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Bring On The New But Keep The Old Too

In the aftermath of hurricanes afflicting less developed countries, along with the accounts of human suffering and individual heroism, came stories of community spirit and cohesion and selfless neighbourliness showing that out of adversity really does come some good.

More surprisingly, we have become aware of just how many affected homes are equipped with back up generators. Unfortunately, many of them do not click into action in the areas afflicted with power cuts because they had generally been installed in basements that were completely flooded with water or, even worse, raw sewage. These generators had originally been installed to provide power for heating and light and in New York’s skyscrapers, operate the lifts. However, for many households, they could be used to charge up mobile phones, ipads, laptops and computers. These provided both communication links with the outside world and a source of information.

This appetite to absorb modern technology in this way is a perfect example of our willingness and need to embrace modernity. We can’t get enough of it and it seems that we can’t live without it. In streets and shops, on buses and trains as well as in the home, a mobile phone or tablet is rarely far from our finger tip control.

Oddly enough, at the same time, there is a powerful desire to look back and embrace the life styles of earlier generations. Just consider the popularity of “Downton Abbey”, attracting an audience of over 9 million or the numbers of visitors to our stately homes where we can see how people lived both “downstairs” and far more appealingly “upstairs.” Don’t forget that The National Trust membership now exceeds 4 million, many of whom make regular visits to their country estates and some of our grandest houses attract huge visitor numbers: Blenheim Palace over 550,000 each year, Chatsworth House 716,000 and Castle Howard with almost a quarter of a million, all dwarfed by Longleat with over 1.3 million visitors though they do have their lions too.

We look at these historic homes sometimes with romantic or nostalgic eyes but always with fascination and even adulation. Their influence on house building architecture has been enormous. Just think of all the neo-Georgian houses that have been built in the past 30 to 40 years or the mock Tudor house building in the 1930s with front facing “Tudorbethan” black and white timbers and diamond shaped leaded windows. Ponder how few modernist or International Style houses were constructed at the same time.

Our desire to succumb to modernity whilst simultaneously looking back into history does not, however, demonstrate any inconsistency. On the contrary, this helps gives us an understanding of our place in the present. We buy into the developments of tomorrow’s technology whilst respecting the past. Not surprisingly, then, our homes may be filled with the latest electronic gadgetry but you will also find pieces of antique furniture, photographs and souvenirs from grandparents and even earlier generations and reproductions of Impressionist paintings. After all, the most expensive paintings that have been bought in auctions were “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Baner” by Gustav Klimt, painted in 1907 and sold for $135 million, and “The Scream” by Edvard Munch from a series created at the end of the nineteenth century and sold for $120 million. Clear signs that someone sees huge value in old masters!

And if you would like a little reminder of just how useful the old can still be, just remember those old wind up gramophone record players that can still belt out scratchy music without any electricity and with no need for any back up generators.