For this post I am going to go through some of my memories that don’t fit into major topics and just for a change I will do things in non-alphabetical order! In the interests of getting things completed eventually, I will include some condensed versions of what might have been several full blog posts.
When I walk around in town, as I often do now, the pavements are at best dark grey asphalt (or asphalt concrete) surfaces that look just like the road surfaces. [US readers will use the word ‘pavement’ where I say ‘road surface’, and ‘sidewalk’ when I say ‘pavement.’] Often they are much more of an uneven mess with repairs and patching to cover such things as the installation of fibre optic cables underneath.
I remember pavements of large flagstones just about everywhere – and most of the stones were not broken. I generally carefully avoided stepping on the cracks between them. You still get them sometimes but often in irregular formations with cracks. For the picture above I managed to find a small section that is relatively good.
You have to read this as a negative. I remember proper taps [US: faucets] with all sinks, baths and washbasins – one for hot water and one for cold. (Proper screw taps.) They were much easier to control than the mixer taps we have now.
Health and Safety
Fifty years ago we generally assumed that people had common sense and were responsible for looking after themselves. So we didn’t put warning notices everywhere.
Cars didn’t have seat belts or air bags.
Cyclists didn’t wear helmets.
People had fireworks in their back gardens.
Houses didn’t have smoke alarms. But we did have open fires and generally people smoked cigarettes in homes (and shops and everywhere else.)
Rivers and tiny ponds were not surrounded by life buoys and signs warning ‘Deep Water.’
We went out and did things – sometimes taking innocent children – without having written a full Risk Analysis of what might go wrong.
We went on holiday – without holiday insurance!
We could agree to do something without ticking a box to say we accepted thousands of pages of unseen terms and conditions.
If something did go wrong we accepted it. We didn’t rush to sue someone for damages. (If it was a hospital we had no way of finding out who was responsible anyway.)
There were no certificates on display about food hygiene. Bread and cakes, fruit and vegetables, meat – almost all food – was handled by those who sold it without any obvious precautions.
Newspapers were delivered by paper boys (and girls) aged about 14 before they went to school – about seven or eight o’clock. A regular paper round earning perhaps 12 to 16s a week was often their first employment and first source of income. (That’s about 60 to 80p.)
Signs and instructions used to be in English, not symbols that take a bit of working out. The dials on a radio were marked ‘volume’ and ‘tuning’ and you tuned to ‘Home Service’ or ‘Light Programme.’ Rings on a gas hob were controlled by dials marked ‘front right’ etc. On/off switches were marked ‘On/Off’ not ‘0/1’. Hot and cold taps were marked ‘HOT’ and ‘COLD’ not just coloured red and blue.
Fortunately we didn’t have furniture backed in boxes with self-assembly instructions. But anything with instructions used words not diagrams. And we didn’t have to search through a large book that had instructions in 25 different languages.
We wore shoes until they had holes in them and then took them for new soles or new heels.
The same was true of all early electrical equipment. You could have things repaired. For a television or radio you could go to an electrical shop. I remember our old wireless set (radio) which was heavy and nearly a metre long but just portable. It didn’t work for nearly a year and we decided to take it to the Radio shop for repairs. As we lifted it into the car boot the plug fell off! So it never actually made it to the repair shop! (In those days you fitted your own electrical plugs.)
There were also several times – probably more in the seventies and eighties – when we had an engineer come to look at our washing machine. He would take it apart and replace what needed replacing to fix it.
Now if an iron or a microwave oven or even a washing machine breaks down just about the only option is to buy a new one.
With some things like mobile phones you virtually have to replace it when the rechargeable battery fails.
Suburban houses were semi-detached and had gardens – small front gardens and large back gardens – and gardens were based on lawns. [We call them gardens. In the US they are ‘yards.’] I have told you something about our back garden, lovingly designed and created by Dad. There was a cement path surrounded by flower beds and a lawn in the middle. In the corners were three trees – a pear tree, an apple tree and a cherry tree – but the cherry tree soon came down. It was the nearest to the house and its roots were undermining the house.
The garden always had Snapdragons (Antirrhinum.) If you squeeze the flowers gently they open out like the heads of dragons. But we always called them ‘bunny rabbits.’ Perhaps when we were young dragons would have been too scary. There were also always carnations and every year we had pansies and petunias as annual plants.
The back garden was a play area. We used to play ball games on the lawn. The front garden was an area for flowers.
Now large back gardens are unwanted. People with large houses sell off the land of their back gardens to build three or more houses. And front gardens are paved to make car spaces. (There were not many cars then and it was not sensible to leave them outside in all weathers. They went in the garage.)
I was going to write a lot about tea and coffee but most of it would have been about modern developments. In the sixties people drank much more tea and very little coffee. On the other hand the way we made tea was different so I am going to have to explain it.
There is an old saying that ‘a watched pot never boils,’ or sometimes ‘a watched kettle never boils.’ You had to stay in the kitchen for maybe five minutes and wait until you could see the steam emerging – or keep nipping in and out. (Of course modern open-plan houses would make things easier.) Somewhere around 1960 we first saw the revolutionary whistling kettle.
The picture above is a modern version but the idea is similar. We had a removable metal top that went over the spout and when the steam was fast enough it made a whistling noise that could be heard from another room. There was a gradual crescendo as the steam pressure rose. So we knew when to go back to the kitchen.
Tea was brewed properly, made in a teapot with tea leaves, not tea-bags, and drunk throughout the day. One of the first things we learned as children was how to make tea properly. Warm the pot first. One spoonful of tea leaves person and ‘one for the pot,’ and the water had to be boiling. Leave it to brew for five minutes before serving through a tea-strainer.
We always put the milk in before the tea but I think there were regional differences! We certainly always had cups and saucers and did not drink from mugs.
After the first cup, you filled the pot up with more hot water and left it with its tea cosy ready for the second cup.
(Knitting was common and we did actually knit tea cosies.)
Tea was Typhoo or PG Tips. It was proper Indian tea. We had never heard of Chinese tea or green tea or fruit teas or peppermint or camomile leaves as drinks.
While everyone drank tea all day, coffee was a drink for special occasions such as at the end of formal dinners in restaurants. Sometimes some people made it at home. It would be made by a slow complicated process using ground coffee beans and a percolator. (See above, a modern version of a percolator. You fill the percolator with water and the metal container with ground beans, then put the bits inside and it went on a gas hob. The water boiled and the steam picked up coffee as it circulated – visibly bubbling against the glass top.)
It would be a long time before other devices, like filters and cafetiėres, would appear and even later we had Lavazzo, Tassimo and modern devices producing Italian style coffee.
[No, we didn’t have anything electrical for coffee making.]
There used to be a sort of instant coffee called Camp Coffee based on a bottled thick brown liquid to which hot water was added. We had some in the larder but I’m not sure it was ever used. I think it tasted pretty awful.
Powdered instant coffee came in the Sixties and it didn’t taste much like coffee. We used to make it with hot milk. It was fairly soon improved to the granular form – still not really testing like coffee. It would be some more time before dried powdered milk was available for coffee.
Cafés and Coffee Shops
These were much rarer than today but cafés more or less just sold tea and cakes. I think for us tea came from a café in a department shop such as British Home Stores. Cakes meant Chelsea buns, Eccles cakes, jam doughnuts and teacakes – with scones as part of a cream tea. Tea was two pence (or about 1p in decimal money) and it came as a pot of tea – teapot of tea, separate pot of boiling water for a top-up and a cup and saucer. Coffee was four pence but I never heard of anyone having one in a café. We drank tea.
A town which now has hundreds of street cafes and coffee shops might have had two or three in the fifties. The trend from tea to coffee was gradual but nearly complete by the late seventies. More recent still have been the trends to French style cafes (with familiarization with foreign travel); to cafes which also sell alcohol (with relaxed licensing laws) and to Italian style coffee shops such as Starbucks and Costa.
There have always been cafeterias serving cheap self-service meals. These arose after the war either attached to Department Stores or in the Joe Lyons chain. I don’t remember any others.
I can only find early or late pictures of Joe Lyons. This is from the Thirties.
I am about halfway through what I expected to cover in this post. So more to come …