I thought that my ninety eight year old grandmother kept me connected to an earlier time; the stories of her parents and grandparents take me straight back to the late nineteenth century. Yet memory is unreliable and social mores, attitudes and assumptions shift like sand: we forget the cultural lenses which once coloured our world.
The Jimmy Saville scandal, shocking in so many ways, brought archive material of 'Jim Will Fix it' back to our screens and how ambiguous does that title now seem? I thought I remembered the seventies, but time and nostalgia had blunted my recollections. The fashion was more dreadful than the frequent seventies revivals have suggested and I doubt I was the only one who watched the footage in horror. A bevy of teenage girls, dressed in their trendy best all bad hair and obvious discomfort, sat on bean bags on the stage of the studio like lambs awaiting slaughter. A leering Jimmy Saville and Gary Glitter strode among them, picked a bean bag and settled themselves among them. Each had his arms round a couple of very young girls. 'Oh you can have two,' Jim said or words to that effect, as if twelve year old girls were biscuits. It is difficult to look at that show now without wondering how we ever thought that was acceptable at the time, but we did. Were we innocent, ignorant or did everyone collude with the idea that it was normal for middle aged men to snuggle up to barely pubescent girls on prime time TV?
Perhaps all societies are blind to their own cultural lenses and perhaps it is impossible to imagine what lurks in our contemporary texts and broadcasts which will trip up future readers. Will it be our wastefulness with energy: the casual way in which we light whole office blocks of empty space, tumble dry our washing and drive distances we could easily walk? Perhaps future readers will be horrified that some of us gorge ourselves on animal flesh, bathe frequently and flush our lavatories with expensively purified water. Will future generations of readers, if there are any - future generations I mean - marvel at our technological backwardness or wonder at our privilege and profligacy? Will a more liberal future look back at our prejudices with horror or will a less liberal oner view ours as a time of indulgence and immorality. For as all historians know there is no inevitable march of progress, civilisations tumble and democracies fail. In time everything changes and the memory of our present, like our past, is at the mercy of an unknown future.