Queen VictoriaThe Second World War ended 66 years ago. Seems like a long time? It’s really not. In fact, I was born at the midpoint between then and now. There is only as much time separating me now from my birth as separates my birth from the death of Hitler… the Nazi regime, the deaths of millions of people in the Holocaust. It really wasn’t that long ago. 33 years between then and my birth. And another 33 years between my birth and now. Being on a slow riverboat through the Peruvian Amazon is giving me a long time to think, and it’s occurred to me that as I get older this span will grow – both ways. By the time I’m in my mid-40s, you could flip my life around as if I were living it backwards in time, and connect with Hitler’s conspiracy of burning the Reichstag and taking power in 1933. Before I’m 50 I’ll have grown back to have been present at the Wall Street Crash. And only 60 years (of age) separate my birth and the killing fields of Ypres, Verdun and the Somme. This is an upsetting thought. Because if all that can happen in the span of one lifetime, what more could happen in the future in my lifetime?By the time I’m my Nan’s age now, I’ll have grown back to have seen Queen Victoria on the throne. And if Nan were the example (whose mother did see Queen Victoria on the throne) well then she could have not only heard Robert Schumann play the piano and met Florence Nightingale or Charles Dickens but watched the growth of the Industrial Revolution. We tend to think of human lives as short, fleeting, temporary, but they’re really not. It’s history that’s fleeting and temporary.

We like to think of history and of human civilisation as progressing, and that we “couldn’t” go back to those sorts of times (even though some parts of the world, which we largely ignore, never left them). But the main advantage and difference of these times now has been a huge growth in physical wealth, which has sustained, in the West, a generation of peace. We know in our heart of hearts that such material growth cannot be held onto for much longer, and we already see signs of it faltering due to its own inherent unsustainability. So, I ask, if the contrast of 60 years can be as strong as that between the time of Jimmy Carter, Margaret Thatcher and my birth, and the signing of the Armistice with Imperial Germany, what do the flipside 60 years have in store? We have less than 30 years before we find out. If you extend the length of your life into the past, where in history does that take you…?

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