By litherlandb, Feb 29 2016 03:40PM
Growing older has strange consequences, not all of them pleasant. One of these is that one’s earliest memories begin to take on the character of scenes from historical fiction. Consider my earliest memories. I can remember when my grandparents bought their first television set. I must have been about three or four. There were no programmes before 5pm except for ‘Watch with Mother’ – a half hour children’s slot at about 1.30. I used to watch it at their house until my father, driven no doubt by envy, got one for us. It was all in black and white, of course. (I was beginning university before I first encountered a colour television in a friend’s flat. We were in Crediton, Devon, in a flat above a garage. The set was magnificent but it was almost impossible to watch because the signal was so poor. We sat in front of it and imagined, through the blur of lines and vibrating shapes, what it might look like if it really worked).
I remember too, my first weeks at school – no induction, no half days, no peer mentoring. One went from home to school and that was that. Those early school memories have been distilled down to a handful of images and smells. Physical education, for example, involved lying on oval rush mats, - rather like something you might use as a modern doormat - the texture of which left permanent scars on your back. I also remember my one week of school dinners, particularly the smell of heavily boiled potatoes and cabbage. If you were unfortunate to get a piece of meat in your mouth you could chew the damned thing forever without making the slightest impression on it. Eventually you were driven to swallow it whole, an effort which often resulted in a period of retching before the offending item returned to your mouth and the process began again. I have a strong memory of one particularly offensive mouthful which refused point blank to be digested. In the end I gave up and secreted it in my pocket until I could dispose of it later – probably to my dog.
At the time, of course, having a bath once a week on a Sunday night was the epitome of middle class decency. It’s only now, looking back, that one realises the consequences for those poor children who lacked the blessing of a secure bladder. There must have been a few in my class who invariably soaked themselves on Sunday night and then repeated the performance each night of the week until they got a brief respite prior to bed the following Sunday. I can still remember the stink of those poor kids. It was a double curse that levels of poverty were such that these same children had no alternative school-day clothing. Once the smell permeated their one set of clothes it stayed there until it was briefly alleviated at the beginning of the following week.
You don’t think of poverty when you’re young. I was lucky. I got to eat a whole apple. Other kids would hang around begging for the core. Imagine.
It’s only as time passes that one recognises the political context of childhood. In my early years the health service was in its infancy, the Welfare State was new. There was still rationing. The Second World War had only been over for ten years. The first motorways were being planned. There were many people living in prefabricated houses, many people still had allotments from wartime and gardens like ours still housed chickens and areas of vegetables. I still remember our first car, mid fifties, I guess. The smell of leather and the constant, hideous sensation of car sickness made the journey from Blackpool to Brock or Jeffrey Hill a nightmare. We counted milk churns, loaded on stone plinths at the end of farm tracks ready for collection, as a way of keeping my mind off it. It seldom worked. For my Longridge friends, Jeffrey hill was a gated road. I earned a few pence by opening the gate as cars approached, maybe one car every fifteen minutes or so.
As a child, however, despite the drawbacks, it wasn’t a bad time, at least not uniformly so. We played OUT – yes OUT – all day. Unless we were ill the door opened shortly after breakfast and we were not required to reappear, unless for water or medical treatment, until the next meal. Nowadays, that sort of behaviour from parents might require the intervention of social services.
But more of that in a future instalment; I must return to the modern day and post this on Facebook.
What a strange world.