Friday, 31 December 2010

A question of time, or: Where did the last ten years go?

As this first year of a new decade draws to an end it would seem to be a suitable opportunity to write about an anomaly that has been in the back of my mind for a while now. This is not just going to be a blog bemoaning the speed in which the last 10 years have passed – although I do find myself more and more wailing “It wasn't that long ago, was it?!” – but something linked to the passage of time.
To put it another way – if I were to say “80 years ago”, what time period would you think of? I, for one, still think of eighty years ago as being 1920-29 but it’s not, is it? Eighty years ago would put us firmly in the 1930s. Seventy years ago the Second World War was raging; in a little over a year’s time it will be the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic and two years later 100 years since the beginning of the First World War. This is what I can’t get my head around; my brain – my internal historic clock, if you will – is stuck. I still think of 70 years ago as the Thirties, 80 years as the Twenties and so on. It’s as if, linearly, the last ten years are meaningless. Go back even further and it gets even vaguer – 100 years ago still conjures up images of the late Victorian period; any time between 1880 and 1900, really, when again 100 years ago is actually 1911(!).

It’s then that it suddenly occurs to me that the eras of which I am most fond are drifting further into the mists of time – very soon I shall be hankering after the clothes, the manners, the machines of one hundred years ago! How did that happen?! If I still think of it as 70-80 years ago, it doesn’t seem so bad somehow. And I wonder, as time marches on, whether these periods be forgotten by all but those of us with an interest and if others will look upon us vintage enthusiasts with even greater puzzlement as our favourite eras become ever more removed from the present. When the last World War Two veteran dies, will our memory, our understanding of that time change? Or is there something about those early decades of the 20th Century that still resonates with us today and so will ensure a more permanent place in our minds?
Speaking as a vintage aficionado and history buff I find that immersing myself in my chosen period as much as possible keeps it fresh and ageless as well as sometimes, as I mentioned previously, leaving me feeling out of step with the modern age. A good example would be: music. I tend to listen to more music from the ‘20s and ‘30s than from any other time period, although I do of course listen to and enjoy some modern artists as well. The upshot of this constant Jazz Age soundtrack is that I forget that the music is so old – it takes on what I imagine must be the same characteristics as modern music does to most other people. Even when I hear a tune that is new to me, I don’t think “that’s an old song but I’ve never heard it before” but rather “wow, that’s a new tune!”

So I may have just answered my own rambling question – if you really feel an affinity to a certain period, then the passage of time since is immaterial. Again we are not trying to pretend that the last however many years never happened or that somehow then is preferable to now but that by living in the image of the best of those times we are in some small way keeping their memory alive.


  1. Good post! I too get shocked sometimes. Being stuck in the 30s and 40s most of the time, I'll see a film from the 60s and think "that's very modern". Then I count back the years and realise it's really not.
    I also think about the wartime generation who are disappearing fast. No more Vera Lynn in the retirement home, it'll be the Beatles before too long!

  2. When I started selling vintage last year and began haunting antique shops more regularly, I really became acutely aware of what you are talking about. Example: the toys I played with as a girl in the 70s and 80s are showing up there with alarming regularity! Young teenagers who were born in the late 1990s find the clothes and music that were just part of my coming of age culture are becoming artefacts. I panic and then remember: oh yeah, the 70s were 40+ years ago! 1986 was 25 years ago!!!!! I find it hard to imagine that in 9 years, people will be looking at 1920 as a century ago. This may bump the Victorian period into the place that the 18th century used to occupy in the cultural imaginary (for those of us who don't think of 50 years ago as "in olden times," like some of my silly former college students :(). For some reason, I still don't think of 1900, 1920, or 1930 as such a long time ago....maybe it's because technologies that aren't so alien to us began flourishing. Women were entering the work force and yes some of the clothes look a bit remote from now, but really, the silhouettes, thanks to the discarding of the whale bone corsets, and such, make it hard to imagine these eras as "old fashioned, outdated, alien, etc."

  3. Fabulous post, I absolutely know what you mean! My clock is stuck too, I am always having to remind myself that 1940 was not 60 years ago, 1920 was not 80 years ago etc...I also wonder about how peoples perceptions of "vintage" are changing. I absolutely can't fathom how vintage sellers sell clothing from the 80's. How can an era I was born in possibly be vintage? I just can't get my head around this!
    Isn't it strange the way things change? I wonder what changes this decade will bring about....

  4. Grand post as always! Could not agree more. I am forever saying to my other half, when I hear something "new" I like on the radio "who's this?". He listens to Radio 2 at work, so is alot more in tune with new fangeled modernity when it comes to music.
    I too have a history clock in my head. It shocks me to think that things like the sinking of the Titanic, the beginning of WW1 & WW2, things that occupy my mind quite alot, are so very long ago. I'm just pleased that there are people who DO think about these things. Ensure they are not forgotten.


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