Monday, 12 January 2015

10 things that we didn't have when I was a boy

Many things that I now take for granted, small trivial aspects of life, did not exist when I was a boy. Ours was not a poor household; my father was a tradesman (a plumber) but he worked for himself and he owned his own home.
Therefore, we were not working class in the strict definition, but we were only a small way removed and we experienced what today would be considered a socially deprived life (without "essential" items that one should expect to own).
We used public transport - buses mainly - quite happily and we were far less affected by consumerism, not because we didn't want things, but because things we might have wanted didn't exist or were unknown to us.
Here's 10 items that I can remember being introduced into our household. This doesn't mean they were invented in my boyhood, it just means they were acquired by our family in the 1950s through to the 1970s.
Teabags
I start with the trivial, it's something I now use every day, several times a day. but the humble teabag didn't exist for me until the late 1960s. Until then, we used a teapot and loose leaf tea. We always had Brooke Bond tea, which came in a green packet and was kept in a metal tea caddy with its own special spoon.
I loved the smell of a freshly opened packet of tea as it was poured into the caddy. I liked to bury the spoon in tea, which irritated my mother when she next used it, but most of all I wanted the Brooke Bond card for my collection. Every packet of Brooke Bond contained a small picture card between the inner and outer wrapping. You could write to them and receive an album to glue your cards into. I remember British Butterflies and Wild Flowers as the two series I collected.
We didn't have an electric kettle. Ours always sat on the Rayburn (like an Aga) so the water was warm. When you wanted it to boil, you lifted a cover on the Rayburn and put it on the hotplate. My grandma used to put her old, blackened kettle directly onto her fire. She had a metal range, with an oven at the side and her kettle always rested part on the coals and part on the iron fire basket. We both had gas rings in our kitchens, but they were rarely used. The Rayburn provided hot water and so was running all year round. Gas was on a meter and you had to keep feeding it with shillings; when your shilling ran out the gas stopped. I didn’t get an electric kettle until I was married and moved to a house which was all electric.
No-one in our family bothered to use a tea-strainer, so the bottom of the cup always contained tea leaves. It was a skill to drink as much tea as possible without sucking up a mouthful of leaves. I used to mix the cold, used tea leaves from the teapot with bran to feed my rabbit in winter. He seemed to like it.
The teabag was invented in 1908 (in a silk bag) and was introduced to Britain (in a paper bag) by Tetley in 1953. In the early 1960s, teabags accounted for only three per cent of the market, but by 2007 they took a 96 per cent share.
A fridge
Our first fridge was an Electrolux and it was still going strong almost 20 years later. It must have arrived when I was about six or seven.
I didn't really appreciate what a boon it must have been to my mother. I can't imagine life without a fridge (or indeed a freezer) now.
Mum was quite excited and I guess that was at the prospect of keeping things fresh for longer. I was quite excited by the possibility of making ice cubes in a tiny freezer section, which was just large enough for the ice-cube box. You then had to drop it in warm water, so you could pull up a handle and release the cubes from the mould. That was the first time I saw an ice cube.
We also had some blue plastic ice-lolly moulds, so you could make your own lollies using fruit squash. I was very excited about this, but the finished product was very disappointing and it was a real fiddle, trying to get them into the ice compartment without spilling them and they took an age to freeze.
Before the fridge came, everything was kept in the pantry, which was about four feet wide and 12 feet long. It was reached down three steps and was quite cool, even in summer. Milk arrived every day (via a milkman) and mum would have bought meat from the butcher and cooked it the same day. In Bottom Lostock, where we lived, there was a post office/sweet shop, a grocer, a butcher, greengrocer and paper-shop (newsagent). Supermarkets didn't exist.
The domestic fridge was invented in 1913, around 50 years before we acquired ours.
Television
I'm not quite sure when we got a TV; I think it must have been just before 1960 because I can remember my mum watching the first episode of Coronation Street.
I seem to remember going next door to Auntie Annie and Auntie Doris to watch Watch With Mother, which was shown just after dinner at about half past one. I hated Andy Pandy, the Flower Pot Men were slightly annoying (especially that girly Weed), but I loved Rag,Tag and Bobtail and the Woodentops.
Our TV was fairly small (19in screen) and it was black and white (there were no colour TVs). It was also very low definition - 405 lines. Later, 625 lines TV sets came out, which had a better pictures, but nothing like as good as even the worse TV today.
There were just two channels, BBC and ITV and they broadcast briefly around lunchtime for BBC Watch with Mother and then started up around tea-time with children's TV. The stations closed before midnight. During the week, ITV was run by Granada from Manchester and, at the weekend, it switched to ATV.
Programmes I enjoyed watching included: Tales from the Riverbank (narrated by Johnny Morris), Blue Peter (with Valerie Singleton and John Noakes), My Friend Flicker (a US series about a boy and his horse), Mr Ed (a talking horse), The Beverly Hillbillies (about hillbillies who struck oil and moved to California), Doctor Who (I liked the music better than the crap monsters, although the Daleks were scary).
On Sunday, we would watch Sunday Night at the London Palladium, presented by Bruce Forsyth.
The first TV broadcast in the UK was in 1929 by Baird. The BBC started its service in 1932.
Central heating
There are no unheated rooms in our current house; even the garage is pretty warm as the gas boiler sits in there.
My boyhood home - 339 Manchester Road - had a large stove (the Rayburn) in the kitchen and an open fire in the sitting room. There was also an old gas fire in mum and dad's bedroom.
We had no loft insulation and single glazing with sash-cord windows, which would let a raging draught through.
In winter it was very cold. Frost would make amazing patterns on the inside of bedroom windows and, in the evening, we’d be around the coal fire in the sitting room. The Rayburn ran on coke and would be lit the whole day. It would be banked up overnight and then turned up in the morning and (most of the time) it had stayed lit. If not, you had to rake it out and light it again. It was often my job to take out the ashes, which went into the dustbin.
My mother felt the cold. She was always complaining there was a draught and trying to work out where it was coming from. She went to bed with bedsocks and an electric blanket; we had hot-water bottles for half the year.
Bedrooms were particularly cold and, on bath night, you'd be allowed to have the gas fire on in the front bedroom and get dry and get your pyjamas on in front of that.
This is exactly like our old phone
Telephone
Because my dad ran his own business, we got a telephone quite early, perhaps by 1962. Before that, people would have just knocked on the door and asked for work to be done.
We waited a long time for the phone. In those days, the GPO (Post Office) had a monopoly on telephony and they'd put a phone in when they were ready. People waited months and months. Even when we got ours, we had to share the line with another house in what was called a "party line". This meant if they were on the phone, we couldn't take calls and if you picked up our handset while they were on the phone, you'd be able to listen in.
The handset was a large black Bakelite instrument with a chromed dial and plaited wire cord. You had to press a button on the top to get a line and you could only call numbers in Northwich. If you wanted to call outside your exchange, you had to call the operator, someone would answer and you'd ask them to connect you with the number. "Could I have Chester 4235 please?"
Our telephone number was Northwich 3352.
Old money
Decimal money - £s and Ps - didn't come in until 1971, we were brought up with LSD - pounds, shillings and pence.
There were 12 pence in a shilling and 20 shillings in a pound. A penny was actually quite a useful coin and was valuable enough to be split into ha'pennies and farthings. There were four farthings in a penny and two ha'pennies.
Pennies, ha'pennies, farthings and thr'penny bits
Farthings were withdrawn in 1961, but I can't really remember using those. However, I remember seeing a lot of them around. The coin was familiar and a favourite because it had a wren on it, but I don't remember ever spending one.
I remember my bus far to school being three-ha'pence and being told by my mother to ask for a three-ha'penny one from the conductor.
There was also something called a guinea, which was one pound and one shilling (21 shillings). This was never a coin or note, but shops used to use guineas as a means to make things sound cheaper. Nowadays, something would be offered for £99.99p because it sounds cheaper than £100. Back then 99 guineas sounded less than £100, but would actually be £103 19s.
Deodorant spray
I remember using roll-on deodorant for the first time in my mid teens. There was no aerosol deodorant and people simply didn't wash as often as they do now.
I don't think this was because they were deliberately dirty or lazy, it just wasn't as convenient. We would wash in the sink morning and evening, but have a bath only once a week.
If houses didn't have a bathroom, which many older houses didn't, it was a real palaver having a bath. You had to get a tin bath set up in the living room or kitchen, fill it as best you could, wash in it (as best you could) and then empty it.
Washing clothes wasn't as easy as it is now, so they were changed less often too. Truth was that a lot of people smelt quite bad. I remember some folk really stank. You'd get on the bus and someone next to you might smell of sweat, but others would be really ripe, like a stinky cheese. You just don't experience that these days.
People also smelled of cigarettes or pipe tobacco and my dad always smelt of putty.
Sun block
A sun tan was considered healthy (I guess it still is) and no-one thought of putting any product on your skin to stop it burning. Every summer, I got pink arms and legs until I went a bit brown and freckly. If we were in the sun too long, too quickly and got burned, we had Calamine Lotion applied.
I never had much faith in this stuff. It was supposed to cool the skin and stop itching, but it did no use at all. It was also slapped on for gnat bites, nettle stings and any other skin problem from spots to impetigo.
Foreign food
In my childhood world, foreign food did not exist. My diet was non-exotic and repetitive – we had the same food, the same meal on the same day (with some variation) week after week. There would be seasonal food, like runner beans and strawberries, but these were British grown and only available for a short period of time.
We didn’t eat out, except for picnics, and few pubs served food. Apart from cafes, I wouldn’t know where there was a restaurant in Northwich.
Pubs started selling chicken in the basket in the 1960s and it was considered very sophisticated to go for a basket meal. A few Chinese take-aways started to appear when I was a teenager, but they were much derided by most. It was a sensation when the first Chinese restaurant opened in Northwich, but I didn’t eat there until I was working (at 18).
Cheap foreign holidays
My first holidays were to a holiday camp. I can’t really remember much about it. I seem to remember crying when I was left in the nursery, but that’s it.
The camp we used was in Morecambe (Middleton Towers) and our holidays after that would be a week in Blackpool staying at a boarding house or once, famously, to the Isle of Man. That’s the nearest I got to going abroad.
Other holidays were day trips or trips to stay with relations – to Aunt Margaret’s in Doncaster or Uncle Dick in Keighley.
My first holiday abroad was to Austria when I was 16 with a friend called Robert Broomfield and I don’t think I went abroad again until I was about 32 and we had a week in France.
My mother never went abroad and my dad’s only foreign travel was in khaki and folk (Germans, Palestinians and Jews) were trying to kill him – no wonder he never went back.
That's me (in the high chair) having a great time on holiday in Morecambe