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Take rose-tinted specs off, modern life not so rubbish


Mary Berry

Mary Berry

BBC/Love Productions/Mark Bourdi

Mary Berry

It is a bit of a trope in modern society to venerate the old and despise the new, the modern, the technological. At heart, we support that wee boy on the bike with his Hovis loaf, the batty old Margaret Rutherford-type baking in her kitchen, the crusty old sea dog who can tie a reef knot.

Indeed, there is nothing more heartwarming than the clickety-clack of a pair of knitting needles. This is profound, authentic, vindicated by the ages. By implication the modern age is shallow, hedonistic, wanting it now... and just a little bit stupid. It doesn't see the true value of things.

I suspect it was on this prejudice that Ordnance Survey released its findings showing that many… ahem… "traditional skills" are in danger of dying out in favour of such shallow talents as being able to connect to Wi-Fi and fathoming the mysteries of the tablet.

Now, while I would miss the idea of people sitting in the corner knitting jumpers and ridiculously short/long scarves - the scent of my Mum's Atrixo from a pullover as a child was immensely comforting - some of the 20 skills being consigned to the dustbin of history leave me less than grieving.

Darning socks? Really, I thought the last person to darn a sock was Lennie Godber for his cellmate Fletch in the classic BBC sitcom Porridge. Who in their right minds would spend precious time extending the life of an item of clothing costing… oh… about 20p?

Ditto turning up trousers - another skill going the way of blacksmithing and lamplighting. Call me a liberated woman, but I can imagine nothing less empowering than turning up trews.

After all, isn't this the age of choice? Isn't this the age where you can download a book 24/7? Isn't this the age of getting the correct inside leg measurement in the first place?

For this alone - let alone medical miracles, greater social freedom and universal education - we should be grateful. Forget about universal sufferage, let's just be thankful we can now get trousers that are the right length.

Other "feminine" skills apparently on life support include baking and touch-typing. Touch-typing? Really? Even though we can barely hear ourselves think for the click-clanking on the keypads of tables, powerbooks, notebooks, laptops and desktops? Surely there is more typing going on than ever before?

Anyway, how many people could touch-type in the old days? Mmm… secretaries (who still probably touch-type) and journalists (who only like to think they possess the skill). As for baking - well, it's the new rock and roll, innit?

Mary Berry is a cultural icon and The Great British Bake Off is as ubiquitous as X Factor, BGT and Top Gear. Ah, but that's watching baking, not actually getting out the pastry cutters. My hunch is that millions of us now are emotional bakers - whenever we feel like pretending to be domestic goddesses, hostesses and Earth mothers. Alas, after a few days of doughy bread, lumpy crumble and upside down upside down cakes we begin to yearn for the tasty delights and simplicities of, er, the local bakery. Which makes us exactly, I suspect, like our mums. One day we will tell our children and children's children how we used to bake fresh sourdough bread every morning followed by fruit loaves for the church sale.

Other skills listed in the survey were never my forte anyway. Using a compass? Maybe Bear Grylls needs to know his east from his south, but when was the last time you needed your wee pocket compass as you crossed from the harsh terrains of outer Belfast across the pitiless veldt of the Dublin Road to the hellish jungle of central Belfast? Just pausing on our trek to grab a cappuccino and a low-fat lemon and cranberry muffin...

And some of the skills listed are just plain bizarre, such as being unable to convert pounds and ounces into kilos and grams. No one - no one - in the history of man has been able to do this.

The inability to remember the phone numbers of friends and family? How exactly is that a skill? More to the point, how is that a loss? Sometimes, not being able to contact our friends and loved ones is a positive boon.

Alternatively, at times of crises, how wonderful to have people being able to send you messages at all times of the day and night, their words lighting up that little screen like a flare going up... rescue is on its way.

Oh, yes. I forgot. We are also losing the ability to look something up in a book by using an index as opposed to just calling in Inspector Google (solver of all mysteries). What book is this exactly? The Big Book Of Everything Ever?

Of course, beautiful handwriting and being able to identify flowers and trees are lovely skills which it would be a shame if we collectively lost, but the OS survey says nothing so much as we should be wary of automatically labelling the past as "good", the present as "naff".

We should remember that it's nice to live in a society where our trousers fit and the ability to tie knots is not a life-or-death affair. Now what's your Wi-Fi password number?

Belfast Telegraph