Health and Fitness

Like many people, I do my best to keep myself healthy and reasonably fit – for a woman in her 60s! Everyone I know – younger than me, older than me or the same age – does some sort of exercise. The choices these days are endless. There are gyms to join, walking groups, Pilates classes, yoga – the choice is endless. There are the things which don’t need to be done in a group or class like running, walking, cycling. Then there are the sports. Football, rugby, tennis, cricket, badminton – you name it!

What occurred to me the other day was that back in the 1950s, mums and dads, grannies and grandads didn’t exercise. They were probably more active physically in their day-to-day life than we are (fewer cars, no labour-saving devices etc.) but I knew no adults who played sport, ran or walked for exercise. There were hardly any gyms, exercise classes or fitness groups – certainly not where I lived. Perhaps it was different in the cities?

My memory is that, back then, many people enjoyed sport as youngsters when they were in school and maybe beyond that in college or in the forces. Some carried on playing football, cricket, or tennis for local clubs. Then when they got married and had children, they gave it all up. That was more to do with team games and a social life than for the health benefits. Similarly, many people enjoyed a walk in the country at weekends or on holiday but for the pleasure of enjoying the surroundings and the wildlife rather with fitness as the purpose. Walking groups are massive now. What I’m looking back at and realising is that people didn’t exercise simply for the sake of health and fitness.

Cycling has, in recent years, had a massive rise in popularity. The bikes are sophisticated pieces of machinery, clothing and accessories are scientifically developed. Cycling clubs have mushroomed and at the weekends our roads are alive with two-wheeled exercisers. Back in the 50’s, bikes were everywhere. The difference is that people cycled to get somewhere. It was the early days of motoring and many people still didn’t own cars. Men and women cycled to work, children cycled to school, vicars visited their parishioners on bikes, policemen went on the beat on bikes. A man cycling to work in an office would be wearing a tweed suit and a trilby, a workman would be in overalls with a cap on and his bag of tools over his shoulder or in a saddle bag. The bikes were sensible, solid and practical. They were not built for speed or rough terrain.

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Sturdy, reliable, hardwearing – the  bikes of the 1950s

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1950   People cycling to work in Oxford.

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My supremely fit son-in-law on his recent Alpine adventure. A very different sort of cycling!

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The following two quotes are taken from the Buchanan report ‘Traffic in Towns’ published by engineer and planner Colin Buchanan in 1963.

“There [should be] an allocation of movements to pedal cycles,but it must be admitted that it is a moot point how many cyclists there  will be in 2010.”

“Cyclists should not be admitted to primary networks, for obvious reasons of safety and the free flow of vehicular traffic. It would make the design of these roads far too complicated to build ‘cycle tracks’ into them … It would be very expensive, and probably impracticable, to build a completely separate system of tracks for cyclists.”

He had based his opinions on the fact that sales of new cycles had been dropping since the 1950s and reached an all-time low of less than 200,000 by the end of the 1960s (today, 2.5m bicycles are sold each year). This influential report, which guided road building in Britain for decades, effectively squeezed bikes out of our towns.

The next two quotes are from a study carried out based on the cities of Manchester and Glasgow by Colin Pooley and Jean Turnbull

“Use of the bicycle to travel to work between about 1920 and 1950 was particularly notable in smaller settlements,with commuting by bicycle the single most important means of travelling to work in such towns in the 1940s.” (Pooley and Turnbull 2000: 14)

“From the 1950s cycling rapidly declined in popularity.” (Pooley and Turnbull 2000: 19)

One thing I do remember is my mum listening to a lady called Eileen Fowler on the radio. She did a short programme where she talked the listener through various bends and stretches. Since starting this post I have looked her up and she was a fitness instructor from the 1930s so she was definitely ahead of her time. In keeping with the times, the likes of Eileen Fowler focused mainly on improving your shape and looking ‘younger’ rather than exercise for health as we now know it.

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I know that there were swimming pools in all towns even then and that people have always enjoyed swimming for pleasure. The popularity of swimming pools in British towns goes back to when most houses didn’t have bathrooms and the swimming local pool (often known as swimming baths) were used as a means of keeping clean. Indeed, many of them had cubicles containing individual baths where you could have a proper warm, soapy soak. We lived nowhere near any swimming pools so I had no experience of that apart from sometimes when we were away on holiday. Even so, I know that the difference now is that many more people take up swimming to get fit which wasn’t really a consideration back in the 1950s when it was looked on mainly as pleasurable and sociable.

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As usual, my disclaimer is this. I lived miles from anywhere so my memories will be very different from those of people who grew up in towns and cities. Also, I was a child and I’m talking about my view of the world of adults as I saw it then. These are my impressions and opinions only.

The images were sourced on the internet, as were the quotes. Anyone unhappy with anything I have used please approach me and I will remove the offending item.

 

 

 

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Law and Order

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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