The Times They Are A-Changin’ . . .

“You can’t go back.” How many times have we all heard that and recognized the truth of it and wished it wasn’t so? Unfortunately, it is so and that will never change. I’ve tried to change it several times, both here in Canada and back in my former stomping grounds in Britain, but no matter what it is you might be trying to recapture—atmosphere, environment or nostalgia—you can’t do it, because your world has changed beyond recognition since your memories of that time were formed, and the people who shared it all with you have grown and moved on, developing lives of their own in which there’s no room for you today.

A London Cockney comedian called Bernard Cribbens wrote a song called “Fings ain’t wot they used to be” in England in the late 1960s, complaining, in a very comical way, about how everything around him in the world at that time was going rapidly downhill. I rediscovered the song (and the sentiment) recently, after not having thought about it in decades, because I realized that the process hasn’t stopped.

Every now and again, something triggers that old association, and it usually happens when I’m feeling nostalgic about something and I take the time to stop and think back to what it was about it that made it so enjoyable.

Too often now, though, it’s difficult to remember or recapture what that special something was, because in far too many instances it has disappeared completely and there’s nothing left to recognize or identify in what remains, proving that things really aren’t what they used to be… Everything is still going downhill, it seems.

There’s even a word for the process. It’s called entropy, and it’s a form of slow decay; a gradual decline into disorder.

It’s one of those things that’s an inescapable part of life, and though most people might live their entire life without ever hearing or noticing the word, every one of us is more than familiar with how entropy affects us.

This frame of mind I’m in has been growing for some time now—more than a year, at least, and probably for two or three—but it crystallized a month or so ago when my wife and I decided, on the spur of a passing whim when we were in town one evening and temporarily at loose ends, to have a hamburger at a well-known family restaurant where we used to eat regularly when we visited BC from Alberta.

It was a huge disappointment, nothing at all like the memories we had of eating there in past times, and it made me think again of other, similarly disappointing experiences we’ve had in recent years.

I’m not saying there was anything wrong with that particular restaurant itself, or with the service we received that evening. On the contrary, the premises were bright and attractive, the atmosphere was friendly, welcoming and pleasantly busy, and the staff were attentive, helpful and efficient. It was the food that had changed; the individual components of the meal. The flavours, textures and even the composition of the meal had changed radically over twenty years of entropy: the buns were hugely different—fluffy, too dry and floury and altogether commonplace compared to the smaller, more dense and chewably delicious buns that had characterized the legendary institution in the 1980s. The fries were different, too, which was a shame.

Of course it doesn’t need someone with a marketing degree to attribute causes to the differences we noticed. The restaurant chain in question is no longer owned by its founders. It’s now part of a much larger and more complex organization that is operated nowadays, like every other successful multi-divisional corporation, with an eye on the bottom line and overall corporate cash flow and profit. That means it’s effectively governed by accountants whose job it is to cut down costs by shaving off a fraction of a cent here, there and everywhere by exercising economies of scale and buying wherever they can get the best deal.

Over a period of years, though, those economies and parings add up to a loss of identity and ultimately to a loss of character, sacrificing the elements that made the chain and its food unique and earned its reputation for excellence in the first place. There’s no malice involved anywhere in the development. No one ever set out to undermine or devalue what was there. It simply occurred, incrementally, over long periods of “economic improvements” and the end result, for those who remember why they used to go there, is disappointment and regret because spicy country gravy has given way to bland brown guck, chewy buns have been replaced by starchy, indigestible tastelessness, and the tangy, delicious piquancy that used to make eating there a pleasure has been filtered and finessed out of existence.

That’s entropy at work, and it happens all the time. DQ is no longer called Dairy Queen, because DQ serves no dairy products at all nowadays—they were phased out—and KFC would really like you to forget that the Colonel’s chicken was ever “Fried”. It isn’t now. But then, it’s no longer the Colonel’s, no matter what the marketers say about the original recipe. It’s been entropied.