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Hi, this is Gerry, and this is my News Digest for Friday 25th August, 2017. It’s good to be back after the summer break, and this podcast, as you may have noticed, is rather a special one. It’s the 200th edition of my News Digest, and this has encouraged me to have a little look back at some of my topics over the nearly ten years since I started this series of podcasts. On my first show I talked about smoking in public places. That’s a story that now seems rather old-fashioned, I’d say. Well, certainly here in the UK. On my 100th show I notice that social media was a topic, and that’s something that still seems up to date , something that I’m sure I’ll be talking about again. Looking back at these stories I see how some things have changed, some are still changing, but on the other hand some things never seem to change. It’s difficult to predict  change. I read an article recently pointing out  how difficult it is to imagine the future world. Books and films that are set  in the future imagine some big things but, often, are completely wrong on the smaller but more important things. No mobile phones in the film Blade Runner, for example. So I’m not going to try to predict the future today; instead, I’m going to mark  my little anniversary with some of the other bigger ones that we’re celebrating at the moment.
On my island in Wales we’ve just been hosting the National Eisteddfod: the annual Welsh competitive festival for just about everything from the creative arts, especially poetry, to the performing arts, especially singing, but also science and technology. The anniversary that we remembered this year at our festival was a centenary . The 1917 National Eisteddfod was held just after one of the worst battles  of the First World War for Welsh troops . And the winning poet was killed three weeks before the ceremony to honour him. In England too, there’s been a lot of coverage  about this battle that we call Passchendaele. Welsh attitudes to that war are quite complex. On the one hand, a local man, David Lloyd George, was the British Prime Minister for most of the war – the only Welsh-speaking Prime Minister we’ve had. And he was, like Churchill, just over 20 years later, a very effective war leader. On the other hand a lot of the important religious leaders in Wales at that time were pacifists ; and there were people here, as in Ireland, who didn’t think that our boys should be sent to fight in what they saw as an English imperial war.
That was 100 years ago. 70 years ago saw the beginning of the end of the British Empire. In 1947, India became independent, but it was divided into two new countries along religious lines: India, the big, majority Hindu nation, and Pakistan, the smaller, majority Muslim nation. This event is known as the Partition. The problem was that there was no natural frontier , and the different religions of India had lived side-by-side up till then. Partition meant that over 10 million people had to leave their homes. The whole thing was done in a very, very short time. And the turmoil  triggered terrible violence between the Hindus and Sikhs on the one side and the Muslims on the other. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed. We had a whole week of programmes on television and radio reflecting on these terrible events, and the question of Britain’s responsibility for them.
On a more domestic note, the British are also remembering that it is 50 years since the Sexual Offences  Act  of 1967 that made homosexual acts between men legal for the first time, with some restrictions. This is an area where there’ve been profound and relatively rapid changes in public attitudes in this country. To give you an indication of how things have changed, the BBC has been running another season of programmes this summer on radio and television recognising and, indeed, celebrating sexual differences. And there are many. The new acronym is LGBTQ: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual and Queer. Queer used to be a pejorative term  for male homosexuals but is now used to describe those who are neither heterosexual nor L, G, B or T. What’s astonishing is that opinion surveys report that three-quarters of British people now have no problem accepting homosexuality. That’s a massive change  in just 50 years. However, as one area of prejudice  and discrimination has hugely diminished , it’s not so clear that another area, that of racial prejudice, has declined  so rapidly. The law has changed, for sure , but social tensions remain.
The final anniversary that I’d like to mention is that of the morning news programme on BBC Radio 4, called Today. It’s 60 years old this year, and it’s inviting people to contact them with their ideas about the biggest changes in our world since 1957. Just looking at everyday life, I’d suggest that in Britain, central heating and double-glazing  have made a huge difference to the way we live. When I was growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, bedrooms and bathrooms were freezing in the winter, and living rooms weren’t much better. Warm bathrooms and more hot water also mean that we’re a lot cleaner than we used to be – we wash both ourselves and our clothes a lot more often than we used to. Our diet has changed: for both good and bad. We have so much variety of food today. And the size of our portions has also expanded  enormously. Just about everybody can afford  to go abroad now for a holiday. Whereas  you used to be unusual if you’d ever been in an aeroplane, the opposite is now true. How many of us today have never flown?
50 or 60 years ago, people got married young, had children young, had little money to spend, but in Britain they often had their own home, and if they had a reasonable job they could look forward to a good pension. Now, family life starts a lot later, young people here are freer, they have more spending money, but they can’t afford to buy a house to live in, and it’s uncertain what, if any, pension they’re going to get.
And then there’s technology. For example, 60 years ago, if you were middle-class you might have had a phone, a landline phone, usually by the front door, in the cold. But phone calls were very expensive. When I left home at 18 to go and study in another town, my only contact with home was a letter once a week. Before that, when I was 17, I once went cycling and camping in France for three weeks – no chance to phone home, no credit or debit cards. Three weeks of total independence for my friends and me. I remember that we ran out of money at the end, and arrived home very, very hungry. That seems a long time ago now.
You’re probably not as old as I am, but I wonder what changes you have noticed during your life time. What are the main differences between how we live today and how we lived then? You can send me your ideas via the PodClub website (podclub.ch) or on Twitter. You can find me under the address @Gerrypod. Don’t forget that Podclub has an Instagram account now. And also that the PodClub app not only allows you to listen to our podcasts but also provides you with some help to extend your vocabulary.
And that’s it for today. I’ll be back with my next News Digest on September 22nd. Thanks for listening, and take care!