One Lifetime, So Much Change!

Living through interesting times

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When I was little I thought everyone had been born in 1945. It was such an important year. The war ended. I thought everyone had to have a war in their lives too, but perhaps I was right there.

One of my earliest memories is of waiting with my mother in queues for rationed groceries.  It was cold and boring, so perhaps that is why it stuck in my mind.

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Startng out then meant beginning life in an era which echoed older times. Milk was still delivered by horse and cart.  Houses were heated by coal fires. People made their own clothes. There were meat safes and pantries not fridges. Washday was a whole day’s work.

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As a result children learnt all sorts of practical skills. Making old newspaper into neat rolls for setting the fire, shelling peas, turning skeins of wool into balls, running messages to the local shops. They were expected to be useful or keep out of the way. Few people had cars, so quiet streets meant even young children had independence to wander near and far.

So I’ve seen huge changes in how people live and work. I can (though only if pushed nowadays) do lots of things: sew, knit, darn, cook and bake from scratch, gut fish, skin a rabbit, light fires and keep them alight, bath, feed and change a baby. A good number of these I had learnt even before I reached secondary school. 

Also growing up in the shadow of a recent war meant you always had an awareness that awful things happen.  All the uplifting propaganda that cosily surrounded you couldn’t wipe out that knowledge. We played out our own battlefield games on overgrown bomb sites.

It’s been fascinating to experience how attitudes change.

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When I went to my grannie’s house on holiday, we children used to love market day when all the sheep were driven down through streets from the hills around the town. We had a favourite vantage point on Killing Hoose Brae, the steep street that led down to the huge market at the bottom. We would perch on the wall next to the abbatoir beside a railway incline. There we could watch the trains that needed two steam engines to get up the bank, one at the front and one at the back to push. And all the while the sheep would be driven back up from market to the killing hoose. It was a great morning’s excitement.

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There weren’t many vegetarians then.

Lesson 66. Life in a Hostile Environment

Lesson 66 on Extra curricular activities

Owen’s estate was situated on a steep hillside facing into the prevailing wind and the school was near the top.  Playtimes on windy days were a bracing experience but the infants loved them.  They couldn’t wait to get out there. Their biggest dread was a wet playtime, when they couldn’t go outside. From half past nine onwards they would demand regular rain checks.

The attraction was Playing Parachutes. This involved running around with your arms extended above your head so that your unbuttoned coat billowed out behind you. The playground was filled with small shrieking figures zigzagging at speed in all directions, while the adults on duty cowered in coats and scarves. The children were unbelievably hardy. They would come back in exhilarated and freezing cold, buzzing with satisfaction.

Of course they had plenty of practice.  They spent every possible moment they could outside. When we talked in class about things we enjoyed doing top of the list came “Playing out!”

If you drove past the estate on light evenings every open space was populated with children of all ages running around, kicking balls or chasing one another. There were plenty of green spaces on the edge of the estate and hardly any through traffic in the estate itself.  The main road looped around the outskirts.

When I first went to the school, I had been curious about the area and had asked about walking or driving around it. I was counselled not to think of doing so.  Nobody ever went through the estate except those living there, those who had business with them (such as the van man who sold the duty free cigarettes), council workers of one sort or another, or the police.

When a pupil was unwell, and needed to go home, two members of staff would drive the sick child down the hill once mum had been alerted by phone. It was a long walk for a small poorly person and many families had no transport of their own. Nobody ever went into the estate by themselves.

It was a sensible precaution.  One day when the postman parked his van at the bottom of the school path while he delivered the letters, by the time he got back to it, somebody had managed to break a window and steal the parcels left on the passenger seat.

When Ofsted were coming, the head was keen to ensure the site looked bright and well cared for, so she bought bedding plants for the flower beds. They were kept in readiness but only planted on the evening immediately before the inspection.  The caretaker and his German Shepherd dog then guarded them throughout the night. That way they weren’t stolen until later in the week.

Still, it’s an ill wind!  The fact that nobody in their right mind ventured into the Badlands of the estate meant that the children held possession of the streets. Untroubled by cars or strangers they played out hour after hour until darkness fell.

There was no point setting homework.