now see you all looking at each other and smiling as realisation dawns. Each of you already knows in which year you yourself was born, and now you know in which year everyone else around you here now looking at you with a knowingness in that look was born. Yes, that year can no longer be a secret, that year was 1948.

But I know it wasn't all good to have been born in that year. Some of you have had hard lives, harder than some others here. I think you can tell which of you have had the hardest lives simply by looking at each other, searching the eyes of your near neighbour in the audience. That's the way of life. But generally speaking, when taking the rough with the smooth, by the law of averages which is more than an average law, it is definitely true that 1948 was the best year to have been born in the Britain of recent generations. So congratulations to you all.

I just heard someone call out that some people born in 1948 are already dead. Yes, you will all die in all probability relatively soon, especially as you are today nearer 70 than 60 years of age. How lucky is that, I hear you ask.

But that takes no account of the Edwardian Pram.

Don't look mystified. There is no mystery about the Edwardian Pram. It just is. It just was. And it always will be. Moving from generation to generation, or even leapfrogging generations. Itself created in a lucky or unlucky year of manufacture like your good selves.

I'll let you meditate for a few moments...

Don't look round: it is trundling down the central aisle from the back where the entrance to the hall is. Some of you at the back have already seen it pass by your row of chairs, and those of you at the front will see it soon. Don't look round, I said! It is unlucky to look round and see it before you were intended to see it. Its wheels are squeaking, groaning even. Well, after all, it's older than you are. What do you expect?

But now it's gone. It has moved to another year, another generation, perhaps even to the end of time itself. It can't collect passengers as passengers cannot travel in time; only things can do that. That's my genuine factual belief. Even if it could take passengers, it would have to be a baby, because only a baby would fit. Or two babies at a push.

But did you see someone pushing it just now? I see some of you at the back nodding. Forgive me, but you at the back look happier now than those in the front. It's as if you at the back have realised what life is all about, what my experiment here today for my doctorate is all about, too. Proving something against the grain of one's original factual belief. You at the front should feel happy too. So long as you didn't look back.

Ah, I see what has now happened. But I didn't see it when it happened. It just is. Perhaps it always has been. Emptiness often creeps up.

You were the luckiest, after all. Not just some of you, but all of you. Gone wherever forever.

Anyway, just think about it. If a large hall of empty chairs can think about anything at all. You were definitely the luckiest year's generation. Still are. Always will be. I envy you. But at least I have the satisfaction of a successful counter-factual experiment and my doctorate assured. Sometimes you have to make the best of a bad job. The best of a bad year to be born in.

You see I was once a Teddy boy. Born in 1935.

By the way, I know I am now lecturing to nobody at all, only to those rows of empty chairs, but I can at least tell you chairs that the pram you saw or at least heard was the pram my dear late lamented Mother pushed me around in, a pram that was then secondhand and still in use from the Edwardian times of HG Wells. And she was still pushing it today in 2014, from what I could see of her from up here on the stage.

Anyone got a tissue for me? Perhaps you who left early would be so kind.

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