Make Do And Mend

Mending and repairing were everyday activities when I was growing up. I remember my mum darning socks and jumpers, shortening and lengthening skirts and trousers, replacing broken zips and my grandmother ‘turning’ collars. For those of you who don’t know what that means, it’s when a man’s shirt collar becomes frayed around the neck and you unpick the collar, turn it around the other way and sew it back on. Mums and grandmas sometimes unravelled an old knitted garment and re-knitted it into a new jumper or cardigan. I was taught how to darn by my mum as a young girl. She had a darning mushroom (the wooden item in the photos below) and I reckon most houses would have had one.

darning mushroom  sock darningDarningStep4-4

Even as recently as the seventies and eighties, I could still get small electrical items like kettles, radios and irons repaired at my local electrical repair shop. I once saw, in the eighties, an umbrella repair stall in a market in Cumbria. I doubt there are any of those anywhere here now.

People used to, and still can, buy new broom heads and handles, replace spade, shovel and hoe blades and handles. Although you can still buy decent brushes and brooms, there are many flimsier tools, with plastic handles and bristles, which just get thrown away when they have stopped being useful. There was a joke my dad used to tell;

‘This was my great-grandfather’s hoe. It’s had three new handles and four new blades.’

brush  plastic brush

One long-lasting, repairable and biodegradable, one flimsy and disposable.

The term tinker from tinsmith or tinsmithing was originally assigned to those working with tin who mended pots and pans. The words “tyckner” or “tinkler” were used in medieval Scotland and England for a metal worker. The term transferred to travellers who earned their way going from town to town and mending as they went.  These knife-grinders and  tinkers used to repair farm and garden tools, household utensils, umbrellas and chairs. This is how gypsies came to be nicknamed tinkers.

tinker knife grinder

Knife-grinders from the around the 1950s.

There are several factors here. The first one is that things were made to last in the old days from robust materials and by craftsmen and were worth repairing. Most modern day socks would not be worth darning as the fabric they are made from is flimsier and would not support a darn. Also, goods are so much cheaper now (relative to earnings) and far more plentiful so that in many cases it would cost more to repair the item than to buy a new one – even if you could find anyone with the skills to do the repair. Umbrellas, for example. Who wants to pay for a repair when you can buy a new one for £2 – 5? Where would you find an umbrella repairer, anyway?

When my mum and dad bought their first house, in 1955, the people moving out left their vacuum cleaner for us as they said it was getting old and not worth moving. My mum used it for decades As far as I remember, I last saw it in a rented flat of my sister’s in the late 1970s and still in use. My mum had a Hoover man who used to come to the house to do the occasional repair. It was more or less exactly the same as the ones in the pictures and those are described as being from the 1930s. The black canvas bag had the slogan ‘It beats, as it sweeps, as it cleans’ emblazoned on it in white, exactly as shown in the photos below.

hoover 3                               hoover750_1  DSC_3159

 

 

 

As usual, I credit Google images for my photographs. Anyone objecting to my use of an image can approach me directly and ask for it to be removed.

 

 

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Libraries

I have loved books and reading for as long as I can remember. I was thinking about libraries the other day and I realised that I use libraries less now than ever before in my life. The reasons are the same as they are for everybody else –

I can now look things up myself on my phone, ipad and laptop using the mighty Google.

I can now buy second-hand books in charity shops for as little as 50 pence and also very cheaply online and often postage free.

New books, too, are extremely affordable when bought in supermarkets or online.

I can also buy e-books and read them on any of my electronic devices. (I don’t, because I still prefer books, but I could.)

It’s no wonder that libraries and independent bookshops are closing in Britain.

All through my childhood, teens, twenties and thirties, being a member of a library was very important to me. Wherever I lived, I joined a library, sometimes being a member of more than one at a time.

As a child in the 1950s, we went to the library whenever we were in the nearby town which was five miles away. Below is a picture of the building it was in – taken a bit before the 1950s! When I lived in that area the building housed the library , the Labour Exchange and my dad’s office – he worked for the Forestry Commission. Although there was no library in our village (it was tiny) there was a lady who lived in a little house next to a chapel who ran a small book lending system from her front room. The main library used to drop new books off with her every so often.

llandovery-clock-tower

What I remember about libraries in the old days (even though I loved them) is how quiet and serious they were. You absolutely did not make a noise of any sort or you would be told off. I loved them because I love books and reading but I can see how someone less committed to reading could have been put off by the interior of a library.

Library 1  Library 2

Above – the interiors of a couple of old libraries. The pictures can’t convey the deathly hush which prevailed!

library files      library book

The pre-digital way of book-lending.

I have no recollection of ever being asked to do any independent research for homework when I was in school – not even when studying for A-levels. Lessons were all based on notes dictated by the teacher then and on learning by rote – but that’s another blog post! While I was at university I preferred to do most of my work in the university library. This was partly so that I could use the reference books but also because the atmosphere was more conducive to study than a cold, gloomy student rented house.

Libraries now often have art or history exhibitions running, they have computers the public can use, they are bright, friendly and welcoming. The children’s sections have toys and games and regular organised activities. Yet libraries are still closing all over the country. Where they have been saved and continue to function, they are often rehoused in a smaller space in a new building. The one shown below is a Victorian library building near where I used to work. In spite of a well-fought campaign to keep it open, it was closed over ten years ago. I believe it now houses offices so at least it isn’t empty or worse – demolished. The new library which replaced it is in a modern purpose built community centre. Public lending libraries began here in Britain in the 1850s, the main pioneer being William Ewart. Since 2010, nearly 500 libraries  have closed in England, Wales and Scotland. Some libraries facing closure have been taken over by volunteers.

normy library

Finally, a nice little tale of recycling!

The iconic red telephone boxes found all over the UK are beginning to disappear but, thanks to a BT scheme called Adopt a Kiosk, many unused payphone kiosks have been transformed into libraries. This preserves the heritage of the red kiosk, particularly in rural locations and provides a library service in areas which lack one. Most of these libraries are left unlocked and are stocked by donations from local people. Anyone is free to borrow a book and donate a used book.

220px-Phone_box_library,_Whitwell,_IW,_UK    517d1d84e2bd9ff5150f1d852f0822bb--telephone-booth-free-library telephone-library-1

reading and And now, a few quotes about libraries:

Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while. —Malorie Blackman

Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation. —Walter Cronkite

Libraries will get you through times with no money better than money will get you through times with no libraries. Anne Herbert.

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. —Joseph Addison

As usual, I would like to say that all images and facts used in this post have been gleaned from the Internet and are readily available. However, if anyone objects to anything in this post, for any reason, please contact me directly so that I can remove it.

Mental Health

This post looks, from the title, as though it could be a bit more weighty and serious than many of my others. I hope it won’t turn out that way. What I’m going to look at is the difference in attitude and outlook where mental health is concerned between the 1950s and now. I have to bear in mind that I was a small child in the 50s and so what I remember is a child’s view and might be different from an adult’s. However, the point of this blog is to share my memories of growing up in the Welsh countryside in the 1950s and 60s and I like to stay true to that and avoid putting in all sorts of researched facts and figures and quoting other people’s opinions.

It is a fact that mental health is now discussed more openly than it used to be. I have seen that change in my lifetime. There has been a big push here in Britain recently to bring mental health issues out into the open. There have been famous people telling their stories, mental health awareness events and various films and documentaries. This is excellent – but we still have a long way to go. People still find it much easier to say they’re suffering from arthritis, bronchitis, migraine or flu than to admit to going through a spell of depression or to talk about a lifelong battle with anxiety.

Back in the 1950s, these were some of the expressions you would hear adults using quietly when they thought you weren’t listening. ‘Had a nervous breakdown’, ‘bad with her nerves’,  ‘suffers with her nerves’. We all know now that that mental illness can affect any age, any gender, but at that time I only ever remember hearing women talked about in those hushed tones. Sometimes a person was described as being ‘not right in the head’. Occasionally you would hear about someone who had ‘taken to her bed’. Apparently my grandmother had an aunt who ‘took to her bed’ at some point in her life and never left it.

What we did know about was the large mental hospitals where people ‘ended up’ if they were really bad with their nerves or had a breakdown. Some people with very severe mental disabilities spent their whole lives in them. Fortunately, these places don’t exist any more. Originally they were called ‘lunatic asylums’. This was often shortened to ‘loony bin’. It seems appalling now that we could use such expressions.

st david's

The mental hospital which was nearest to us when we lived in South Wales, called St David’s. It was operational from 1865 until 2002.

denbigh

The one which was nearest to us when we lived in North Wales. Both vast places! This one opened in 1848 and also closed in 2002. I have looked at maps showing the distribution of these institutions in the UK at that time and it seems there was at least one per county. Many are still standing and are either crumbling or have been converted into conference centres, apartments, hotels etc.

Since drafting this post I have been looking in two old books I have here on my shelves. They are ‘home doctor’ books. I believe many homes had one on their shelves for looking up any family ailments and deciding whether a visit to the doctor was needed. In fact I had one which I bought when my first child was born in 1980. After all, we didn’t have the Internet in the 1980s. Neither of these two old books have publishing dates but from some of the adverts and diagrams in them I’ve worked it out that the oldest one is from the late 1800s and the other one is from roughly the 1920s. Always an avid reader, over the years I have often enjoyed looking through them and marvelling at some of the weird and wonderful advice which was given.

IMG_1164

The oldest one (above, it’s lost its cover) came from my grandmother’s house after she died. I remember taking it down from her bookshelves as a child and browsing in it. It used to amuse me that unwell people seemed to be offered a lot of gruel, broth and bread soaked in or tea in Victorian times.

IMG_1162

The newer one (above) was from our house but, as it would already have been old when my mum and dad married in 1950, it might also have come from one of the grandparents’ houses.  I decided to see what was said about mental health issues. In the oldest one I could find no reference to any of the terms we now use such as anxiety, depression and stress. The only item relevant to mental issues which I could find in the older book was Nervous Disorders.

IMG_1167

The main recommendations at this time were active exercise in the countryside, regulation of the bowels and early rising.

Progress had been made by the 1920s and the newer book has Anxiety, Depression and Nervousness listed.

IMG_1166        IMG_1165

By the this time, complete rest and exercising in the open air were still suggested but also the help of a doctor was mentioned.

Compare these extremely brief entries with the abundance of self-help books on the subject which are available today.

self help books

 

Pens and Pencils

When I started school there were pencils which we learned to write with and pens which we were allowed to write with when we were a bit older, maybe seven or eight. Not much has changed. Except for the pens and, to a lesser extent, the pencils.

The only pens provided in my Primary School were the wooden handled dipping pens.

dip pen_webimage

china inkwells

desks with inkwell holes

The ink for the pens was held in little china inkwells which fitted into holes in the desks. Each morning the ink monitors would make up a big jug of ink using ink powder and water, fill a trayful of inkwells, then place an inkwell into each desk hole. The standard issue school ink was a shade called blue-black.  I hated the dullness of that colour and longed to write with a bright blue ink. Although the top year in our primary school (eleven year olds) were allowed to use their own pens, the headteacher loathed ball-points (biros) calling them ‘new-fangled rubbish’ and banned us from using them. If you were lucky enough to have your own fountain pen, and I got one for my eleventh birthday which saw me all the way through high school, you could use that in school. I would fill mine from a bottle of Quink at home so that I didn’t have to use school blue-black ink. Parker pens were the most desirable but most of us had the more affordable Platignum pens. There were no other types of pen apart from Dipping pens, fountain pens and biros. Fibre tips, toller ball, fine felt-tips, fibre tips all had yet to be invented or at least to become mainstream. I remember when Tempo pens arrived on the scene when I was a student (and still a fountain pen user) and I loved them! To this day I am still not a fan of writing in biro, preferring ink pens or pencil.

parkerquink

There isn’t as much to say about pencils. There is a vast array of colours and styles available now but the fundamental design hasn’t changed. I do remember we children being very excited in school when the teacher acquired a desk mounted pencil sharpener. What a joy to use! We all wanted to be pencil monitor and have the job of sharpening the class’ pencils first thing in the morning. These gadgets still exist, I have seen them in some classrooms in schools I worked in. The design hasn’t changed.

imagesdownloaddownload (1)

Then we come to colouring pencils or ‘crayons’. Again, the basic design remains unchanged. One well known brand I remember well is Lakeland. I loved the tins they came in with a Lakeland scene on the lid. Even the smallest tins of their crayons had the scenic image on the tin.

lakelandvintage-1960s-lakeland-pencil-crayon-tin-with

I didn’t know then but the reason they were called Lakeland was because they were manufactured in the Lake District. The Derwent pencil company began in 1832 in Keswick, Cumbria and remained well known for producing the finest pencils in the world. There is even a pencil museum in Keswick.

220px-keswick_pencil_museum_(geograph_5455667)  Keswick’s Pencil Museum.

 

 

As always, images are courtesy of Google Images and Wikipedia. If anyone objects to my use of any picture please contact me so that I can remove it.

 

Mail Order

This winter, in the build-up to Christmas, there has been a lot of discussion about online shopping being the death of the High Street in Britain. This might well be true but what occurred to me was that there have always been other means of shopping besides physically visiting a shop.

The small town I lived in when I was a little girl (population around 2,000) was five miles away from our village had all the basics. There were two butchers, two newsagents, a greengrocer, a jeweller, two pharmacies, a couple of assorted draperies and gents outfitters, a hardware shop etc etc. For requirements beyond what our town could provide, we had to travel some distance. Swansea and Cardiff were at least an hour’s drive away and ‘big’ shopping trips were made a few times a year for Christmas shopping, new winter coats for the family, new shoes and so on. I remember thinking they were amazing with their department stores, book shops, large stores with lifts and escalators and toy shops. This was the only time we saw Boots, W H Smith, C and A and – most important of all (to us as children) – Woollies (F W Woolworth) which was heaven! It was also the perfect place to spend your little bit of pocket money as it had everything and it was all affordable.

Good old Woollies – RIP.
Howells Department store in Cardiff.
W H Smith, Newtown, Wales. One of the earliest branches and still in the style and layout of the original shops. It also houses a small museum telling the W H Smith story.

 

The rest of the time, my mum relied heavily on her mail order catalogue as did all the families in our village.

My mum’s catalogue was Marshall Ward followed later by Kays. I remember a neighbour favouring Freemans and my grandmother who lived with us liked J D Williams. Women used to swap catalogues to enjoy a wider choice of goods. From the catalogues we bought bedding, household goods, underwear, toys (via Father Christmas of course), adult and children’s clothing and many more things I can’t recall now. My mum would never buy shoes by mail order.

The pages we children used to pore over longingly!

In addition to the catalogues selling clothes and homeware, my dad used to get seeds and bulbs by mail order. Dobbie’s and Doby’s are two I remember. Newspapers and magazines also had goods for sale and on special offer.

 

 

Images obtained from the Internet. Anyone with objections to my use of a particular image can contact me and I will remove it.

Mansize Tissues – and Other Goods

kleenex

So, after 60 years, and following complaints about sexism, Kleenex are getting rid of their ‘Mansize’ tissues and renaming them Extra Large. This got me thinking about other goods past and present which could possibly be considered offensive by some people.

He-Man

This is a brand which has always amused me. Driving Instructors’ cars often used to carry a sign on the back saying ‘Fitted with He-Man Dual Controls’. Suggesting perhaps that only men can teach people to drive? I looked the company up as I’m not sure I still see the signs and I found that they are still in existence and still fitting dual controls in cars.

As I started to look around on the Internet for examples of brand names from the 50s and 60s which could be perceived as being sexist, I found instead some examples of current things which have caused a stir.

doritos    doritos-women-lady-crunch-low-snack

This one is from earlier this year. The quote below is from the Independent;

‘The “lady-friendly” version of the popular tortilla chips will make less of a crunch noise when you eat them, will be smaller in size and the packet is being specifically designed to fit inside a handbag. Because struggling to fit packets of crisps in our bags and the noise that comes with eating tortilla chips is clearly of huge concern to women today.’

Apparently, these ‘lady-friendly’ Doritos were never actually launched and the whole story stemmed from an interview with PepsiCo. CEO Indra Nooyi in which she discussed the idea of launching handbag sized packets of the product. Maybe the whole story was a bit of a ‘storm in a crisp packet’.

Gendered-Toys

There have been complaints about Kinder Surprise being gender-specific. Blue wrapped eggs contain ‘boy toys’ and pink ones ‘girl toys’ although the wording carefully avoids mention boys and girls.

Dolly Babe shoe

 

Another current one. Clarks have received complaints about this model of girls’ shoe which was named the Dolly Babe.

waitrose

Waitrose have renamed this sandwich after complaints from customers.

Bristol Ale   Noelle beer

Oh dear! And these are current – in spite of having a 50s look and being incredibly sexist.

Relish

This is one I’m just slotting in here for fun. Gentleman’s Relish spread has been around since before Victorian times and is still sold in higher-end food stores and delicatessens here in the UK. I couldn’t find any record of anyone objecting to it. I have occasionally bought it as a tongue-in-cheek birthday or Christmas present for male relatives.

 

So, I set out to look for sexist brand names from the unenlightened 50s and 60s and have ended up finding plenty of current ones. I’ll finish with a few truly terrible ads which are from the 50s – I’ve shown some of these in earlier posts.

Sexism-In-Vintage-Ads-14     Sexism-In-Vintage-Ads-11

Sexism-In-Vintage-Ads-15     offending_lysol1

Mordine        marriagead

 

 

Images taken from Google Images. If anyone has reason to object to the use of any pictures used, please contact me via this blog.

Planks of Wood and Lumps of Slate.

I was out for lunch with some friends yesterday and out of the five of us only two had meals served on china plates. This prompted a lively discussion and my friend Janet suggested that the topic would be a good one to cover in my blog. So here it is!

I don’t know if this has happened in other parts of the world, and I look forward to hearing from readers on this, but in the last decade or so there has been a bit of a trend in certain eating places to serve food on other things besides plates. This will not normally happen in higher end restaurants but more in the slightly up-market cafes and bistros. The sort of place you would go to do what I did yesterday and meet friends for lunch. At least, that’s my impression – others might think differently.

  • The commonest one is food served on a lump of wood or what I would use as a chopping board or bread board. This doesn’t feel particularly odd for a sandwich/ ploughman’s sort of meal, but some of the others are definitely peculiar!

wooden board  Meal served on a wooden board.

  • Pieces of slate are also spotted in these sort of places.

slate    A piece of slate serves as a plate.

  • Yesterday one of us had food presented in a basket. This reminded us all that the very first cases of this sort of food presentation happened in the late 60s/ early 70s when pubs (it was only pubs doing this) started serving bar snacks in a basket. The three usual choices were steak, chicken or scampi with chips. This was the first time steak and chicken had been served in small bite-sized pieces which you could spear with just a fork. Basket meals were SO new and SO trendy! My first one ever was when I was a student in a pub in the centre of Nottingham called the Blue Bell.

basket 2      basket

Other things which turn up on tables are:

  • Chips or side dishes served in small metal buckets.

buckets    bucket and barrow

Three buckets in a wooden crate.                      Side dishes in a bucket and a wheelbarrow.

 

  • Milk for tea and coffee in a mini milk churn.

churn    A wooden board and a milk churn.

  • Meals served on a flat cap – yes, I have really heard of this one although it hasn’t happened to me yet! I assume there is always a plate or a washable layer inside the cap – and that the cap is unworn.

cap

  • Food presented on a fireman’s shovel – another one I have heard about but not experienced.

shovel

  • I have had a meal served in a frying pan before and it was obvious that it wasn’t even one used for cooking the meal but a decorative one used as a plate.

pan

 

Here are a few others I have yet to experience. Some I’m not in a hurry to try.

fryer   hubcap

trowel

bat   shoe

 

Pictures all sourced from Google Images. If anyone sees one which they object to me using for any reason, please contact me through the blog and I will happily remove it.

 

Buzz Words, Lingo and Slang.

Apologies for the long silence! I have had a houseful of family staying for several weeks and everything else was shelved.

This is an idea I’ve been mulling over for a while. Several times a day I hear someone use a word or phrase and I think ‘That’s one to save. It didn’t exist in the 1950s/ 60s.’

I’m going to start with some words which were very new and trendy (I think trendy is one of the new ones?) in the 1950s. I was only a kid but I heard these word – mainly in song lyrics.

 

THE 1950s

teddyboys2405r

I have added ‘translations’ for those who weren’t alive at the time and might be puzzled!

Gas – when something was really good or great fun it was described as being ‘a gas’ . It was still around in the 1960s – check out the lyrics of Jumpin’ Jack Flash by The Rolling Stones.

Daddy-O – a term of address from one person to another. Credited to beatnik slang.

Beatnik – definition courtesy of Wiktionary

  1. A person who dresses in a manner that is not socially acceptable and therewith is supposed to reject conventional norms of thought and behavior; nonconformist in dress and behavior
  2. A person associated with the Beat Generation of the 1950s and 1960s or its style.

Cat – a cool/ groovy person

Cool – this is still around and now usually means good (more or less) but then it was only used for anything very special.

Greaser – a word used to describe youths with loads of Brylcreem on their hair.

No sweat – nowadays I more often hear ‘no problem’ or ‘no worries’ but this was the expression at the time.

Groovy – cool, trendy, etc

THE 1960s

1960s-Hippies-Fashion

Dig it  – I dig it meant you really liked it.

Far out – superb

Outta sight – amazing, even better than far out.

Zonked – done in, tired

Sock it to me – as in ‘Yes! I love it! Give me some more.’

NOW

I have deliberately kept away from technology so words like web, internet, digital, cyber etc etc don’t show here. That is a post by itself!

350-sq-selfie-mountain-shutterstock_207527209_0              S Stick

 

Selfie

24/ 7

Brill – when I was young, the word brilliant described

a. something shining very brightly

or

b. somebody who was extremely intelligent.

Now it is just used in place of good, lovely, fine etc and brill is as commonly used as brilliant.

Gross – when I was in school a gross was a mathematical term. It stood for 144! We now commonly describe something disgusting as gross.

Cool – arrived in the 50s and then meant something which was absolutely on trend and totally sought after. This word has hung around and now gets used as freely as OK.

Mega

Downsize

Leggings –  The word existed when I was a child and usually referred to baby garments, mostly knitted, which covered the legs but not the feet. Now they’re one of the most widespread items of female clothing.

Vintage-1950s-childrens-clothes-pram-set-Kamella-Riteward

Sleepover

Playdate

Grass roots

Hijack

Backpack

Gap year

Butch

Gay – the word gay was always around but it used to mean happy, jolly.

Sexism/ ageism/ racism

Recycling              recycling

Environmental   Environment

 

 

 

Shampoo, Toothpaste and Face Cream.

I was buying a tube of toothpaste the other day and I was amazed, as I am each time, by the vast number of pastes available. Not just different brands. Each brand seems to have dozens of different types! Out of interest I did a Google search on Colgate toothpastes and found 55 listed. Back in the 1950s and 60s there were only a few brands. Each brand had one type. I remember Signal being launched and longing to try it but my mum always bought Gibbs SR.

colgate ad  SR

Two of the very few brands we had in my childhood.

toothpaste aisle

Today’s huge selection.

The same applies to other everyday toiletries. The main shampoos I remember are Sunsilk, Supersoft, Vosene and Loxene. All shops selling toiletries sold shampoo in sachets as well as bottles. There were no conditioners. The first one to hit the market was called Tame Creme Rinse. I used to buy a sachet for myself. You then mixed the contents with warm water in a cup and poured the solution over your hair after shampooing. It was a revelation. I could get a comb through my wet hair without having to spend ages working through knots and tangles.

vosene                             shamp sachets

 

vaseline shampoo                      loxene ad

 

shamp aisle

A bewildering choice of shampoos and conditioner.

I don’t think we heard the word moisturiser back then, they were known as face creams. We always had Nivea in our house. My mum used to rub it on our cheeks before we went outside in really cold weather. There were also creams called ‘cold cream’.  My mum used ro rub cold cream into her face before bed. I remember one my Nana used to use called Ponds Vanishing Cream. I can still recall the smell of it.

ponds             ponds-cold-creame-white-jar-5

nivea ad

I know a lot of people didn’t wear deodorant in the 1950s and 60s. I can recall, in high school in the 60s, being aware which girls didn’t wear deodorant. My mum used one called Odorono and my sister and I were encouraged to use deodorant as we approached puberty. The only other ones I remember the names of are Mum and Sno-mist. I favoured Sno-mist probably because it was advertised on Radio Luxembourg and had a catchy jingle. You could get stick on or sprays. The sprays weren’t aerosols, just squeezy plastic bottles.

 

sno mist     sno-mist-deodorant1-243x300

deodorants aisle

Some of the many deodorants now available.

 

 

Health and Fitness

Like many people, I do my best to keep myself healthy and reasonably fit – for a woman in her 60s! Everyone I know – younger than me, older than me or the same age – does some sort of exercise. The choices these days are endless. There are gyms to join, walking groups, Pilates classes, yoga – the choice is endless. There are the things which don’t need to be done in a group or class like running, walking, cycling. Then there are the sports. Football, rugby, tennis, cricket, badminton – you name it!

What occurred to me the other day was that back in the 1950s, mums and dads, grannies and grandads didn’t exercise. They were probably more active physically in their day-to-day life than we are (fewer cars, no labour-saving devices etc.) but I knew no adults who played sport, ran or walked for exercise. There were hardly any gyms, exercise classes or fitness groups – certainly not where I lived. Perhaps it was different in the cities?

My memory is that, back then, many people enjoyed sport as youngsters when they were in school and maybe beyond that in college or in the forces. Some carried on playing football, cricket, or tennis for local clubs. Then when they got married and had children, they gave it all up. That was more to do with team games and a social life than for the health benefits. Similarly, many people enjoyed a walk in the country at weekends or on holiday but for the pleasure of enjoying the surroundings and the wildlife rather with fitness as the purpose. Walking groups are massive now. What I’m looking back at and realising is that people didn’t exercise simply for the sake of health and fitness.

Cycling has, in recent years, had a massive rise in popularity. The bikes are sophisticated pieces of machinery, clothing and accessories are scientifically developed. Cycling clubs have mushroomed and at the weekends our roads are alive with two-wheeled exercisers. Back in the 50’s, bikes were everywhere. The difference is that people cycled to get somewhere. It was the early days of motoring and many people still didn’t own cars. Men and women cycled to work, children cycled to school, vicars visited their parishioners on bikes, policemen went on the beat on bikes. A man cycling to work in an office would be wearing a tweed suit and a trilby, a workman would be in overalls with a cap on and his bag of tools over his shoulder or in a saddle bag. The bikes were sensible, solid and practical. They were not built for speed or rough terrain.

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Sturdy, reliable, hardwearing – the  bikes of the 1950s

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1950   People cycling to work in Oxford.

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My supremely fit son-in-law on his recent Alpine adventure. A very different sort of cycling!

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The following two quotes are taken from the Buchanan report ‘Traffic in Towns’ published by engineer and planner Colin Buchanan in 1963.

“There [should be] an allocation of movements to pedal cycles,but it must be admitted that it is a moot point how many cyclists there  will be in 2010.”

“Cyclists should not be admitted to primary networks, for obvious reasons of safety and the free flow of vehicular traffic. It would make the design of these roads far too complicated to build ‘cycle tracks’ into them … It would be very expensive, and probably impracticable, to build a completely separate system of tracks for cyclists.”

He had based his opinions on the fact that sales of new cycles had been dropping since the 1950s and reached an all-time low of less than 200,000 by the end of the 1960s (today, 2.5m bicycles are sold each year). This influential report, which guided road building in Britain for decades, effectively squeezed bikes out of our towns.

The next two quotes are from a study carried out based on the cities of Manchester and Glasgow by Colin Pooley and Jean Turnbull

“Use of the bicycle to travel to work between about 1920 and 1950 was particularly notable in smaller settlements,with commuting by bicycle the single most important means of travelling to work in such towns in the 1940s.” (Pooley and Turnbull 2000: 14)

“From the 1950s cycling rapidly declined in popularity.” (Pooley and Turnbull 2000: 19)

One thing I do remember is my mum listening to a lady called Eileen Fowler on the radio. She did a short programme where she talked the listener through various bends and stretches. Since starting this post I have looked her up and she was a fitness instructor from the 1930s so she was definitely ahead of her time. In keeping with the times, the likes of Eileen Fowler focused mainly on improving your shape and looking ‘younger’ rather than exercise for health as we now know it.

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I know that there were swimming pools in all towns even then and that people have always enjoyed swimming for pleasure. The popularity of swimming pools in British towns goes back to when most houses didn’t have bathrooms and the swimming local pool (often known as swimming baths) were used as a means of keeping clean. Indeed, many of them had cubicles containing individual baths where you could have a proper warm, soapy soak. We lived nowhere near any swimming pools so I had no experience of that apart from sometimes when we were away on holiday. Even so, I know that the difference now is that many more people take up swimming to get fit which wasn’t really a consideration back in the 1950s when it was looked on mainly as pleasurable and sociable.

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As usual, my disclaimer is this. I lived miles from anywhere so my memories will be very different from those of people who grew up in towns and cities. Also, I was a child and I’m talking about my view of the world of adults as I saw it then. These are my impressions and opinions only.

The images were sourced on the internet, as were the quotes. Anyone unhappy with anything I have used please approach me and I will remove the offending item.