Evocative Smells

I haven’t given myself the easiest topic this time! How on earth am I going to convey smells to my readers?

This has come about following a recent conversation I had with a friend. We were talking about Ponds face creams. It turns out that we both had grandmothers who used to use Ponds. Suddenly we were recalling the size and shape of the pots, the colour of the lids and the distinctive smell which we found we could conjure up in our minds and which would forever remind us of our grandmothers.

Image result for ponds vanishing cream 1950s

Nivea was the cream of choice in our family. Mum always had a tin in the house and in winter she would rub it into our cheeks and hands before we walked to school to stop the cold air drying our skin out. In summer it was rubbed into skin which had burned in the sun – back in the 50s, people didn’t know how much damage the sun can cause. Some households favoured Astral over Nivea. Both creams are still widely available here and both have distinctive smells which can transport people right back to their childhoods.

Image result for nivea tin 1950s

Image result for astral cream 1950s

Milky bedtime drinks were an important part of life in the 1950s. In those post-war years, when food rationing had only just finished, they were looked on as cheap, filling and nutritious. Cocoa and drinking chocolate were popular and are still enjoyed by many children. The two non-chocolate drinks which had their own distinctive smells were Horlicks and Ovaltine. If I were to smell either of those again I would instantly be under twelve, wearing flannelette pyjamas and sitting in front of a coal fire.

Image result for horlicks 1950s    Image result for ovaltine 1950s

Perfumes are big business nowadays. There is a bewildering selection available, new ones are being released every year and if you’re a celebrity the chances are that you have one with your name on it. Back in my childhood, the main perfumes or ‘scents’ as we called them were floral in name and nature. There were others available, which were the more expensive ones, and some are still around today – L’Aimant, L’Air du Temps, White Fire etc. But the average mum, grandma, teenage girl used a floral one. If I were to smell Devon Violets now I would be back in my mum’s bedroom reaching up onto her dressing table to sniff her scents and creams. Lavender water and Lily of the Valley were also very popular.

Image result for devon violets 1950s      Image result for lily of the valley perfume 1950s

 

Back in the 1950s, deodorants were not widely used. I remember my mum using one called Odor-O-No but many people still relied on strong-smelling soaps and talcum powder. The soaps I remember with memory-evoking smells were Wright’s Coal Tar Soap, Lifebuoy, Imperial Leather and Pears. Imperial Leather and Pears are still sold but nowadays you have look hard to find the section of the supermarket selling bars of soap as squirty soap and shower gels have taken over.

Image result for lifebuoy soap 1950s      Image result for wright's coal tar soap 1950s

Image result for Imperial leather soap 1950s  Image result for talcum powder 1950s uk

Tinned soups are still around, they are definitely not a thing of the past, but if I were to heat up a tin of Heinz Cream of Tomato soup now I would be straight back in my childhood. Tinned foods were in their infancy in the 1950s and as there were so few labour-saving devices around and very few fridges and freezers, tinned soups must have been a delight for the average ‘housewife’ – as they were called then!

     Image result for heinz tomato soup 1950s

 

 

 

 

As before, I would like to say that images used are freely available on the Internet via Google Images. If anyone objects to my use of an image please contact me and I will remove it.

 

 

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Notable Firsts in the 1950s and 60s

All decades see changes, inventions, introductions and significant firsts. This post explores some of the things which were new, exciting or important during the 50s and 60s when I was growing up.

The 1950s

Recently, I heard the name Roger Bannister referred to and it brought back a memory from the 1950s of the much-talked-about 4-minute mile.

Image result for roger bannister

More than 60 years ago, back on a cinder track at Oxford University’s Iffley Road Stadium in 1954, Bannister completed four laps in 3:59.4, a record-breaking performance that many believed was not humanly possible. The image of the exhausted Bannister with his eyes closed and mouth agape appeared on the front page of newspapers around the world, a testament to what humankind could achieve.

Researching for this post, I realised that I couldn’t possibly remember the actual event as I was not even three years old. This quote from Bannister himself explains just why ‘the four-minute mile’ was such a well known expression when I was a child.

“It became a symbol of attempting a challenge in the physical world of something hitherto thought impossible,” Bannister said as the 50th anniversary of the run approached, according to the AP. “I’d like to see it as a metaphor not only for sport, but for life and seeking challenges.”

Laika was a Soviet space dog who became one of the first animals in space, and the first animal to orbit the Earth. A stray mongrel from the streets of Moscow, she was selected to be the occupant of the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik 2 which was launched into outer space on 3 November 1957. This really used to upset me whenever I heard about it on the news or heard adults talking about it. The thought of a tiny helpless dog being sent up into space seemed so unkind to me. I still don’t like to think about it.

After a week in orbit she was fed poisoned food, “in order to keep her from suffering a slow agony.” When the moment came, Russian scientists reassured the public that Laika had been comfortable, if stressed, for much of her flight, that she had died painlessly, and that she had made invaluable contributions to space science. So sad!

Image result for laika dog

Here is a list of some of the other notable firsts, creations and inventions from the 1950s.

Synchromesh gear changes  Invented in the 1920s but not used in cars until the 1950s. Before this invention, changing gear involved a process called double de-clutching where you went into neutral between each gear position.

Car seat belts. These arrived on the scene in the 1950s and were made a legal requirement in 1968.

Hula hoop These were invented in the 1950s and soon became a huge craze. I spent hours and hours hula-hooping. I loved it – and can still do it.

Organ transplant. This must be one of the most important firsts in medical history.

Pacemaker (internal).  Another amazing medical breakthrough. Before the 1950s there were pacemakers being used but they were external devices.

Not forgetting – Barbie, Colour TV, Tape recorder, Velcro, the Hydrogen bomb,  the Hovercraft, NASA.

The 1960s

And so to the 1960s. After the Soviet space dogs of the 50s (and, it seems there were dozens), the next step was to send a person into space. This time the plan was for him to return alive! I was in Primary school and was ten years old when the first human travelled into space. Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was a Soviet pilot and cosmonaut. He became the first human to journey into outer space when his Vostok spacecraft completed one orbit of the Earth on 12 April 1961. Mr Lewis, the headteacher of my tiny school (approx 30 children ages 4 – 11), decided to buy the school its first TV in time for us to watch the launch live. It must have been a weekday between 9.00 am and 4 pm UK time and during a school term for this to happen. Given that many home didn’t have TVs in 1961 where I lived, you can imagine how exciting this was for us!

Image result for yuri gagarin

Eight years later, in 1968, Apollo 11 was the spaceflight that landed the first two people on the Moon. Commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin, both American, landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle on July 20, 1969, and Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the surface of the moon.

Image result for first moonwalk 1969

The Beatles were my first love in pop music. “Love Me Do” was their debut single backed by “P.S. I Love You”. When the single was originally released in the United Kingdom on 5 October 1962, it peaked at number 17.

Image result for the beatles    Image result for the beatles love me do vinyl single

My sister and I absolutely adored the Beatles. We knew the heights, eye colour, birthdates, likes and dislikes of all four of them We had Beatles magazines, Beatles jigsaws, Beatles badges and my sister even had a really dreadful Beatles wig. Made of moulded plastic it hurt her and forced her forehead into a frown – but she loved it!

Heart transplant. I remember this being massive news when it happened.  On 3 December 1967, Dr Christian Barnard transplanted the heart of accident-victim Denise Darvall into the chest of 54-year-old Louis Washkansky, with Washkansky regaining full consciousness and being able to easily talk with his wife, before dying 18 days later of pneumonia.

 

Christiaan Barnard 1969.jpg

First supermarkets in Britain.  In 1951, ex-US Navy sailor Patrick Galvani, son-in-law of Express Dairies chairman, made a pitch to the board to open a chain of supermarkets across the country. The UK’s first supermarket under the new Premier Supermarkets brand opened in Streatham, South London, taking ten times as much per week as the average British general store of the time.

Image result for premier supermarkets 1950s

Then there were these – Coco Pops, the audio cassette, the laser, the ring pull and Star Trek.

I’m sure readers of a similar age to me can think of many more!

 

 

Facts and statistics from my memory and from Wikipedia. Photos all sourced from the Internet. Anyone with any issues regarding my use of any photograph should contact me directly so that I can remove the offending item.

The Stories Behind the Brands

In the 1950s, in Britain and everywhere else, electrical good were still in their infancy. Most were home grown brands and were manufactured here. Some of those brands still exist but very few still manufacture in Britain.

In the 1950s, when I was child, if you had an electric kettle, it was probably a Russell Hobbs. Your iron and hairdryer would most likely be Morphy Richards and if you were modern enough to have a food mixer it would be a Kenwood. If I wanted to buy a new kettle today, I would go online or visit my local supermarket where I would have numerous brands to choose from and a multitude of styles.

I decided to look into the rise of electrical manufacturers and learned that Bill Russell teamed up with Peter Hobbs in 1952 and began by making a toaster, an electric iron and a then the first coffee maker with a keep warm function. In 1955 they made the world’s first automatic electric kettle.

Image result for 1950s russell hobbs kettle

Donal Morphy joined forces with Charles Richards in 1936  making first electric fires then irons. By the 1950s, many households had electric irons and most of them would have been made by Morphy Richards. When hairdryers became more common – I well remember our first one – they too were dominated by Morphy Richards. The company  was one of the few manufacturers to sell appliances with a factory-fitted BS 1363 plug before this became a legal requirement.

Image result for 1950s swan electric iron

Image result for 1950s Morphy Richards hair dryer A 1950s hairdryer exactly like the one we had.

When food mixers arrived on the scene here the household name was Kenwood. The name is from the manufacturer’s name which was Kenneth Wood. Kenwood began in 1947 and made toasters first then food mixers and processors.

Image result for 1950s kenwood mixer  I remember hearing about Kenwood Chefs but we didn’t rise to those dizzy heights. My mum had a small hand mixer like this one.

The main brand in TVs in the 1950s – when television was just a baby – was Bush. The company was founded in 1932 as Bush Radio from the remains of the Graham Amplion company, which had made horn loudspeakers as a subsidiary of the Gaumont British Picture Corporation. The brand name comes from Gaumont’s Shepherd’s Bush studios. From radios they moved on in 1950 to making TVs and in 1959 transistor radios.

Image result for 1950s Bush TVs

 

Roberts is British company which has been making radios for over 80 years   They made the first digital radio in 1999.

The Roberts Revival RD60 DAB was inspired by a handbag belonging to Harry Roberts’ wife Elsie. I have one of these and I didn’t know this!

Dansette was a British brand of record players, radiograms (remember them?), tape recorders, and radios, manufactured by the London firm of J & A Margolin Ltd, The first Dansette record player was manufactured in 1952 and at least one million were sold in the 1950s and 1960s. Dansette became a household name in the late 1950s and 60s when the British music industry shot up in popularity after the arrival of acts such as Cliff Richard, The Beatles and The Shadows. Teenagers would have used various Dansette players to take to and from parties to listen to the latest records.

Image result for dansette record player Everyone of my age remembers these!

 

 

In the early 20th century the company registered The Swan brand name. In the 1920s, the company began manufacturing domestic electrical appliances including kettles and irons. They pioneered the first electric element that could be immersed in water. This was a very important breakthrough because it meant that a whole 6 pints of water could be boiled in just over 9 minutes. This led to a whole range of products based around their “immersion element”, including tea urns, kettles, steamers and coffee percolators.

Later, they developed and patented a unique safety cut-out for kettles, where the connector would be automatically disconnected if the element overheated.

swan - heritage so elementary kettles

 

Before the 1950s most homes were heating their irons over the gas ring or still putting hot coal in them. I remember staying at my grandmother’s house and she would have two flat irons (non-electric). One would be doing the ironing while the other would be heating on a rack over the fire. When one cooled down it was replaced with the hotter one and put on the rack to heat.

 

Not strictly an electrical appliance but another household name was Ever Ready. When I was a child, most torches and batteries were made by Ever Ready. They also manufactured radios from 1934 up until 1964.
Image result for ever ready torches 1950s I had to put this one in – I had one EXACTLY the same in the 1960s!
Image result for Ever ready batteries 1950s and 60s

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.

 

 

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.

Christmas Then and Now


A busy couple of months means that I’ve been neglecting my blog. Apologies and Happy New Year!

I’m going to get back into it by doing a very simple point-by-point comparison of Christmas now and the way I remember it. I have done posts on Christmas before so I hope not to be too repetitive!

Santa Claus. As a child, I knew him as Father Christmas. I never heard the name Santa or Santa Claus mentioned apart from in songs or books. Everyone I knew called him Father Christmas. The name is now seldom heard. Children I know now only know him as Santa.

Since beginning this post I have looked up Santa Claus and Father Christmas only to find that they are completely different characters in origin who, at some point, became merged into one. I do learn a lot researching my facts for this blog!

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A traditional image of Father Christmas.
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Santa Claus.

The Christmas Pudding. This tradition probably doesn’t extend outside Britain. The traditional Christmas pudding (a rich, spiced, boiled fruit pudding – I know, sounds gross but isn’t!) is made several weeks in advance, usually late October. It’s supposed to get better with age, hence the early cooking date. My mum always kept with the old tradition which was that as the mixture is being stirred everyone in the household takes a turn at stirring and makes a wish at the same time. This all seemed so exciting to me as a child. Partly because making a wish is always exciting when you’re little and partly because it was the first sign of the Christmas to come. The other pudding tradition was that a silver sixpenny piece was hidden in the mixture. My mum was scrupulous about boiling and scrubbing them first! It was said to bring good luck to whoever found the sixpence in their portion on Christmas Day. With three children to keep happy, my mum was very fair (or maybe wanted to avoid any arguments!) and used to put three coins in the pudding. She then used to dish up carefully so that we got one each.

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A Victorian illustration.
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Advent Calendars. These were made of card with twenty-four little windows to open one day at a time. And there the resemblance ends. There were pictures behind ours – and NO chocolates! And  people actually reused them. We had the same one for years and we loved it. The excitement we felt when opening the last and biggest window on Christmas Eve and seeing the beautiful picture of the manger with baby Jesus lying in it is still with me when I think about it.

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Ours was a bit like this one.
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What children expect now.

Church.  When I was growing up, everyone in the village went either to church or to chapel. The Nine Lessons and Carols service on Christmas Eve was particularly exciting and it was an honour to be one of the children chosen to read a lesson. It was always really well attended as was the morning service on Christmas Day. It was lovely to walk to church all excited after opening our stockings and to see everyone we knew. Of course, it was probably often raining. I grew up in a particularly wet valley in Wales, after all. But in my memory we always walked to church on a crisp, cold, sunny day!

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The church we attended as a family.

Television.  We didn’t have a television until I was 12. Daytime TV was non-existent back then apart from a short children’s programme each day just after lunchtime and sport on a Saturday afternoon. But on Christmas Day there was always a circus on TV in the afternoon. The whole family would sit and watch it – with the curtains drawn as you couldn’t see the picture in the daytime. The image projected by TVs then was a lot weaker than today.

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A 1950s family watching television.

Christmas Stockings.
My grandmother who lived with us in the late 50s and 60s was a great one for telling stories from her childhood, many of them very funny as she had a great sense of humour. She was born in 1892 and it occurred to me years later when I was an adult that the stories we heard from Nana were first-hand Victorian tales. She used to tell us that as children (she had sixteen sixteen siblings!) they used to hang up stockings. Inside, on Christmas morning, there was always an apple, an orange and a shiny, newly minted penny. There was nothing else in Nana’s stocking and she always knew what was going to be in it but Christmas morning was as exciting then for children as it is now.
To this day, children here often find and an apple and an orange and some gold-covered chocolate coins in the toe of the stocking. Our stockings were brown hand-knitted knee-high woollen socks which had been knitted by an elderly relative years earlier for my dad to wear under his Wellington boots when he was out working in the forests. He had never actually worn them as they were coarse and prickly.

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This is one of the stockings my children used to hang up in the 1980s and early 90s.

Most of the images I have used are freely available on the Internet. As usual if anyone objects to my use of any photograph, please contact me and I will remove it.

How to Get a Man – 1950s style.

Unlike most of my posts, this one isn’t based on my own personal memories of childhood in the 50s and 60s but has been triggered by something which amused me.

Recently, I was on a train and I picked up a copy of the free newspaper Metro. In it was an article inspired by McCall’s magazine’s list of ‘129 ways to get a husband’ which has recently resurfaced online. Fair enough, even now single people can struggle to meet a partner if they live somewhere remote, work in an environment dominated by their own gender or are extremely shy and lacking in confidence. Dating apps and websites are replacing the small ads and can be a great way of meeting people as long as certain precautionary measures are taken in order to stay safe.

What is different about this is how dated it now sounds now and also how extremely sexist! Were men given similar advice? This links with my last post which covered sexist brands and ads from the 50s and 60s. In it I showed some adverts which implied that a woman had to be great in the kitchen in order to keep her man. I’m sure there weren’t any equivalents for men urging them to be handy with the DIY tools so that the woman didn’t leave him for a more capable model!

What follows are some quotes from the ‘129 ways’ list.

‘Don’t whine — girls who whine stay on the vine.’

‘If your mother’s fat, tell him you take after your father. If your father’s fat too, say you’re adopted.’

In the list women are advised to sit on a park bench and feed the pigeons, or ‘accidentally’ spill the contents of their bag in the hope that a handsome stranger will come to help.

The next one is particularly bad!

‘Make and sell toupées. Bald men are easy catches.’

Some examples from the actual list, taken directly from Metro online –

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50s wife       1950s-housewife-850x1211

50s couple   wife-53-600x728

The-perfect-50s-housewife

I also did a bit of Internet searching to see if there was a similar amount of advice offered to men at the time but found very little. Some of the tips I did find still managed to turn it around to what was expected of a wife e.g. ‘When you come home to a clean house and a hot meal, be sure to thank your wife for providing you with these things. Surprising her with flowers or another small gift will take you far.’

Finally, this list – abbreviated for the post – gives a list of nine things a wife must always bear in mind if she wants to keep her man happy. All advice was given by so-called marriage experts of the time.

1. A Smile Goes A Long Way

2. Keep Quiet

3. Wear Pink Underwear

4. Don’t Let The Kids Be Too Much Trouble

5. Expert Cooking Will Keep Your Man Loyal

6. Put As Much Care Into Your Appearance As Dinner

7. Don’t Be Too Sexual Or Too Prude

8. Don’t Be Mad If He Goes Astray

9. Remember That The Man Is In Charge

Have things changed? For the better or not? I leave you to be the judge of that This is for entertainment purposes only and I hope you’ve enjoyed it!

 

 

As always, my disclaimer is that all pictures and some information has been accessed online. If anyone has an issue with anything in this post, or in any earlier ones, please let me know and I will remove it.