Tag Archives: Culture

Scrap Book Project – Shopping and Home Delivery

Rugby Town shopping

Shopping was completely different fifty years ago and wasn’t nearly as easy as it is today when one single car trip to the out of town supermarket  once a week is all that is needed to complete a full shop.

For a start we didn’t have a car so it really wasn’t possible to transport all of the weekly shopping home in one go.  On market day mum would catch the Midland Red R76 into town to buy fresh vegetables and then later in the week she would go into town again to go to the butchers and the International Stores which until Fine Fare arrived was the only big food store in town.

She had to go shopping twice a week for the simple reason that we didn’t have a fridge so keeping food fresh was a bit of a problem, especially in the summer.  If she forgot something or needed it urgently there was Verdigan’s (later Winter’s) village shop on Lower Street in the village and a couple of times a week Mr Tucson’s mobile shop used to call by.

mobile shop 1

mobile shop

This is obviously not Mr Tuscon – but you will get the general idea!

Mr Tucson’s mobile shop had a very distinctive earthy smell of decaying vegetables – especially potatoes I seem to recall which was especially strong in the summer.  He didn’t have a lot of stock on board, some boxes of wilting salad and vegetables, dusty boxes of cereal, some rusting tins of soup, spam, corned beef  and baked beans and a rack of 1960s teeth destroying sugary sweets.

The old clapped-out converted coach would pull up in the street and announce its arrival with several lusty blasts of the horn and then Mr Tuscon in his brown overall would stop the engine and move from the driver’s seat to the formica topped counter with a meat slicer and a set of shiny scales and assorted metal weights and wait a few moments for the customers to arrive.

I used to like Mr Tuscon’s mobile shop, I used to go to school with his daughter, Janice and I often wondered if she would one day grow up and take over the business.  Also in my class at school was my friend Dave Clark (not the one from the Dave Clark Five) and his dad had the best shop in Rugby at the top of Railway Terrace and was a sort of Marrakech souk where you could buy all sorts of useful household items.

Clarks - Railway Terrace

Mr Tuscon wasn’t the only delivery man who dropped by of course because getting things delivered was much more common in the 1960s.  I know that I can get things delivered direct from practically anyone these days but it really isn’t the same.

Newspapers for example. In the late 1960s  I had my first paper round and earned fifteen shillings (.75p) a week in return for getting up at six o’clock, six days a week, whatever the weather to lug a bag of newspapers around the village before going to school.  The papers were carried in a big canvas bag and as I was only small the newsagent had to tie a knot in the strap so that it didn’t drag on the floor.  I would be surprised if paper rounds exist anymore because to deliver to fifty houses or so would need a dumper truck to replace the old canvas bag on account of the size of the newspapers and the weight of all of the colour supplements.

paper round

This is obviously not me either – If I had had a mobile phone or a digital camera in 1966 then I would have taken a ‘selfie’.

The milk arrived on the doorstep early in the morning by Anderson’s Dairy who delivered the milk and the cream and the eggs in an electric float that purred around the streets in a sort of considerate way that didn’t wake every one up given the early hours of working.  You didn’t see the milkman except for once a week when he called on Friday night to collect the money and I was always fascinated by his leather wallet in which he stuck any notes, turned it inside out and it rearranged them by denominations as if by magic.  I have got one of those wallets now but I still can’t figure out exactly how it works.

The baker came by in the Sunblest van a couple of times a week with bread and cakes in a huge wicker basket and once a week the mobile fishmonger from Grimsby called by.  The Corona pop man would call every other week and leave lemonade, cherryade and orangeade and sometimes ginger beer, cream soda or dandelion and burdock.  There was never any Coke or Pepsi but I remember that he once started bringing Root Beer but I don’t think it proved very popular because in the UK we have never acquired a taste for this American favourite.  I didn’t like it that’s for sure and I still don’t.

A couple of times a year there was a delivery from the coalman in his leather jacket, flat cap and blackened face and he always seemed rather satanic and sinister to me so I generally kept well away.  Later the mobile chippy used to call down our road but I always thought that was rather dangerous, driving around the streets with a vat of boiling fat sloshing about as it drove round corners or made emergency stops!

What made me suddenly think of all this? Well, I am sitting in waiting for the postman to deliver me a couple of books that I have ordered from Amazon and I suddenly remembered that when I was a boy the postman used to deliver twice a day, once early morning and then a second time in the afternoon.  This was good at birthdays because if an expected card with two and six in it didn’t arrive in the morning then there was always a good chance that it would turn up later when some skinflint had only used the cheaper postal service for unsealed envelopes.

You don’t get service like that any more, sometime in the 1960s Mr Tuscon stopped coming along with the baker and the Grimsby fishmonger, people got gas central heating and didn’t need coal and milk became cheaper by the gallon in the supermarkets than in the pint glass bottles  and quite soon after that everyone got cars to go into town to shop and had fridges and freezers so only had to go shopping once a week.

Pop Delivery Lorry

Scrap book Project – Feeling Homesick

When I went to school in the 1960s school trips were simple affairs with a visit to nearby Stratford upon Avon and possibly a coach trip to London to go to the museums. Thirty years later when my own children were going to school trips were much more interesting with more adventurous and stimulating itineraries sometimes including overseas travel.  My daughter Sally loved these school holidays and I was always paying for one trip or another and she would leave home full of enthusiasm.

Jonathan on the other hand was not nearly so keen and I remember him going away only once.  This was in 1998 in the final year of Junior School when he was eleven years old.  For the top class there was always a few days away on the Isle of Wight.  Sally had gone two years earlier and now it was Jonathan’s turn.  He didn’t really want to go and had no enthusiasm for the affair but we packed him off and patiently waited for the postman to deliver to us the letter that told us what a brilliantly good time he was having.

Imagine how guilty we felt when this letter popped through the post:

Scrap Book Project – The Boys’ Toy Box

Like most boys I had a train set which was set out on a square metre of sapele board and was 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.

I remember that Dad used to like playing with the train set and a lot of the time I had to watch the train going around the track whilst he operated the controller, set the points and coupled and uncoupled the coaches and wagons.  In fact he liked train sets so much that one of the last birthday presents that I bought him before he died was a Hornby Flying Scotsman set.  It’s in storage now in my loft space.

Dad was good at making things 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.

To go inside the fort was a regiment of US cavalry soldiers and to attack it were a dozen or so blood-thirsty Indians.  I also had some cowboy figures called ‘swapits’ which, as the name suggests could be taken apart and reassembled in different combinations of legs, torso and head but a lot of the little pieces, especially the gun belts and the neckerchiefs, went missing quite quickly.

For many years after that there were new additions to the train set until I had quite an extensive network of track and a good collection of engines and rolling stock.  But something bad happened to the train set in about 1972 when all of the engines mysteriously stopped functioning.  The reason for this was quickly discovered.  Brother Richard who has always been more gifted than me with a screwdriver had dismantled them all as part of his engineering education.  Unfortunately at this time his skills were not sufficiently developed to be able to put them back together again with quite the same level of expertise and consequently that was the end of model railways in our house.

1960 saw the introduction to Britain of two new must have toys.  The first was the Etch-a-Sketch, which was a big bag of aluminium dust behind a plastic screen that you scraped doodles into, like you would on the window of a steamed-up car.  But rather than use your finger you had to demonstrate unnatural amounts of patience, perseverence and agility and twiddle two knobs which was an action that required almost impossibly high levels of eye to hand co-ordination.  Actually I always considered Etch-a-Sketch to be really hopeless and it was impossible to draw anything really creative.  The box suggested all sorts of drawing possibilities but in reality although it was alright for houses or anything else with straight lines beyond that it was excruciatingly frustrating to draw anything that anyone would be able to meaningfully identify.

  

Much more important than Etch-a-Sketch was the introduction of the construction toy Lego which was seen at the Brighton Toy Fair for the first time in 1960.  Lego is a Danish company and the name comes from the Danish words ‘LEg GOdt’ meaning play well.  Now this just has to be one of the best toys ever and when it was first introduced the brightly coloured bricks sold by the bucketful.

It is estimated that there are now eighty-six Lego bricks for every person on earth, with around seven sets sold every second, while the 400 million tyres that are produced each year for them makes it the world’s biggest tyre manufacturer.

Pre-Lego I had a construction set called Bayko, which was a set of bakerlite bricks and metal wires that could be used to construct different styles of houses but nothing more exciting than that.  Lego changed everything and the only restrictions on creativity thereafter were the number of bricks in the toy box and a child’s (or an adult’s) imagination!

Others agree with me about the importance of Lego and the British Association of Toy Retailers has named Lego the toy of the century.

The final ‘must have’ boys’ toy was the construction set Meccano which was a model building system comprising re-usable metal strips, plates, angle girders, wheels, axles and gears, with nuts and bolts to connect the pieces together to (in theory) enable the building of working models and mechanical devices.

I had a box of Meccano which, on a rainy afternoon, made you feel like a real engineer for a few hours.  Like Lego the real problem with Meccano was that almost always there were never enough parts to complete the planned ambitious project and most grand construction plans that were conceived in the mind were never fully completed by our fingers.  Like a lot of boys of my age I abandoned Meccano when plastic parts began to replace the original metal pieces because for some reason this made it seem slightly less grown-up.

Scrap Book Project – I-Spy Books

I-Spy books were small paperback volumes that were popular in the 1950s and 1960s.  Each book covered a subject such as I-SPY Cars, I-SPY on the Pavement, I-SPY on a Train Journey, and so on and so on.

The object was to be vigilant and spot objects such as animals, trees, policemen, fire engines, sea shells etc. etc.  and they were recorded in the relevant book, and this gained points.  More points were available for the more difficult spots.  Once you had spotted everything and the book was complete, it could be sent to Big Chief I-SPY for a feather and order of merit.

No, I kid you not! 

The books was supposedly written by a Red Indian chief called Big Chief I-Spy who turned out to be a man called Charles Warrell who was a former school teacher and headmaster who created I-Spy in 1948. He retired in 1956, but lived on until 26th November 1995 when he died at the age of 106.  For part of this time he also worked as an antiques dealer in Islington.

Those who played the I-Spy game became members of the I-Spy Tribe and were called Redskins.  The head office was variously known as the Wigwam by the Water or the Wigwam-by-the-Green.  Neither of these exotic sounding places were situated on the American Plains or in the Black Hills of Dakota, the former was located next to the Mermaid Theatre at Blackfriars and the latter was in London’s Edgware Road.

I had quite a collection of I-Spy books but to be honest I never finished any of them because some of the items were absurdly difficult to track down (how, for example, do you I-Spy fish unless you are a deep sea fisherman working on a trawler or a scuba diver?) and I never got a single feather although I did join the club and had an I-Spy badge that I used to wear on the lapel of my school blazer.

I-SPY Badge

The original first thirty-two I-Spy books were in black and white only and cost sixpence each and the titles were:

At the Seaside The Army
On the Farm The Wheel
History Sport
On a Train Journey People and Places
Dogs Musical Instruments
In the Country Men at Work
At the Zoo- Animals Antique Furniture
At the Zoo – Birds and Reptiles The Universe
In the Street Road Transport
On the Road Town Crafts
The Sights of London Country Crafts
Horses and Ponies The Sky
Ships and Harbours People in Uniform
Boats and Waterways Motorcycles and Cycles
Aircraft Bridges
Cars Sports Cars

Some of these books were extremely useful for parents, especially on long jouneys.  For a small investment there would be short periods of peace while children were preoccupied with spotting things –  ‘On a Train Journey’‘Road Transport’ and ‘Cars’ were good for this sort of thing.

On a long car journey my dad would invent his own I-spy games and challenge us to spot a red lorry, spot a black cow, spot a petrol station, in fact spot pretty much anything he could think of if it successfully kept us all quiet.  This didn’t last very long of course and when he got desperate he would tell us to look out for the sea and when we were on the way to Cornwall or Wales he usually started this little distraction roughly at about Oxford which is of course just about as far from the sea as you can possibly get!  That was very optimistic.

ispy

At the Seaside’ was also useful for parents because they could send you off for hours at a time staring into rock pools and poking around at the shoreline to find things while they sat and enjoyed the sunshine.  I suppose some would be frowned upon today because they encouraged kids to go off to places that parents today would consider dangerous, ‘In the Street’, ‘Boats and Waterways’, ‘Bridges’ and especially, probably the most dangerous of all, ‘Wild Fruits and Funghi’!

Some were useless of course and we didn’t buy them, I mean what chance was there of completing ‘The Army’ I-Spy book unless your dad was a squaddie? And how were most normal kids supposed to spot ‘Aircraft’?  I never went near an airport until I was twenty-two and neither did most of my mates.

Some people took this all a bit too seriously and here is an entry that I have found on www.doyouremember.co.uk : “Glad to know that others remember the I-SPY Books. I used the books regularly as a child in the 1950s and 1960s (and beyond), was a member of the I-SPY Tribe and won various prizes, including a wigwam (or tent!) I led my own local “patrol” and we met the second Big Chief I-SPY, Arnold Cawthrow, on a number of occasions. He visited my home in Barking twice and mentioned me and my Red Arrow Patrol in a number of his Daily Mail columns. I kept in touch until he retired in 1978 and remember the whole I-SPY experience with much affection.”

I-Spy a sad man!

Scrap Book Project – Dad’s First Car

Like a lot of families in the 1950s we didn’t have a car and had to rely instead on public transport.  Dad leaned to drive in 1962 when he took lessons with Terry Branston’s school of motoring.  Terry lived opposite to our house and well as being a driving instructor was a professional footballer who played for Northampton Town.

Once he had passed his test he bought his first car, an old fashioned white Austin Cambridge A55 registration number SWD 774.  The Cambridge had been introduced in January 1957 and was in production for two years.  It had a straight-4 pushrod B-Series engine with a maximum power output of 42 brake horse power and an alleged top speed of 71 miles per hour at 4,250 revs per minute, power was transmitted to the back wheels by means of a four speed gear box controlled with a column mounted lever.

It was a big heavy thing and by modern standards hopelessly inefficient, it only managed a disappointing thirty miles to the gallon or so but with a gallon of leaded petrol costing only five shillings (twenty-five new pence) this really didn’t matter too much.  I can remember dad pulling into a garage where an attendant put four gallons in the tank and dad handed over a crisp green one pound note!  I wish I could do that!  Dad always insisted on buying Shell petrol because he thought it possessed some sort of magic ingredient but at one point we successfully nagged him enough to buy Esso so that we could get the gold and black striped tail to hang around the filler cap to show other motorists that the car had a tiger in the tank!

On the outside it had a lumpy bulbous body shape, chrome bumpers and grill, round bug-eye lights with chrome surrounds, the Austin badge in the middle of the bonnet and the flying A symbol on the nose at the front.  It was a curious shade of white, a bit off-white really but not quite cream with ominous flecks of rust beginning to show through on the wing panels and the sills.

I would like to be able to get behind the wheel and take a drive in it now to fully appreciate how bad it must have been and with narrow cross ply tyres it must have been difficult to handle.  Dad obviously had some problems in this department because he had two minor accidents in it.  On the first occasion he misjudged his distances when overtaking a parked car and clipped a Midland Red bus coming the other way, he was upset about that especially when he got a bill to pay for the damage to the bus.  The second occasion was a bit more dangerous when a car pulled out on him from a side street somewhere in London and with inefficient brakes dad couldn’t stop the car in time and did a lot of damage to the front off side wing.  Fortunately this wasn’t his fault and someone else had to pay for the repairs this time.

Having an accident like this in 1964 was potentially quite serious because cars didn’t have seat belts and in a crash passengers could be tossed around as though they were in a tombola drum.  Drivers and front seat passengers were not compelled to wear seatbelts until 1st February 1983 by which time the Department of Transport estimated that thirty-thousand people a year were being killed or seriously injured in road accidents.  It seems bizarre now to think that there had been a long running row over making front seatbelts compulsory which had been going on for fifteen years with eleven previously unsuccessful attempts to make it law.

SWD774

And it wasn’t just seat belts that the A55 lacked because in the interior this was a car with few refinements and even lacking modern day basics such as a radio, air conditioning or satellite navigation!  There were no carpets, just rubber mats and the seats were made of imitation red leather that were freezing cold in winter and if you weren’t especially careful burnt your arse in the summer if the car had stood out in the sun for any length of time  For the driver there was a big skeletal steering wheel, column mounted gear stick and a hand brake that was adjacent to the steering column on the left hand side.

It didn’t have a heated rear window either so to tackle frost and condensation you had to buy a piece of plastic that we stuck onto the back window, about forty centimetres by twenty-five, which had to be wired up to the electrics somewhere under the dashboard and so long as nobody pulled the wires out when they were getting in and out of the car it then heated up and thawed the window.

Austin_A40_1956_2

For the controls there was a simple dashboard display with a basic speedometer and warning lights for oil and water, headlamps and indicators.  The ignition key was in the middle of the dashboard alongside the manual choke and the knob to control the windscreen wipers.  There were air vent controls for the driver and the front seat passenger, a long open shelf for keeping miscellaneous motoring clutter and a glove box for the AA book and important membership details.

Dad only had the A55 for a couple of years and after that he had a white Ford Anglia, 1870 NX, which I always thought was a bit chic and stylish with that raking back window and flashy chrome grill that looked like a permanent happy smile.  Then he had a two tone blue and white Ford Cortina Mark I and he must have liked the Cortina because after that he had first a blue one and then a white one.  Sometime in the early 1970s he traded up from a Mark I to a Mark II and had a model in a curious duck egg green.  These were all second hand cars of course but then in 1975 he had his first brand new car when he paid £800 for a metallic gold Vauxhall Viva, which he kept for four years before selling it to me.  After that he had a succession of red Escorts before finally downsizing to Fiestas, and back to blue again.

Scrap Book Project – Motorways and Minis

M1 Motorway

In 1959 there were two important news items that celebrated significant events in British motoring.  First of all the southern section of the M1 motorway which started in St Albans in Hertfordshire and finished just a few miles away from Rugby at the village of Crick (where coincidentally my Mother now lives) was opened on 2nd November.

The motorway age had arrived and suddenly it was possible to drive to London on a three-lane highway in a fraction of the previous time, helped enormously by the fact that there were no speed limits on the new road.

In fact there wasn’t very much about the original M1 that we would probably recognise at all, there was no central reservation, no crash barriers and no lighting.  The new motorway was designed to take a mere thirteen thousand vehicles a day which is in contrast to today’s figure of nearly one hundred thousand vehicles a day.

When it first opened this was practically the equivalent of a country road and it certainly wasn’t unheard of for families to pull up at the side for a picnic.  This first section was seventy-two miles long and was built in just nineteen months by a labour force of five thousand men and that was about one mile every eight days.  Compare that to the sort of productivity road builders achieve today – a twenty mile stretch of road between Spalding and Peterborough, the A1073, for example took nearly four years and then had to be closed immediately for repairs!

In 1959 cars were still rather old fashioned and basic design hadn’t changed very much since the 1940s but the new motorway age needed a new breed of car and in August 1959 the world saw the introduction of the Austin Seven, Morris Mini-Minor and Morris Mini-Minor DL two door saloons, all with transversely mounted 848cc engine and four speed gearbox and known collectively as the MINI!

The car was designed by Sir Alec Issigonis who had previously designed the Morris Minor and was intended as a small economic family car.  The first Mini was immediately popular and sold nearly two million units and by the time production ceased in 2000 a total of 5,387,862 cars had been manufactured.  Nearly everyone has owned a Mini at some time, I did, it was a blue 1969 model, registration BUE 635J.

photo (1)

Not that all of this mattered a great deal to us however because like lots of families in 1959 we didn’t have a car and dad didn’t even learn to drive until the early 1960s and mum not until ten years after that.  His first car was an old fashioned white Austin Cambridge A55, registration SWD 774, which was a car with few refinements and even lacking modern day basics such as seat belts, a radio, door mirrors or satellite navigation.  There were no carpets and the seats were made of cheap plastic that were freezing cold in winter and if you weren’t especially careful burnt your bum in the summer.

After that he had a white Ford Anglia, 1870 NX, which I always thought was a bit chic and stylish with that raking back window and big grinning chrome front grill and after that he had a couple of blue Ford Cortinas before he moved on to red Escorts before finally downsizing to Fiestas, and back to blue again.

My first car was a flame red Hillman Avenger, registration WRW 366J, in which I did hundreds of pounds worth of damage to other peoples vehicles because it had an inconveniently high back window which made reversing a bit of a challenge for a short person.

I remember car registration numbers because this was something we used to do as children.  Car number plate spotting was a curiously boring pastime and on some days it would be possible to sit for a whole morning at the side of the road outside of the house and still only fill one page of an exercise book.  These days you would need a laptop and a million gigabytes of memory.

Spoiling Christmas

Christmas was never quite the same after I discovered the truth about Santa when I was about eight or nine years old.  I don’t recall being especially devastated by the revelation, I must have been having doubts and confirmation was just a reality punch.

A couple of years ago I asked my ten year old granddaughter what Santa was bringing her and she raised an eyebrow and looked at me as if to say ” Move on Granddad”

Some spoilsport at school with an older brother or sister would inevitably spill the beans on the myth of Christmas and this would be confirmed in early December when you found presents, that were supposed to be still at Santa’s factory at the North Pole, on top of or at the back of parents’ wardrobe.

Early December was the obvious time to find Christmas presents because it was just after dad’s November pay day and because Mrs Gamble, the Freeman’s catalogue agent who lived a few doors away, was making more frequent drop-offs than usual.

I remember when this happened and I discovered the gifts wrapped in mid-December and I sneaked them into the bathroom, locked the door and carefully unwrapped the paper to see if this was true.  It was quite a shock to find some new additions to the model railway and quite difficult to wrap them back up again to cover up my snooping.  Even more difficult to pretend to be surprised when I opened them again a fortnight later on Christmas morning!

Richard, my brother, of course is nearly eight years younger than me so we had to continue to pretend about Santa in our house until I was about fifteen, although I am fairly certain that I told my sister straight away and spoilt it for her early on.

Anyway, never mind the twelve days of Christmas here are my top twelve tips for children for finding Christmas presents:

1. You really don’t want to get caught by parents so search only when it is completely safe to do so. Preferably while they are gone for at least an hour or so, if they have gone to the pub this is best but if not, search while they are busy elsewhere in the house.  It helps to have a quick place to hide in if you hear someone coming.

2. Look for presents in really obvious places.  Some parents can be surprisingly careless about this.  Check their wardrobes, under beds, etc.

3. Rather like a computer game check every room, no matter how mad this may seem (even your own room!).  Search all nooks and crannies, including cabinets and cupboards and under floorboards.   Once you are sure there are no presents in the room you are in, move on to the next one.  Check the attic if you possibly can.  Don’t forget the garden shed.

4. Concentrate the most time in your parents room. You might need a step ladder for this but look on high shelves that are out of reach (this is an equally good tip for all rooms), and see if you can find anything there.

5. Take a forensic approach.  Check inside bags. If your parents are sneaky, they may have hidden things inside a plain plastic bag. Look behind books in the bookcase.  Do not disregard anything if you really want to find those  presents.

6. Take pictures of how the bags are arranged before moving them around to see the gifts. That way when you’re done looking, you can look back on the photos and arrange them back to the order they were in. You could also use a mobile phone camera if you have one.

7. Difficult this but if possible check your grandparent’s house but don’t go more regularly than usual because they might get suspicious.  They might be old but they are not stupid.

8. Snoop around in your parent’s internet history. This is so easy because kids know more about computers than old folks.  They might have bought stuff online and even if you can’t find it you can at least see what it is.

9. Ask a brother or sister if they know, or agree to exchange feedback on gifts you know they are getting, for information on gifts that they know you got.

10. Try shaking gifts that may be under the tree already (if your parents do that) and try to listen to the noise it makes, how heavy it is, and if it rattles in the package a lot or a little.

11. Try slightly peeling the gift wrap to view a minor spot of the gift, or, and this is really only for experts, if you’re skilled enough, try unwrapping the whole thing and re-wrap it.

12. Look inside your parent’s cars.  A lot of times parents leave receipts in the car so you could look there, also try looking in your mum’s purse. They usually keep them in there in case they have to return anything in January.

Follow these simple guidelines and  it’s a sure thing that you can can really spoil any Christmas Day surprises!

Scrap Book Project – Brooke Bond Tea Cards

In the 1950s and 1960s, packets of Brooke Bond tea included illustrated 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’.

I was only four years old and 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.  Gloy glue was a curious sticking paste that worked quite well at first but after a while dried out and the things that were previously stuck together just separated.

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 him.

Collecting the cards was exciting, I can recall the moment when mum would buy a new packet of tea 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!

My Favourite:

Scrap Book Project – Motherhood and Apple Pie

It seems to me that life in the  1950’s and early 1960’s was fairly routine, had a comforting sense of security that was permanently guaranteed with little suggestion that things were ever likely to change.

Britain was booming, dad had a steady job, we lived in a nice house, the sun always shone at weekends and in this life the most constant of constants was my mum.  She was there in the mornings to pack us off to school and there again in the afternoon to welcome us back home.  Meals were always on the table at the same time every day, clothes were always washed and ironed and smelled fresh and the house was warm and comfortable.

My mum wasn’t any different from anyone else’s mum of course because this was the way things were.  Mums didn’t go to work because they stopped at home and were full time housewives, there were no working family tax credits, there were no bleeding heart feminists.  Men had the jobs and provided for the family, made all the big decisions and generally ruled the roost and women took care of all the domestic matters like cleaning, laundry, baking and haberdashery.  This was the way of things, it had always been this way and it always would be and so it was until the 1960s when we started to let our hair grow, wear denim and generally start to challenge the post war basis of British society and way of life.

Hillman Avenger

Looking back now I can only imagine that by today’s standards life for a housewife must have been bone crushingly boring, driven by routine with none of the modern distractions that we take for granted.  No day time television or the shopping channel, only half an hour of ‘Watch with Mother’ around about lunch time, no telephones so no one to chat to except the next door neighbour, no car to nip to the shops and no shops to nip to anyway and no house full of modern appliances to make life easier around the home.  I think there was a ‘Young Wives’ club which met during the day in each others houses on a rotating basis and later on Tupperware and Avon parties in the evening when we had to stay in our bedrooms but these didn’t strike me as being especially exciting.

Days had a reassuring routine about them where dad got up first and fixed the boiler and started the fire and then made the first pot of tea of the day.  Loose leaves not bags of course because until 1964 with the introduction of the perforated bag less than three per cent of tea sold in Britain came in teabags and now it’s hard to imagine what life would be like without them.

After tea in bed mum would get up, get our clothes ready and then prepare the breakfast, which was generally cereals in the summer and porridge oats in the winter, sometimes a boiled egg or just simply toast with a smear of tomato sauce or marmite for the brave.  She would see dad off to work on his push bike and then finish getting us ready and then shoo us off to school.  These days children get driven to school or the Council pays for a taxi but we used to walk, it wasn’t very far and it was quite safe.

School Crossing Patrol

The school crossing patrol man in the picture was my Granddad!

And then with the house to herself mum set about the chores.  Monday was traditionally washing day but in the days before automatic washing machines this meant hand washing and firing up a gas boiler and two or three loads of washing to manage.  No spin drier either so wet clothes had to be put through the mangle to get rid of the excess water and then without tumble driers, hung out on the line to dry.  Getting clothes dry was fairly straightforward on fine days but was a real problem if it was raining or in the winter when linen and clothes were hung around the house and in front of the open fire in a race against time to get them aired.

Preparing food took up a lot of every day because there were no convenience meals and everything had to be prepared from scratch.  There was complete certainty about the menu because we generally had the same thing at the same time on the same day every week, there were no foreign foods, no pasta or curries and rice was only ever used in puddings.

The main meal of the week was Sunday dinner which was usually roast beef, pork or lamb (chicken was a rare treat and a turkey was only for Christmas) served with roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, which for some reason mum always called batter puddings, and strictly only seasonal vegetables because runner beans weren’t flown in from Kenya all year round as they are today.

Be-Ro Home Recipes

We had never heard of chicken tandoori, paella or lasagne and the week had a predictable routine; Monday was the best of the left over meat served cold with potatoes and on Tuesday the tough bits were boiled up in a stew (we would call that bouef bourguignon now) and on Wednesday what was left was minced and cooked with onions and served with mash and in this way one good joint of meat provided four main meals with absolutely no waste.  Thursday was my personal favourite, fried egg and chips and Friday was my nightmare day with liver or kidneys because I liked neither (and still don’t!)  I complained so much about this that later I was allowed the concession of substituting sausage for liver but I was still obliged to have the gravy (which I didn’t care for much either) on the basis that ‘it was good for me!’  If we had been Catholics then we would have had fish I suppose but we didn’t have things out of the sea very often except for fish fingers.

On Saturday we would have something like a home made meat pie or pudding or very occasionally a special treat and dad would fetch fish and chips from the chip shop, wrapped in yesterday’s newspaper and covered in salt and vinegar.  Later on I used to have chips on a Wednesday night as well when David Newman’s dad picked us up after wolf cubs and took us home in the back of his battered blue van which smelt permanently of stale batter.

After main course there was always a pudding which was usually something stodgy like a treacle pudding with golden syrup, spotted dick (suet pudding), bread and butter pudding or jam roll.  There was always lots of jam in our house because my Nan worked at the Robertson’s factory in Catford in London and I think she was either paid in jars of jam or bought it at a discount, I never knew which.

Mum was in charge of shopping of course and had the housekeeping money to spend.  This used to involve a lot of lists I seem to recall because there wasn’t a lot of money and she used to complain about ‘five week months’ when the money had to be stretched out further and with no credit cards she had to be careful to make it last between monthly pay days.

R76 Midland Red

Shopping was completely different fifty years ago and wasn’t nearly as easy as it is today when one single car trip to Tesco is all that is needed.  For a start we didn’t have a car so it really wasn’t possible to transport all of the weekly shopping home in one go.  On market day mum would catch the Midland Red R76 into town to buy fresh vegetables and then later in the week she would go into town again to go to the butchers and the International Stores which until Fine Fare arrived was the only big food store in town.  She had to go shopping twice a week for the simple reason that we didn’t have a fridge so keeping stuff fresh was a bit of a problem, especially in the Summer.

If she forgot something or needed it urgently there was a village shop and a couple of times a week Mr Tuscon’s mobile shop passed by.  The milk was delivered early in the morning by Anderson’s dairy and then the baker came by in the Sunblest van a couple of times a week.

mobile shop 1

During the day there was cleaning to do with an inefficient old fashioned vacuum cleaner that made a lot of noise and mostly rearranged the dust around the house rather than suck it up like a Dyson and then there was dusting and polishing to follow up.  The kitchen sink was scrubbed with Ajax or Vim and in between cooking and baking the gas oven had to be cleaned down as well.  There was a lot of baking because Mum used to make all of her own cakes and pastries; Christmas cakes, Birthday cakes, jam tarts, jam sponges and iced fairy cakes and then at the weekend fresh cream horns, puff pastry vanilla slices with raspberry jam (I said there was a lot of jam) and butter cream meringues for Sunday tea.

Cooking and cleaning were important jobs and so too were knitting and dress making because mum was also responsible for making sure we were all well turned out.  For me one of the earliest efforts was a little suit made out of last year’s curtains and later on there were home made jumpers and cardigans, hats and scarves and for herself and my sister home made dresses and skirts.

Andrew Petcher and Kellogg's Frosties Tony

They weren’t especially fashionable of course but then we didn’t notice this in the days before children’s designer clothes.

Compared with today home life in the 1950s and 1960s was much simpler and I wouldn’t say this for sure but probably happier too because of it.  These days we talk about children suffering from stress but there was no such thing when I was a lad and one of the main reasons for this was that inside the family home we had a happy, safe and comfortable life and while dad played his part in this of course (he did the decorating, looked after the garden and cleaned our shoes once a week) this was mainly down to Mum who made the house a home.

Scrap Book Project – Rugby Granada Cinema and Saturday Morning Pictures

Granada Cinema Boarded Up

For a couple of years or so in the early 1960s I went every weekend with my pals, Tony Gibbard and David Newman, to the ‘Flicks’ at the Granada Cinema at the bottom of North Street in Rugby opposite the posh new Council offices to the Saturday morning pictures.

What a fleapit it was.  It was an old brick building built in 1933 and originally it was called the Plaza but later in 1946 changed its name to the Granada in the same way as so many others as they borrowed continental place names such as Alhambra, Rialto and Colosseum to make them sound more exciting.  Later car manufacturers did exactly the same of course and we had the Corsair and the Cortina, Toledo and the Dolomite and the Ibiza and the Cordoba.

After it closed as a cinema it became a bingo hall – what a tragedy- and late in 2011 it was demolished to make way for a new development.

Every Saturday morning we would get the crimson Midland Red R66 bus, which left from the top of the road, into town and our main objective was to get to the cinema early in order to get a seat in the front row of the balcony if we could. We weren’t allowed through the front door because of the damage we could potentially do there to the fixtures and fittings but had to queue down the side of the building and were admitted through one of the exits at the back.  It cost sixpence (two and a half new pence) to get in and the queue was always long even before the show opened and the big boys would come along later and more often than not push in the front of the queue.

Inside the cinema was dark and smelt of stale cigarette smoke with seats covered in a sort of maroon velveteen.  Unlike real velvet, however, this material was not very pleasant and for boys wearing short trousers it scratched and made legs itch, which made it impossible to sit still and I am sure that it was the same for girls in their little skirts.

The noise levels inside were unbelievable.  About three hundred children aged between five and thirteen would scream, whistle, shout and boo at any and every opportunity.  To try and keep some sort of order the Manager had a cunning plan, which was to give out silver shillings to children who were sitting still and behaving themselves.  Throughout the show, cinema staff would pass through the building and randomly hand out the coins to kids who were trying desperately to behave.  Once you had got the shilling of course you could do pretty much behave as badly as you liked and once they had all been given out it was absolute bedlam!

Cinema Interior

The show began with a young man called Christopher King on an organ that would rise out of the stage floor accompanied by the ‘Dam Buster’s March‘, like a poor man’s Reginald Dixon show, and there would be ten minutes or so of community singing.  Next came the birthday spot and paid up members of the Rugby Grenadiers Club whose birthday it was this week were invited up onto the stage to receive a present.  After the present came the ritual humiliation of ‘Happy Birthday to You’, that was normally sung by kids in the auditorium with all sorts of unsuitable for print alternative lyrics.

There were always cartoons to get things started and then there were usually about three features each week.  A serial (to make sure you came back next week), a short comedy (Laurel & Hardy was always my favourite), and a feature film.  This was usually a western that had the good cowboys in white hats and smart clothes and the bad guys in black hats and with unshaven faces and who always looked untidy.   The camera would pan from the good guys to the bad guys constantly to cheers for the white hats and boos for the black hats.  In these films no-one’s gun ever ran out of bullets but surprisingly the good guys never seemed to get seriously injured.  Bad guys fell over clutching a fatal wound, but there was never any blood and the good guys always got winged in the arm without causing any real damage.

Excuse me digressing here for a while but this was completely unrealistic of course.  Six shooters in the old west were notoriously unreliable and if someone was unfortunate to take a bullet this would have done the most horrendous damage to flesh, muscle, sinews and important internal organs.  Bullets, or slugs, were made of soft lead and of relatively slow trajectory so if they entered the body they would have bounced about doing unimaginably painful damage and if shot it is completely unlikely that anyone would have shrugged it off as a flesh wound and carried on fighting as they did in these films.

If there wasn’t a western then quite often there would be a sci-fi feature and this would be something like ‘The Creature from the dark side of the Moon’.  The special effects left a lot to be desired and the aliens were always ugly creatures that were always after our women, which thinking about it now is a bit improbable.  A scaly black lizard creature is probably more inclined to have the hots for another scaly black lizard creature back home on Mars or wherever else it came from and would be more inclined to run off with an iguana rather than an earth female.  Like cowboys the space heroes were dressed in white, often with goldfish bowls over their heads.  The aliens usually wore black and had ingenious secret ray guns.  As with the westerns we cheered at the whites and booed at the blacks.

If there was a period epic then this would be something like Robin Hood, William Tell, Richard the Lion Heart or my all time favourite, Zorro.  Zorro, which is Spanish for Fox, and a by-word for cunning and deviousness, was the secret identity of Don Diego de la Vega a nobleman and master swordsman living in nineteenth century California. He defended the people against tyrannical governors and other villains and not only was he much too cunning and clever for the bumbling authorities to catch, but he delighted in publicly humiliating them while riding on his horse, a jet black stallion called Tornado.

Zorro was unusual because he was dressed all in black with a flowing Spanish cape, a flat-brimmed Andalusian hat, and a black cowl mask that covered his eyes. His favourite weapon was a rapier sword which he used to leave his distinctive mark, a large ‘Z’ made with three quick slashes. It was strange for a hero to be in black, so for Zorro we had to remember to cheer for the blacks and boo and hiss at the Mexican soldiers who were dressed in white.

For the staff this must have been the worst day of the week, I bet sickness levels were high on a Saturday morning.  This must have been a bit like trying to deal with a prison riot.  When the films reached the exciting bits we would flip our seats up and sit on the edge and kick furiously with our heels on the seat bottom and make a hell of a din while we reduced the plywood base to splinters.  The manager didn’t like this of course and would frequently stop the film and appear on stage to chastise us.  This was usually met with a hail of missiles that were lobbed at the stage.  The cleaning up afterwards bill must have been huge.

I stopped going to Saturday Morning pictures about 1966 and the Granada cinema closed down about ten years later.  I’m guessing it must have been 1976 because I think that the last film shown there was the Towering Inferno, which opened in January of that year.   The Granada cinema closed because of dwindling audiences but predictably the last film was a sell-out all week as people of the town flocked to the cinema for the very last time in a nostalgic tsunami  before its conversion to a bingo hall.