Remembrance of Things Past

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

[36] These are a Few of my Favourite Things


It’s time for some random thoughts about some of the things I miss from my life growing up, fifty-odd years ago – including some unashamed nostalgia and the chance to be a Grumpy Old Man – as usual, just to confuse you, in alphabetical order. To even further confuse you, I have used [square brackets] in headings to signify the opposite, so [Trick or Treat] means the absence of Trick or Treat!


Bonfire Night – Bonfire Night, the Fifth of November, used to be a significant date in the calendar. (Non UK Readers, see: Wikipedia: Guy Fawkes Night) Most people had fireworks. We would have one or two boxes of fireworks in the back garden, including Rockets and Catherine Wheels. Dad would light them carefully while the children kept their distance and watched. At the end of the display, we had sparklers, which we all held.

Some people with bigger gardens had bonfires. Generally there were large bonfires in open spaces with groups of people – I remember the open field by Ilford County High School. Sometimes youths would buy little fireworks called ‘bangers’ and set them off in the streets in the few days before Bonfire Night. (They were small but made loud noises, surprising innocent bystanders.)

For boys, there was a tradition of making your own ‘Guy,’ a crude, stuffed, life-sized figure, dressed in old clothes, transported on home-made carts, (usually the bottom of an old pram, with its wheels) taken round the streets. More often, it was standing outside the local shops. The boys would ask for, “a penny for the Guy!” and they meant just a penny, an old penny (about half of the new 1p) hoping to collect some money for fireworks.

With increasing concern for safety, fireworks have become more difficult to buy and less popular. Home use now is rare and the date of 5 November is now of little significance.

Books without sex and violence – see Films

British English, without American influences – I will talk of the Americanization of our language in more detail in another blog (and in particular the word ‘billion.’) Every new piece of software was to be adjusted to use UK English, but what I really hate is Microsoft Windows. I have hundreds of languages to choose from, including Welsh, but I cannot use UK English. I have to have ‘favorites’ and ‘color.’

[I have an HP printer for my laptop and tablet. It takes A4 paper, the standard European size. Almost every time I use it, I have to change its settings from ‘Letter’ to ‘A4’. It always reverts back. Nothing I can do changes this and the documentation fails to mention it. It just assumes I am American.]

Carol Singers – We did have them occasionally. See [9] Bedecked with Bay and Rosemary Carol singers would come to the door and sing (clearly, loudly and in tune) two or three verses of a well-known carol, then ring the door-bell. If you preferred another carol, they would do a verse or two on request. Then they would collect money for charity in a proper collecting box. Now they bang on the door and rush out “We wish you a Merry Christmas,” not really singing, just a quick shout, and give you a look that says: ‘This is where you pay us’ (not for charity.) In the days when I still opened the door, I just said, “No, thank you,” and shut the door. Now I just wait. They don’t stay long. See also [Trick or Treat]

Chalk – and blackboards.

Cheese Rolls/ Cheese Sandwiches – see Simplicity.

[Choice] – I don’t want to choose my gas, electricity, television or telephone supplier or tariff – or bank or savings account type. I don’t want the opportunity to change my mind every week. (I know that choice is only there so that the companies can make profits by doing nothing. Why should they profit from providing essential services?)

The Church, its Language and tunes. See [3] “Our Father, Which Art in Heaven …”

Condensed Milk – Like Evaporated Milk but sweetened and thicker. Sometimes we had it in sandwiches!

Crumpets, cooked with a Toasting Fork [Not the same as muffins, but in the US, English muffins may be the nearest equivalent.]


A Toasting Fork held the crumpet near to an Open Fire to cook it. So, it had the slightly smoky, burnt taste of the fire. They were more special because you could only buy them at the right time of year. You can still get toasting forks but you probably won’t find a suitable fire. (They did work well with gas fires and electric fires.)


Entertainment – not ‘Adult’ Entertainment – without Obscenity – I just don’t see it. I don’t find obscenity amusing.

Evaporated Milk (Carnation, in a tin) – We used to make milk jellies. Standard jelly cubes with milk instead of water, but it was evaporated milk, whipped (with a hand whisk), so the jelly was like a creamy mousse.

Films without sex and violence – As for obscenity, I can live without public sex and violence.

Fireworks – see Bonfire Night

Fixed price Tickets – How much is a single from Cheltenham to London? (We used to know things like that. Now you have to tell them the date and time, which train company, and select from a number of ticket options. With aeroplanes, every seat may have a different price.)

Fountain Pens – I liked writing with fountain pens. It was much nicer than biros, producing neater writing. We used to use Basildon Bond writing paper and envelopes for proper letters. It was expensive so you tried not to make mistakes. The paper was unlined but there was a sheet with thick lines that you put under the top sheet for guidance.


(The Air Mail paper and envelopes were light-weight to save postage.)

Formality – see Respect. I may do a blog about formality.


Ice cream – Ice cream wafers. You could buy a 1s 6d block of vanilla ice-cream and a packet of wafers from the van that came round the streets. (1s 6d – That’s 7.5p) It was just a rectangular block. You cut it into slices, half an inch thick, eaten between a pair of wafers. You could also buy a wafer of ice-cream from the vans. [The US equivalent is an ice-cream sandwich. Pictured above is Neapolitan ice-cream, which came later. Or, perhaps it cost more than 1s 6d!]

And, on the subject of ice-cream, a choc-ice was just a simple piece of ice-cream (the same size as a wafer) covered in plain chocolate. See Simplicity.


Honky-tonk Pianos – Somehow Winifred Atwell (fifties), Russ Conway (fifties and sixties) and Mrs Mills (sixties) were missed out of my music blogs. They sometimes played on slightly out-of-tune pianos. We had one at home.

Innocence – I led a sheltered life and we knew little of the evils of the World.

Ignorance – I don’t want news to be full of the evils of the World, crimes, celebrity gossip, sex.

Lollipops – Just simple lollipops, orange or lemon flavoured. There were also milk lollipops! See Simplicity.

Open Fires – See [2] Fire, Coal, Smoke and Gulls

Politeness – People said, “Good Morning,” not ‘Hello’ or ‘Hi’ or ‘Hi-ya.’ We kept informal, colloquial expressions for friends and relatives. Now strangers call on the telephone and their first question is often “Can I call you Alan?” If they say, “How are you today?” I hang up. That’s a very personal question to be asking a stranger. Also see Respect

[Political Correctness] – There could be a whole blog here.

Privet hedges

Radio and Television without Adverts

Received pronunciation and proper grammar – The BBC used only presenters with the standard accent known as Received Pronunciation. They had a Pronunciation Unit, a group of staff who would advise on the pronunciation of difficult words, especially foreign names and places. The word ‘twenty’ used to be pronounced as if the penultimate letter was a T.

I remember people using expressions: ‘want to,’ ‘going to,’ and ‘don’t know,’ – not ‘wanna,’ ‘gonna’ or ‘dunno.’

Respect Children were taught to respect their elders. (See Ten Commandments.) They would never sit on a bus if there were grownups standing. They did not demand attention. If grown-ups were talking, children did not interrupt.

Seats on Trains – When you bought a ticket, there would be seats. Trains were fairly empty and you just chose where to sit.

Simplicity – I like things in simple forms. I like bread and cheese. We used to have freshly made cheese rolls or cheese sandwiches (or ham) available wherever you could buy a cup of tea. I don’t want cheese and onion, or cheese and tomato, or cheese and pickle, or any of the numerous, varied options now available.

Smith’s Crisps – Plain, with an optional bag of salt. I don’t want flavoured crisps!

Sparklers – see Bonfire Night

Streets without cars – Crossing the road was easy. You looked and waited for the traffic to stop, maybe for a few seconds. We had the ‘Kerb Drill’ for children, a simple list of instructions. It did not include looking for traffic lights or crossings. Away from main roads you just ignored the possibility of cars.

Sundays without shops – Sundays were different, days of rest, with even less traffic and almost no shops open. See the Ten Commandments.


Television without Football – I have always accepted that this country was football obsessed. It used to affect about half an hour of television every week, when the final results came in. That was more than enough football for me. Now it’s almost every day. When there are no matches, television pundits talk about what happened in previous matches, or what might happen next week!

Ten Commandments – They were not necessarily the Word of God but we knew them and used them as a guide as to Right and Wrong. Now we still believe that: “Thou shalt not murder” and: “Thou shalt not steal” but some others are no longer observed. “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” used to be honoured in part but has now gone, almost completely; “Honour thy father and mother” has probably been largely forgotten; and “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” has been subsumed in the freedom in the right to ‘free speech.’ Obscene language was presumably used back then, but not in public, and blasphemous language simply did not occur. I never heard the expression ‘Oh my God!’ until I was over fifty and I still find it offensive, even when abbreviated.

[Trick or Treat] – This spread from the USA about the eighties or nineties, perhaps as the use of fireworks declined. See Carol Singers.

Writing – see Fountain Pens

Youth – Of course I miss being young! (Nothing to do with the fifties or sixties.) Growing up and school days were enjoyable, and it was nice being healthy and fit, not having to go to Specsavers! But there are nice things about being older, especially being retired.

That’s enough Grumpy Old Man for a while …


Author: Alan

Retired, currently living in Cheltenham.

4 thoughts on “[36] These are a Few of my Favourite Things

  1. Pingback: [68] Cooking with Gas | Remembrance of Things Past

  2. Pingback: [82] ICHS – Part Five | Remembrance of Things Past

  3. Pingback: [83] The Times they are a-Changin | Remembrance of Things Past

  4. Pingback: [106] How Green was my Valley? | Remembrance of Things Past

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