At the weekend I was looking through some old photo albums that belong to my great-grandma who is 84 years old. A lot of time has passed and so many things have changed in the span of a lifetime that began in 1929, we look back and wonder how humans actually got things done without the technology we possess today and a person from 1929 wouldn’t be able to comprehend the machine I am typing this on or the blog site on the internet where it is posted. I looked back on all the photographs of my grandma and granddad with all the family and all their friends in times gone by and couldn’t help feel slightly envious. At first I thought what I’m about to say only applied to women but it no doubt applies to modern men too, we lack the self-respect and class that people used to have.
I couldn’t help but notice how close everybody seemed to each other, today people that live under the same roofs can seem like strangers to each other because we are so immersed in our computer games and online social media sites, and I’m not claiming holier than thou on this, I am just as guilty to anyone when it comes to technology abuse. It all reminded me of a tape I listened to last year called New Order of the Barbarian which is from 1989 and it is a doctor recalling a meeting he attended in 1969 in which an “insider” gave a talk on what is likely to unfold in the future, he said this about families and their diminished role:
“Families would be limited in size. We already alluded to not being allowed more than two children. Divorce would be made easier and more prevalent. Most people who marry will marry more than once. More people will not marry. Unmarried people would stay in hotels and even live together. That would be very common – nobody would even ask questions about it. It would be widely accepted as no different from married people being together. More women will work outside the home. More men will be transferred to other cities and in their jobs, more men would travel. Therefore, it would be harder for families to stay together. This would tend to make the marriage relationship less stable and, therefore, tend to make people less willing to have babies. And, the extended families would be smaller, and more remote. Travel would be easier, less expensive, for a while, so that people who did have to travel would feel they could get back to their families, not that they were abruptly being made remote from their families. But one of the net effects of easier divorce laws combined with the promotion of travel, and transferring families from one city to another, was to create instability in the families.”
The decline in family has been shadowed by the decline in community and the importance of a strong, connected community. I feel a part of this decline is the demise of the local family business. My family had a business which was Verity’s Fruit & Veg, the business was built from the ground up starting with a horse and cart selling fruit and veg and grew to a peak of around 6 or 7 shops in the Oldham area with each shop being operated by a family member and with the fruit and veg being distributed from the family warehouse. Now it is very difficult to put into words the type of bonds that developed through this business, I was too young to remember myself but through the stories I hear and what my mum tells me the people who worked in our shops developed tremendous bonds which last to this day. The part of the world I am from is called Chadderton and in the local area there is still a faint pulse in the community, people do know each other and families are connected despite it being quite an urban area.
Lock Stock & Two Smoking bananas, my aunty next to one of our wagons behind the family home in the late 1960s/early 1970s
My Grandma and a friend in one of the shops in the 1980s
Uncle Pete and my cousin in one of the shops in late 1980s/early 1990s
Me as a baby in one of the shops in the early 1990s
My mum put a picture of my grandma and granddad on her Facebook page on Sunday and two separate people commented on it saying my granddad was a great man, which to me says a hell of a lot about a person if they can get that kind of compliment despite being departed for over 20 years now and the other said my grandma and granddad were, and still is in my grandma’s case, salt of the earth people. That is what happens when your shop is a fixture in the local community, when the food you provide is the nourishment for other families in the town.
What happened to our family business? ASDA, Tesco and all the other big supermarkets are what happened. Like just about every other family business it was ran into the ground by huge corporate stores that the ordinary man and woman just can’t compete with. Convenience comes at a cost, instead of going down to your local fruit and veg shop, your local butchers, your local fishmongers etc, all places with their familiar faces you now pop down to your local supermarket where there is no interaction with anybody apart from the robot on the checkout and the only interaction you will have with them is when they ask if you are paying by cash or by card. Or there is no interaction at all unless you class being told there is an unexpected item in the bagging area as communication.
And what happens to the money? Say each supermarket represents 15 family businesses the money you spend there is sucked out of the community and goes into these corporate giants that use tax havens so they pay no tax on all this money they take off you, the money goes into the pockets of the shareholders whereas in the past that money would have gone to families, it would have gone back into the community. People wonder how the 1% managed to create such inequality when it comes to income, this is how. Now the members of the community have to work for the corporate giants on zero hour minimum wage contracts. Nobody had to wear a degrading and dehumanising uniform in our shops. There were no robots in our shops. The people there were happy to help, not because a badge told you so but because they would probably be down the pub having a drink with you on Friday night or coming round for dinner on Sunday. I looked through all these old photographs and it was evident that for everything we have gained we have also lost so much.
This article is authored by Lee Cooper
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