As a writer and avid book reader, I’m often asked who my favourite author is, or whose work influences me the most, or what my favourite book is. All are difficult to answer as I read many genres, many authors, and many books have stayed with me throughout my life. I grew up in a household where books and reading were encouraged at an early age, indeed our mother taught us to read long before we first went to school. She read us exciting bedtime stories, fairytales told German and herself read all kinds of novels. With six of us in the family, the choice and quantity was large and books passed around as we grew older … Read on Over the Backyard Fence.
Recently, my husband and I have gone in for some 1970s’ retro culture. Well, why not. The 1970s were fun times, colourful times, although I drew the line at flared trousers, fringed jackets and jumpsuits (which, according to the fashion slot on Lorraine this week, are all back in fashion). We’ve bought a lava lamp! And we love it. I had one years ago, back in the 1970s when they were all the rage, only to have it broken some years later when someone picked it up, not realising the lamp was in two parts. The glass fell to the floor and broke. I was sad at the time and couldn’t afford to replace it, nor could the culprit find another to take its place, so I hadn’t really thought much more about it in the ensuing years.
So here sits our new lamp. Slightly different from the original I owned; that had a copper base and cap, and red glass. The new one has a multi-coloured base and a red, blue and green glass, creating bubbles and bits in all colours. As hypnotic as watching flames in a fire, we spend ages watching it work, the shapes and movement reminding me of the background images that used to be played behind performers at all the concerts I went to during the early 1970s – Quo and Queen, Fat Mattress, Renaissance, Fleetwood Mac – the list is endless and full of happy memories.
It got me thinking of other things from the 1970s I loved, and miss. I remembered I used to have a kinetic ball and wire table decoration. It was black wire with golden balls, the base filled with sand. A simple ornament that swayed and moved in the slightest of breezes as you walked past. I can’t remember what happened to mine; probably got broken at some stage and thrown away without a second thought.
Then there was the dark green pottery vase, almost 3 feet high, from which sprouted a mass of tissue paper flowers, the size of dinner plates. Mine were made by a friend. Big, blousy blooms standing nearly as tall as me that matched my red, orange and yellow geometric lounge curtains and similarly coloured psychedelic rug. The “in thing” to decorate the home at that time, along with tall feathery stems of white pampas grass, which eventually dropped their fine dandelion-like hairy seed heads; a right pain to keep clearing up.
There were real houseplants as well – pink busy lizzies with pale green leaves and stems that grew to humongous proportions – every home seemed to have one. And not forgetting the spider plants, and a cactus or two – cuttings from my mother’s lanky monster called Fred. Whilst you can still get spider plants and cacti, the indoor busy lizzie is no more, thanks to being killed off by a virus or mildew, rather like our outdoor ones have been.
No doubt, I shall suddenly think of other homey things I had around the house, long forgotten or lost. It’s good to remember these things now and again; they bring a sense of continuance and comfort, spark happy, and sometimes sad, memories and who knows, if I search hard enough I might find them again. Thank goodness for the Internet!
What, if anything, do you miss around the home from that era? I’d love to know.
Tip of the Day: When boiling potatoes, a few drops of olive oil or a small knob of butter will help prevent the saucepan from boiling over.
I suppose I was fortunate to grow up always having a television in my life, and although it played a part in my home, it is the radio programmes of my childhood that I remember the most. It was always on, it seemed, and how many reading this now can remember listening to Radio Luxembourg on little transistor radios under the bedcovers? (“That’s Keynsham, spelt K-E-Y-N-S-H-A-M”.) I would also listen to I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, when I should have been sleeping. Sundays were filled with Family Favourites followed by the Billy Cotton Band Show, or Much Minding in the Marsh, The Navy Lark, the Goon Show and such. But it was Saturday morning radio that really remains in my head, for then Children’s Favourites with Uncle Mac would be on …“Hello, children, everywhere.”
Children and adults could write in for requests to play the songs so beloved by us kids, songs and music you just don’t hear any more. They were fun, innocent sing-along tunes never to be forgotten such as:
Tubby the Tuba
Sparky and His Magic Piano
The Runaway Train
Nellie the Elephant
Peter and the Wolf
The Ugly Duckling
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Three Billy Goats Gruff
Three Little Fishes
Little White Bull
There’s A Hole In My Bucket
I’m A Pink Toothbrush
Puff the Magic Dragon
On Top of Spaghetti
Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda
Beep Beep (The Bubblecar Song)
The Happy Wanderer
The Ugly Bug Ball
I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly
Oh, I could go on and on, there are so many classics, so many wonderful childhood memories. How many do you remember and what song was your favourite? Did you used to listen to Uncle Mac? Did you ever write in for a request? I do think it’s such a shame there’s nothing similar for children on the radio nowadays.
If you’ve a moment or a mind to re-live a bit of the 1950s and 1960s, I’ve come across a brilliant website that is a marvellous radio and radio programmes of those times and great for doing a spot of research too! Called Whirligig, do check it out.
It was with mixed feelings I read yesterday of the Government’s intended plan for removing all cigarette vending machines from pubs, restaurants and bars. Not because I smoke (I don’t), but for the fact the way cigarette machines have shaped and influenced my life. The article was even more poignant being Father’s Day, and I wondered what my father would have made of the whole smoking issue.
My father’s boss, Mr Weiss, a Swiss music box maker, developed the wooden mechanism inside these wall-hung machines of the 1950s and 60s and also made the outer wooden cabinets. It was Dad’s job to delivery and fit these across the whole of the UK, often away for days at a time. It was also his job sometimes to restock the machines in and around London with cigarettes and, in later years, machines dispensing stockings, chocolate, and a couple of other items as a child I didn’t understand.
To earn extra pocket money, my elder siblings and I would sit around the kitchen table with a pile of coins in the centre. It was our job to slit the cellophane wrappers with a razor blade and slide in the correct change, each of us having a different brand to fill. Weights. Senior Service. Capstan. Players No.6. Whatever money was left over at the end was divided between us. (If ever you were shortchanged in a packet years ago, please forgive us, it was never intentional!)
I believe Mr Weiss’s firm was the only one in the country at the time making these, if not he was certainly one of the biggest suppliers for his machines were in every pub, club, bar, restaurant and hotel in the country and regularly supplied television and film studios. As kids, we could often be heard to shout out: “There’s one of Dad’s machines” whilst watching Emergency Ward Ten, Z Cars, even Crossroads, and many, many British films.
Another customer was the The Golden Egg restaurant chain. One in particular regularly invited us as a family to have Sunday lunch there. It was, as I recall, either on, or very near to, Hammersmith Roundabout. We always had chicken and chips followed by little paper dishes of jelly with tinned cream. We were often the only ones there; having Sunday lunch out was not common practice then for most people.
Dad always bought his van home; a little grey Austin A40, Bedford dormabiles, a white Thames, later white or blue Transits. As a consequence throughout the 1950s and 60s, we were fortunate to have a means of transport always at our disposal. Not many families at that time owned a car. In the road where we lived, we were the first to have one, albeit a van, and the first to have television but we were by no means wealthy. Both my parents always had to work, my mother at one point holding down two daytime jobs and sewing at home as a third. But I do believe as children we were privileged in many respects, all thanks to the cigarette vending machine.
For special occasions, Mr Weiss would let Dad use his car for the weekend. I remember a green and cream Austin Cambridge, very plush, with green leather seats and a walnut dashboard, but most times we went off in the van. Back then, the engines of the larger vans were always housed between the driver and passenger seat. In each, Dad rigged up a padded, wooden seat to go over this; where I sat. On long journeys it got very hot but I always had a good view. My brother and sisters sat in the back on old armchairs or settees or old car seats Dad put in. Seatbelts were unheard of! The Thames van had red rear seats running along the sides, and red and white gingham curtains at the windows which he pulled closed when on delivery.
During the school holidays we would often go with Dad on his delivery runs. He’d take us the “scenic” way, showing us pretty villages and unusual places, castles and churches, Stonehenge and many, many other places of historic interest and seaside towns up and down the country most children during that era never had the opportunity of visiting. We once came to Bristol, enjoying sandwiches beneath the Suspension Bridge, never, ever imagining I would end up living there. We visited a ferret farm near Lowestoft, to Newcastle where an aunt and cousin lived, then on to Gretna Green, across Shap Fell, travelling up the M1 the second day it opened, a private zoo with leopards and chimpanzees. We never went on summer holiday as such, but spent days away at beautiful Cornish or Dorset villages on the coast whilst Dad went on to make his delivery. We’d stay in a caravan or more often at a friendly B&B or farm.
Sunday afternoons during the summer we would often go to Devil’s Bunch Bowl in Surrey to gather bilberries for Mum to make into jam. In autumn, we would go to Box Hill to gather the sweet chestnuts for roasting back home on a shovel over the coal fire. Happy days climbing up Leith Hill or exploring places called Sunday Street or the Silent Pool, or visiting relatives in Hemel Hempstead, Watford or Ewell. We’d regularly go for days out to Margate, Southend, Brighton or West Wittering.
Dad never had to pay for petrol and when later, my mother got her first car, a red and white Triumph Herald, Mr Weiss insisted on paying for her petrol too. He was such a kindly man, to us kids more of an uncle than our Dad’s boss. When Dad went to collect his wages, he often took me with him to Mr Weiss’s home or to the factory across London in Leightonstone. Mr Weiss always gave me half-a-crown as pocket money. This was always appreciated and never, ever expected.
So for these things alone: the memories of family trips, places we visited, the fun, being able to see and enjoy the countryside, for the clothes we wore, food we ate, toys we played with, the humble cigarette machine paid. I mourn its passing.