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Lest It Be Forgotten After I Am Gone: Comparisons - 1

Raymon Benedyk compares life today to that which he experienced while growing up in the 1920s and early 1930s.

Why is it that so many older people, meaning those bom in the 1920's, seem unable to recall their childhood and youth? Why do I seem to be the only one who is able to look back to those early years with clarity?

For example, why can't they remember and talk about the old open topped buses that ran on solid rubber tyres instead of the air filled pneumatic ones of the present day, upon which the driver sat at the front outside the main vehicle so that, when it rained, with only an oilskin sheet which he pulled up over his body but not his face to protect himself from the elements, he got soaking wet; the outside staircase for passengers and bus conductor to climb to get to the upper deck.

And what about the fact that in the old days there were several bus lines servicing London's bus routes, each providing differently coloured buses with the name of the company painted in big letters on the side. The biggest company was the General Omnibus Company (where the word bus comes from) with white and red buses, with the word General painted in large Gothic letters on the side. Most of the other buses, which were painted in a variety of colours, or combinations of them, and run by so-called 'pirate' companies with only one or two buses to their name, which would race to a bus stop to pick up the waiting queue of passengers ahead of the General buses. These were always favoured because they would get you to your destination quicker. It was I suppose somewhat chaotic, but it was always exciting for a child to travel by bus in the late twenties and early thirties.

Although it sounds dangerous, there was probably very little since the speed of the buses, and in fact that of all commercial vehicles, was restricted to a maximum of 20 mph.

I was born in 1926 in a very poor part of London, where each house was more often than not lived in by more than one family who shared the communal toilet plumbed in a shed at the bottom of the back yard or, if they were more fortunate, housed in a cubicle on the landing between the floors of the property. There was also no such thing as purchased toilet paper, this being home made from discarded newspapers cut to a useful size and hung on the inside of the door on a length of string or wire. In the winter at night, this facility was only used on those occasions when it was really necessary, most people preferring to use a chamber pot in the convenience of their own surroundings. And to avoid the use of the outside one at all costs during the winter months because of the hoar frost that settled on the wooden seat, which had to be scraped off before use to prevent one getting frozen to the seat! On many occasions, probably when there was no frost but just very cold, I remember my mother sitting on the seat for a few moments, clothed, before my use to warm it for me.

Despite this type of 'mean' living in the home, most people who could tried to maintain a minimal standard by having a rarely used 'front room' in which the best furniture was housed; sometimes there might even be a piano - almost never played -and a display of photos and honoured family treasures. A public show of cleanliness was also important, in that the front doorstep and the area immediately in front of it was regularly washed and whitened with pumice stone. If a child knew that on returning home its parents would be out, entry into the house could be gained by
putting a hand through the letter box to access a length of string to which was attached the front door key. Most homes had this system of entry and it was not thought to be dangerous or unwise to operate it.

Bathrooms were also not common in these houses either, and a good wash for any resident consisted of a stand over a towel by the kitchen sink. And don't forget, there was no central heating or hot water from a boiler. Hot water came from a kettle, and you made do with what you had. And sometimes, when taking a bath filled with water heated in those kettles, since there was only a limited amount of hot water available, it was not unusual for more than one person to use the same water! But if you knew no better it wasn't something to moan about, you just got on with it.

No doubt like in other homes, where people lived in not entirely salubrious surrounding, we had bed bugs to contend with. I well remember it being an almost a monthly ritual in the late twenties and early thirties for my mother to entirely strip each bed of all its covering, right down to the bed springs, and place each leg in a tin bowl and fill those bowls with carbolic impregnated boiling water. She would then proceed to scrub each metal joint of the bed-springs, as well as the joints of the bed structure itself, with a hard brush to eliminate the unwanted guests. And they did leave in a hurry too, trying to escape my mother's onslaught on their living accommodation, dropping into the bowls of steaming water or on to the floor where they would be speedily squashed to pulp. This ritual slowly became more and more unnecessary as we moved into better accommodation.


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