Mind how you go, because the times they are a-changin’

I’m not sure how many of you are of an age to remember an English double act called Mike and Bernie Winters; they were comedians, though even back in the day I never really got their humour.

However, they made a good career of making people laugh. Not, however, at the old Glasgow Empire theatre which was notorious for destroying comic acts, especially the English.

Mike Winters was the straight man, coming on first with a little patter and playing the clarinet. He got a little, but not much, polite applause from the tough Glasgow crowd. Whereupon, Bernie would poke his head through the curtains, show his prominent teeth and make a silly noise.

“Chr**t!” said a loud voice in the audience, “there’s two of them.”

That was entertainment, 1950s-style, variety acts live in a theatre and not many homes had television.

Then along came the telly and entertainment changed forever, and every home now has at least one set.

But, as Bob Dylan sang, the times they are a-changin’.

And now it would seem that even television has had its day; or at least television as we know it.

The results of a survey among young people aged five to 16 reveals that they now spend more time online than they do watching television. People of this age spend on average three hours a day online, as compared to 2.1 hours watching television. Indeed, the older age group, of 15 and 16-year-olds spend more time online at nearly five hours a day.

Those young people who do watch television, also do it rather differently. For a start, the survey shows that kids switch off the television channels and more of them watch material via Netflix, or even watch programmes on catch-up or iPlayer or You Tube; and instead of watching the traditional box in the corner, 60 per cent of them watch on a phone, tablet or laptop.

The times when the whole family sat around the telly are long gone; you may well say, considering some of the fare on offer on Saturday nights, it’s hardly surprising.

I panicked on a recent Sunday afternoon when my daughter invited a friend round to watch a film and I thought I might miss out on my football; silly me, they were watching on their laptop.

I even read that the CD player is becoming redundant, and for the first time the sales of iPhones are decreasing. A sign of incredibly rapid progress. And have you heard of Snapchat, Instagram, Minecraft; Facebook almost seems outdated!

It’s a far cry, isn’t it, from thousands packing into the halls to watch jugglers, novelty acts, comedians and singers all in the one night.

The age of the internet is truly here, and people of a certain generation will worry about that. Yes, the internet has its dangers, we know that only too well with some awful stuff on there and some evil people using it to harm our children.

But, the internet is also a marvellous tool for good. A friend told me that he and his wife were having a conversation about failing to find out information about something, and the child chirped up: “Ask the computer.”

Anything from keeping in touch, reading great articles, listening to music and getting basic information; it’s all there.

It depends on how you use it.

There will be those who look back on times past as the good old days. Well, I suppose they were in many ways, in terms of community spirit, respect for others and so on.

But were they better, or just different times?

There have been so many advances over the years.

I enjoy watching “Call the Midwife” on Sunday evening. Usually, there’s a tearjerker somewhere in there; last week, it tackled the scandal of Thalidomide, and this week a young husband died of leukaemia after seeing his newborn son.

I suppose what intrigues me about the show is that it is now set in the early 1960s, a decade which is often looked back fondly as the swinging sixties.

I saw on Facebook this week, someone recalling the old “Dixon of Dock Green” programme, when an “ordinary copper” would say “evening all” and a drama from very different times would unfold, when the good guy always won, and a “clip round the ear” worked wonders.

But, as Midwife vividly shows, social conditions were far from swinging. The dockers and other working class found making a living tough, housing was basic to say the least, and the medical profession battled against the odds.

I recalled recently that here in Fermanagh when I began working as a journalist in the 1970s, housing remained basic and that 26 per cent of housing in the county was once officially classified as unfit for human habitation.

And, of course, throughout the 1970s and 80s, there were some very dark and troubled days in which violence robbed many families of a normal life.

So, in many respects things are better. An end to violence, better housing conditions, medical advances, 21st century technology in the entertainment and communications world. For example, research and progress in science in medicine means that many previously incurable illnesses, including several forms of cancer, are now treated and patients go on to lead normal lives.

The disappointing thing, of course, is that while we are far richer as a society than we ever were, the wealth is ill-divided and many families are still struggling.

Which era is better? Well, perhaps every era has its good and bad, and we should adapt and change and try to make it better for the next generation coming through.

I enjoyed a recent interview with the actor, Michael Caine. He’s now 82; not a lot of people know that. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) But Caine takes a positive approach to life, saying he’s never had it so good.

That’s not a bad way to look at things, at any age in any era.

Mind how you go.