Make Do And Mend

Mending and repairing were everyday activities when I was growing up. I remember my mum darning socks and jumpers, shortening and lengthening skirts and trousers, replacing broken zips and my grandmother ‘turning’ collars. For those of you who don’t know what that means, it’s when a man’s shirt collar becomes frayed around the neck and you unpick the collar, turn it around the other way and sew it back on. Mums and grandmas sometimes unravelled an old knitted garment and re-knitted it into a new jumper or cardigan. I was taught how to darn by my mum as a young girl. She had a darning mushroom (the wooden item in the photos below) and I reckon most houses would have had one.

darning mushroom  sock darningDarningStep4-4

Even as recently as the seventies and eighties, I could still get small electrical items like kettles, radios and irons repaired at my local electrical repair shop. I once saw, in the eighties, an umbrella repair stall in a market in Cumbria. I doubt there are any of those anywhere here now.

People used to, and still can, buy new broom heads and handles, replace spade, shovel and hoe blades and handles. Although you can still buy decent brushes and brooms, there are many flimsier tools, with plastic handles and bristles, which just get thrown away when they have stopped being useful. There was a joke my dad used to tell;

‘This was my great-grandfather’s hoe. It’s had three new handles and four new blades.’

brush  plastic brush

One long-lasting, repairable and biodegradable, one flimsy and disposable.

The term tinker from tinsmith or tinsmithing was originally assigned to those working with tin who mended pots and pans. The words “tyckner” or “tinkler” were used in medieval Scotland and England for a metal worker. The term transferred to travellers who earned their way going from town to town and mending as they went.  These knife-grinders and  tinkers used to repair farm and garden tools, household utensils, umbrellas and chairs. This is how gypsies came to be nicknamed tinkers.

tinker knife grinder

Knife-grinders from the around the 1950s.

There are several factors here. The first one is that things were made to last in the old days from robust materials and by craftsmen and were worth repairing. Most modern day socks would not be worth darning as the fabric they are made from is flimsier and would not support a darn. Also, goods are so much cheaper now (relative to earnings) and far more plentiful so that in many cases it would cost more to repair the item than to buy a new one – even if you could find anyone with the skills to do the repair. Umbrellas, for example. Who wants to pay for a repair when you can buy a new one for £2 – 5? Where would you find an umbrella repairer, anyway?

When my mum and dad bought their first house, in 1955, the people moving out left their vacuum cleaner for us as they said it was getting old and not worth moving. My mum used it for decades As far as I remember, I last saw it in a rented flat of my sister’s in the late 1970s and still in use. My mum had a Hoover man who used to come to the house to do the occasional repair. It was more or less exactly the same as the ones in the pictures and those are described as being from the 1930s. The black canvas bag had the slogan ‘It beats, as it sweeps, as it cleans’ emblazoned on it in white, exactly as shown in the photos below.

hoover 3                               hoover750_1  DSC_3159

 

 

 

As usual, I credit Google images for my photographs. Anyone objecting to my use of an image can approach me directly and ask for it to be removed.

 

 

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Mail Order

This winter, in the build-up to Christmas, there has been a lot of discussion about online shopping being the death of the High Street in Britain. This might well be true but what occurred to me was that there have always been other means of shopping besides physically visiting a shop.

The small town I lived in when I was a little girl (population around 2,000) was five miles away from our village had all the basics. There were two butchers, two newsagents, a greengrocer, a jeweller, two pharmacies, a couple of assorted draperies and gents outfitters, a hardware shop etc etc. For requirements beyond what our town could provide, we had to travel some distance. Swansea and Cardiff were at least an hour’s drive away and ‘big’ shopping trips were made a few times a year for Christmas shopping, new winter coats for the family, new shoes and so on. I remember thinking they were amazing with their department stores, book shops, large stores with lifts and escalators and toy shops. This was the only time we saw Boots, W H Smith, C and A and – most important of all (to us as children) – Woollies (F W Woolworth) which was heaven! It was also the perfect place to spend your little bit of pocket money as it had everything and it was all affordable.

Good old Woollies – RIP.
Howells Department store in Cardiff.
W H Smith, Newtown, Wales. One of the earliest branches and still in the style and layout of the original shops. It also houses a small museum telling the W H Smith story.

 

The rest of the time, my mum relied heavily on her mail order catalogue as did all the families in our village.

My mum’s catalogue was Marshall Ward followed later by Kays. I remember a neighbour favouring Freemans and my grandmother who lived with us liked J D Williams. Women used to swap catalogues to enjoy a wider choice of goods. From the catalogues we bought bedding, household goods, underwear, toys (via Father Christmas of course), adult and children’s clothing and many more things I can’t recall now. My mum would never buy shoes by mail order.

The pages we children used to pore over longingly!

In addition to the catalogues selling clothes and homeware, my dad used to get seeds and bulbs by mail order. Dobbie’s and Doby’s are two I remember. Newspapers and magazines also had goods for sale and on special offer.

 

 

Images obtained from the Internet. Anyone with objections to my use of a particular image can contact me and I will remove it.

School Uniform in the 1960s.

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

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

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

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

 

satchel        cce09794c501ace451f962a2eaae95b8--duffel-my-childhood

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

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

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

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Home Made Clothes and Entertainment

When I was a teenager in the mid 1960s my friends and I were all caught up in the fashions and music of the times. We lived in a remote area,  money wasn’t plentiful and as we were still at school we didn’t have spending money apart from a bit of pocket money.

The latest single (known as a 45) was saved up for or, if you had a birthday coming, up you might be bought it as a present. At home, my dad bought a reel to reel tape recorder, I remember it was a Grundig TK14. We used to tape pop songs from the radio (I believe it was illegal but we didn’t know that) by holding the microphone near to the speaker of the transistor radio. The quality must have been terrible but we were happy! You had to be smart on the record button to make sure you didn’t get the presenter’s voice at the beginning and end of the song.

dansette01      TK14 good pic

My brother, sister and I used to have fun pretending to be radio presenters and putting our own commentary on the tape in between songs.

I loved Honey magazine and used to read each issue cover to cover many times. My mum was an excellent knitter and sewer and made most of our dresses, jumpers and cardigans. Once I spotted a delightful green dress in my magazine and showed it to my mum. She copied it for me by combining three different dress patterns and I was SO proud of it! I think I wore it all the parties and dances I went to that year. The picture and the patterns aren’t the actual ones but similar.

green dress                    Dress5                         mccalls-8755

I had a lovely pair of cream T-Bar shoes for best which I wore throughout one year with a camel coloured A-line dress. The following year camel was out and turquoise was big so I bought a Lady Esquire shoe dye and dyed the shoes turquoise. My sister and I also used to use Dylon dyes to give clothes a new look.

60s shoes                                     shoe dye

One winter, when capes were in fashion, I longed for one. My mum had an old policeman’s cape which had belonged to my dad’s policeman brother. She cut it down for me, put new fastenings on it and lined it with emerald green satin from one of her old dance dresses. I thought it was fabulous!

 

cape

Where did they go? Part 2

Once I started thinking about words, phrases, items and brands which have disappeared from use since the 1950s, I kept remembering more and more!

Some of the sweets and chocolates which have gone are Spangles, Bar Six, Tiffin (my favourite!), Five Boys and Fruit Polos.

               

As for clothes, does anyone remember wearing a Liberty Bodice? It was an extra warm button through vest which most children wore all winter when I was little. As girls rarely wore trousers in those days, winter wear was a warm skirt or pinafore dress in wool or corduroy. Kilts were extremely popular and for the very young they had straps like the one in the photo. Disappeared brands I recall – Cherub and Ladybird clothes. Birthday, Start-Rite and Tuf shoes.                     

The golliwog is an extinct toy now for all the right reasons. However, in the politically incorrect days of my childhood, they were very popular toys. Robertson’s Jam’s golly badges were extremely collectible! To the children of the times a golly was a colourful soft toy and completely innocent. Many of the toy cars my brother, sister and I played with were Dinky Toys. They were made by Mecca I’ve discovered when researching for this post. Now that’s another toy brand which has disappeared!

        

One last food memory – who remembers rissoles, faggots and spam fritters?

Where did they go?

Recently I was reading with some children in school. The book was Michael Morpurgo’s Butterfly Lion (brilliant writer, fantastic book!). Chapter One is called Chilblains and Semolina Pudding. Before doing any reading, I had to explain the two things to the children. I know people do get chilblains and you could, if you wanted to, buy semolina and make a pudding with it. Yet as far as the kids of today are concerned they are unheard of. We were very familiar with both in the 1950s. I suffered from chilblains every winter and semolina pudding was a regular (if rather unpleasant) feature of school dinners. This started me thinking of other things which were part of our lives as we grew up which today’s children have no knowledge of.

I will start with food. Semolina pudding had several relatives in the milk pudding family. I think rice pudding is the only one which has survived into the 21st century in the UK – and even that isn’t very common. The others were macaroni (yes, pasta in a dessert!), ground rice, sago and tapioca (nicknamed frogspawn – the reason for this can be seen in the photo).

 

 

 

                 

 

 

With the advent of ice-cream, mousses and brands like Angel Delight, the traditional dessert blancmange has disappeared from the face of the earth. It was a milk-based, coloured and flavoured dessert thickened with cornflour and set in a mould. It was often served with jelly. For our birthday parties when we were little my mum used to make a rabbit-shaped blancmange and surround it with chopped up green jelly.

         Mum had a rabbit jelly mould like this.

A warm drink in the evening was also largely milk-based and could be cocoa or perhaps Ovaltine or Horlicks. I think they can still be bought but I don’t think many  children drink them or have even heard of them.

Image result for ovaltine                 

Moving on now to school and school uniforms. All school uniform for boys included a school cap which had to be worn every day throughout school if the boy stayed on until 18 years old. Long trousers were not worn by boys until they were thirteen and uniform shorts were worn with long woollen socks.

                     Image result for school duffle bag 1950s                      

Girls wore gymslips until thirteen when they could wear skirts. There were no tights (they hadn’t been invented) so long socks were worn in winter, ankle socks in summer – even if you were a sixth-former! In our school the girls had to wear a beret (known as a tam) and woe betide you if you ever stepped outside school without it on!

                                 1950's Leather School Satchel

The school bag – for boys and girls in secondary school – was a leather satchel. Games and P.E. kit was carried in a duffle bag.Two more expressions unknown to today’s children! The school uniform coat was a gabardine mac or raincoat, usually double-breasted and belted.

Here are some other things today’s youth have not heard of (I’ll cover these in more detail in Part 2):

Meccano,  plimsolls, cycling capes, leather footballs, Dinky toys, Liberty bodices, golliwogs, Spangles, leather footballs and bus conductors. Watch this space!