Are we really better off today? 148



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Do you remember when chocolate was sixpence a bar, petrol was one shilling and ninepence and beer was a shilling a pint? You could buy a gents suit for about eight pounds then and ladies dresses were much about the same price. Newspapers were a penny – remember that? And postage cost tuppence halfpenny too. Can you even remember what a sixpence was, or a shilling, a florin, half a crown and a ten shilling note?




Ah! Those were the good old days weren’t they! Mind you, the average wage was still only a little over five pounds a week ($10) in the years immediately after World War Two, and (in England at least) wartime rationing was still very much in evidence, something not removed for several more years. Kids could still catch diphtheria, polio and small pox; antibiotics were only in the very early stages of development, so diseases and injuries we would now consider to be minor were often killers. And cars were still largely ‘left-over’s’ from before the war, heavy brutes with iron chassis and heavy steel bodies, with small brakes, gas guzzling engines and little in the way of safety protection for passengers.

The roads too were of little help, should you need to travel. Freeways were unheard of, except, ironically, in Germany, where the autobahns had been helping the public to get about quickly and safely for years… One of the few good things produced by Hitler and his cronies. Level crossings were operated manually, by chaps who had to come out and push them shut before a train got there; one of the more unpopular jobs, especially during a rush-hour!

My mother always used cast iron irons, which she heated on the gas stove, guessing the temperature was correct by holding the heavy object up close to her face, while the weekly wash was done in a boiler, with a mangle fixed to the side. We never owned a telephone, and even if we had, it would have been on a ‘party-line’, shared with several other families in the district, while our electricity was paid for by inserting coins in a meter, situated in the front hallway.

So perhaps our memories are slightly clouded, and things weren’t actually as good as we like to remember them. We really do live on easy-street these day, with appliances to do virtually everything, computers that put us in touch with all the world’s information, aircraft that can whisk us half way round the world in less than a day, and cars that are impressively more powerful, faster, safer and more fuel efficient than those old bangers (and, like the whiskey, in real terms much cheaper!).

Ironically, although we pay vastly more for everything nowadays, we also earn considerably more too. The experts say the only way to judge the cost of goods now, against their prices in the 1940’s is to work out how long a man or woman has to work in order to pay for anything. For instance, buy a $30 bottle of whisky today and I suppose that equates to about one hours work for a lot of people. In the forties the same bottle was around $12, or the equivalent of a week’s earnings, and the same applies to most of the things we enjoy now; in real terms they are all cheaper.

Add to that all the other advantages and advances that have happened since 1945 and we’re really not doing so badly!

Do you think prices are better now or do you wish it was like the old times?

Brian Lee

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