Bows and arrows, guns and penknives.

The subject of children playing with toy guns, knives etc. is a controversial one. Many parents will not allow their children to play with any toys resembling weapons. I am not going to explore the rights and wrongs of that here, my thoughts in this post are about the large number of toy guns, swords and bows with arrows we played with as children in the 1950s. We also had penknives, sheath knives and catapults (not toy ones).

First the toy guns. There was quite a choice! Cap guns had a little roll of paper with dots of gunpowder on. When you pulled the trigger a little metal hammer hit the gunpowder spot and there was a satisfying click followed by a puff of smoke and a lovely firework-like smell. Excuse my very un-technical description of the mechanism!                                               Pop guns fired out a cork from the barrel which was attached by a string so couldn’t actually hit anything but made a great noise.                                                                                              Potato or spud guns fired small pellets of raw potato. My memory of the details fails me a bit here but I believe the gun was pressed into the raw potato and a pellet was punched out ready for firing.                                                                                                                                                   Lastly, there were the water pistols. I never enjoyed playing with them as much as I didn’t like getting soaked with cold water!

 

potato gun.jpg                               pop gun 1

 

marshal-2 cap gun                                                   cap rolls

 

watergun03.jpg

 

To understand our love of toy guns, it’s important to remember how massive Westerns were at the time in the form of both TV series and films. Who remembers The Lone Ranger, Laramie, The Range Rider, Rawhide and Bronco? The gun-toting cowboys versus the arrow-firing ‘Red Indians’ were the stuff of our childhood – even here in the UK. As children we had cowboy (and cowgirl) and Red Indian dressing up outfits. Which neatly moves us on from guns to bows and arrows. The bought sets had suckers on the end of the arrows which would stick (if you were lucky!) to a door or window. The cheaper ones, however, were the ones we made ourselves using wood from hedges and trees. Willow was the most flexible for a bow I seem to remember.

 

bows and arrows 1                  bows and arrows

 

 

 

outfits.jpg                             lone ranger

 

50s toy sword

 

Whereas the guns were toys,  the penknives, sheath knives and catapults we had as children were real. It was the norm for kids, especially boys, to have a child-sized penknife. They might have been smaller than adult ones but they were nonetheless real. They were great for whittling sticks! Because we all had them, we knew how to handle them and not misuse them. The same applied to catapults. The picture shows a typical bought catapult but we also made them from twigs and small branches.

 

roy rogers penknives                         sheath knife

catapult

 

 

R.I.P. BHS – gone but not forgotten.

In the UK this week we have heard the sad news that the chain of shops known as BHS (formerly British Home Stores) closed all its stores yesterday for the last time. I wrote a blog post some months ago about shops and brands which are no longer around, so excuse any repetition but I felt I had to pay tribute to good old BHS. It is the latest in a long line of shops and cafes we in Britain grew up with which have now disappeared.

British Home Stores 1950s Cardiff

Here are some more.

Littlewood's,                                          richard shops

 

City Kardomah Cafe New Street Birmingham                        TimothyWhites

 

Wimpy             etam

dolcis          Home-and-Colonial-Store-Leek

 

johnmenzies        C & A

 

lewis'         army_store88

 

co-op        We still have Co-op supermarkets but there used to be Co-op departments stores too.

 

 

National Milk Bars      One for anyone else who grew up in Wales and remembers this chain with affection. This is the one in Machynlleth which I have been to many, many times and which only closed a few years ago.

1950s Home Decor.

There is plenty of information available on the Internet about 1950s styles. Some are now being reintroduced as fashionable. I’m no style historian but I have very clear memories of the way things looked in my home and in other homes we visited. The photographs shown here are images which match these memories and I am in no way covering 50s styles completely.

Kitchens were not fitted, they had freestanding cupboards and cabinets. This is like the one we had. The middle section hinged out to make a working surface and I have very clear memories of being just the right (wrong) height to bang my head on the corner as I ran through the kitchen to go outside to play. In the middle is an image of the blue and white table ware which was very popular then – and is now quite collectible. We didn’t have a full service of it but I remember breakfast bowls and a milk jug. The clock is a popular 1950s style and was often seen on a kitchen wall.

1950skitchencupboardlarder               Cornish-blue-tableware.jpg           clocks 50s.jpg

lemon squeezer.jpg   50s tea set.jpg

Every kitchen had a glass lemon squeezer like this one – I now have (and use!) my mum’s. Tea and coffee sets with different coloured cups and saucers were briefly popular in the fifties and we had a set of six – I still have three or four of those.

The 50s was the era of spindly legged furniture. Those tapering legs looked so modern compared with the heavier 30s and 40s furniture which they replaced.

furniture  sofa

furniture 50s                   philips2 radiogram

The fourth item above is something called a radiogram, now an extinct species. Very cool at the time, they were basically a sideboard (everyone had sideboards then!) with a record player and a radio inside and cupboard space for records.

Making a quick visit to bedroom styles of the time, my main memory is of candlewick bedspreads. The one below is very similar to the ones I and my sister had on our bunks. We also had sheets just like the ones on the right. The close up gives an idea of the texture of candlewick – I can feel it now when I look at that! The stripes on the sheets  were known as candy striped and we had cotton in summer and lovely warm, cosy brushed cotton (flannelette) in winter.

c wick     cwick     sheets

 

Moving on to ornamental things, we really did have three flying ducks on the wall! i have managed to find pictures of some of the other things I remember us having. They now turn up in charity shops as bric a brac.

ducks.jpg   wade.JPG   china ornament

re pouf-600x600  This is a pouffe – very common then, less so now!

 

Finally, here are a few furnishing designs like ones I remember.

wallpaper.jpg     -1950s-wallpaper-custom-fabrics-lights-diamonds-183984      curtains    curtains 50s   lampshade x

1950s-atomic-ranch-house-atomic-retro-lampshade.jpg

There were also plenty of floral and striped designs around but these are the ones which were very much of the 1950s.

I will think about moving on to what I remember of 1960s styles next.

 

 

Nursery Rhymes

nursery rhymes

I grew up hearing, reading and singing Nursery Rhymes. I brought my daughters up knowing them all too. They are a part of our history. Talking with friends the other day I was lamenting the fact that many children starting school at four years old (in my school anyway – it could be different elsewhere) know hardly any of them. They might just know Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or Baa Baa Black Sheep but rarely more than that. I said that I would hate for them to be lost from out culture. A friend then pointed out that many of the words were, in fact, violent and dark.

When I thought about it I recalled cats being drowned in wells, choppers chopping heads off, babies falling out of trees, helpless blind mice having their tails cut off, robins being shot with bows and arrows, a boy and girl falling down a hill and the boy fracturing his skull and an overweight lad chasing little girls and trying to kiss them. I could go on!

Apart from the literal meanings, we now know that most of these rhymes refer to historical events and people, albeit in the form of a simple children’s rhyme. I won’t got into all the meanings and origins here, they are extensively covered in texts and on the Internet. I thought I would take a few of the ones I knew and loved best as a child and say whatever comes to mind.

HumptyDumpty

Humpty_Dumpty_1_-_WW_Denslow_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_18546

One theory is that Humpty Dumpty was the name of a very large cannon used in the Civil War in Colchester in 1648 which fell off a church roof and become damaged beyond repair. That might or might not be true but what is known is that Lewis Carroll was the first person to illustrate Humpty Dumpty as a comical egg character.

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

Mistress_Mary,_Quite_Contrary_1_-_WW_Denslow_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_18546

This was one of my favourites as a small girl. I think that was probably because it has such pretty girly images in the words! The Mary in the rhyme is reputed to be Mary Queen of Scots.

Old Mother Hubbard

Old_Mother_Hubbard_Illustrated.png

Until I researched this picture I hadn’t realised Old Mother Hubbard had so many verses! There is a cottage in Devon which is supposedly where the real Mother Hubbard lived. I always felt sorry for the poor dog. My daughters and I always refer to having a Mother Hubbard cupboard if supplies are running low and we need to go shopping.

Lucy Locket

lucy locket

When I was in primary school Lucy Locket was a circle game we played a lot in the playground. Lucy Locket and Kitty Fisher are believed by some to have been courtesans in the time of Charles II who had a quarrel over a lover.

Are nursery rhymes sweet and historical or are they gross and the stuff of nightmares?

I love them and think it would be very sad if they disappeared from children’s lives.

 

1950s Mums and their weekly hair dos.

My daughter recently drew my attention to an article on the demise of the shampoo and set and suggested it might be a good subject for a blog post. So I started thinking and I kept remembering more and more things – here is the result.

Back in the 1950s when I was a child nobody had showers in their homes and the norm was for people to bath once a week. Going back even further, houses didn’t even have running water and baths. In towns and cities there were public baths which were places where you could go to pay for a cubicle with a bath in it and running hot water. That’s why many of our older swimming pools here in the UK are known as ‘the baths’ because that’s how they started.

public baths

This bit of background is to help explain why the weekly visit to the hairdresser was so important. Nowadays we go to a salon every so often for a decent hair cut by a proficient stylist. In between cuts we wash and style our hair ourselves, most people daily. In the 1950s the current hair styles for women were all quite bouffant and structured. It was not a look which could easily be achieved at home with the equipment and the bathrooms we had at the time.  Once a week a woman had a ‘shampoo and set’ or a ‘hairdo’ at a salon. The hair was washed, covered in setting lotion, set in rollers and dried (baked!) for ages by a massive metal hood drier under which the client sat. If the hair was straight or very fine a perm was essential in order to achieve the desired look. The trim was incidental and was added to the procedure every few weeks to keep the do in shape. It seems strange to us now but visiting the hairdresser weekly was seen as normal rather than extravagant.

50s hair driers         Women's Hairstyles in the 1950s (6)   Elizabeth-Taylor-1950s-hairstyle-9   1950s

The usual sight at a ladies’ hair salon and some of the current styles.

During the week in between the hair was kept in shape with the help of rollers. These could be put in at night and slept in or put in in the morning and left all day (under a net or a headscarf) until being combed out later in the day before the family came home.

My mum had a shampoo and set every week of her adult life. She also slept in rollers. She never needed a perm as she had naturally thick, wavy hair. I remember that when we went on holiday for a fortnight in the summer holidays my mum would visit a salon in the place we were staying for a shampoo and set in the middle of the two weeks.

This is what was used then . . . . . . . .

rollers            rollers 2   hair-spray-helene-curtis-ads-1950s.jpg    setting lotion   50s hair

 

and what can be used today.

ghd   tongs 1

serum         blow-dry-hair

 

 

Blogs I enjoy!

Today I want to spread the word about a few of my favourite blogs. I have several but to begin with here are a few from the top of my list.

https://femininematerz.wordpress.com/author/bisimodupe1975/

Based in Nigeria, this woman blogs on feminist issues and so much more besides. Her posts are always thought-provoking, interesting and informative. This make her blog sound dull and heavy – it isn’t! She can lift the spirits too.

http://thebrightnessofthesedays.com/

This young UK woman with two small children has just returned to work and writes about her life in a mixture of poetry, prose and photographs. Deliciously entertaining and at times exquisitely moving.

https://hometogo232.wordpress.com

This Canadian blogger writes about her life, her family, her faith and sometimes about her health and growing older (which I can identify with!). She writes in such a warm, natural style that you feel you know her personally.

I will be publicising a few more so keep looking out for them.

Things you don’t see any more – and things you don’t see so often.

  • Kids with bare knees in winter.

Boys wore short trousers until their teens – with knee length socks in winter, short socks in summer. Girls wore skirts and pinafore dresses all year with long (knee-length) socks in winter.

boys in shorts

 

  • Most adults wearing hats out of doors.

Whether it was a cloth cap for working outside or a trilby for walking to the shops or the office, men wore hats outside. It was rare when I was very young in the 50s to see a hatless man outside. The hats were always removed on entering a building. They were also removed if a funeral cortege went past. Women, too were rarely hatless. My mum had ‘best’ hats for church, going out hats for visiting people or going somewhere ‘nice’ and everyday hats for popping to the local shops. These came in winter and summer varieties. My grandmothers always had hat-pins in theirs!

hats

  • Women wearing gloves in summer.

When women went somewhere smart they wore gloves even if it was summer. Summer gloves were usually white or cream and made of cotton. I also remember me and my sister having to wear white summer gloves with our best spring outfits to church at Easter and Whitsuntide.

gloves

  • Bus conductors.

I lived in the country so visiting a town was exciting and going on a bus or a tram was part of the adventure. You entered at the back of the vehicle and the conductor came to you in your seat to sell you a ticket from his machine which he carried strapped to him.

conductor

  • Rag and Bone men.

This is another thing we didn’t see in the country but we did have one which used to go past my grandmother’s house which was in a town.When I was small I used to think he was shouting ‘Rainbow!’. What did they do with the bones, I wonder?

rag and bone man

  • Delivery vans selling practically everything.

We had each week (some came twice a week) – a butcher’s van, a bread van, a grocery van, a fish van and a pop van. My mum once cancelled a bread man because he used to put unwrapped loaves on the seat he had just been sitting on to drive while he got his change out.We were only allowed to have pop very occasionally as my mum was very careful with our teeth.

delivery van

  • Shopkeepers adding up on paper.

The tills didn’t add up in the old days. The prices of the items were jotted down in a column and then added up before being rung into the till. The paper they added up on was very often the top one of a pile of paper bags or sheets of greaseproof. My mum used to say she could add up a column of figures as quickly upsidedown as she could the right way up from years of keeping a close eye on the bill and making sure it was added up right!

 

Grocer

 

  • Kids climbing trees.

I, my brother and my sister spent half our childhood up trees I’m sure! I don’t ever remember falling or hurting myself.

tree climbing

  • Metal dustbins.

All bins were metal and were carried on the bin men’s backs and shoulders. Nothing was wrapped in bin liners in those days so they must have got pretty smelly at times!

bin men

 

************************

Home Made Clothes and Entertainment

When I was a teenager in the mid 1960s my friends and I were all caught up in the fashions and music of the times. We lived in a remote area,  money wasn’t plentiful and as we were still at school we didn’t have spending money apart from a bit of pocket money.

The latest single (known as a 45) was saved up for or, if you had a birthday coming, up you might be bought it as a present. At home, my dad bought a reel to reel tape recorder, I remember it was a Grundig TK14. We used to tape pop songs from the radio (I believe it was illegal but we didn’t know that) by holding the microphone near to the speaker of the transistor radio. The quality must have been terrible but we were happy! You had to be smart on the record button to make sure you didn’t get the presenter’s voice at the beginning and end of the song.

dansette01      TK14 good pic

My brother, sister and I used to have fun pretending to be radio presenters and putting our own commentary on the tape in between songs.

I loved Honey magazine and used to read each issue cover to cover many times. My mum was an excellent knitter and sewer and made most of our dresses, jumpers and cardigans. Once I spotted a delightful green dress in my magazine and showed it to my mum. She copied it for me by combining three different dress patterns and I was SO proud of it! I think I wore it all the parties and dances I went to that year. The picture and the patterns aren’t the actual ones but similar.

green dress                    Dress5                         mccalls-8755

I had a lovely pair of cream T-Bar shoes for best which I wore throughout one year with a camel coloured A-line dress. The following year camel was out and turquoise was big so I bought a Lady Esquire shoe dye and dyed the shoes turquoise. My sister and I also used to use Dylon dyes to give clothes a new look.

60s shoes                                     shoe dye

One winter, when capes were in fashion, I longed for one. My mum had an old policeman’s cape which had belonged to my dad’s policeman brother. She cut it down for me, put new fastenings on it and lined it with emerald green satin from one of her old dance dresses. I thought it was fabulous!

 

cape

Words I Didn’t Know in the 1950s.

There are words and phrases in everyday use now which were never heard when I was a child. Some of them are technological words and refer to things which have been invented in recent decades, some are words from other countries, often food words, others are expressions which have evolved over time.

 

I will begin with food. In the UK in the 50s, especially in remoter parts such as where I grew up, the range of food encountered was far more limited than it is now. With the rise of international travel and trade new food and drink broadened our experience. I was 13 before I saw or ate in a Chinese restaurant, my first curry in an Indian restaurant was in 1969 and my first ever pizza a couple of years later. Other food and drink we think of as ours now, which were unknown in the UK then, are;

baguette, bagel, croissant, panini, pasta (we had tinned spaggetti, macaroni cheese and that was it!), sushi, cappuccino, latte, Americano and espresso, green tea, mayonnaise, chilli, couscous, wholemeal, wholefood.

heinz-spaghetti              1941Menu2 What, no pizza?!

Household objects which were unknown, not even dreamed of then include;

TV remote control, microwave, mobile phone, Internet, website, laptop, email – this particular list is endless.

Some words and expressions which have evolved over time or been invented are;

road rage, gridlocked, anger management, food allergy, chronic fatigue syndrome, post traumatic stress, hyper, OCD, ADHD.

Several decades ago if you were green it meant you were somewhat naive, it had nothing to do with your attitude to the environment. If you were cool you were not warm. A tablet was something you swallowed when not well. If something was brilliant it shone brightly. If you were chilling you were becoming colder. Coke was a fuel for an open fire. Olive oil lived in the bathroom, was bought at the chemist’s shop in tiny bottles and used for earache. If you were gay you were jolly and happy. A mouse was always a small furry creature with a tail. If you were in possession of grass or weed it was in your garden and legal. Camp meant to holiday in a tent and was also a brand of coffee substitute. Fanny and Gay were girls’ names. Spam was a tinned, processed meat.

gay ad     gay ad 2      fanny ad 2

camp ad      spam ad 2

To finish with, here’s a random list of words which didn’t exist (as far as I know!) or meant something completely different in the 1950s – digital, chargrilled, logistics, browser, strimmer, recycle, shredder.

 

Ten quirky, unusual and forgotten facts about growing up in the 1950s.

  1.   There was no tissue paper for personal use. Toilet paper was hard and crunchy – very like greaseproof paper/ baking parchment – and often impregnated with disinfectant so very strong-smelling. The two brands I remember are Bronco and Izal. in my dad’s workplace the toilet paper was printed on every square with ‘Government property. Now wash your hands.’ Noses were blown with cotton handkerchiefs (hankies) even when a person had a heavy cold.

7951310318_03a60ef32d_n                                   hankies

2.   Pineapples, peaches, salmon, cream and mandarin oranges were only seen in tins. I’m sure I didn’t see real peaches or pineapples until the late 60s. Tinned salmon was a treat for Sunday tea or when visitors came. Cream (usually served on trifle or a bowl of tinned fruit) was always Carnation or Ideal. I imagine this was because domestic fridges were uncommon in the UK in the 50s and it was a problem keeping things fresh.

nestles cream                                              Tinned cream

3.    We had never heard of Velcro and all zips had metal teeth. Most female garments had hooks and eyes or press studs somewhere.

4.   Underwear was all cotton and all white or cream. Everybody wore vests all year round – summer vests in warm weather and winter vests in the cold.

mens undies.jpg     ladies vest     A knitting pattern for ladies’                                                                                                                          vests.

vintage-childrens-long-vest-unused-c-1930s-cherub-short-sleeved-girl-boy-26-30--14589-p   A child’s Cherub brand vest.

5.   You always went to bed when unwell – even if it was just a cold. 

6.   Hair was washed once a week, no more.

7.   Gay meant happy, jolly, merry, carefree.

gay

8.   Household light bulbs were all the same size and the same fitting – bayonet. When I go to buy replacement lightbulbs now I take a sample of the one I want with me as the choice is bewildering!

9. There were no tiny batteries such as watch ones. I don’t remember having anything which needed batteries apart from torches.

10.  There were no calculators. In the late 1960s, as a student, I came across my first ever calculator. It was mechanical and made of metal. It had a lever lever on the side and a roll of tape which showed the calculation printed put. I thought it was amazing. Up until then the only aids to maths I had come across were log tables and slide rules.

s-l300

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

I will just add my usual disclaimer – these are my recollections and things might have been very different for people living in different parts of Britain, particularly those in towns and cities where things were perhaps a bit more advanced.