Remembrance of Things Past

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


[106] How Green was my Valley?

I am going to do another blog that has long been on my ‘to do’ list, more about things that we recognize today than about the fifties – what we would now call Green issues or ecology.

I suspect that some scientists even then were aware of Global Warming but the general public had no concerns and would not have understood the word ecology or ‘green’ in its modern sense. But we were not profligate in out treatment of resources.


I am going to work backwards and start by a trip round our local rubbish dump today – now glorified as a ‘Recycling Centre,’ and look at the things we now recycle:-

  • Paper. Back in the fifties we had newspapers and we used them to light fires. Supply and demand matched very well. We didn’t use much other paper, perhaps note pads and colouring books. Any excess newspaper and all other paper just went on the fire. (There was nothing remotely like junk mail!)
  • Cardboard. This was quite a rare occurrence, maybe occasionally something came in a cardboard box. It would have been torn into small enough pieces and go the way of paper. (Cardboard egg boxes were collected and re-used.)
  • Wood. At the risk of being repetitive we used the wood that made up open boxes of vegetables to light the fire. I suspect we only had these boxes because Dad worked in wholesale fruit and vegetables. Any other wood would have gone on the fire.
  • Plastic. What! Plastic? There was virtually none of it. Small bits of plastic or cellophane wrapping could go … wait for it … on the fire. No food came in plastic containers.
  • Glass. Again there was very little. Milk bottles were re-used. Beer and soft drinks bottles were returned for their deposit. The only other glass I can remember was for jars such as marmalade or sherry and wine. I suppose it went in the dustbin.
  • Metal. There were not much because there were no canned drinks. The only food I remember in cans was baked beans (and very occasionally garden peas.) It must have gone into the dustbin.
  • Batteries and Light Bulbs. These went into the dust bin but were very rare. I think out only batteries we ever had were for a torch – used when we had power cuts. Light bulbs lasted a long time.
  • Electrical Goods. Now we have various options for recycling – Large electrical (white goods) and smaller items. Of course back then we didn’t have most electrical devices of today. (In the early fifties we didn’t even have a refrigerator. The electricity meter under the stairs had a wheel that went round faster as you used more. Except in the evenings when lights were on it generally stopped!) Anything large like a refrigerator would be taken away by the council (free) if you just rang up and asked them.
  • Textiles. This is still only a small area now for recycling or re-use. Basically we didn’t throw away old clothes then – they were used until they fell apart and then used as rags. (There were no kitchen towels.) Eventually they would probably go on to the fire.
  • Cartons. No we didn’t have such things.
  • Food Waste. This went to the compost heap but we did not waste food. Potato peel, pea pods, egg shells etc. made good compost.
  • Other rubbish. I suppose most of what we have now that goes to the land-fill department is packaging and things that can’t be recycled because they are mixed. I can’t think of anything we had in this category. We certainly did not have aerosol cans.


So what did we have in our dustbins? Basically it was just ash from the fire. Dustbins were metal so the ash could go in while still a bit hot sometimes.

Dustbins were collected every week and we didn’t have to do anything. The dustbin men would come round the back of the house and find it. After emptying it they would return it where it belonged! (I know we can’t call them ‘men’ now but it was never a job for women. They didn’t do it and almost certainly would not have been able to do it.)

The rubbish collected by the bin men was burned so we didn’t need large land-fill sites. [See Blog [2] ]


It’s worth pointing out that there were garden incinerators, simple metal mesh containers that could be used to burn some rubbish. Generally they were used for garden rubbish such as autumn leaves but old furniture could be chopped up and burned. We even had open bonfires in the back garden – not just for the Fifth of November.


One of the major causes of excessive rubbish now is packaging. There was very little packaging in the fifties, and it was mostly wood, cardboard and paper – easily burnable. Some things did come in metal containers.

Much more food was bought with little or no packaging, for example vegetables were loose; bread was unpacked, just wrapped in tissue paper. (Sliced, wrapped bread was an expensive alternative.) Milk came in milk bottles (rinsed and returned for re-use). Egg boxes were also re-used. Apart from milk, drinks came in glass bottles. For beer bottles there was a deposit, refundable on return – for re-use not for re-cycling.

For goods in department stores you might be offered a carrier bag (brown paper) or you could use your own shopping bag.


Most things were made of wood or metal. Plastic was only just emerging as a material and some toys were made of plastic. Bakelite telephones and electrical plugs were the main things in plastic. But there were no chairs, boxes, pens, bottles or cutlery made of plastic. (Also, of course, many of today’s uses for plastic were not around in the fifties in any material – food mixers, computers ….)

Most clothes were made of natural fibres – wool, cotton (and occasionally silk). Nylon had emerged for stockings but otherwise there was little use of man-made fibres for clothing.

We didn’t have materials like polystyrene, cling-film or bubble-wrap. ..

[Of course without metal cans and today’s ubiquitous plastic wrappings and containers, there was very much less visible litter. Any paper litter was biodegradable and soon disappeared. On the other hand with much more smoking cigarette ends and sometimes discarded cigarette boxes were seen in the streets. And dogs – no dog poo bags and no culture to use them.]


Re-cycling can be expensive and inefficient and so re-use may be more effective.

We re-used milk bottles, beer bottles, some soft drinks bottles and egg cartons.

For so many things we just didn’t need to change – so we were not regularly throwing out old models to make room for the new. For example, I remember we had a hairdryer. It lived in the middle drawer in the cabinet in the morning room. It always lived there. It must have lasted for years. It worked so we did not consider replacing it with a faster or better model.

Today many things like mobile phones have a life of 2-3 years built in almost automatically. (In business they call it built-in obsolescence.) We have a monthly contract on a phone which includes buying the actual handset. When it runs out we assume it’s time to upgrade to the next model. So we spend several hundred pounds to buy a replacement and throw out the old one. [The old fixed phones lasted forever.]

Global Warming

Most people now accept the significance of the phenomenon known as Global Warming, which predicts an imminent collapse of the World’s environment as a habitat fit for human population. Politicians are only just beginning to try to prevent or reduce it but many predict that all efforts are now far too late.

One of the major contributing factors is the change to our carbon balance with the depletion of carbon stores such as coal and oil deposits and the loss of rainforests. A hundred years ago large areas of Africa, America and Asia were rainforest but economic and demographic pressure has let to most of it being cut down with increasing losses in recent years.

Back in the sixties most of what still remained was the Amazon basin a large area of undisturbed forest. I remember from Geography lessons in the Fourth Form we looked at South America. The capital of Brazil used to be Rio de Janeiro until an ambitious project around 1960 carved space for the new city of Brasilia in the middle of this rainforest. Now many large areas of the Amazon are no longer forest.

If you ask – what did we know about Global Warming in the fifties and what we do about it? Well, I suppose that few really knew what was happening and politicians, as always, ignored anything even slightly long-term. [Ok, I’m a cynic about politics – a Grumpy Old Man!]


In the seventies the Ecology Party in Britain and other organisations began to open up political awareness of green issues. (The Ecology Party has since been renamed as the Green Party.)

My awareness goes back a bit further to Gordon Rattray Taylor and the book he produced in 1968, The Biological Time Bomb. I read it at the time and still remember it. It was primarily about the rise of biotechnology but it also considered many resources with only limited supplies. There was a whole list of elements expected to become unavailable by the turn of 2000. (Of course they did not run out. Maybe we have other sources or alternative technology. Maybe we have just postponed our problems.)

There have been predictions of inevitable doom for many years and at University I also noted the predictions of Rev. Robert Malthus, who in 1798 published, anonymously An Essay on the Principle of Population. It considered how improvements in food production led to population growth.



Of course the elephant in the room is now population growth as it has been for hundreds of years. People still don’t talk about over-population although it is far more important than all other considerations.

Malthus observed that the improved well-being from better food production was temporary because it led to population growth. Mankind used abundance for population growth rather than a higher standard of living. Populations tend to grow until halted temporarily by war, famine and disease.

Even in the sixties I remember our Geography teacher, Mr Evans (the one who taught us about South America and the Amazon forests,) foretelling the doubling of World population by the year 2000. It’s now three times what it was then.

When movements like the Ecology Party arose in the seventies there was a movement called Zero Population Growth. Demographics make even this unachievable because we live so much longer today. If every couple in the UK had just two children the population would continue to rise – probably for hundreds of years. (China with its one-child policy has still doubled its population over the last fifty years.)

I don’t generally comment about politics but my views are that we are already in excess of sustainable population levels by a factor of maybe five or ten – and the climatic effects of Global Warming will inevitably lead to another great extinction event like the one that led to the disappearance of the dinosaurs. Earth has had five such events and will survive another one. It’s unlikely that the human race will survive. We may all be lucky enough to survive before it gets too bad!


Two comments before I end this somewhat pessimistic blog. First we have a language rich in idiom with all sorts of convoluted expressions which come and go. There are hundreds of expressions we use now that people of the fifties would not have understood. One such expression is ‘the elephant in the room.’ Wikipedia mentions a story from 1814 but dates its use from the New York Times in 1959. It certainly was not well known until sometime later.

And ‘How Green was My Valley’ is a 1939 novel about family life in Wales. I remember a very early series on (BBC) television but Wikipedia knows only of a series from the mid-seventies. Perhaps I am wrong.



[78] ICHS – Part Four

I have done ICHS Part One, Part Two and Part Three (and, of course, I trust you have read these three avidly!) We move on now to the Fourth Form and Fifth Form, but it’s still a bit random in the ordering of topics.

In those days the School leaving age was younger. It was possible to leave without doing the Fifth Form (Year 11) but it was always understood that parents opting for grammar school education for their children signed an undertaking to keep them on to complete GCE studies. (Like many things, I don’t know how this rumour spread. I never heard it said officially.)



The web site today outlines the curriculum for what is now called Year 10 and Year 11, culminating in GCSE examinations. Its core programme includes English Language, English Literature, Mathematics, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, and one from French, German and Spanish. In addition Religious Studies, PSHEE and PE are non-examination subjects. It hasn’t changed that much in fifty years.

Option subjects (under review as at September 2015) are Art, Computer Science, DT Product Design, Economics and Business Studies, Engineering, History, Geography and Music. PE and RS are also available as GCSE subjects.

In our time there was a similar choice to be made for the Fourth Form but I can’t give all the details. I only know for sure what I did. We all continued with English, Mathematics, French (or German or Spanish for some) and History. English Language and Literature continued to be taught as a single subject and the whole school always did History O Level a year early in the Fourth Form. I am fairly sure that everyone continued with Latin but Physics and Chemistry were options. Biology was certainly an option, not a subject I was able to do.

We had never heard of PSHEE and the subjects of Computer Science, DT Product Design, Economics, Business Studies and Engineering were not then available – nor were any of them available at A Level. (Economics and Engineering were University subjects then.)

I think my positive choices were Additional Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry, so that my list of GCE subjects was: English Language, English Literature, Pure Mathematics, Applied Mathematics, Additional Pure Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, French, Latin and History.

I wish I could remember more about those Fourth and Fifth forms but not much remains. Our form teacher in 4A was Mr Pegrum, who I think taught us English. We had a notice board at the back of the classroom and he sometimes posted clippings from papers or magazines or other things of interest. He once posted something that revealed his Christian name. (I can’t remember what it was.) This was a bit of a shock to us. Apart from the headmaster this was the only time we ever knew the first name of any of our teachers. He was Alan Pegrum so inevitably that became his nickname. I cannot remember the names of form teachers in the Fifth form – or the Sixth Form!


I am doing subjects fairly randomly and have three more to look at – before moving to my Sixth Form subjects later.

I always enjoyed Geography, particularly anything to do with maps, but it just got squeezed out when I had to choose. We covered South America, I think in the last year that I did Geography. We learned of the Amazon rainforest, which has continued its rapid de-forestation since then. At the time the capital of Brazil was Rio de Janeiro. A new capital, Brasilia was being formed in the heart of the rainforest.


I remember the teacher (possibly Mr Evans) once spoke eloquently about population. The World population was then estimated at 2 600 000 000, with China at 600 000 000 and India 200 000 000. The prediction by the year 2000 was for a World population of 6 000 000 000, which turned out to be surprisingly accurate. (In those days 6 000 000 000 was six thousand million. The American use of ‘billion’ has crept in and is just about universal now.) Now it’s over 7 000 000 000. (China, despite its one child policy, now has 1 400 000 000 and India at 1 300 000 000 has nearly caught up China.)

Increasing World population is a problem that has been with us for far longer than fifty years. We knew about it then and did very little about it. Now it is still largely ignored but will continue to become more of a problem.


We started History in the First Form with the civilizations of the Tigris and Euphrates, cuneiform writing, the Phoenicians and Egyptians. We progressed chronologically with Roman Britain, (missing out the Dark Ages,) the Renaissance, Tudors and Stewarts, and the Industrial Revolution – going as far as the middle of the Nineteenth Century. The Second World War and even the First World War were too modern for our consideration (although I think A Level History at least covered the First World War.)

I remember two strong speeches from History lessons. One was linked to the question of population when the teacher was considering why families had so many children. Among other things it came down to the fact that in hard times, with no electric lighting and heating, no radio television or computers there was nothing else to do in the dark winters but retire to bed – with consequent results.

The other thing I remember was the description of people through the Middle Ages as parochially minded. In early times people had no idea what happened anywhere else. They were either entirely self-sufficient or lived in very small settlements. They may have only visited the nearest town once a month on market days – a journey that could involve hours of walking each way.

English Literature

English Literature gets a special mention because it’s the only subject I found really hard. I could keep up with Mathematics, science and languages (including English Language) without doing much work but I found English Literature hard.

We did poetry, plays (which only ever meant Shakespeare) and books. From school I remember Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice, the Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night. I also have to mention Cymbeline, which was done as a School Play when I was there.

We did Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, which I like. I have read all Jane Austen’s books a few times since then and can watch television adaptions of them every day.

And then there was Typhoon by Joseph Conrad. It was dreadful, so dreadful that I just couldn’t read it all. (I was not the only one.) As the title suggests it was about a storm at sea but reading dozens of pages about a storm (and nothing else) was just boring. I couldn’t finish the book. I don’t remember detecting anything more in the way of plot

I spent more time and effort revising for English Literature GCE than everything else put together but it still produced my worst grade. I didn’t miss it when we went on to the Sixth Form.

GCE O Level

I ought to say something about the exams. When they were just GCE, there was absolutely no element of coursework. It was all three-hour examinations. For the last term in the Fifth Form we stayed at home to revise except when we had exams. Apart from anything else, it was hard to keep up the physical process of writing with a pen for three hours! French had a separate oral exam and Chemistry and Physics had practical exams. (I’m not totally sure about this. They did have practical exams at A Level, of which more later.)

You may be surprised at how we received the results. We each had to provide a stamped addressed envelope. There was no Internet, no mobile phones and no mass television coverage. I presume that the school received a list of results by post and they produced and sent out tiny slips of thin paper with the individual results. We received them by post. I remember Mum bringing up the sealed brown envelopes to us in bed. While it may have been possible to telephone the school during the preceding twenty-four hours, it was made very clear that no exam results would be divulged before the postal delivery.


We just pre-dated CSE. In those days it was GCE O Level or Ordinary Level. (Now you can see why Hogwarts awards OWLs, Ordinary Wizarding Levels!) Pass grades were A to E with Fail grades F, G and H.

CSE started in 1965, as a separate exam, with grades 1 to 5 and it was said that Grade 1 was equivalent to GCE grade C. Grade C was a requirement for many things, including progression to sixth Form and A Level studies. Later the two systems merged to form GCSE, with exams taken at different levels with overlapping results.

In theory the modern GCSE grades A*, A, B and the top half of grade C correspond to the old GCE O Level pass grades of A to E. (There have been many other changes, including the use of coursework, major changes to Exam Boards, and changes in course content and exam methods, so comparisons can only be very approximate.)

When considering ICHS, because the selection process picked only those likely to find upper levels of qualification relatively easy, we would not have considered CSE or the lower grades of GCSE.


You will remember from [47] Standards that corporal punishment was still used in schools. You may also remember from [13] Secrecy, that we generally respected authority much more. As children we tended much more to respect our elders.

As an example, any teacher (or even any adult) did not have to steer a way through corridors of children. The crowds would make way and open up gaps to allow an adult through. I suspect that not showing due deference would have been taken as punishable disrespect. Later, when I taught at a Comprehensive School in the eighties I found myself ignored in corridors, having to wait for gaps in the streams of children.

Most teachers did not have any problem with discipline because we were basically well-behaved children who wanted to learn. The only exceptions were in RI (Religious Instruction) which was not really of interest to us.

There were school detentions once a week for the upper school (from the Fourth Form) and a junior detention for the first three forms. They rarely had more than two or three pupils. I think I was put into junior detention once but I can’t remember why. (It might have been twice and I may have had a senior detention. Not producing homework when due was the most common misdemeanour.)

Above this was the cane, feared more for the associated entry in the Punishment Book than for the actual event. My understanding was that three detentions in one term (or school year) might produce a caning but this may have been apocryphal.

I was caned twice and I suppose I have to tell you about them …

You will remember, from [70] ICHS Part Three, about our Latin master, who we called Solly’. He was easy going, chatted about many things other than Latin, but generally taught us well in an enjoyable manner. I never felt that we were disruptive but we did mess around a bit. He obviously complained at one stage to our form master – I think it was Mr Cully. Probably during lessons with him, or perhaps in form period, he took us outside, one at a time, and had a quiet almost man-to-man chat. I had to accept that we were less than perfect in behaviour in Latin lessons although I never quite understood why I had apparently been picked as one of the ringleaders. Some of us, (I’m not sure how many) were given one stroke of the cane each, on the hand. I don’t think it hurt that much. We were ‘bound over’ to behave better but continued more or less as before.

The other incident was in a French class of Mr Stenner, while the lesson was being taken by a student teacher. As I remember it, my crime was being a little overactive while sharpening a pencil at the back of the class. It was reported to Mr Stenner, again with two or three others. He was known to be strict and supported his student teacher without question. We said nothing when asked to admit guilt or provide a defence. This time it was two strokes and it hurt a lot more. With two strokes you knew what was coming next as you kept you hand out for the second one.

There was no malice in any punishments and no sense of disliking the teachers for what they had done. We just accepted that the teacher was always right.

School prefects could give out Impositions, which were along the lines of: write 1000 words on a specified title. I suppose we more or less respected prefects as well. As long as you did the imposition (generally by writing a lot of rubbish at speed) you could avoid referral onwards.

schooldinners1950s  School meal break

School Dinners

With apologies to ICHS, I have to come to school dinners, a subject that seems to have slipped the net somehow, and it’s mostly very early memories, from the days of Grange Hill Primary School.

When I first went to school, in the early fifties, everyone had school dinners. There was no alternative. They cost a shilling each so we took the equivalent of 25p to school each week. The price was unchanged when I left school! (Memories of paying are a bit unclear for Junior School.)

With a break of just over an hour at lunchtime it was always a regimented procedure. But, of course, we did what we were told and behaved perfectly for the whole procedure. (Well, most of us, most of the time.)

We lined up and went in by classes and sat down on long tables by classes, with supervising teachers everywhere. (At ICHS prefects were involved.)

When we were all there we said grace, generally much more common then, always the simple: “For what we are about to receive, may we be truly grateful.”

We lined up and received the first course and took it back to our tables. When we were ready we lined up, took our plates back, emptied what was left into a slops bucket (where, supposedly, it was fed to pigs) and received afters.

The first course was awful stuff, normally a slice or two of meat, gravy, a scoop of mashed potato and a dollop of green vegetables of some description. The meat, often mutton, had a lot of fat and gristle, and the potatoes had unsavoury lumps. (I always had an aversion to greens that was probably not helped by school dinners.) We ate what we could as there was nothing else. Afters was either a square of jam tart or treacle tart or rice pudding (or other milk pudding) with a dollop of jam. Maybe there were some days when things were different, perhaps liver or sausages. Memories of school dinners are not my favourite memories.

When we went to Highlands there was an option to take our own sandwiches, which we did. (Sandwiches were never anything other than plain white bread with cheese or ham.)

I’m not quite sure what happened when we moved to ICHS. The option for sandwiches was there but for some reason we reverted to school dinners. Every week we presented five shillings to the form master for it. That was the theory. After about a year we stopped going to lunches. Mum and Dad gave us 5s:0d every week which we kept for our own use – all the way through to the Sixth form. We just didn’t eat at lunch time. By then, we generally skipped breakfast in the rush to get out on time, so a ‘doorstep’ with jam was quite common on arriving home.

School dinners have changed a lot since then. The quality was awful, quantities were fixed and there was never any element of choice. We may have had tap water in jugs on the table but there were definitely no other drinks.

Sorry but ICHS blogs don’t go well with illustrations.

One 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.