Category Archives: Family Tree

Age of Innocence – 1967, Radio Leicester and Cycling Proficiency

The BBC made some important broadcasting changes in 1967. On television it began broadcasting in colour and the first two post monochrome programmes were some matches from Wimbledon and an episode from the American western series, the Virginian. By December BBC2 was broadcasting a full colour service, with approximately 80% of its output now being broadcast in colour.

At Wimbledon incidentally the American Billie Jean-King beat the English tennis player Ann Jones in the women’s final. Two years later however she got her revenge and beat Billie Jean in the 1969 final. On radio, the BBC had a shake-up in order to compete with pirate radio and introduced radio one, two, three and four. Tony Blackburn was the first radio one DJ on the breakfast programme and the first record that he played was ‘Flowers in the Rain’ by the Move.

Also in 1967, Radio Leicester, the first BBC local radio station was launched and this turned out to be a watershed in broadcasting for my dad. Being Leicester born and bred and with a fascination for anything about the city, especially its sport, Leicester City, Leicester Tigers, Leicestershire County Cricket Team and so on, this new radio station provided him with his greatest possible source of entertainment satisfaction. A little while after I think he underwent a surgical procedure and was permanently attached to his transistor radio and he spent about 50% of the rest of his life listening to anything that was on Radio Leicester.

In the 1960s before families had two cars most of us went to school on our bikes. This was a much better arrangement than today when every school morning and evening the roads are clogged up with cars taking lazy kids to school. Everyone had a bike. I had a simple sky blue and brown Raleigh model but what I really wanted was a racing bike with pencil thin tyres, derailleur gears and a saddle so sharp that one false move in any direction would cut your arse to ribbons. My bike didn’t have any gears at all, a very sensible saddle and it certainly wouldn’t have won any races, but it was reliable and solid and everyday I would cycle the two miles or so to school and back and, on account of the fact that I didn’t like school meals, go home for my dinner as well.

I didn’t have one of these either because this is my brother Richard on his Raleigh Chopper in about 1972.

With so many bikes on the road the Government was concerned about highway safety and in 1967 along with a load of other kids I took my Cycling Proficiency Test. Cyclist training began in 1947, although its roots stretched back to the 1930s when cycling organisations were pressing the Government to include cyclist instruction in the school curriculum and finally in 1958 the Government funded the introduction of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) National Cycling Proficiency Scheme and cycling instructors came to the school to prepare us for the test. RoSPA by the way was also responsible for the Tufty Club and the Green Cross Code and were completely detached from reality because we had all been out on the open road for years on our bikes and had already perfected some of the finer points of cycling, such as riding facing backwards or with no hands, for example.

Most of the ‘training’ took place in the safety of the school playground where we had to demonstrate our biking skills by cycling between bollards, learning the Highway Code and how to maintain our machines in good mechanical order. Once we had done all of this to the satisfaction of the instructor there was a final road test under the watchful eye of the examiner. As far as I can remember, I don’t think anybody ever failed the Cycling Proficiency Test and at the end there was a certificate and an aluminium badge to attach to the handlebars so that everyone knew just how safe we were.

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Age of Innocence, 1955 – Disney and McDonalds in France

Walt Disney (2)

The year 1955 unleashed another American icon on the world when Walt Disney opened his Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California.

Sixteen years later the World Disney World resort opened in Orlando, Florida and although I have never been to California I went to Disney World three times in the 1990’s which was good fun but at least one time too many.  My young children enjoyed it of course but I tired of the theme parks fairly quickly and looking back I would have to say that my favourite was EPCOT and here in Walt’s own personal dream my favourite was the World Showcase.

EPCOT Future World

In 1955 Disney and McDonalds almost got together when Ray Kroc wrote to Walt Disney offering a deal: “I have very recently taken over the national franchise of the McDonald’s system. I would like to inquire if there may be an opportunity for a McDonald’s in your Disneyland Development.” The story goes that Walt was too busy to deal with the matter himself so he passed it on to the President in charge of concessions.  Allegedly he agreed but wanted to increase prices by 50% with all the extra profit going to Disney.  Kroc refused and it was to be another thirty years before they worked together.

I am not sure just how big a set back that was because since then McDonalds has globalised and like a giant tsunami swept into every continent  in the World, the company has more than 34,000 restaurants in 118 countries, with 1.8 million employees and serving nearly 69 million people.  Although a lot of us deny ever dining there most of us secretly do.

EPCOT France

The French are famously snooty about anything Gallic and they didn’t take very kindly to Micky Mouse when plans were revealed to open a Disney theme park in Paris and the proposal was a subject of fierce debate and controversy. Prominent French intellectuals denounced what they considered to be the cultural imperialism of Euro Disney and felt it would encourage in France an unhealthy American type of consumerism. For others, Euro Disney became a symbol of America within France. But they were powerless to stop it and it opened in April 1992.  There was one final act of defiance in June of the same year when a group of French farmers blockaded Euro Disney in protest of farm policies supported at the time by the United States.

Jose Bove

After language the French get most uptight about food and for McDonalds the battle for France was one of the most difficult.  The first outlet was opened in the Paris suburb of  Créteil in 1972 and in 1999 a farmer turned environmental activist and anti-globalisation protester Jose Bové gave a whole new meaning to the term ‘drive-thru’ when he vandalised a half built McDonald’s in the town of Millau in the south of France by driving a tractor into it.

At the time he was running for President and must have thought this would be popular with the French electorate but he was no match for Le Big Mac and this act of folly completely scuppered his chances. Most electorates don’t really want a vandal heading up their government. The first round of the presidential election was held  and Bové finished an embarrassing tenth, getting barely one percent of the total vote. By then, McDonalds was expanding rapidly in the land of classic cuisine and fine dining and had three hundred more than it had had when Bové began his high profile campaign.  The company was pulling in over a million people per day in France, and annual turnover was growing at twice the rate it was in the United States.  Against McDonald’s, Bové had lost in a landslide of burgers and nuggets.  He spent a few weeks in jail but he is now representative at the European Parliament

Even though the French still maintain that they despise the fast food chain and the concept an awful lot of people do eat there. Across France there are nearly twelve hundred restaurants and in Paris alone there are almost seventy restaurants under golden arches, with even more dotted around the outer suburbs. That’s much the same as London, but with only a third of the people.  McDonald’s, or “macdoh” as it is known, is France’s dirty secret.   In 2013 sales reached 4.46 billion euros.

mcbaguette

That is more than it generates in Britain and in terms of profit, France is second only to the United States itself and it has the most locations per capita in Europe and the fourth-highest rate in the world.  It is now so firmly a part of French culture that the menu includes McBaguette and Croque McDo and in 2009 McDonald’s reached a deal with the French museum, the Louvre, to open a McDonald’s restaurant and McCafé on its premises by their underground entrance.

In the world of national and international politics, in this year Winston Churchill resigned as Prime Minister in Great Britain and Juan Peron, who was famously married to Eva Duarte, or Evita as we popularly know her, was overthrown from power in a coup in Argentina.  Cardiff became the official capital of Wales, Austria was restored to the status of sovereign independent state and faithfully promised the world to remain forever neutral and the Soviet Union finally declared the end of the Second-World-War with Germany.

In sport the 1955 Le Mans disaster occurred during the 24 Hours motor race when a racing car involved in an accident flew into the crowd, killing the driver and eighty-two spectators which in terms of human casualties was, and hopefully always will be, the most catastrophic accident in the history of motor sport.

Mcdonalds France

 

Age of Innocence – 1954 Part One, Inclement Weather and Sport

I first started this blog in November 2009 and I called it ‘The Age of Innocence’ and I intended it to be a look back over the first twenty years or so of my life by examining some of the events of the years that were making the big news.

The blog was a slow starter, in the first month the statistics show six views increasing to nine in December.  On the basis of these figures it is fair to assume then that not many people have read my early posts so I have decided that over five years since first publication I will go back and review them and repost:

1954 Part 1 – Inclement Weather and Sport

Weather Forecast 

The weather in England is often, no mostly, disappointing and a source of amusement for people in other parts of the World who have the benefit of warmer and drier climates.

According to official records the year 1954 was especially poor.

The Monthly Weather Report of the Meteorological Office was produced by the Air Ministry and printed by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.  It had been in circulation since January 1884 and a note on the front cover explained that it was a “summary of observations compiled from returns of official stations and volunteer observers”.  It wasn’t an especially exciting publication and at a cost of two shillings, which wasn’t an inconsiderable sum at the time, you would have had to be a really serious weather enthusiast to order a subscription at the newsagents.

For anyone that did buy the June edition (actually published in September), it reported that the month of June 1954 was all rather bleak and depressing, beset with frequent rain, below average temperatures for the time of year and the lowest ever recorded hours of sunshine for June since records began.

Heavy Rain

It turned out to be the worst summer of the century and the official verdict was confirmed by a weather report in the cricket journal Wisden’s Almanack in its annual review of the season including reports on the international matches.

In 1954 the Pakistan cricket team made their first ever tour of England and on Thursday 10th June were due to play their first test match in London at Lords Cricket Ground but heavy rain meant that no play was possible on the opening day.  It rained all of the next day too and the day after that and this became the first test match in England when all first three days were completely washed out.  This was unfortunate for anyone who had bought a ticket of course because unlike the US baseball rain check system if there was no play in a test match then that was just plain bad luck.

I wonder what was going through the minds of the Pakistan team as they sat in the dressing room wearing several jumpers and watching the rain pouring down when they knew that back home average June temperatures were around about 38°; they all look rather uncomfortable in this official team photograph…

Pakistan 1954 Tourists

The weather was providing all sorts of bizarre incidents and raising all sorts of questions but none more freakish than what happened on 12th June when a heavy rainstorm hit the city of Birmingham.  People fled for cover and visitors to a city park heard what sounded like the patter of unusually heavy raindrops beating against their umbrellas and then they were astonished to discover that the rain consisted of not just water but hundreds of tiny frogs!  Reports of frogs falling from the sky go back some way and some scientists account for these strange rains by explaining that frogs and fish are sometimes swept into the air by whirlwinds or tornados, transported along by the winds and then later on unceremoniously dumped from the sky.

It was around about now that I was due to make an appearance and more or less on time I was born in the afternoon of Tuesday 15th June at about the same time that the Midlands and the North of England were experiencing one of the wettest June days ever.

On an average day in the 1950s roughly about 340,000 people were born so there must be a reasonable chance that most people will share a birthday with someone famous.  I’d like to tell you that mine is the same day as someone really, really famous but I have to make do with the actor James Belushi.

Front cover of Look Magazine 15th June 1954 – Grace Kelly…

Look Magazine 15 June 1954

There was another birth, of sorts, on June 15th because this was the day that the footballing countries of Europe got together and founded EUFA, The Union of European Football Associations, as the governing body of European football.  It originally consisted of twenty-five members including three countries that no longer exist in the way that they did in 1954, The Soviet Union, East Germany and Yugoslavia.  Another little know fact is that another founder member was Saarland which was a German Rhine State that was under post war French occupation at the time.

The following day the fifth FIFA World Cup competition began in Switzerland and competitors included West Germany who by a curious twist of fate had qualified for the finals by beating Saarland!  I can’t imagine that would have been terribly difficult, rather like England playing Cornwall or USA playing Hawaii.  West Germany went on to win the World Cup by beating Hungary 3-2 in the final.

Despite the objections of France who wanted to retain the occupied territory on account of its coal and mineral wealth Saarland was reunited with West Germany in 1957 and so was no longer entitled to independent membership of EUFA.

I can’t help wondering now what my dad thought about all of this at the time.  He must have been proud to have a son but he was also mad keen on football but I’ll keep that for a later story…

Next time – wartime rationing and nuclear testing.

Ivan 1954

Scrap Book Project – Houses, Chislehurst Avenue, Leicester

Chislehurst Avenue Leicester

Around the end of 1958 the family left the semi-detached house in Ledwell Drive, Glenfield and prepared to move into a brand new house in Braunstone South near the Narborough Road in Leicester.

The house wasn’t ready until the following Spring so for a few months we lived with my grandparents in Cleveleys Avenue close by.  What I remember most about living there was getting a train set for Christmas.

Christmas morning in the front room there was a square metre of sapele board and a simple circle of track, an engine a tender and two coaches in British Rail burgundy livery.  There was a level crossing, a station and a bridge made out of an old shoe box that dad had cut out and made himself.  He was good at making things for Christmas presents and at about the same time I had a fort with some US cavalry soldiers that was made out of an old office filing box that he had constructed into a pretty good scale copy of Fort Laramie or wherever, later I had a replacement fort, this time from the toy shop but it was never as good as the cardboard box.

Early in 1959 we moved to the new house in Chislehurst Avenue.

Chislehurst Avenue, March 1959

In the early twentieth century Braunstone  remained a small settlement until 1925 when the Leicester Corporation compulsorily purchased the bulk of the Winstanley Braunstone Hall estate  in what was known as Leicester Forest.  Today the service station on the M1 motorway is called Leicester Forest East Services.

Building commenced in the late 1920s and between 1936 and 1939 the estate of North Braunstone was built to accommodate families moving from slum housing within the city which were being demolished.  When the poorer families had lived in the centre of the city there had been an appropriate infrastructure to support the community but none of these facilities were provided on the new estate.  It was generally assumed that providing better housing conditions was a complete solution by itself.  Some of the poorest of families from Leicester moved into the North Braunstone Estate and the concentration of these particular low paid and needy families earned the estate the title of ‘Dodge City’.

I mention this in a snobbish sort of way because Chislehurst Avenue is in South Braunstone which is a middle class, private ownership area where even today the residents take care to cling on to a separate identity from that of the social housing area of North Braunstone.

010

We lived at Chislehurst Avenue for just over a year.  Dad built a new rockery, I made friends with John and Michael Sparks who lived opposite, had my fifth birthday and started going to school at the Ravenhurst Primary where my first teacher was Miss Bird. Dad continued to cycle fifteen miles each way to work in the town of Hinckley.

This was not sustainable of course and in the winter of 1960 it became too much for him and he had to concede that he might have to consider leaving his beloved home town of Leicester.  The only sensible thing to do was to move closer to his work so in the Spring the house was put up for sale and probably two years later than they should have done my parents prepared to move to Hinckley.

In 1960 a visit to the hairdresser was obviously regarded as an unnecessary expense and the basin cut was the fashion…

Birthday Party Celebration

Scrap Book Project – Houses, Ledwell Drive, Glenfield

9 Ledwell Drive

After a couple of years living close to Leicester city centre in Tyndale Street my parents were ready for a move and were looking to go up a rung or two on the housing ladder, Dad had had a promotion at work at Leicestershire County Council working at the Education Department at Greyfriars so the time was right to move on.

They chose the village of Glenfield which is three miles to the west of the city and in the 1950s was expanding quickly with new houses being built on the Frith Estate which was land that once belonged to nearby Frith Hall, a stately home set in parkland and surrounded by small farms.

Glenfield 1964

My parents bought a brand new semi-detached house built by Jelson homes in Ledwell Drive almost at the centre of the new development.  It was still a building site really because at the time we moved in only one side of the road was completed and the other was still under construction.

I was only two years old and we left when I was four so I don’t remember very much about living in this house.  I do recall the building site opposite because one day I was crawling through a drainage pipe and cut my head open as I went through and I still have the scar to prove it.

Living here did provide one defining moment in my life – it gave me a life-long fear of dogs.  My dislike for them started when I was taken one day for a walk by my granddad and on a piece of waste land opposite the house and an Alsatian dog knocked me to the ground, pinned me down and stood on my chest.  The inconsiderate owner had let it off its leash and I was absolutely terrified.  Lucky for me that granddad was able to shoo it off and chase it away or else I was sure to have been a 1958, child chewed to death by a dog, statistic.

Dad worked hard on the house, he decorated it, he dug the garden, he put down paths and built a rockery.  Wherever we lived Dad always built a rockery!  The family got bigger and in October 1957 my sister Lindsay was born.

Andrew and Lindsay

We didn’t stay in this house very long, I am not really sure why but it probably had something to do with dad’s job.  In May 1957 he was appointed to the post of ‘Land Charges Clerk’ at Hinckley Urban District Council at an annual salary of £533.  That doesn’t sound a lot but it meant that his salary had rocketed by nearly 125% in just four years.  That is a serious increase in anyone’s career and salary and I can only imagine how excited he must have been at that time.  In the year 1990 my salary increased by 35% in one jump when I got a new job and for a few months, until expenditure caught up with income, I thought that I was a millionaire.

Surely the sensible thing to do was move to Hinckley, Dad didn’t drive or have a car and it is about sixteen miles from Glenfield.  He used to cycle to work, there and back every day, I cannot imagine what a chore that must have been.  Assuming he could make ten miles an hour that would have been three hours a day cycling back and forth to work.  If he got a puncture he had to walk, in the rain I remember him having a yellow oilskin cape and a sou’wester rain hat.  Later he bought a moped but it was forever breaking down so he went back to the push bike.  In the Winter it must have cost a fortune in Ever Ready batteries just for the front and rear lights! Surely the sensible thing to do was move to Hinckley!

The house today is much the same as it was in 1956.  The front garden has gone and been converted to parking spaces, there is a garage at the side and it has plastic windows but if he could pull up on his bike at the front door and go back and look at it I am certain that Dad would recognise it instantly.

And so we moved – but not to Hinckley!

This is me doing my French onion seller impression sitting on Dad’s rockery…

9 Ledwell Drive Glenfield

And outside the original front door in October 1958…

001

Scrap Book Project – Ivan Petcher

March 27th is a very special day to me because in 1932 that was the day that my dad, Ivan Petcher was born.  He was the sort of man that you hope to be like when you grow up and then wish you had been like when you are old.

I don’t know anything about his childhood of course and there is no one to give me any clues so my story fast-forwards to 1947 and the year he met my mum.

From the way dad used to talk about being a teenager I have always imagined the post war years to be an almost idyllic existence, Enid Blyton sort of days with long hot summers, blue skies, bike rides, ripping-yarn adventures and picnics, where young people were polite and had good manners and didn’t spend their evenings hanging around Tesco Express with a bottle of cider, frightening the old folk and no one had heard of the concept of anti-social behaviour.

These were surely days of optimism with a country led by a Labour Government that had been elected in the summer of 1945 with a landslide majority and a promise to make everything better and which had embarked on a radical programme of nationalisation including coal mining, electricity supply and railways.

These were the days of the new National Health Service and the Welfare State all based on the optimistic principles of socialism.  And to add to all this good news the United States announced the Marshall Plan to pay for the reconstruction of Europe and that meant over three billion dollars was on the way to the United Kingdom to rebuild its bombed-out cities and its shattered economy.

This was the year of the inauguration of the United Nations which meant peace for ever more and the year that Princess Elizabeth married Prince Mountbatten.

Life was not so idyllic however in the big cities just after the war so I suppose it was nice to have a holiday and that summer mum left London for a few days with a friend in Rushden in Northamptonshire and at some point during that week she met my dad.  He was sixteen but looked younger, he hadn’t finished growing so was still quite small, his nickname was Pid as in little piddy widdy, and he he had boyish face and an impish grin with piercing cobalt blue eyes and a distinctive hairstyle with a fringe that flopped over his forehead in a Hugh Grant sort of way.

He obviously made an immediate impact on the young girl visiting from London and they spent the next sixty years together.

Not straight away of course because his new girlfriend had to go back to London to finish school and here is something else that I find absolutely charming.  These were days before mobile phones, skype and instant messaging, even before regular telephones so the only way they had of keeping in touch and keeping the romance going was by sending each other letters and photographs.

They kept this up for three years before dad was called up for national service in the RAF and he moved to London where he stayed until they married in 1953.

In 1948 dad left school and went to work for his father in the family business, a grocery store in Rushden, but they sold that sometime at the end of the decade and they all moved to Leicester and dad got his first proper job at Jessops.  I don’t know how much he earned, it couldn’t have been a lot, but from photographs it would seem that he spent quite a lot of it on clothes and he was always a smart, well turned out young man with an impressive wardrobe.

The picture above was taken in 1947 and his clothes look a bit shabby and worn through and they are in total contrast to the one below taken two years later on holiday in Skegness.  It’s a bit of a surprise to me because I don’t remember him being particularly interested in clothes and he would make most things last much longer than they could be reasonably expected to but for a couple of years in the late 1940s he obviously cared a lot about his appearance.  Or perhaps, judging by how much he had grown in two years, replacement clothes were a regular necessity during that time.

I like this picture, dad was eighteen and looks smart, self assured and full of confidence, mum was sixteen and looks really happy to be with this really special man.

 

Scrap Book Project – A Missing Degree Ceremony

After I had finished my final exams at University on a Friday afternoon in the middle of June 1975 I was in a bit of a rush to get packed up and out of Cardiff.

It was my twenty-first birthday weekend and I was starting a full time job at Rugby Borough Council on the next day, the 16th June.  After that I never went back, not even to my degree ceremony, which seemed a lot of unnecessary expense and not  terribly important at the time, my certificate was rather impersonally sent to me through the post and I always rather regretted that since.

Luckily my own children both went to University and both had rather nice degree ceremonies that I was able to attend.  The first was Sally on 16th July 2007 at Warwick University and the second was Jonathan at Nottingham on 14th July 2009.

Ten Other things I regret (no particular order, except the first):

Not visiting my dad more often before he died

Swapping my Robinson’s Gollywog badges for other less collectible things

Going to see Bernard Manning (twice) and finding him funny

Stealing my sister’s commemorative decimal coin pack and spending it

Not keeping in touch with people

Arguing with family over trivial things

Sacking people because I could (especially not nice)

Not going to the Athens 2004 Olympic Games

Buying a useless collection of lead soldiers (ok, actually 3 sets!)

Wasting hundreds or even thousands of £s on beer and wine