Sunday, 15 November 2009
I was a child of the 50s and can even remember when there was only ONE channel on the b&w telly. We didn't have a kitchen - we had a scullery. We had a Geyser for hot water. The bally house was so cold and damp the clothes used to go mouldy and until I was about 7, I had my baths (Saturday night of course) in an oval tin bath in front of the - coal - fire, with the clothes horse surrounding me, swathed in blankets to keep the draughts away! We had lino and a carpet square. The washing was done in a copper which lived in the corner of the scullery, and I used to love helping my mum put the washing through the mangle which screwed onto the end of the enamel-topped table in the scullery, under the food hatch my dad had put in the wall. We only had an outside toilet and it trained you to have a very long-distance bladder on cold winter nights! I had a lovely old Victorian cast iron and brass bedstead, and can remember unscrewing the brass knobs and hiding my treasures in them and also making wonder tents by tieing a piece of string to the bedends and hanging a blanket over it. Having a cold was never much fun though as mum used to rub Vick on my top lip to clear my nose and it made my eyes water no end.
Mum never shopped in town, because she was very deaf, so dreadfully handicapped and frightened of "going into town", even though the bus stopped right outside the door. But no matter as there was a Co-op, 4 corner shops selling groceries and a hardware store within a half mile stretch (and we were in the middle of that). mum - and the neighbours - shopped daily, as this was in the pre-fridge days too, so meat had to be used up quickly and leftovers kept in the meat-safe in the larder which was a cupboard under the stairs. Sunday's roast was always put through the clamp-to-the-table mincer for Shepherd's Pie on a Monday. (For some unaccountable reason I seem to have a collection of mincers now . . .) Milk was stopped going sour by standing the glass bottle in a bowl of cold water (Brown and Harrisons' Dairy delivered daily too, and still had horses and carts in my childhood) . Cheese was only one sort, Cheddar, and wrapped in greaseproof paper, but that didn't stop it getting a hard slightly greasy rind on it.
Fruit and vegetables were eaten in season and there were always strawberry-picking jobs going begging in the summer. I always wanted a strawberry-picking job until I found out that it gave you terrible backache! I grew up in Southampton and the hinterland to the East of the city, between it and Fareham, was mile upon mile of market gardens, which supplied the towns and if you were out for a drive, there were always many roadside stalls to buy locally-grown produce from at sensible prices. Organic no, but it never went very far to be eaten.
You could count the car owners in our road on the fingers of one hand until the early 1960s when we finally got a car too - an old Triumph Mayflower with real leather seats that smelt wonderful on a hot summer's day, when I would, impatient as ever, sit in the car from after breakfast onwards, waiting until lunch was over and we could go "out for a run", which would usually be our favourite bits in the New Forest, or up to "Little Switzerland" at Corhampton near the Meon Valley. I always implored my dad to "go the long way home" to make the outing last longer.
We, like many of our neighbours, had a big back garden, and mum used to keep chickens. We had fruit trees too and I can remember hot summer nights when the windows were open, and I would listen to the Nightingales singing in the Damson trees.
Anything "recyclable" was collected by the Rag and Bone Man, who came along our road with his chestnut mare Susie (which had never seen a brush in her life).
My friends and I had such freedom to roam, and would go out all day long in the summer with just a packet of jam sandwiches wrapped in tinfoil. I reckon we knew every inch for about 5 miles around our road, and as we were all horsey, we knew the name and whereabouts of every pony too! Most mums were stay-at-home (as I have been), and they could all repair clothes, unravel a jumble sale woollie and reknit it as something else, make jam tarts and bake cakes, and chicken was something you had ONLY at Easter or Christmas and was generally called a Capon, which was a neutered male . . .
No-one expected their mother to work full-time and have a career; nor to go and work out at the gym or learn to drive (no need really, as such good transport system) or get her pre-baby figure back within a month of the birth; housework was for women; hard gardening work for men (digging and mowing) - women got the fun jobs like planting. Family relationships were held together well as not many families moved away to live/work. You knew the neighbours by name for 100 yards either side of your house, and the length of the road by sight if not name. You walked to school. A few people had extra-curricular activities such as learning to play a musical instrument, but that was usually through school. There were Brownies and Guides but mostly we made our own fun, some of it quite dangerous fun too . . .
I lived near what had been a working brickworks until about 1960ish. Where they had dug out the clay to make the bricks, left behind were "cliff edges" of the exavations, and at the bottom were pools of water, where Great Crested Newts and Common Newts, Frogs, Toads, tadpoles, and dragonfly larva used to live, and a wonderful marshy area we called Flamingo Marsh. Here the Sundew plants lives and we would tease them with grass stalks and make them think a fly had landed on them. We used to slide down the cliff faces on teatrays, and we and the local boys (we girls were terrible tomboys, need I say?) used to make rafts to push out onto the ponds. I can remember one raft turning turtle once, and we had to throw a rope to the boys who were floundering out in the deepest bit of pond.
We had brick fights, learned to run extremely fast to dodge the billy goat who was tethered down in the brickworks, and one of our favourite pursuits was to tie plastic bags over our feet and splodge out into the middle of Flamingo Marsh and jump up and down. A corresponding area about 10 feet away would shudder in unison! There was a smaller pond with what we called "the wall of death" surrounding it. As long as you ran really fast you could get to the other side without falling in - centrifugal force I suppose. Anyway, we made Alison Hams run round there, but we didn't tell her she had to run fast and of course she fell in!
Probably the most dangerous pursuit (apart frm lobbing bricks at each thers' heads) was to go on the "treadmill", which was a machine they mixed the clay in for bricks. It had just been abandoned, and we used to tread on the "lugs" that dug into the clay, and make the central barrel of the machine move round. Had we slipped . . . instant broken and crushed leg . . .
Rose-tinted spectacles? Not really, as compared with today there are probably what are seen as many negatives for women. I liked it all well enough to try to recreate a similar childhood for my children, even though it meant moving to Wales to do it . . .