Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Way We Were

RHYS BOWEN: Happy Labor Day to All in America!
I'm full of anticipation because tomorrow is the launch of my new Royal Spyness book called Naughty in Nice.
As part of the celebration surrounding this, I was asked to do an Amazon chat with fellow English mystery writer Jacqueline Winspear. Jackie is actually a good friend. We live five miles apart and often compare notes. During this chat we talked about why we both chose 1930s England to write about--was it nostalgia for a time and place, an England we remember as a kinder, gentler, simpler lifestyle. Neither of us was sure that this was a driving force behind our books, but I certainly find myself attracted to the lifestyle of pre World War II. (If one was of the right social class, that is). All those servants and time to do what one wanted, and winters on the Riviera and parties and champagne.
Sounds perfect, right?
Well, maybe not so perfect because I know I'd have been bored. Women of my station were not allowed to work. Life was a constant fight against boredom, which is why drugs and alcohol found their way into so many rich lives.

Life was definitely simpler when I was growing up, and easier in some ways. No automatic appliances but my mother sent out her laundry every week, had a woman in to clean, to iron, a man to garden, the grocer delivered,milk arrived on the doorstep. My mother had her hair done each week--but think of the alternative, those awful home hair dryers --giant hoods under which one sat in curlers for hours.

And it was assumed that children would all get measles, mumps, chicken pox etc. I know I did. Some children didn't recover. But the thing I really miss was the safety and freedom. We lived in the country and I'd go off all day on my bike when I was ten or eleven,only returning when it got dark. My parents never worried and I had great adventures exploring woods and rivers and old castles. My own kids were never allowed out alone like that. You'd never let children play alone in the woods these days, would you? So that I lament.

In some ways I lament the slower pace. One wrote letters--telephones were for emergency use only when I was growing up. One sat and waited for the bus. One stopped while shopping for a cup of tea and a bun and chatted with friends when one walked down the village street to get the newspaper. But there was a downside to that too--like many families we had members who went to Australia. Before World War II it would have taken months to receive and send news-months to learn of a loved one's death or a birth or marriage.

So do I wish I was part of that slower, gentler time? Maybe, maybe not.I think I'd rather just spend time writing about it.

How about you, Jungle Reds? Do you long for the good old days or are you happier in the present?

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I do lament the freedom of my childhood. I disappeared after breakfast in the summer and reappeared for lunch--unless I'd taken a picnic--and then came home for dinner. We lived in a quite rural area then, and I think those hours spent wandering creek and pastures on my own must have had a profound effect on my imagination. In primary school, I was expected to walk a couple of miles to and from school, on my own or with friends. By the time my daughter was the same age, she was driven the same distance. I read somewhere recently that children are statistically safer now than they were in the fifties and sixties, but that the media coverage of crimes against children encourages parents to live in a climate of fear. But still, once you're aware of the things that can happen, how can you let go of the vigilance? Very sad.

And time. It seems like there was more time. My mother did have help in the house, but she also worked and cooked and did other chores. But still, she sewed in the evenings, and it seems that my parents played endless games of 42 (a domino game similar to bridge) with friends and relatives.

Where did all that time go? Sucked into the maw of computer and television, I suspect, but would we give up our instant communication? Just being out of touch with our friends and relatives on the East Coast last week was reminder enough of how much we've come to depend on it.

No simple answer to this one, but I find reading books like Rhys's and Jackie's--even though I know that the characters in those times had complex emotional, cultural, and physical challenges--a lovely and welcome respite.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: For a while there I wanted to be Ayla, the heroine of the earth's Children (Clan of the Cave Bear, Valley of Horses, etc.) series. it's fun to imagine what life would be like in different time periods. I also wanted to be Jean Arthur in Mr. Smith goes to Washington - smart,tough talking working girl. Wait ...I am a smart, tough talking working girl. I guess I'll stay in my own time period.

LUCY BURDETTE: Having just spent a week without power, I've had a good taste of the simpler life. Ummm, no thanks. Each day we've gone out on the search for bags of ice to keep the coolers cool. No Internet or TV of course, except for our iphones (which did save our sanity, so far.) The low moment came when I took two loads of wash to the town laundromat--a jungle. I washed the clothes, but could not bear to scrap with other frantic refugees for a dryer. So I came home and started to hang them on my one clothesline which collapsed from the weight and yanked out of the wall. Some bad and grouchy words were said...

One lesson is how much time is eaten up with just basic activities of life. Well on the other hand, most of that time gets eaten up on the Internet in normal times, right? I do agree with Deb about the freedom of childhood when we were growing up though!

HANK PHILIPPI RYAN: Now, please. Very happy wiht now. I agree with Ro (as ALWAYS) about being a Rosalind Russell/Jean Arthur type..but now,
we get to do that with eyeliner that helps your lashes grow and lattes. Roberta, many hugs...and Rhys, many sales!

HALLIE EPHRON: Another vote for: NOW! And my fervent hope is when my children (and grandchildren!) are my age, their answer to that question is the same as mine.


  1. In the real house that I use as a setting for the Orchard Mysteries, the lady of the house kept daily diaries for years, starting in 1880. The amount of work that went on in a modest New England farm then is staggering, and she didn't even have to help with the farm work. She usually got up and made six pies before breakfast. I'm pretty sure she never had the time to get bored.

    I feel sad for today's smothered children. When I was as young as seven, I used to roam the almost-rural neighborhood with a friend, and would be gone from the house for as much as eight hours at a time. No one knew where I was, but they assumed I would survive, and I did. Now we give children cell phones and expect updates every time they move. How do we raise independent children capable of making decisions for themselves when we never give them the opportunity to decide anything?

  2. Hey Rhys, sorry I missed - it's a great question

    I know that realistically life is easier now, but I confess I long for simpler times. My husband jokes that I belong in a different era - and I am happiest when I'm reading a watching something in say....the mid to late 19th century.

    It's totally idealism, I realize that. I'm clearly not thinking through the messy details of life without a whole lot of indoor plumbing. But I also think sometimes if there were no stereo systems or television - we'd all be making our own music and going to community theatre.


  3. I, too, had a rural childhood. I walked quite a distance to and from school, usually with a friend but not always. I skated on the nearby pond in the winter, swam until I turned blue in the summer, roller skated on the cement floor of the big barn on our property. My parents were organic gardeners even back then--I recall the stacks of Organic Gardening magazine--and we grew all our own vegetables. Fruit came from our orchards and laundry was line dried. We were very privileged as my parents made their way from the recession to prosperity.

    There were however dark shadows: The Lindbergh kidnapping frightened parents for many years after and even as kids we felt the chill. A cousin was killed in WWII--back then, with the draft, every family was affected by war. My younger brother was a difficult and very troubled child. Today, he would have been taken to therapy to receive the kind of help he so desperately needed. Back then, child psychiatrists—indeed psychiatrists of any kind—were unheard-of in rural areas so we—and he—struggled desperately and unsuccessfully with problems we didn't understand and had no name for.

    I'm very much a contemporary person but I do look back with much pleasure on many aspects of a way of life that has totally disappeared.

  4. Who saw Midnight in Paris? That (really terrific) movie is all about longing to live in another time...HIGHLY recommended!

  5. Loved Midnight in Paris!
    Also Somewhere in Time.
    But I really like good plumbing.