I had a strange email delivered to my Inbox the other day. Fortunately, it was only Spam and not a virus, but reminded me that when I was a child we used to eat something called Spam. Another difference between then and now. Spam is an acronym for Special Pressed American Meat, also called luncheon meat and was one of the staple foods available during the war. We used to love it in sandwiches or with salad and I believe you can still get it in supermarkets today. My taste buds must’ve changed since then as I can’t stand the stuff now!!
Our diet was very different to that of today. I was almost thirty years old when I first encountered yogurt, for instance. At first I was wary of eating it as I was told it was made from milk fermented by bacteria – that was enough for me and it took a while before I was brave enough to try it. Now I eat it every day!
These days we just wander into the supermarket and select anything we want from the huge range of goods available. Not so when I was a small child. The following is an article I found on the Imperial War Museum website:
“In January 1940, the British government introduced food rationing. The scheme was designed to ensure fair shares for all at a time of national shortage.
The Ministry of Food was responsible for overseeing rationing. Every man, woman and child was given a ration book with coupons. These were required before rationed goods could be purchased. Basic foodstuffs such as sugar, meat, fats, bacon and cheese were directly rationed by an allowance of coupons. Housewives had to register with particular retailers. As shortages increased, long queues became commonplace.
A number of other items, such as tinned goods, dried fruit, cereals and biscuits, were rationed using a points system. The number of points allocated changed according to availability and consumer demand. Priority allowances of milk and eggs were given to those most in need – children, expectant mothers or invalids.
Certain key commodities were also rationed; petrol in 1939, clothes in June 1941 and soap in February 1942. The end of the war saw additional cuts, and bread began to be rationed in 1946. It was not until the early 1950s that most commodities came ‘off the ration’. Meat was the last item to be de-rationed in June 1954.
One way to get rationed items without coupons, usually at greatly inflated prices, was on the black market. Shopkeepers sometimes kept special supplies ‘behind the counter’, and ‘spivs’ – petty criminals – traded in goods often obtained by dubious means. By March 1941, 2,300 people had been prosecuted and severely penalised for fraud and dishonesty.”
Shopping in the 1940s was a very different affair to today. Firstly, there were no supermarkets. Each town would have its High Street in which you could find the butcher, the baker, the haberdashery shop, the newsagent cum sweetshop, in fact, almost every department that can now be found in a supermarket would have its own designated shop in the High Street.
Mum used to take us into town on a Saturday morning, the traditional time for shopping and we would stand in the queue and wait while the assistant fetched each item as Mum asked for it. I can just about remember the Ration Books. Whilst Mum was in the queue at the butchers I would go next door to Robinson’s the bakers and buy a ring of buns for Sunday tea. This was, obviously, a ring of six or eight currant buns and sometimes we would have the iced ones as a treat.
After doing the grocery shopping we would go across to the market, which was simply a few stalls in an old courtyard, but there was one particular stall we kids loved – the old comics. Comics, such as Dandy and Beano, were luxuries that many families just couldn’t afford to buy every week, so we would buy one with our one penny pocket money (that’s less than one half a modern penny!). That one penny’s worth would last all week and we read those comics over and over until they fell apart!
It sounds as if life was really tough, but I can’t remember ever going without food, clothing or warmth. However, I’m sure my parents went without a lot in order to give us kids as much as they could.
One of the many items that were rationed was sweets and these had to be bought using coupons. No coupons, no sweets. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realised that my parents must’ve gone without sweets all year so that we could have an Easter Egg. I can remember that we each had one with our name on it. Dad never told us how he obtained these hand-made delights but I’m sure he got as much pleasure as we did seeing us on Easter morning. (Well, perhaps not quite as much!).
So, getting back to the beginning of this Blog, I wondered why we call unsolicited emails Spam? I’ve searched the net and found the following, which may or may not be true:
“Since the mid-1990s, unsolicited email earned the nickname spam because of the uncanny resemblance between the way SPAM, a luncheon meat, is received by a restaurant customer in a 1970 Monty Python skit and the way spam email is received by the internet user. (SPAM written in capital letters is the trademark term for Hormel’s canned lunch meat whereas spam, in lowercase, is popular slang for unsolicited email ).
In the comedy skit, a waitress repeatedly offers large servings of SPAM as a part of every entree even though one customer doesn’t want any. To complicate matters, a gleeful Viking chorus in the corner frequently bursts into song praising SPAM, drowning out the frustrated waitress who can’t complete the customer’s order. Similarly, spam is constantly offered to internet users who don’t want unsolicited email. When spam saturates an inbox it seems, like the Viking choirs drowning out the waitress, to overwhelm the recipient”