One of the delights of being a grandparent is when your grand offspring reach an age where they realise that you lived in “history”. This was a questionnaire that I was asked to complete that caused no little consternation for the reader.
1. What year were you born? I was born in 1945, a great year for Brussels sprouts I am told.
2. Were you alive in the 2nd. World War? Well, yes and no in that I had no independent existence until after hostilities ceased but I was in my Mummy’s tummy (and so technically alive – I certainly gave her a good kicking – well you have to do something to pass the time, it being so wet and boring in there) before peace was declared.
3. Was food rationed? So I am told but I don’t remember much of that except that my Mum had a ration book which she took with her when she went shopping. I can remember sweets being rationed. When I went to my Prep school (not at all like Hogwarts, I can tell you) we were allowed two sweets a week ! – on Wednesdays – and then only if we knelt down and licked the Headmaster’s shoes clean. As he was given to taking long bracing walks in the countryside they were very dirty shoes. Never mind, the taste of a toffee took away the taste of mud.
4. Did you have to wear gas masks ? Well, no except that there was a boy at school who did the most amazing rip-snorting farts in the dorm at night. I could have done with a gas mask then. I believe he was nicknamed Zeppelin (ask Mum & Dad why).
5. What toys did you play with when you were 5-10 ? Which particular day at 5 to 10 are you talking about. If it was Thursday the 27 March 1952 I was playing with my amazing, supersonic, intergalactic, nuclear powered Yo-Yo. That was some toy, I tell you!
6. Did you have a bomb shelter in the garden ? This was Braintree, Essex we are talking about. Bomb shelters ? Hitler wouldn’t stoop so low as to bomb rural Essex – it wasn’t worth making rude faces at Essex, let alone bomb it. Mind you it was the centre of some discrete mangle wurzel processing but that was very hush-hush.
7. Was life hard after the war ? Hard, hard! I had to get up at three in the morning, wash the cat, peel a few mangle wurzels and then walk 15 miles to school in my bare feet with nary a bowl of porridge to sustain me for the 26 hours of lessons before lunch. When I got home I had to paint the house (for some reason my father wanted the house a different colour each day) before licking an old pitchfork for my tea and going to bed in an egg-cup (in which the shell had been left.) It was hard but we loved it and we were brought up to tell the truth.
8. Where did you go on holiday when you were young ? Life were hard so there was no time for such fripperies as holidays. Mind you, our Dad did take us once to see the local Gas works. That was so exotic, we dined out on it for weeks afterwards.
9. How did you get there? We had to swim for fifty miles to get there. The last ten were the worst, they were over land.
10. How old were you when you had television? Fifty-seven.
11. What programmes did you watch? I especially liked to watch the Open University. There was a man on there who had sandals to die for.
12. Did you listen to the radio? There was nothing better than the nights when the whole family would gather around the crystal set so that we could listen to the Archers. You used to get proper agricultural advice in them days. The only trouble was that I had to be up on the roof all the time, holding the aerial up.
13. What were the houses made of ? I suppose you mean ‘Of what were the houses made’, (as Churchill said “A preposition is a terrible word to end a sentence with”). Ours was made of string, gravel and a lot of spit but we lived in the posh part of town. Most houses were cardboard boxes, like Mr.& Mrs. Cleese and their little son John who lived down the road from us.
14. How was your house heated ? We had to run up and down until the heat and sweat from our bodies raised the temperature above zero. Then it felt tropical !
15. What great inventions were made in your life ? Without a doubt the Higginbotham’s Patent Braces Untwister. That was an invention that transformed the lives of a whole generation of schoolboys – and preserved the prospect of future generations , I can tell you.
I hope you will see from the above that, though we were poor, we were also stupid – and, indeed, remain so.)