Sunday, 15 November 2009

Unashamed nostalgia

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 . . .


  1. Oh this does bring back memories :-) I was lucky in that we lived in a flat roofed prefab - looked down upon by so many but we had an indoor loo. No central heating though and jack frost on the windows in the morning :-) I remember the mangle and the rag and bone who would give you a gold fish :-) The freedom to roam, that was the thing! And to know that mum would be there when we went home hungry :-) Thanks for your sharing your memory.

  2. Ooh, you take me back...I was born in the 50's and remember many of the things you describe. I also remember my Mum who lived in the mining valleys, telling me how she sledded down the slag heaps on a tin tray!

  3. What a wonderful recount of the 50's ...the first paragraph could have been written by me and I have many memories of the rest too. I lived in London which made things a little different but there was cetainly more freedom to roam ...and my mum was a worrier!!! ...yet I could be out in the park for hours with friends, when under 10. I could ride my tricycle up and down the street with noone keeping an eye out and it was fine to smile at people in the street and to sit on Santas knee.

  4. This could almost be my childhood,except I lived in a village(still live in the same village,much changed unfortunately by Londoners now)and we never had any mouldy clothes.I look back on these times with such pleasure,I knew everyone in our village,around 350 population,who they were related to and everything about them.People lived much more respectable lives then,because if they did'nt they were given the cold shoulder by almost everyone else.Homes were kept spotless,and the only women who had a career were the two schoolteachers and a telephone operator.I am pleased to say that I stayed at home to bring up my children, and only worked part-time when they were teenagers up until my retirement.The quality of life was amazing,we may have material things now, but that cannot compare with the feeling of belonging to a community in which we had a very important part to play.

  5. Welcome Rosemary. The scary thing is it still seems so close . . . I can recall it all so perfectly, but can't remember what I did last Friday!

    Angie - things have changed for the worse - my kids had 5 1/2 acres of our own to roam round, build dens etc, and quite a bit of freedom. I can remember one girl coming to play with my middle daughter. Mother and son arrive to collect her and my little horrors were trying to persuade them to jump across the stream at the worst point - where one bank was about 4 feet higher than the other. Mine did it all the time, but the mother was having 40 blue fits and screaming "No, it's too dangerous, come back here . . ." My kids were very unimpressed!

    Kath - bet your granny used to go spare when your mum came home with black socks!!

    Chris - ah yes, the frost on the INSIDE of the window panes. I remember that too - so pretty. And getting dressed under the bedclothes. We had prefabs just across the road from us. People were very unhappy when they Council pulled them down, as they were so happy in them.

  6. I read this yesterday and enjoyed it so much. Now, reading the comments, I'm struck that all of you in the UK had a similar childhood to mine in Vermont, USA. It must have been the era more than the place.
    We lived within hollering distance of my grandfather's dairy farm and as soon as were big enough to walk over there on our own, that's where we spent much of our time. We were outdoors in all but the worst weather, riding our bikes, poking about in the meadows or woods. I suppose an adult may have been more aware of our where-abouts than we suspected, but we had a good deal of freedom. For the first six years of school, we attended a one-room rural school house and walked there unless the weather was just awful. We were as apt to walk home through the neighbor's pasture as on the dirt road, stopping at our grandfather's sometimes before we trailed home to change our clothes.
    It does seem that winters were colder and snowier then with soggy mittens and damp woolen "snowsuits" continually hung near the range to dry for another day.
    Like so many others, I stayed at home to raise my two children. I don't suppose it occured to me that there was another way. We must have been the last generation of women who expected to do that.

  7. Oh, I'm having such fun scrolling backwards through your posts...

    this is like us as kids... the three of us girls were the worst tomboys... to the point where the neighbours girls were not even allowed to play with us because we were "wild"...

    we hiked up the hills behind our house and stayed hours..nobody seemed to know or care where we were... nobody worried... we had our little jam sandwiches too! We built forts with trees we cut with axes... we played cowboys and indians...and Norman Stewart actually took a knife tipped spear to the gut one day. We thought he was doing his usual poor imitation of dying an agonizing death... til we saw the blood. He survived... he was one of those that survived many a catastrophe.... we used to ride one bike that seemed to belong to the whole neighborhood...taking turns to see who could put the best scare into a motorists..without getting killed crossing the main street. One day we found some tires and rolled down the hill inside those...ouch ! then we set them on fire and rolled them down unmanned... til the fire department showed up.... oh, those were the days.... what a bunch of strange kids we were .....I think we must have been slightly backward...but, somehow we survived to become productive citizens.... lol.........