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The Scrivener: When I Was A Boy We Didn't Have...

Part 2

Brian Barrett continues his illuminating ramble along Memory Lane, bringing a personal glimpse into recent history and a reminder of how we used to live.

Here are a few of the items that we didn't have when I was a boy in England.

Milk in cartons

The milkman used to come along the road with his horse and trap (a small cart). He carried milk in churns, large metal barrels from the dairy. My mother had some clean, empty jugs ready at the back door. He scooped the milk out with a large ladle, each scoop being about a pint (that's just over half a litre). As it was fresh milk, the cream rose to the top after it had been left standing for a while. We used to skim the cream off as a special treat if we had strawberries.

At infant school and primary school, each child was given a small bottle of milk once a day. It was one-third of a pint. This was during World War II, when nutritious food was in short supply. The bottles had circular cardboard tops, with a small hole for the straw. All the tops were kept, cleaned, and used later in craft lessons. We used to weave raffia round them, and join them together, to make small table-mats. Nothing was wasted.

Milk was also available in bottles, but I remember the first cardboard cartons that went on sale in the country where I lived 50 years ago. They were not the same as the cartons we now buy from the supermarket. They were called tetrapacks because they had only four corners. Work that one out. (A modern milk carton has eight corners, four on the top and four at the bottom.)

Pop-up toaster

Making toast when I was a boy was a fascinating process. We used a toasting fork. This was made of strands of thick wire which had been twisted into a long handle with a trident of three pointed spikes at the end. You pushed a slice of bread onto the spikes and held it near an open fire in the fireplace. If you held it too close, the bread would catch alight and you would have to start again. Some people made toast by using the griller on their stove.

We did not have an electric toaster. They were, however, available. They were invented in 1909 and the first pop-up toasters were on the market in the USA by 1926, just ten years before I was born. I didn't use one until I was about 16. One I owned for a short period had such a powerful 'pop-up' that it sent pieces of toast flying round the kitchen. It was quickly replaced by one that behaved in a more seemly manner.

Washing machine

Washing day involved a lot of very hard work. We didn't have a washing machine. There was an old-fashioned 'copper' in the corner of the kitchen. This was a huge copper tub set in a brick surround. There was a fireplace underneath it. The fire would be lit to heat up the water.

The washing was too hot to be taken out by hand, so we used a 'copper stick'. This was simply a stout wooden rod. It was used to scoop the wet clothes into a 'dolly tub'. This was a large metal tub, rather like a bulging oil drum but made of galvanised iron. There, it was pounded with a wooden 'dolly stick'. This was like a small three-legged stool with a long handle. You worked it up and down, round and round, rinsing the laundry in the water in the large tub.

The rinsed clothes then had to be put through the 'mangle'. This consisted of two wooden rollers mounted in a very strong iron frame. You pushed an item between the rollers and turned a handle. The wet washing went through the rollers very slowly. The water was squeezed out. It was very hard work turning that handle. After all that, the washing was eventually hung outside on the washing line. Mangles were later called 'wringers'.

When I was a boy, my mother used to ask me or tell me to help her with some of this hard work. The only bit I enjoyed was bringing in the washing from the line on winter days. During the English winter, the damp clothes and sheets and towels sometimes froze solid. I had to take down the stiff, cold items, fold them once or twice, and carry them indoors in a stack. They couldn't be folded small enough to place in the laundry basket.

Mechanical washing machines were invented about 120 years ago. They were operated by someone turning a handle, so were still very hard work. The washing machine as we know it started to come onto the market about 80 years ago. Unfortunately, we weren't rich enough to have one in our house.

Zip fasteners

When I was a very, very small boy, I hated buttons. It was very difficult for small hands to get them through button holes when I was putting my clothes on. Trousers also had buttons down the front. If one came off, it was embarrassing because people could see your underpants.

Zip fasteners were developed in the first part of the 20th century. They were not widely used in clothing until the 1930s, just before I was born. As far as I can remember, my trousers all had buttons down the front until I was in my late teens or early 20s, when zip fastening was first used for all boys' and men's trousers.Velcro was invented by a Swiss scientist in 1948 and patented in 1955. It was not used in clothing for a long time after that. It now provides a useful fastening device for many types of clothing.

Copyright 2012 Brian Barratt


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