The Annual Show

Just when I was fearing that I’d completely run out of ideas for a new post – blogger’s block? – I sat down this evening to watch Countryfile on BBC 1. Readers living in the UK will know what I mean. For people from faraway lands (as they used to say in fairy tales) it’s a weekly programme which goes out on a Sunday evening and covers all matters relating to the countryside. It’s been running for 33 years – yes, I Googled it! – and is a Sunday evening ritual for many people regardless of where they live. It can come from any part of the UK and might focus on farming, nature, tourism, environmental issues, weather, and many, many more countryside related subjects. Tonight’s episode came from a large annual agricultural show in Staffordshire called the Manifold Valley Agricultural Show. Ping! I suddenly had an idea for a blog post!

When I was a child living in a tiny village in a remote valley in mid-Wales the annual shows, which were held in the summer, were something to look forward to. The biggest one in Wales was, and still is, the Royal Welsh Show. We loved going to that one as it was almost like visiting a city to children from a small village. There were so many interesting tents, stands and displays. The ‘show’ bit comes in when farmers show their best livestock and prizes can be won. However, as children, we weren’t interested in that. We saw sheep and cows every day. We wanted to see ice-cream vans, rides, tents selling crafts and souvenirs, to just enjoy being in such a buzzing atmosphere amongst so many people. It was half an hour from where we lived so was rarely missed.

The Royal Welsh, 1950s.
The Royal Welsh 1963 – I was probably there! But I wouldn’t have been looking at the prize-winning pigs.
File:The Royal Welsh Agricultural Show at Bangor 1958 (7636807478).jpg -  Wikimedia Commons
A 1950s scene from the Royal Welsh. I think it might have been raining!

At the next tier down, every county had an annual show. Within those counties the rural towns had their own annual shows. But right at the bottom of the ladder – or the top for us as children – most farming villages also had a show in the summer. My village was tiny. It spread for miles as all the farms were so widely scattered but you could drive through it and miss it. To give you an idea, my village school which took all the village children from aged 4 to aged 11 had just under 30 pupils each year. Many of the villages in the area were as small, in some cases smaller. But there used to be some great shows to go to on a summer weekend.

A prize-winning Welsh Black.

Lleyn Sheep Society :: History of the Society upto 2020 by H Stoney-Grayshon

Another Royal Welsh prize winner,

The modern day Royal Welsh. Still a great day out.

I thought this was a good time to celebrate the world creeping back to normality – very slowly – after the pandemic nightmare of the last eighteen months. There were no shows last year. As open air events they have crawled back into place this year. Let’s hope next year is completely back to normal.

Easter – back in the day

Back in the 1950s and 60s, when I was a child and lived in the depths of rural mid-Wales, Easter was always such an exciting time for us. We had never heard of the Easter Bunny. Perhaps he couldn’t find his way into the heart of the countryside back then! The three of us always received one carefully chosen Easter egg each from our parents. There was a very small choice available in the 50s and they were much simpler than now but we loved to see whether we had a Cadbury’s, a Rowntree’s or a Fry’s. I’ve done a bit of research and discovered that it wasn’t until around the 1950s, when there were developments in production and packaging, that costs lowered and the masses could enjoy Easter eggs. Branded eggs, such as Buttons, first appeared in the 1960s and increased in the 1970s, with attractive, child-friendly packaging.

Easter egg production inside a Cadbury factory (Image: courtesy of Cadbury)

 Easter Egg Packing in March 1953
 Easter Egg Wrapping Bournville, BWM March 1953
Inside the Bournville factory 1953. Credit: Cadbury

But the excitement wasn’t just about chocolate and certainly not the unheard of Easter Bunny. It was a season I just loved so much. A combination of the sound of lambs bleating in all the fields, the sight of daffodils, catkins and Pussy Willow, the feeling of warmer, lengthening days giving us more playing out time, the thrill of something new to wear to church (or if not new, something we hadn’t worn since last summer). We were off school for the Easter holidays and we usually had the same family coming to stay with us who were from my mum’s old home town a couple of hours away. They were a joy to have visiting. The three of us got on well with their three boys and the parents were really lovely people.

In Sunday school the week before Easter we used to make miniature Easter gardens. We used moss for grass, built up small hills, laid out paths with small stones and made flowers, trees and three crosses on one of the hills. We were always so proud to see our little gardens on display at the back of the church on Easter Sunday. Easter Sunday being the end of Lent, I could eat biscuits again, my sister could eat sweets and my mum could have sugar in her tea.

Breakfast on Good Friday was always the traditional hot cross buns. Now you can buy them throughout the year but it was really exciting to have something special to eat on just one day of the year. Chocolate eggs can now be bought through most of the year too.

My mum picking daffodils in the garden Easter 1961. Photo taken by me age 10 with my first camera – a Kodak Brownie 127.

Easter Sunday breakfast was always boiled eggs which my mum used to paint faces on. One year she had made us all little hats for our boiled eggs as a surprise. Then we would walk to church together. In the usual way of childhood memories I can picture we three children, with the three visiting ones, playing out all day long in the woods and by streams and picking wild flowers. We lived in one of the wettest parts of Britain so the truth of it is that we probably had as many wet Easters as fine ones, if not more. But that’s not how I remember it .

Happy Easter to all my readers, regular and occasional. Or, in Welsh – Pasg Hapus.

Every effort is made to use images which do not offend or infringe copyright. If anyone objects to the use of any information or image in this blog please contact me so that I can remove it.

Saint David’s Day – Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant

Today, March 1st is St David’s Day and a very important day in Wales.

Saint David is thought to have been born around 500 AD in Pembrokeshire on the Welsh west coast. David’s reputed mother Non was also a saint, and he was trained as a priest under the tutelage of St Paulinus.

Various miracles are attributed to him, including restoring the sight of his teacher and, most famously, creating an entirely new hill (now the village of Llanddewi Brefi) during an outdoor sermon. The version of this story which we were told in school was that he was preaching to a large crowd, many of whom couldn’t see or hear him properly. A man stepped forward and put his coat on the floor for David to stand on. When he stood on the coat the ground rose up and a small hill was formed.

St David

Saint David became a renowned missionary in Wales and beyond, and is credited with founding monasteries in his homeland, the south-west of England (including Glastonbury) and Brittany.

When I was in Primary School I remember that our village always held a St David’s Day concert. Our little school was used as a village hall for this sort of event. Various people – adults and children – throughout the evening would take turns to sing, recite or play the piano. One local farmer had a beautiful tenor voice and always sang ‘Jerusalem’. There would also be singing where we all sang together, many of the songs in Welsh.

The traditional dish which all families would eat on that day was ‘cawl’ – pronounced cowl – which is a simple but hearty and nutritious stew made with lamb, root vegetables and leeks. Oddly, it’s the smell of it cooking in our kitchen which I can remember more than the taste.

Our version of the traditional spiced fruit loaf is know as Bara Brith which means speckled bread. It is eaten sliced, buttered and with a paned (cup of tea).

When I was in the Secondary School there was always a St David’s Day Eisteddfod in the school hall. Pupils who were known to be able to play and instrument were often pressured into taking part. Others were happy to volunteer. Most children would have a daffodil pinned to their jumpers. Those who hadn’t been able to locate a daffodil would have a leek pinned to them instead, some of them enormous! I can clearly remember the all-pervading smell of leeks as some of the kids got bored in the audience and started nibbling on them.

Cawl.
Welsh cakes are very popular in Wales and are sold in most bakeries and cafes. Cooked on a bakestone or a griddle pan, they are eaten all year round but especially on St David’s Day.

I have lived in England now since 1973. I have worn a daffodil on March 1st every year of my life as I am doing today. Occasionally if I’ve been in my local town shopping on St David’s Day (not this year, thanks to COVID-19) and seen another person wearing a daff we greet each other and have a little chat.

Happy St David’s Day to you all!!

Dydd Gwyl Dewi Hapus!!

As usual – images courtesy of Google Images, Pinterest, Wikipedia. Anyone objecting to my use of an image can contact me and I will remove it.

Woolworths – or ‘Woolies’

A few years ago I wrote a post in this blog about High Street shops which have disappeared from our towns. This time I am focusing one single store, our beloved Woolies which disappeared for ever more than ten years ago. Readers in other countries might not be familiar with the chain but might well have similar stores they remember as fondly.

Woolworths started out in the UK in 1909 as F. W. Woolworth & Co., part of the American company that was established in 1879. The first store was on Church Street in Liverpool and sold children’s clothing, stationery and toys. Woolworths took off in the mid-1920s with stores opening as often as every two to three weeks. By 2008 there were 807 Woolworths stores. In November 2008 Woolworths Group entered administration with Deloitte, and by early January 2009 all of its stores had closed.

woolworths 1950's | The good old days, My childhood memories, Childhood  memories

As we lived in the countryside, towns with Woolworths were only visited occasionally which is what made the shop all the more exciting, especially to we three children.

When I was young a visit to Woolies was second only to a visit to Santa’s Grotto. Our trips to a major town with a Woolies happened only a few times a year. Cardiff, for example, was a two hour drive away so a it was major expedition on 1950s roads with three children in the back. Necessities were seen to first. If it was a Christmas shopping trip we looked for presents, if it was to buy new winter coats and shoes or new summer clothes for anyone – never the whole family at once, money was tight! – we went to C and A’s, Littlewoods or British Home Stores first. Then, when the serious shopping was done, we went to Woolies. Our reward for not moaning too much as we trailed around the shops was that wonderful treat – the Woolies Pick and Mix. It was always near the entrance so you could smell the sweet, sugary smell as you went through the door. My mum was really fussy about our teeth so being given permission to choose a bag of Pick and Mix was heaven! Near the sweet stall there was always a peanut roaster and my dad, who loved nuts, would buy himself a bag of hot, rosted, salted peanuts. They were measured out from the roaster into a paper bag. He was happy with his peanuts, we were more than happy with our bags of Pick and Mix.

Splendid 20th Century Pictures of British Woolworths - Flashbak

When we were very young, if we ever had a bit of pocket money to spend on one of these outings, my sister and I used to head straight to the jewellery stall in Woolies. We’re not talking Cartier here! They were cheap trinkets – and we loved them! My sister once spent her pocket money on a little ‘gold’ ring which promptly got bent and then completely stuck on her finger. My dad had so much trouble getting it off before the circulation in her finger stopped altogether! When we were older the three of us used to choose stationery or books or occasionally a record. Not an LP, just a single ( a 45), which would then be played to death when we got home.

Kingsbury Woolworths – Store 538 | Woolies Buildings - Then and Now

I remember that the floors were always wooden in Woolies. I also remember buying a Christmas tree decoration there once – which I still have.

William Pell - Career in Focus

Major shopping centres such as Swansea and Cardiff were such a long drive away from where we lived that it was always a full day’s expedition. Inevitably, this involved a lunch stop in a cafe or a cafeteria. Such a treat for we country bumpkins!! The Wimpy Bars were one of our choices, also a cafe called Peter Jones, and lastly, a big favourite – the Woolies cafeteria. The cafes we went to when we were on holiday were places where waitresses in black with white pinnies took your order on a notepad at your table – which had a tablecloth on it. Cafeterias, were new, modern, shiny, wipe-clean and self-service.

Retail – Woolworth's History – Strategy & Innovation

Years later, as an adult in the 1970s, I appreciated Woolworths in a completely different way. By this time I was living and working in a town and could go to Woolies any time. I could buy dress patterns and fabric, saucepans and crockery, even plants and bulbs for the garden.

In the 1980s, I would go to Woolies with my children to buy stationery, socks, PE T-shirts and bags for school. There was a photo booth there where I would get their bus pass photographs taken every August ready for the new school year. Whenever I was in town and needed something which didn’t fit in to any other shop category I knew I’d find it in Woolies.

As always, credit to Google Images and Wikipedia. I make every effort to use only images which are available for use but if anyone objects to the inclusion of any image in this post please contact me and I will remove it.

Annuals.

No, not the garden variety! Those wonderful, colourful, hardbacked books full of articles, photographs, cartoons, puzzles, competitions, facts, jokes, craft ideas and SO much fun! The books we loved to be bought at Christmas and which were eagerly awaited every year. Those mines of fun, facts and entertainment which you could carry on dipping into all year – until the next one came out. Most children had a regular weekly comic and that comic would produce an annual every winter. Even as an early teen when I and my sister were taking magazines like Jackie, they, too had annuals. Radio and TV programmes, newspapers, clubas, organisations etc etc ALL published annuals.

In the late 50s/ early 60s I, my brother and my sister took Princess, Hotspur and Bunty and the annuals were something to be looked forward to all year.

EAGLE ANNUAL: THE BEST OF THE 1950s COMIC Hardcover 2007 Features DAN DARE - L03      Roy-of-the-Rovers-The-Best-of-the-1950s-by-Frank-Pepper-9781781087176     

It was a Jackie Annual from 1980 which made me think of writing this post. I often buy, on EBay or in charity shops, an annual for a friend’s year of birth when they have reached a milestone birthday. I enjoy sourcing them – even if they wonder what on earth that gift was all about! I recently acquired the Jackie 1980 annual for a family 40th birthday – female, obviously! I enjoyed leafing through it before posting it. They’re such a glimpse into how the world was in another era.

The-Scout-annual-1958

As children we hadn’t been familiar with Rupert Bear until two older boy cousins passed ALL their old Rupert Annuals on to us – and we loved them! We enjoyed all the cartoon stories of Rupert’s adventures and knew all the characters. My sister once said it used to annoy her that Rupert was never told off when he was late home for tea – but that aside, we loved them. My sister and I can still fold table napkins into water lilies after learning how to do it from an origami page in one of the Rupert annuals.

RUPERT-1952-ANNUAL-THIS-IS-A-COPY-OF-THE-1952      Every issue has an origami design for children or their parents to fold from a square sheet of paper. The directions for this paper water lily design appeared in the 1958 edition. Bear Origami, Pictures Of Leaves, Brain Parts, The Fifth Of November, Japanese Pagoda, 1970s Childhood, Paper Crowns, Country Fair, Mermaids And Mermen

Wait until your father gets home!

I was thinking the other day about things which adults used to say to children back in the 1950s which you don’t hear so often nowadays. It wasn’t just parents who said these things. Teachers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends, adults in story books – they all dished them out.

Some readers who date back to those years will recognise these even if they didn’t hear them all said in their own households.

At meal times; 

We’d have been glad of that when food was rationed.

There are children starving in . . . my mum used to say China, I’m sure adults used used a variety of countries!

There’s no pudding until your plate is empty/ you’ve eaten your greens.

Eat your crusts or your hair won’t curl.  They  couldn’t be said to me as I had curly hair – but I still had to eat my crusts.

In the 1950s, the war was a very recent memory. Six years of hardship and rationing meant that parents had little time for children being fussy about food. It was seen as ungrateful.

WW2 Ration Book largeThese books were a recent memory for our parents.

The rest;

Children should be seen but not heard. What a dreadful thing to say to a child – but it was something we heard it said to us then. I don’t remember my parents saying it but older relatives would come out with it if they thought the children were talking to much – or just annoying them,

Money doesn’t grow on trees. This was commonly said to children when they asked for something which couldn’t be afforded. When we were a little older, my siblings and I used to joke that it actually did grow on trees for our family because my dad was a forester.

Wait until your father gets home. This one probably has a long history. It is redolent of eras in the past where the fathers were the absolute head of their households and were quite remote and strict. Punishment would be administered by the father on return from work when the work-weary mother (all mothers were home based then) related the child’s transgression. Most modern fathers would hate to be used as a threat in this way.

Your school days are the best days of your life. I promised myself when I was a teenager in high school that I would never say that to a child because at that time I didn’t believe they could possibly be the best years of your life.

What do you want to be when you grow up? Adults probably still ask children that. I hated being asked the question because it used to throw me into a panic! I always felt I should be coming out with something definite and impressive. In fact, I didn’t have a clue. Many of the jobs I fancied as a child (fireman, for one!) couldn’t then be done by women, anyway.

Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. I think people talked in proverbs a lot more then. We actually had to learn a whole list of them for the 11+ exam! A stitch in time saves nine. Make hay while the sun shines. Many hands make light work. Too many cooks spoil the broth.etc. By the way, those last two totally contradict each other which always puzzled me when I was younger!

Vintage-1950s-Hand-Embroidery-Pattern-Kitchen-Proverbs | 자수 도안 ... Picture of a 1950s embroidery.

It’s worth remembering that our parents had been brought up by parents who had Victorian parents and some of the rigid expectations of children from that time were passed down through the generations. There were grisly stories written for children to shock them into behaving. These were known as moral tales. There was one collection of stories written in the 19th century which contained a dozen or so such stories. We had a copy of it at home and it fascinated us! The only two stories I remember from it now are Naughty Little Suck-a-Thumb and Shock-Headed Peter. I’ve just looked these stories up for this post and I’ve learned that they were originally written in German by a man called Hoffmann who wrote them for his young son. Having looked up the two I remember best, I am amazed to find I remember every word of both. We read and read that book! My sister was a confirmed suck-a-thumb and was both horrified by and strangely drawn to the picture of the severed thumbs!

The English Struwwelpeter: Pretty Stories & Funny Pictures

 

 

The gruesome picture above is especially for my sister – who still has both her thumbs! Just to explain; in my family we weren’t read these stories as a warning. Things had moved on since they were written. My mum found them entertaining and enjoyed reading them to us and telling us about how Victorian children were brought up.

 

 

 

 

 

As always, I acknowledge that I have sourced my images from the Internet and made efforts to copy only those which are marked as available for re-use. If anyone objects to my use of any image, please contact me and it will be removed.

 

 

Sweet Treats.

I have covered this before in the very early days of this blog. That post covered sweets, biscuits and chocolate. This time, in a revisiting of the subject, I am sticking to children’s pocket money treats which they could buy in the local shop. There was always a mixture of packet, branded sweets on the counter. I particularly recall Spangles, Fruit Gums, Fruit Pastilles, Refreshers, Love Hearts, Polos. The chocolate bars I remember best are Fry’s Chocolate Cream, Turkish Delight, Mars, Milky Way, KitKat, Crunchie.

Then there were the loose sweets, usually sold out of jars and weighed out on scales into a paper bag. The usual amount children asked for was ‘a quarter’. This meant four ounces or a quarter of a pound. Sometimes you would order two ounces – especially if it was the end of your pocket money week! The smaller portions were weighed out into a cone shaped paper bag, the quarters into a square one. The loose sweets were myriad. I will name a few which I remember best. Shrimps (which always looked more like ears to me), aniseed balls, barley sugars, Everton Mints, butterscotch gums.

Britain's Most Popular Sweets: 1950s - Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe          Original Vintage 1950s- 'Spangles' - Picture Post Magazine ...

Love Hearts                                           Spangles.

The Adventures of Bertie Bassett 1950s UK. Liquorice Allsorts ...        Flying Saucers

Liquorice Allsorts.                                Flying Saucers.

1950s sweets - a delicious trip down memory lane.

A 1950s sweet shop.

Lollies and Sweets Original Sweet Shop Tenby. 1950s Sweets Memory Pack        Mouthwatering Barley Sugar: Gluten & Gelatine Free

Sherbet Fountains.                             Barley sugars.

 

 

Bath Night

Now there’s an expression from the ‘olden days’! When I was a child, hot water was a precious commodity. Although we had an indoor toilet and bathroom and an immersion heater for hot water in our house, many of the farms and houses in our village didn’t. My grandparents in North Wales didn’t have indoor plumbing either. In the fifties, they still carried their water in buckets from a public tap 50 metres or so from their house – it had been converted from a village pump to a village tap. Their toilet was in a shed at the end of the garden and involved buckets which needed emptying daily. Even people who had indoor plumbing and hot water in the fifties remembered how life had been, just a short while back, so the use of hot water was very carefully controlled. I also believe that electricity was more expensive back then in relation to income which was an additional factor.

There was always a ‘bath night’. Just once a week, usually on a Sunday so that you would be clean and ready for the week ahead at school. Back in the 20s, 30s and 40s, when our parents were growing up and water had to be carried into the house, hot water had to be heated in pans on the coal fire. The bath was a tin bath which was brought inside and filled with the hot water. Is it any wonder people only bathed once a week?

 

1964-Tin-Bath

 

So in the fifties and sixties, even in houses with indoor bathrooms and hot water, people were still really, really careful with hot water and bath night was still strictly once a week.

The bathrooms of those days were not places designed to relax in like the bathrooms of today. No thick, fluffy towels warmed on the radiator, no scented oils, candles. There was no heating in British bathrooms in the fifities so bath night in winter was an ordeal – especially on the way into the bath and on the way out.

Toiletries were basic and the choice was limited.

vintage-lifebuoy-toilet-soap-original_360_00e06dc4be75bb4920be084937656172      Wrights coal tar      Imp Leather

Some basic soaps from the 50s.

 

loofah     forsters_natural_sea_sponge_    Pumice Stone Mouse 5060528741590 | eBay

Apart from the ubiquitous flannel, the only washing equipment found in 50s bathrooms were the loofah, the sponge and the pumice stone. Also a back brush and nail brush. What is interesting about the three items shown above is that none of them are man-made. The loofah and the sponge were living organisms and the pumice stone (why was it always mouse-shaped?) is a volcanic rock. The back brush and nail brush were always made of wood with natural bristles.

 

Bath cubes     bath cubes

radox bubble bath 

Toiletries were minimal. A bar of soap and a shampoo. Mums and Grandmas liked a bit of ‘scent’ in their bath water so there were things called bath cubes which were dissolved into the water. Bath cubes were one of the things you bought your mum or your granny as a present. Bubble baths became associated with luxury and glamour so bubble bath started to become popular as a bath additive and Hollywood stars were often shown relaxing in a bubble bath. Then came bubble bath for children and I well remember the arrival of Matey. The idea was that this fun-looking bottle had a liquid in it which made bubbles but also washed you clean! Radox was widely advertised in the 60s on TV as an additive which helped with aches and pains. I believe it was Epsom Salts or similar with a bit of added perfume. Epsom salts and some other salts and minerals are still hailed as being beneficial to the body when used externally such as in a hot bath

Below is a selection of toiletries and the washing aids available today. Just a few, there are hundreds, if not thousands!

 

oilgh-shampoo-for-dry-hair-1549639786

body scrubber scrubbers

 

Strange Times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Happy New Year!

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

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

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

 

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