Tag Archives: Have Bag Will Travel

A Life in a Year – 1st May, Two Years of Blogging

On 1st May 2009 I published my first WordPress Blog. I called the site ‘Have Bag, Will Travel’ plagiarising the title of a 1950s western television series that I used to watch called ‘Have Gun, Will Travel’ starring Richard Boone and it was to be a place to record my travel stories from across Europe. 


I had found that, thanks to Ryanair, I was travelling so often that I was having difficulty remembering some of the places I had been and some of the memories were getting mixed up.  This seemed a shame so some time before I began to keep a journal of my travels starting in Greece in 2006.  Most of these stories have now been retrospectively recorded in the blog but I began ‘Have Bag, Will Travel’ with a story about a holiday in Castilla-La Mancha in Spain and in a week of touring, the first destination of Chinchon, a small town just south of Madrid.


I have now written 541 blog entries and have had over 150,000 visitors to the pages.


1947 – Ivan Petcher

1947 was a very important year for me because this was the year that my mum and dad met and began a romance that has led ultimately to this journal.

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 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 anti-social behaviour orders.

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 coalmining, 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 cities and its 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.

The only thing that let 1947 down was the weather and the Britain experienced the worst winter of the century.  After the Second World War Britain was bombed out, bankrupt, exhausted and desperately short of fuel and the winter of 1947 sank the country to a new level of deprivation.

The winter began deceptively, with just a brief cold snap before Christmas 1946.  Snow lay thick on the ground when, in the middle of January, temperatures soared so high that it felt as if spring had arrived early.  The snow thawed so rapidly that it set off floods, just as hurricane-force winds brought down roofs, trees and even houses and the real winter arrived soon afterwards as the country was gripped in an Arctic freeze that lasted for two months, with snow whipped into monstrous drifts that buried roads and railways.

It became the coldest February ever recorded and there was virtually no sunshine for almost the whole month.  The freeze paralysed coalmines, with coal stocks often stuck at the collieries by railways and roads buried in snow.  A week after the freeze began the Government ordered electricity supplies to be cut to industry, and domestic electricity supplies to be turned off for five hours each day, to conserve coal stocks.  Television was closed down, radio output reduced, newspapers cut in size and magazines ordered to stop publishing.

Food supplies shrank alarmingly and rations were cut even lower than they had been during the war.  Farms were frozen or snowed under, and vegetables were in such short supply that pneumatic drills were used to dig up parsnips from frozen fields.  For the first time, potatoes were rationed after seventy-thousand tons were destroyed by the cold.  The Government tried a deeply unpopular campaign to encourage everyone to eat a cheap South African fish called snoek, and millions of tins of it were imported, but it tasted disgusting and was used eventually as cat food.

March turned out even worse than February and on the 5th there was the worst blizzard of the 20th  century.  Supplies of food shrank so low that in some places the police asked for authority to break open stranded lorries carrying food cargoes.  Eventually, on March 10th a thaw set in and triggered another spectacular disaster.  After weeks of deep frost, the ground was so hard that the melting snow ran off into raging torrents of floodwater and, to make things worse, a huge storm dropped heavy rain.  Indeed, it was the wettest March on record in England and Wales.

Less than two years after winning the war, the nation was left freezing cold, plunged into darkness and on the brink of starvation and for many people it showed that national planning and socialism did not work.  The Government was inevitably blamed for the disaster  and was turned out of office in a landslide defeat at the next general election in 1950.

Life was especially grim in the big cities and after the experience of the winter 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 rest of their lives together.

Not straight away of course because mum 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 and instant messenging, 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 photoraphs 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.

During the war most kinds of food came to be rationed, as were clothing and petrol.  Clothing was rationed on a points system.  Initially the allowance was for approximately one new outfit per year but as the war progressed the points were reduced to the point where the purchase of a coat constituted almost an entire year’s clothing.  By the end of the war the clothing ration was thirty-six points a year.   This didn’t go very far, it was two points for a pair of knickers, five points for a man’s shirt, five points for a pair of shoes, seven points for a dress and twenty-six points for a man’s suit.  Clothing rationing points could be used for wool, cotton and household textiles.  People had extra points for work clothes, such as overalls for factory work.  No points were required for second-hand clothing and fur coats, but their prices were fixed and before rationing lace and frills were popular on knickers but these were soon banned so material could be saved.

Rationing continued after the end of the war and in fact it became even stricter after the war ended.  Bread, which was not rationed during the war, was rationed beginning in 1946 and potato rationing began in 1947.  Sweet rationing didn’t end until February 1953, and sugar rationing ended in September of that year.  The final end of all rationing did not come until July 1954, after I was born, with the end of it on meat and bacon.

The picture at the top 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 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 about his clothes and 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.

The Assassination of JFK and the Age of Innocence

The first few years of our lives are truly the age of innocence when we have a glorious lack of awareness of the external national and global issues that are going on all around us and shaping the world and the environment to which we will one day grow up into.  For me the end of the world was the bottom of the back garden, the end of the street or the physical boundaries of play imposed by my parents.  I was blissfully unaware of what was going on outside of those boundaries and parents and schoolteachers clearly didn’t think it was necessary for me or others to have knowledge of current affairs.  There was no John Craven’s Newsround, well not until 1972, not even very much television, and no way of knowing what was going on and no real need to find out.

They say that everyone remembers where they were the day that John F Kennedy was shot and I can confirm that my very first consciousness of world news events was November 22nd 1963, the day the President of the USA was assassinated in Dallas in Texas and even then the news itself didn’t particularly register as important but rather it was the reaction of my parents that proved to be my news awareness watershed.

It was early evening, I was at home, mum and dad were round at a neighbour’s house, and I was watching the television.  It was a Friday night so I had probably been watching Crackerjack on the BBC with Aemonn Andrews.  Crackerjack finished at a quarter to six and after that came the news programmes which held no particular interest for me and anyway it was a little too early for news of the shooting to be breaking in England.  Kennedy was shot at half past twelve Dallas time, half past six in England.  On BBC television, the six o’clock News finished at ten past six.  It had been a quiet day; there had been the results of the Dundee West by-election, the announcement of the architect appointed to design the new National Theatre and the departure from the United Kingdom of the new Miss World, Carol Crawford, who was returning to Jamaica.  Ten minutes was more than enough to report the events of a very ordinary sort of day in 1963.


At seven o’clock I would probably have been watching the game show ‘Take Your Pick’ with Michael Miles but ten minutes in, it was interrupted for ITN’s first ever newsflash.  Kennedy had been shot.  On the BBC, ‘Points of View’, presented by Robert Robinson, was interrupted at approximately the same time and having nothing to watch of any particular interest to me I turned the television off and probably looked for some sort of mischief appropriate for a nine year old boy left at home alone.

Soon after this mum and dad returned home in a bit of a fluster and I didn’t know what could be the matter.  Dad demanded to know why I had turned off the television which was a bit confusing because he didn’t really like us having it on all that much and would always turn it off the minute he thought we weren’t watching it.  He became a bit agitated as he turned the set back on and waited for it to flicker into life.  This was quite a long process in the 1960s because TVs had an antiquated system of valves, wires and resisters instead of today’s micro chips and these took some time to ‘warm up’, after a minute or so you would get sound and then after another minute or so (if you were lucky) a grainy black and white picture with flickering horizontal lines would slowly start to appear.  Most television sets needed about fifteen minutes to warm up, I seem to remember.

TV sets were always breaking down as well, half way through a programme there would be a ‘PING’ and the picture would disappear into a bright white spot in the middle of the screen like a star falling into a black hole and that was it until the television repair man responded to an emergency call to come by and fix it by replacing the broken tube in the back, which was a bit like replacing a broken light bulb.

After the first BBC newsflash, ‘Tonight’ came on, but it was ended early when at half past seven the programme was interrupted with the news that Kennedy had been shot in the head and his condition was critical.  A few seconds later a phone rang, the newsreader took the call in front of the viewers and finally said ‘we regret to announce that President Kennedy is dead.’

John F Kennedy

After that the BBC didn’t really have a clue what to do next and what viewers got was the BBC television continuity screen, a revolving globe, for twenty minutes or so that was punctuated by three brief bulletins read by the newsreader.  My parent’s reaction to the news took me by surprise and the event was a significant moment in my young life because subsequently I was always aware of the news after that.  This was a transitional moment when I left the age of innocence behind.

JFK and Jackie Dallas 1963

Because getting transatlantic news in 1963 was still somewhat difficult (Telstar, launched in 1962 was undergoing complicated repairs and not transmitting) eventually the TV stations reverted to their scheduled programming and the BBC continued with Harry Worth and Dr Finlay’s Casebook and the ITV showed an episode of Emergency Ward 10, which was a sort of 1960’s Casualty!

William Hartnell Doctor Who

It’s an interesting fact that on the following day the BBC broadcast the first ever episode of Doctor Who.  I think at the time I found that a lot more interesting than Kennedy’s assassination.

Considering the matter of news awareness has made me think about all of the newsworthy events that occurred during that first ten years of mortal existence when I was sublimely oblivious to what was happening in the world.  Lots of momentous things were going on of course it was just that they were not registering on my personal news alert sensor that was only kicked into life the day that John F Kennedy died.

So what had been going on, what events had been taking place that would shape and have an influence on the rest of my life?  I have been giving it some thought …

JFK Motorcade