Posted in Family, Personal life, Writing

History is Relative

How long ago does something have to take place before you consider it to be history?

Netflix logo
Getting our fix on a Sunday night

Last night, my eleven-year-old daughter and I were watching Oliver and Company, an old Disney film on our newly-acquired Netflix. Based loosely (very loosely) on Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, it was one that neither of us had seen before, most likely because it was made at a time when I was way too old to be following the studio’s output, and before Laura was even born.

Although the film’s animation technology was very dated – think old-style Tom and Jerry rather than Frozen – it was a pleasing enough tale, starring the almost obligatory cute kitten, and its predictable yet agreeable plot provided a relaxing way to round off the weekend.

One moment, though, caught me by surprise, about two-thirds of the way through, when a wall calendar is visible, clearly dated 1988.

1984 1988

Laura with a bottle of Coke
Laura, with self-assured world view of the nearly-teenager

“1988!” my daughter scoffs, with the assured and superior laugh of the nearly-teen.

Her response rather took me aback. 1988? Why, that’s only yesterday! I’d just started my fourth job, bought my first house, and was settling down with the man I was going to marry. In short, I was in my prime. Ahem, still am, thank you very much. But ancient history? Hardly.

Then, after a quick burst of mental arithmetic, I realised that to Laura, who will turn 12 next Saturday, 1988 must seem as distant as 1945 does to me, i.e. falling precisely 15 years before I was born. 1945? Second World War? That’s history lesson stuff, far removed from my own experience – or so I’d have thought when I was her age. (My husband and I also watched The Railway Man on Saturday, reminding us of the ongoing impact of World War II.)

When Does the Present Become the Past?

The definition of history is surely determined by the relationship of events to any individual. I recently discovered tucked away in my study some essays I wrote in the early 1990s, not long after I’d moved to Hawkesbury Upton, where I still live. Rereading them 24 years on, I was astonished by how much the village has changed. Though it’s still a wonderful place to live, my Hawkesbury Tales now read like nostalgic social history pieces, though at the time I thought I was writing an up-to-the-minute report. I’m very glad that I recorded them, and wish that I’d written more – it’s a very slim collection.

cover of Monument to Hawkesbury #3
The latest volume takes us up to the Millenium

I’m therefore very much looking forward to being a guest speaker at  History of Tetbury Society early next year (3rd March 2016), to which I’ve been invited as a result of my regular column in the Tetbury Advertiser. I’ll be speaking about the importance of recording details of current social life, to provide historical records for future generations – an activity in which I’ve been involved via the Hawkesbury Writers, a group of village authors who together penned three volumes in the “Monument to Hawkesbury” series, recording villagers’ recollections from throughout the 20th century.

And already, doesn’t that sound so last century?

What’s your view? How long ago does something have to have happened for you to count it as history? I’d love to know!

To read my Hawkesbury Tales, click here  – and if you read them, I’d love some feedback. I’m planning to turn them into a little book or ebook – do you think I should?





English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

13 thoughts on “History is Relative

  1. Left one – where did it go???? Very sadly ‘publish’ worked as ‘delete’ which I’ve known it do before. Okay. Rest my case and no, no repetition of where I am in History … dinner time calls …

  2. Had to laugh at decimalisation – took place when I was at Uni (ancient me!) Nowadays it falls into place that my generation grew up under the shadow of the 2nd War: there were still Ration Books in the early 1950s. Our parents were still sorting their memories of a country at war …no surprise ‘austerity’ and ‘make do and mend’ were normal life. Yes, and 1988 … well 1989 was the beginning of the winter we spent in Canada, where WaterlooUniversity was busy helping work out how the Oxford English Dictionary could be computerised, ‘put on line’.. at the time, on a “CDROM”. Gosh, long long ago ..

    1. Yes, that’s a neat definition (I think it’s actually 50 years before the date the book is written) – though gets complicated when there’s time slip and time travel involved, or lots of different narrative threads in different eras,just to keep us readers on our toes!

  3. The first time this issue really struck me as “whoa” was when I was listening to an oldies radio station and they were playing 80s and 90s songs. WOT?! That was just yesterday, right? 🙂 And then there was that time I had to explain “floppy disks” to my 20-something-year-old coworker. 😛

    1. Something similar happened to me back in the office in the 90s (yikes!) when I mentioned “decimalisation” – which was how we referred to the time when we swapped over from our old currency system of pounds, shillings and pence to just pounds and pence. (20 shillings to the pound, 12 pence to the shilling – then 100 pence to the pound. I guess you can see why we changed the system!) A cry went round the office juniors and secretaries: “What’s decimalisation?” Cue for everyone of my vintage to collapse across their desks!

  4. It’s definitely an interesting question, but, to me, it has a simple answer – anything that is in the past counts as history, surely. The seconds in which I wrote the first sentence of this comment are history as quickly as they are present.

  5. What a fun post. 🙂 It reminds me of the time I worked at a summer camp in between semesters at grad school. I was in charge of the camp’s radio station, and I was amazed that my young charges had never heard of Duran Duran…when I mentioned how huge Rio was in 1982, one girl piped up with, “That’s the year I was born!” As you noted, it’s all relative.

    And as for your village stories, I loved them! They’d make a great little book/e-book. I think they’d be completely at home in the village shop, alongside your other works. 🙂

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