Memories of Wartime
When I was a kid during WW2 we didn’t have sell-by dates and elf and safety, we just had the war to contend with. It became so much a part of our daily existence that after it was over a friend said ‘I didn’t know wars could end’.
Our family had a tube of Golden Eye Ointment that grew up with me from Miss Bolton’s baby class to puberty. It worked a treat and we all had two eyes apiece by the demise of the tube. Unfortunately the same didn’t apply to the en famille tube of Gibbs’ toothpaste. The solid pink substance came in a round tin with a picture of a castle on the front – possibly Segovia. You rubbed the bristles of your toothbrush back and forth across the pink stuff, not the castle you understand, after wetting the brush under the tap. Ultimately we all lost our teeth through gingivitis.
This morning I threw away a small fortune in food that had run out of time. They’ll be dating bleach and petrol and the sand on the beach next. Included in this spring clean were ten jars of herbs and spices that had died while my back was turned, and several that didn’t even bear a date despite a message on the jar which said ‘ See base/side for date’. Also keeping them company were three jars of jam sporting fur coats.
In retrospect it seems strange that in the days when you had to pay extra for a cruet set on your table in a boarding house in Blackpool, I was only ever sick through swallowing too much sea water. No doubt the salt and effluent joined forces to create an emetic. So how come we didn’t get sick all the time when nobody had a ‘fridge? My toes curl up now at the thought of the tiny cupboard, nailed high on the wall of our backyard. It had a fine mesh front to keep out the bluebottles, and inside we put our meat, along with butter, lard, milk, cheese, and lots of cream because heart attacks, except in extreme age, were rare.
During the war and my teenage years, when many items were rationed, we believed medicines and food supplements should be kept nice and warm, like on the mantelpiece, binning them only when the containers were empty and not before. Rubbing shoulders on ours were Scott’s Emulsion that cured all ills, Extract of Malt with cod liver oil for strengthening us, Compo for stomach complaints, Fennings Fever Cure (twin to Greek Retsina for severe colds and ‘flu) Parkinsons Pink Pills for Pale People (made in Burnley) which improved the blood, Sanderson’s Throat Specific (double-strength quinine I think), Cephos Powders – a national standby for headaches and hangovers, and the Amami Wave Set (which slogan was ‘Friday night is Amami night’) for our hair.
My dad, in particular, had a constitution of iron, was hardly ever off work through sickness and toiled from being a lad of twelve to almost seventy years of age. He smoked like a trooper, downed several pints of ale a night and died, I suspect, because he was totally naffed off at being eighty four and having outlived all his mates.
When the going rate for tooth fairies was sixpence, and women never had a bath or washed their hair during menstruation because it would bring on madness, my job was to tear the newspapers into large squares, thread a string through the corners, and hang it on the door of our outside loo. Toilet rolls simply weren’t available. Many items were rationed and the shortage of delicacies like fruit and sugar was on account of the Germans bombing the ships that were bringing them. In the case of toilet rolls this doesn’t sound feasible, but nevertheless there were none about during the war. I have always missed the lovely sound of birds chirping while you sat on the loo, and the disjointed reading material with riveting articles for which you’d to make up your own beginnings and endings.
When I became a mother myself, hyperactivity was light years away. Breast-feeding was the norm and after we’d got up baby’s wind they slept solidly for four hours. We didn’t play with them in between because we’d no vacuum cleaners, washing machines, and all the mod coms mums have these days, so we’d work to do. There were nappies to wash, and we grew our own vegetables, had hens and fresh eggs and cooked fresh homely food. Throwaway nappies hadn’t arrived on the scene and the only takeaway food was from the local fish and chip shop to be indulged in when you could afford.
We didn’t carry babies round with us either. They had huge cushy prams into which we put them to sleep away in the fresh air or be walked bouncily in these high-sprung affairs – for miles on end. They were unbelievably healthy and happy and slept through the night like little logs. If they didn’t you gave them a cooling powder.
When they started teething the GP’s advice was to rub neat whisky on their gums and put a teaspoonful in their milk. It worked wonders, even if there was a danger of them becoming alcoholics by the age of two.
I can just about remember a time when you could stop at a transport café, order bangers, bacon, two fried eggs, fried bread, fried mushrooms, fried tomatoes, half a tin of baked beans, toast with salty butter, lots of jam, pint of coffee with four sugars, and actually enjoy it without having to go to Mass or Intensive Care on the way home.
At the end of today I shall be well churned up with my foray into the kitchen cupboards, which has brought on this nostalgic yearning for yesteryear but I know exactly how to remedy it. Tonight I’ll throw a few logs on the fire, put Air on a G String on the music system, pour a very large vodka and light a king-size fag – all of which, and unlike me, are devoid of sell-by dates.
L P Hartley in his gorgeous book The Go-Between coined an apt phrase, and it is this……..
“The past is another country; they do things differently there”
Featured image: Barrowford Home Guards, 1940