Remembrance of Things Past

Mostly about growing up the 1950s in Ilford, Essex.

[1] Preliminary


[1] First Blog Attempts


The progress of change is rapid and is rapidly becoming even more rapid. Modern life would be unrecognizable to my grandparents and much of it would surprise my parents. Some of it even surprises me! Such thoughts led me, about fifteen years ago, to write down for posterity some of what I remembered about growing up in the fifties and sixties. As I wrote, to put things into perspective, it was clear that I also needed to say something about all the changes since then.

Now I have decided to re-examine these notes and publish some in the form of a blog, which will involve a lot of rewriting. In true blog form, it will be random and rambling with no sense of order or completeness. Some of what I wrote fifteen years ago is already out-of-date and I will check, update and rewrite everything. Inevitably, I expect to come across as a Grumpy Old Man, going on about the ‘Good Old Days’. Perhaps I am. Perhaps they were! It was ever thus. People of my grandparents’ age used to be the same, long before the expression Grumpy Old Men was used. (In those days it was mostly women. People died a lot earlier, women outlasted men, and men did not often live to my age.)

Sometimes what I write may degenerate into lists of things that we did not have long ago, things we managed to live without. But we didn’t miss them because we didn’t know we didn’t have them. In those days the idea of a mobile telephone would have been incomprehensible, even without its camera, text messages, colour screen and countless apps.

I will try to be honest and impartial but I can only base things on my somewhat hazy memories, which are not always accurate facts. I will not portray a historical description of life, just a view of the context and situation, coloured by my personal experiences. The many changes since then will illustrate the pace of change in the modern world. I cannot claim to have a perfect memory of dates and facts even for last week. It gets harder for fifty or more years ago! Early data just reflects my experience, perhaps with some hearsay evidence from close relatives, neighbours and school friends. I will unashamedly make sweeping generalizations on the assumption that my life was typical of others.

My original plan was to start in the New Year giving a bit of time to experiment with the blog format. But now I am tempted to just start and see where it goes. It’s still all a bit experimental. I hope that the over sixties will agree with me and fondly reminisce. The younger generation can sit back and be incredulously surprised.


So here is blog number one: the random thoughts of a grumpy old man about growing up over fifty years ago and nearly everything that has happened since. Life, the universe and everything! I make no commitment to regular updates and will do a blog as and when I feel like it. I may talk about the same topics more than once and will not attempt to be consistent. I may go backwards and forwards over fifty years or more.

While the blog itself is anonymous, many readers will know who I am from the Facebook link. For those who don’t know me, I was born in 1946 and grew up in what was then Essex but is now part of Greater London. I went to a grammar school and then to university so my comments on education will extend into the sixties.

For changes since then, I have some knowledge from other people and I will try to get relevant dates from reliable sources. My aim now is to keep comments and descriptions unbiased and neutral but I may change my mind later. Any opinions that creep in are strictly my own opinions.

To put things into perspective, for those who may think that back in the fifties we were only just emerging from the Stone Age, I would like to make it clear that we had begun to be a tiny bit civilized by then! It was past the origins of some ‘modern’ organizations and inventions – in some cases perhaps only just past! We had plumbing and sewage; government; formal education; legal, police and postal services; trains, cars and aeroplanes; electricity and gas for heating and lighting; telephones; photography and cinema; and radio and television. Some of these were in fairly basic forms, that would not be recognized today, or would be considered relatively primitive.

I won’t give the game away all at once in the first post, but there was a very long list of things we know today that someone in the 50s would not understand or recognize, things yet to be invented, things we can’t live without now – perhaps some we wish we could live without. In those days, we knew nothing of mobile telephones, cling-film, microwave ovens, the Internet, motorways, computers, spray paint, automatic car washes, bubble-wrap, credit cards, the EU and Euros, organ transplants, MP3 players, female vicars, the National Lottery and much, much more. (It is quite notable that on reviewing my notes, I have had to delete from this list a few things that have already come and gone!)

As a taster of what is to come, see if you can guess which one of these was NOT true in the 1950s:

  • Crisps were sold in just three flavours – salt-and-vinegar, cheese and smoky bacon.
  • Petrol cost just 50p a litre.
  • Coffee machines could not yet make latte or cappuccino, they produced just Americano.
  • Most shops were only open from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm every Monday to Saturday.
  • Television was available on just five channels.

The answer, of course, is that none of them were true. All are anachronisms. Back in the 1950s, things were even more primitive! Crisps, (Smiths crisps, the only option) sold only in pubs were plain, with a little bag of salt, no flavours. Petrol was about 25p a gallon or 6p a litre! Coffee, outside the USA, was not popular and was virtually just Nescafe. There was a contraption called a percolator, a precursor to cafetieres, that would make coffee in about twenty minutes. High Street Shops, which normally closed for an hour and a half at lunchtime, also closed on Saturday afternoon and one other afternoon midweek. Where I lived Wednesday was Early Closing Day, but it was different in other towns. Television, if you could get it was just BBC, for a few hours a day, on a nine inch screen, black and white and atrocious quality by today’s standards.

More to come in the next blog, which could be about anything. I haven’t decided yet …

Author: Alan

Retired, currently living in Cheltenham.

9 thoughts on “[1] Preliminary

  1. Enjoy blogging, do you think it is another modern tool to avoid actually talking to people?! I would love to know what things have been and gone at you had to cross off your list. Oh and where I lived early closing day was Thursday I seem to recall


    • Gillian, I will have to see what blogging brings but I will try to keep talking!
      You can guess at some things like vinyl and video recorders that are already obsolete but will have to wait and see.
      I think the businesses in each town set the day for early closing in a kind of gentlemen’s agreement. I have lived with Wednesday and Thursday.


  2. Faxes came and (virtually) went


  3. I am younger than you, born mid 50’s but I remember OXO crisps as well as the Smiths crisps with the little blue salt bag!


    • You may be right. Perhaps it was regional.
      I never saw anything other than Smith’s until the launch of Golden Wonder in 1962.


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  6. Since I wrote this I have discovered that crisps were localized. Different parts of the country had their own brand of plain crisps.


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