Open letter to Spike

Spike is a lifelong friend of my grandson, Steve, and as I have not been able to contact him, to thank him for generously sending me a bottle of Irish whiskey, something that I am very fond of and with which I will be toasting his health, when Stephen and I get together, I am using the blog to send my thanks. In consequence then I thought I would also give an account of how I personally see the changes in the drinking habits of the British, over the last 90 years. However, seeing that we are talking about alcohol, you might find it interesting to use a search engine, typing .’Passing out parade’ on this blog to seek where alcohol was inducing some strange results. In one case I was put in irons and dropped into the tiller flat, an unpleasant part of the ship. To start with I want to say that alcohol is really a social drink, and I find living by myself that I do not have the pleasure I once had, nightly, with my glass of scotch. There is no one to discuss the merits, to talk instances and brands. Instead one is reading, or watching television or dozing, while the glass sits there unheaded.

My experience goes back to when I was in Africa in the British Raj, but my knowledge goes further back as a result of conversations, and expressions of disgust, by different members of the family under certain circumstances when I was a child and a young man. The television has shown the horrors of the 14/18 war, the horrific needless loss of life, and the unbelievable conditions under which those men lived, Introducing words like trench mouth, and trench foot into the English language. If those men became alcoholic, and I believe many did, it would be understandable. In Africa in the 20s, the civil servants in the Colonial service were living well above their means, subscribed by the government, and would meet every evening at five o’clock in somebody’s house for Tiffin, the locked tantalus, would be opened and everyone would be drinking spirits rather than beer or soft drinks.

However the interesting thing that I have found was that drink, and especially the type of drink taken, varied across the social boundaries. Among the general population, leaving aside the Lord’s in their Manors, there were roughly 4 classes in society. There was the working class, the lower-middle-class, the upper-middle-class, and the upper-class, unsurprisingly what people drank in each of the classes depended on two things, habit and money.. I can remember as a child hearing my grandmother give off, when she would see a pram with a child left outside a public house while the mother would be inside drinking one of the regular drinks that women drank in those days, such as ‘Gin and it’,the ‘it’ being Italian Vermouth, Port and lemon, and any other combination that was in vogue.

The working class mainly drank beer, the lower-middle-class, in general, had aspirations to become the upper-middle-class, and they rarely drink at all, except as a mild celebration on high days and holidays. Then, the sherry bottle would come out with a good deal of theatre, but very little sherry. The upper-middle-class sampled the wine list, and if invited to a party by friends in the lower middle class, might be horrified to discover that they were expected to drink ‘Fruit Cup’, made mostly with a bottle of cheap wine.

Then came the Second World War, when young men were introduced to alcohol, the quality of which varied on the depth of their pockets , and the contents of the pub that was on short commons because of the war. Use the search engine on this blog by typing in Southend, you will find a typical wartime drinking session and the outcome. Any time I was on leave I saw little or no evidence of excessive drinking at home. and a trip to the pub on a Sunday was an occasion.

Like with everything else, the 1960s was a time of change when new experiences were the order of the day, but I believe that the level of intake of alcohol, was more to do with money than it was with change. In the 70s, there was a great change, making home-made wine and beer became common, and some of the chemists shops sold ingredients and equipment.

I can remember in the 20s and early 30s it was quite common to see men staggering home on a Saturday night having their one evening’s drink of the week’ .But to repeat myself I have to say that money in the pocket has a great effect on the ability to buy alcohol. We now live in a time when children seem to have unlimited pocket money, and recently in Bangor, Northern Ireland,we had two nights of expensive entertainment by American bands, and it was reported by those who knew, that the excessive drinking and drunkenness by teenage and young people, was staggering to people of a mature age, Especially as it was coupled with a tremendous amount of the most unpleasant swear words taken as part of the sentences.

I’m not a prude, and I work on the principle that everyone is responsible for themselves when they reach a certain age. It’s not up to the individual to dictate to anyone, but what I think is obvious to us all is that there has been a vast change in what Victorians would have called moral standards, in behaviour and our total way of life.

Thank you again, Spike, for your kindness and generosity, yours sincerely John

Stress In Millennium 2

Being retired with a relatively new, small house, and few responsibilities. I have time for things I never had time for in the recent past, and which so many people don’t seem to have time for today. No! Not flying of to a Costa, just sitting in a deck chair and crowd-watching, reading, walking for a purpose – to look and see and admire nature, not charging along daily, round the houses, to keep fit.

Before WW2 few people as a percentage owned their own house. The smaller properties were rented on a weekly or monthly basis, and the larger were leased, on 99 or 999 year leases. Families lived in the one house for generations. Today there is little rented property and people move about four times during adulthood, resulting in the second and third purchases being progressively dearer. In the 30s and after WW2, we, in our early years, had security, no pension worries, no fear of redundancy. Life was so much slower, you can’t envisage just how slow.. with no electronic communication; few even had a telephone, so questions of any sort were either verbal or written; thus giving time for thought, to mull, to make a decision and then change it, if necessary, before an answer was needed., not ‘knee jerk reaction’, a 21st centaury complaint. This applied particularly in business dealing and politics.

Most were in a stable environment, could predict what we would be doing this day next year. There was little peer pressure, because there was no rat race. Salaries changed little, year by year, and taxation was stable. Most of us followed in our fathers footsteps, if a tradesman, it was apprenticeship, Journeyman and a chance at Foreman. In the professions the route was mainly through written exams such as City and Guilds, or institution exams, mugged up for by correspondence course, not university, Development in design was slow, and mainly for the wealthy. One bought an article and if some part of it wore out one could replace it from a local shop. In Belfast, this state of affairs lingered until the Troubles, when the IRA blew up a shop and warehouse of long standing and we lost valuable spares, and ever since we have joined the throw-away society How that helped the cause I fail to see. There were door to door collections for insurance and the HSA, Hospital Saving Association. The doctor’s fee was seven shillings and sixpence, when the weekly wage was between 33 and £5 a week.

Advertising was not honed to the insidious level it is today. The placards and news paper ads were cosy pictures with banal messages, not warnings of doom and disease if the product was not bought and used. There was little pressure selling, Radio Luxembourg did not transmit until the mid to late 30s, ‘Auntie’, the BBC, had a clear field untrammelled by commerce. The working classes generally hated being in debt, there was a stigma attached to being insolvent, and pawning, while frowned upon, was for some families a regular ritual, popped on Monday, redeemed on payday, and the window of the pawnbroker’s shop held a fascination for most, especially children. There was stress, but nothing like today. With just news papers and the radio programmes, which had a censorship code, we were not clued up as people are now, we had taboos, we didn’t openly discuss things which were not ‘nice’, we were not faced with murder on the doorstep daily, or exhortations on health. The generally low level of wages, coupled with the fact that we walked so much, kept us healthy, eating good wholesome food, with little that was pre-prepared or likely to cause obesity. .We were without the stresses of driving, public transport took the strain, and with so little money, and the fact that furniture was handed down from generation to generation, so well made it could stand the test of time, shopping had not the significance it has today, when it has become a regular family outing. If iin difficulties we could call on relatives who lived close by, and families tended to remain in the same locality for generations, rather than being scattered as they are today.

Am I wrong to consider much of the stress today is self-inflicted? That affluence has spawned a desire for acquisition, self betterment at any cost, peer pressure, permanently sailing close to the wind, making life a race, with no let up, and no time to take the long view. Too much emphasis placed upon nonessentials, such as status and conforming It is difficult enough to maintain one house, let alone two, and some have even three, the maintenance must be stressful. Possessions induce stress, and pride can often induce acquisition out of proportion to need. We in the 20s and 30s had such a limited horizon, due to our financial situation, that we led a simple, relatively stressless existence. Surprisingly it was not dull or boring, but our pleasures were possibly more simple and cheaper.

Pre WW2, 1930 to ’39, in order, Sensitivity

Looking back to all those years from the late 20s until probably the 50s, I can’t believe how insensitive we were to the feelings of others, when we were happily living in our little bubble which was Briton. Today, young people would find it difficult to imagine a Britain where, apart from the docks, or the centre of capital cities, one rarely saw a foreigner of any sort. This was Briton pre-WW2. Living in Africa under the British Raj, I unquestioningly absorbed its attributes. During the War I met African Americans on an American warship tied up near mine, and later in Belfast as part of the Second Front. That was about it.

So, the first time I encountered the sensitivity of the ‘coloured races’ was in about 1950 when at afternoon tea in Belfast, I met a student from the Indian Sub-Continent. We were talking generally and I referred to our servants in Africa as ‘boys’. At that point the calm afternoon was disrupted irrevocably. In Livingstone, Northern Rhodesia, now Maramba, Zambia, we had servants who lived in a collection of mud and reed huts at the bottom of our back garden. Up until the tea party I had taken the situation in Africa as the norm, it was our way of life, and everyone of us, Brits, referred to the staff as ‘boys’, and accepted the arrangement without thought.

This simple teatime opened a can of worms which has bothered me ever since. Forever, dignitaries of every creed and colour, together with empires generally and the British Colonial Empire in particular, have been, and it seems, still are, effecting changes in world harmony. The religious orders for whatever reason disrupted irredeemably the way of life in countless countries and it seems still are. The Brits tried to build a little Esher in every part of the world they ‘colonised’, without regard to the effects on the local cultures. It is no wonder that indigenous members of the Empire resent our past. One aspect of those early days, was the legacy of the Victorian music halls which we took for granted, enjoyed and were amused by, but we never really questioned the basic root, nor the possibility it could give offence, I refer to the Black and White Minstrel Show, and especially the gollywog. What house in the 30s had no gollywog in some form or other, even if it was only a label on a jar?

Partly through the class war within our own society, where now, menial jobs are hard to fill, we are now being invaded ourselves, and our legislation is being altered to take account of the ‘sensitivities’ of the invaders as we steadily move to a fully multi-racial society; but not without some reciprocal resentment. As if to somehow redress the balance, there are those, who can afford to, who are now invading Europe and other Continents, to buy a second home abroad, a holiday home, or are seeking an investment for their old age, Just a thought – will global warming have a deleterious affect on the success of these ventures, as their purchases will have on the young people on the housing ladder on those continents?

Pre WW2, !930 to 39, in Search of Progress, 1920 to2000 plus

What follows here, and several other posts in this vein, are narrow views of one person, not over-views determined by research. They are done mainly to determine how life has changed over 80 years.

Take children; the phrase ‘children should be seen and not heard’, in its various forms, was a Victorian maxim people lived by in the 20s’s. Children’s opinions were rarely sought, they would sit in company, hardly moving, until given permission to go elsewhere, if they were lucky. Visiting relatives were rarely on speaking terms with them, and their visits occasioned the best of everything to be produced, and one had to be on one’s best behaviour. For a child to offer an opinion might be considered insolence, and could induce a crack round the ear. There was little or no traffic, other than horse-drawn vehicles or men pushing barrows.. Playing in the street therefore, was not only acceptable, it was expected. Children built up relationships with various delivery men, men with horse-drawn milk floats, coal men, bakers, and anyone else who would allow them to have a ride on their carts, in return for helping with deliveries, for a short time. Children ran after carts, and grabbed a lift on the back, when the driver wasn’t looking. Children either for the family, or to earn money, gathered the horse droppings in a bucket to use as fertiliser in back gardens.

The change clearly came, with the advent of commercial motor vehicles – a gradual process in which change was not really noticeable in the street, or in the general life of the children, until World War II, a period of nearly 20 years.

Family life; the two world wars seriously affected the size of families and the up bringing of children.. In the 20s and early 30s there were ‘Maiden Ladies’, unmarried women who lived at home, because the men they might have married were lying in rows, rotting in a foreign field. So the children of those who had married were looked after by their grandparents, their parents and the maiden aunts. Housing was in short supply with a building programme just getting underway. Hitler set it all back and once again extended families were forced to live together, resulting in children being cared for by a number of people. In the 60s all this changed, people’s aspirations became greater, with greater affluence, and a burgeoning housing programme. Families now lived in their own homes without the same amount of inter-parental care. There has been a steady change in domestic circumstances, through aspiration, necessity, or just keeping up with the Joneses, until we have arrived at the point where both parents are working, and the children are leading much less gregarious, and more singular lives.

In the 20s wages were low, transport took time, families were large, and extended families could be colossal, so every aspect of life was determined by these factors and the class system. Then the classes varied in size tremendously. The upper class was a small group, very wealthy, with a total disregard in most cases for the plight of the under classes. The upper middle-class consisted of professionals, very successful businessmen, the clergy, schoolteachers and those with inherited wealth. The lower middle class or artisan class, included shopkeepers, businessmen and the like. The rest, the biggest class, were rubbing along on what amounted in most cases to a minimum wage – the working-class. It was the class system as much as anything throughout those years, which determined the limits of family life. In the 20s the upper class and the upper middle-class, would go on Continental holidays, stay in hotels here and abroad, drive cars, live in detached houses, or terraced houses in selective neighbourhoods, or in the country. The lower middle class generally lived in small terrace houses, might run a car, would holiday at a seaside resort, staying in a boarding house.. The working-class holiday was taken on the local Commons or with daily trips, if they could afford holidays at all ..From the 20s up until about 1930 there was little change, but in the late 30s change became much more rapid. Traffic increased, Woolworths came to London and expanded throughout the country, making competition for the working-class’s spending more competitive, and therefore increasing choice automatically. Motor vehicles were being used for transportation, with the result that private vehicles were regularly coming down in size and cost, and hence more common. With more spending there was more affluence, even for the working-class and the cycle effected great changes in the social boundaries, producing a flow of movement upward and downward between the classes, the beginning of what we have today

Pre WW2,1930 to ’39. in order, Christian Science as I Found It

My Aunt became a Christian Scientist, influenced by an artist friend who lived in Manchester. She passed her ideas on to my mother and after a while my mother became a wishy-washy version herself, never quite at the heart of the movement, but reading a lot, which was a necessity, because Mrs Mary Baker-Eddy based the whole concept on a philosophical dissertation. In short, the theory, as I understood it then, stated that as we, according to the bible, were made in the image and likeness of God, there could be no such thing as matter, and if that was accepted, then there could be no sickness as that was brought about by the degeneration of matter, which, of course, did not exist. The big fallacy to that theory, but I was too young at the time to see it, was the question of who had thought up matter in the first place? They would probably say the Devil, but then who and more importantly why had he been thought up? Deep stuff! Ultimately too much for yours truly. The one part of the whole scenario I found disturbing was my mother’s illness culminating in death. She had contracted cancer and because of her beliefs made no call upon the Health Service.

With My Aunt a mover and shaker in the local CS church and my mother a willing, if part-time, acolyte, it was pretty well ordained that I would have to attend, and as I had tried everything else I had no valid excuse for back-sliding. I was enrolled in the Sunday School. The parishioners, if one could call them that when they hailed from a number of electoral parishes, were drawn from the ‘haves’, rather than the ‘have-nots’. It was and still is very much a middle-class religion and certainly a degree in philosophy would help in understanding the finer points of its doctrine. In my case I was a have-not, tagging along as a ‘have’ on the coat tails of my Aunt, so I had to mind my P’s and Q’s – although my Aunt would never have seen it that way.

I think the only real experience I have brought with me from those years is the memory of the hours I spent contemplating the balcony in the church hall where we held the Sunday School before joining the adults in the main body of the church to hear the readings from the Bible ‘with key to the scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy’. ‘Why the balcony?’ you might ask, and it would be a fair question.

Our teacher was extolling the merits of mind over matter and the fact that everything was a figment of our imagination because we were one with God and so we were a figment of his imagination and therefore our thoughts were his thoughts, so everything was OK. (Are you with me so far?) I completelyunderstood what she was getting at although my interpretation was a little different. To me she and the rest of the class did not exist, I had just conjured them up in a sort of dream. It therefore followed, according to her theory, which, of course had to be really mine, by definition, that if I chose to go up to the balcony and jump off I would land like a feather and be no worse. So I put it to her and she said that was true, providing – there is always a ‘providing’ – providing I had enough faith. From then on I kept trying to assess exactly how much faith it would take to achieve the impossible, but I never had quite enough to put it to the test. From then on I steadily edged toward agnosticism and then atheism and Sundays became a day of rest.

Pre WW2, 1930 to ’39, in order, Enforced Holidays 2

Floss was a handyman at Ramsgate’s huge funfair called Wonderland. He worked on the Big Dipper. Early every morning he sent two cars round the track loaded with sand bags, watching the reaction of the wooden structure as the car went round, to gauge any weaknesses. Next it was my turn for a free, if solitary ride, as a third check. Can you imagine what Health & Safety would make of that today?

Evening was the best time to be there, it was vibrant, with a cacophony of sound and a kaleidoscope of coloured lights winking on and off, and I absorbed the hectic atmosphere of the constantly eddying mass of humanity, along with the excitement of it all. When I went on these protracted holidays it was my practice, even duty, to return home with a small present for each of the family. This time I had had so many incursions into the wallet I was almost totally broke. What with the cinema trips, smoking, the funfair at Ramsgate and the even more expansive funfair at Margate, called Dreamland, I had only pence left and was at my wits end – well almost, I still had the slot machines to fall back on. Families descended like locusts on the one-armed-bandits. They were impatient to win and when the pickings were poor they too, like the locusts, moved on. It was then that I moved in, with just the odd penny here and there. I would give a heavily patronised machine, the opportunity to play one or two more games. Most times it worked. On the last evening I could not waste money on bus fares and cycled to the fairground. There I set about making enough from the slot machines to give me a fighting chance to win prizes at the stalls. Buying presents was out of the question, just a matter of playing the odds and knowing when to stop. Having increased my shilling into something like five, I went in search of other games of chance where I had reasonable odds, I won a glass bottomed tea tray, plaster of Paris elephants of all sizes, coated in black mica, a milk jug, toffee, and chocolates for Val. The things were equally disparate and cheap, but I was no connoisseur, merely a boy trying to get himself out of a jam. That night I cycled back to Pegwell Bay with the tyres birring happily along on the tarmac, a smile on my face which could not be rubbed off by the passage of the wind, no matter about the lonely days and the long hours spent touring for its own sake, the elation of that evening put it all behind and made that holiday one I never forgot,

It was at this time that I bought a packet of Will’s Goldflake cigarettes and sat in the cinema, in the afternoon, in the dark, enjoying a taste I was only once again able to enjoy. There is something about the taste of those first cigarettes one smokes which is indescribably satisfying – like the taste of real Naval rum, never to be experienced again. In fact it was many years later, when I restarted smoking after a longer than usual period of abstinence, that I savoured for a brief period that wonderful sensation and taste once again.

Pre WW2, 1930 to 1939, in order, Enforced Holidays

Parents used to make strange decisions, with the best intentions and even self- sacrifice, but with little realisation what they were condemning their children to. Single parenting is not, and never was, easy, conscience has to be weighed against pragmatism, welfare, economic resources and what is possible. My mother decided, I should not be kicking my heels throughout the summer holidays in London, so twice she sent me off, for a month on my own for a Holiday. Summer jobs were rare so vocational work was the exception. In the countryside, there was fruit picking or harvesting for nothing or a pittance, On the first occasion she took me to a boarding house in Worthing, introduced me, stayed a day or so, bought me a season ticket for a seat at the bandstand and left, giving the woman my pocket money to be doled out, a shilling daily, I was bored out of my mind, lonely, made no friends, and I sat and listened to the brass bands night after night.

The experiment was dropped for a year or two; then I was sent to stay with Floss and Val at Pegwell Bay, in Kent. Val was a roly-poly, rosy faced lady, with a sense of fun and generous nature, who had a handful of guests, mostly friends of the family. Floss was small, tough and rugged, an ex-regular soldier with service all round the world in various regiments He had laid paths round the house in concrete, with regimental badges picked out in coloured cement. He and Val amicably shared the house and one another when visitors were not in residence, but cohabitation was something only whispered. The house at Pegwell Bay was furnished with brass ornaments from India and the Middle East, colourful china, and rugs which Floss had brought home from his travels, and there were flowers everywhere, both inside and out. The hangings were of rich colours – Val herself was colourful, like a Gypsy, with red cheeks, dark hair and huge earrings always dangling to her shoulders.

The house below, on the road leading to the beach, was occupied by an AA man I found interesting, who covered the district on his yellow motor bike and sidecar. He had small children I played with, although I think I preferred to play with Val’s goat which I milked, and was tethered beside the house in a small pasture. The goat, knew me so well it would baa even when I was a quarter of a mile away. It always wanted to play butting games and its forehead of solid bone often caught me unawares in the thigh. The goat’s milk I accepted with tentative caution as I did the vegetable salads which contained fruit, more colourful than Mother’s – Val liked colour. I liked the salad no more than I did the milk but the outdoor life gave me an almost insatiable appetite.

Feeding birds, cats, the goat and a tortoise which hibernated in the cupboard over the cooker through the winter, together with Floss’s influence taught me much about the wider aspects of life – full justification for the working holiday experience, but much of it solitary. There was wonderful hay making, the hay transported in horse-drawn wains and stooked. The fun of building ricks with horseplay among the youngsters, the lunches brought to the field and the smell of the hay itself. I liked guiding the horses by the bridle when on roads, but was always fearful of their huge hooves. I also got jobs as a way of filling in the day, plum picking up tall rickety ladders, with a sort of apron bag in which to put the plums and filling wicker baskets, we were allowed to eat all we liked while we worked, and were paid on the number of baskets we filled. I didn’t get rich, but I did lose time with diarrhoea on the second day. I cycled to some of the Cinq Ports, Sandwich and Canterbury,. and wandered through the remnants of the invasion defences left from the First World War and to Manston and watched the RAF planes taking off and landing.

Down the road beside the bungalow I found another road running parallel with the beach and when I was cycling along there I was assailed with the marvellous scent of fresh lavender. I went into the lavender fields, which, like those in Grasse, in France, stretched in rows to fill the huge field. On the middle of one edge of the field was a gloomy wooden barn-like building which was store and shop and in there one could buy sachets to sweeten sheets in drawers, bottles of essence, hair grease in boot-polish-like tins, solid perfume blocks and sprays of all kinds and above everything was the concentrated smell of lavender. I was allowed to pick lavender and received sachets and hair grease for my trouble.

If you are a conscience ridden single parent, worried if your child should have a holiday, please make certain it is accompanied, or else forget it!

PreWW2, 1930 to ’39, School Excursions

PARIS Looking back to the 30s, and the way children accepted discipline almost unreservedly, and taking into account what we got up to in Paris, I am amazed that teachers still take School excursions today. One Easter we had a school excursion to Paris. We went everywhere and at or some places I think the teachers wished we had not gone, including the British Consulate. We were received royally given refreshment and shown great courtesy, but as luck would have it, they had an automatic passenger lift, which none of us had ever experienced before. All I remember was looking through the glass doors at frustrated people, standing on the landings, as the cab full of schoolboys, hurtled up and down at great speed.

We went to the Fete de Pains d’epice, The Gingerbread Fair, held on the outskirts of Paris. We went on every thing and did everything and came away with the conviction that the French, generally, could not throw. At some stalls we threw bundles of rags to demolish piles of tins arranged on a shelf, to win a bottle of cheap sparkling wine made up to look like champagne. As far as we were concerned we couldn’t lose and returned to the hotel armed with a great quantity of fizz. Obviously the corks came out immediately with interesting results. One boy was found leaning on a railing on a landing, overlooking the glazed dome over the dining room, saying, ‘I am a feeding the fishes,’ while scattering stale bread. I and another boy took a trip on the Metro and promptly got lost, causing a certain amount of worry, but it seemed not too much. The whole trip in fact was pretty laid back with the highlight of the trip to the Cluny Museum with all the excesses of the Revolution on display.

The journey home was a complete pantomime, firstly some were hobbling about with cigarette lighters in their shoes, not wishing to pay duty, and one in particular had a hypodermic syringe, in the days when drug abuse had not even been heard of. One of our party was very greedy, and had been the bane of the people whose table he shared. On the boat, about mid Channel, we consumed our generous packed lunches. Prior to that we followed the boy with the syringe to the washroom, where he proceeded to make a huge amount of strong soap suds, with which he filled the syringe, produced an orange, and injected it thoroughly. During the meal, he casually set his orange on the bench and said generally, ‘ Anyone fancy another orange?’ We all shouted that we wanted it. Predictably, Tubby grabbed and gobbled. He was fine when he hobbled painfully off the boat trying vainly to walk normally, with his shoes full of the contraband cigarette lighters he intended selling when we got back to school, but was not very well on the Dover to London train.

SWITZERLAND The trip to Switzerland was remarkable because we saw the real Switzerland, the country as it had been for tens if not hundreds of years, where women carried huge trumpet shaped baskets on their backs up rocky, unmade paths, where the houses they lived in were made of dry-stone walls with horrendous gaps between the stones, and mud floors. These hovels were probably their summer homes when the cattle were on the high slopes, but to us, straight from London, it all seemed terribly primitive.

Another find was the cigar, not in packets but on the broad naked thighs of peasant women high up there. Years later, in the Navy, I was to become familiar with leaf tobacco. On that trip I saw it for the first time in the raw, at a cigar factory in the mountains of Ascona. Some of the girls were stripping the leaves, others were doctoring them and moistening them, while a row of girls would form the leaves in a pattern, and having placed a fine stalk through as a mouthpiece, and positioned it at the end of the cigar tobacco, with a deft rolling action away from them they would start to roll the cigar on the bench, finishing it on their thigh, which, itself had become a deep rich brown, partly natural but mainly from the tobacco juice. Since all the later furore about cancer and nicotine, I have often wondered whether these women suffered in old age. On this trip I first rode in a charabanc, the open, petrol driven coach, where each bench seat had its own door, approached from the street, and the body of the vehicle extended some six to eight feet beyond the back axle, to give the necessary short wheel base for cornering. When the vehicle was going round a mountain pass and met another in the opposite direction, which ever lost the decibel war of the motor horns had to back up until the back wheels were on the edge of the chasm and the last two or three rows of passengers were poised over nothing for several hundred feet. You can imagine the way the schoolboys scrambled to get into those back seats and the thrill of hanging on to the collapsed
canvas hood while looking down over the end of the bus into the void. When I went back in 1956, things had changed little but in ’64 when we went as a family, Switzerland was much better organised and, worse luck, more sophisticated

Pre WW”, 1930 to ’39, in order, Discipline as a Concept

I have had to exercise discipline on others, I have been the recipient of it being implemented in almost every form, from lines to a leather belt, and more than anything I have had to exercise it on myself, often unsuccessfully. I therefore believe punishment in any form is transient, and in excess is self defeating. Take a simple example of shock treatment – having, in the past, worked daily where swearing was filthy and as constant, I am no prude. I was in charge of a large team of men, rarely if ever swearing, and bad language was rarely used in my presence, not because of rules, but I assume, out of courtesy. Something was either done or said which was so criminally stupid that I swore,. The atmosphere was electric and still, and the expressions on the faces of the staff were enough to show the point had been thoroughly made. I was caned regularly in all my schools, by teachers and prefects, not for villainy, more from making fun, mild rebellion, or not suffering fools gladly. We all had to bear canning without malice or stress and accept it as the norm. Life was too absorbing to do otherwise. There were, though, sadists, especially in the teaching profession with egos out of all proportion. One primary teacher, was very keen on ‘may’ being used instead of ‘can’. When a child of nine put up his hand and asked could he go to the toilet, he went through endless torture until he used the word ‘may’ and some in extremis embarrassed themselves. The smile on the teachers face said all. One can only assume that no parental protests were made because taking the child from that school was worse for a parent than the child’s ordeal. Now, on reflection, I believe self -discipline is the nub of the problem; there is no possibility of ‘imposing’ discipline, it can only be administered by oneself, a concept which rarely seems to be taken seriously and certainly never aired in the general context of the matter. I am firmly convinced from my own experience that a beating serves only to put a temporary full stop to a situation; it introduces a feature, so violent, that what went before it is dwarfed. Beating has a minor roll, and is only valid if it is then followed by persuasion to impose self-discipline – though not in those terms. The follow-up is rarely implemented and if there is no other outlet for the energy which has engendered the anti-social behaviour in the first place, and no self-discipline to quench the fires, the punishment as such ceases to have any validity.

The Secondary School Part 2 The educational system, so hacked over today, was relatively new to secondary schools when I started, (See LCC and the Secondary School ) and the philosophy of parents doing everything to ensure their little darlings got the best education was, if anything, more prevalent then than it was in the post-war years until now, the 2000’s. When I was very small my grandmother pushed me to and from school, four times a day, a mile or more away, to ensure what I went to was considered to be the best elementary school, and later when I was able, I walked it on my own. Next, I cycled four miles or more in heavy traffic, suffering two accidents during that time on the way to school, in order to go to the best secondary school in the area. Incidentally I do not believe any legislation, outside a totalitarian state, will ever remove the desire for personal choice completely.

Discipline By The Prefects At my Secondary School, with a prefect hierarchy and the school captain at its head, they had authority to thrash, in certain circumstances – I use the word ‘thrash’ advisedly. The system was severely flawed. The original crime was insignificant, the miscreant was awarded lines to be handed to the prefect by a certain time. I was both a customer of, and part of a syndicate, which wrote lines for a fee, using a number of pencils taped together, the teachers and prefects never checked closely. Failure to hand the lines in on time doubled the dose. Failure again meant that one was called before the Prefects’ Meeting. This was a dragged-out pantomime, scripted to enhance the status of the prefects and belittle the criminal. One stood outside the library, laughter issued through the door, then there would be the serious mutter of voices and finally the door would open and the lamb would be led to the slaughter. The indicting prefect read out the charge, the School Captain asked if the transgressor had anything to say – pointless, the decision was already made, any comment would be taken as insolence, and being harangued further and even receiving extra punishment. The malefactor was then asked if he wished to be caned by the prefects, which meant the biggest and strongest one there, with a lust for blood, or have the matter referred to the Head Master, a personage on conversational terms with God, both because of his Doctorate of Divinity, but also because of his exalted position – it was really a rhetorical question. Even though one had taken the opportunity of putting on two extra pairs of gym shorts, it hurt.

Pre WW2, 1930 to 39, in order, The Terraced Wedge

We finally moved from the awful flat to a house we all called ’76’. My brother could now come home to be educated. 76 was close enough to 88, my grand- mother’s house, for her to help out when Willie had to work late. Unless one has never lived in a terrace house on the bend of a road, and a tight inside bend at that, one cannot possibly imagine the consequences. As far as the house is concerned, the bend starts at the kerb on the far side of the road, then there is the road, the footpath, the front garden – however meagre, only then does one arrive at the front face of the house, which, for road symmetry, must be the same width as the rest of the houses on the straight. The house is like a slice of sponge cake, wide at the front and narrow at the back and the degree of squeeze is determined by the depth of the house and the tightness of the curve. 76 had a front room, a second room on the ground floor before arriving at a side entrance to the
garden, the kitchen and then the scullery, and throughout this parade of rooms and spaces, the width narrowed inexorably. It was as if the house had been squashed in a ‘V’ shaped vice. Don’t get me wrong, it was a palace to what we had been occupying previously, the freedom, the independence, the joy of a place all of one’s own was immeasurable. It was just a funny shaped house with an even funnier shaped garden. It was just our own personal slice of speculative mismanagement.

The hall leading from the front door to the living room had a kink where the staircase started. On the wall at the kink was fixed above head height the shilling-in-the-slot gas meter which had all sorts of interesting pipes, name plates, covers and seals, each with its own resonance when hit by a lead air-gun slug. So the Wyatt Erp Era of gun law opened, and also open season on gas meters. I had swapped something or other for an air-gun pistol and it was my pleasure, especially at holiday times when I had the house to myself, to sit at breakfast and practice the ‘quick draw’. The target was the gas meter, not as a whole, but the various units, and success was signalled by the sound each gave off when hit. As you can imagine, this palled after a while and I advanced to using a mirror and shooting backwards over my shoulder.

All the years I knew her, Willie was subjected to fearsome migraines and never more so than at 76. It had never been a severe problem for me before, when she was ill I fed myself, but when my brother joined us circumstances changed. We started having greater choices; this included roasts, Yorkshire puddings, boiled salt beef and carrots and so on. The problem was we had no refrigerator, only the wooden ‘safe’ in a cool place in the garden, with its wet cloth in the heat of summer, wet earthen crocks with dripping towels and other devices to prolong the life of meat, and milk in particular. Willie would buy a roast for the weekend but often the migraine would strike and I would have to provide the dinner. In this way I learned to cook anything, stews, roasts, even pastry when my interest had been awakened enough for a meat pie. I spent the morning running up and down stairs receiving orders for each stage as it arrived, given in a weak, pained, wavering voice, but in time it became routine.

By comparison, in about 1935, my Aunt Min, our school-teacher aunt, had a marvellous one-room flat in Russell Square which I envied. For its time it was well in advance of the norm. To start with it was approached by a lift and was so high one could see right across London to the East. Off a tiny hall was the bathroom, a wardrobe, a general storage cupboard and, what interested me most, was a small cupboard which contained the refuse bin which was emptied by the building staff from the corridor through a small door into the corridor. The room itself was not exceptional except for the cupboard in the lounge which opened to reveal itself as a tiny kitchen with stove, sink unit and storage. To me it was the life to aim for. At 76, aged about 14, for the first time ever, I was given a room in which I could do what I liked, and it was then I started designing multi-function furniture for the bed-sit, some of which I saw later in magazines. There were two pieces in particular, one impracticable, one later commonplace. The first was a rotating wardrobe with doors back and front so in one position it was a wardrobe, in the other it was a larder – totally daft, although years later, in a one-(tiny)room flat I was to use a wardrobe for both functions. The other was a bed with a bed-head for sitting up against when in bed, which folded down to form an occasional side-table when the bed was transformed into a divan as part of the seating arrangements. I believe it was ahead of its time.