22 July 2011


When I was young 'Retro' was what there was, we weren't interested in dressing or behaving like they did in the past.  We didn't hanker back to the 1920s or 1930s (or wartime), and certainly not to Edwardian or Victorian times.  We hated Victorian furniture and architecture, and weren’t too impressed with Utility furniture.  

We couldn't wait to get to the year 2000 when people wouldn't need to work, walk, do any chores for themselves - robots would be doing everything of course.  We wouldn't eat, we would swallow one pill every morning and then spend all day flying around in our very own 'air capsules', in fact life would be one long holiday.  There would be no wars, no famines, no worries.

Well that didn't happen and now people hanker for 'the good old days'.  Funnily enough, we didn't appreciate them at the time!

When I was small, well tiny, there was still rationing, then there was RPM (Retail Price Maintenance), so everything cost the same everywhere which didn't encourage competition and lower prices.  Food was very expensive and very few people owned a fridge, let alone a freezer, so food had to be bought every day. This meant people couldn't get discounts for buying in large quantities.

Hardly anyone owned a washing machine.  Sheets, towels and other items, including all clothing, were washed by hand and then wrung in the huge mangle or wringer.  Following all this hard work the items were hung up, hopefully outside, to dry and the next day they were ironed.  So that was two days in the week fully taken up with laundry.  It’s no wonder that women (and it was mainly women in those days) were so keen on a nice dry windy day for washing day.  By the 1960s twin tub washing machines were becoming popular, with one tub for clothes washing water and one for spinning.  I had one of these, when first married in the 1970s and it would take a whole morning to wash and spin the clothes and bedding every week.

Not many people owned a car, although with most people working a five and a half day week, there wasn’t much chance to get out and about.

Few people owned a TV, although by the time I was born most people had electricity and running water inside the house, and nearly everyone had a 'Wireless'.  There were four main channels: The Light Programme (Radio 2 these days), The Third Programme (Radio 3) and The Home Service (Radio 4),   This was before the reorganisation and emergence of Radio 1 in 1967, I remember and I was there to hear The Move singing 'I'm Just Sitting Watching Flowers in the Rain', not much changes as it's raining as I write and it's July!

Watching TV was very different  from today. For a start, when the TV was switched on we had to wait for about five minutes for it to 'warm up', then the picture would often be snowy and fuzzy so we had to wander around the room with the aerial, working out the position for the best picture.  This would usually be one member of the family standing on top of a chair and reaching as far as possible, not useful for long periods.  Then there was only one channel 'The BBC' until about 1955 when the first commercial television channel started ITV, first ad was for Colgate Toothpaste.  See: http://www.whirligig-tv.co.uk/

This was OK except that the programmes finished at about 11pm when the National Anthem would be played and the picture would get smaller and smaller until it disappeared in a tiny white spot.  

Oh, I forgot to mention that TV was black and white until the late 1960s.  The first programme I saw on colour TV was the investiture of Prince Charles at Caernarvon Castle in the summer of 1969 and we watched it on the TV at college as very few people actually had a colour TV at home.  
Me at the age of 5

As I remember, there was, of course, no daytime TV except for children.  I loved Watch with Mother: Rag, Tag and Bobtail, Andy Pandy (with Looby Loo), Tales of the Riverbank, Bill and Ben (the Flowerpot Men, with Little Weed), Picturebook and my real favourite was the Woodentops (with Spotty Dog).  There was also Muffin the Mule and Sooty and Sweep (no Soo in those days), Pinky and Perky.

I used to love to come home from school and hear Listen with Mother on the radio, although probably too old really, and the main thing I remember is that I listened in our dining room, with no heating on in there as it was only heated when the whole family were actually in there having a meal.

During the War my Grandparents looked after the Edgecumbe Arms at Cremyll.  There was no electricity and all the cooking, for residents and family, was done by my Grandmother on a paraffin stove (in those days pubs didn't tend to serve food). 

In the 1960s there was a single mum who helped my parents in the Highway Inn at Dobwalls (NB not Highwayman, this was a fanciful idea introduced later), who lived in a small hamlet nearby and there was no running water in the house, it all had to be fetched from the pump outside.

I was talking to some people today about this blog and they were saying did I remember that in the 1950s there was no daytime TV?  There was some telly in the afternoon for children, then the service closed down, coming on again in time for the evening News at 6pm and then going off again in late evening, when there would be the Epilogue, short prayers, before the picture disappeared slowly into a tiny white blob in the middle of the screen, and that was that until the children's TV the next afternoon.

We also talked about loo paper of the time - Ibcol and Izal.  Both were very useful for tracing paper - but not much else and certainly not as loo paper.  Proper loo paper like we have nowadays just wasn't available, and definitely not paper kitchen towels.  Every week the cotton handkerchiefs were boiled up in a huge saucepan on the stove.

I went to boarding school in the lower boarding house (up to age 11) and we had 12 hankies for each week. Three pairs of socks were worn a week and two pairs of knickers - ugh!!  Putting on dirty knickers was absolutely awful, although I don't seem to remember minding wearing dirty socks.  We had white knickers and on top wore over-knickers of dark brown (school colour) which were changed once a week.  We had a bath three times a week and were allowed to wash our hair once a fortnight - again ugh!  

In our dormitories we each had a basin and a jug of cold water for washing in every morning and cleaning our teeth.   Although there was a very large central heating pipe running round the side of the room, the dorm was usually pretty cold and so was the water in the jug.  We didn't watch any TV so made our own entertainment, putting on a 'show' every Saturday evening.  At different times we all took part in these entertainments, some played a musical instrument, spoke and some  of us made up little plays.  Other times we played charades and on a special occasion, probably about once a term we persuaded our House Mistress to play 'Country Gardens' by Percy Grainger on the piano.

to be continued ...

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