Remembrance of Things Past

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


[82] ICHS – Part Five

I have done my school days in roughly chronological order, so I am left with the Sixth Form at Ilford County High School. But because it’s been a bit rambling, there will be lots of other leftover bits as well!


You will, of course, have read Parts One, Two, Three and Four already.

I have described the school and its location but have only recently found this picture. It shows the school frontage, which is largely unchanged today and the local church that we sometimes used – for inoculations, medical visits and GCE O Level oral examinations.

But also shows this large rough field to the front. You will remember, from Blog [36] that fireworks on the Fifth of November used to be much more common. This feature would have a rough bonfire and some of the boys might gather with bangers. Organized Fireworks night events were unusual – they were just informal gatherings.

Sixth Form

It was assumed at Ilford County High School (ICHS) that all students would move on to the Sixth Form to study selected subjects at A Level and there were very few exceptions to this rule. There was just one boy in our class who left after O Levels.

GCE A Levels were the only option for us. (AS levels did exist but I never heard of anyone taking them. The other qualifications below degree level were OND, HND and HNC. There were Further Education Colleges doing things like these.) A few scholars who failed to achieve the necessary grades could re-sit and catch up later with A Levels. The general standard – for continuation into Sixth form, or for many jobs elsewhere – was five subjects at O Level, including English Language and Mathematics.

As for O levels there was no element of coursework in our studies.


I will do things the other way round and start with the options available to us, the classic subjects which were more or less the only subjects generally available at University, so they were the main subjects available at school.

There were the sciences: Physics, Chemistry, Botany and Zoology; Pure Mathematics and Applied Mathematics; Languages: English (which at A Level meant Literature,) French, German, Spanish, Latin and Ancient Greek; and the arts and humanities: Art, Geography and History.

[I may be wrong about Botany and Zoology. It may have been just Biology. I am not sure how a few had managed to get to O Level Greek. Music, PE or RI may have been available but were rarely chosen.]

For the Sixth Form we picked three subjects. Probably not every possible combination was available. Those doing Mathematics generally did four, like me, usually Pure Mathematics, Applied Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry.

ICHS Today

AS Levels have come into use as the first half of A level courses and the School now starts the Sixth form with four AS subjects selected from quite a long list. Their web site suggests that any combination of four subjects is acceptable. These are usually cut to three in the final year for A Level study.

Sciences are Physics, Chemistry and Biology with the addition of Psychology and Computer Studies. (In the fifties and sixties, Computer Studies did not exist and Psychology started at University level.)

Mathematics and Further Mathematics are both available (replacing what to us were Pure Mathematics and Applied Mathematics.)

Languages are English Literature, French, German and Spanish. Classical Civilisation is available, replacing the Latin and Greek of our days, which sadly seem to have disappeared as school subjects. (There is also English Language and Literature.)

Art, History and Geography effectively complete all the options available in our day. (Music, PE and RI are still there, probably still very much minority choices.)

With more stress now on real life and business, they have the three additional options of Economics, Government and Politics, and Design Technology (Product Design).

I must add this section with the following, taken from the School web site: “The Sixth Form at Ilford County High School is one of the most successful in the UK and in 2012 the Department for Education cited it as the most successful state school in England for progression to university.”

I think it was pretty good back in the sixties!

Sixth Form Studies

Then, as now, the Sixth Form was different. We were taught in much smaller groups in a way that was slightly more relaxed and informal. (I suspect that all teaching is much more informal nowadays!) We had free periods when in theory we did private study and the Library was allocated for this use. I am not sure to what extent we were allowed to leave the school in free periods but we certainly did sometimes. We used loose-leaf files instead of exercise books.

There were some other things in the timetable. There was a new thing called ‘Use of English,’ for one period a week with an examination at the end of the Lower Sixth. It was designed, I think, to side-track English O Level for non-native speakers of English – it may have included an oral exam.

There was also something called General Studies, which covered some odds and ends of real life to avoid a blinkered sphere of study. (Don’t ask me what was included. Perhaps politics, economics, British Constitution, current affairs.) The School now includes an AS subject called Critical Thinking which develops analytical and writing skills it develops. This looks like the successor to General Studies.

It was at the height of the importance of Russia and the USSR and we had a teacher who I think came back from a year learning the Russian language. When I started in the Lower Sixth, there was an optional O Level Russian course available.

[It clashed with something so I couldn’t do it. I bought the standard text book, which in those days was effectively produced by a department of the USSR government, and could only be ordered by post from Moscow. I taught myself while at school and University and took the O Level a few years later.]


Back to subjects – I have left until last those I did at A Level and next on my list is Mathematics, always known as Maths. (US: Math) I think I always knew that I would go on to study Maths at university. It was always my favourite subject but I can’t remember the particular Maths teachers. It was just Maths up to the Fourth Form, taking O Level Pure Mathematics early, then Additional Pure Mathematics and Applied Mathematics in the Fifth Form – and Pure and Applied for A Level. I think Mr Taylor, the deputy Head (known as Gat) taught some of the A Level Applied Mathematics.

I remember Mr Rigby as a Maths teacher but I am not sure if he actually taught us. He was near to retirement and, in a time when all teaching was done on a blackboard, he was allergic to chalk dust. He wore gloves when writing on the blackboards and would write everything for the day before lessons started.


I need to go back to the earlier years of Maths, when we did algebra and geometry and the geometry include various constructions with triangles and circles – things like bisecting angles and bisecting the sides of triangles. We all had geometry sets, often in a little tin like the picture above.


A geometry set always contained two set squares (US: triangles) of different proportions (90-45-45 and 90-60-30), a protractor for measuring angles up to 180, a pair of compasses for drawing circles (now sometimes just called a compass), and dividers (like compasses but with two points). It may also have included a six-inch ruler, coloured pencils and a pencil sharpener. The picture above is, of course, far too modern. Set squares, protractors and rulers were wooden, not plastic, buy otherwise modern equipment is similar.

Later we did trigonometry and learned to use logarithms. I think slide-rules were not used until the Sixth Form. (Calculators were just emerging but were not yet allowed for use in schools.)

We did trigonometry round about the Third Form and some calculus in the Fourth Form. I think our syllabus reflected changes so that the calculus was new.

For A level much of what I remember for Pure Mathematics was more calculus – including trigonometric expressions and natural logarithms. For Applied Mathematics we did uniform acceleration, statics and friction – basically mechanics. There was none of the statistics which has come in later to the syllabus.

I can’t comment much on how the teaching of Maths has changed except to say that by the early eighties (when I taught for a few years) it had changed little. In the eighties calculators had replaced logarithms and slide rules, probability and statistics were included, but the basics were similar using textbooks.


There was a very popular combination of Pure Maths, Applied Maths, Physics and Chemistry and those were the subjects I did. For Chemistry I am pretty sure that we had the same teacher through O Level and A Level but I can’t remember his name. For reasons that were not clear, we did O Level Chemistry half a year early, in January – presumably to allow more time for the A Level syllabus.

Chemistry was heavily based on practical experiments – something like two theory periods each week and two double periods of practical experiments. I definitely preferred practical lessons. There was a Junior Chemistry Laboratory (JCL) for O Level and Senior (SCL) for A Level. Chemistry theory seemed relatively boring – just a new element every week – reading about its sources, mining and extraction and uses etc., just reading learning by rote from textbooks.

Conical-Flask1 Flaming Bunsen Burner Against Black Background

Practicals, done in pairs, involved chemicals in conical flasks, burettes, pipettes, Bunsen burners and litmus paper. (Pictures above of conical flasks and a Bunsen are far too modern.) We always wore our own white lab coats for practical lessons. For Chemistry we also had to supply a small metal spatula at our own expense.


We had chemical balances that would weigh to 0.001 grammes.

The balance was in a box like the picture above. It was so accurate that it was sensitive to air movements.

Normally we knew what the result of the experiment would be, having done the theory. But for A Level we developed a complex flowchart of tests to identify a simple sample. The A Level included a three-hour practical exam – we were allowed to use our flowcharts.


I loved Physics and might have chosen it as a subject at University. We were taught by the senior Physics teacher, Mr Landau, always known as ‘Tonks.’ (He took the Jewish boys for separate assemblies and I am told that his nickname derives from his piano playing abilities.)

He was by far the best teacher at ICHS, on a level with the revered Mr Adlam from Highlands.

As for Chemistry, lessons were mainly practical. Tonks instilled in us the need for rigour in experimentation – often doing things in two or four directions and averaging results. We had to write up each experiment formally in a special exercise book. Unlike all others (small 80-page standard school exercise books) the Physics practical books were black, larger and semi-hard bound.

Every experiment had a description of the apparatus, with a diagram, and a clear Method with Results and Conclusions. Only when it reached his standards of excellence would he initial the page as a true representation of work done. His aim was that for those doing Physics at university, work approved by him would not have to be repeated. (If the work was imperfect he would put a note on a piece of paper slipped into the book – so that the final approved pages would be all in our own writing as our work.)

(Somehow I lost my Physics practical exercise book. I regretted this fifteen years later when I taught Physics briefly in a minor capacity.)

In describing the apparatus everything had to be included. For work with electricity this always included dccccw – double cotton-covered copper connecting wire. It was well before the time of plastic coated electric cabling.

Physics included electricity, heat, light, sound, and things like Hooke’s Law – for the expansion of a wire under stress.

Lab assistants

For Chemistry and Physics there was some work to be done in preparing for practical exams. Each year one boy from the Upper Sixth was selected to help the teachers for a few hours each week. They were paid real money for this. (About a pound a week?)


To complete my notes about ICHS there are a few more bits. As for most schools then, there were prefects with prefect’s badges and the power to give minor impositions (essays) to erring pupils. Among other things one prefect would ring the bell between lessons. (He had to go to the school Office to do this.)

They controlled the boys in school dinners and made sure that only those with notes from parents could leave the school grounds at lunch time.

Up until our year more than half of the Upper Sixth would become Prefects. With the much larger numbers in our post-war bulge a tier of sub-Prefects was instituted. I didn’t make Prefect but was a sub-Prefect. [If you haven’t read about the War or our bulge year, don’t blame me. It’s there if you look.]

School Life

I can’t add much to what I have said already to represent what happened in the Sixth Form. After about the first year I always walked to and from school – about two miles each way – and I gave up school dinners.

In the Sixth Form we didn’t have the 32-strong forms but were in smaller groups, and I mostly associated with those doing Maths and sciences. Sometimes a few of us went to the Curry Emporium at Gant’s Hill. It had just opened and was for many people their first taste of Indian cuisine. A prawn biriyani cost, I think, 8s 6d. (That’s 42.5p) I liked it with chappattis.

You can read about my initiation into alcohol with a few school friends.

I spent too much of my spare time in the Upper Sixth form playing Three Card Brag, something like Poker but with just three cards. Stakes were very small staring at a penny. (That’s an old penny, less than half a modern penny.) I wasn’t particularly good at it.


Finally this is me, a bit earlier than the Sixth Form.




[70] ICHS – Part Three

In a fairly random pattern I will continue where [62] ICHS for Boys Part One and [66] ICHS – Part Two left off, looking next at some more subjects and their teachers from the first three years.


As a core subject we had English for one period a day from the First Form to the Fifth Form. In the first year our teacher, Mr Lowe, was known as ‘Selwyn.’ Don’t worry, I’m not going to do every teacher of every subject for every year! I can’t even remember most of them.

Selwyn was in his last year of teaching. He seemed pretty old to us and was a bit absent-minded. He lived in Fremantle Road just a few yards away from the school and it seemed as he had always been there.

English lessons were supposed to come in five categories and unfortunately I can’t remember exactly what they were. They could have been Grammar, Poetry, Drama, Essays and Comprehension but there were also plays and books.

What I do remember is that at the beginning of each term he would tell us which days were which – maybe Monday Poetry, Tuesday Grammar … He asked us to remind him and every day he would ask. Needless to say the boys said every day what they wanted so the mixture was not what it should have been. We didn’t have essays as often as we should have done!

In those days everyone at school took English seriously. We studied grammar and were always expected to use proper English with perfect grammar and spelling. In exams, this applied to all subjects.

I will come back to English Literature around the Fifth Form, for reasons which will become obvious then.


It was always assumed that all the staff at a Boys’ School should be men. As for so many things, perhaps we just assumed it without any evidence.

There were two exceptions. The school secretary, with her own office opposite the Headmaster’s office, was Miss Glasberg. Typing and secretarial work were so much jobs for women that it would have been very unusual for a man to do this. (See [20] Sex Discrimination.)

The other exception was Miss Scott, a French lady who taught us the language in the First Year. Again with no evidence to go on, she was presumed to have been employed in exceptional circumstances in the post-war situation. We had no idea what these circumstances might have been.

Having done a little training as a teacher I now see how our teaching was influenced by the education of the teachers. I think Miss Scott had done a course at University on pronunciation!

We spent the whole of the first term learning how to speak French properly while learning virtually nothing of its vocabulary or grammar. We went through its sixteen numbered vowel sounds in order, picking up just a few French words as examples. We learned some of the vagaries of French spelling, with its accents and cedillas, much easier that English spelling. We must have been taught thoroughly because I can still remember much of it. (It did take a whole term just for pronunciation.)

The first four vowels, numbers one, two, three and four, were approximately as the English vowels in ‘meet’, ‘mate’, ‘met’ and ‘mart.’ Number five is a longer sound, a bit like number four, as in ‘marsh’, then six, seven and eight are heard in ‘mott’, ‘moat’ and ‘moot’ (Not as in ‘mute.’)

The second half were a bit more difficult, starting with number nine, best seen as the German ü. It’s a mixture of numbers seven and eight. Ten and eleven were similar to each other (but different!), both a bit like the first vowel in ‘murder.’ Somehow French ‘eggs’ and ‘ears’ managed to use both sounds. (In the singular ‘un œuf’ and ‘un œil.’ In the plural the vowel sounds changed for ‘des œufs’ and ‘les yeux.’ Don’t ask me which were ten or eleven!)

Twelve is the unaccented vowel of the word ‘the,’ known as a schwa. (I only learned that in studying Russian. We think of it as unaccented and insignificant but it gets accented in Chinese, even carrying different tones.) That just leave thirteen to sixteen, the four nasal vowels sounds.

I remember nothing else of Miss Scott. Perhaps she only taught us for one term, or perhaps we had a whole year of pronunciation. I can say little of her successor, Mr Loeser except that he was Czechoslovakian, with an accent, possibly another refugee from the War. He may have spoken good French but his English was sometimes hard to understand.

He was followed by Mr Stenner, who was strict and taught boringly and rigidly by the book. We worked through the text book by chapters. First we had time to look at the book and learn the new vocabulary listed at the start of each chapter. Then there was new grammar – things like verb tenses.

Then we went round the class one by one in alphabetical order. (For many classes in the early years we sat in alphabetical order as directed by the teacher.) We read the set text of the book, sentence by sentence, getting the pronunciation perfect, and we translated it into English – going over it again until he thought we had the best English equivalent. Sometimes it seemed that it was not so much the literal translation of the words but getting perfect idiomatic literary forms of English.

Mr Stenner will get another mention later.

I don’t think I have mentioned homework yet. We didn’t have it at Junior School but it started at ICHS – carried home in those leather satchels – two or three subjects every night – or each subject once or twice a week. You have to know about it for the next topic.

General Science

We had General Science for the first two years before splitting into Physics and Chemistry with Mr Bown. (He was known as ‘Pinhead,’ perhaps because he had a small, bald head.) He was not popular. He was strict and bad-tempered, sometimes threatening violence in a believable way. We were frightened of him. He may never have actually stuck any of the boys but we thought he might.

He was one of the worst teachers and was notorious for not marking homework. Homework was always collected when due but would be unmarked when returned to us. Every few weeks he would try to catch up, rushing through an attempt at marking the work he had missed. Partially marked books would be returned and he would be in a bad mood – always blaming the problems on us!

I remember in particular what could have been the best lesson we ever had, demonstrating the effects of water on sodium, potassium and other metals. He had tried to mark a few week’s work, gave us back our books and punished the whole class for poor work by saying that we would not have the demonstration. We had to spend the lesson in silence, copying up what we would have seen if he had been bothered to do it for us. (Maybe he didn’t like this demonstration and did the same every year!)

I don’t think anybody liked him and it was a relief to end General Science.


I cannot remember the name of our Latin teacher, perhaps because we never used it. We had the same teacher up to the fifth form. I am told that it was a Mr Morrow, which is vaguely familiar. He was known as ‘Solly.’ (I don’t know why.) We liked him because he spent much of the time talking about things that had nothing to do with school, sometimes about sailing. In those days Latin was a standard part of our education. We learned all the declensions of nouns and conjugations of all the tenses of the verbs, which helped both in understanding grammar in English and French and in the meanings of English words with Latin roots.

He wasn’t very strict and we didn’t behave perfectly in his lessons – but we were never really disruptive.

I remember our first year Latin exam. Exams were in our form room and as we were ready he delivered the papers to the invigilating Mr Jermy. He announced to the class that he had put in a word by mistake that we hadn’t covered yet in lessons. The word SAXUM meant rock, which he wrote on the board. It’s strange what useless things we remember in later life!

We had to study one book of the Gallic Wars by Caesar and went through it chapter by chapter. I think by the time we did ‘O’ Levels we could do many of the chapters from memory without needing the Latin!

Gym and PE

We called it PE (Physical Education) but it was nearly always in the school gymnasium with its wooden floor and all the standard gym equipment. There were wooden ladders at the side which we could climb; ropes hanging downwards; a long wooden vaulting horse; benches, mats and medicine balls.

We weren’t taught much about actual gymnastics. Often it was more like circuit training. Sometimes there was a game called ‘Pirates,’ a sort of tag version of tag, which involved staying off the ground.

I think I was vaguely interested in Gymnastics. Once I went to Gym Club, which did give the opportunity for a little bit of individual tuition. But it was about five o’clock, after waiting around at school, and just wasn’t convenient (or perhaps I wasn’t that keen.) I only went once.

For PE we just wore shorts, vests and the standard black plimsolls that were still the only gym shoes available


Games were outdoor activities (in all weather), for a double lesson each week. The teacher had two classes of 32 together so there was not much in the way of individual tuition. I can’t remember the names of any Games teachers but we didn’t have Ron Pickering. He taught at Wanstead, another Grammar School in Ilford.

Through the winter, games meant Football. We played three separate matches, a first team, second team and third team. I presume that the teacher selected the teams somehow and he looked after and refereed the first team match. Second and third teams looked after themselves. I was third team material so I never had a word of education about football, apart from what I noted in [61] Match of the Day.

I’m not sure why but football wasn’t always on the school field at the back of the school. Sometimes we went somewhere else.

Just once, when the weather was really bad we were told about offside. Perhaps it’s not surprising that I grew up without a love of football. (For football we had to buy football boots and socks.)

In the summer the sport changed to Cricket. The arrangement into teams was as for Football (and again I was third team material) so I was never told anything about the rules of the game or how to play it. I have picked up a lot from watching it on television but it far too complicated. I think if the ball hits the body it should be LBW whatever else happens – much simpler!

You well be getting an idea already of my memories of how we were taught in games. I mustn’t forget Athletics. Once a year, for just one double lesson, in the summer out would come shot put, discus, javelin, hurdles, high jump and long jump and the teacher would do his best to tell some of something about each of them. Yes, without worries about Health and Safety, a few boys would be left throwing the javelin on the school field. I always felt that I might be good at long jump but there were no other opportunities for athletics.


It wouldn’t be the same without a bit of side-tracking and backtracking. This is about water.

My earliest memory is of being dropped in the bath. I think it was my father and I must have been about one. I also remember at a very young age, on holiday somewhere like Margate or Clacton, stepping from a very small seaside pier on to a small boat and falling between the two into the water. I grew up with a fear of water, especially a fear of putting my head under water. It’s not quite so bad now but it’s still with me.


At some time we moved to a sort of rota where a third of us went swimming every week. We had to catch a bus and walk to the swimming pool at Ilford. We took swimming trunks in a rolled-up towel.

Lessons started at the shallow end. All we had to do was glide from the middle to the side to gain the confidence for proper lessons at the deep end. I could never do this. Soon teaching concentrated on the able pupils and a small number of non-swimmers entertained ourselves at the shallow end. I never learned how to swim, never developed the confidence to glide to the side and kept my fear of water. I don’t think the teachers were interested or even aware of me or other non-swimmers.

There was a brand new swimming pool and a new gymnasium built somewhere around the time when I was in the Fifth Form or Lower Sixth. I still couldn’t swim. In the Sixth Form I remember standing at the shallow end while a classmate showed me how to do two lengths underwater!

[At about the age of fifty, I did gradually learn to swim a little. At first I could only swim along the side, now I can manage a length in some small pools.]

 I have made a few minor changes about names and nicknames, thanks to those whose memories are better than mine.

Sorry, it’s been a rambling blog with no pictures. Before you get the wrong idea, I want to make it plain that I loved almost everything about my years at school. I have always enjoyed learning new things. I loved Mathematics and Science and languages (because of the logical structure of their grammar.) I liked reading and writing and anything that didn’t involve too much physical activity. The only times when I didn’t enjoy lessons were when Mr Bown was not in a good mood.

More to come …


[63] Not so Grumpy

Now, for something completely different … I have done a lot of whingeing about the ‘Good Old Days’, when we were all honest and law-abiding and respected authority, life was simpler, and there were no mobile phones or double yellow lines.

So I want to put the balance right a little bit and make some positive comments about the modern world. There have been some good changes! I will try to find my top twenty good things about life today.

Firstly, let’s look at things in Categories.



In general my rose-coloured glasses lead me to believe that attitudes were better then. But I can pick out some good points.

(*) Equal treatment for women, especially equal pay, makes us fairer and more civilized now. I do have reservations about some over-zealous feminism because I believe that (as a sweeping generalization) men and women are different. See [20] Sex Discrimination

Next, I would say that (*) ending racial discrimination has been a good thing in the same way. Of course, it hasn’t ended but it’s a lot less than it used to be. Some discrimination remains. Some of it may be subconscious and unintentional but for some people it remains part of long-held beliefs.

The same is true of our (*) attitudes to animals. We show more consideration for animal welfare now but this is far from universal. There are still those who like hunting, shooting and fishing; still too many people who abandon or mistreat pets. See [47] Standards

I could go on at length about (*) changes in ‘Green’ issues – re-use and recycling, carbon balance, global warming and population control (and I probably will in a later blog post!) In the long term, I am a pit of a pessimist. I suspect that humanity is already on the way to causing another cataclysmic annihilation of plant and animal diversity but we are beginning to see the need to slow down the inevitable.


I have no interest in fashion and am not too bothered about what clothes look like. I select clothes for comfort. So I have picked out two things here about comfortable clothes.

The availability and acceptability of (*) casual shoes. We all used to wear hard-wearing leather shoes, not only for work. (There were even cobblers who repaired shoes, replacing soles and heels. It was cheaper than buying a new pair.) In the fifties, plain, cheap black plimsolls from China were available but would not have been seen in general use. Now we have all sorts of sneakers, sports shoes and running shoes widely available and worn in non-formal situations.

The next one was more relevant when I used to work. (*) Not wearing ties anymore is so much more comfortable. I had to wait until the late nineties for this trend. I wish it had happened earlier.


There is absolutely nothing good to report in this category. Everything about education was better then. (You have to allow me a few sweeping generalizations!)

Entertainment. See the subcategories: Holidays, Music, Sport and TV/Radio.

Food and Drink.

It’s hard to compare the way we eat and drink to life fifty years ago because it’s so different. The food was good, wholesome food, probably much better for us, but it took so much more time and effort to prepare meals. The differences today go with other differences in our way of life. Here are three more for my list.

(*) Microwave ovens and prepared microwave meals. I eat too many prepared meals but the microwave has other uses. It’s good for defrosting, especially for sliced bread (we didn’t have that) defrosted one or two slices at a time – as an alternative to throwing the slices into a toaster. It’s good for reheating leftover food, softening butter and reviving slightly stale bread. (Sprinkle a few drops of water on yesterday’s roll and give it ten seconds in the microwave.)

Proper (*) Americano coffee and coffee shops everywhere. Almost everywhere I go – from supermarkets to stately homes, nature reserves to cinemas – I stop for coffee and now it’s freshly brewed. (I could say something about cakes and biscuits here but I won’t.) After thirty or forty years of instant coffee I have now upgraded my preferences. I have also to mention my Tassimo machine. It’s now clean, simple, quick and easy to make my own coffee at home. It’s expensive but worth it. (Much cheaper than Motorway coffee!)

Also available almost everywhere we now have (*) pub food. This is a generalization and includes the availability of places to eat out, not just pubs but restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, pizza parlours, motorway services and takeaway chains. I don’t use them a lot but it’s nice not have to plan. I can remember forty years ago driving all day across England and spending much of the day looking for somewhere to stop. See [57] A Pint of Bitter


Well, as an alternative to a week at a boarding house by the seaside of Bournemouth or Clacton, just about anything is an improvement. (I still holiday every year in Bournemouth but I don’t take my bucket and spade!) I can summarize in two points.

(*) Holidays in general, package holidays, ease of booking on the Internet. We go on Bridge holidays where we spend two weeks playing cards every evening. They didn’t have those. (I did learn to play Bridge in about 1960.)

Easy, fast, relatively cheap (*) air flights. In the fifties, air flight was a luxury for businessmen and the rich.


I suppose I have to be honest. Homes are more comfortable. How about (*) central heating and (*) double glazing. And although I love coal fires (*) not having to empty and re-lay coal fires every day.


I have resisted the idea that all the credit we have is good and I am not even putting Internet banking on the list. But I can’t miss out one thing to do with money, (*) decimal money. Pounds, shilling and pence were nice, and I do miss the twelve-side threepenny bit, but calculations are so much easier with decimals. See [56] Spending a Penny


I like a lot of music but some of my favourites are five hundred years old. I like piano music and choral singing including Gregorian chants. When I consider my current listening habits there is only one thing I can include, (*) Classic FM. Most of their music fits my tastes but I could live without the adverts!


There are a lot of good things about modern shopping, closely related to other changes in almost everything. One stands out as significant enough for a mention, (*) shop opening hours. There may be slight problems early on a Sunday morning but basically, if I want to buy anything I can go out and buy it when I want it. Our local Tesco is open round the clock (except Sunday.)


Nothing significant here. I don’t play any sports and I don’t really watch sport on television.


I am not going to include mobile phones, I have one but I hardly ever use it (and that’s only for texts.) I won’t put in computers in general or the Internet but there are a few that are computer related!

(*) Car radios are something we take for granted. Technology for music and entertainment has often come first in cars cassette players, CDs, push-button radio pre-set tuning. Our radio is always on while we drive.

(*) Television picture quality. The large, smooth colour, flat screen makes our little fuzzy, black and white pictures of the fifties look very primitive. The raster lines were very evident and any picture needed continuous adjustments to the controls and aerial. See [27] Television

(*) Word processors. I couldn’t cope now with a typewriter. See [55] Typewriters

(*) Spreadsheets. I love lists, tables, charts and graphs. Spreadsheets do it all neatly, accurately and quickly. I even have a spreadsheet for this blog. It adds up the words from all the posts. (Current total 115000.)

(*) Digital Photography. It’s easier, quicker and cheaper than the old method. See [41] Photography

Easy, cheap (*) printing and photocopying (and scanning.) Computer printing is related to word processing and digital photography. Photocopying, even black and white, is very useful at times. If I have to send anything by post I can copy it and send either the original or the copy. I can even scan it in and send it by email. Every six months I produce a 32-page full colour illustrated A5 magazine. I can print a sample or send it by email for professional printing and binding.

Having worked for most of my life with computers, I am much more computer literate than many friends of my age (but I can’t keep up with my grandchildren!) I don’t want to generalize and include all ‘social media’ but I have used Twitter a lot and (*) Facebook is a regular daily activity, keeping me in touch with family members, sharing photographs. It is now a major aid to me in disseminating this blog.

I have to be honest again and include (*) computer games, which take up much far too much of my time. I won’t tell you my favourites but in the last twenty or more years they have included software on laptops, apps on tablets, and games on Wii and other consoles. (They go back to simple, text based adventure games on a Spectrum!)

Perhaps I could have included WordPress or blogging sites in general. I am not sure. My list is already getting long.


I didn’t drive until the seventies so I can’t say much about car controls. But, with many items on my list to do with comfort, the main change in transport is that cars are more comfortable. I have put car radios in Technology above so I will just add (*) air conditioning in cars here.

TV/ Radio

Nothing general in the programmes. I have included television picture quality in technology, Classic FM in Music, and Car Radios in Transport. I can’t include David Attenborough as he was around fifty years ago!


OK, I know, it came to more than twenty. It surprised me. Perhaps I am not so grumpy.

Now I’m going to put the first five in order and to maintain the suspense I will do them in reverse order. This is tough. I want to keep about eight and I keep changing my mind. But here goes …



((5)) Running Shoes. I have worn them for years (and even sometimes did some running in them.) Comfort in clothes it what matters to me.


((4)) Microwave ovens and microwave meals. Both are essential in my everyday cooking.


((3)) Word processors. I remember typewriters and could not have coped without the software alternative. Much of my working life relied heavily on word processing and I still use it now. I need it to write this blog.


((2)) Americano Coffee. Another frequent part of my life every day.


And the winner is …


((1)) Digital photography. When I retired I took up birdwatching and bird photography and bought a digital camera. I take about twenty thousand pictures every year. I delete some but label and categorize the best ones. Some are cropped and edited. With a camera of the sixties maybe I could have afforded to do 36 a week, with very bad colour representation. Here are a few of my pictures.

06CottageOutside Buzzard1_Cannop_23Aug11 Camel_2Mar15 Comma_Hengistbury_22Sep12 DSCN3386 Egyptian1_Thatcham_31May11 Fox1_Pittville_24Mar15 Gomera_P1650544 Grasses Muscovy3_Pittville_18Apr10 ORCHID Shrike1_Kantaoui_3Mar15 Squirrel1_HollandPark_15Feb15 Swallowtail_StFelixdeVilladeix_17May08 Tweet216 Wall0457

Back to more about the fifties and sixties next time.


[50] Half a Century

[50] Half a Century

After fifty posts, as a bit of a change, this one is more about blogging than about the fifties or sixties.


The Process of Blogging

It has been strangely easy, (in an addictive kind of way,) to generate up to 2000 words for a post every three or four days, but it’s not like writing anything else, and it has certainly not been how I imagined it would be. It is hard to describe what I do because I am generally working on several at once, in various stages of development!

One of the few conscious decisions about it that I have taken is to mix it all up, merging threads together and interleaving new ideas with old – so sets of linked blogs don’t come consecutively. Less than a third of posts come from my old notes, with most coming from new ideas. New topics just seem to come to mind easily, with each new topic idea often generating threads for several posts.

While I write this now, I have: five posts ready, loaded and scheduled for publication; two virtually finished; about three partially done; eight more partially written; and nearly twenty as outlines, heading lists or just titles. I flit backwards and forwards between all of these at once!

I never really know in which order I will complete the partially written ones. Some posts just take about an hour to whizz through all at once; some take weeks of reflection with a revisit every day or so.

As I work on blog posts, sometimes splitting larger posts into two or more, I generally look for background material, mostly coming from Wikipedia – confirming what I remember and filling in gaps.

Once a post is written, I don’t check everything meticulously. I try deliberately to keep them rough and ready in blog format. Before uploading, I check spelling and grammar; look at the spread of the pictures through the blog; check cross-references to earlier blogs; and make sure the word count is approximately OK. My target now is 1500 to 2000 words but I am happy to go up to 2500.


I do all the writing on a laptop and uploading is very easy. It would be a simple cut and paste without the pictures that I have to upload separately. I give them a date and time for publication and I could just leave them to WordPress to issue automatically. Generally I issue them a few hours before the planned time, to make it easier to publicize them within Facebook Groups.

I like to prepare things in advance so there are always at least two posts in-line for issue, generally a few more.

The hardest ones are those that get to about seven or eight hundred words, leaving me not sure what to do next – I can try to fill it out, or combine with another topic, or leave it for the time being! As the order is immaterial, it’s so easy to go to another one, sometimes changing the order. [40] ‘Dear Sir or Madam …’ was the hardest so far. It started as a third of a post, coming with [30] ‘Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore Art Thou Romeo?’ and something else now forgotten. Names soon became a whole post, but Formality was only about half a post. I kept putting it off. I did complete it but I don’t think it was one of my best. I struggle with anything to do with attitudes – but I believe that attitudes are the most significant change in our lives.

When they get to 1500 words, I sometimes get the other problem – should I keep going and it and split it? There may not be an obvious division. The Christmas one took some juggling. At various points, it was going to be two, then three, then four – so I had to have them all more or less done before the first one went out. Now I am less definite about word count. A few have gone out over 2000 words.

Some of the very easy ones have come out of nowhere. I loved doing [31] The Ngorongoro Crater in the Serengeti as they were all fond memories, and the same is true of the three music ones. Post number [39] Just What I Choose it to Mean was another easy, enjoyable one.

There is always a tendency to like the most recent one. At the time of writing, that’s the one about Robertson’s Gollies. I had put that one off, partly because it only looked like half a blog. Then Black and White Minstrels came into my list of old TV programmes and I could see how to put together a whole post. Cigarette cards and tea cards had always had an obvious link with the Marmalade brooches.



A Google search for images is not as easy as it might be. Not unexpectedly, I find a variety of pictures coming when I search on any set of words that could possibly be misconstrued as a search for pornography. (To be honest, you get such results even when there is no such obvious link or double entendre.)

There are also things from the fifties that seem to have disappeared without leaving any pictures – particularly when a different type of replacement is now used. I couldn’t find an old-fashioned standard tin opener, or one those keys for tins of fish, or a set of London Telephone Directories. I am happy to go with a few roughly relevant pictures just for illustration, preferably spread throughout the blog post.

Links and Cross-references

I have very few links outwards (mostly to YouTube for musical items) but I like to cross-reference to other posts I have done. It’s easy to do a backwards link – to a post already loaded and published. But the software makes forward links impossible. This includes links to those that are written and loaded but not yet published! It gets quite complicated when I swap the order of posts that reference each other! I have just moved number [54] back to [46], which meant changing all the ones in-between.

Posts so far

I was going to do a separate blog with a list of all postings so far with links. Now I have a page that will do this for you – the Full List of Posts. You can find all the posts from there. I am renaming old posts to make it easier to look for back issues. (Links should always work.)

So here are some notes to update what I have published so far.

Topic Introductions

Several posts have been created as an afterthought, because another topic needed an introduction. For example, [27] ’Normal Service will be Resumed …’ was taken out of the beginning of [29] ‘Was it Bill or Was it Ben?’. Similarly, [35] ‘Valentine 3456′ was going to be a short introduction to [37] Car Tax, Family Allowance and Dog Licences, and [41] Flash, Bang, Wallop! had to come before [42] Aspirin, Negatives, Saucepans and Hammers.

I have tried to categorize most posts – so that you can find them more easily. All posts display a list of Categories on the right and you can use this to find related posts. Some Categories have some semi-logical structure imposed, so they are best read in order.


After an initial reluctance to tackle it, this is now quite an extensive Category. It started with [3] Religion, which came from a vague attempt to do some of my original Introduction. I feel that so much of what was different then comes down to attitudes but this is so difficult to get across without evidence or detailed explanations.

I thought that [11] and [13] – now renamed as [11] Newspapers and [13] Secrecy– were two halves of a single idea about Information. Now I have classified the first one as reflecting the Technology of information and the second is about Attitudes to information.

[20] Vive La Différence was specifically about sexual discrimination, another one coming from my original Introduction. [40] ‘Dear Sir or Madam …’ was a difficult post, originally seen as a continuation of [30]. I get mixed up in changes of attitudes including formality, respect and politeness.

Attitudes continued later with [43] Cigarettes, Tea, Minstrels – and Marmalade – quite difficult as it put together several topics which are not obviously related – cigarette cards, tea cards and collectable brooches; musical entertainment and racial attitudes. I hope I have made it clear that the racial connections are there to reflect how things were.

The way that attitudes have changed prompted me towards [47] ‘The Past is a Foreign Country: They do Things Differently There’ which is particularly about not judging the past by how we feel now. I am not sure whether there will be any more in this Category.


[24] ‘Hallowed be Thy Name’ started this thread, after putting it off several times, by looking at some Beehive Lane shops. I was never sure how to order it or split it. So far it has continued with [28] ‘Clever People and Grocers, they Weigh Everything’, [37] Car Tax, Family Allowance and Dog Licences and [42] Aspirin, Negatives, Saucepans and Hammers. I expect to complete this thread with one more covering Department Stores and Clothing shops.


[2], [5] and [6] were my first attempts about Homes, looking at Winter, how we provided heat and how we kept warm. These are more or less my old notes with quite a lot of background details added from Wikipedia. [5] is more about clothes but [2] and [6] introduce what was inside our homes – coal fires and electricity.

There is more to come on this topic.


[7], [8], [9] and [10] about Christmas, just grew and grew. I felt that had to get them in by Christmas Day. I may have made some minor mistakes in this series. Things that I remember about traditions that have lasted forty years may not go back as far as fifty or sixty years ago. But I am not aiming for complete accuracy. I did not promise that.


It’s a bit of an afterthought putting things together in this category. So far we have [11] Newspapers, [17] Cinema, [35] ‘Valentine 3456′ and [41] Flash, Bang, Wallop!. There could be several more posts here, looking at various technologies for musical, video and television recording, computers and computer games. (No system of Categories is going to work perfectly. The post introducing Television can be considered either in the Technology Category or under Television, a subcategory of Entertainment.)


[26], [32] and [34] are just one extended blog post about Music. These might have been prompted by the records at Minnis Bay. I started with a sort of Desert Island Discs – maybe my top five or ten – but the list kept growing. I went eventually for 100 and was surprised how easy they were to find on Wikipedia and YouTube. I loved doing these musical posts. Finding recordings and adding the YouTube links was fun but made it hard work. Because of the alphabetical order, the three posts were more or less done together. Now I keep thinking of some I missed out! So there may be another one later.

Television – and Radio

[27] ’Normal Service will be Resumed …’, [29] ‘Was it Bill or Was it Ben?’, [31] The Ngorongoro Crater in the Serengetiand [33] Thunderbirds are Go! has been a complicated series. My first thoughts were about my TV Heroes. A few weeks later, I realized that I had to do Children’s Television, which I thought in terms of Watch with Mother. The Introduction to this became a separate post. Then I extended the Children’s Television one chronologically to provide two separate posts.

I missed out David Dimbleby deliberately from [31] but will come to him later. I have more TV reminiscing to come.

This also prompted me to consider the wireless (Radio), so we have [38] “I’m Worried about Jim,” inspired by the entry in my music posts. This is definitely my earliest memory of radio. I have more to come, starting with Two-way Family Favourites.


[15] and [16] about Primary Schools started another new thread, Education. They had to come before the Eleven Plus, Secondary Schools and University – so more blogs coming here.


It took me a long time before deciding to do [44] about my first house in Boar Close. I will have to continue with something about the next house and I am considering how much I will say about people I knew – maybe just my parents. There will definitely be one or two posts, specifically about St Andrew’s Church.

General/Mixed Category

Some, especially the lists, remain hard to categorize so they end up in two categories or in a general mixed category. [4] Modern Things was a light-hearted attempt to get across the technological aspects of the changes with a mixed list, something I repeated later with [23] Variety is the Spice of Life, and [39] Just What I Choose it to Mean. [22] ‘Of Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax’ put together some odd things I wanted to include that would not fit anywhere else. I am not sure whether I will be able to do this again. I keep thinking, ‘Put x, y and z together for a blog post,’ and then find I have enough for three (or more) separate posts.

One-off topics have included [12] Football Pools and [14] Birds.

Coming Next

Apart from some things mentioned above, I still have several major topics not yet touched, so there may new categories – cooking and kitchens; banks, building societies and finance – and maybe the last sixty years of history – geographic, political and economic – and some surprises – and expect more new topics to come up – also, probably lots more miscellaneous lists of things.

I keep juggling the order in which I plan to do things so expect the unexpected.



It’s time to recognize some of my sources:

Wikipedia – This is my main source of background information, often just checking names and dates. I try not to copy directly without at least rewording and re-ordering the information. It is very useful for recent information but can be patchy on anything fifty years ago!

Google – This is my main search engine, mostly used to look for pictures. I have used Google Maps a few times.

YouTube – I have been very pleased by what I find on this site. I don’t take anything from the site, I just provide direct links to it. These have made the three Music blogs worth doing. (You will have to put up with the adverts that YouTube try to throw at you. I just ignore them.)

Internet in general – My pictures are almost all free pictures taken from the Internet, including some from Wikipedia. I assume that anything without obvious copyright claims is copyright free. Some, especially the birds, are my own photographs.

Facebook – I get various helpful comments and information from friends and relatives and from a few Facebook groups that reminisce about the fifties and sixties.

Apart from these, it’s all from my own memories. I don’t guarantee 100% accuracy.


I want to reiterate that I am not trying to achieve complete historical accuracy. Apart from my attempts at adding background information and dates, I am just going by my memories. There are many things I remember without remembering what year they happened.

It is often easiest to make sweeping generalizations. If I say that, ‘This is the way we used to do things,’ I may be implying that the whole of Britain used to do it that way. I really only know what one family did in the area of Ilford. Even when I talk of modern day events and attitudes, I can only say how it looks from my experiences. Things may be different in Scotland or Wales, or in Devon or Norfolk, or in the house next door

If you like what you read please ‘Like,’ ‘Follow,’ or comment here on WordPress; or ‘Like,’ ‘Share,’ or comment on Facebook.

If you have any queries or requests, please let me know.

Thanks for reading. Lots more to come …


[20] Vive La Différence

It’s time to talk about sex. Before you get too excited, I have to explain that the word ‘sex’ meant something quite different then. It was more like what we now call ‘gender,’ without any of the connotations of gender identity. (We only used the word ‘gender’ when talking about French or Latin grammar. We most certainly did not talk about what we now call sex.)

I am going to talk about what we would now call institutionalized sexism, which was then a pervasive part of the culture of Britain (and, to be fair, almost everywhere else). For today’s lesson, I will start with a bit of Natural History. (Yes, you normally get a little lesson. You’ve had history, geography, Welsh …)

Sexual Dimorphism

As my eternal friend Wikipedia explains, sexual dimorphism is a phenotypic difference between males and females of the same species, typically differences in body size, physical strength, ornamentation and behaviour. It is widely found in nature, mostly in animals but also in some plants.

Dimorphism is widespread in birds. (Sorry, folks, birds are my specialized subject.) Most readers will recognize the difference between a duck (female) and drake (male) in the common Mallard. Here is a pair of Mandarin Ducks in the Forest of Dean, showing obvious dimorphism. (The male is on the left.)


Similarly, the male Peacock, with its extensive, ornate tail, is very different to a plain, brown Peahen. In the same way, the much more common Pheasant has a larger and more ornate male than female. In birds, bright colours in males are supposed to attract the females.

Pheasant3_Strumpshaw_19Jun12   Pheasant_Rutland_14May11

In many insects, spiders and fish the female is many times the size of the male. (For some spiders the male may be eaten by the female after mating!) Some species of anglerfish, such as the triplewart seadevil (Crytptopsaras couesii) display extreme sexual dimorphism. The females are typical angler fish, whereas the males are tiny rudimentary creatures with stunted digestive systems. A male must find a female and fuse with her, becoming effectively a sperm-producing parasite.

With sexual dimorphism, there may be differences in behaviour as well as form. For example, with birds, it is usually the female who sits on the eggs and incubates, but for some species, the care is shared, and for some the male does most of it. (This is not the place for a discourse on the life of Penguins. Just discovered today is Penguin Awareness Day but you can look them up yourselves.)

When ants have wings, for just a few hours, the male and female meet and mate. The female starts a new colony and lives for many years, becoming a queen, hundreds or thousands of times her former size, producing tens of thousands of eggs in her lifetime. The male just loses his wings and dies. That’s sexual dimorphism!

Sexual dimorphism in physical form and in behaviour is largely genotypic or genetically determined, but it does include some environmental affects. It is not easy to separate these two influences. Behaviour can be gradually acquired over several generations.

Human Differences

Most primate species show sexual dimorphism in form and limited differences in behaviour. Men and women are different. There are clear differences in anatomy and physiology (not just related to sexual function), and differences in medicine from sex-linked genetics. (The recessive haemophilia carried by Queen Victoria is a well documented example.)

Wikipedia has many pages on human differences, suggesting other differences in psychology, intelligence, memory, aggression, personality traits, crime, education, religion and culture.

In our society, which has been formed by hundreds of years of male dominated history, there were in the fifties obvious differences in behaviour, personality and attitudes between the sexes. I will not attempt to say how much these differences were innate and genetic, perhaps driven by hormonal differences, and how much was determined by culture, education and upbringing. (Attitudes have change since then but still many questions about these differences remain unanswered.)

I try to describe how things were then, without attempting to explain or justify differences – keeping neutral and non-controversial. There is a spectrum of views, where one end treats men and women as totally identical, and the other sees them as totally different. Modern attitudes veer almost towards total equality in a way that would have been unrecognizable then. In the fifties, women were assumed to be almost completely different in many ways that we now see as wrong or unfair. The reasons for this are historical, cultural and religious, but at the time, there was little public discussion about whether it was right or wrong.

[In this post I will describe some differences without considering what we now call sexuality or gender issues. These topics were never publicly mentioned then. I expect to consider them in another post.]

Family Life

The assumption was then (as it had been for hundreds of years, and as it still is in many other countries,) that women looked after children at home. It was tacitly assumed they were best suited to do this and that they preferred to do it. Most married women stayed at home, as housewives, to look after the home, the children and the needs of their husbands. Married men went to work and earned the money to support the family.

There were some kindergartens for young children but, otherwise, there were virtually no childcare facilities. (Of course, the process of shopping, cooking and cleaning were very different then, so that there was more of a requirement for housework. The concept of a housewife has now effectively disappeared from modern life in Britain.)

People then were more family oriented. They married earlier, had children earlier and divorced less (often staying together ‘for the sake of the children’). There was very little of the modern complications of unmarried parents or step-parents. Families were much more often in line with the stereotypical nuclear family – father, housewife and mother, and two, three or four children.

As a result children saw much more of their mothers and spent time with them learning about life. They may also have seen more of their fathers. There was much more time together as a family. The idea of formalized babysitting circles had not really developed.


Married women generally did not work. (If you go back a little further, this was more strictly enforced. My mother and father kept their marriage a secret from work colleagues so that Mum could continue working. No one had much in the way of employment rights. Women routinely lost their jobs when they married and this was an accepted practice.)

Many jobs were stereotyped by sex. Most jobs of any importance, or high paying jobs, were not open to women. There was open discrimination or sometimes just unwritten rules about this. Women might be technically allowed to apply but they never did, knowing that they would never be accepted. Bus drivers were always men, while bus conductors were mostly women. (You may not even know what a bus conductor was!)

Jobs open to women were very limited and almost invariably very low paid. There were those jobs left over from the days of service – cooking, cleaning and housework, looking after children; menial office jobs such as typing; and waitressing at the cheaper end of the market, in cafes. (More formal restaurants used mainly waiters.) We have already met usherettes in cinemas and stewardesses on planes.

Secretarial jobs for women were not much better than typing and not much better paid. Vocational jobs such as nursing and midwifery were lowly paid, and almost completely reserved for women. (I don’t think ordinary hospitals had male nurses. They may have appeared in mental hospitals with male patients. The concept of male midwives did not exist.)

Teaching in Infants and Junior schools, was female dominated. Senior school teachers were generally male.

There were no women priests and virtually no women lawyers, doctors, professors, politicians, scientists or engineers. In the armed forces, there were separate organizations for women with their specific (non-combatant) roles.

Where women did do the same as men, or similar work, they invariably earned considerably less, and in practice, though for no defined reasons, they were not promoted to the higher paid grades or jobs.

(Words such as manager/ manageress, actor/actress, etc. were used to designate men and women doing equivalent jobs. This usage has largely disappeared now.)


[You may remember ‘On the Buses’ television and films from around 1970, showing a sexist view of the life of bus drivers and conductresses. Picture from Wikipedia]

Women’s Rights and Feminism

Married women in the 1950s had few rights. Legally, their assets and debts were owned by their husbands. For income tax purposes, a married couple was a single entity. The man would add any income from his wife on to his tax forms. Similarly, married women, and their children, appeared as additions on the husband’s passport. Police ignored domestic violence by a man on his wife, almost on the assumption that she belonged to him. There was no concept of rape between a man and his wife.

There was no right to equality of pay between the sexes – but people did not know what other people earned. Many wives had no knowledge of their husband’s earnings. (He had to know his wife’s earnings and declared them on his tax return.)

Things were beginning to change gradually, sparked perhaps by the political emancipation of the 20s, and the trend away from being housewives (helped by the war in which some women took on jobs made available because the men had become soldiers). Feminism began to emerge in the late 60s, and since then women’s rights have improved very slowly. This has been associated with a trend away from marriage, an increasing divorce rate and the increased practice of married women keeping their unmarried surnames. It is generally associated with more freely available contraception.

Equal Pay legislation came in the seventies but took decades slowly to take effect.


The only thing I will say about sex is that women were not then widely and publicly displayed as sex objects as they often are now. You did not see pictures of naked or semi-naked women (or women in overtly sexual positions) in shops or newspapers or advertising hoardings. As we know, there was little television; newspapers had few pictures; and topless models had yet to become a Page 3 phenomenon. (I was not very old, so maybe grown-ups moved in circles where this was different. It was possible for children to have a sheltered upbringing, in a way which is not possible now.)

I will also leave sexual relationships until another blog …


[16] Highlands School (2)

I have talked a little in my last blog about my two Primary Schools, Grange Hill and Highlands. Now we move to the basics of education, the Three Rs.


Education then was said to consist of the Three Rs – Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. We certainly started with them. I cannot remember learning to read but I must have done it, presumably at school with some help at home. I can say that our early reading pre-dated all the varieties of phonics. We only ever used normal letters and correct spelling. I can remember a series of books called ‘Janet and John’, which we may have used. They were about – wait for it – about a girl and boy called Janet and John. As Wikipedia notes, they were typical, English middle-class children. (We were not then a multi-cultural society.)

(There was another series of Ladybird  books for children, including a graded sequence of books designed to teach basic reading. We used these with our children in the late 70s.)

Readers will be aware of the Beatrix Potter stories for children, beautifully illustrated. I can remember my first of many visits to the Children’s Library, where I brought home one of these. I loved the pictures. We certainly used the library regularly after that. I can’t remember how old I was. On my first visit, together with the Beatrix Potter was another book, which was a great disappointment to me. It was called the ‘Story of Rayon.’ I thought it might be a story, but it was a children’s book about the production of rayon. After that, I looked inside carefully before choosing library books.


Writing at school was very different then. We wrote in exercise books and used a simple ink pen or pencil. Each desk had an inkwell for our pens. I can remember that when the nib of a pen was broken the teacher would supply a new one. For some reason, we had to take the new nib into our mouth and suck it for a few seconds before use. It must have had a waterproof oil to preserve it before use.


At Primary School, none of the children ever used a fountain pen or a ball-point pen. (Teachers could use fountain pens. I don’t think we ever saw ball-point pens at that stage.)

The quality of writing was important. We learned how to shape each letter. At Primary School, we stuck to what I later learned to call printing. We simply did not do joined-up writing. Cursive script was not acceptable at Primary School and was never taught. (Somehow, we all started to do it when we went to Secondary School.)

There were lessons in formal handwriting, when we would try to produce perfect, artistic script. (Mr Adlam taught us to do a simple form of Gothic lettering with a broad nib.)


There were, of course, no calculators but we all did ‘sums’. Without calculators, it was more important to be able to handle numbers (and our complex currency!) We learned tables and had to know from 2 x 2 = 4 up to 12 x 12 = 144 by heart. We learned Long Multiplication so that with a pen and paper we could work out 123 x 456. [It’s 56088. We may not have done quite such difficult sums at first.] We did decimals and Long Division, so we could work out 123 ÷ 456 [That comes to 0.2697..]


Other Subjects

With just the one class teacher, there was no formal timetable and we must have covered other things – History, Geography, Religious Instruction (RI), Art, Music and PE, about which I remember little. RI certainly included the Bible stories of the Old and New Testament (and nothing of other religions). Art was based on powdered paints, which came in just three colours, to be mixed to make others. Music was singing, accompanied on a piano, with occasionally the chance to use percussion instruments.

For PE, once a week, we had to remember to bring shorts and plimsolls in a bag. For many years, the only trainers [US: sneakers] seen in England were the simple, cheap, black, Chinese made plimsolls shown in the picture. All I remember of Geography is that we would be given a map of the World (printed as described above), showing the location of two or three cities, a few days before end-of-term exams.

The other thing I remember being taught, in our final year, was Country Dancing. We did the Valeta, the Gay Gordon and one or two others whose names escape me. (‘Gay’ had a quite different meaning then.)


We knew nothing of SATs. We did not know what was in the curriculum (if there was a curriculum,) nor did our parents and, for the most part, no-one wanted to know. It was up the school, presumably dictated by the local education authority. They did their own testing, when appropriate, and had examinations at the end of every term (or sometimes just twice a year). Parents received a report at the end of term with examination results. In every subject, the report would show exact percentage results from exam and position within the class.

The school report was almost the only contact of parents with the school. In addition to exam results, there was a comment on ‘Conduct.’ This was what interested our father. He wanted to see: ‘Good’ or: ‘Excellent,’ and was never satisfied with ‘Fair.’ (One word was all we ever had.)


There was corporal punishment. The Headmaster had a cane. It was very rarely used. Perhaps it was the threat of punishment, or perhaps we were just well behaved. I cannot remember any child ever being punished, or any action of disobedience or disrespect to teachers – at least at Primary School. The class size of forty was not a problem.

There were House Points awarded as incentives – for good work (neat writing and drawing) and for remembering PE kit.

Mr Adlam

There was no way of knowing how classes were defined, but we assumed some sort of streaming. The top class of third Year Juniors was always taken by Mr Adlam. All teachers tended to keep the same class, which meant that they could re-use material. It is clear that Mr Adlam taught mostly the same topics from year to year.

Most teachers then were women. Mr Adlam was a middle-aged, pipe-smoking man. (I don’t think he actually smoked while teaching. He did smell of tobacco.) He had a charismatic approach. Somehow, we both loved him and feared him. Behaviour in his class was always perfect.

[Think back to the blog about carol singing. When we were much older and went round the streets of Ilford with the Youth Club carol singing and collecting for charity, we knew where Mr Adlam lived. Even at seventeen or eighteen, no one dared to knock on his door and ask for money!]

He would explain the lesson to us, drawing on the blackboard and leave us with a task involving writing and drawing. Every piece of work might have a tick when marked. If it was good, it could be marked ‘G’, ‘VG’ or ‘Ex’ for one, two or three points towards House Points. It was so hard to get a mark of ‘Ex.’ I can remember trying really hard at drawing the red cells within a diagram about blood – and being disappointed with a mere ‘VG.’

I can remember lists of new words to learn, written on the blackboard. Once, one of the words was ‘candid,’ which he said meant completely honest. As an example, he said: if your wife asks you whether she looks nice in a new dress, and says she wants your candid opinion, it means you must tell the truth. Of course, he added, she still wants you to say yes even if it’s not true! (I don’t think Mr Adlam was married.)

There were many things that Mr Adlam taught, that I have heard others say he also did on other years. He went through human skeleton in a series of lessons, and did digestion and the alimentary canal from end to end in another series. As we did the skeleton, we used card, scissors and glue to construct our own skeleton, week by week, which we proudly took home at the end of term.

Craft work with scissors and glue was part of the syllabus. I remember knife-edge folds made in card, and envelopes made from variously coloured pieces of card to take home. When it came to pressing on knife-edge folds, or gluing together, his motto was: “Keep on doing it until you can’t do it any more … Then keep on doing it!”

I wasn’t all work. Once a week he would read to us the continuing story of Moonfleet by J Meade Falkner. It was the same book each year, an adventure story with smugglers. Mr Adlam would write up a list of characters on a side blackboard and the list stayed up there. He had to explain why one significant character in the book was marked as ‘(deceased)’.


At the end of term, in a little entertainment for the whole school, we would always see Mr Adlam, dressed in full regalia, sing a Gilbert and Sullivan classic song. There was ‘A More Humane Mikado’ who would “make the punishment fit the crime,” and the Modern Major-general’s Song from the Pirates of Penzance.

I will leave the Eleven Plus until I consider Secondary Education, which may be next time …


[15] Highlands School (1)

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It’s time for a serious look at part of growing up in the fifties. I am going to start on Education.

[Don’t believe the picture above. Being left-handed was not acceptable.

I can’t believe that a teacher would have been allowed to do it then.]

Primary Education

In those days it was straightforward – Infants, then Juniors, and then Seniors. Infants (First, Second and Third Years) were combined with Juniors (First to Fourth Years) into a Primary School. Then we had the Eleven Plus exam and went to Secondary Schools (First to Fifth Years, with optional Lower Sixth and Upper Sixth). I have no idea how the years fit into the modern system of Years and Key Stages.

I will start with Primary Education, up to age eleven. I went to two Primary Schools. The first, believe it or not, was called Grange Hill. It has long since disappeared. I spent two or three years there and remember a Mr Grey as one teacher. (We never, ever knew or wanted to know the Christian Names of teachers. Such a level of formality was unthinkable. We called them ‘Sir’ or ‘Miss’. At primary school, the teachers used our first names. They were ‘Christian’ names, not forenames or anything else.)

Then we moved a mile or two and I changed schools to Highlands, still an active Primary School. All my Junior education was at Highlands and I particularly remember Mr Adlam. (Everyone ever taught by him remembers Mr Adlam. I will come to him later.) Everything in this post will combine my thoughts on both schools, mostly from Highlands. All of my primary education was within the fifties.


School Day

I was going to say that the class size was 32, formally arranged in pairs of desks, four rows of four columns. But I have found an old class picture, which shows me I was wrong. It was bigger than I thought. There were 40.

The teacher had a much larger desk at the front, raised on a platform by about twenty centimetres, and the front of the class had a large, fixed blackboard. Teaching was mostly by writing in white chalk on this blackboard. Sometimes coloured chalks could be used. A board rubber, made of a felt pad attached to a wood block, was used to erase writing and make space for what came next. (We used the word rubber. Now they are called erasers.)

There was an additional wraparound type of blackboard, which was portable. [Imagine a horizontal piece of wood at about two metres from the floor. Hang a flat sheet over it. Join the back of the sheet to the front a few inches above the floor. Now put this in a wooden frame on wheels so that the sheet can be rotated. Turn the sheet into blackboard material. As you turn the blackboard, writing on it, line by line, what disappears at the top eventually reappears at the bottom.]

As you know, we walked to school. (If you didn’t know, go back and read the earlier blogs!) The teacher always called the register. As each name was called, you answered, “Here, sir,” or “Here, Miss.” Names would be ticked off in the large book on the teacher’s desk at the front, collected later by the school secretary.

We went into the school hall and the day always started with an Assembly, taken by the Headmaster – a short religious service with formal prayers and a hymn.

Our class teacher taught us for almost everything. My memories are there might have been exceptions sometimes for music and Physical Education (PE – We also called it PT), but I am not sure.

We had a break, mid-morning at which we all drank free milk, provided in a third of a pint bottle, with a straw. Bottles had a metal foil top, pierced by the straw. The milk, like all milk then, had a thick, creamy layer on the top. We called the break playtime. [US: recess] I may come to what we did at playtime in another post.

I will also leave lunch and School Dinners for another post. (I may just try to obliterate School Dinners from my memory.) The mid-afternoon playtime break came without milk. School ended at about half past three. (I can’t remember. For Secondary School, it was ten to four.) We never had any homework.

At a child, dates and time were not important. There was probably a clock in the school hall but we were never aware of what the time was. None of the children would have had watches. (Watches were an expensive luxury. Perhaps some children would be given one at Secondary School.) At appropriate times, like the beginning and end of the lunch period, a large, brass hand bell would be rung. We kept working until the bell rang and we were told to go.

Teaching Aids and Printing

While the methods and procedures of Secondary School are quite familiar to me, I have difficulty in remembering details of exactly how we were taught before that, at Primary School. It certainly involved a lot of use of the blackboards and chalk. (Even up to the 80s, it was just blackboards. Later, gradually, coloured felt-tipped pens came into use and blackboards became whiteboards.) We wrote in exercise books but I cannot remember the extent to which we may have used text books.

It was before the automation of computers and computer printing so that it was almost impossible to produce paper worksheets. I remember two specific processes.

Stencil printing allowed a sheet of paper to be printed in just one colour. I still used it in the early eighties when I was a teacher for a few years. It was slow and messy with wet print, and involved turning a large drum once for each sheet. (In offices, this was the only practical way to produced typed letters and documents – if you wanted more than the two or three you could manage with carbon paper.) By doing the same process twice, you could overprint in two colours. It was the only way to produce exam papers.

Even more primitive was the way that pictures were produced at Highlands. An inked pad and a rubber stamp could be used to stamp one word or a small picture on to a document. (Mechanical devices could do dates or one-up numbers.) At school, they had a large engraved roller, which enabled them to print an outline of the World map on to a single sheet of paper. That was the best they could do for Geography.

No Hobgoblin nor Foul Fiend

Before I leave this topic for now, there are two things that I remember clearly about Highlands School. Firstly, its motto, proudly displayed with its coat of arms: ‘Manners Makyth Man.’ I never heard anyone at school refer to the motto but it is something I try to follow. I was also struck by the archaic language, as also found in hymns.

In assembly and in class we sang hymns and songs by following the words shown on a screen ahead of us. Not all of the hymns were familiar elsewhere and my favourite was ‘To be a Pilgrim,’ taken from Pilgrim’s Progress written in 1684 by John Bunyon. I can’t say that we understood all of the words, which were rather obscure, but it was great fun singing them:

Who would true valour see, Let him come hither;
One here will constant be, Come wind, come weather
There’s no discouragement – Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent – To be a pilgrim.

Whoso beset him round – With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound; His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright, He’ll with a giant fight,
He will have a right – To be a pilgrim.

Hobgoblin nor foul fiend – Can daunt his spirit,
He knows he at the end – Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away, He’ll fear not what men say,
He’ll labour night and day – To be a pilgrim.

This is quite a long topic so I will split it. More to come, including Mr Adlam

Highlands Picture