Food for thought?

Who remembers ration books? I don’t but I had one during my first years of life. The War had ended several years earlier in the previous decade but rationing was kept on for quite a while until agriculture and food production caught up with demands. Today we apparently throw away more food than was probably ever rationed during the whole of the War. Wastage of good food is a shame when people are starving – many of them in the developed world as well as in poorer, developing countries. These days we want our food to look pretty, free of blemishes and not oddly shaped. During the years of rationing, any food looked good if you were lucky enough to get some. The only way to be sure you got your share was to wait patiently in a queue. Queueing became an art form during rationing.

I recall that I was given an orange or orange juice daily – part of the new socialist government’s plan to get more nutrition into the youngsters growing up after the deprivation of the war years. But I also recall vomiting frequently and often in the street when my Nan, who looked after me while my mum worked, walked me to the local shops. Nan probably thought I was being a difficult child, but it is obvious to me now that the acidic orange juice was the start of my stomach ulcer, from which I suffered into my forties. That and the tomatoes I used to eat by the dozen if I could get my hands on them.

Following the encouragement of the government, families grew their own vegetables. This was in their own back garden if they were lucky enough to have one, or in the local allotment for those without gardens – and those were very popular. Husbands often used the allotment to get away from the wife and kids for a few hours! Allotments are still cultivated these days but to a much lesser degree than fifty years ago. My parents were avid gardeners and grew blackcurrants, lettuce, potatoes, runner beans and loads of tomatoes. Yum!


With kind permission: Wikimedia Commons

With kind permission: Wikimedia Commons


My sister and I used to help with the Saturday evening meal, which was always salad. But I was eventually forbidden from entering the front room, where our large oak dining table was also located, as I would eat almost all the tomatoes which had been set on the table before the meal was ready, leaving none for the rest of the family. Tomatoes are very acidic …….. and so my ulcer flourished.

Bread and potatoes were a staple, and are still today. My mum didn’t bake bread so my sister and I were sent off to the High Street every Saturday morning to line up to buy the fresh, sliced bread at the best baker there. Loads of buttered slices were put on our table alongside the salad items, which we never mixed. Everything was put out separately: tomatoes, spring onions (scallions), celery, lettuce, hard-boiled eggs, tinned salmon (if we were splurging) and the ubiquitous Heinz Salad Cream. My aunt who lives in the lovely New Forest, still serves salad at the weekend exactly in that fashion.

Today, I really do my best to buy only what I need and it pains me to throw anything away – like lettuce that has gone brown in the fridge. I have a scheme for ripe tomatoes though – they go in a tupperware box into the freezer for the next time I need tomatoes or sauce for a spaghetti dish. Brown lettuce you can’t do much with unfortunately. Secret: buy frequently.

Of course, it is difficult for us to buy frequently these days. When I was small, mothers shopped daily. Most of them didn’t work and while the kids were at school mums trundled off to the local High Street where they bought fresh food from the greengrocer, butcher, baker, etc. Today we have to shop at the supermarket and that has to be only once or twice a week because it takes so long, and supermarkets are usually a drive or a very long walk away. Also, we all work these days. Few mums are at home ‘house-wifing’ and having the time to do a daily shop.

Our perishables were kept in the larder which was a tall cupboard in the kitchen built next to the outside wall where the nice British summers kept the salad items cold! But we do all have fridges these days; at least we can be fairly sure that what we have bought will still be edible by the time supplies run low and we have to do the ‘weekly shop’ next time.

Talking of which, it’s now 1pm and time for lunch. Salad today I think!


Crime and Punishment

I read in a British newspaper yesterday about the arrest of several people associated with a crime family in London.  The police swooped on addresses in different locations in a very well co-ordinated operation which netted the ring leaders, brothers in crime, and their cohorts who had been swindling money out of people for years using extortion, carrying out threats of torture, mutilation and murder.

Not much has changed then since I was a child in the 1950’s!  London, at least the East End, was riddled with crime families, the most notorious ruled by the Kray Brothers.  We didn’t live anywhere near them as we lived in a county bordering London to the west (which has since become part of Greater London).  But we had neighbours who were rumoured to be connected to the Kray Brothers’ crime network.  This family’s house was adjacent to ours at a 90 degree angle.  Our front doors and gates were not next to each other thankfully otherwise we would have been far too intimidated to come or go.  An elder son of the family used to get visits from a ‘big Yankee car’ in red driven by a huge bald fellow who was a villain in real life apparently.  We heard that he played the occasional bit part in movies too – hence the flashy car.  He certainly looked the part!

The family’s back garden was a real mess.  I could see if from my bedroom window, but I was careful not to be noticed looking out!  They were the family you really dread moving into the community.  Mother didn’t work, a wild array of kids who rarely went to school, and the older sons bringing unsavoury characters home for afternoon tea.  The younger kids were very noisy and used to yell to each other from the upstairs bedroom windows to their siblings playing in the back garden.  My sister and I weren’t allowed to yell to each other while outside, ever!  A quick clip round the ear from our mum put that to rights.

My mum thought Dot, the mother of the unsavoury family, was hard done by and not as bad as people said.  Not sure what she based that assessment on but Dot did manage to get money out of my mum occasionally; probably for cigarettes as she was never seen without a ciggy hanging from the corner of her mouth.  The police were pretty regular visitors to next door, hauling off one or other of the elders sons from time to time.  As the younger kids grew they got into trouble on their own and one or two were hauled off to Borstal (a reform school for wayward youngsters, now called Young Offenders Institutions).

I can only imagine that the families living next to the crime family members arrested with great fanfare yesterday might feel relieved that justice is being served.  Or they could be surprised and shocked.  The house that the ring leaders (a brother of the family and his wife) lived in looked posh and was not the county-funded housing that I grew up in.  I can’t remember what finally happened to my neighbours but their existence made a fairly strong impression on me which I am remembering now 50 years later.  I wonder what the children living around London’s latest crime family will remember years from now.

Friends from ‘infant’ to ‘senior’

Who remembers their first day at school?  Not me apparently.  I don’t remember the day at all – in fact my memory is decidedly patchy on Infant School – that’s what it used to be called in England when you went off to school for the first time after your fifth birthday. Infant School.  We were hardly infants; infant conjures up visions of a wrinkly baby unable to walk or even talk, and certainly totally incapable of going to school.  We were somewhat bigger than infants but we knew next to nothing about life or what was in store for us.

I made an impression on Brenda, a five-year-old girl starting school too, and she has recently had occasion to remind me that I cried on my first day at School – she told her Mum so at the end of that day.  She and I have been friends ever since.  We went through all the same schools and had other friends, some “best”, along the way.  Lots of those friends have fallen by the wayside, but for some reason Bren and I have stuck together.

These days staying in touch with friends or family is so much easier, or at least faster, with tools like email and Skype: an essential element of our long friendship as Bren is often on a different continent if it’s a different month!  In the 1950’s, staying in touch meant going round to a friend’s house either on foot or a bike; even phones were scarce amongst our friends.  When a phone came into our house, we were forbidden to use it unless it was an emergency.  My mum didn’t live long enough to encounter Skype – she thought a cordless phone was a fantastic invention.  I can only imagine how much she would have enjoyed our weekly chats by Skype….  and I’m not sure if anyone ever told her that I cried on my first day at school.