Tuesday 22 May 2007

The Good Old Days

Nostalgic references to "the good old days" have long been a bit of a joke (eg. see "The Good Old Days Skit" from the 'At Last the 1948 Show', 1967*.) But just how good we have it these days compared to our grandparents time (and before) was again brought home to me when I was browsing through the latest annual HILDA** report and came across this data on how much time off work Australian full-time workers typically had in 2006. Looking at those workers who had been in their current job for more than 1 year (and were thus entitled to the usual 20 days paid annual leave), the typical full-time worker took 16-days of paid leave, plus another 3 days of paid sick leave and a couple of additional days of "other" paid leave (eg. workers compensation). This means that, combined with the 10 days paid public holidays we have, the average Australian full-time worker worked around 229 days in 2006. (And they also accumulated 8.3 weeks of "long service" leave if they stayed in the same job for ten years.)

With the average working week being around 37 hours in Australia, this means full-time workers clocked up a total of 1,695 hours in paid work during 2006. This translates to spending 29% of their waking hours in paid work during their working years. With the average retirement age being around 58, this means a "typical" worker might work a total of just over 15% of their total "waking hours" during their entire lifetime, assuming they started full-time work at 20 and lived until 72. Of course, some people work at lot more than 37 hours a week, and don't take time off work for holidays - but the HILDA figures show that as many people took more than 20 days leave in 2006, as took less than 10 days leave.

Some people may still think that this is a large chuck out of their valuable time, but most people get some enjoyment from their work, even if it is just from the social contact with co-workers. In comparison, my grandfather started working "down the pit" in South Wales when he was 15. In those days you worked a twelve hour shift at the coal-face, had to walk for an hour before and after work to even get to the coal face, plus time spent walking from home to the mine. Oh, and they also worked a six-day week with only Sundays off and few (if any) public holidays. No wonder he jumped at the chance to do a plumbing apprenticeship in London when he got the chance!

If nothing else, history provides a sense of how well off people are these days (at least in the developed countries).

Enough Wealth

** The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey report from Melbourne University.

* Just in case you don't have a copy of "The Golden Skits of Wing Commander Muriel Volestrangler FRHS & Bar" handy, I'll append it here - its only 2 and a bit pages out of a 128 page book, so we'll call it "fair use" for educational purposes, shall we?

The Good Old Days Skit
by MV, Marty Feldman, Graham Chapman and Tim Brooke-Taylor; 'At Last the 1948 Show'. 31 October 1967

It is sundowner time at a tropical paradise. Four north-countrymen, in late middle-age and tuxedos, sit contemplating the sunset. A dusky waiter pours some claret for one of them to taste.

Joshua ...Very passable. Not bad at all.

The waiter pours the wine for the rest of them, and departs.

Obadiah ...Can't beat a good glass of Chateau de Chasselas, eh, Josiah?

Josiah Aye, you're right there, Obadiah.

Ezekiel ...Who'd have thought ... forty years ago ... that we'd be sitting
here, drinking Chateau de Chasselas ...?

Josiah Aye! ... In those days we were glad to have the price of a cup of tea.

Obadiah Aye, a cup of COLD tea ...

Ezekiel Without milk or sugar.

Josiah OR tea ...

Joshua Aye, and a cracked cup at that!

Ezekiel We never had a cup ... We used to drink out of a rolled up newspaper.

Obadiah Best we could manage was to chew a piece of damp cloth.

Josiah But y'know ... we were happier in those days, although we were poor.

Joshua BECAUSE we were poor ... My old dad used to say, 'Money doesn't bring
you happiness, son.'

Ezekiel He was right! I was happier then and had NOTHING. We used to live in
a tiny old tumbledown house with great holes in the roof.

Odadiah A house! You were lucky to have a house. We used to live in one room,
twenty-six of us, no furniture, and half the floor was missing. We
were all huddled in one corner, for fear of falling.

Josiah You were lucky to have a room! We used to live in the corridor.

Joshua Ooooh! I used to DREAM of living in a corridor. That would have been a
palace to us. We lived in an old water tank in the rubbish tip. We were
woken up every morning by having a load of rotting fish dumped on us.
House, huh!

Ezekiel Well, when I said HOUSE ... it was only a hole in the ground covered by
a couple of foot of torn canvas, but it was a house to US.

Odadiah We were evicted from our hole in the ground. We had to go and live in
the lake.

Josiah Eee! You were lucky to have a lake. There were over 150 of us living in
a small shoe box in the middle of the road.

Joshua A CARDBOARD box?

Josiah Yes.

Joshua You were lucky. We lived for three months in a rolled-up newspaper in a
septic tank. We used to get up at six, clean the newspaper, eat a crust
of stale bread, work fourteen hours at the mill, day-in, day-out, for
sixpence a week, come home, and dad would thrash us to sleep with his

Obadiah ... Luxury! We used to get out of the lake at three, clean it, eat a
handful of hot gravel, work twenty hours at t'mill for twopence a month,
come home, and dad would beat us about the head and neck with a broken
bottle, IF we were LUCKY.

A pause.

Josiah ... Aye, well, we had it TOUGH. I had to get out of the shoebox at
midnight, lick the road clean, eat a couple of bits of cold gravel,
work twenty-three hours a day at the mill for a penny every four
years and when we got home dad would slice us in half with a bread-

A longer pause.

Ezekiel Right ... I had to get up in the morning at ten o'clock at night half
an hour before I went to bed, eat a lump of poison, work twenty-nine
hours a day at t'mill and pay boss to let us work, come home, and each
night dad used to kill us and dance on our graves, singing.

A very long pause

Joshua ... Aye, and you try and tell the young people of today that, and they
won't believe you.

1 comment:

S. B. said...

The Good Old Days skit gave me the best laugh I've had all week! Thanks!

And in all seriousness I see your point. I'm not much for fast food, but I visited a McDonald's the other day and as I ate my food, I know it is "junk food", but still I couldn't help but think along these lines: I walked in and ordered several food items. I was served in about two minutes, and I earned enough in 3 minutes of work to pay for the whole meal -- work that I did in an air conditioned office that mainly just involved thinking about some things.

Upon reflection, these thoughts were very sobering. We live in a time and a place very different from most others. Gratitude is definitely the lost virtue of this age...