Recently I heard someone on the radio complaining that because children are driven to school it was not helping the battle of child obesity and unnecessarily increased rush hour traffic. He started a sentence “In my day …..” Well, that’s the problem because the day he referred to has passed. It’s a new day and we can no longer compare like with like. It probably is partly to blame for obesity and the traffic but you can’t revert back to how it used to be for many reasons.

I love the idea of looking back to a previous generation for values and ideas that will make life better, but there are some areas where different rules apply. I walked to and from school alone from a very early age, but that was thirty years ago now. For the man on the radio I would guess it was about fifty. The perils of heavy traffic and fast moving vehicles with stressed out drivers were non existent back then. In those days, and indeed even in my own ‘day’, because many women worked at home houses were occupied. The buildings you were passing had people in them, some even with doors open. Beady eyed women in flowery aprons were often seen bustling about in doorways. They would stand in the open air chatting to each other and generally keeping an eye on what was going on.


The traditional housewife, or at least the role of the housewife be it occupied by a male or a female, was never acknowledged for its security role within a community. They would spot potential problems at fifty paces and often troublesome behaviour was nipped in the bud rather than left to fester and grow into criminality. Society failed to give the role of ‘stay at home’ the same regard as the career. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that even parents who paid to educate girls at third level felt a little disappointed should the girl choose to get married early and stay at home to raise a family. Obviously having a nation of well educated mothers seemed a bit of a waste of resources!

When I used to walk from school there was only one very busy street to cross on my route. If I felt there were too many cars I would pop into a shop and ask someone to help me across. Shops and shop assistants like that don’t really exist any more and you wouldn’t expect it. While walking with your children to school is a healthy option many parents are dropping children off and going on to their own jobs. The family structure has changed and most parents are doing their best and that sometimes involves driving the kids to school.


However, there was something 50 years ago and indeed even 30 years ago that we could and should replicate today and that’s hospital hygiene. I just met another person who has a relative currently in hospital with a serious illness only to have the situation further complicated by MRSA. European hospitals have proven that hygiene is a simple and effective weapon in the battle against it. At the risk of having a wet sponge thrown in my direction you have to ask why we have such a problem with it. Is it the quality of the cleaning staff? Is it the frequency of the cleaning rosters? Is it a poor attitude of medical and clerical staff, patients and visitors towards dirt, spillages and other potential hygiene and germ hazards? Is it a combination of all of these? While the HSE are busy publishing league tables on hospital hygiene, no one ever seems to publish reasons for the dirt.

Not too long ago I was in a hospital ward with a sick relative. Visiting hours were just over but, as he was quite ill, I was allowed to stay. While I sat there a cleaner came in and slowly pushed a dirty looking mop around the middle of the floor. I wanted to say “Give me that. This is how you clean a floor”. I was instantly transported back to my mother’s unaccredited School of Cleaning for Small Girls back in the seventies. Oh yes, I didn’t just walk home from school alone at a young age but I also had well developed skills in polishing furniture, cleaning down worktops and sweeping and washing floors. As I watched this woman absentmindedly throw the mop around you would think she had lost the will to live because of the dry, dusty and oppressively hot climate. But we weren’t on some lazy porch during high summer in the French Quarter of New Orleans; we were in an Irish hospital ward and one that required proper cleaning. There was congealed blood on the floor by one of the beds. After the ‘cleaning’ it was still there. No doubt according to a form or a sheet somewhere that ward had been mopped clean that night.

Sharp-tongued matrons

Irish hospitals used to be spotless. Some people say the problem is the absence of the nuns and matrons, who, legend would have it, were all trained by the Gestapo and had a keen eye for a perfectly polished floor. Where do you find people today with a cleaning obsession, a penchant for power and a sharp tongue to rule with a fist of iron? I personally think the absence of life threatening MRSA would be well worth the fearful tears of the odd subordinate but I can guarantee that a 21st century politically correct Labour Tribunal would see the old matrons’ methods somewhat differently. The reality is that with all our knowledge and education we shouldn’t need such supervision anymore, we should just know better.

We can certainly look back for some ideas or pointers or to find out where it all went pear shaped, but we can’t turn the clock back. We live now and the now requires different rules than it did back in the ‘day’.