Libraries

I have loved books and reading for as long as I can remember. I was thinking about libraries the other day and I realised that I use libraries less now than ever before in my life. The reasons are the same as they are for everybody else –

I can now look things up myself on my phone, ipad and laptop using the mighty Google.

I can now buy second-hand books in charity shops for as little as 50 pence and also very cheaply online and often postage free.

New books, too, are extremely affordable when bought in supermarkets or online.

I can also buy e-books and read them on any of my electronic devices. (I don’t, because I still prefer books, but I could.)

It’s no wonder that libraries and independent bookshops are closing in Britain.

All through my childhood, teens, twenties and thirties, being a member of a library was very important to me. Wherever I lived, I joined a library, sometimes being a member of more than one at a time.

As a child in the 1950s, we went to the library whenever we were in the nearby town which was five miles away. Below is a picture of the building it was in – taken a bit before the 1950s! When I lived in that area the building housed the library , the Labour Exchange and my dad’s office – he worked for the Forestry Commission. Although there was no library in our village (it was tiny) there was a lady who lived in a little house next to a chapel who ran a small book lending system from her front room. The main library used to drop new books off with her every so often.

llandovery-clock-tower

What I remember about libraries in the old days (even though I loved them) is how quiet and serious they were. You absolutely did not make a noise of any sort or you would be told off. I loved them because I love books and reading but I can see how someone less committed to reading could have been put off by the interior of a library.

Library 1  Library 2

Above – the interiors of a couple of old libraries. The pictures can’t convey the deathly hush which prevailed!

library files      library book

The pre-digital way of book-lending.

I have no recollection of ever being asked to do any independent research for homework when I was in school – not even when studying for A-levels. Lessons were all based on notes dictated by the teacher then and on learning by rote – but that’s another blog post! While I was at university I preferred to do most of my work in the university library. This was partly so that I could use the reference books but also because the atmosphere was more conducive to study than a cold, gloomy student rented house.

Libraries now often have art or history exhibitions running, they have computers the public can use, they are bright, friendly and welcoming. The children’s sections have toys and games and regular organised activities. Yet libraries are still closing all over the country. Where they have been saved and continue to function, they are often rehoused in a smaller space in a new building. The one shown below is a Victorian library building near where I used to work. In spite of a well-fought campaign to keep it open, it was closed over ten years ago. I believe it now houses offices so at least it isn’t empty or worse – demolished. The new library which replaced it is in a modern purpose built community centre. Public lending libraries began here in Britain in the 1850s, the main pioneer being William Ewart. Since 2010, nearly 500 libraries  have closed in England, Wales and Scotland. Some libraries facing closure have been taken over by volunteers.

normy library

Finally, a nice little tale of recycling!

The iconic red telephone boxes found all over the UK are beginning to disappear but, thanks to a BT scheme called Adopt a Kiosk, many unused payphone kiosks have been transformed into libraries. This preserves the heritage of the red kiosk, particularly in rural locations and provides a library service in areas which lack one. Most of these libraries are left unlocked and are stocked by donations from local people. Anyone is free to borrow a book and donate a used book.

220px-Phone_box_library,_Whitwell,_IW,_UK    517d1d84e2bd9ff5150f1d852f0822bb--telephone-booth-free-library telephone-library-1

reading and And now, a few quotes about libraries:

Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while. —Malorie Blackman

Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation. —Walter Cronkite

Libraries will get you through times with no money better than money will get you through times with no libraries. Anne Herbert.

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. —Joseph Addison

As usual, I would like to say that all images and facts used in this post have been gleaned from the Internet and are readily available. However, if anyone objects to anything in this post, for any reason, please contact me directly so that I can remove it.

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Pens and Pencils

When I started school there were pencils which we learned to write with and pens which we were allowed to write with when we were a bit older, maybe seven or eight. Not much has changed. Except for the pens and, to a lesser extent, the pencils.

The only pens provided in my Primary School were the wooden handled dipping pens.

dip pen_webimage

china inkwells

desks with inkwell holes

The ink for the pens was held in little china inkwells which fitted into holes in the desks. Each morning the ink monitors would make up a big jug of ink using ink powder and water, fill a trayful of inkwells, then place an inkwell into each desk hole. The standard issue school ink was a shade called blue-black.  I hated the dullness of that colour and longed to write with a bright blue ink. Although the top year in our primary school (eleven year olds) were allowed to use their own pens, the headteacher loathed ball-points (biros) calling them ‘new-fangled rubbish’ and banned us from using them. If you were lucky enough to have your own fountain pen, and I got one for my eleventh birthday which saw me all the way through high school, you could use that in school. I would fill mine from a bottle of Quink at home so that I didn’t have to use school blue-black ink. Parker pens were the most desirable but most of us had the more affordable Platignum pens. There were no other types of pen apart from Dipping pens, fountain pens and biros. Fibre tips, toller ball, fine felt-tips, fibre tips all had yet to be invented or at least to become mainstream. I remember when Tempo pens arrived on the scene when I was a student (and still a fountain pen user) and I loved them! To this day I am still not a fan of writing in biro, preferring ink pens or pencil.

parkerquink

There isn’t as much to say about pencils. There is a vast array of colours and styles available now but the fundamental design hasn’t changed. I do remember we children being very excited in school when the teacher acquired a desk mounted pencil sharpener. What a joy to use! We all wanted to be pencil monitor and have the job of sharpening the class’ pencils first thing in the morning. These gadgets still exist, I have seen them in some classrooms in schools I worked in. The design hasn’t changed.

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Then we come to colouring pencils or ‘crayons’. Again, the basic design remains unchanged. One well known brand I remember well is Lakeland. I loved the tins they came in with a Lakeland scene on the lid. Even the smallest tins of their crayons had the scenic image on the tin.

lakelandvintage-1960s-lakeland-pencil-crayon-tin-with

I didn’t know then but the reason they were called Lakeland was because they were manufactured in the Lake District. The Derwent pencil company began in 1832 in Keswick, Cumbria and remained well known for producing the finest pencils in the world. There is even a pencil museum in Keswick.

220px-keswick_pencil_museum_(geograph_5455667)  Keswick’s Pencil Museum.

 

 

As always, images are courtesy of Google Images and Wikipedia. If anyone objects to my use of any picture please contact me so that I can remove it.

 

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.

New Diaries, New Year’s Resolutions and Thank-You Letters.

Happy New Year to all my readers and followers!

As Christmas Day becomes a memory and we start thinking about a new year, I have been remembering what this time of year felt like when I was a child. I usually got a new diary for Christmas. These were not for noting appointments and forthcoming events as my diaries are now but for recording my life day by day. My mum always encouraged us to keep diaries and she kept a daily journal for many, many years. Some years I kept it up for a couple of months, other years I carried on for a whole year. Surprisingly, I still have a few of my diaries. In the photo, from left to right are my diaries from 1959, 1963, 1964, 19l66 and 1967. I remember loving the diaries for all the snippets of information in them. The Enid Blyton one, for example, has 64 pages of general information before the diary pages even start! These include articles on pets, hobbies, party games, how to start a club, the story of the Union Jack, how to look after a bike, two pages on how to tie different knots and – this is hilarious – NINE pages on road-building, with diagrams and photographs. In addition to the first 64 pages there was a snippet of information at the bottom of each week’s page.

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image3 (2)                IMG_3571 (2)

In the front of each diary I have written a list of Christmas presents received from various family members which brings me to the next part of this post – the thank-you letters. There would always be one afternoon allocated for this just before we returned to school. I would be sitting with my brother and sister with writing paper and envelopes and my mum hovering nearby encouraging us while we tried to convey our thanks to aunts and uncles we rarely saw. It was hard work, particularly when we were really young, but I’m sure the relatives appreciated receiving them.

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In the back of some of my diaries I have written a list of my New Year’s Resolutions. As with the diary keeping and the letter-writing, the one encouraging us to come up with a list of resolutions was always my mum. It was very important to her that we had started our diaries, written our thank-you letters and listed our resolutions before the new school term started. My 1966 resolutions included saving more of my pocket money, writing more frequently to my pen-friends, working hard for school exams and being kind and friendly in school and at home – exciting stuff! I think I probably wrote those knowing my mum would see them!

 

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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.

mrLQCIUyfgl63xQxdWQ7qog          $_35

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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Things we didn’t realise were unsafe, dangerous or just plain inappropriate (non-PC!).

img_0311       These first three images come under inappropriate/ non-PC. Can you imagine letting a child have sweets which are pretend cigarettes now? I also remember that you could get pipes and pipe tobacco which were sweets.

img_0304    img_0309  These two speak for themselves. The Black and White Minstrel Show was huge in the UK in the 1950s – and, of course, every family had one of the ubiquitous gollies! Unimaginable now.

 

img_0303   Moving on to unsafe/ dangerous. I remember having a paraffin heater in the bedroom I shared with my brother and sister. We now know that there was a poisonous gas problem (carbon monoxide, in particular) with these but also a serious fire risk. In a cold winter with no central heating a paraffin heater was very welcome and comforting.

img_0307  I can remember helping a local farmer with his hay making. At the end of the day we children would be sitting on top of the pile of hay as the tractor pulled the cart down the lane towards the barn.

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I have covered this in a previous post but – yes, we did all have penknives as children.  We knew how to use them safely too!

img_0305  Cars didn’t have seat belts and children could sit in any part of the car – as in this picture.  I can remember my sister sitting on the bench seat in the front in beteeen my mum and dad on long journeys as she suffered with car sickness in the back.

 

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Finishing off with inappropriate/ non PC. Just why did everyone find it so hilarious to read about an overweight schoolboy who couldn’t run and who loved cakes? It seems so wrong now yet Billy Bunter was a part of our childhood in the 1950s.

Nursery Rhymes

nursery rhymes

I grew up hearing, reading and singing Nursery Rhymes. I brought my daughters up knowing them all too. They are a part of our history. Talking with friends the other day I was lamenting the fact that many children starting school at four years old (in my school anyway – it could be different elsewhere) know hardly any of them. They might just know Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or Baa Baa Black Sheep but rarely more than that. I said that I would hate for them to be lost from out culture. A friend then pointed out that many of the words were, in fact, violent and dark.

When I thought about it I recalled cats being drowned in wells, choppers chopping heads off, babies falling out of trees, helpless blind mice having their tails cut off, robins being shot with bows and arrows, a boy and girl falling down a hill and the boy fracturing his skull and an overweight lad chasing little girls and trying to kiss them. I could go on!

Apart from the literal meanings, we now know that most of these rhymes refer to historical events and people, albeit in the form of a simple children’s rhyme. I won’t got into all the meanings and origins here, they are extensively covered in texts and on the Internet. I thought I would take a few of the ones I knew and loved best as a child and say whatever comes to mind.

HumptyDumpty

Humpty_Dumpty_1_-_WW_Denslow_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_18546

One theory is that Humpty Dumpty was the name of a very large cannon used in the Civil War in Colchester in 1648 which fell off a church roof and become damaged beyond repair. That might or might not be true but what is known is that Lewis Carroll was the first person to illustrate Humpty Dumpty as a comical egg character.

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

Mistress_Mary,_Quite_Contrary_1_-_WW_Denslow_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_18546

This was one of my favourites as a small girl. I think that was probably because it has such pretty girly images in the words! The Mary in the rhyme is reputed to be Mary Queen of Scots.

Old Mother Hubbard

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Until I researched this picture I hadn’t realised Old Mother Hubbard had so many verses! There is a cottage in Devon which is supposedly where the real Mother Hubbard lived. I always felt sorry for the poor dog. My daughters and I always refer to having a Mother Hubbard cupboard if supplies are running low and we need to go shopping.

Lucy Locket

lucy locket

When I was in primary school Lucy Locket was a circle game we played a lot in the playground. Lucy Locket and Kitty Fisher are believed by some to have been courtesans in the time of Charles II who had a quarrel over a lover.

Are nursery rhymes sweet and historical or are they gross and the stuff of nightmares?

I love them and think it would be very sad if they disappeared from children’s lives.

 

Space Exploration in the 50s and 60s.

As I follow Tim Peake’s travels in the news I have to remind myself how much Space travel has advanced in my lifetime. We take it all in our stride now and read Tim Peake’s adventures much as we would follow a Polar expedition. But then I stop and think. It is absolutely amazing that travelling to Space has become ‘normal’ in a handful of decades.

My memories are just that – my own personal recollections and impressions. This is not a scientific account. I have checked dates for accuracy but the rest is my own thoughts.

When I was a very small child the sky had stars, the Sun and the Moon in it and that was the sum total of my knowledge of Space. Children’s stories and rhymes of the time talked about the Man in the moon. We used to gaze up on a clear night and try and make out his face.

Moon          moon (1)          Moon

In 1957 the first satellite was launched into Space and the name Sputnik became a household word. I was distressed to hear about a little dog being sent up to Space by herself. Several dogs went up into Space and the idea haunted me. I particularly remember hearing about one whose Russian name meant Little Lemon. All of this was followed on the radio as I was ten before we had our first television.

Laika_(Soviet_dog) Laika, the first dog in Space.                                         Laika_ac_Laika_(6982605741)Her monument in Moscow.

Bush-radio

My next main memory of Space travel is that of the first man to be launched into Space, Yuri Gagarin. This was in April 1961. I was in my last year at Primary School. My little village school had around 30 pupils and two teachers, Our Head Mr Lewis acquired the school’s first television in time for us to watch the TV coverage of the launch as it fell on a school day. This was such an exciting thing to happen! The first man in Space and the school’s first TV!!

It would probably have looked like these and the picture was, of course, in black and white.

tv 2    1961 tv

A lot of other things happened before and after Yuri Gagarin – more dogs went into Space and some returned, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in Space and the first men stepped onto the moon. In 1970 I was a first year university student and although there were televisions in most Common rooms (definitely none in students’ rooms!) the only colour set on the whole campus was in the main Union building. In April 1970 Apollo 13 was launched and loads of us crowded into the common room with the colour TV to see this major event. I couldn’t actually see very much as I was right at the back behind a huge crowd of other students who had got in there first – but I didn’t care, I was there! Apollo 13 was the ill-fated one which suffered an explosion and had to limp back sooner than planned – with no loss of life, fortunately!

tv4 The 1970 TV was probably something like this with a larger screen than the 1961 models and a few more buttons.

 

 

 

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!