My Book

This is not in the same vein as my usual posts. Even as a child I loved to write. Writing was one of my first loves. Any sort of writing gives me pleasure whether it’s stories, poems, letters or lists. I also love pens, pencils and notebooks. Even though I now write everything on a laptop.

Once I finished full time education, I found that I was not asked to write as I had been in school and university. At work, report writing is about it. So I wrote less and less. Sometimes I would get an idea and start to write. A story sometimes, or the opening chapter of a book. I would always end up ripping it up. Now I would press delete.

Since retiring from full time employment a few years ago, I have been able to devote more time to writing. This bog is the perfect outlet for me as I enjoy sharing my memories of my childhood. I have been richly rewarded by all the readers who visit it, the followers I have and the lovely comments I get.

Meanwhile, I started writing stories – and not deleting them! I wrote and wrote an wrote. I loved doing it. One day I decided to take the plunge and make them available for people to read. I’m in my sixties and decided that I’m to old to go down the agents/ publishers/ rejections route so I went with Amazon Kindle self-publishing and the result is a small collection of short stories in paperback and Kindle format.

I’m very happy to be in print. I’ve had some lovely feedback. Now I’m taking another plunge and telling the readers of my blog about it. Do take a look. There is no obligation to buy or to read it!

Peace: and other stories https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1797640305/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_tai_iioOCbKCXTNN3

If the link doesn’t work, look on Amazon and type in Peace and other Stories.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

Law and Order

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

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

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

18_1303910255_5381_300_300           cycling-proficiency-certificate

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

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

fleet street.jpg     bypass3

 

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

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

FF1     derek

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

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Nursery Rhymes . . . . . continued.

I have covered Nursery Rhymes in an earlier post but it’s a fascinating area and full of historical facts so I’m revisiting the subject and covering different rhymes.

Nursery rhymes are an important part of our history and cultural tradition here in the UK and it would be a shame if they died out. Each one has its own tune which comes to mind as soon as you see the words.

Half a pound of tuppenny rice,
Half a pound of treacle,
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop goes the weasel.

One theory claims that the rhyme originates in the grimy streets and packed sweatshops of Shoreditch and Spitalfields that provided Londoners with their clothing. A spinner’s weasel is a device that is used for measuring out a length of yarn; the mechanism makes a popping sound when the correct length has been reached. One imagines the spinner’s mind would wander to the more mundane, only to be brought back to harsh reality when the weasel went pop.

The third verse suggests an alternative origin, which is based upon the Londoners use of cockney rhyming slang;

Up and down the city road,
In and out the Eagle,
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop goes the weasel.

Pop

To “pop” is a London slang word for pawn. Weasel can be traced to the cockney rhyming slang of “weasel and stoat”, or coat. Even a very poor Victorian Londoner would have had a Sunday best coat or suit that could be pawned when times got hard (Pop goes the weasel), perhaps on cold and damp Monday morning, only to be retrieved on pay day. The Eagle above refers to the Eagle Tavern, a pub located on the corner of City Road and Shepherdess Walk, in the north London district of Hackney. Although the usage of the building has changed over the years, the current Eagle pub dating from the early 1900’s, displays a plaque proclaiming the building’s connection with the nursery rhyme.

Georgie Porgie,
Pudding and pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry;
When the boys came out to play,

Georgie Porgie ran away.

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It is thought that the ‘Georgie Porgie’ in question was actually the Prince Regent, later George IV. A very large gentleman, George weighed in at more than 17½ stone with a waist of 50 inches (from eating so many puddings and pies?), and he became a constant source of ridicule in the press of the time.

Despite his large size, George had also established for himself a rather poor reputation for his lusty romps with the ladies that involved several mistresses and a string of illegitimate children.

Little Jack Horner sat in a corner
Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out a plum,
And said “What a good boy am I”

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Little Jack Horner lived in the 1530’s, the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII. Jack Horner was steward to Richard Whiting, the last of the Abbots of Glastonbury. It is said that the Abbot, hoping to placate King Henry, sent His Majesty an enormous Christmas pie containing the deeds of 12 manors. Horner was given the task of taking the ‘pie’ to London. During the journey he managed to open the pie and extract the deeds of the Manor of Mells in Somerset, presumably the ‘plum’ referred to in the rhyme. A Thomas Horner did assume ownership of Mells, but his descendants and the present owner of the house claim the rhyme is a slander.

Hush a-bye baby in the tree-top,
When the wind blows the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,
Down will come cradle, baby and all

Hush a-bye Baby, or Rock a Bye Baby as I knew it, was reputably written by a boy who sailed with the Pilgrim Fathers to America in 1620 and was the first English poem written on American soil. It is said to have been inspired by the Native American custom of popping babies’ cradles in the branches of trees.

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Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water;
Jack fell down and broke his crown
And Jill came tumbling after.

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The rhyme I knew as a child contained the lines

He went to bed

to mend his head

with vinegar and brown paper

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. . . . but I recently found one which says . .

To old Dame Dob

Who patched his nob

with vinegar and brown paper   

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The small village of Kilmersdon in north Somerset claims to be the home of the Jack and Jill rhyme. Local legend recalls how in the late 15th century, a young unmarried couple regularly climbed a nearby hill in order to conduct their liaison in private, away from the prying eyes of the village. Obviously a very close liaison, Jill fell pregnant, but just before the baby was born Jack was killed by a rock that had fallen from their ‘special’ hill. A few days later, Jill died whilst giving birth to their love child. Their tragic tale unfolds today on a series of inscribed stones that leads along a path to that ‘special’ hill.
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The Books We Read and Loved.

I have talked about children’s books in the 50s and 60s before but this time I’m focusing on the ‘classics’. There were fewer books available then so those we had we read and re-read. They are still around but if they are known to children today it is more likely to be as a Disney film or a TV cartoon.

This is not an exhaustive list of classics from the time, it is a personal selection. I have limited it to the ones we had at home or borrowed from the library. As we were two girls and a boy, some of my favourite books were ‘girls’ books’ like Heidi. I remember less about the ones my brother read.

When we were still quite young my mum would read books like Alice in Wonderland and The Water Babies to us. Once old enough to read fluently I can remember losing myself in books like Black Beauty, The Children of the New Forest and The Secret Garden.

alice  I have such clear memories of our mum reading this to us before bed. We were in turn fascinated and horrified by it. Some of the images are pretty scary – a baby turning into a pig, for example!

black-beauty I absolutely adored this book! It is SO sad in parts! I pictured Squire Gordon as the kindest, most handsome man ever.

borrowers-mary-nortonMy sister and I were totally charmed by the Borrowers books. This was the first one then came The Borrowers Afield, The Borrowers Aloft and The Borrowers Afloat. Years later, as a teacher, I have read The Borrowers to children in my class and it still has a timeless appeal.

lion-witch-wardrobe-lewis      water-babies  As a child I was slightly disturbed by some of the weird things in these two books. I was easily scared I think and they had the same effect on me as Alice in Wonderland.

 

 

secret-garden What a lovely story this is! When I was about ten or eleven it was serialised on TV and shown at teatime on Sundays for eight weeks. The Sunday dramas were brilliant. Several of the books mentioned here were shown as TV serials in the 50s and 60s.

vintage-capt-marryat-children-of-the-new I remember when I was given this as a present my mum explained the Civil War to me in child’s terms. When we are young it’s difficult to picture the span of time and she told me years later that I completely misunderstood the time scale and asked her which side she’d been on!

little-princess-book-cover I’m fairly sure this was a Sunday afternoon serial on TV too but later than the 1960s.

 

poohbookcollectionThese were a huge family favourite! I think there were parts of some of them which the three of us knew off by heart.

heidi Oh, how I loved these books! I wanted to BE Heidi! I longed to live in a house with bedroom in a loft like Heidi’s. I read all three – Heidi, Heidi Grows Up and Heidi’s Children but my true love is the original Heidi.

Another book I really enjoyed was What Katy Did. There were two further books in the series – What Katy Did Next and What Katy Did at School.

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The following four photographs are showing the books I still have which were mine in my childhood and teen years. There are two showing spines only. This is because they have lost their dust jackets. In the ‘old’ days books had a paper jacket with a picture and writing on and underneath that was a plain cover with title and author on the spine. One of them is entitled Thunderhead and was written by Mary O’Hara. This was mine but had been my mum’s. It had been one of her favourite books as a youngster and she had kept her copy and gave it to me when I was old enough to enjoy it. It has her name and a date in 1947 written on the fly-leaf.

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These last few are just a collection of well known books from the time.

arabian-nights     secret-seven-on-the-trail     f-five     greengables26     littlewomen3-204x300

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things we didn’t realise were unsafe, dangerous or just plain inappropriate (non-PC!).

img_0311       These first three images come under inappropriate/ non-PC. Can you imagine letting a child have sweets which are pretend cigarettes now? I also remember that you could get pipes and pipe tobacco which were sweets.

img_0304    img_0309  These two speak for themselves. The Black and White Minstrel Show was huge in the UK in the 1950s – and, of course, every family had one of the ubiquitous gollies! Unimaginable now.

 

img_0303   Moving on to unsafe/ dangerous. I remember having a paraffin heater in the bedroom I shared with my brother and sister. We now know that there was a poisonous gas problem (carbon monoxide, in particular) with these but also a serious fire risk. In a cold winter with no central heating a paraffin heater was very welcome and comforting.

img_0307  I can remember helping a local farmer with his hay making. At the end of the day we children would be sitting on top of the pile of hay as the tractor pulled the cart down the lane towards the barn.

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I have covered this in a previous post but – yes, we did all have penknives as children.  We knew how to use them safely too!

img_0305  Cars didn’t have seat belts and children could sit in any part of the car – as in this picture.  I can remember my sister sitting on the bench seat in the front in beteeen my mum and dad on long journeys as she suffered with car sickness in the back.

 

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Finishing off with inappropriate/ non PC. Just why did everyone find it so hilarious to read about an overweight schoolboy who couldn’t run and who loved cakes? It seems so wrong now yet Billy Bunter was a part of our childhood in the 1950s.

Children’s Books

Children’s books now are brilliant and the choice is bewildering. We had fewer books in my childhood but we loved our books and bedtime stories. For small children the picture books were usually (as far as I remember!) about fairies, puppies, children playing with toys and happy family scenes.

$_12           Bedtime Stories

Even when we were very young our mum used to read to us from the ‘harder’ books. We loved listening to all the ones now referred to as ‘classics’ such as Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh and Black Beauty. Good stories were read over and over again. I knew Black Beauty inside out!

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Sambo  Nobody would write a book like this nowadays!

We were also read the The Water Babies and Paddington Bear. Other books we had were the collections of;  traditional tales, children’s poetry, nursery rhymes and fables.

Nursery Rhymes                Boys annual  Boys' Stories

When I was a little older I loved The Children of the New Forest, Heidi (the whole series), The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. Boys’ books tended towards adventure and heroes – Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe –  whereas girls’books were of a gentler nature! There was very much a gender divide especially in the collections and annuals.

image  These are some of my own books from my childhood. I think I badly wanted to be Heidi for a while!

The books which all three of us (two girls and a boy) loved were the Enid Blyton Famous Five and Secret Seven series. Unusually for the time they appealed to both boys and girls. They were so easy to identify with as the kids were our ages and they had such exciting adventures.

Books, Comics and Magazines.

As children my brother, sister and I loved books. There was a lot less choice than there is now and we were a long way from any shops so the books we had were read again and again. Enid Blyton featured largely in our lives; from the Noddy books when we were very young through to the adventures of the Secret Seven and the Famous Five. We even had a record of Noddy tales and songs read and played by Enid Blyton herself. When I was devouring Blyton adventure stories my sister, who was younger, adored Tales of Green Hedges. The books now referred to as ‘classics’ were also read and loved. Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland, The Water Babies, Black Beauty and King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table are some I remember with great affection. My absolute favourites were the Heidi books. I had all of them and I believe I actually wanted to be Heidi!

My Princess cookbook and some of my        A few of my childhood books.               many recipes from Princess.

Once a week our comics were picked up from the local town when my mum went shopping on a Friday. The arrival of the weekly comic was so exciting! We had one each. My brother’s comic of choice was Hotspur. I took Princess magazine and my sister liked Bunty. We read every word. I can remember a family called the Days who were a cartoon strip in Princess. I still have a lot of my recipe cuttings and my Princess cookbook.

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In later years, in the mid-sixties, I was in my early teens and took Jackie magazine. After a few years of enjoying Jackie, Honey magazine came out. I immediately switched from Jackie to Honey. When I left to go to university I had a complete set from Number 1.  My mum and dad threw them out in a house move. I was mortified!

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I love books to this day – and I still cut recipes out of magazines and save them!