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The Scrivener: Moving, Changing, Disappearing

After “rediscovering’’ a school which wasn’t where it ought to be Brian Barratt was prompted to recall some of the things have moved somewhere else, or disappeared, in the past 60 or 70 years.

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Wandering around Newark-on-Trent the other day, in GoogleMaps, I couldn't find the primary school I attended in the 1940s. Turn right at the end of Newton Street. No, it isn't where it should be. Take the short cut down The Avenue, to the back of the school field. It isn't there. The field is now a small housing estate. The only thing to do was to zoom out. Lo and behold, a bit further along the road, a large complex of buildings, a new Barnby Road School.

Quite a few things have moved somewhere else or disappeared in the past 60 or 70 years. For instance, we used to have little blocks of solid dentifrice. You wetted your toothbrush under the tap and then brushed it on the hard surface. It took quite a while to work up anything like a foam.

We could buy shampoo with the consistency of toothpaste, in a tube. The brand name was very well known — Brylcreem. Advertisements for Brylcreem hair pomade featured a photo of Dennis Compton, the cricketer. His glossy black hair inspired some of us to use the product for years until we switched to non-greasy hair dressings such as bay rum. (Brylcreem didn't actually disappear. The company still makes several hairdressing products for men.)

According to the encyclopaedia, soft fish roes can be poached or sautéed and served as entrées to a meal. Yes indeed. We would open a small tin of roe, slice it, and fry it in a pan. Delicious, especially the burnt bits round the end. It survived the transition from grocers' shops to supermarkets but it disappeared from the shelves a long time ago. Perhaps it was just too expensive to produce as a tinned food but it was probably also high in cholesterol or something else that is Bad For You.

Many sweets (lollies in Australia, candy in the USA) have survived unchanged. Some, like Fox's Glacier Mints, are now sold under a different name. Well, they were until a few years ago. They, too, might since have disappeared.

A curious item which belonged to the late 1940s and early 1950s in Britain was called a sherbert sucker, if I recall aright. It wasn't the sherbert drink known to Americans. It was a small cardboard tube containing sweet white powder which fizzed when you put it into your mouth. You scooped it out of the tube with a liquorice stick. I'm told that they were known as sherbert bombs in Australia but sherbert bombs in the USA are quite different. My memories of this are fizzy with the passage of time. If any other septuagenarians can enlighten me about the old British version, I'd love to hear from them.

Women behind the food counters at F. W. Woolworth, The 3d and 6d Store, wore crescent shaped hair-tidies made of white celluloid. Women's hair in those days tended towards upward and profuse — I couldn't see how the bit of celluloid was attached to the lady. As a curious child, I should have worked out that there was a piece of elastic, hidden in her hair, that went round the back of her head. However, as a imaginative child, I was convinced that the thing was embedded in her skull, and I wondered if it hurt. Those things disappeared from the scene and were replaced by more practical ways of holding the hair in place, and I know they don't hurt.

Moving from Newark in the 1940s to Kitwe (Zambia) in the 1960s, there's the matter of the little dot. The eventual arrival of television was quite an event. If you couldn't afford to buy a TV set for yourself, you went to watch at a friend's place. It was thus that we viewed such series as Bonanza, 77 Sunset Strip and Hawaii Five-0, because choice was very limited. And each night we watched that dot.

When the TV station closed down for the night, the screen went black and the little luminous white dot appeared in the middle. We watched it until it vanished. It was almost as exciting as some of the programmes we'd just seen. And it's one of the puzzles of the passing years — where did the little luminous white dot go?

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2010


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