We always hear people talk about the good ol’ days. But were they really good? Which period of time was that? Do they mean the time of Abdel Halim Hafez, Soad Hosni and Salah Jahin, when songs and movies were beautiful? Do they mean when Cairo was clean and without traffic jams? Or do they mean when prices were cheap, education was better, job opportunities were many and housing was available for everyone?
Yes, there was a time when all these things were true. But is it not also true that all times have good and bad things? Don’t we now have things that were not there at the time of Abdel Halim Hafez and Soad Hosni?
They had no Color TV, no computer and no mobile phone. Actually, it was difficult to get a landline then. And the Egyptian farmer could not at that time travel to the Gulf and come back with some savings to build himself a brick house and put an automatic washing machine in it. Nor could a university professor buy himself a car with an air conditioner and a cassette player.
So when we talk about the good ol’ days, are we really reminiscing the time when we were young and knew how to best enjoy life? Indeed it is.
This is what Ossama Gharib wrote in his column in Al-Masry Al-Youm a few days ago. He said it is mere nostalgia, as those times were not necessarily good times.
Yet I still believe that there were better times. Of course, I cannot determine exactly when because I am not talking about certain incidents as much as I am talking about a general climate. It’s like when you know when you got married but you don’t know when you first fell in love, or you know the Middle Ages were dark but you don’t know exactly if they bagan in the sixth century or the seventh.
I remember my dear friend the late Abdel Wahab al-Messiri who was a teacher in the United States in the sixties. He once told me that he considered the mid-sixties the beginning of a new era in America, where he began to notice significant changes in family relationships, in relationships between the sexes and in the consumption habits of the Americans.
He did not specify a particular year as the beginning of that change, but his remarks were consistent with what I had noticed in England where I was studying around the same time.
I remember that prosperity began there in the mid-sixties after two decades of rebuilding what the war had damaged. Demand for luxury goods emerged, especially among young people. Also, new bands, such as the Beatles, came out with different music and lyrics. They sang louder than usual and the audience sang along with passion. They were mostly young people.
Western women started to become more liberal in terms of their sexual behavior and new types of drugs appeared to enhance the “quality of life,” a popular expression at the time. And Prime Minister Harold Macmillan said the British did not know a time better than this.
Political changes also occurred, for Europe and the United States no longer saw leaders the size of Churchill, de Gaulle, Kennedy or even Khrushchev of Russia. They were replaced by young presidents who were weaker and less cultured, more of public relations officials than politicians.
When I remember the so-called open door policy in Egypt after the sixties, the migrations to the Gulf, the music, the consumer habits (including the consumption of different types of drugs), the TV shows, the new means of advertising and the new political life, I ask myself:
“Were the fifties and sixties better times, irrespective of my becoming old?”
Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm