The phrase “Everything has changed …” was a prompt for a 10-minute writing exercise in the creative writing course I am enjoying at The Avenue Centre, Kew, where they offer an amazing array of interesting courses.
Inevitably, in 68 years so much has changed but what came immediately to mind (and with only 10 minutes one has to go with what comes forward!) was how the Algarve area in Portugal has changed, and with it many other areas in Spain, Italy, Greece and beyond.
When I first went back to Portugal, having left Lisbon when I was 4 ½, it was 1968. I was 18 and visited Lagos, which in those days was a peaceful fishing port. I remember seeing women washing their laundry in the river and drying it by the river bank. There were donkeys carrying produce from the market, women carrying water in ceramic pots on their heads, fishermen grilling fresh sardines on small barbecues on the pavement. Life was poor and basic.
Today areas of the Algarve are full of tall hotels, tower block apartment buildings, bars offering cocktails and large screens to entice football enthusiasts, plus smart golf clubs. It still has marvellous beaches and warm welcoming people but the life has changed greatly.
This led me to imagine two different women who had lived through this change. One who enjoyed the freedom that technology – a washing machine – had brought her, the other who mourned the camaraderie of the river bank and felt isolated and alone in her flat with her washing machine. I imagined the latter missing the chatter of female friends, the gossip about husbands, children, grandmothers, and it made me think about how with every step of progress there is often something that we leave behind.
On sharing the pieces we had written with the rest of the creative writing class, we talked about what had changed in our lifetimes. We particularly acknowledged the greater comfort in which most people were living now, that poverty as we describe it today is relative, when so many houses in our childhood did not have central heating, no washing machines, televisions, telephones, dishwashers, nor indoor toilets. We remembered getting dressed in bed, or in front of a Dimplex heater, because the bedrooms were so cold. We remembered how the glass of water beside our bed could sometimes have a thin sheet of ice on its surface. We remembered how cars would frequently break down when you were trying to get somewhere.
Perhaps some of you watched the wonderful Andrew Marr programmes A History of Modern Britain? https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b007n1dx/andrew-marrs-history-of-modern-britain-3-paradise-lost The most recent repeat episode was set in the 1960s and 70s, a time when I was a teenager and young adult, and I was struck by how impoverished people appeared. It showed film of the 3-day week, of factories closing, no electricity so we had to light our homes with candles, rationing of food as manufacturing was down. Marr spoke of millions of days lost to strikes and of civil unrest. It seems extraordinary, looking back at it.