Law and Order

This post has been prompted by the fact that I have just completed a three week stint of jury service. The post is not going to be about the experience (which was interesting, intense and at times harrowing) but instead is going to have a brief look at law and order and how things have changed.  As always with this blog, I remind readers that these are my recollections and do not necessarily reflect the rest of the UK, Europe or the world at that time because I lived in a remote country area.

In the 50s and 60s there were still ‘village bobbies’ in many rural areas. The familiar image is of a kindly copper cycling around keeping an eye on everything and living in the local police house.

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In our village we didn’t have our own policeman. Our local town (2,000 people so a very small town!) was five miles away and had a little police station with a police house and a lovely guy called Sergeant Walters in residence. Although he was a familiar name in our village, one of the few times I came across him in person was when I was in my last year of primary school. A group of us who could ride bikes were able to take our cycling proficiency test. Sergeant Walters came to school to test us. I was SO proud of my badge and certificate!!

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When cycling around the lanes and hills near home we were all aware that should Sergeant Walters drive past and see us cycling without hands or riding two to a bike we would be ‘done’.  It never happened.

When we drove through larger towns and cities, visiting relatives or going on holiday, we used to see busy town centre junctions with a policeman on ‘point duty’. There were fewer traffic lights and roundabouts back then. Also, there were hardly any by-passes or ring roads so traffic went right through the centre of towns. The traffic jams, especially in the summer time on popular holiday routes were horrendous! To avoid them we sometimes set off on holiday late in the evening and travelled through the night. This was very exciting to us as children!

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Throughout my whole childhood and teenage years, I have absolutely no memory of anyone in our locality being burgled or of anything being vandalised. We once had a plum tree which was laden with plums ripe and ready for picking completely stripped of its fruit while we were out for the day. I knew about burglars from story books and comics where they were always portrayed in stripey jumpers, eye masks and carrying a torch and a sack full of stolen goods. The image is still around as seen in these illustrations from the ever popular children’s book Burglar Bill by Janet and Allan Ahlberg.

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Those are my memories of real life law and order in the 50s and 60s where I grew up. The fiction was very different. I loved Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven books. Some people criticise them now but as children we absolutely adored them. They were always solving mysteries, foiling smuggling attempts and handing hapless burglars over to the police. Kidnapping, escaped convicts, treasure and stolen documents turn up in some of the stories and the gang of children (and a dog!) are always the ones who sort everything out. There was usually a reward, heaps of praise and a sumptuous tea at the end for the gang. Wonderful stuff!

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Next, the world of TV law and order. We first had a TV in our home in 1961 when I was ten years old. Dixon of Dock Green was a huge family favourite. PC George Dixon was a kindly London copper. The stories were mostly about small time crimes and the programme always ended with Dixon offering some gentle words of advice in front of his police station before wishing everyone goodnight. The series ran for 100s of episodes and Jack Warner who played PC Dixon was still in the role at the age of 80.

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Things We Never Even Dreamed Of In The 50s and 60s.

Phones you can carry around with you, that take pictures and can make video calls.

When we had our first telephone connected in our home I was about six years old. It was SO exciting! Our number was 9 as we were the ninth telephone in the village. It was heavy, black and was connected to the wall in one corner of our lounge. Not everyone had a camera and now we walk around with phones in our pockets which can take pictures too – as well as a multitude of other amazing things! I remember fantasising with my brother and sister about phones of the future. ‘What if you could see the person you were talking to as well! Just imagine!” Now children are growing up with Skype and Face Time and think nothing of it.

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Instant access to information of any sort at your fingertips.

When I was young, and indeed right into adulthood, if you needed to find something out you looked it up in a reference book. If you didn’t have one at home – in an encyclopedia, atlas, dictionary etc – you went to your local library. Now we can turn on a laptop or whip a phone out of our pocket and find out what we need to know instantly.

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Posting parcels in pharmacies, newsagents etc.

This is in here because I had to post a large parcel last week. Here in the UK, Royal Mail were the one and only postal service in the 50s and 60s. My parcel would have cost a fortune via The Post Office (who I normally use) so I researched couriers. I used a well known courier firm and located a convenient drop off point which happened to be a small pharmacy a few miles from where I live. It felt strange to be at a pharmacy counter, next to people picking up prescriptions and buying aspirin, to hand over my parcel.

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Cars with radios which can also tell you which way to go.

Radios years ago were too big and cumbersome to be carried around and most also needed to be connected to mains electricity. Being able to listen to the radio in the car wasn’t something which ever occurred to us as a possibility. My first car radio was bought as a separate item and had to be fitted in to the car. As for Sat Navs! We had maps, road atlases and, in our family, an AA Handbook which came with membership of the AA breakdown service and contained a wealth of information about anywhere you wanted to visit. The idea of a voice reading out directions as you drove along would have been completely unbelievable in my childhood – or even twenty years ago!

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People saying that red meat, bread, wheat, dairy, tea, coffee,sugar etc etc is bad for you. 

First of all, I do know that we are now far better informed about allergies and about food which is better taken in moderation. What makes me smile is that back in the 1950s, these things were the staples of life and were all considered to be ‘good food’. My grandmother on my dad’s side loved feeding people up and really did think that sugar was ‘good for you’. She would be more than a little puzzled to see the complicated labels on food now.

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Clothes made overseas which can be bought for less than it would cost you to make them.

In my childhood nobody we knew could afford to buy all their clothes in shops. My mum made most of our clothes and evenings were spent knitting or using her sewing machine. By the time my children were in school it was cheaper to buy ready made clothes than to knit or sew your own. Mass-produced knitwear and cheaper synthetic fibres meant that it cost me far more to go into a wool shop and buy the yarn to knit a sweater. I still enjoy knitting but as an enjoyable pastime rather than an essential.

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Flying being commonplace and affordable.

Nobody I knew flew in my childhood. I used to see planes in the sky but I never considered that ‘normal’ people might one day be using aircraft as a means of travelling to visit family or go on holiday.

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Buying things with a piece of plastic.

Back in the 50s and 60s, we had cash and we had cheques. I remember my mum and dad using cheque books in shops when we occasionally did a ‘big shopping trip’ such as to buy new winter coats and shoes. The rest of the time it was notes and coins. Cheque books looked like the above for many years (courtesy of Wikipedia) with the diagonal lines across and the account holder’s address always written on the back in the presence of the shopkeeper. I would now struggle to find my cheque book although I do have one somewhere!

I remember the first TV ad I saw for a credit card. It was a Barclaycard advert and it featured a girl in a bikini heading out to the beach and shops with just a rectangular piece of plastic tucked into her waistband.

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Buying things without even plastic.

My 2017 self can now purchase a huge range of goods – including rail and plane tickets from my Smart Phone or laptop.