Two Old Codgers

How the World strikes us

Prime minister Harold McMillan gave a speech in 1957 in which he said
"Most of our people have never had it so good".

In 1959 the average weekly wage for a manual worker was about £2.50 a week. In 2019 it was about £600 but that's just money. You cannot possibly make any comparison of how things were, simply using money as a measure. Many men were desperately trying to fit into
society, a little more than a decade after being demobbed from the second world war. They had been promised a different life with a brilliant future but it didn't seem to be materialising.

However, it was a time when things began to change. Rather than a square of carpet on top of a linoleum or bare wooden floor, fitted carpets started to appear. The meat safe had been a wooden cupboard with doors and sides open to the air apart from a covering of fine galvanised mesh to keep out the flies but refrigerators soon became an essential part of the kitchen.
Then came the freezer.

I can remember our first Freezer - what a performance! Packs of food were carefully labelled in great detail and with the date. The air had to be sucked out of the plastic bag with a straw to prevent freezer burn and a paper list of the contents kept in the kitchen and ticked off as they were used, at least that was the theory!

I don't remember the order in which household innovations appeared but they rolled in. Gas lighting was replaced by electricity. No longer the
quiet hiss of the burning gas mantle; no more climbing the stairs to bed with a candle and crawling into cold sheets, perhaps warmed by an oven heated brick wrapped in a 'flannel' - whatever that was!

The Hoover washing machine had in it's innards a huge lump of concrete to stop it dancing all over the kitchen floor. It didn't work! One
Nervous whippet
morning, after leaving the washer running the night before, I came down to discover the machine had 'danced' to such an extent that it had pulled off the water inlet hose. The water had flooded from kitchen into the living room and up to our dog's basket. He sat there trembling, expecting retribution for something he thought he must be responsible for. (For those who might be interested, in wasn't a whippet but a Yellow Labrador called 'Mac')

We had been brought up sleeping in ice cold bedrooms and later, marvelled at waking on winter
Iced Window
mornings to see no elaborate patterns of ice on the inside of bedroom windows after central heating was installed. Elderly ladies no longer had red marks on their legs from sitting too close to the open fires. Another absolute bonus was not having to empty the ashes from the fire before setting and lighting it anew.

Often as you opened the back door to take the ash pan to the dustbin the
Lighting the fire
wind would blow the whole lot back in your face.

Lighting the fire was another lost chore. In order to get it going, a sheet of newspaper would be placed against the fire to increase the 'draw'. Of course, one became absorbed in reading the paper
Chimney Fire
until the edge caught the flames and it was sucked, flaming, up the chimney. Often in the morning you would hear the fire siren, where someones flaming newspaper set fire to the accumulated soot in the chimney.

I swear I can remember listening to the 'wireless' through headphones whilst dad fiddled with a 'cats whisker' and a crystal. Later we acquired a radiogram so we could listen to 'In Town Tonight', 'The Billy Cotton Band Show', 'Itma' ('It's that man again' with Tommy Handley) and 'Childrens Hour' which ran for years and was always signed off during war years by Uncle Mac saying "Goodnight Children
Everywhere. We also had a motley collection of gramophone records which were played over and over again. Another memory comes to mind of placing discarded 78rpm records on a plant pot in the oven to be gently melted until they took the shape of a plant holder.

Our neighbour acquired a Microwave Oven which we coveted but others warned us about the dangerous death rays which the new fangled oven gave off. We eventually bought one and is now part of the kitchen. The death rays haven't got us yet but I still reckon we're doomed.

A steam iron replaced the old electric iron which was usually connected to the mains via a two way
bathing in kitchen
adapter attached to the light fitting We lost the posser, the wash board, the hand turned mangle; the Ewbank carpet sweeper; the kids bathing in a zinc bath in front of the kitchen fire. We still enjoyed fish and chips from the 'Chip Shop'. 'Takeaway' hadn't yet entered the language.

There are now over 40 million motor vehicles on Britains roads but only about 20 million families. Yes, two car families are the norm. Going back
to my Dad who worked in the cotton mills, he had no more aspirations to owning a motor car than I do to owning a helicopter.

Things seemed to pour in on us. Television, tape recorders (Do you remember them?), the telephone followed later by the smart phone, overseas holidays, pocket calculators, computers and gadgets of every imaginable kind. So much so, they became 'expectations' rather than objects of desire. If you don't own them all you are deprived. Young women who were engaged to be married had a 'bottom drawer' in the sideboard where future necessities were stored - sheets, pillow cases, odd kitchen utensils and cutlery.

I rather suspect that these days, everything has to be the latest and brand new. As an old fella' I hear stories of young couples replacing the cooker when it it gets dirty. Kitchen shops, or should I say


Kitchen Design Centres, seem to be there, not for people moving into a new home but so we can keep up to date by changing the entire kitchen every five or six years.

In material terms things have moved on apace, I suppose it is progress and certainly we have more and better 'things'. It is so difficult to quantify but are our lives really better than those of our grandparents? They probably worked longer and harder and certainly most 'ordinary folk' had less of everything but in life terms how do you measure 'better'. I start looking at words like happy, content, fulfilled but can't find the right word.

I tell people I am not wealthy but I am rich because
I have everything I need and a quite a lot of things I just want.
Is my life better than it was? All I can say is "It's OK".

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