Growing up, as I did, in the industrial Midlands of England in the 1940s/1950s, we were surrounded by the filth of chimneys, belching out all manner of foul emissions. This often caused terrible smog, bringing cars and buses to a standstill as it was impossible to see further than a hand in front of you. Domestic fires added to this through the coal and coke that was burnt.
This atmosphere, of course, was the cause of many health problems for lots of families. I suffered terribly from bronchitis for most of the year and had to wear something called “Thermogene“. This came in a roll of pink material like cotton wool, which was pinned inside Liberty Bodices and vests, to keep my chest warm and help banish winter ailments. Research on the actual ingredients of the material have proved fruitless, but whatever it was, it worked!
We also had to have daily doses of Cod Liver Oil, provided free by the Health Department, as well as orange juice. The cod liver oil was ghastly and almost made me choke, but if I managed to keep it down I was rewarded with the orange juice!
Another therapy I had to undergo was sun ray treatment, which took place in a large room in a local clinic. In the centre of the room was a huge lamp and we had to stand facing the lamp, wearing just our knickers and a pair of goggles, for about fifteen minutes. I remember feeling very warm. This course of treatment lasted for no more than four sessions. At least it was one way of getting time off from school!!
It’s also a well-known fact that children in the 1950s were often under-nourished due to food shortages, rationing or just hardship. We always seemed to have plenty to eat and I looked forward to our Sunday roast. Having bought all the necessary ingredients the previous day whilst out shopping, Mum would set about roasting the beef joint in her tiny gas oven.
When it was finished she would drain off the juices and leave it to set; this made the most delicious dripping which we would spread on toast. (Oh, my mouth is watering at the very thought!!)
On the top of the cooker she had three gas jets and these would be used for the various saucepans of vegetables. I found a picture of one almost identical, except that this picture is of a doll’s cooker!!. At least it will give an idea of the kind of equipment housewives had at their disposal in the 1940s.
So, to continue – we always had a sweet (or pudding as we called it) and my favourite was bananas and custard. During the war bananas were unavailable and so, when they were finally to be had again, they were something new to us. It was a special treat to have a banana. How we take things for granted these days, with such wonderful fruits from all over the world available in the supermarkets all year round.
Sunday tea usually comprised fish paste sandwiches, a fruit cake or ring of buns and a dish of peaches in syrup. We weren’t allowed to have the fruit until we’d eaten at least one half slice of bread and butter. This was probably to make it go further, as one tin of peaches would have to suffice for the whole family of five.
Incidentally, Monday’s evening meal consisted of minced meat left over (or put aside specially) from the Sunday joint, made into a shepherd’s pie. Pastry left from making that would be used to make an apple pie for pudding, probably lasting two days at least. (No fridges then, either!!). Very little food was wasted in those days!!
But, throughout all those days of hardship and shortages, I know that my parents did their best for us kids, no matter what. We always had warm clothes and even treats of comics (albeit second-hand ones from the market) and oftentimes Mum would pass her dish over to one of us saying that she’d had enough to eat. We never realised that probably there wasn’t enough to go round, so Mum or Dad would forego their own food for us.
These days, 63 years on, I live in a comfortable, warm home and to do my weekly shopping I just jump into the car and drive (less than a mile!) into Asda’s car park. I haven’t yet succumbed to home deliveries though!!
In the 1950s shops were certainly not open as long then as they are now. Opening times were usually 9 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. five days a week and on one of those five days all the shops in the town closed for half a day. There were no businesses open on Sundays back then. I often wonder what my Dad would think of my life these days compared to what he knew just before he died in 1972. So much has changed in the past 41 years.
Sometimes I think it’s moving too quickly. One day a new gadget appears on the shelves and within days it’s superseded by something bigger or better. When I was young a tablet was something you took when you were ill, an eye pad was something you put over an injured eye and a mobile was something that was suspended over a baby’s cot. Times have certainly changed since then, but much as I remember being very happy when I was young, I certainly wouldn’t wish to go back and live like that again. I like my comforts too much!!
And yet, you know, whatever happens in our lives, whether it be good or bad, is part of God’s plan for us. If we choose to follow Jesus and give our lives to Him, then we shall understand why all these things happen to us. Sometimes we might think of going somewhere or doing something but for some reason it just doesn’t happen. That’s God working in our lives, probably because what we wanted to do wouldn’t be good for us.
Jeremiah chapter 29 verse 11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Romans chapter 8 verse 28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”