Space, Weddings and Funerals – on TV.

Here in Britain, we have just had a royal wedding. I’m sure you all heard about it so I won’t say any more on the subject. I was away on holiday in another country when it was on but even so, my friends and I were able to watch it together.

The following memories are of my very early TV experiences and are more about the excitement of viewing a live occasion than about the events themselves.

I have very clear memories of some big state occasions (weddings and funerals) in the early 60s. In 1960, Princess Margaret the Queen’s sister, married Anthony Armstrong Jones. We knew it was being televised. My mum and her friends and their children really wanted to watch it – but none of us had TVs. Then my mum’s friend Miriam, who lived on a farm in our village, said that her Aunty Gladys had a TV. Gladys lived in the tiny town (which seemed big to us!) five miles away. TV had reached there before it stretched out to the remote surrounding villages. Anyway, this dear old lady said we could all watch it at her house. We children were enthralled with being able to watch TV – the content was less important to us. The mums really enjoyed watching their first televised state occasion. There was, of course, tea, cakes and biscuits too.

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In April 1961 the world saw the first human being, Yuri Gagarin, launched into space. There were still no homes in my village with a TV but – amidst huge excitement – my primary school headteacher decided to buy a TV for school use and to buy it in time for the whole school (all 28 of us!) to watch the launch live. Space travel and live TV at the same time – we were SO amazed and I’ve never forgotten it.

Also in 1961 was the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Kent. I remember it very clearly. We also watched this at Aunty Gladys’ house and I remember thinking Katherine, the Duchess of Kent, was absolutely beautiful.

In 1963, Princess Alexandra married Angus Ogilvy and, once again, the mums and children of the village wanted to watch it. By this time we had a TV of our own. Some friends in the village didn’t have a TV yet and came to us to watch it.

Similarly, in 1965, the country mourned the death of Winston Churchill. Friends came to watch it at our house. These occasions were daytime events and at that time there was hardly any daytime TV. When you watched anything during daylight hours the curtains were always closed. The image transmitted was so weak that in the light of day it was very hard to see.

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Sounds of the 50s

This will be an odd one to write as it is to do with sounds and therefore does not lend itself as much to the visual element of a blog post. You will need to use your imaginations and,  if you date back to those times, your memories.

SHOPPING.

It occurred to me the other day when I was shopping in a local town that shops have a completely different sound to them now from when I was a child. I can’t climb back into those times and listen but here are some of the things I thought of which have changed.

Music. I don’t remember shops of any sort playing music in the store. Now most of them seem to. Some of them even have their own radio stations! I know Topshop had a very well known radio station for many years. Others which have or did have their own stations include Ikea, Debenhams and Asda. Announcements of special offers and new lines are frequently broadcast over the sound system in large supermarkets.

Tills. In any shop or restaurants these days the bleep is the normal sound of the tills. Bleep as each item is scanned, bleep as the amount is totalled, bleep when payment is entered, bleep for change and receipt. They are so low level and so universal that we don’t even notice them any more. Old fashioned tills had a loud ker-ching noise and a metallic clang as the drawer opened and shut.

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Examples of 1950s tills compared with a modern one

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Pneumatic Change Machines. Occasionally, on our shopping trips to a larger town or city, I would be overwhelmed by the sheer size of department stores. The different floors, the sales assistants in their neat uniforms, the lifts with uniformed attendants operating them and especially by the pneumatic cash tubes which dispensed your change and your receipt.The bill and your payment was sealed in a canister and posted into a tube. There was a whooshing noise and the canister was sucked into a network of tubes. Minutes later the case would be dropped back to the assistant with a receipt and any change due enclosed. I have had a lot of fun researching the pneumatic tube system. I thought it had disappeared but have learned that some hospitals now use the system to send materials – notes, medication etc around the building to different departments.

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The case in which money and paperwork was sealed to be sent along the tubes.

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The bit we didn’t see behind the scenes!

Shop doors.

Most shops were small independent shops. The classic sound of a small shop was the bell (they all seemed to have the same sound) which rang when the door was opened and alerted the shopkeeper.

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Markets.

One kind of shopping which has sounded exactly the same for probably hundreds of years is the market. No piped music, no traffic noise, stall holders calling out their goods for sale and special offers.

vk_jorvik_marketplace     canal-street-market

Viking market.                                         Victorian market.

JS46380121      Broadway street market in the East End of London

1950s market.                                            Present day market.

ROADS AND RAILWAYS  – AND AIR TRAVEL!

Pedestrian crossings didn’t bleep. Car engines were noisier and there was often that dismal noise of a car failing to start while the driver turned the ignition key again and again. Some cars now such as the electric ones are almost completely silent.

As for pedestrians, we are all used to the bleeping crossing we have now. In the 50s there was only ‘Zebra Crossing’ with the Belisha Beacon and the black and white stripes.

belisha-beacon-300x196           High Street (2745) (Old) Antrim H1

Let’s not forget the chug of a steam driven train and the noise of the whistle – sounds which are guaranteed to make anyone of my age feel nostalgic!

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The sound of aircraft in the sky above is a common occurrence. Even if you don’t live on a main flight path you will hear regularly light aircraft and helicopters overhead. It was a novelty back in the 1950s although I do have a memory of the very occasional deafening boom and being told it was a plane breaking the sound barrier. I have no idea if that was right. Our valley was used for test flights by the RAF so we did have pairs of fighter planes zooming up in between the hills from time to time.

RADIO AND TV.

Whenever I come across and old clip of 1950s radio and TV broadcasts I am struck by two things – the quality of the sound and the accents of the presenters. We sometimes fail to realise how much progress has been made in a few decades of sound production. Radio broadcasts from the 50s now sound so crackly! Even 70s and 80s broadcasts sound poorer if we listen to them now. In Britain at that time, and well into the late 60s, early 70s, presenters had extremely posh accents. Indeed, a ‘cut glass’ English accent is still often referred to as a BBC accent (the BBC being the only broadcasting company here at that time).

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KITCHENS AND COOKING.

There is a lot more bleeping in kitchens these days! The bleep of the microwave, the bleep when the dishwasher has finished, the timer on the oven etc. Fridges are quieter, there is often the whirr of a food processor or the hum of a washing machine or dishwasher.

COMMUNICATION.

Phones only had one sound – no choice of ‘ringtone’ then! Sometimes you could be walking past a call box and hear it ring. People without house phones would give out the box number to friends and family for arranged times so that they could keep in touch. Doors mostly had knockers or just a door to knock on. If there was a doorbell, they all had the same sound. Nobody had burglar alarms or car alarms. Church bells were a familiar sound everywhere. Now many have now been silenced sometimes as a result of health and safety surveys, sometimes because of complaints from residents nearby. Households now have the sound of email and text messages from mobile phones, laptops and PCs and printers. Electronic gadgets have changed how we check the time. Back in the 50s, if a clock or watch stopped and you needed to check the time, you could call the ‘Speaking Clock’. A well-spoken man (it was always a man in those days!) would tell you the exact time to the second. In our house it was as a last resort only as there was a charge. Sounds which typify today are the ubiquitous ring tones of mobile phones and the sound of people walking along by themselves and deep in conversation on them.

 

A few other things I’ve heard about even if I didn’t experience them personally (because I lived in a remote farming area) are:

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The rag and bone man who drove along in his horse and cart calling out ‘rag and bone’ – I heard it occasionally when we stayed at my grandmother’s as she lived in a town.

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The hooter signalling the start and end of the shift at the mills.

 

Letter Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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and then at some point it became

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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Instant access to information of any sort at your fingertips.

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

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Posting parcels in pharmacies, newsagents etc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Flying being commonplace and affordable.

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

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Buying things with a piece of plastic.

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

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

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Buying things without even plastic.

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

 

Telephones.

First of all, the word. Hardly anyone says telephone now. Phone is the word. Anyway, I thought I would cover phones in this post. A friend gave me the idea – thanks, Lynn! I have touched on them in an earlier post when I talked about communication but this is to be solely on telephones.

We didn’t have a phone when I was very small. I remember the telegraph poles and wires being put up when we got our first phone. It would have been the mid 1950’s. It was SO exciting!

1950s-bakelite-md4.jpg       It looked like this one. The cables were cloth covered as all cables were in those days. There were letters and numbers on the dial. In areas where you could dial direct you dialled a three-letter prefix first, then the number. My brother, sister and I used to fantasise about inventing a phone with pictures so you could see who you were talking to – never thinking it would ever be possible. Now Skype and Face Time are household words.

 

Our first telephone number was 9. We called the village post office (number 1) to be put through to anywhere outside the village.When, a few years later, we were linked up to the town exchange we became 209. The switchboard in the village shop looked a bit like this one and is now in a museum.

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Public phone boxes were well used and equipped with directories which were kept on the shelves which can be seen in the photograph. I never saw one then with broken windows or without the directories.

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Our next style of telephone at home was one we considered very stylish as it was a more modern shape and was not in the original black but cream. The cable was plastic coated and spiral coiled.

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Here a few examples of the different phones I have lived with since then.

Moving beyond the 60s, my first house phone as an adult was a design known as a Trimphone. It was lightweight, streamlined and had a distinctive new ring. Amost a chirrup or trill rather than a ‘bring’.

Trimphone

 

early cordless.png An early cordless. How cool it seemed at the time to be able to walk around with your phone – and to have two or three in different rooms!

Motorola_DPC550 My first mobile phone! It lived in the car and I brought it in every few months to charge it. The battery alone was massive – it’s the hump on the back of the phone. Mine had no letters, just numbers, so it was pre-texting. It was for emergencies – car breakdowns etc. The weight and size of it meant carrying it around in a pocket or a handbag was not a good option. And yes, you had to pull the aerial out to use it. I recently sold it on Ebay for £30. Since then mobile phones have grown smaller and smaller and are now getting bigger again now that we are in the age of the smart phone – slimmer and lighter than my old Motorola, though!