Words we don’t hear now.

I have been remiss recently in my blog writing. I have several saved draft posts which I have started and then decided maybe weren’t that good. I began to fear I was running out of ideas. However, this morning I heard the word blancmange on the radio and it sparked something in me! I have done similar posts before so I hope I’m not repeating myself too much.

Blancmange was so common when I was a child! Birthday parties were not complete without jelly and blangmange. For those younger than me who aren’t familiar with the word it was a dessert made from cornflour, milk, sugar, colouring and flavouring. It set like jelly and was most often made from a packet mix in the 50s. We pronounced it ‘blummonge’. Back in the 1950s here in Britain, nobody had freezers so ice cream was not something that was found in the home. Many homes in the early fifties didn’t even have fridges so fresh cream was uncommon. Instead we had jelly, blancmange, custard, or tinned cream – as well as cooked puddings, of course.

My mum had a rabbit mould just like this and for our parties she used to make a brown (chocolate flavoured blancmange) rabbit and put chopped up green jelly around it to look like grass. We thought it was amazing!

A few other food words we don’t hear these days. We didn’t have meatballs or burgers we had rissoles and faggots. When researching these two meat items I read that they were particularly popular in South and Mid-Wales which is why I remember them so well. Rissoles were made of minced meat, breadcrumbs and seasoning and were served hot, whereas faggots were made using meat mixed with offal and were often eaten cold. I hated them! We had a wide range of milk puddings. Most people know of rice pudding but we also had milk puddings made of semolina, ground rice, tapioca and even macaroni!

Macaroni pudding was regularly served up in my school.

Some older people still use this word. Nowadays we call it a radio, back then it always known as ‘the wireless”. Now wireless has a totally different meaning.

In clothing we have lost the words petticoat, bloomers and drawers (usually used to describe old ladies’ long legged knickers), the much disliked liberty bodice, and nylons. My mum wore petticoats all her life and would have felt undressed without one on. They are not worn as much now at all and are more usually called slips or underskirts. Even the word mac is heard less often now.

Many people of my age remember having to wear these in winter. They were worn under the clothes and on top of a vest and most children hated them!

In winter we had warm brushed cotton fabrics which were used for nightwear, bedlinen and even shirts, blouses (another word which has nearly disappeared!) and dresses. I loved the feeling of getting into warm flannelette sheets on a cold night. We also used the term Winceyette which was a type of flannelette.

Cars are very different now although a lot of the terminology remains the same. However, the ‘choke’ was a very important feature on the dashboard and correct use of it was crucial to starting your car. Too little and the car wouldn’t start, too much and you risked flooding the engine.

Plasticine was the only sort of modelling clay we had as children. It still exists, I’ve found out, but has now been largely replaced by a wide range of modelling materials for children including the most well known – Play Doh. Plasticine had a very distinctive smell which came back to me vividly as I started writing this paragraph.

Plasticine was a brand name but is now used as a general term for modelling clay. As children we always just called it clay.

As always, credit to Google Images and Wikipedia. I take care to ensure I don’t infringe copyright when selecting pictures. However, if anyone objects to the use of any image in this post please contact me and I will remove it.

Footwear

The first thing to point out about this post is that we are going back to the pre-Velcro era. Nowadays children don’t have to learn to tie shoe laces or fasten buckles before starting school. It was very different back in the 50s and 60s. Even in the mid 80s, when my children were starting school, Velcro wasn’t yet used on shoes although it had been around since the 60s. Children were expected to know how to tie their laces by the time they started school. It was a rite of passage! As a teacher I get that you couldn’t be tying 30 laces several times a day when your class changed from outdoor to indoor shoes or into PE pumps.

Shoes back then were made of leather. Indoor shoe like slippers and school pumps were fabric and wellies were made of rubber. But your main shoes were always leather and either laced or buckled. Generally, summer shoes and sandals were buckled and winter shoes laced. PE footwear was the standard issue black canvas shoes with an elasticated insert. Most people called them pumps or plimsolls. In South Wales we call them daps. This name arose, according to Nicholette Jones’s book The Plimsoll Sensation, because the coloured horizontal band joining the upper to the sole resembled the Plimsoll line on a ship’s hull, or because, just like the Plimsoll line on a ship, if water got above the line of the rubber sole, the wearer would get wet.

New shoes were bought in the autumn (ready for winter) and the spring (ready for summer). Your new shoes were ‘best’ shoes for the Harvest festival and and Easter Sunday and were then your main shoes for six months.

Our local town (tiny, 2 000 people) had one shoe shop. It sold Clarks shoes. Sometimes we had Start-Rite or Birthday shoes which we bought in a bigger town further away. There was an X-ray machine in our local shoe shop which checked the fit of the shoes once you’d tried them on. It was So exciting to look down and see your foot bones inside your new shoe. They were discontinued by the 60s when it was found that X-ray is hazardous. I have, learned through researching for this post, that these machines were called flouroscopes.

A flouroscope.

I remember a brand of shoe called Tuf which were around in the 60s. They weren’t sold in our small town but when my brother wore them in his early teens we were able to buy them in bigger towns like Swansea and Cardiff. Tuf came with a 6 month guarantee. If they wore out before 6 months you got a new pair free. My brother was very heavy on shoes at the time and it saved my parents a lot of money being able to get him new shoes a two or three times a year at no cost!

Here are a few pictures showing the standard style of buckle shoe which all children wore when they were small. The two children with the rocking horse are me and my brother (sorry Bruv!). It was common practice back in the old days, before most people had cameras, to have a studio portrait taken. The prints could then be sent to relatives. After this picture was taken my dad bought his first camera and there were no more posed studio pictures. I’ve worked it out that this photograph was taken for my third birthday.

Seeing the picture above, and the prices of the shoes, I looked up what the prices shown would be today. £5 in the mid-fifties is the equivalent of £92. If that ad is from the mid 60s the equivalent in today’s money is £64. No wonder we were only bought two pairs of shoes a year!

The ‘daps’ (pumps or plimsolls in other parts of the country) we had in the 50s were pretty much the same as the ones kids wear now.

Wellies – absolutely essential in a wet area like my valley! – were always black. Now kids wellies come in a vast array of colours and designs. Many even have little handles on the side to make them easier to pull on. How I would have loved these when I was a kid!

Credit to Google, Wikipedia and Google Images. As usual, I make every effort to ensure that my facts are correct and that by using the photographs I source I am not infringing copyright. If anyone objects to anything in this post please contact me and it will be removed (including Bruv!).

R.I.P. Queen Elizabeth II

I have been a while without posting on here even though I have several draft posts waiting to be finished – and for me to be inspired.

Since the Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom and 15 Sovereign States, died on Thursday I thought I would put together some of my own thoughts and memories, although I never actually met her.

Whether you are pro- or anti-royal it would be wrong not to have some respect for someone who reached the grand age of 96 and who was still performing some light public duties until a few days before she died – notably greeting our new Prime Minister and inviting her to form a government.

I was born two years before the Coronation. We lived at that time in a small market town called Brecon (population approx 8 000) and I remember my mum telling me how they took me to the coronation celebrations and how I kept my little flag for days and called it my wag. Well, I was less than two years old! Because of this childhood tale I thought for several years when I was little that the Queen had been crowned in Brecon and that I’d been to the actual coronation!

Brecon as it would have looked when I lived there.
Brecon Cathedral. When I was small I believed the coronation had taken place here!

When we were very young we children really identified with the royal children as they were often shown in the newspapers and magazines at the time. When I was a bit older I remember me and my friends being so excited when the queen had two more babies. I was thirteen when Edward was born and we girls were fascinated by the photographs of the new baby and lapped up all the details – weight, name etc.

My brother and I used to look a bit like these two when we were very young, although we grew up to look entirely different. It was mainly due to similar early 50s clothes and hair – my hair was EXACTLY the same as hers! Back then we used to imagine that if we met them they’d like to play with us.
The Queen with Prince Andrew and baby Prince Edward. One of the pictures my school friends and I would have pored over in 1964.

These are just some of my own recollections from my childhood. I don’t remember a time before the Queen and I felt like commemorating her passing in my own small way.

Credit to Google, Wikipedia and Google Images. As usual, I make every effort to ensure that my facts are correct and that by using the photographs I source I am not infringing copyright. If anyone objects to anything in this post please contact me and it will be removed.

Water

Yes, this post is about drinking water – or rather, not drinking it.

Now.

Nowadays, we are all aware of the need to stay hydrated and the health hazards hidden in sweetened, flavoured soft drinks. We are now used to seeing people walking around holding bottles of water. It was not always so. My parents and grandparents would be surprised and probably horrified at the way bottled water is sold absolutely everywhere now.

Then.

When I was a child I don’t remember drinking much water at all, or seeing adults drinking it. If you asked for a drink of plain tap water in a café or restaurant you would be refused. It is now against the law for premises serving alcohol to refuse a customer tap water. I have never been refused plain water in any café, pub, bar or restaurant in many years now.

In the 60s and 70s, once people started travelling further afield, we saw bottled water on sale in shops on holiday abroad. We always assumed it was because their tap water wasn’t safe to drink. Ours in Britain was then, and is now, perfectly safe but buying bottled water here is now the norm.

As children in the 1950s we drank milk, squash or tea. Yes, we were all started quite early on with weak milky tea – usually with sugar in it. My sister is three years younger than me and I can remember drinking the National Health orange juice which was available for pregnant mothers and children aged one to five. It was meant for my sister at the time I remember but my brother and I used to be given the occasional drink of it. It was delicious! Very, very different from the standard orange squash. I’ve researched it for this post and it had an extremely large content of real orange juice – and sugar – and the instructions were that it be served diluted – and sweetened if necessary! It was issued by the government because many people in post-war Britain were deficient in essential nutrients.

I have done some research into this Welfare orange juice and the main purpose of giving it free to babies and infants up to the age of 5 was to add more Vitamin C to their diet. The 50s were the post war period and rationing was still in place so it was a generous gesture.
For anyone interested, here is a link to an article recounting the history of Welfare Orange juice and the colonialism issues which arose from its production. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-british-studies/article/one-british-thing-a-bottle-of-welfare-orange-juice-c-19611971/7A3A07A71E9CFEA0214EC22984C486A7#

My mum was very fussy about our teeth so we were rarely allowed ‘pop’ as it was known and she limited our consumption of sweets. Through lack of knowledge and information at the time she was unaware that the squash we drank, and the National Health juice, were just as sugary. Thankfully, my teeth are still in good order.

This is a brand I remember well. The ad gives no clue as to the ingredients, apart from implying it’s full of real orange juice. The label on the bottle would have been the same. We had no idea in the 1950s that these drinks were full of colourings, flavourings and SUGAR. Now labels and adverts have to be a bit more honest!

Water in the classroom.

The importance of keeping children hydrated for their health and concentration is now well known. The introduction of ‘water in the classroom’ was something I was involved with in the 90s. Some staff in schools were very against it then. Now we can’t imagine things being any other way.

The standard issue school water bottle nowadays.

Credit to Wikipedia, Google and Google Images. If anyone objects to my use of an image please contact me and it will be removed.

The Traditional British Seaside Holiday

As we approach summer and people start thinking about holidays I thought I’d take a look at the traditional seaside holiday in Britain, particularly the era of my childhood – the 1950s and 60s.

I’ll start by filling in a bit of background.

Although rich people were taking breaks by the sea from the 1700s, and entering the water using ‘bathing machines’, the working population still worked a six day week with no paid holidays and had no access to transport for long journeys. This changed with the coming of the railways and in 1871. The Bank Holidays Act declared that certain days throughout the year were official holidays (when banks and offices closed). The speed of railway transport meant that people could then travel more easily to the seaside. Coastal towns like: Blackpool, Scarborough, Llandudno and Brighton quickly grew into popular holiday resorts. In the UK, the Holidays with Pay Act 1938 gave workers whose minimum rates of wages were fixed by trade boards, the right to one weeks’ holiday per year.

I never heard of anyone going abroad on holiday when I was a child. I lived in a farming area so most of the families we knew couldn’t leave the farm for a holiday. Every year in the summer our village ran two day trips to the seaside for mums and children. One was just known as the village trip, I have no idea who organised it. Perhaps a group of parents got together. The other was the Sunday School trip. A coach would be hired and we would all pile onto it outside the village post office armed with picnics, buckets and spades, swimsuits etc. We sang songs on the coach and had a brilliant day out even if it rained. If it was too wet for the beach there was always the funfair and the shops in the town where we could spend the little bit of pocket we’d been given. We thought Woolworth’s was heaven!

A coach belonging to our local bus company.
A Woolworth’s toy counter.

Our family holidays were always taken by the coast. Devon and Cornwall were our nearest coastal destinations outside Wales. We have some great beaches in south west Wales too which are nearer to where we lived. We used to go to those for family days out on fine Saturdays in summer. The annual two week summer holiday always saw us going over the border to England.

Traffic jams were a big part of holiday travel at that time. There were no motorways or dual carriageways, towns didn’t have by-passes and had very few roundabouts and traffic lights. Now you can travel across the country sweeping past large and small towns on a motorway, ring road or by-pass. Not then. It was such a pain that we often set off for a holiday at night, arriving at our destination early in the morning. We children thought that was so exciting.

A P.C. on ‘point duty in a town centre before the days of roundabouts and traffic lights.

Back then, everyone took picnics to the beach. Sandwiches and flasks were the norm. Deck chairs were available for hire but most people sat on rugs or towels. We knew nothing about long term sun damage. If you got burned your mum would apply calamine lotion to the burnt skin at bedtime.

At some point in the day there would be a visit to the ice-cream van. What a treat! Homes didn’t have freezers then and neither did the shops around us. When we were small ice-cream was only associated with day trips and holidays. I loved 99’s – and still do!

Credit to Wikipedia, Google Images and woolworthsmuseum.co.uk.

I make every effort to avoid infringing copyright. If, however, anyone objects to my use of an image please contact me and I will remove it.

Primary School Learning in the 1950s and early 1960s.

The school I attended from four years old until eleven was a very small primary school in a remote rural village. The year I left to go to the high school there were 28 pupils in the school which gives you an idea how small it was. Because it was such a rural area, some of the children from outlying farms came from a mile or two away. I was mostly happy in school, I liked the teachers and I worked hard. Many years later, in my early forties I trained for a second career as a primary school teacher. The differences between learning in the 1950s and decades later when I was teaching are many! I thought I’d look at some of the subjects, how they were taught and what we learned. I’m not criticising my teachers. That was just the way it was then and we were not at all disadvantaged by the education we received.

History

I have no memory of finding out about any world history in primary school. As a teacher I loved teaching children about Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, The Vikings, World War II and so on. Our history in the 1950s was very Britain centred and consisted of learning about famous people and heroes like Scott of the Antarctic, Florence Nightingale, Nelson etc. There were no opportunities for finding things out for ourselves by looking in history books or encyclopedias. We were told their stories and we copied out passages from text books.

BBC - History - Scott of the Antarctic
Florence Nightingale - Wikipedia
Scott of the Antarctic and Florence Nightingale. Two of the historical figures I remember from primary school lessons.

Maths

I didn’t come across geometry or algebra until high school. Our maths from four to eleven was strictly arithmetic. Times tables were learned off by heart. This was done by the whole class reciting them together first thing every morning. Other tables which were recited were the weights and measures ones such as ‘Twelve inches to a foot, three feet to a yard, one thousand seven hundred and sixty yards to a mile, eight eighty yards to half a mile, four forty yards to a quarter of a mile . . .’ and so on. This was repeated for weight and time. In our final year we had to sit a test called the ‘Eleven-Plus’ to decide on where you went for your secondary education. The maths we did was all geared towards this test. We had to solve written problems, work out fractions and percentages and even learn how to calculate simple and compound interest.

Exercise book
All our school exercise books had these tables on the back cover.

English

My main memories of this subject are of handwriting practice, comprehension exercises, spelling tests, writing ‘compositions’ (stories, we’d say now) and learning very serious, old-fashioned poems off by heart then reciting them. In readiness for the eleven plus we also had to learn proverbs off by heart. ‘All that glitters is not gold’, ‘A stitch in time saves nine’, etc. were learned and we were tested on them.

Music

Like our history lessons, the music we did in school was very traditional and serious. We learned to play the recorder which I loved. The songs we learned and sang – or played on the recorder – were hymns, in both Welsh and English, and songs like ‘Over the Sea to Skye’ and ‘Hearts of Oak’.

Vintage Recorders for sale | eBay
My recorder was exactly like this one. My granddaughter now has it.

Science

The only science-related activity I can recall doing is when, on a fine day in spring and summer, the teachers would sometimes take us all out for what they called a ‘nature ramble’. They pointed out various flowers, trees and birds and we picked flowers and leaves to take back to school. But I mainly remember how lovely it was to be out of school, enjoying the weather and walking along the lanes around the village. There was hardly any traffic around so road safety wasn’t an issue.

Art and Craft

We did sometimes have art sessions but the only medium I remember using was powder paints. I don’t recall any lessons on colour mixing or technique but the painting was fun. I learned about colours at home from those lovely tins of water colours we used to have back then with the names of the colours written under every little square of paint. I loved the wonderful names they had like ultramarine and burnt umber. Oh, the joy of getting a brand new paint tin for Christmas! I also enjoyed the knitting and embroidery lessons in school.

Vintage Paint Set Divers Design 1960s Children's Paint image 5
I never see paint boxes for children now with the names of the colours written under each block – and I have looked!

P.E.

We very rarely did PE although there in a storage area there were a few boxes of coloured bean bags, balls and quoits. We used to look at them longingly! A few years into my time at the school we acquired a new school radio. Once a week one of our two teachers would tune into a BBC programme called Music and Movement. For fifteen minutes we would follow the instructions on the radio and move around the classroom in different ways. Sometimes we were asked to imagine we were different creatures or to stand still and look like a tree. We absolutely loved it!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.jpeg
How we would have looked when listening to the BBC’s Music and Movement programme on the school radio.

R.E.

Religious Education consisted of singing hymns first thing in the morning while a teacher played the piano and saying prayers . Being a Welsh school we also learned the story of our patron saint, St David. We all went to church and Sunday School and learned more about the stories in the Bible there. We were completely unaware of any of the other faiths in the world such as Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism etc.

Saint David Biography - Childhood, Life Achievements & Timeline
St David, the patron Saint of Wales.

As always, credit to Wikipedia and Google Images. I make every effort to ensure that I do not infringe copyright but if anyone objects to my use of an image please contact me and I will remove it.

Christmas Memories

First of all, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers and especially to my regular followers. Since starting this blog a few years ago it has been viewed a total of 164 500 times world wide. That makes me very happy and is way beyond what I was expecting when I started it. Also, I thought I would run out of ideas after the first year or so but every so often something strikes a chord and I think ‘I could do a blog post on that!’ Sometimes somebody suggests a topic I hadn’t thought of.

What follows is a brief summary of some thoughts and memories of Christmases when I was young. I’ve done similar ones before at Christmas but I didn’t want Christmas to pass without a mention.

The 1950s Christmas

History of the Christmas Broadcast | The Royal Family
Image 1 - Vintage Spear's Ludo Board Game
A 1960s Christmas - Historic UK

The war had only finished in 1945 and rationing was still in place in the early fifties. People weren’t well off and there wasn’t the same choice of consumer goods as there is now. I remember the Christmases of my childhood so clearly and every one was magical. Turkey wasn’t yet the UK’s main Christmas meat. Chicken was still quite a luxury at that time, before the days of mass produced chicken, so that was often what people ate. Everyone made paper chains and paper lanterns. I remember making them at school and at home in the 50s and early 60s. Gifts were mostly things you needed and were often home made. Board games were hugely popular in homes and were often given as gifts. Children were given art and craft sets too. I don’t remember any of our toys needing batteries or cables. Moving toys were mostly wind-up and, when I was little, often made of tin. Bigger dolls and baby dolls like mine were still made of pottery. Plastic ones arrived soon after. I still have the one I was given for Christmas when I was about eight years old. It’s amazing she has survived because she wasn’t a shelf doll, she was payed with for many years.

Here she is!

There was always a circus on TV on Christmas Day in the afternoon. And everything stopped for the Queen’s speech! In the fifties, in our house, this was listened to on the radio. It was first televised in 1957 but we didn’t have a TV until 1962 when I was 10.

The 1960s Christmas

1960s Christmas - BBC Archive

Image 1 - Sindy Doll 1960s New Look Side Part
BEATLES 1960`S NEMS Jigsaw No 4 + Box Walt Howarth Complete Puzzle Ex Box  VGC- - £120.00 | PicClick UK

The Sindy doll was launched in the early 60s followed by Action Man in the late 60s. There was also a short-lived doll which was popular in the UK called Tressy. In the first half of the 60s, the Beatles arrived on the music scene. My sister and I were nuts about them. My sister was given a Beatles wig one Christmas which she loved. It was moulded plastic, hurt her head and made her frown but she didn’t mind. She was about eight or nine years old. She also had a Beatles jigsaw. The second half of the sixties were my teenage years and I remember the joy of being given records as presents. Perhaps the latest Beatles or Stones single (on a 45 vinyl) or a new album from my parents. One year I really wanted a Beatles sweater for Christmas and was bought one by my mum and dad. A Beatles jumper was just a black polo-neck. Bath cubes were very common presents when I was young. Grannies, aunts, mums and teenaged girls all loved using them. You never see them now!

Many, many thanks to all of you! Have a great time.

Church was massively important at Christmas when I was young. It was so exciting to we three children to walk to the other side of the village to the Christmas morning service, sing carols, celebrate the Christmas story, see the extra decorations in the church and greet all our neighbours.

Credit to Google Images and Wikipedia. If anyone objects to the use of any image in my posts, please contact me and I will remove it.

When Tea was Tea and Bread was Bread.

This could be subtitled ‘Another Way in which Things have Changed’. It’s not a complaint, more choice is mostly a good thing. I’m just making a comparison.

Last week we were visiting relatives and whilst with them we made a trip into their nearby city. When we were ready for something to eat we dived into the first café we saw – it was pouring with rain! – to get some lunch. It was a lovely café and we were all able to choose a light lunch from their menu. When it came to choosing our drinks we looked at the drinks menu. There were eleven different teas and seven coffees to choose from. I know this is an unusually large selection but it occurred to me that even the simplest of small cafes will list three or four different teas and in the likes of Costa and Starbucks the choice of coffees is bewildering.

THEN . .

Typhoo tea vintage advertising

And NOW

UK Companies Prepare to Stockpile for Christmas Time No-Deal Brexit

Back in the 1950s and 60s, when I was a child, visits to cafes were usually associated with day trips and holidays. The drinks to choose from would be tea, coffee, orange squash, lemonade and milk. Perhaps a milk shake in some places. Then we come to the milk you put in your tea or coffee. Whole, semi-skimmed or skimmed? Oat, soya or almond milk?

THEN . . .

1950's Memories - The Milkman | Colin Pickett | Flickr

And NOW

Milks of Human Kindness | Veggies

I could cover so many menu items which are different from the 1950s but the next one I’m going to look at is bread. I never, ever remember brown bread being offered as an option when you bought a sandwich in a café. Bread for sandwiches was always white sliced bread. If you ordered a hot meal like fish and chips there was usually a plate of bread (white sliced bread) and butter served with it. In a café or restaurant now it’s normal to be asked if you want white or brown bread. The more up-market you go, the more choices there are. It’s quite usual to see a list of different sandwich fillings and a footnote saying served on white or brown bread, ciabatta, panini or baguette.

THEN . .

Cheese & Tomato – southdownscoffee

And NOW

Chicken ciabatta sandwich recipe | Schwartz
Baguette sandwiches filled with tomato, mozzarella and rocket - Stock Photo  - Dissolve

A 1950s ‘Woolies’ cafeteria. One kind each of tea, coffee and bread. I loved those cafeterias! We never even hear the word cafeteria now.

1950s Woolworths Restaurant

A few more memories of British cafés in the 1950s to round this off. Salad was lettuce, cucumber and tomato. No rocket, peppers, olives and certainly no salad dressing. The only thing which was ever put on salad was salad cream. Tomato sauce was often on the table in a red, plastic tomato-shaped container. Pickle meant Branston, Piccalilli or pickled onions. Egg sandwiches were made with salad cream and some cress and were not known as egg mayonnaise sandwiches. Cafes and restaurants rarely offered tap water as a drink option and would even refuse it if asked.

THEN . .

And NOW

8 Healthy Salad Dressing Recipes You Should Make at Home | Wholefully

Pictures sourced from Google Images and Wikipedia. As always, I go to a lot of trouble to avoid infringing copyright. If, however, anyone objects to my use of an image please contact me and I will remove it.

Space

Those of us who were children in the 50s and 60s were witnesses to the dawn of space travel. I remember hearing about the Sputniks and being excited by the thought of anything travelling into space. When they launched Sputnik 2 in 1957 I was haunted by the thought of the poor little dog Laika being sent up there and not coming back alive.

In 1961, when Yuri Gagarin became the first man to travel into space, my school acquired its first ever television set specifically so that we could watch the lift-off live as a whole school – all 28 of us and two teachers! This was incredibly exciting.

The launching of a man into space was exciting in itself but this was at a time when many families, especially in remote countryside locations like ours, didn’t yet have a TV set in the home. We all know that next came the Explorer, Apollo and Shuttle programmes. Space systems continue to become more and advanced and now space travel itself doesn’t often make headlines but many facets of our lives, are influenced and even sometimes controlled from space. Just think of our SatNavs and Sky dishes!

Although space travel didn’t begin until the 1950s, people have always been fascinated by space and the possibility of extra-terrestrial beings. Here is a brief summary of some of the science fiction which predated real space travel.

The First Men in the Moon is a scientific romance by the English author H G Wells, originally serialised in The Strand. His work The War of the Worlds is a science fiction novel. Its first appearance in hardcover was in 1898. and it is one of the earliest stories to detail a conflict between mankind and an extra-terrestrial race.

H.G. Wells - Books, Time Machine & War of the Worlds - Biography
The War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells

 Mr Skygack, from Mars is considered the first science fiction comic to feature an extra-terrestrial character in the history of comics. It ran from 1907 to 1911.

In 1942, Isaac Asimov published the first of his Foundation stories—later collected in the Foundation Trilogy in the 1950s. The books recount the fall of a vast interstellar empire and the establishment of its eventual successor. 

Image 1 - isaac asimov foundation series 6 books collection set - (foundation,foundation a

Arthur C. Clarke was a lifelong proponent of space travel and in 1934, while still a teenager, he joined the British Interplanetary Society. When originally formed in January 1933, the British Interplanetary Society aimed not only to promote and raise the public profile of astronautics, but also to undertake practical experimentation into rocketry.

In 1948, he wrote The Sentinel for a BBC competition. Though the story was rejected, it changed the course of Clarke’s career. Not only was it the basis for 2001: A Space Odyssey but “The Sentinel” also introduced a more cosmic element to Clarke’s work. 

Dan Dare was a British science fiction comic book hero (1950 – 1967), created by Frank Hampson who also wrote the first stories. They were set in the late 1990s, but the dialogue and manner of the characters were reminiscent of British war films of the 1950s.

Eagle cover 1989.jpg

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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.