The garden fairy likes the sun, I hope she has used a high factor cream!
The Purple Lilac looks good and the scent is divine.
Gardening chores completed for the day…
The garden fairy likes the sun, I hope she has used a high factor cream!
The Purple Lilac looks good and the scent is divine.
Gardening chores completed for the day…
In 1957 there was big news on the home front when my sister Lindsay was born but around the world following the excitement of wars and revolutions in 1956 this particular year seems to have been less frenetic.
The Treaty of Rome established the Common Market, which was a deeply significant event that has shaped the recent history of modern Europe. This has become the European Union and has undergone a number of expansions that has taken it from six member states in 1957 to twenty-seven today, a majority of states in Europe. Britain joined in 1973 after a long period of being denied membership by France and in particular the deeply ungrateful and Anglophobe President de Gaulle.
Harold MacMillan became the new Prime Minister of Britain when Anthony Eden resigned over the Suez crisis debacle and this ushered in the baby boomer years of the late 50’s and 60’s when life generally improved for everyone. He led the Conservatives to victory in the 1959 general election using the campaign slogan “Life’s Better Under the Conservatives” and MacMillan himself is remembered for his famous personal assessment of these years when he said,“indeed let us be frank about it – most of our people have never had it so good.”
So was he right? In an honest personal assessment I have to say yes. I was born in 1954 in the years of post war reconstruction and investment and at a time when there was genuine optimism about the future. For me and my contemporaries there was no World War to live through, a free National Health Service, an education system that led to guaranteed employment and an expectation of a long and rewarding life.
My childhood was comfortable if not extravagant, dad had a career in Local Government and mum stayed at home and kept house. There were annual holidays to the seaside, a sack full of presents at Christmas and long glorious summers without a care in the World.
I liked to go to school, even though I wasn’t terribly successful but eventually I was able to progress to University which in 1972 was an achievement rather than an expectation.
After three years of state funded education I started work immediately and followed my dad into a local government career with a guaranteed ‘gold plated’ (according to the anti public sector press these days) index linked pension.
I bought my first car soon after starting work and a first house soon after that, getting loans and mortgages was easy and I soon started to climb the property ladder.
I have two children and three grandchildren . I have never been unemployed, sick or poor and now I am retired from work at sixty years old and hope to look forward to a long and happy life.
So, was Harold MacMillan right in his assessment of life for the Baby Boomers? In my case I have to say a categorical yes!
19th November 1994 was the day of the first UK National Lottery draw and a £1 ticket gave a one-in-14-million chance of striking lucky and guessing correctly the winning six out of 49 numbers.
I remember that everyone was talking about the National Lottery and I bought my ticket a few days in advance of the Saturday night draw. This was in the days before ‘Lucky Dip’ so I had to choose my numbers and like a lot of people I selected meaningful dates like my birthday, my house number, my age and so on.
In 1994 I was working for Cory Environmental at Southend-on-Sea in Essex and I used to drive there everyday from Rugby, a journey which took just a little under two hours (it was a company car so I didn’t mind putting excess miles on the clock, running up a massive fuel bill or making a major contribution to global warming with my diesel emissions) and on that Saturday morning I was on weekend duty and as I drove along the M25 my head was full of plans for spending the winnings that I was absolutely confident of picking up later. I mean, how difficult could it be to pick 6 numbers out of 49?
After a day at work the return journey was the same, would I move to France or Spain? Would I have a Ferrari or a Lamborghini? How would I tell my boss to shove his job and how far and how much would I miss my friends and family? I was totally confident of a life-changing moment in just a couple of hours or so.
Well, it wasn’t to be of course, I don’t think I even got one number, eight people shared the jackpot that night and I wasn’t one of them and I never have been of course and except for the occasional £10 win I have suffered from twenty years of LDS – Lottery Disappointment Syndrome! I live in Grimsby, I have a Volkswagen Golf, three years ago my boss told me to shove off and made me redundant but on the upside I still have my friends and family and that includes three grandchildren who are worth several times more than any multi-million pound lottery win!
The eleven plus exam and secondary education obligations were introduced in the Education Act of 3rd August 1944. It was the only significant piece of legislation relating to post-war social reform that was passed by the coalition government during the war years.
When I went to the Hillmorton County School and moved from primary to junior classes in 1962 everything about the curriculum was about preparing children for the eleven-plus exam because this determined what sort of secondary school they would go on to. Interestingly I don’t remember anyone really adequately explaining this to me at the time and if they had I might just have made a bit more of an effort! Pass this and you could go to a grammar school like Lawrence Sheriff, fail it and it was off to a secondary modern school like Dunsmore or Fareham which were designed to be more technical than academic.
The Headmaster was Mr (George Edward) Hicks and he generally led an assembly with a hymn and a prayer and a short address. He was a decent sort of chap but he just never seemed to take to me and in days when favouritism in schools was acceptable I found him to be quite unsupportive. I just enjoyed being at school, especially the play times, and wasn’t terribly bothered about the learning bits in between so I think he wrote me off at an early stage as being a bit of a no-hoper and advised my parents to buy me a pair of clogs and prepare me for a long dull working life in a factory, as he was certain that I was destined to be one of life’s academic failures.
I met him years later when he came knocking on the door collecting for the RNLI and I think he was genuinely shocked when I told him that I had been to University and had a nice office job with good prospects at the Council.
For slow learners there was no such thing as special educational needs or additional support mechanisms of course and the class was set out in a strict hierarchy with the fast learning favourites at the front getting all of the attention and the dimwits at the back making table mats out of raffia. I suppose I would have found myself about two thirds back from the blackboard. I was a late developer!
I never made much impact at school and casually ambled through four years of education, three times a year at the end of each term taking home a disappointing school report and enduring a lecture from dad on how I had to work harder because one day I would be taking the eleven-plus exam.
The structure of the eleven-plus exam consisted of three papers:
This established a tripartite system of education, with an academic, a technical and a functional strand. Prevailing educational thought at the time was that testing was an effective way to discover to which strand a child was most suited. The results of the exam would be used to match a child’s secondary school to their abilities and future career needs but the exam became a fiercely competitive annual scramble with parents pushing hard for their children to pass the exam and join the elitist group going forward to the stuck-up grammar schools where they could learn Latin and join the chess club whilst leaving the failures to move on to technical drawing and smoking behind the bike-sheds.
And so it came around and 1965 was a mixed year for me when it came to passing exams. As predicted I failed my eleven-plus in Spring and was sent to secondary school in September in the bottom grade at Dunsmore (or Duncemore in my case) but to compensate for that I did get my Leaping Wolf certificate in the Wolf Cubs and passed my Elementary Test for swimming a whole length of the swimming baths and that was quite something let me tell you, the certificate was signed by the examiner, Mrs Dick, who was a fearsome creature, Councillor Pattinson, the Chairman of the Baths Committee and Jim Duffy, the Town Clerk no less!
In a previous post I recalled my memories of going every week to the Saturday morning pictures at the Granada Cinema in North Street in Rugby, the town where I lived.
As I thought more about the location of this once important part of the town I began to remember other buildings and places all around it in this part of the town and what they meant to me.
At the front of the cinema there was a road junction and following the road to the left it became Evreux Way which since 3rd May 1959 has been Rugby’s twin town in France. From 1975 to 1980 I worked at Rugby Borough Council and there was a strong Town Twinning Association with a regular group of Council bigwigs rotating biannually between visiting the twin town in Normandy and then entertaining French visitors the following year. Being a sociable sort of chap with an interest in overseas travel I happily signed up and joined in.
Town Twinning became a big thing after the Second World War as people sought to repair shattered relationships with their neighbours and I have often wondered what the process was for getting a twin town. Perhaps it was like the draw for the third round of the FA cup when all the names go into a hat to be drawn out with each other, or perhaps it was like the UCAS University clearing house system where towns made their preferred selections and waited for performance results to see if they were successful; or perhaps it was a sort of international dating service and introductory agency.
Anyway, I never found the answer to that question but I did enjoy a couple of visits to France.
Rugby Town Hall was opposite the old Granada Cinema and was built some time during the early 1960s and had a rather functional Eastern European construction of brick and concrete with a soaring arch entrance.
n 1975 I started work at Rugby Borough Council and my boss, the Borough Treasurer, John Lord, was the captain of the office cricket team so amongst my other duties he gave me the job of team secretary and it was my job to arrange the fixtures, book the pitches, look after the kit and make sure we had a full squad every week.
I seem to remember that during the summer I didn’t do a great deal else and I neglected my studies to become an accountant, failed my exams and told him one day that I didn’t really want to be an accountant anyway so he punished me by transferring me from an office on the front of the building where you could watch the girls go by to a job in internal audit which was in a portacabin at the back with a view of the print room.
With little interest in work after this I used to get through the morning session and then at lunch time go to the pub with my pals.
This was the ‘Saracen’s Head’ and was directly opposite the old Granada Cinema and here we would have our lunch and a couple of beers. In my final job at South Holland District Council in Spalding in Lincolnshire a nasty little member of staff called Sarah Naylor wrote a staff behaviour policy which forbade staff from drinking at lunch time or even making friends with people at work but in the 1970s this was still quite acceptable.
Sarah didn’t have any friends and she doesn’t work there anymore.
My favourite memory of lunchtimes at the ‘Saracen’s Head’ was a colleague who worked in the Technical Services Department called Merv who was guaranteed to be there every day.
As a drinker Merv would have challenged Oliver Reed and he would regularly drink six (yes, six) pints of beer in his lunch hour! He was a big Rugby Union fan and followed the Rugby Lions and I asked him once how much he would drink on a match day. He told me that if they lost the match then he would only have about twenty pints but if they won then it would be at least twenty-four.
I seem to remember that Merv passed away quite soon after this conversation.
Also at the bottom of North Street and directly behind the cinema was Crown House, the head office of Rugby Portland Cement and at ten stories high seemed almost to be a New York skyscraper. We used to play a team from Crown House in the Rugby Advertiser twenty over cricket league and if I remember correctly they always used to beat us. Actually, I think every one used to beat us so this doesn’t take too much remembering. Just like the Granada Cinema there is no Rugby Portland Cement anymore and it is now owned and operated by Cemex of Mexico.
In the middle of all of these buildings and wedged in between the Council Offices and the ‘Saracen’s Head’ was and is Caldecott Park which outlives everything around it with lawns, gardens, tennis courts, a bowling green and a Victorian bandstand and when on the very infrequent occasions that I didn’t spend lunch times in the pub then I used to take a stroll through the paths that looped around this fine old park but I never really appreciated it as much as I might now if I still lived and worked there.
In the 1950s and 1960s, packets of Brooke Bond tea included illustrated tea cards, usually fifty in a series, which I avidly collected. One of the most famous illustrators of these cards was Charles Tunnicliffe, the internationally acclaimed bird painter. Most of the initial series were wildlife-based, including ‘British Wild Animals’, ‘British Wild Flowers’, ‘African Wild Life’, ‘Asian Wild Life’, and ‘Tropical Birds’.
The first series was introduced on 23rd October 1954 and featured British birds but the first set that I have and can remember was from 1958 – ‘British Wild Life’. It was my dad who collected them really and I can remember sitting at the kitchen table while he used a bottle of gloy glue to stick them into place; I was only four or five years old and he wasn’t going to trust me to do the sort of job that he aspired to himself. Later I used to collect them for myself and paste them into the books (which used to cost 6d) but I never made such a good job of it as he did.
Collecting the cards was exciting, I can recall the moment when mum would buy a new packet and I would open it to get to the card, down the side of the packet and covered in tea dust (these were tea leaves and not tea bags). At the beginning of a new series the collection would build quickly but after twenty of thirty cards it was always disappointing to get a duplicate and this meant having to go through the negotiation process at school to do swaps. There always seemed to be a couple of cards that were difficult to get and sometimes this meant sending off to Brooke Bond to buy them which sort of defeated the object of collecting them and felt a bit like cheating.
I still have my Brooke Bond albums and a couple of years ago I was certain that they must be worth a fortune but a quick visit to ebay knocked the wind out of those particular sails. Never mind, they are priceless to me because it leaves me with fond memories of childhood and my dad who had a passion for collecting all sorts of useless things!
Friday 22nd April was the end of my penultimate week working in Local Government. Monday the following week was the beginning of my last week in paid employment. Not a full week however because it started with a bank holiday Easter Monday and finished with a Royal wedding and a day off work for everyone. And not much in between as it happened because with accrued annual leave it meant that I had completed my last shift at South Holland District Council.
The following week I became an unemployment statistic and didn’t need that old suit anymore!
1965 was a mixed year for me when it came to passing exams. As predicted I failed my eleven-plus in Spring and was sent to secondary school in September in the bottom grade at Dunsmore School for Boys (or Duncemore in my case) but to compensate for that I passed my Elementary Test for swimming a whole length of the swimming baths and that was quite something let me tell you.
The certificate was signed by the examiner, Mrs Dick, who was a fearsome woman, Councillor Pattinson, the Chairman of the Baths Committee and Jim Duffy, the Town Clerk no less! W
who needed the eleven-plus? Not Me!
In contrast to the Hillmorton County Junior School I seemed to be learning something at Chapel and what’s more I was being really successful. Every year we used to take an exam, well, more of a little test really, and if you passed there was a colourful certificate with a picture of Jesus and signed by absolutely everyone who was anyone in the Methodist Church hierarchy.
I was awarded a first class pass three years running and even though the school headmaster had written me of as an educational no-hoper I wasn’t in the slightest bit concerned because I was becoming convinced that I was going to be a vicar.
I joined the Wolf Cubs when I was seven years old and after I had passed all the tests, had a sleeve full of badges and received my Leaping Wolf Certificate moved up to the Scouts when I was eleven. At first I was in the Paddox Troop but later transferred to the Hillmorton, which was good for me because dad was the Scoutmaster, which gave me a bit of an advantage when it came to passing tests and getting badges.
I liked the Scouts and the quasi-military organisation that came with it with the uniforms and the kit inspections, the law book and solemn promise and the fact that I could legitimately carry a hunting knife on my belt without being challenged; if a policeman asked you could just say that it was for skinning rabbits! My only regret about the uniform was that by the time I was in the scouts that old pointy khaki hat had been replaced by the green beret; I always lamented the passing of that hat.
I used to cycle to school and to Scout meetings but 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. 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 backwards, blindfolded or with no hands. “Look at me, no hands – Look at me – no teeth”.
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. 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.
In this post there are genuine extracts from job references provided for my dad, Ivan Petcher.
His first real job was as a Film Librarian working at Jessops in Leicester and then in June 1950 when he was eighteen years old he started his National Service in the Royal Air Force at the Air Ministry in London. This sounds awfully exciting but I suspect that it probably wasn’t. From 1949, every healthy man between the ages of 18 and 26 was expected to serve in the armed forces for a minimum period of eighteen months. Men were exempt from National Service if they worked in three ‘essential services’, which were coal mining, farming and the merchant navy, so not film librarians then!
I’d like to tell you that he was a fighter pilot or a commando or something thrilling but the plain fact is that he worked at the Air Ministry in London in the office as a clerk/typist whose job was ‘the compilation and maintenance of officers’ and airmens’ records and documents’. I can only imagine that this was exceedingly dull!
He must have enjoyed it however because he completed over two years and his discharge paper of 13th July 1952 says that his conduct was exceptional and his ability was very good, he was described as ‘smart’ on a scale of ‘very smart’, ‘smart’ or ‘untidy’ and he was summed up as ‘a very reliable and efficient clerk who has done good work and helped in the tuition of others’. I can understand that because he was always the most helpful person with lots of patience when dealing with other people; sadly I didn’t inherit that characteristic.
The records now reveal that he was doing a bit of moonlighting because if he was discharged on 13th July 1952 it is interesting that he started work with Lewisham Borough Council in South London two weeks earlier on 1st July 1952 as a general clerk. I think Mum’s Aunty Gladys got him the job because she worked in the staff canteen and was good terms with some of the senior staff (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) and she put a good word in for him! He stayed there for six months and when he left the Town Clerk, Alan Milner Smith, wrote of him “I found him to be an intelligent boy…and a thoroughly satisfactory officer”, I wonder how well he knew Aunty Gladys?
He left Lewisham and a week before his twenty first birthday and took up a new appointment at Leicestershire County Council as a general clerk in the Common Services Section of the Education Department where he stayed until May 1957. His salary was £240 a year. In that time he got married, I was born, and he bought his first two houses.
I think he must have been a sociable chap because he was enthusiastic in running the County Offices football and cricket teams and he kept meticulous records of games and performances from 1953 until 1956 (Ivan Petcher Sports Reporter). From my own experience I know that he was a well liked man and the Supplies Officer F E Collis wrote in a reference 0n 30th March 1957 “ he is very popular with the staff and an enthusiastic member of the office football team” he also said, in an old fashioned sort of way, “I have found Mr Petcher’s work perfectly satisfactory and he brings to it an enthusiasm which is all too often lacking in junior officers today”. I imagine F E Collis was about a hundred years old and remembered what administration was like in the days of Dickens and the Raj!
In May 1957 he left Leicestershire County Council and took a job at Hinckley Urban District Council as a Land Charges and General Clerk at a salary of £533 a year. He bought his third house, Lindsay, my sister, was born in October and he cycled to work and back every day, a distance of about thirty miles, later he got a moped but I seem to recall that it wasn’t especially reliable and sometimes he had to push it all the way home so he went back to the push bike.
This wasn’t sustainable of course so in 1959 they sold up and we sensibly moved to Hinckley to be close to his work. That didn’t last long either and he left Hinckley on 31st December 1960 and moved to Rugby Rural District Council to be a committee clerk at a salary of £815 a year. In a little under six years his salary had increased by £575 or 240%
I especially like his reference from F J Warren the Deputy Clerk of the Council who described my dad as “a useful, promising and reliable member of staff… I cannot speak too highly of his integrity and desire to give satisfaction” and he added in a quaint sort of way that you would never find in a character reference today “he is of pleasing appearance and courteous to all with whom he comes in contact”.
The pre-decimalisation British system of coinage was introduced by King Henry II. It was based on the troy system of weighing precious metals. The penny was literally one pennyweight of silver. A pound sterling thus weighed 240 pennyweights, or a pound of sterling silver.
On 15th February 1971, after five years of planning by the Decimal Currency Board, Britain abandoned this medieval currency system and converted to a much simpler decimal system based on pounds and new pence.
This was much simpler because in the years just prior to decimalisation, the circulating British coins were the half crown (2s 6d), two shillings or florin, shilling, known as a bob, sixpence (6d), the tanner, threepence (3d), thruppenny bit and my favourite pre decimal coin, penny (1d) and halfpenny (½d). The farthing (¼d) being practically worthless had been withdrawn as long ago as 1960.
Under the old currency the pound (denoted by the letter l for libra) was made up of 240 pence (denoted by the letter d for Latin denarius and now referred to as “old pence”), with 12 pence in a shilling and 20 shillings (denoted by s for Latinsolidus) in a pound.
Amounts of money were written as l s d, for pounds, shillings and pence. 5s was 5 shillings, often just written as 5/-. And 5s 6d was 5 shillings and sixpence – and was often, instead, written as 5/6. In spoken English, the “shilling” word was often missed out – so a shopkeeper might say, “that’ll be 5 and 6, please”, meaning 5 shillings and six pence.
In an era before widespread computer use, monetary calculation, such as adding up sums of money, was more complicated than with a decimal currency. When I was at primary school between 1959 and 1966 I had to learn arithmetic based on this confusing system and in Mrs Bull’s class three it was time for adding up and taking away and we would sit and chant out the times tables over and over again until we knew them off by heart. That was boring but useful because I have never forgotten them. Doing sums was a lot harder then because we were still ten years away from decimalisation and had to add things up in pounds, shillings and pence and that was difficult let me tell you. Try adding this lot together and you will see what I mean:
After decimilisation there was a completely new set of coins to get familiar with. The 50 pence coin had been introduced in 1969 to replace the paper 10 shilling note and in 1971 we had the 10 pence, 5 pence, 2 pence, 1 pence and ½ pence coins. Between 1969 and 1971 we used to take half crowns into the school metal work shop and file down the edges to convert them to 50 pence pieces in a crude attempt to quadruple their value and then try and pass them off in the sweet shop down the road where the shop keeper had poor eyesight.
To commemorate decimilisation the Royal Mint sold souvenir wallets with each of the new coins and a short explanation. Mum and dad bought one for me and my sister but I just popped the coins out from the cardboard holder and spent them and then a few days later I spent my sister’s as well and I feel really bad about that now!
The 20 pence piece was introduced in 1982. The half penny was withdrawn from circulation in 1984. A smaller, lighter 10 pence piece was circulated from 1993 and similar changes were made to the 50 pence in 1998. In June 1998 the £2 coin came into general circulation.
The answer to the sum is seven pounds, eight shillings and fourpence ha’penny. I told you it was hard!