Click here to find out the origins and significance of Room 101 and here and here for the radio and TV series based on what this room represents, and here for more about Victor Meldrew and here for information about the popular TV sitcom: “One foot in the grave” where Victor featured. So what then has Room 101 and Victor Meldrew got in common and pertinently what are the things I dislike so much that I would like to consign them to Room 101?
Increasingly, I find myself identifying with the cantankerous, archetypal grumpy old man, Victor Meldrew, and even more so when I’m brought to task, for expressing my disapproval on something that is not to my liking, by my wife. While a reluctance to change is often seen as a hallmark of older people, I should say that certain changes are for the better even if there are many that aren’t.
Some of those changes for the better might include much more embracing of difference and freedom to be oneself and (for many) a higher standard of living, even though these may come at a cost. As for the negative things, some may have always been around, albeit in different guises; it is just that as I age I become more aware. The following is a semi-serious look at some of the changes I have seen during my lifetime that I would, if I could, consign to Room 101.
Having spent an hour earlier today delivering leaflets in my neighbourhood, advertising a forthcoming residents meeting, I was struck by the number of houses with the notice “no junk mail”, that I usually ignored as I didn’t regard what I was posting as junk mail. But like these folks, I find being inundated with unwanted paper based material, including what falls out of newspapers, annoying.
The demise of local shops
Let me make it clear that shopping is not something I particularly like and as much as my wanting to take advantage of getting most of the things I need from an out of town supermarket, because it is often cheaper and more convenient, I regret the demise of local shops. I recall the days of nearby parades of shops, of locally based businesses, where you can buy for your everyday needs and the High Street for everything else. I see the demise of local and High Street shops as being tantamount to taking the soul out of the community.
Decline in doorstep deliveries
Not only do I recall with fondness the daily visits by the milkman delivering to my door, but there were other trades that delivered also. While, in recent years, supermarkets where you can buy such items more cheaply have become popular, there was something nice about having such services. It was relatively recently we stopped doorstep milk deliveries, but only because our milkman of many years, who knew and engaged well with the local community, retired and the dairy he worked for stopped daily deliveries.
I have a habit when I pick up the phone that if the person at the other end doesn’t speak to me in a matter of seconds I put the phone down, because it would almost certainly be someone trying to sell me something that I don’t want, on auto cue, and who I would rather not talk to. While there are ways round this, I haven’t found one that works for me and, while I don’t want to appear rude, I really would prefer not to be disturbed and if needed be able to get to the point of saying “No” in as few words as is possible.
Examinations rather than education
Like death and taxes, exams are one of the inevitabilities of life and I’m sure far more prevalent than when I was young and had to sit a number of them at school and college. I don’t object to exams as a means of telling us and others how well we have done in and understand a particular subject, but I do object to an education system preoccupied with exams and making them an end in itself.
Talking to machines
Let’s face it, businesses need to be competitive to survive and modern technology can be a great boon, including replacing people, whose wages usually represent a large element of their costs. But what I am finding increasingly is that when I need to engage with a business I have dealings with that, instead of talking to people I need to negotiate with, systems and machines have firstly to be overcome and even then I don’t always get to have that meaningful conversation or personal engagement that I so yearn to have.
When 200 years ago William Wilberforce set out to abolish the slave trade, he also had in mind the reformation of manners. Clearly bad manners have always been with us, yet when I look at how things are now and how things were when I was young, I suspect things have got worse. It is not just men giving up seats in buses and raising hats to ladies, but the amount of anti-social behavior, like playing loud music late at night, and naughty children taking umbrage if rebuked by an adult, are two examples of things becoming worse.
A throwaway culture
It has been said that in the old days things were built to last, evidenced for example by the quality of furniture people once possessed. Nowadays, partly I suspect because repairing stuff may be as costly, even if the option were available, as replacing it; this is far less the case. When it comes to possessions, besides wanting to be more frugal, I would love to be in a position a lot more than I am now of keeping them rather than discarding for something new, something that seems both wasteful and immoral.
Part of my community activism has been in the area of equality and diversity, so I am all too aware of the need to respect people who are different and their desire to maintain their differences. We live in a cultural climate these days when such a philosophy has been so exalted that if one were to speak or act in a way that would seem to criticize those whose opinions differ, particularly when it comes to speaking what one feels is true and right, and if others disagree, then those who do so are all too often ostracized or worse.
Sound bite politicians and know it all pundits
Part of modern day living often entails not having to think too deeply. While putting out one’s message simply and clearly is important, it is also important to not be simplistic and recognize there are often many sides to an argument and things are rarely as straightforward as they seem. Besides having an aversion to those who operate the sound bite principle, I also dislike those who in my view are smug and are full of themselves and self-opinionated, and why I would overhaul TV and radio programs that pander to such.