Power

For the past week, we have had a problem in our house with our electricity. It keeps cutting out and it has taken our electrician several visits to determine what is causing the fault. There have been a few evenings when we’ve relied on candles and hot water bottles for light and warmth. Fortunately, my cooker has a gas hob (electric oven) so I have been able to cook in spite of having no oven or grill.

One cold dark evening last week, I found myself thinking ‘This is just like living in the 1940s.’ which made me think that I could turn the experience into a blog post.

It’s amazing how much we take power for granted. When our power was off, I was frustrated by being unable to carry out normal household chores such as laundry, vacuuming, ironing and I was without entertainment, communication and diversion in the evenings as there was no TV, radio or Internet. The heating system and the land lines depend on electricity too.

Although I grew up in a home which had electricity, I knew homes in our area which didn’t. Looking back, the power we had was basic as it was mainly for lighting with a few sockets. We had an electric cooker as there was no gas in our area but in the early 50s you would only really need electricity for lights if you had a gas cooker as many homes in Britain still didn’t have fridges or TVs. I remember us getting our first fridge. Up until then my mum kept food cool on a stone slab in the pantry and in warm weather put milk bottles in the stream. I was ten years old when we first acquired a TV. Our heating was by coal fire with supplementary heating in the bedrooms in the coldest winter weather by paraffin heaters at bedtime and in the morning.

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Bakelite switches and a phone like our first one with a cloth covered cable.

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Before we had a washing machine, clothes were heated in this type of boiler which was basically a giant kettle and wrung out outside by a mangle.

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Then came our first washing machine – exactly like this one.

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The first vacuum cleaner I remember was exactly like this one and lasted for years. It was already old in the 1950s and had been left behind in a house we moved into in 1955 as the previous owners considered it too old to take with them!

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Paraffin heaters like the ones we had in the 1950s to take the chill off the bedrooms at bedtime.

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In the 1960s each of our bedrooms had an electric fire instead of paraffin. We had two like these.

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1950s home entertainment was via the radio and record player. The radiogram combined both in a ‘stylish’ cabinet. We thought ours was very smart!

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We acquired our first TV in 1961 when I was 10 –  such excitement!! In the mid 1960s my dad bought a reel to reel tape recorder (the same model as this one) which we had loads of fun with.

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Early electric iron, kettle and hair dryer like ours in the 1950s.

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50s and 60s Railways and Trains.

Is it just here in Britain or are people in other countries fondly nostalgic for the railways and steam trains of days gone by? I think it could be because there are no longer steam engines and also many of our lines closed in the 60s. We still have trains but our memories of earlier train travel are tied up with the smell of coal fires, the sound of the whistles, the style of the engines and the wonderfully warm and welcoming stations with cosy waiting rooms.

Whatever the reason, we do seem to look back on steam trains with a great deal of sentiment so I thought I’d tap into some of that today. If you lived through the era of steam trains you will understand what I’m saying!

Our village station had a full time station master who looked after the station with pride. There was a signal box on one side of the line full of coloured levers and switches and a station building on the other side housing a ticket office and a waiting room – even though this was a rural station serving a tiny village. There was always a coal fire burning in the waiting room in winter and it was a joy to be able to warm our hands and faces in front of it whilst waiting for the train.

The following photographs are a random selection of photographs gleaned from various sources. I do not have one of the village station from my childhood.  (If anyone thinks I have infringed copyright, let me know and I will take the offending photograph out). They are meant to give readers over a certain age a trip back through time to when: trains chugged and whistled, engines emitted clouds of white steam, carriages were divided into compartments with plush covered bench seats in each compartment facing each other (modern train interiors are more like buses), there was an all-pervading smell of coal smoke and there wasn’t a Greggs and a W H Smith at every station.

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The-W.H.-Smith-bookstall-at-Victoria-Railway-Station-London-January-1924-1280x993

Powys-20150629-05414.jpg Our signal box was like this one.

 

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This is partly why we in Britain are sentimental about railways. The two maps show how drastically the number of railway lines was cut in the 1960s.

Remember These?

A friend of mine mentioned recently that her favourite tinned soup is Mulligatawny but that she never sees it in the shops any more. I remember it too and her comment made me think of some other food items which have disappeared or almost disappeared in the past few decades. Some of these have been mentioned before in posts about foods I remember eating and ones I remember arriving on the scene when I was young.

I am not saying that these things don’t exist any more (although some of them definitely don’t) just that I don’t hear of or see them any more.

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I used to love Kraft Dairylea  triangles and for a while there was a box of flavoured ones being sold. I loved them! The picture is the nearest I could find to what I’m remembering but the flavours are not exactly the same.

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Turnips and swedes were once as common as carrots and parsnips when I was a child but are now they are like the poor relation of the root vegetable world. I certainly never see them on a menu when eating out! And does anyone still eat tripe? Or mutton?

I was watching a programme on TV the other night called Back in Time for Tea (recommended to me by the same friend) in which a family’s home is transported back to earlier decades. In the one where they were living as if in the 1960s – complete with 60s furniture, decor, clothes and food – there was a food item in their pantry which was Heinz tinned Vegetable Salad. I remember that there was also a Potato Salad one. There are many, many varieties of salad dishes available on deli counters now – coleslaw, rice salads, cous cous salads and tons more – in plastic pots. I had completely forgotten that their precursors came in tins!

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My grandmother absolutely loved butterscotch gums and I often took her a packet – weighed out from a large glass jar into a paper bag – when I went to see her. Spangles were a popular sweet when I was a child and for a while they had a packet called Old English Spangles with flavours like mint and liquorice. They were brilliant!

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Surprise Peas, which I have mentioned before, were what came before frozen peas and were ‘freeze dried’ and very quick to cook. The rise of home freezers and cheap frozen peas meant that Surprise Peas were no longer desirable so they disappeared.

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Now we come to blancmange. Everybody of my age and older remembers blancmange. It was a set milky fruit flavoured dessert made in a mould and went with jelly like fish go with chips. It could be made from scratch but there was a packet mix which most people used. I read on a website when I was looking blancmange up that the nearest equivalent is the Italian dessert panna cotta.

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Burgers hadn’t reached Britain in the 1950s but we did have things called rissoles (I never hear that word now!) and faggots. I know faggot has a non-food meaning in some parts of the world but to us it was a kind of meatball.

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A few other edible things which are no more . . . .

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It’s unthinkable in this PC age but children could buy imitation cigarettes which were sweets!

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The tinned milk products below are still available but are largely used in cooking desserts. Back in the 1950s in Britain when most homes, and many local shops, didn’t have fridges these were what we called ‘cream’ and we had them on fruit salads (tinned in those days!), trifles and fruit pies.

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The Dawn of the Plastic Era.

Plastic are in the news every day just now. Although the problem isn’t new there is now an increased awareness of the damage we are doing to the planet by continuing to use non biodegradable plastics.

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This is not going to be a historical or scientific post about the invention and use of plastics. Those facts are readily available on the Internet – and make fascinating reading! This post is about how I remember plastics arriving in our lives in the 50s and quickly reaching every aspect of our lives over the next few decades.

I do remember some of our toys being plastic. I also remember toys made of tin which sounds really odd now! On one occasion when I was quite young I was bought a small doll as a present. I remember showing my mum the letters and numbers embossed in the plastic somewhere on the body of the doll. I thought the doll’s name was Pat which was also my mum’s name. What I had seen was the patenting information which began with Pat but actually said ‘Pat. pending, Pat. applied for or Pat. number’ which seemed to be on a lot of items then.

Picnic ware from my early childhood was enamelled metal. Remember the white mugs and plates with a blue edge? Later on we had plastic beakers for garden and picnic use.

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My baby doll, which I received for Christmas when I was about eight, was made of pottery. She wasn’t a shelf doll, made to collect and display. She was for playing with and I had years of fun with her. I must have been quite a careful child as I still have her. Three years later my sister was given a baby doll and she was made of a soft pink plastic.

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Apart from the creeping in of plastic toys and housewares, there are other everyday differences which come to mind. Bread was wrapped in tissue at the baker’s, fish and meat wrapped in greaseproof paper and then an outer layer of brown paper or newspaper. Fruit and veg was weighed and put into brown paper bags. Sweets were weighed out from large jars into white paper bags. Packaged food came in tins, packets or boxes. All this shopping was put into shopping bags brought from home or brown paper ones provided by the shop. Larger quantities would be carried or delivered in a cardboard box.

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At home, leftovers were covered with an upturned plate or bowl to keep the, fresh. There was no such thing as cling film. Milk bottles and pop bottles were all glass and all returnable. No food was sold in plastic pots, bags or containers of any sort.

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New Diaries, New Year’s Resolutions and Thank-You Letters.

Happy New Year to all my readers and followers!

As Christmas Day becomes a memory and we start thinking about a new year, I have been remembering what this time of year felt like when I was a child. I usually got a new diary for Christmas. These were not for noting appointments and forthcoming events as my diaries are now but for recording my life day by day. My mum always encouraged us to keep diaries and she kept a daily journal for many, many years. Some years I kept it up for a couple of months, other years I carried on for a whole year. Surprisingly, I still have a few of my diaries. In the photo, from left to right are my diaries from 1959, 1963, 1964, 19l66 and 1967. I remember loving the diaries for all the snippets of information in them. The Enid Blyton one, for example, has 64 pages of general information before the diary pages even start! These include articles on pets, hobbies, party games, how to start a club, the story of the Union Jack, how to look after a bike, two pages on how to tie different knots and – this is hilarious – NINE pages on road-building, with diagrams and photographs. In addition to the first 64 pages there was a snippet of information at the bottom of each week’s page.

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In the front of each diary I have written a list of Christmas presents received from various family members which brings me to the next part of this post – the thank-you letters. There would always be one afternoon allocated for this just before we returned to school. I would be sitting with my brother and sister with writing paper and envelopes and my mum hovering nearby encouraging us while we tried to convey our thanks to aunts and uncles we rarely saw. It was hard work, particularly when we were really young, but I’m sure the relatives appreciated receiving them.

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In the back of some of my diaries I have written a list of my New Year’s Resolutions. As with the diary keeping and the letter-writing, the one encouraging us to come up with a list of resolutions was always my mum. It was very important to her that we had started our diaries, written our thank-you letters and listed our resolutions before the new school term started. My 1966 resolutions included saving more of my pocket money, writing more frequently to my pen-friends, working hard for school exams and being kind and friendly in school and at home – exciting stuff! I think I probably wrote those knowing my mum would see them!

 

Advent Calendars

I was shopping the other day and I noticed a bewildering array of Advent calendars each one containing twenty-four treats. I thought I’d do a short post on how I’ve seen Advent calendars changing.

When I was a young child, back in the 1950s, we had an Advent calendar. We had the same one for years. It had windows with what we thought were delightful little pictures behind the little card doors. The biggest one, right in the centre, had a picture of baby Jesus in the manger and I remember the picture being coloured in a lovely yellowy glow. We knew what was coming on Christmas Eve when we opened that double door (the other days had single door flaps) but we never, ever peeped during the preceding days. Our calendar was about A4 size and was a picture of a church window. I remember a grey stone colour and other colours for the stained glass window. I have found some photos of the sort of calendar we had – which was the only kind around at that time. We loved it and getting it out on the first day of December was SO exciting!

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An assortment of 1950s Advent calendars which resemble our well-loved one at home.  

When my children were young, in the 1980s, I also had an Advent calendar for them which we got out each year. At some point in the 70s or 80s somebody had the idea of selling calendars with chocolates in which seemed all wrong to me at the time. It meant the anticipation felt by children in December became focused on the next day’s chocolate. Anyway, that’s just my personal feeling, many of you will disagree!

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The now standard chocolate Advent calendar.

 

What I wanted to cover in this post was the evolution of Advent calendars from simple card ones with pictures, to the chocolate ones, the ones with toys,  hand-made ones where parents put their own surprises in the pockets, through to calendars made for adults and containing beer, wine, toiletries, spirits, expensive food items etc etc. There are even Advent calendars for pets.

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Quality chocolates                    Tea

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An assortment of what’s on sale this year

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Whisky

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Advent calendars for dogs, cats, hamsters, gerbils and rabbits

 

How we Learned in 50s and 60s Classrooms.

In my primary school I remember that a lot of lessons involved learning things by rote or ‘off by heart’ as we called it. The multiplication tables were recited by the whole class in unison first thing every morning – after the Lord’s Prayer and the alphabet. Then we recited other tables such as measurement – “Twelve Inches to One Foot, Three Feet to a Yard, 220 yards one-eighth of a mile, 440 yards one-quarter of a mile . . . ” and so on. The same was done for capacity, money, area and weight.

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All our exercise books had these charts on the back.

Our exercise books had all the charts printed on the back for handy reference although the rote learning ensured we didn’t need to fall back on that often!I certainly never forgot them! I also remember learning poems off by heart. I can still recite Cargoes by John Masefield.

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Cargoes by John Masefield

The sad thing is that nobody talked to us about the meanings of the poems. I had no idea what half the words meant in Cargoes, which is a shame as it’s a beautiful poem.

Primary school education was very ‘British’ – and in my case, Welsh. We didn’t have separate subjects called History, Geography Science etc. The history I learned was about the lives of British heroes – Scott of the Antarctic, Nelson and, of course, Saint David. We learned songs like Hearts of Oak, Over the Sea to Skye  (which I can still play from memory on the recorder) and many traditional Welsh ones.

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A wooden school recorder.            The book which every school used.

Science consisted of nature rambles when it was fine in summer. We never had PE but I think that was our Head’s choice and lack of fondness for activity rather than the norm for the times.

In secondary school our learning was still largely based on memorising facts and writing down dictated notes in our exercise books. Individual research was non-existent.

In maths two pieces of equipment come to mind which are probably now obsolete – correct me if I’m wrong! One was the slide rule which was an ingenious way of doing difficult calculations using a calibrated ruler with sliding parts. The other one was the book of log tables. We all had them. They are a very simple way of working out very large multiplications such as four digit numbers X four digit numbers. Log tables do a lot more complex maths than that but I’m talking about how we used them in school. Calculators and computers have probably done away with the need for these but professional mathematicians might tell me different.

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A 20thC log table book.                         A page from an early log table                                                                                                             book.

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Cover of a 17th C log table book.                     A slide rule.

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John Napier.                                                 William Oughtred.

Both the slide rule and the log tables were invented in the 17th Century, log tables by John Napier and the slide rule shortly afterwards by William Oughtred.

 

School Uniform in the 1960s.

There have always been school uniforms and certain features never change – dark colours, ties, blazers, badges etc. One of the main things I remember about wearing a school uniform is that it was a rite of passage. Back in those times, in Britain, state primary schools didn’t normally have uniforms. My first school uniform was my high school one. How exciting it was, during that summer, to buy all the items on the list in readiness for moving into my new school in September! Learning to tie a tie was one of my tasks over the summer holiday before moving up to ‘big school’.

At that time, in my school and probably most others, the first and second year pupils wore gymslips (girls) and short trousers (boys). A gymslip, for those unfamiliar with the term, is not an item of gym wear but a pinafore dress, much like a skirt with a bib top.  In your third year, as you were coming up to 13 years old, girls moved on to skirts and boys to long trousers. With the skirts, gymslips and short trousers we wore long socks. Girls wore short white ankle socks in summer. Under the skirt or gymslip we wore big, thick navy knickers. They were worn over normal white cotton pants so I can only think they were for warmth and maybe decency – in case your skirt blew up? They were perhaps the least favoured item of uniform.

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The hat was an intrinsic part of the uniform. In our school the girls wore berets, the boys caps. Our berets were called tams. The hat had to be worn whenever you were outside the school premises in your uniform, even if it was well outside school hours. If a member of staff or a prefect spotted you in the town without your hat on you were punished. Most girls pushed the limit by clipping the hat so far on to the back of the head that they looked as though they had no hat on – which was also punishable! We had uniform scarves too, and navy belted gaberdine macs.

There was no choice of school bag style – it was a leather satchel. I had the same one all the way through high school – seven years! On PE day the regulation sports bag was a navy duffel bag.

 

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This is a photograph of a group of girls from my school with two teachers showing the shirts, ties, skirts (regulation length – although we used to roll the waistband over when there were no teachers looking to make them more like mini-skirts) and the white ankle socks.

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As an afterthought, here is a photograph of all the staff at my high school in the mid 60s – no uniform except for the fact that those who had degrees taught in black gowns. . . .

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. . .  and one of a class (we called them forms) with their form teacher for that year, who was our Geography master.

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Letter Writing

First of all, I would like to thank everyone who has ever read this blog:  regular followers, fellow bloggers and occasional visitors. Today my total number of views, across 70 countries in the world, has just topped 10,000 which makes me very happy! This is small fry compared with some of the established bloggers out there but I’m just someone who likes writing and  has some memories I enjoy sharing.

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I have always loved writing letters. I love receiving them too. Letter writing is now more or less disappearing. How often do we get mail arriving with a handwritten envelope unless it’s a birthday or Christmas? Of course, we can still enjoy communicating with people. I still take pleasure in sending and receiving emails and text messages to all my contacts. A new personal email showing up in my Inbox is almost as exciting as hearing an expected letter drop through the letter-box. Almost – but not quite.

These are some of the things I enjoyed about sending and receiving letters.

First of all it was the very fact that you were communicating on a personal level with someone you cared about who was not living nearby. When I was a teenager I had pen friends, arranged by my school,  in other countries. I also exchanged letters with grandparents. My paternal grandfather and I used to write letters in Welsh to each other. Welsh was my second language and his first language and I used to like improving my written Welsh by writing to him. He had always loved writing letters too. I have an old leather writing case which was his when he was alive. I also have my red leather writing case which my parents bought me one Christmas. I adored it! I exchanged letters with a few school friends who had moved away and with a very close friend who went away to boarding school. We are still good friends and I’m sure our term-time letter writing ensured that our primary school friendship survived our teenage years in separate schools.

Secondly, I took great pleasure in the materials involved. I loved my fountain pen and was particular about the make and shade of ink I bought – when I was a teenager I preferred Parker’s Quink in blue and as I grew older I favoured blue-black.

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The paper was just as important. I absolutely loved spending some pocket money on a new writing pad and matching envelopes. I could never afford the very best but I didn’t like buying cheap and flimsy either.

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As I had pen-friends (two in America and one in France) I also had to buy the extra-lightweight airmail paper and the envelopes with the red and blue stripes around the edge.

Two more things which have changed. When we addressed envelopes then we wrote the name and address on a slant like this

 

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and then at some point it became

 

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We didn’t have any postcodes when I was a child. Although there had been some postcodes in existence before, the codes as we know them were introduced in 1967 and released in stages until 1974. It was some time before they were used as automatically as we use them now.

 

 

 

Disclaimer: As always, photos are mostly courtesy of Google Images. If anyone objects to my use of a particular photo or believes it infringes copyright, please contact me and I will remove it.

 

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

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

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

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Instant access to information of any sort at your fingertips.

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

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Posting parcels in pharmacies, newsagents etc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Flying being commonplace and affordable.

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

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Buying things with a piece of plastic.

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

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

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Buying things without even plastic.

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