He worked for ICI for 37 years and has been on an indexed pension for the past 38 years even though the actuaries said he would die in 1968. Crikey loves ICI and you’ll love Philip Mayne, 100, who is the world’s oldest columnist. In late February we published the first of many occasional columns that Philip Mayne, Stephen Mayne’s English grandfather, will write for Crikey. It reflected on what it was like seeing the entire 20th century and is reproduced below, under his second column, which we publish today. You see, Grandpa has had a few more thoughts on the 20th century and no self-respecting Crikey editor would knock back a column from his 100-year-old grandfather.

Grandpa spends about two weeks hand writing each column which is then typed into the system by his daughter Tricia. Like all good columnists, he will not tolerate a word being changed without his permission. Like his first column, this second offering, “Further thoughts on the 20th century”, is entirely original and quite remarkable for a 100-year-old who lives on his own in northern England.

Looking back at my earlier notes, I realise there were other developments I ought to have mentioned. The trouble with old age is that one’s memory does not always function when called upon.

Great Leaps In Medicine

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One very important development has been the vast improvement in medical treatment. One of my early recollections was of my grandmother, a healthy woman, who used to take me for long walks. She had influenza which turned to bronchitis. The treatment in those days was “cupping” – sucking off some of her blood into a cup. In later years when I was a blood donor, one had to lose a pint of blood and it didn’t seem to do any harm. But certainly to a sick woman it didn’t do any good as she didn’t survive.

As another recollection, I remember damaging my hand playing rugby and getting blood poisoning. The treatment for that was hot fomentation and my arm in a sling. That was long before the days when penicillin came into use. I recall the case of another boy who also got a poisoned hand, playing cricket in his case. He didn’t obey the rules of looking after himself as well as I did and it killed him.

Thalidomide Slows The Drug Testing

The advent of hundreds of new drugs has certainly helped to prolong life but it hasn’t proceeded without difficulty. I recall the time when the use of Thalidomide, which was regarded as a safe sedative, led to the birth of many deformed little babies. As a result new legislation came into force which slowed up the testing of new drugs. It was now slower but safer.

There is no doubt that whatever the medical people do the bacteria will fight back. One hears of whole hospitals having to be closed down and cleaned out to get rid of drug resistant bacteria.

One of the curious things about old age is that one becomes more and more dependent on a healthy diet. When you are young you can eat what you like and get away with it. Not so when you are old! You have to make sure that you are getting all the important minerals and the vitamins. But they do what they can to help us survive.

Great Leaps In Hearing AIDS

I have a nice little hearing aid which plugs into the ear. Its battery is only about a quarter inch in diameter. This makes me think of the wonderful development of telephony during the century. At the beginning very few people had a telephone near enough for them to use. And it wasn’t much good if the person you wanted to speak to hadn’t got a phone in his house! Now I can from home call up Australia, provided I do it at the right time!

Talking to these distances reminds me that when young we used to joke about the man on the moon. I never thought that one day I would not only be able to see a man on the moon but take a photo of him. It was during one of the US expeditions that one of the astronauts was being shown on TV walking around and planting the US flag. I had my camera on its stand in front of the TV, after drawing the curtains, and gave a one second exposure. It came out quite well on the film transparency. This reminds me of another development of the century – the recordings that can be made of people – not only portraits but actions and voices which can survive long after their deaths.

The Help Button

I was talking about computers to one of my sons-in-law, and said I was sure that I would find the instructions so complicated that I would be unable to remember them or even follow then. He said that he was on his third computer and this one didn’t have a book of instructions at all. What you had to do was press the HELP button. The computer then gave you a set of questions to select from. I gathered you gradually got down to what it was you wanted to know. I’m sure in my case by that time I would have forgotten what my query was!

The Advent Of Stainless Steel

Going back to when I was quite young, I remember that, as a boy, one of my jobs was to clean the knives for domestic use each week. The knives were of course of ordinary steel. In the early twenties the chrome nickel stainless steels came in and we were fortunate in getting them in a canteen of cutlery for a wedding present. A bit later a structural stainless steel came in for use in the chemical industry. I know because I was one of those who used it.

Another interesting stainless metal which arrived in the middle of the century was titanium. This was not only stainless but about half the weight of steel. I think one of the best applications was for racing bicycles.

Synthetic Socks Replace Wool

Another of the little jobs I learnt as a small boy was how to darn socks. In those days socks were just made of wool. Naturally I was pleased when in the middle of the century socks made of a wool/nylon mixture became available. These socks lasted very much longer than wool. It was very difficult ever since to buy garments made entirely of nylon or of terylene – another synthetic which blended well with cotton. The trouble was that the shops didn’t like garments made entirely of nylon or terylene. They would wear for ever and the shops would go out of business. All the same they don’t get much profit out of me – my clothes seem to be almost everlasting and they don’t get replaced!

Summing up, one can only say once again that the changes in this last century have been far greater than in any other century before it. What is going to happen in the century just starting? Will there be even greater changes? Will we be able to keep pace with them? We don’t know!

Philip Mayne – March 2000

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