Time Travelling

This is a fun one. Not a virus in sight! Much of it has been covered in earlier blog posts but I’ve put a few ideas together for a quick, hopefully entertaining read.

 

If I, or anyone else who was alive in the 50s and 60s, had been suddenly transported in a time machine to 2020, what would puzzle, amuse, or confuse us?

 

Paying for goods in a store by touching a small rectangle of plastic onto a gadget.

UK: half of all debit card payments now contactless | Mobile ...

Cars being plugged in to charge up instead of filling with liquid fuel.

England home electric car smart charger

People walking their dogs with little bags of dog dirt dangling from their fingers.

The Best Dog Poop Bags | Reviews by Wirecutter

People walking along talking on a phone which doesn’t look a bit like a phone and fits into the palm of a hand.

People pointing the same object at a thing, person or view and photographing it.

person, talking, mountain focus photography, mobile phone, smartphone, taking photo, wireless technology, communication, smart phone, portable information device

People using the above gadget to find the way somewhere, check the time or the weather, look at their bank balance, buy something, etc etc etc.

Choosing from dozens and dozens of different television programmes – without touching the TV.

Brits have 100 names for a TV remote control - what do you call it ...

Sending a written communication to someone in another country and receiving a reply within minutes – without any paper being used.

Add Gmail and Other Email to Windows 10 Mail & Calendar (Updated)

Reading a book or a newspaper which is not made of paper.

Why Amazon is tracking every time you tap your Kindle - The Verge

Being able to buy strawberries, raspberries, lettuce, and many, many more food items in the middle of winter. For readers out of Britain, you will be able to think of equivalent seasonal produce.

Buying books, electrical goods, clothes, holidays, food and much more – without actually speaking to anyone, visiting a store, or using a mail order catalogue.

Tesco - Click & Collect Groceries - Logo Design - Portrait… | Flickr

Homes having several different refuse bins outside on the path or drive – each one with a different function.

Kendall Drive – bins collection | Howard Sykes

 

There are many, many more of these! I could go on and on.

 

 

 

As usual, all photographs are sourced from images available on the Internet. If anybody objects to the use of a photograph please contact me and I will remove it.

 

 

 

A Stitch in Time

As a result of this dreadful pandemic, I have been doing a lot of sewing. I dusted off my old Singer sewing machine and surprisingly, after several years of doing very little sewing (I do more knitting these days), I was still able to thread the old workhorse up and operate it like I’d ever been away. Whilst spending hours on the machine this last couple of weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. In the 1950s, when I was small, all my jumpers and cardigans were hand knitted by my mum as were her own and those of my brother and sister. My mum also made all the dresses worn by her, me and my sister. The same applied to all the families we knew. Towns with clothes shops were a couple of hours’ drive away and also making clothes was cheaper than buying them.

My mum’s sewing machine was a hand-operated Singer. She bought it new when she got married and she told me she made all my baby clothes on it

   

My mum’s sewing machine was like these two.

My mum was such an excellent dressmaker that I had no incentive to learn to sew myself. I was knitting for myself by the time I was in my teens but if I saw a dress I liked in a fashion magazine like Honey, my mum could have it copied for me a few days later, often combining several different dress patterns to achieve the right result. When I went to university and was living on a limited budget, I worked out that if I wanted things I couldn’t afford I’d better make them myself. There was a sewing room in my hall of residence which was equipped with electric sewing machines. I had a brilliant choice of shops and markets selling fabrics as I was in Nottingham, a sizeable city. So I taught myself to make my own clothes. Two years later my mum and dad bought me a Singer Zig Zag machine for my 21st birthday. It’s the one in the photo below and it’s still going strong.

 

Most women my age can either knit, sew or do both. Young women who knit and sew now are in the minority. I looked up the history of the domestic sewing machine and it’s really interesting. The domestic sewing machine was invented by Isaac Singer in 1850. Through the late 1800s, in the US and in Britain, the sewing machine was a status symbol and ornate enamelled models were displayed proudly in high class drawing rooms. After 1900, when the sewing machine was being mass produced and could be afforded by poorer families – on hire purchase – the models on sale were less ornamental and more utilitarian. At the same time, shop-bought clothing became more readily available. The developments of the industrial sewing machine was why factory made clothing became more affordable. As a result, hand-made items were considered inferior and the sewing machine was relegated from display to a hidden corner. People buying a new machine were sometimes reassured by the company of discretion when delivering. Shop bought clothing was considered superior. This attitude reminds me of a similar one towards baking when I was growing up. My mum, and everyone else’s, baked cakes every week for the family. They baked cakes, scones, pies, biscuits. But when somebody was coming to tea they popped out and bought a shop cake. As if home baking was inferior and a sign of poverty.

 

 

My antique Jones sewing machine which is in perfect order and sews beautifully. It was bought for me as a present by my one of my daughters a few years ago. I was a Jones – but no connection with the sewing machine manufacturers!

 

Strange Times.

I have started drafting a few different posts recently but have kept abandoning them. The focus of this blog is life in the 1950s and 60s in Britain as seen through the eyes of a child and I try to stay true to this. However, it didn’t feel right not to even mention what we are all living through just now. Prompted by my friend H, I began to cast my mind back over ‘plagues and pestilences’ I remember from when I was growing up. I do like to brighten my posts up with pictures but this topic doesn’t lend itself to nostalgic photographs so there aren’t many.

This is meant to be interesting, informative, positive and somewhat relevant to the current problem.

Anthrax. Maybe a strange choice to start off with. I heard about it when I was really very young. I’m pretty sure I overheard adults discussing it, and I became seriously worried for a while that I and my family were going to catch it and die. As a child I was a natural worrier with an over-active imagination. Not always a good combination. I picked up on the fact that it could be caught from cows and I lived in a farming area. I have looked anthrax up and I realise that it was in the news a fair bit in the 1950s because that was when a vaccine was developed. I and my family were never in any danger of catching it from the local cows as my childish mind believed but it is very, very nasty indeed and has even been used in what used to be known as germ warfare. Gruinard Island, a remote uninhabited island off the coast of Scotland was used by the Ministry of Defence in the 1940s for anthrax experiments. It remained contaminated until its eventual decontamination in the 1980s using formaldehyde and sea water. It was declared safe for humans and animals in 1990 and returned to its rightful owners. It remains uninhabited.

Gruinard Island is located in Ross and Cromarty   The location of Gruinard Island.

Smallpox is a real success story. It was massive, all over the world. When I started looking into it I realised that it deserves 1 000s of words just to itself. Here are some facts courtesy of Wikipedia.

During the 18th century the disease killed an estimated 400,000 Europeans each year, including five reigning monarchs, and was responsible for a third of all blindness.

Between 20 and 60% of all those infected—and over 80% of infected children—died from the disease.

During the 20th century, it is estimated that smallpox was responsible for 300–500 million deaths worldwide.

 

An 1802 cartoon of the early controversy surrounding Edward Jenners vaccination theory, showing how the use of a cowpox-derived smallpox vaccine was causing cattle to emerge from patients.

The link with the 50s and 60s is that I remember a smallpox outbreak here in the UK which sent everyone running to get vaccinated. We went as a family to our GP’s surgery in the nearby town to get vaccinated and it’s the only time I remember being there and seeing people queueing out of the door and along the pavement.

Thanks to vaccination it has now been eradicated from the whole world. How good is that?

Polio was a very familiar word when I was a child. We all knew people who had either died from it or recovered and left disabled to a greater or lesser extent. I remember hearing about the ‘iron lung’ used in the treatment of polio. In the late 1950s my dad lost a good friend to polio who was 32. It was an isolated case and left two little boys without a father. I well recall the first time we all received the oral vaccine against polio. I was in secondary school then and we all had to queue up a class at a time to go into the library and be given a sugar cube to eat. I’ve been looking all this up and the development of the first live oral polio vaccine was in 1962 and was ground-breaking. With mass immunisation, polio became a distant memory. It still exists in the world but is under control. Europe was declared polio free by WHO in 2002.

From 1956-8 there was a pandemic known as Asian flu. I remember little about it. I was five years old in 1956 so, like my daughters are doing now with their small children during Covid-19, parents probably shielded their children from the full facts. Also, we lived in the depths of the Welsh countryside and people didn’t travel so widely then. Researching it now I see how appalling it really was. Here are some statistics, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Estimates of worldwide deaths caused by this pandemic vary widely depending on source; ranging from 1 million to 4 million, with WHO settling on about 2 million.

Hong Kong flu, also known as 1968 flu pandemic, was a category 2 flu pandemic whose outbreak in 1968 and 1969 killed an estimated one million people all over the world.

In comparison to other pandemics, the Hong Kong flu yielded a low death rate, with a case-fatality ratio below 0.5% making it a category 2 disease on the Pandemic Severity Index. I read somewhere that this was because populations had some resistance following the 1958 flu pandemic as the viruses were closely related.

I was more aware of this one as I was a teenager and we had a TV by then so saw national and world news screened every evening. However, I don’t remember anyone panicking where I lived. People my age who were in towns and cities might remember it differently.

It has been fascinating digging into all this and there is so much more I could have covered – measles, rubella, TB to name but a few. I have tried to make it upbeat rather than morbid and I hope I have succeeded.

 

 

 

The 1950s – a summary.

This is just a fun post listing some of the things we kids of the 50s remember which were different. There are many similar lists and comparisons available on the Internet but this is my version.

 

Electric plugs were brown and the cables were brown, cloth-covered and some were plaited.

Postage stamps had to be licked.

Baby teeth were worth 6d when the tooth fairy visited – 6d in ‘old UK money’ is equivalent to 2.5p in the current money system.

Spaghetti, cream, salmon, pineapple and peaches only came in tins.

Macaroni could be a pudding or a savoury (macaroni cheese was the only pasta dish I knew!).

Tea was made in a teapot using tea leaves.

Olive oil came in tiny bottles and was kept in the medicine cabinet to be used for earache.

We all listened to the same radio programmes. Then, when TV arrived, we all watched the same programmes as there was only one channel.

 

Your dishwasher was the person in your house who was doing the washing up at the time.

People put iodine on cuts and butter on burns.

Phones all had exactly the same ring tone . . . . and they stayed in one place . . . . . there was only one in the house . . . . but not all homes had them . . . . and they were only for making and receiving calls.

We went to ‘the flicks’ to see the latest film.

Soap was only came in bars.

 

Birthday cakes had icing or chocolate on the top and some candles.

Beds had top sheets, blankets, eiderdowns (quilts) and bedspreads (often candlewick).

Cars had three forward gears, no reversing lights and no seat belts.

Twitter was a noise birds made.

Many children’s toys were made from tin.

TV programmes couldn’t be recorded.

Gay was a word which meant happy and jolly.

Keeping Food Fresh

Nowadays we don’t have any problems keeping food fresh and safe to eat. We have fridges, freezers, vacuum packs as well as the dried and tinned foods which have been around much longer. Also, everything – even tinned food! – has a sell by/ use by date printed on it. The humble sell-by date actually has a surprisingly short history here in the UK. It was introduced in Marks & Spencer’s storerooms in the 1950s before making its way onto the shelves in 1970. It wasn’t even called a “sell-by-date” until 1973. Like a lot of people who date back to pre-sell-by date years, I still rely on the look, feel and smell of food rather than panicking and throwing food away the day after the date has passed. I appreciate that people who eat meat and fish have to be extra careful and to take no risks.

       

 

       

 

When I was very young, in the early 1950s,  we didn’t have a fridge. I remember the arrival of our first one being so exciting! In the summer, my mum used to hang bottles of milk in a string bag in the stream to stop the milk going off. We had a pantry with a stone slab in it which was meant to keep things cool. It is very easy to tell when milk has turned sour. Bread goes dry, cheese goes mouldy, potatoes go green and start sprouting, some foods start smelling bad. When these sort of foods have been kept too long or have been stored incorrectly the result is obvious. The hidden danger is when food has turned and could be hazardous but there are no obvious signs which is when sell by dates are important.

 

A 1950s kitchen with an early fridge.

UK’s first frozen food product was asparagus made by Smedley’s of Wisbech which is a fact which surprised me as I had assumed the ubiquitous pea would have been the first frozen vegetable. Although frozen food went on sale for the first time in Britain on May 10, 1937, the average UK householder did not have easy access to it until the 1950s and 60s. Home freezers first became popular in the 1970s .  Apparently, the sales of frozen food were boosted during the Second World War as metals for tins were in very short supply but I reckon that would only have been in cities and not in the more rural areas such as where I grew up.

The face of Birds Eye in the UK – Captain Birds Eye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

50s tv set    60s tv set

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.

alexandra's wedding

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.

yuri

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.

kents wedding

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.

alexandra's wedding

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.

churchill    ch fun

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.

50s and 60s Railways and Trains.

Is it just here in Britain or are people in other countries fondly nostalgic for the railways and steam trains of days gone by? I think it could be because there are no longer steam engines and also many of our lines closed in the 60s. We still have trains but our memories of earlier train travel are tied up with the smell of coal fires, the sound of the whistles, the style of the engines and the wonderfully warm and welcoming stations with cosy waiting rooms.

Whatever the reason, we do seem to look back on steam trains with a great deal of sentiment so I thought I’d tap into some of that today. If you lived through the era of steam trains you will understand what I’m saying!

Our village station had a full time station master who looked after the station with pride. There was a signal box on one side of the line full of coloured levers and switches and a station building on the other side housing a ticket office and a waiting room – even though this was a rural station serving a tiny village. There was always a coal fire burning in the waiting room in winter and it was a joy to be able to warm our hands and faces in front of it whilst waiting for the train.

The following photographs are a random selection of photographs gleaned from various sources. I do not have one of the village station from my childhood.  (If anyone thinks I have infringed copyright, let me know and I will take the offending photograph out). They are meant to give readers over a certain age a trip back through time to when: trains chugged and whistled, engines emitted clouds of white steam, carriages were divided into compartments with plush covered bench seats in each compartment facing each other (modern train interiors are more like buses), there was an all-pervading smell of coal smoke and there wasn’t a Greggs and a W H Smith at every station.

liverpool(hcc10.1959)central_old11

 

N_Street

 

llanfyrnach(harden_c1950s)old1

2a7f7c8f9f0b7a1ec0406e4e2a41014c

 

ffcc024ba6f45f056636f4d9ee4717c6.jpg

The-W.H.-Smith-bookstall-at-Victoria-Railway-Station-London-January-1924-1280x993

Powys-20150629-05414.jpg Our signal box was like this one.

 

maps

This is partly why we in Britain are sentimental about railways. The two maps show how drastically the number of railway lines was cut in the 1960s.

Advent Calendars

I was shopping the other day and I noticed a bewildering array of Advent calendars each one containing twenty-four treats. I thought I’d do a short post on how I’ve seen Advent calendars changing.

When I was a young child, back in the 1950s, we had an Advent calendar. We had the same one for years. It had windows with what we thought were delightful little pictures behind the little card doors. The biggest one, right in the centre, had a picture of baby Jesus in the manger and I remember the picture being coloured in a lovely yellowy glow. We knew what was coming on Christmas Eve when we opened that double door (the other days had single door flaps) but we never, ever peeped during the preceding days. Our calendar was about A4 size and was a picture of a church window. I remember a grey stone colour and other colours for the stained glass window. I have found some photos of the sort of calendar we had – which was the only kind around at that time. We loved it and getting it out on the first day of December was SO exciting!

3d42e9100edd5dea54ca872bf7bfe755     87a85d632fc7cf1e6826ee99b0e30a9e   3694627451cca3dec9b74142f0109567--forest-animals-advent-calendars      a46c4210c8b39cf6acf16153209efa2d--seven-dwarfs-christmas-pics

An assortment of 1950s Advent calendars which resemble our well-loved one at home.  

When my children were young, in the 1980s, I also had an Advent calendar for them which we got out each year. At some point in the 70s or 80s somebody had the idea of selling calendars with chocolates in which seemed all wrong to me at the time. It meant the anticipation felt by children in December became focused on the next day’s chocolate. Anyway, that’s just my personal feeling, many of you will disagree!

    616gbevbGpL._SY300_

The now standard chocolate Advent calendar.

 

What I wanted to cover in this post was the evolution of Advent calendars from simple card ones with pictures, to the chocolate ones, the ones with toys,  hand-made ones where parents put their own surprises in the pockets, through to calendars made for adults and containing beer, wine, toiletries, spirits, expensive food items etc etc. There are even Advent calendars for pets.

downloadimages (1)

Quality chocolates                    Tea

images (3)  Lego

images (2)      Toiletries     MAIN-MAIN-advent

An assortment of what’s on sale this year

That+Boutique-y+Whisky+Company's+Advent+Calendar+(2017+Edition)

Whisky

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aee45509df8a394a5be9b3c3db7a8dd3--dog-advent-calendar-advent-calendars

Advent calendars for dogs, cats, hamsters, gerbils and rabbits

 

How we Learned in 50s and 60s Classrooms.

In my primary school I remember that a lot of lessons involved learning things by rote or ‘off by heart’ as we called it. The multiplication tables were recited by the whole class in unison first thing every morning – after the Lord’s Prayer and the alphabet. Then we recited other tables such as measurement – “Twelve Inches to One Foot, Three Feet to a Yard, 220 yards one-eighth of a mile, 440 yards one-quarter of a mile . . . ” and so on. The same was done for capacity, money, area and weight.

3a6d809a6fd43d0055bffcb67e5c83db--exercise-book-stuck

All our exercise books had these charts on the back.

Our exercise books had all the charts printed on the back for handy reference although the rote learning ensured we didn’t need to fall back on that often!I certainly never forgot them! I also remember learning poems off by heart. I can still recite Cargoes by John Masefield.

poetry-analysis-cargoes-by-john-masefield_1

Cargoes by John Masefield

The sad thing is that nobody talked to us about the meanings of the poems. I had no idea what half the words meant in Cargoes, which is a shame as it’s a beautiful poem.

Primary school education was very ‘British’ – and in my case, Welsh. We didn’t have separate subjects called History, Geography Science etc. The history I learned was about the lives of British heroes – Scott of the Antarctic, Nelson and, of course, Saint David. We learned songs like Hearts of Oak, Over the Sea to Skye  (which I can still play from memory on the recorder) and many traditional Welsh ones.

s-l225               the-national-song-book

A wooden school recorder.            The book which every school used.

Science consisted of nature rambles when it was fine in summer. We never had PE but I think that was our Head’s choice and lack of fondness for activity rather than the norm for the times.

In secondary school our learning was still largely based on memorising facts and writing down dictated notes in our exercise books. Individual research was non-existent.

In maths two pieces of equipment come to mind which are probably now obsolete – correct me if I’m wrong! One was the slide rule which was an ingenious way of doing difficult calculations using a calibrated ruler with sliding parts. The other one was the book of log tables. We all had them. They are a very simple way of working out very large multiplications such as four digit numbers X four digit numbers. Log tables do a lot more complex maths than that but I’m talking about how we used them in school. Calculators and computers have probably done away with the need for these but professional mathematicians might tell me different.

log-tables     Logarithmorum_Chilias_Prima_page_0-67

A 20thC log table book.                         A page from an early log table                                                                                                             book.

Briggs_-_Canon_logarithmorum_pro_numeris_serie_naturali_crescentibus_ab_1._ad_20000.,_s.d._-_72507            250px-Slide_rule_cursor

Cover of a 17th C log table book.                     A slide rule.

220px-John_Napier           Oughtred

John Napier.                                                 William Oughtred.

Both the slide rule and the log tables were invented in the 17th Century, log tables by John Napier and the slide rule shortly afterwards by William Oughtred.

 

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.

10000              P1070948-e1476706852800-375x500

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.

7585fe8be3c996904af9d01ce1896d73--school-memories-school-days                        5z17pltaermizo

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.

images            leather-writing-case

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

 

images (2)

and then at some point it became

 

KraftEnvelope_sm

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.