Remembrance of Things Past

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

[89] Honour Thy father and Thy Mother

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After [69] Elizabeth Martha about my grandmother, I was going to do one about Mum and one about Dad. But I have decided to do a combined one. I think they would both appreciate that.

With Nan, I ended up to some extent describing the typical old person of the time. Inevitably much of what I can say about Mum is as a typical housewife, and in many ways Dad was also typical of the time. Those who don’t know me can see it as a general description of a working man and a housewife in the fifties and sixties – but I will also cover their earlier and later lives as far as I can. It’s going to be a bit rambling.

Early Days

I think people used to say very little about themselves to their children so I know very little about either Mum or Dad before I grew up, almost nothing about Dad.

You have read how Nan had just one child, my mother. I am not giving full names, in order to remain fairly anonymous, but my Mother’s initials before she married were E. E. E. It was always said that Nan had chosen names so that she would have a life of ‘ease.’ I don’t think this policy worked. (Nan was always very superstitious about many things.)

You will have to bear with me as I call these two people by the only names we ever used – at least until Dad got much older. When Dad and Mum talked to each other or about each other they were always ‘Dad’ or ‘Mum.’ To us these were their names. We did know their real names but they were never used. (This is one reason why my children always call me Alan, not Dad. See [48] Nicknames)

Mum was brought up as an only child. She was about eight when her father died. Almost all I know of her early life came from an essay she wrote at school. I think it was two sheets of paper and she kept it pressed in a book. I read it several times. It was about the restorative effects of a cup of tea! It was based on two of her early memories. One of these was being told at school that her father had died – she was taken to the Headmistress’s office and was offered a cup of tea. The other was finding out that she had passed the scholarship exam which took her to a secondary school (long before the Grammar Schools of my day.) She was the first ever from her school to achieve this success. Another cup of tea.

Dad came from a family of seven children. One died in the flu epidemic of 1918, described by Wikipedia as one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. I remember just once seeing his mother and several relatives, when very young. It was a gathering at our house that I learned much later was a farewell to one of his brothers, who was just about to emigrate to Canada.

Apart from the people they grew up to be later, that’s all I know about my parents before the War.

The War (The Thirties and Forties)

I have done some research on our family tree. Both of my parents came from working class families from the densely populated areas of Mile End, Bethnal Green and Stepney (East London) and that’s the general area where they lived. Dad went to school at Raine’s Foundation in Bethnal Green.

I can add just a little from odd comments I have picked up about their early life – not amounting to much.

A_battery_(Eveready_-742)

At one stage Mum worked for Ever Ready Batteries, presumably before they married. This may mean that she worked in a factory but I don’t know and I’m not sure if it’s where they met.

They married in 1937 in Stepney. I do know that under the feminist rules that existed then, she would automatically lose her job on marriage. So they chose to hide it from her colleagues and friends at work.

I think they continued to live in the East London area but I’m not sure. I do know that in the War, Mum worked for the London Fire Service. I presume that this was as a volunteer when bombs fell in the War.

My early memories of Dad were that he worked in some way in the process of buying vegetables, maybe from the central market in London. I have to assume that he had always worked in this area. I don’t know his actual job but in the War he was in a protected job and was not called up for National Service. He would have been 27 when the War started.

My elder brother, their first child, was born in 1942. After that, somehow they realized that although Dad had not been called up he could nevertheless volunteer. So he did.

Dad_RAF

He served in the Far East and the only place he ever mentioned was Burma (now Myanmar.) I think he was what GCHQ would have called a Radio Operator – intercepting Morse code. He mentioned once that Burmese had extra letters in Morse but had forgotten them after the War. I remember once seeing pictures of him but I don’t know what happened to them. There was one with him and another airman holding a flying fox between them.

I was born shortly after the end of the War in the population explosion of the Bulge.

My Early Memories (The Fifties and Sixties)

Dad was a typical working man of the time, whose wife stayed home and looked after the house and family. When I was very young I think he worked in London, presumably travelling in the Underground trains. He came home after our tea time, always carry an Evening Standard and Evening News.

He did nothing to help with the housework. Men didn’t do such things then. When he arrived home he would sit at the table and Mum would bring his evening meal, which had been kept warm in the oven.

In the evening he would read the papers and watch television. Our bookcase contained some interesting introductory books about astronomy and nuclear physics and other reference books – but I never saw my father read a book.

From my earliest memories, he used to polish his black leather shoes every evening. He wore a white shirt that lasted a week, with removable starched collars. Every week a box of dirty collars went to Collars Ltd and a box of clean ones came back.

Players

He smoked almost constantly, Players Navy Cut, and would position himself often so that smoke went up the chimney with the coal fire. He knew it was bad for him and warned us against him. Often he said that every cigarette was a ‘nail in his coffin.’ (I’m not sure when he gave it up. I think I was about ten or twelve. As far as we noticed, he just stopped.)

From the time we moved to our second house, when I was about nine, he clearly saw it as his side of things to look after the house and garden. He spent much of his time, including weekends, decorating inside or gardening outside.

As well as wallpapering and decorating the rooms, he covered all the doors in hardwood and painted them to make flushed doors and enclosed the bannister in the same way. I remember being send to the hardware shop for hardboard. It was 7p per square foot if bought as a whole board (I think two by four feet) or 8p per square foot if cut to order.

What he did in the garden was perhaps more impressive. He put down a rectangular path made of cement panels in two colours. He had to make a framework of wood and mixed and prepared all the cement. (There was no cement mixer, just a bucket to measure the water and a spade to mix cement, sand and water.)

Then he put down a lawn using individual grass plants – not turf or seeds! It was a hot summer with a hosepipe ban in force and I can remember Mum taking a washing up bowl of water backwards and forwards to stop the grass dying from the heat.

LiquoriceAllsorts2003

Apart from his cigarettes I can’t remember him having any other luxuries. His preferred confectionery was Bassett’s Liquorice Allsorts, but I often thought he would give them as a suggestion for birthday presents rather than saying nothing.

 

Mum was a typical housewife and did the things that housewives had to do – shopping, cleaning, cooking, laundry, child care and management.

Much has been covered or is yet to come in other posts.

happy-birthday-cakes-with-name-2

As well as our day-to-day food, she made marmalade and baked cakes. For Christmas and birthdays she would cover cakes with marzipan, plain white icing and decorations include hand-written greetings. We had birthday candles on the cakes.

I have written about Mrs Dale (a very early predecessor of Eastenders!) and Mum’s tea breaks. She would stop for elevenses and a cup of Ty-Phoo. The dining room sideboard was nearly full of tea she bought an extra packet each week, presumably remembering the rationing of the War.

She had two other luxuries. A copy of Woman magazine every week was read from cover to cover – you can read a little about this in Blog [60], which is about my early life.

cadburys

And I have to repeat from a very recent picture blog, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate, a very occasional luxury, broken into squares and shared with the children.

Money

This is probably a generalization of the time but for most of her married life, Mum didn’t really have any money. It was largely a cash society and she certainly didn’t have a bank account. Dad would give her money each week for housekeeping to feed and clothe the children. Technically she had no money for her own use – for clothes or even make-up. (I suspect she didn’t wear much make-up.) It was all included in the one allowance. She used to take Dad with her to the shops to pick new dresses – as birthday or Christmas presents.

This sounds harsh but it was the way things were. I’m sure in their later life, when they were better off, things may have changed.

MumDad_cropped

More about Mum and Dad

As I found when trying to remember Christmas, when you remember something repetitive from the past it’s hard to be precise as to when it happened. Some of the following random thoughts were definitely from the fifties or sixties, but some I’m not so sure about.

In the early days with so many children, Dad would shave downstairs in the kitchen with an old-fashioned razor blade and shaving soap. His large shaving mirror was always on the window sill.

Certainly from the fifties whenever Dad left for work, the last things he did before leaving were always the same. He would find Mum, ask her: “Anything else?” and give her a kiss. I think this always continued and I think there was another kiss on coming home (but somehow memory here is not quite so clear.) It was not a romantic kiss, it was a peck. It was the only sign of affection I ever saw between them.

I never doubted the love between them but it led me to believe that romance was not something to take place in public. Those who know me well will know that I don’t like watching people kiss properly in films or television – it feels like an invasion of privacy – I don’t do it.

You have heard me talk of Dad as being something in the greengrocery trade, probably in fairly central London. At some stage he left this job. (I think I was maybe about twelve.) He set up as a private business selling stainless steel cutlery – using his contacts in London Hotels. It was about the time that stainless steel was becoming fashionable and reasonably cheap. That lasted a couple of years and then he became a sales representative, supplying frozen foods to the catering trade.

That had two affects. Dad spent most of his work time travelling and so the household now had a car. And we may have had access to frozen foods before other people. We would always get to try new products so that Dad could give an honest opinion.

They were a couple who kept together with almost no individual hobbies. Mum had the Mothers Union, which we will come to in the next St Andrew’s blog, and Dad had the Freemasons. (When Dad had a Lodge meeting he would be late home, too late for a cooked meal so he had a plate of ham sandwiches prepared by Mum earlier.)

We were never well off, perhaps because there were so many children in the family. When ICHS announced in assembly a trip or school skiing holiday, we soon learned not to ask at home. The money required would not be available.

The only element of luxury in their lives came from the Freemasons. They had an annual Ladies Night dinner and dance with very formal black tie and long dresses. Mum even had a fur coat for this winter event (long before fur was seen in quite the way it is now.) I went with them to one or two such nights when we were older.

Some of their lives was regular routine. Mum used to have a weekly rota when laundry would take most of a day (twice a week with so many young children.) So clothes washing, ironing, house cleaning each took a regular daily slot.

Every day ended with some relaxation. It didn’t end with the last meal. There was dishwashing and clearing up. Eight o’clock on the dot was coffee time. For the sixties one of the children would do it for them. It was Nescafe instant coffee made entirely with warm milk, heated carefully on the gas stove. (You had to stop just as or before it started to boil over.) I can’t imagine drinking coffee like that now but we did then.

I have memories of them doing the crossword from the paper every evening. This is a memory so firmly attached to later life that I am not sure how or when it started. Both were good at cryptic clues, especially Dad, and they also did very well with General Knowledge. There was of course no Internet to help them.

Baths were scheduled carefully when all we had was an immersion heater. Dad had one every Saturday evening – a habit that continued until he died (well into his nineties.)

There are one or two memories – like Sunday Tea – that merit special attention and will come later.

I know this has been a bit rambling. With a few odds and ends to come I have to mention something Mum said when aged about seventy. For some reason Dad was staying away overnight at a hotel. Mum said she was apprehensive because she had never slept in a room on her own! (As a child she slept with her widowed mother, then she married. When Dad went to the War she had her first child, my older brother, with her.)

School Reports

The other thing I think we all remember about our early years is the reception of School Reports. With the best will in the World Dad knew how difficult life could be and wanted us all to do well – and he felt that good performance at school was very important. He wanted us to have good reports.

We would all have them on the same day, the last day of term and give them to him with some trepidation. He almost ignored the examination results and looked at ‘Conduct’ – and was not happy with ‘Fair.’ He wanted ‘Good’ or ‘Very good.’ (Reports rarely had more than just one word here.)

One bad report out of six sometimes seemed to put him in a bad mood.

But these were the only times he was ever anyway near angry. He was generally even-tempered and never used anything remotely like bad language.

HorseRacing

Horse racing

When we were young Dad did the Football Pools but his real hobby was following and betting on horse racing. He had an account which enabled him to bet by telephone and he would follow the racing every Saturday afternoon on television. Between races he would go upstairs to phone in his bets. Apart from the story of our house deposit he never mentioned it but I would presume two things. Firstly, he would not waste money. I think he allowed himself a small amount and kept to it – maybe 2s 6d for each race. (That’s 12.5p) And secondly, he was very intelligent and studied form. I suspect he came out not far from being in profit. Perhaps he had several success stories!

Finally

They were, of course, the best parents anyone could ever want and I miss them both. Both worked hard for most of their lives and were devoted to looking after each other and their six children in times that were sometimes difficult. They tried to be scrupulously fair to us without having favourites.

So much of what I remember is typical of men and women of the time. I knew very little of Dad’s mum but they used to visit her every month and give her money. That was people did then – look after aging parents.

When Dad reached the age of 65 he retired and they moved away from London. Their roles changed with the times and Dad gradually mellowed and took on more housework. He was the focal point of a large family of children and grandchildren who would sometimes gather together.

It only became obvious after Mum died how much Dad had loved her and depended on her company.

I miss them both. In these blogs I have talked of three older people who were very important in my early life – Nan, Mum and Dad. I have to mention one other, just as fondly remembered, who came into my life in the sixties – but I will say no more about Ella.

 

For those who haven’t recognized it the title comes from the Ten Commandments – from the King James Bible:

Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

 

 

Author: Alan

Retired, currently living in Cheltenham.

10 thoughts on “[89] Honour Thy father and Thy Mother

  1. I found this an excellent post, well-written and deeply personal.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can relate to the roles of mum and dad so well. I must say my curiosity is aroused about “Ella”. I understand it is personal but the fact that you mention her is intriguing. Perhaps she is mentioned elsewhere. Joy

    Like

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