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.

ocean-plastics      eyevine6.02587930cmyk.jpg

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.

white-enamel-camping-plate-bowl-and-mug-set-500x500

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.

$_35      PalitoyTinyTears1980

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.

Upper-Market-Butcher-Reg-Evans-1950s  1993fb6fd6842ac43a99bb8a7f5c821a

102674333  102296503

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.

130417-lamb-on-shelves-Lambcheck1-c-no-credit      aldi_pasta_salad

soft-drinks-beverages-supermarket-21460402       vegetable     skynews-packaging-vegetables_4202753       download

 

 

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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.

CobhamFloor55

Examples of 1950s tills compared with a modern one

.Tills50  718hnT-QWEL._SY355_

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.

PneuCarrier

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

julyaug2015_b02_clivethompsonhyperloop_webresize

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!

thumbnail4   download

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).

bbc-radio-announcer-alvar-lidell-at-microphone-1942-england-uk

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:

Rag_and_Bone_Man,_Miall_Street,_Rochdale,_Lancashire_-_geograph.org.uk_-_192836

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.

IMG_8172

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

 

Memorable Firsts.

This one is for my friends Judy and Heather (aka Flo). It’s a slight departure from my normal posts as it fast forwards a few years. Instead of talking about life in the 50s and 60s this post talks about the differences between rural life then and city life in the early 70s.

In September 1969 I began my three years at university in Nottingham. Times were changing rapidly in the late 60s/ early 70s  On top of that, I was moving from rural Wales to England; from a tiny community miles from anywhere to a bustling city. This is about some of the things I experienced for the first time during the three years I was a student. These experiences are forever linked in my mind with the city of Nottingham and on a recent visit to the place I decided to revisit those times in my blog.

Service Buses. In the area where I grew up there was not a bus service in the way towns and cities have them. We had a local coach firm called Thomas Brothers who provided the school buses for children in outlying areas They also ran a weekly coach from the villages village into the town a few miles away. The coach left from outside our village post office on Fridays (market day) at 11 am and left the town at 2pm. Regular buses with numbers on the front and, in particular, double decker buses were such a novelty! I loved being able to walk from my uni down to the main road and catch a bus into the city centre.

Thos bros coach.jpg           nottm-bus

Tea bags. On my free Saturday afternoons (I even had lectures on Saturday morning in my first year!) I loved to wander around the city centre and in and out of the shops. Shops like that were a two hour drive from where I grew up and major shopping trips were made infrequently. My afternoons in the city centre always involved a cafe stop. I can still remember the names of two of my favourites which were called The Gingham Kitchen and The Pepper Mill. There is still a Gingham Kitchen in Nottingham but I haven’t been able to find out whether it’s the same one or not – I remember the name but no more.

gingham kitchen.jpg

It was on one of my cafe visits when I first came across a tea bag. I asked for a cup of tea and was given a cup of what looked like milky water with a strange object floating in it. It took me a minute to work out what I was meant to do!

Indian Restaurants. During my first term a group of friends suggested we went for a curry in town. I had come across curry before – made at home using curry powder – but had never been to an Indian Restaurant. I was helped by friends more sophisticated than I was to choose suitable food from a bewildering menu. My starter was Onion Bhaji and I thought I had never tasted anything better. I don’t even remember my main course – and I still love onion bhajis.

onion-bhaji

 

Colour TV. In early 1970 one of the big events was Apollo 13 which was to be launched on the 11th of April. The hall of residence I was in did have one TV which was black and white. Students at that time didn’t have TVs in their rooms like now. In the days leading up to Apollo 13’s launch word got around that the Union Building on the campus was going to acquire a colour TV especially for the event. I can remember cramming into the main common room on that day – as excited about the colour TV as I was about the space launch!

1970s-tv                            apollo-13

Guinness. I had drunk beer when at home in Wales – and still do! – but I was introduced to Guinness during my second year and absolutely loved it.

guinness        guinness-ad

Pizza. My first taste of pizza was during my three years in Nottingham. I had read about this Italian favourite and thought it sounded like something I would enjoy as I’ve always loved bread, tomatoes and cheese. A friend (who had tried one before in London) and I went into an Italian cafe and ordered one between us. This was partly because we didn’t have much money but also in case we didn’t like it. I loved it!

‘Twin-Screen’ Cinema.

I have always loved going to the cinema. Although my home town was tiny (pop 2,000) we were lucky enough to have a cinema. It was in a building which had once been a chapel and the films we saw were always at least a year old but that didn’t matter to us. During the break between Pathe News – also out of date! – and the main film a still photograph of the local garage/ filling station popped up on the screen and stayed there until the lights went down again. When ‘big’ films arrived in our cinema, long after they had been released in the cities, there would be people standing in the aisles and sitting on windowsills. I particularly remember this from Tom Jones, the Bond films, Bonnie and Clyde and Dr Zhivago.

nottm-cinema  gaumont.jpg   gaumont-inside

In Nottingham I discovered the joys of a cinema with a proper foyer, a refreshment stall and the latest films. Some films I remember seeing at the time in the two Nottingham cinemas shown above were The Boyfriend, 633 Squadron, The Virgin and the Gypsy, They Shoot Horses Don’t They?, Staircase and The Battle of Britain. The cinema on the left was the more modern of the two and was a twin-screen cinema. I thought this was amazing! I have learnt through researching for photographs that it was actually the world’s first twin-screen cinema. The second one shown (exterior and interior shots above) was the Gaumont. I also absolutely loved this cinema for its interior. Originally built as a music hall, I now know, it had ornate plasterwork, gilt, brocade, balconies and boxes.

Microwave oven. One evening I was in our campus sports centre. I was there for social reasons not sporting ones! In the cafe I decided to order myself a pie. At that time I was particularly partial to a chicken and mushroom pie made by Pukka Pies and this cafe sold them. To my amazement, the pie was placed in a small glass-fronted oven and then spent a few minutes rotating on a turntable and puffing up at high speed as if time had been fast-forwarded. In awe, I accepted my pie which was piping hot and enjoyed it. It was several years before microwaves became household objects and I realised what I’d seen.

 

1977microwaveoven     pukka-pies

Spaghetti Bolognese. In my second year I left the hall of residence on the campus and took a room in a rented house in the city shared by a number of other students. In the autumn the annual rag magazine was printed. In it was a recipe for spaghetti bolognese which was something I’d heard spoken about but hadn’t tried. Being self-catering was novel as halls of residence in those days were mostly full board. I decided to cook this amazingly exotic-sounding dish for a few friends. I have no memory now of how the meal turned out but I do remember having to go out and buy things I hadn’t bought before like olive oil, garlic salt and tomato puree.

10 Pin Bowling, Pinball, Bar Billiards, Table Football.

table-football                    barbilliards

pinball 1.jpg               Three games I discovered and played during my student years – Table football (often called ‘rods’, bar billiards (does this still exist?) which was not quite billiards, pool or snooker but played on a similar table top, and pinball which always reminded me of an old wooden game we had at home called bagatelle. Ours was very like the one below.

Vintage-Bagatelle-Board.jpg

Cling Film. I went into a university cafeteria one day to buy myself a sandwich for lunch. The sandwich was handed to me wrapped in a very thin soft plastic which appeared to cling to itself. This was my first sight of cling film.

cling film.jpg

Some of these experiences were new to me because I’d moved from the country to the city; others were new inventions and developments. I hope they trigger some interesting memories for readers.

R.I.P. BHS – gone but not forgotten.

In the UK this week we have heard the sad news that the chain of shops known as BHS (formerly British Home Stores) closed all its stores yesterday for the last time. I wrote a blog post some months ago about shops and brands which are no longer around, so excuse any repetition but I felt I had to pay tribute to good old BHS. It is the latest in a long line of shops and cafes we in Britain grew up with which have now disappeared.

British Home Stores 1950s Cardiff

Here are some more.

Littlewood's,                                          richard shops

 

City Kardomah Cafe New Street Birmingham                        TimothyWhites

 

Wimpy             etam

dolcis          Home-and-Colonial-Store-Leek

 

johnmenzies        C & A

 

lewis'         army_store88

 

co-op        We still have Co-op supermarkets but there used to be Co-op departments stores too.

 

 

National Milk Bars      One for anyone else who grew up in Wales and remembers this chain with affection. This is the one in Machynlleth which I have been to many, many times and which only closed a few years ago.