Succumbing to Progress

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Oct 18, 1947 

Succumbing to Progress 

I have just broken a resolution which I hoped to be able to keep to the end of my days, and have bought a lighter.

All my life I have disliked new-fangled things — bicycles, pyjamas, soft collars, gramophones, motor-cars, wrist-watches, safety razors, plus-fours, handkerchiefs worn in the sleeve, electric stoves, fountain pens, and wireless among them—and have done my best not to give in to the common craze for them. And high up in the list of my antipathies were lighters.

I have a weak will, however, and, as a result, I usually succumb to the fashion of the time, so that I now sleep in pyjamas, shave with a safety razor, and possess a gramophone, a motor-car, an electric stove, a fountain pen and a wireless set.

If plus-fours had gone on being the rage for a few years longer, I might even have purchased a pair, in which I should certainly have looked as grotesque as anybody else.

* * *

At the same time there were two temptations, that, weak of will though I was, I thought I should always be able to resist—the temptation to carry a lighter.

I do not, I may say, claim moral superiority over people who ride bicycles and carry lighters. I may doubt the sanity of a man who enjoys pushing a bicycle up a steep hill; but what looks like madness may well be a means of strengthening the character. Unlike motoring, cycling is not merely a form of laziness. If it were, I should probably have become a cyclist long ago.

The lighter I object to chiefly because it is a novelty and heralds the end of the great match age in which I grew up.

Who growing up today will ever have associations with lighters such as we of the older generation have with matches? The modern child has never even struck a fusee—has never had the pleasure of seeing it sputtering like a firework or of inhaling its fragrance.

There used to be worse ways of spending a part of a wet afternoon than getting hold of an uncle’s box of fusses and striking them one by one.

* * *

But the great glory of matches in the eyes of a small boy lay in the fact that he could look forward to the day when, having grown older and learned to smoke, he would be able to strike them on the seat of his breeches.

How often in those days I gazed with admiration on one of my seniors as, raising his knee in the air, he swept a match along his right trouser-leg and brought it up, as if lit by magic, to his pipe or cigarette. This seemed to me sheer genius and a mark of manhood.

How highly matches were valued in the Victorian age was shown by a medical student I knew who, though he had more money than most of his fellow-students, never struck a match to light his pipe without carefully blowing it out afterwards and putting the stick into his waistcoat pocket for further use.

It was a lesson in thrift to see him taking one of those used matches out of his pocket when his pipe went out and relighting it at a gas-jet in a billiard-room.

* * *

Golden Ages do not last for eve, however. The inventors began to rack their brains to discover a substitute for matches as they had discovered substitutes for so many other things—for horses and sails, the old-fashioned nightshirt and the cut-throat razor and the push-bicycle. So, in the course of time, one of them invented the lighter.

It has always struck me as an odd thing that, whereas in football or cricket no one will use a substitute except under compulsion; in the matter of inventions everybody rushes after substitutes as though they were necessarily better than the things for which they are substituted.

I happen to belong, apart from politics, to the old stick-in-the-mud school which was sorry, for example, to see horses giving way to machinery, and, being of this mind, I should never have willingly bought a lighter while there was a box of matches to be had.

* * *

Visiting a small town lately, however, I found, after roaming from one tobacconist’s shop to another, that there was not a box of matches in the place.

Faced by the alternatives of either giving up smoking or buying a lighter, what was I to do?

You who have square jaws and strong characters may condemn my want of principle; but I frankly confess I bought the lighter.

It is a nice lighter, too—so convenient, so clever, such a saver of trouble, indeed, that I wonder why I hadn’t the sense to get one long ago.

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