I have started writing my autobiography. Not that I intend publishing, rather I am writing things down because, while my parents and grandparents relayed some of their stories to me, it was by no means a thorough review. I’d like my family to know more about the world I grew up in and how the world and I have gotten along. It’s also a fascinating exercise.
Dredging up long-submerged memories and standing back to take a dispassionate look at things that used to be is something that I find very revealing. For example, thinking back I recall as a small child playing in the street outside my house on a council estate in the suburbs of London. Nothing strange about that of course, except these days kids spend much more time indoors on computer-based games than playing outside. We would be itching to get out of the house and the boring days were those when rain or bad weather kept us at home. If we had to stay indoors, instead of a computer game I’d probably draw dials on a piece of cardboard, find a wooden stick and a piece of plasticine, sit myself down in a corner and pretend I was flying a Spitfire over London.
“I do recall playing marbles in the gutter with my friends as we walked home, probably up Tufter Road, although I never needed to know the name of the street then. We never worried about parked cars – although there were no yellow lines to prohibit parking – or cars driving up the street. Most people in our neighbourhood couldn’t afford a car. It was like a huge pedestrian precinct and you were more likely to see a horse-drawn cart or a milk float than a combustion-engine powered vehicle on the roads”.
I was born at the end of WWII so I also have memories of playing amongst the ruins of bomb sites in London and listening to my mother recount stories of life during the blitz while my father served with the Black Watch:
“Mum would talk about running out of the house during an air raid with a pot on her head to protect against shrapnel to help a neighbour and of the day she took a bus to work only to find that the factory no longer existed after a night raid.
After that she worked as a clippie on the buses for a while. During the blitz, she never used the tube station or other shelters, adopting a fatalistic approach with her mother and keeping abed during the raids”.
There was no internet and the newspapers employed journalist who saw their job as reporting truth, not politically-influenced opinions and misinformation. So sensible things like vaccinations were taken at face value as being something worthwhile. There were no campaigns against vaccinations. Quite the opposite, with vaccination programmes at school accepted as nothing out of the ordinary. I did have whooping cough when I was small, but this disease and polio, mumps and measles, which were additional spectres that haunted us, have pretty much been eradicated thanks to effective post war vaccination programmes.
It was also an age when rationing was still in place and many of the things we take for granted today did not exist for the average family. No toaster, no electric kettle, no vacuum cleaner, no coffee maker – in fact no coffee, just tea, no TV, no washing machine or dryer and I don’t remember a refrigerator although maybe there was one but certainly no freezer:
“… the spirit of innovation couldn’t be quashed however. To help Mum with the laundry, Dad made a washing machine. Yes. He actually built one – imagine trying that today! It was a round barrel-shaped tub with a wringer slung across the top to which was attached a paddle. It was all powered by elbow grease but it was better than the alternative. At the time, Mum didn’t work – or to be more accurate, she didn’t work for money. Keeping the house going was manual labour that most people would not recognise today, including polishing the front step on hands and knees with a red polish. It seemed to be a badge of honour amongst the womenfolk to keep that step shining”.
At primary school, I was in a class of more than 40 kids and there were certainly no calculators or mobile phones to worry about! School, however, provided more than an education:
“The big treat at Christmas was crowding the kids into the assembly hall and watching black and white movies of Mickey Mouse and friends. I can vaguely recall the clickety-clack of the projector at the back of the hall and the black and white images of Mickey, Minnie and Donald Duck”. Thrilling!
This year, the UK will be celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s platinum jubilee. Like a significant number of the population I guess, I remember when it all started:
“Queen Elizabeth’s coronation was on 2nd June, 1953. There was a street party including competitions and I won a foot race and was given a medal. I also received a medal for something else but Mum made me give it to Glenn (my younger brother) because he didn’t get one. I remember being quite put out. For months afterwards, everyone seemed to have models of the coronation coach or mugs or teacups on display as a commemorative piece”.
It was a simpler age and one primarily filled with hope following the devastation of Hitler’s war. If I had one wish it would probably be to see a resurrection of that spirit now, a sprinkling of magic dust that would imbue us all with the undefinable feeling that we were building a world where everyone pulled together to make things better for all.