Strange Times.

I have started drafting a few different posts recently but have kept abandoning them. The focus of this blog is life in the 1950s and 60s in Britain as seen through the eyes of a child and I try to stay true to this. However, it didn’t feel right not to even mention what we are all living through just now. Prompted by my friend H, I began to cast my mind back over ‘plagues and pestilences’ I remember from when I was growing up. I do like to brighten my posts up with pictures but this topic doesn’t lend itself to nostalgic photographs so there aren’t many.

This is meant to be interesting, informative, positive and somewhat relevant to the current problem.

Anthrax. Maybe a strange choice to start off with. I heard about it when I was really very young. I’m pretty sure I overheard adults discussing it, and I became seriously worried for a while that I and my family were going to catch it and die. As a child I was a natural worrier with an over-active imagination. Not always a good combination. I picked up on the fact that it could be caught from cows and I lived in a farming area. I have looked anthrax up and I realise that it was in the news a fair bit in the 1950s because that was when a vaccine was developed. I and my family were never in any danger of catching it from the local cows as my childish mind believed but it is very, very nasty indeed and has even been used in what used to be known as germ warfare. Gruinard Island, a remote uninhabited island off the coast of Scotland was used by the Ministry of Defence in the 1940s for anthrax experiments. It remained contaminated until its eventual decontamination in the 1980s using formaldehyde and sea water. It was declared safe for humans and animals in 1990 and returned to its rightful owners. It remains uninhabited.

Gruinard Island is located in Ross and Cromarty   The location of Gruinard Island.

Smallpox is a real success story. It was massive, all over the world. When I started looking into it I realised that it deserves 1 000s of words just to itself. Here are some facts courtesy of Wikipedia.

During the 18th century the disease killed an estimated 400,000 Europeans each year, including five reigning monarchs, and was responsible for a third of all blindness.

Between 20 and 60% of all those infected—and over 80% of infected children—died from the disease.

During the 20th century, it is estimated that smallpox was responsible for 300–500 million deaths worldwide.

 

An 1802 cartoon of the early controversy surrounding Edward Jenners vaccination theory, showing how the use of a cowpox-derived smallpox vaccine was causing cattle to emerge from patients.

The link with the 50s and 60s is that I remember a smallpox outbreak here in the UK which sent everyone running to get vaccinated. We went as a family to our GP’s surgery in the nearby town to get vaccinated and it’s the only time I remember being there and seeing people queueing out of the door and along the pavement.

Thanks to vaccination it has now been eradicated from the whole world. How good is that?

Polio was a very familiar word when I was a child. We all knew people who had either died from it or recovered and left disabled to a greater or lesser extent. I remember hearing about the ‘iron lung’ used in the treatment of polio. In the late 1950s my dad lost a good friend to polio who was 32. It was an isolated case and left two little boys without a father. I well recall the first time we all received the oral vaccine against polio. I was in secondary school then and we all had to queue up a class at a time to go into the library and be given a sugar cube to eat. I’ve been looking all this up and the development of the first live oral polio vaccine was in 1962 and was ground-breaking. With mass immunisation, polio became a distant memory. It still exists in the world but is under control. Europe was declared polio free by WHO in 2002.

From 1956-8 there was a pandemic known as Asian flu. I remember little about it. I was five years old in 1956 so, like my daughters are doing now with their small children during Covid-19, parents probably shielded their children from the full facts. Also, we lived in the depths of the Welsh countryside and people didn’t travel so widely then. Researching it now I see how appalling it really was. Here are some statistics, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Estimates of worldwide deaths caused by this pandemic vary widely depending on source; ranging from 1 million to 4 million, with WHO settling on about 2 million.

Hong Kong flu, also known as 1968 flu pandemic, was a category 2 flu pandemic whose outbreak in 1968 and 1969 killed an estimated one million people all over the world.

In comparison to other pandemics, the Hong Kong flu yielded a low death rate, with a case-fatality ratio below 0.5% making it a category 2 disease on the Pandemic Severity Index. I read somewhere that this was because populations had some resistance following the 1958 flu pandemic as the viruses were closely related.

I was more aware of this one as I was a teenager and we had a TV by then so saw national and world news screened every evening. However, I don’t remember anyone panicking where I lived. People my age who were in towns and cities might remember it differently.

It has been fascinating digging into all this and there is so much more I could have covered – measles, rubella, TB to name but a few. I have tried to make it upbeat rather than morbid and I hope I have succeeded.

 

 

 

Make Do and Mend

Now that most of us are holed up inside until the virus has passed I have no excuse for not keeping up with my blogging. First, I sat down and caught up with some saved posts from some of my favourite bloggers. Having time to enjoy reading them and to add a comment is a novelty. So here’s my latest offering for you to read at your new-found leisure!

I grew up with the expressions ‘Make Do and Mend’ and ‘Waste not Want not’. After a suggestion from my friend Ina, I decided to bring make do and mend up to date. Now we know it as recycle, reuse , repair but it’s not a new idea. Make Do and Mend was the title of a leaflet published by the UK government during World War 2 after clothes rationing was announced. It’s based around clothing for that reason, but the principle has taken on a new, wider meaning now that we are all trying to be more environmentally friendly.

Some of these points have been covered in earlier posts on this blog. Call it recycling!

So, does anyone remember any of these?

Dusters and floor cloths made from old cotton underwear.

For many years I only ever saw dusters made out of discarded cotton vests. Floor cloths were cast off cotton pants. Cotton fabric does make the best household cloths and back in the 1950s all underwear was made of a cotton knit fabric.

 Stale bread and stale cake being used to make puddings and savory dishes.

Puddings were an important part of the British diet in the 50s and 60s. If you look back in a recipe book of the time it’s surprising how often you see stale breadcrumbs or stale cake listed in the ingredients. Many sweet and savoury dishes were bulked up with stale cake or bread. Now you can actually buy frozen breadcrumbs and trifle sponges are still available for dessert making.

 

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A few old recipes using stale cake and stale bread crumbs.

Unravelling old knitted jumpers to reuse the wool for a new one.

I can remember my mum and my grandmother doing this. Unravelled wool has kinks all the way through it and I remember my mum winding it around a glass bottle, wetting it and allowing it to dry out – which removed the kinks.

Darning socks and woollen jumpers.

I can remember my mum teaching me how to darn using her wooden darning mushroom. Jumpers, cardigans and winter socks were all made of wool. There were no synthetic yarns or synthetic/ wool mixes in the 1950s and wool, although warm, is not as hard-wearing as man made fibres. The heels and toes of woollen socks went into holes as did the elbows of sweaters. Clothes were not cheap and disposable as many are now and were less easy to come by. Woollens were mostly hand knitted which was labour intensive and not to be discarded just because of a hole. When any garment eventually had to be thrown away because it was beyond repair, reusable things like buttons and zips were removed and saved for future use.

darning mushroom

 

 

 

Returnable glass drinks bottles and jars.

There was, of course, the good old milkman. I do still have doorstep milk delivered in glass bottles but there aren’t many milk rounds left! It was a very early form of recycling. I didn’t live in a town but in the depths of the countryside. There were no milk rounds there but there were plenty of farms. We went to a nearby farm every evening as they were doing the milking. We always took washed out glass bottles with us, those with the swing-top stoppers, and the farmer would tap it straight from the cooler into our bottles. Pop bottles were returnable in those days and you got a few pence for each one returned to the shop. My mum used to tell me that even further back, in the 1930s when she was a child, all glass jars and bottles had returnable deposits on them. She used to be able to go to the cinema on a Saturday afternoon with her friends and pay with empty jam jars! Glass jars were saved throughout the year for holding jams, pickles and preserves. There were also the beloved Kilner jars used year after year. I still do all that as I make jam and chutney in the autumn. Once refundable deposits on glass containers stopped, it was another few decades before glass was being sorted separately and recycled. I nearly forgot to mention the good old soda syphon! My mum and dad thought they were the height of sophistication when they bought one of these refillable glass soda makers.

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Kilner jars were originally developed and produced in Yorkshire from 1842. They can still be bought and are as good as ever although not made in Yorkshire any longer.

Repairing broken toys.

We didn’t give up on toys readily back then, either. We had an old baby doll someone had passed on to us. It had a soft stuffed cloth body and a china head. My brother wanted his own doll because I had one and so did my sister so he got it. He decided he was called Billy. When his body started going into holes my mum and my grandmother made a whole new body, arms and legs using old stockings (clean!) stuffed with cotton wool. Then they made him a pair of blue flannelette striped pyjamas using an old pair my brother had grown out of. He was as good as new in our eyes and my brother loved him!

Billy doll

Not Billy but this is the sort of doll he was.

Other assorted things I remember.

Items made using wooden cotton reels. We used to do what we called corkwork, now more often referred to as French knitting. My dad used to hammer small metal fencing staples into the top of wooden cotton reels to make the corkwork spools.

Adult dresses cut down when finished with to make girls’ dresses.

Shepherd’s pie made with hand minced leftover roast beef.

Tab ends of soap bars melted together to make a ‘new’ bar of soap.

Stale, dry ends of cheese (no plastic keeping it fresh in those days!) grated and used in cooking.

 

 

 

 

As always, I have endeavoured to source images which are listed as free to use. If anyone objects to an image I have used just contact me and I will remove it.

 

 

Smoking Then and Now

Apologies for a longer than usual absence – if anyone has noticed! I was chatting with a friend earlier today and our conversation prompted this post. Sue referred to the fact that when we were children, in the 1950s, the majority of adults smoked. It was so normal and accepted that as small children we just thought that was what adults did, even if we didn’t like it. People smoked indoors and out, on trains, buses and in cars, in cinemas and theatres, in restaurants and in their homes and other people’s.  Even if you were a non-smoker, it was the norm and something you just had to live with. My parents didn’t smoke but they had ashtrays handy when friends visited and a box with cigarettes in which they could offer round at gatherings. Although our house had no regular smokers in it, when people visited the house would often have been full of smoke and I don’t remember thinking this was at all odd. In fact, since smoking was what adults did (most of them) children used to role-play as grown ups by pretending to smoke.

Kids with sweet cigs

  50s children with sweet cigarettes. I can remember being able to buy sweet cigarettes and sometimes at Christmas we would be bought a smoking set – not sure what it was called – which was like a selection box but full of smoking related objects. There would be pipes, cigars, cigarettes, matches, loose tobacco etc all made out of sugar, flavouring and colouring.

FRYS-CHOCOLATE-CIGARETTE-TIN-CARD-and-SWEETS
sweet cigs

When I was in secondary school I can remember that if ever I had to take a message to the staff room I would knock on the door and when it was opened I would struggle to see across the room as the fug was so dense. When you got your exercise books back after they had been marked they always smelled really strongly of the staff room smoke. Looking back now I think it must have been awful to be in those staff rooms if you were one of the few who didn’t smoke.   Now in our smoke free era all of this is hard to imagine. Yes, loads of people still smoke, and many deaths are caused every year by it. But, here in the UK and many other countries, there is no smoking allowed in any public place. Nobody now has to sit in a smoke-filled room or vehicle.

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When Phones Were Just Phones.

Back in the ‘old days’ once we had the first phone in our house (our telephone number was the name of the village followed by 9!) my brother, sister and I used to have fun imagining what it would be like if you could see as well as hear the person you were talking to. Many decades later and after moving into the age of the computer and getting used to doing more online we are now at the stage when there is not much you can’t do with simply a mobile phone.

Here are some of the things we can now do on a hand-held phone and some pictures of some of the items the mobile phone can now replace.

Take a photograph. This was the first big jump made by mobile phones before they became ‘smart’. My first ever mobile phone only made and received calls and it lived in the glove compartment of my car. It was literally a ‘car phone’. Then came phones on which you could text and then, lo and behold! the ones we referred to at first as camera phones which actually took photographs.

Antique Vintage Kodak Brownie 127 Camera Dakon Lens image 0

Check the time, your bank balance and the weather. Read the news.

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Look up facts in encyclopedias and reference books.

Check for first aid info and advice on family health.

Find out how to do a DIY job in the home.

Shop for clothes, toiletries, books, food . . . anything and everything!

Source knitting patterns, recipes, maps,

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AA 2020 Supreme Scale Atlas Britain - Travel Book by AA (Paperback)

Read or listen to music.

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Pay for goods or services in a shop, taxi, hair salon, filling station etc.

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A phone used to be a word for a gadget which was held in the hand on which you spoke to people you couldn’t see. Today’s phones do so much more and the humble telephone call is a very minor part of its role. Although I do a lot online I still have one foot in the non-digital age. I do hope books don’t disappear – I love them! I love reading fiction and I also enjoy browsing through recipe books and history books. Reading a book on a phone or tablet is just not the same for me. I still use cash as well as cards and PayPal or Amazon. I keep a road atlas in the car and I wear a watch.

School Dinners

When I was a child there were two choices. If you lived near school you could go home for your midday meal. Otherwise you had school dinners. There was not an option to bring your own packed lunch. If you had school dinners there was one choice. You ate what you were given. One main course (dinner), one dessert (pudding). No alternatives and you absolutely had to eat what was put on your plate. I think this is why so many people of my age in Britain have bad memories of school dinners. It wasn’t that they were all terrible. I remember some nice things. Baked sponge puddings, for example. It was the complete lack of choice and the obligation to clear your plate which was the downside. We all received a bottle of milk a day (third of a pint) and this could be delightful in winter when really cold and pretty disgusting when it had been sitting outside in the crates all morning in summer sun!

Image result for 1950s school dinner menu"    CLASSROOM CALORIES All children were given a daily bottle of milk

To put this in context, World War II had only finished in 1945 and I believe rationing was still in place in the early fifties. Whether at home or in school – you ate what you were given and didn’t complain. The adults at home and in school had lived through the war and had no time for children being fussy. So we weren’t!

One of my main memories of our school dinners was lumpiness. There were lumps in the custard, the gravy, the mashed potato. One meal I remember is Spam served with mashed potato and beetroot. Then they poured the beetroot juice over your meal as if it was a sauce or a gravy. Not my favourite! I remember stews and mince of little flavour, pale in colour and with small quantities of indeterminate vegetables floating around – probably swede and turnip. These runny meat dishes were also served with the ubiquitous mashed potato and a veg, often boiled cabbage.

Also, and any post war British readers will identify with this, there were endless milk puddings. There was semolina, sago, tapioca, ground rice, rice and macaroni. All made into hot milky puddings. If you were lucky you got a spoonful of jam to stir into your pudding which turned it pink and made it a bit more palatable. Sometimes they were served with a spoonful of stewed prunes. I didn’t touch prunes for many years after I left school, they’re still not top of my list!

Today’s school dinners here in the UK are free to all children up to the age of seven and are tasty and well-balanced, Even more importantly – there are choices. We have come a long way.

 

An example of a week’s menu in a primary school. these menus are rotated on a four week cycle so the choices are not the same every week.

Thanks to Helena for giving me the idea for this post.

Happy New Year!

Image result for 1950s Happy New Year card uk "

 

On New Year’s Eve, I thought I’d take a brief trip back to the New Year’s Eves of my childhood. As regular readers know, I grew up in a tiny village in a very quiet part of rural mid-Wales. There were around 28 children in our village school aged 4 to 11. Some, like me, lived within walking distance of the school, others had a walk of half to three-quarters of a mile and many of them lived on outlying hill farms and were brought in by cars on regular hire through the education authority from the garage in out nearest town.

Our school was also used as a village hall and on New Year’s Eve there was always a big village party held there. It started in the afternoon with a tea party and games for the children. The women of the village made and served sandwiches and cakes, jugs of squash and enormous pots of tea. Whole families attended. After the tea, seats were placed in a circle at one end of the main room and the games began. The main ones I remember are spin the plate and musical chairs. There were songs and recitations from the children brave enough to stand up and perform – not me! There would be older children there as well who were now at the ‘big school’ in the town and who always seemed frightfully grown up and sophisticated to me.

As afternoon turned into evening, the party morphed (even though there was no such word then!) into an adults evening and younger children would be taken home and put to bed. Slightly older children would stay longer. The evening took the form of a concert. It was informally arranged, with people just stepping forward to sing, recite, play the piano etc. I remember first being old enough to stay for some of it then, eventually to stay to the end. One local farmer had a beautiful tenor voice and always sang ‘Jerusalem’. I think he sang other songs too but the one he was known for was that one – and he sang it beautifully. Tea was served all evening and the night would finish with everyone in a circle linking arms and singing Auld Lang Syne. It was so exciting when you were twelve or thirteen and considered old enough to stay to the end and see the new year in!

 

Happy New Year to all my readers and followers and thank you for continuing to read my blog and to comment.

Merry Christmas from the 1950s.

 

Merry Christmas to all my readers and followers. Like most people at this time of year, I’m rushed off my feet just now but I thought I’d just put a few memories here for those of us from the 1950s and 60s.

There will be a full post some time in January. Meanwhile, enjoy the pictures!

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Advent calendars didn’t have chocolate in them and were used year after year. The big sweet treat was the selection box. Not to be eaten all on one day!

 

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The Queen’s speech and Billy Smart’s circus on TV – two absolute musts for Christmas Day in the UK!

 

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Some of the toys we might have been brought by Father Christmas – we didn’t know him as Santa back then.

 

 

 

 

Travel and Phones.

Last week, I arranged to meet my youngest daughter in Huddersfield for a Christmas shopping trip. I was driving about 40 mins from where I live and she was getting the train from her town. She called me the evening before from her landline phone to say that her mobile phone had died and she wouldn’t be contactable on it when we were travelling the next day. How this throws us all now! I told her we would just have to make a foolproof 1950s style plan for the next morning.

This started me thinking about how easy it is now to make arrangements and to adjust them, even at short notice. Back in the 1980s when my three children were small I often travelled to different locations, some quite near, others further away, to meet up with people. My sister and I lived about 90 minutes apart at that time and we had a couple of nice meeting up places mid-way between us. We’d make the plan by phone from our houses beforehand then we would set off to meet up with our excited children in our cars. Nothing ever went wrong for us but now we would all panic at the thought of travelling somewhere to meet someone without the backup of a mobile phone.

Going back even further, to the 1950s, we used to get packed up to go and see our grandparents who lived in north Wales. We had a telephone at home then but my grandparents didn’t and never did, even several decades later. They had a public telephone box in their village so maybe they called us sometimes. I was too young to be taking notice of things like adults planning visits.The plans were presumably made mostly by letter! Yes, the humble hand-written letter and the good old postman – no female posties in those days!

Image result for public telephone box 1950s uk    Image result for telephone kiosk 1950s uk

Phone boxes (telephone kiosks as they were called) in the 1950s.

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!950s memories of the postal service.

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Two models of 1950s cars like ones which we had in the 1950s.

 

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A 1950s phone –  not every household had one.

 

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The modern mobile phone – most wouldn’t leave home without it!

In the ‘old days’, we had maps and guide-books to help us navigate and to locate places of interest and their opening hours. If we needed to contact someone or needed help, we waited until we spotted a phone box and pulled over to make a call. I still have a book of road maps in my car but the modern phone is not just a phone it is also a road atlas, bus, plane and train timetable, guide book to anywhere and everywhere, live weather and travel advice, newspaper, in-car entertainment etc etc.

The 1950s – a summary.

This is just a fun post listing some of the things we kids of the 50s remember which were different. There are many similar lists and comparisons available on the Internet but this is my version.

 

Electric plugs were brown and the cables were brown, cloth-covered and some were plaited.

Postage stamps had to be licked.

Baby teeth were worth 6d when the tooth fairy visited – 6d in ‘old UK money’ is equivalent to 2.5p in the current money system.

Spaghetti, cream, salmon, pineapple and peaches only came in tins.

Macaroni could be a pudding or a savoury (macaroni cheese was the only pasta dish I knew!).

Tea was made in a teapot using tea leaves.

Olive oil came in tiny bottles and was kept in the medicine cabinet to be used for earache.

We all listened to the same radio programmes. Then, when TV arrived, we all watched the same programmes as there was only one channel.

 

Your dishwasher was the person in your house who was doing the washing up at the time.

People put iodine on cuts and butter on burns.

Phones all had exactly the same ring tone . . . . and they stayed in one place . . . . . there was only one in the house . . . . but not all homes had them . . . . and they were only for making and receiving calls.

We went to ‘the flicks’ to see the latest film.

Soap was only came in bars.

 

Birthday cakes had icing or chocolate on the top and some candles.

Beds had top sheets, blankets, eiderdowns (quilts) and bedspreads (often candlewick).

Cars had three forward gears, no reversing lights and no seat belts.

Twitter was a noise birds made.

Many children’s toys were made from tin.

TV programmes couldn’t be recorded.

Gay was a word which meant happy and jolly.

Takeaways

I’ve had a bit of a lull in my posting as it’s been a very busy few months. At last, here I am with another one.I keep thinking I’ll run out of ideas to post about but so far I haven’t. I welcome ideas for topics for me to explore.

 

Here in Britain nowadays ‘Let’s get a takeaway (or takeout in some parts of the country).’ can lead to anything from Chinese, Indian, Thai, Pizza, burger, kebab – even the humble fish and chip meal from the local chip shop. Starting with my own memories, back in the 50s and 60s, when I was a child, the only ‘takeaway’ available (and the word didn’t even exist at that time) was the ubiquitous fish and chip shop. Some had tables where you could sit in and eat, many sold only food to take out. We always referred to ours as the chip shop. In different parts of the country the fish and chip shop is known as the chippy, the chipper and here in Yorkshire as the fish shop or sometimes the fishery. Our nearest town in mid-Wales had two chip shops and the locals were all loyal to one of them and never used the other. In Britain old newspapers were traditionally used for wrapping fish and chips until this was banned for health reasons in the 1980s. Many people are nostalgic for this traditional wrapping; some modern fish and chip shops wrap their food in faux-newspaper, food-safe paper printed to look like a newspaper.

 

Musing on this subject the other day I wondered when food to take out first became available here from eating places other than chip shops. As far as I remember, the earliest foreign cuisine here was Chinese followed by Indian and I only recall them being places where you sat in to eat. So I decided to look into the history of the British takeaway.

Image result for chinese restaurants 1950s        Image result for indian restaurants 1950s uk

1950s Chinese and Indian restaurants –  some of the UK’s earliest tastes of food from other countries.

 

Researching, I found a wealth of information on the history of restaurants in the UK but little about the rise of the takeaway. However, this extract from Consumer Culture and Chinese Food in Britain by Mike Featherstone and Tomoko Tamari gives an explanation.

‘According to data made available by the Hong Kong government Office in London, there were 1,406 Chinese restaurants in the United Kingdom in 1970. These restaurants were influenced by the economic setback of Britain in the 1970s, with people unwilling to pay high prices when they ate out. In response, many of the New Territories immigrants have opened take-out Chinese food shop, which are cheaper than restaurants. Another reason could be the introduction of Value Added Tax (VAT) which was resented by most Chinese restaurants and can be seen as further encouraging customers to switch from restaurants to more economical takeaways and fish and chip shops, which require fewer staff and were not subject to VAT. These takeaways could be operated by a family unit and ‘require only ‘hole-in-the wall’ premises. They were able to make good profit as a result of their low cost conditions.’

 

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I didn’t know this until now.

Typical scene from a London chip shop

 

A familiar scene inside a British chip shop.

 

 

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Image result for fish and chip shops uk 1950s  Image result for fish and chip shops uk 1950s