The Dawn of the Plastic Era.

Plastic are in the news every day just now. Although the problem isn’t new there is now an increased awareness of the damage we are doing to the planet by continuing to use non biodegradable plastics.

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This is not going to be a historical or scientific post about the invention and use of plastics. Those facts are readily available on the Internet – and make fascinating reading! This post is about how I remember plastics arriving in our lives in the 50s and quickly reaching every aspect of our lives over the next few decades.

I do remember some of our toys being plastic. I also remember toys made of tin which sounds really odd now! On one occasion when I was quite young I was bought a small doll as a present. I remember showing my mum the letters and numbers embossed in the plastic somewhere on the body of the doll. I thought the doll’s name was Pat which was also my mum’s name. What I had seen was the patenting information which began with Pat but actually said ‘Pat. pending, Pat. applied for or Pat. number’ which seemed to be on a lot of items then.

Picnic ware from my early childhood was enamelled metal. Remember the white mugs and plates with a blue edge? Later on we had plastic beakers for garden and picnic use.

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My baby doll, which I received for Christmas when I was about eight, was made of pottery. She wasn’t a shelf doll, made to collect and display. She was for playing with and I had years of fun with her. I must have been quite a careful child as I still have her. Three years later my sister was given a baby doll and she was made of a soft pink plastic.

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Apart from the creeping in of plastic toys and housewares, there are other everyday differences which come to mind. Bread was wrapped in tissue at the baker’s, fish and meat wrapped in greaseproof paper and then an outer layer of brown paper or newspaper. Fruit and veg was weighed and put into brown paper bags. Sweets were weighed out from large jars into white paper bags. Packaged food came in tins, packets or boxes. All this shopping was put into shopping bags brought from home or brown paper ones provided by the shop. Larger quantities would be carried or delivered in a cardboard box.

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At home, leftovers were covered with an upturned plate or bowl to keep the, fresh. There was no such thing as cling film. Milk bottles and pop bottles were all glass and all returnable. No food was sold in plastic pots, bags or containers of any sort.

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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.

 

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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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In the Kitchen.

 

One of the things which has changed a lot since I was a child is the equipment used in the kitchen. Here are some things you might remember seeing used in the 50s and 60s.

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Every home had a mincer. This was clamped to the work surface or table top and food (mostly meat) was fed in through the top. As the handle was turned minced food came out of the front. My mum normally used it for mincing cold leftover roast meat on a Monday and using the minced meat, in pies, rissoles (who ever uses that word now?) etc.

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The picture above shows a mill which also ground food up using a slightly different mechanism.  This lighter weight gadget was for herbs such as parsley and mint.

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This is a pressure cooker. My mum cooked all her vegetables and all her soups and stews in hers. They were considered to be very high tech and they cut the cooking time to a third. The vegetables sat above the water and were steamed losing less goodness – although I don’t think anyone thought about that then.

bowl We all have mixing bowls but back then many of them were this colour and design.

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This is how eggs and cream were whisked before electric mixers and food processors.

 

plate Every household had enamel ware in different shapes and sizes. All tarts and pies in our house were baked in these.

img_0263   The ubiquitous lemon squeezer! The design has not changed but then they were all glass.  I still have (and use) my mum’s.

tea-strainer Less common now since tea bags arrived on the scene, but back in the ‘old days’ you couldn’t make tea without using a tea strainer.

Chrome-Plated-Metal-Cobalt-Blue.jpg This blue glass and chrome ware was extremely popular. My mum just had a sugar bowl (for best!) and I thought it was beautiful.

egg-slicer When I was a child every salad had sliced boiled egg on the top. I used to sneak into the pantry and puck the wires to play a tune and if my mum heard she would tell me off thinking I would snap the wires. I now play guitar – perhaps that’s where it all started?

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The first picture above shows a tool for rubbing fat into flour for pastry and dough mixtures. You can now buy them again and I wouldn’t be without mine! The middle one I remember seeing but have no clear memory of what it was used for. Cutting potatoes for wiggly chips perhaps? The third one is a pie funnel. You can now by some great ones if different shapes and designs but they used to be just plain white china. My mum didn’t have one but always used a china egg-cup placed upside down in the pie.

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This is one of my favourites. I hadn’t seen one for years until recently when they reappeared in the shops. My mum used one for all weighing and measuring. They are brilliant. I now have one and no longer use a kitchen scale. The design hasn’t changed in decades. The only difference is the use of metric instead of imperial measures.

 

 

 

 

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!