22. Boarding schools and me

As a former grammar school lad, the idea of boarding school, neither entered my head nor my parents’ means. Having spent time in Nottingham during my teaching year, the idea of ‘moving away’ became attractive. However when applying for my second teaching post the idea of breaking free of Tyneside could only be achieved if I could get a job with accommodation provided. Although, at that time, some local authorities reserved council houses to attract staff, I was finally attracted by a ‘mixed’ boarding school in Slough and it was to that destination that I took my wife of one year and my son of two weeks, by night-sleeper on our big adventure.
The Licensed Victuallers’ School, then in Slough, now in Ascot, was adjacent to Slough railway station where a Tesco supermarket now stands. It was built as a ‘charity’ school for the children of publicans in the licences pub trade, to get them away, from the pubs and particularly away from London.(More of ‘charity’ schools later) Slough at that time, the late 1960s, was not the urban mess I find it to be now. Windsor, Eton, Burnham Beeches, and other green oases were within a short and safe walk or bus ride. However this is not meant to be an autobiography and as the accommodation was newly built, we really enjoyed our six years there’ and the friends we made.
The school itself had moved to Slough from Vauxhall in London to the site of what once was The Royal Hotel. A small digression here: Eton College would not allow the railway too close as boys might abscond; consequently Queen Victoria had to travel by coach to Slough to board the train. Her coach was housed at the hotel along with staff and visitors I guess. Once the branch-line to Windsor was built then the hotel fell into decline and although the staff quarters became the hotel I frequented, the main building and grounds became the school.
Because it was a mixed boarding school, and always had been, the accommodation was in two separated ‘wings’ above the ground floor teaching rooms, dining hall and kitchens. The accommodation for the younger boys was separate. There were always more boys than girls, which I suppose is not surprising. It had it’s own swimming pool, sports hall, labs and workshops with playing fields two stops down the line at Taplow.
The term ‘charity school’ is a misnomer as the parents of the children of licensees paid into a kind of insurance, which in the case of death or illness preventing the parent being able to continue in the trade, the child or children would be housed, fed and clothed until they left school. It was known as the best insurance policy of its kind. There were not many such pupils in my time, although originally they were the majority. The funding for the school in my time there, came mainly from the fees paid by the other, mainly ‘day’ children and by donations from the brewing trade at large. The LV is known as a ‘minor public school’ and although I don’t know the details of many other charity schools, I do know that sound investments, endowment by various guilds and religions with the land and property they own supports most of what is not covered by the, sometimes enormous, fees.
When I was learning my trade we visited a Borstal (look it up if you are too young to know what it is), but basically it was a young offenders institution. So when I first entered a dormitory at the LV and indeed later in Devon, it came as no surprise. A ‘dorm’ was a big room with beds down both sides, sometimes double bunks, exactly like those in HM prisons as seen on TV. Each child would have a locker and perhaps a wardrobe. The floors were wood, the showers/baths limited, and lights-out depended on the age, but never later than 11 pm for the oldest. There were recreation rooms with table-tennis, pool/snooker and TV. The overall supervision came under the care of the various house-masters and their assistants, but daily routine was administered by the prefects. I, like many of you, have read Tom Brown’s Schooldays, but in my experience I have seldom encountered serious bullying by prefects on younger boys. In neither of the boarding schools have the prefects been allowed to physically punish a pupil.
As you may, or may not know, I was/am a physics teacher and whether you like it or not, it is seldom a subject enjoyed by girls, although good ones are often very good. By this time I had been teaching mixed classes for nine years and decided that teaching boys was my way forward. I moved to Devon, lock, stock and a family now grown to two, a girl actually born in LV school (I like to think in the wines and spirits section of the, now, Tesco’s, but I never went back to check.)
The school, in Devon, was boys-only and administered by The Methodist Board of Management. That didn’t bother me as I had been a C of E agnostic most of my life. The school was about as remote from civilisation as it is possible to be in England. The adjoining village housed about 400 souls, the nearest town 8 miles away, one or two buses a week, so you see what I mean. On a good day you could see Dartmoor and could understand why they built the prison there!
When I started, pupils were mainly boarders, although local farmers’ sons came daily and Devon CC paid the fees for local boys rather than ‘bus’ them elsewhere. At the start of term the Paddington – Exeter train had reserved compartment(s) for the pupils from all over the country and indeed the world. Each boy would need a ‘trunk’ as he would not be leaving for some time. Tuck boxes were deposited with house masters to be doled out at intervals, before they ran out and the village shop, and finally school tuck-shop filled the need. Initially the dormitories were still ‘Spartan’, but gradually they were, subdivided, carpeted, adequately heated until the numbers sharing got smaller as they got older.
As I said, the pupils came from all over the world. There were arrangements with missionary schools in Africa and The West Indies; the sons of some members of the armed forces stationed overseas were entitled to fully-paid boarding fees, initially even when the parents returned, but this was later withdrawn. As the forces stationed overseas diminished the income fell quite drastically.
It seems a suitable time in my ramblings to get to the point. Boys who for whatever reason live together for most of the year develop bonds which last them throughout the rest of their life, which I see in those members of ‘The Establishment’ in government or business. The ‘Old Boys’ reunions of such establishments were and to some extent still are well attended. We took over a prep school and some pupils will have lived together for up to 13 years with only the school holidays with their parents. I was housemaster to one African boy who did not go home for seven years: he stayed with guardians in holiday time as some Hong Kong Chinese did. Can I say, as you will probably be asking yourself,  in all that time, in both schools, I was never aware of any (homo)sexual relationships between boys/girls, although some masters disappeared without saying goodbye!
It was at about the time of the declining income from boarding that the increased proportion of day-pupils grew and pupils who would once have been boarders, were ‘bused’ in from surrounding towns, leading to a further decline in boarder numbers. Finances were getting desperate and we like almost every similar establishment decided to allow and encourage the entry of day-girls.
We had for many years an arrangement with a sister school a few miles away. They visited us once a week for such worthy events as debating and drama and of course an occasional ‘disco’. It became increasingly evident to me that the boys then, particularly those without sisters, were not exactly sure what a girl was; how to speak to them or to behave socially in any way. The girls were no better, and these occasions were like two groups of animals circling round unsure what to do. It was all a bit weird. Once integration in the classroom was decided upon then it all sorted itself out. The shortcomings some girls in physics was still there, but far outweighed by the ‘softening effect’ of their presence in the classroom on the behaviour of the boys.
At the start, girls were introduced year, by year until the school was fully mixed. Now of course both schools have boys and girls boarding, although still more boys than girls. Whether the changes in boarding, plays it’s part in changes in the old-boy network or the make-up of future cabinets of political parties only time will tell, but it played an interesting part in my life.

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21. Was it something I said?

See yiz layta” the girl shouted to her departing friends in the middle of my north-east high street, to which they replied “laytaz” as they walked off ‘fag’ in one hand and a mobile phone in the other. I doubt whether I would have said that when I was her age but what would I have said? Perhaps “ta-rah” or “bye” or “bye-now”, but “later” would never have crossed my mind unless I intended seeing them the same day!

Much is talked about the misuse of language or the demise of dialect, but although it is changing, it’s alive and well and living round here. When we were young we learned to speak by listening to our parents and other people within earshot. I remember my father having one way of speaking to friends and another for talking to ‘more educated’ folk. I once queried as to why he had been speaking ‘posh‘ to someone, but I was probably  too young at that time to understand his reason, even if he knew why, or even that, he had done it. I recall having to adapt “bath” to “barth” and “glass” to “glarse” when I first moved south, and although I didn’t want-to, it made life easier.

When I had been ‘living away’ for some time, I could pin a Geordie to within a few miles of their roots; something I never thought of when I lived here. The reason I could discern the locale of a Geordie accent/dialect was really that there was no such thing. Instead there were many dialects which grew up in locations where most people worked in the same colliery, shipyard or farm and there was, of course  no radio, TV or ‘fillums’ to corrupt what was already there. A Northumbrian speaks differently from a Tynesider and a pitman from a hill-farmer. Indeed there is an area, where the majority of the coal-mines were, that spoke a dialect known locally as ‘pitmatic’ that was barely understood outside that area and modified traces of it live on.

A while ago one of my many grandchildren pointed out that “The Mailman” was here; a portent of the language of children raised by US TV I fear, but part of the language changes that have and will always happen: who knew what a pizza was, not so many years ago?

For those, like me, who confuse dialect with accent; doon and down is the same word in a different accent where ‘hoy’ and ‘chuck’ both mean throw in different dialects. I’m sure you can think of many for yourselves, but I include a link to a Geordie dictionary at the end of the blog. There are some words there that you never hear anymore and some like ‘howay’ that refuse to die. My mother used to send me out to ‘get the messages’ a term also used north of the border to mean ‘get some shopping’.

One thing that makes me uncomfortable is the public use of swearwords although I know there is no logic to this. As a child I never heard my father swear, although I’m fairly sure he must have done. An uncle of mine never swore at home, but in the public (men only) bar of his local, his language was liberally peppered with b’s and f’s. Having worked manually I know that the use of ‘bad language’ is the norm in the workplace, yet even now in my local pub anyone effin’ and blindin’ is soon told to mind their language (ladies present!) by staff and customers alike. It would be interesting to hear a true rendering of the language in the trenches of WW1 and the beaches of WW2. I doubt it would bear any relation to what we hear in the black and white films shown on TV.

Where to next? Nowhere special, I suspect, as not much has changed in my 70 odd years, although what I probably mean is that a lot has changed, but so slowly that I barely noticed. There was a threat that text-speak might do away with vowels, but social media like Facebook and Twitter does not seem to bear that out, and many children (and adults) are writing and reading more than they would have done without this. The foreign words brought back from The Empire are now part of our language as are many of the words brought in by recent immigrants.

As for ‘Geordie’ ah diven’t think or perhaps that should be “Ah dain’t think” we have much to worry about for a while yet. After all how many of you remember how many pennies made a shilling or how many chains made a furlong?

The dictionary: http://www.englandsnortheast.co.uk/GeordieDictionary.html

The translator: http://www.geordie.org.uk/

20. Summer holidays

As you will have gathered by now, I grew up on Tyneside. Back then it was heavily industrial: coal-mining and shipbuilding/repairing being the main sources of employment, but lots of factories too

At one time the only holidays granted to workers were Sundays and religious festivals, like Christmas and Easter Day, often without pay. However things had moved forward and certainly by my parents’ time, paid holidays were the norm.

In industry it is expensive to start heavy machinery ‘from cold’ so it paid to have 24 hour shift work,­­ although they managed somehow to close on Saturday and certainly on Sunday. However this also led, in the summer,  to factories, yards and mines closing for long periods rather than having staggered holidays as now. The first holiday, or last if you like, started on Christmas Eve and went on until one or two days after the New Year and since New Year was celebrated in the Scottish manner, not much would have been achieved in any case. Easter would not have been much more than a long weekend, but the big holiday was taken for two weeks at the beginning of August. In this area it was known as Wakes Week, even though by this time it lasted a fortnight! Every section of industry closed at the same time. Of course it goes without saying that the employers used the time to carry out a maintenance programme that was not possible while the machines were running.

The result of the long break was the growth of the seaside resort and groups like ‘youth hostlers’ and ‘ramblers’. On our part of the coast, the main resorts were Whitley Bay and Tynemouth, although South of the river were South Shields, Roker and Seaburn with others as far south as Whitby and Scarborough. (See ‘Working on the sands’ below for details of ‘Scotch Week’)

Since we already lived within a bus-ride of the coast, our holidays tended to be ‘in the country’. My father, for many summers of my childhood, rented a cottage in the Pennines, from a friend. It was half a day’s bus-ride from Newcastle and I was inevitably travel-sick, but oh the adventure of it!

The cottage had: no electricity, so lighting was by oil lamps; no water, meaning a trudge with buckets to a ‘fountain’ in the village, but for the life of me I cannot remember how my mother cooked meals. The ‘toilet’ was a hut in the garden with a hole in a wooden seat, and the terrifying sound of running water deep below. We did have radio powered by accumulators charged by the only shop/post office in the village. Milk came fresh from the cows in the local farm and was cooled, I remember, by being poured through a kind of giant metal ‘washboard’ and carried home in a mini-churn with a wire handle. It always seemed to be harvest so we joined the local children in putting corn into ‘stooks’ and riding on a cart piled high with hay or straw. No square bales or combined harvesters then.

Later, for several summers, we shared a ‘bungalow’ with a friend and his family. Near Ovington was/is a field with wooden bungalows around the edges that have been there since ‘Lord knows when’ and they are still there now. They were equally primitive with no electricity except one which had its own wind generator, even back then, but it wasn’t ours. Four adults and four children squeezed in a ‘hut’ designed for half that number, and great fun despite/because of it.

I also recall a camping trip to Scotland, with the same family, in a Bedford van. It must have been a sight for the others on the camp-sites when we pulled up and 8 bodies tumbled out of the van which also contained all the camping gear and provisions for a week.

‘Camping’ reminds me of a cub-scout week in Northumberland of which I remember almost nothing beyond being terribly homesick. However, what I do remember is that we travelled there on a lorry in the back with all the tents and paraphernalia. Health and Safety eat your heart out!

Soon enough adolescence came along and the family holidays petered out, although I do remember a holiday camp near Filey where I went to 13 ballroom dances in a week and a trip to Blackpool Illuminations with my parents when, I must have been 18, as I sat in the hotel lounge drinking coffee and brandy and thinking I was the ‘dog’s whatsits’.

After that the holidays were with friends or just endless hours on the beach, when we were not working for cash to buy the clothes to impress.

Now, of course the local industry has gone and with it the Wakes Week, to be replaced by package holidays, that you buy on credit and spend the next year paying for, where you get tanned before you go so that you don’t stand-out when you arrive and head for the nearest English bar/chip-shop.

19. The weekend

Many, or perhaps even most, people live for the weekend. It’s certainly  better if you enjoy your work or indeed your school or college, but otherwise Monday to Friday were just the days leading up to the weekend. If you were working, those five days provided the money to finance living, but until you got married, particularly the weekend.

Pay-day was traditionally Friday and pay was in hard cash just waiting to be spent. Fridays were special, but not as special as Saturdays. Until you were 18 or looked 18 then pubs and clubs were off limits. The places to be and be seen in were: the cinema, the theatre or the dance-hall.

Queues formed outside cinemas long before they opened, which could be as late as 7 pm. If you wanted to be in a particular place with your friends, particularly in ‘the back row’ then you had to be at the front of the queue. Once inside and settled, there would be adverts, a short film and the main feature. Some cinemas started earlier and showed the complete sequence twice. You could come in at any time and leave ‘where you came in’ or sit through the whole thing twice. However such was the popularity of some films that you might have to wait in the foyer until seats became free; at which point you were shown to your place by an usherette with a torch. Smoking of course was permitted and every other seat had an ashtray on the back for the smokers in the row behind. The place was always so smoky that the beam of the projector danced above your head in the cloud. At the end of the performance the National Anthem was played with a picture of the Union Jack fluttering on the screen. Those who were quick enough had nipped out during the final credits leaving the more respectful to stand up until it ended.

There were several theatres available: some serious and expensive with big stars from the London stage, others housed a repertory company with a different play every week, but most popular were the ‘variety’ theatres where jugglers, acrobats, singers, dancers, comedians and others plied their trade to a sometimes hostile audience. Usually the show ended with a well-known ‘name’ latterly from TV or a pop group with a following of screaming teenage girls.

As we matured, then the dance-hall became the place to find a girl and to ‘strut your stuff’. Of course, to begin with, you couldn’t dance, but bit by bit you learned until it was easy, but not for some. The bands were live, sometimes even two bands on a rotating stage in the bigger venues and even sometimes both playing at once in a kind of competition, as the stage rotated for one to replace the other. Mostly the bands were small with perhaps as few as 6 members. The dances were waltz, quickstep, samba, rumba and foxtrot. The great advantage of course was that you got to hold a girl as close as she would allow and to talk as you danced, always anti-clockwise around the floor, trying to avoid colliding with others doing the same thing.

In the 60s things began to change and the influence of US music and films brought in the era of ‘pop’ music. Couples started dancing apart; sometimes holding one hand, but gradually not touching and not even as couples, but in a group. Once completely separated then the skill and coordination was unnecessary, although some still gyrated better than others. The bands began to disappear to be replaced by record decks and flashing lights and a disc-jockey to join it all together, the ‘discotheque’ (disco) and the modern club scene were born.

The dress for the weekend was important. Suits or at the least a smart jacket and trousers, pressed shirt and tie of the current style; kipper and slim-jim were two styles that came and went. In the summer it was acceptable to omit the tie and to open the shirt over the collar of the jacket. If it looked like rain it was OK to carry a raincoat neatly folded over one arm or if you were really flash over the shoulders in the manner of a cape, but it tended to fall off and spoil the effect.

Girls of course went to great lengths to look right for the weekend, particularly if they expected to dance, when the dress took on flared skirts with layers of material to impress. The make-up was sometimes impressive and the hair piled high in a beehive. I t was always accepted, both in ballroom and later that girls could dance with other girls, but not until the punk era that boys could do the same.Girls seldom wore trousers, especially not at the weekend, and would not have been seen dead in tights without a skirt.

Pubs were never really places for the young. Back then every pub had a bar with tables and chairs, usually men-only and a lounge with posher settees and upholstered chairs, where a man could take his lady without getting her dress dirty from the working gear often worn in the bar.

For the young and not so young the club and late night drinking has replaced the dance-hall and the cinema has become big business. It will be interesting to see how home cinema, and films through TV/internet affect this part of future weekends

I haven’t mentioned Sundays. because despite the changes in shopping hours they are still mainly a day of rest and perhaps recuperation from the days before.

18. We are what we eat (with added sago)

My memories of food during and at the end of WW2 are a bit hazy, but I do know that there was not much of it. Everything was grown in the UK or Britain as we called it then. Every bit of available land was used to grow vegetables. Allotments and market gardens were common.

The shortages made domestic cooking limited. The weekly routine was dominated by the Sunday meal. If there was meat on a Sunday then there was always left-overs on a Monday, usually with chips. The ‘Sunday-joint’ was usually beef, often tough with gristle, and Yorkshire Pudding which mum could do quite well, although she went through a period of adding sultanas, which I didn’t like. The vegetables were peas, carrots, soggy cabbage and ‘mashed’ potatoes. I highlighted ‘mashed’ as for reasons I still cannot understand mum could never get the lumps out and they made me sit there gagging until I finished it. The rest of the week is a blank although I suspect mince and dumplings, pie and peas and fish and chips played their part. Delicacies like tripe, white pudding, black pudding, brawn and potted meat never appealed at the time, but I have tried all since with mixed opinions.

The idea of a three-course meal never occurred to us although we generally had a pudding. Puddings like jam roly-poly and treacle-tart were a delight, but the alternatives still give me nightmares: junket, blancmange, semolina, sago, tapioca and lumpy custard to name a few. Fruit consisted of apples, sometimes pears, but never oranges or bananas until well after the war. Everything was seasonal.

I should have reminded you, dear readers, that everything was ‘rationed’. Each householder had a book with coupons which had to be cut out with scissors. Each coupon entitled you to ‘so much’, bread, flour, sugar, butter, meat, confectionery, and so on. ‘So much’ meant very little.

Gradually of course, things improved with the import of food from abroad. Bananas almost caused riots when they first arrived, of course, beef from Argentina (known as ‘The Argentine’), and lamb from New Zealand. Chickens were for Christmas.

By and large there was no ‘eating out’. There were cafes, but they tended to be in or near railway stations or at the seaside and served mainly tea (not much coffee) and sticky buns. Restaurants had been reserved for the well to do. Take-away did not exist EXCEPT for fish and chip shops. Whether being near a fishing port made a difference or not, we had and still have, more than our fair share of these. ‘Fish and chips’ usually meant Cod and Chips, but Haddock and Rock-salmon were on offer. I believe Rock-salmon was dogfish by a posher name and I admit I have not seen it for some time. Later fish-cakes, pies and sausages appeared, but deep-fried Mars-Bars never took off round here.

Being a port, I suppose, there was always one Chinese Restaurant in the town, but it was not until the late ‘50s that they became common in town and cities, and strictly eat-in at the time. The first burger-bar (Wimpy) arrived at about the same time. Take-aways came later as did Indian restaurants outside major cities.

Gastro-Pubs are an invention of the late 20th century. The profit on drink is not great and particularly since the rise of bargain booze in supermarkets, the traditional pub has been in decline (See ‘Closed pubs’ on my website). Some pubs have sold crisps, nuts, pork scratchings and sometimes pies for a long time, but sit-down meals are fairly recent and hugely profit-making, particularly deserts, and the wine!

The food itself has changed: curry, chilli, strawberries in winter, pizza, king-prawns, farmed salmon, farmed mushrooms especially the exotic ones, gourmet-burgers, pasta, couscous and quinoa are quite new to our restaurants, pubs and even supermarket shelves.

Cooking, with microwaves and pre-prepared meals, along with deep freezing, freeze-drying and the plethora of TV cookery programmes has also changed the way we eat at home.

Drinking at home usually consisted of bottled beer (later cans of beer/lager), sherry (Cyprus and other), port and spirits at Christmas and (up here) New Year. New Year on Tyneside was, back then, but alas no longer, much like Hogmanay over the border. The ‘man of the house’ was sent outside before midnight and knocked to be admitted as THE FIRST FOOT (of the year). He must have with him: a silver coin, for wealth, a piece of coal, for warmth, and a piece of food (usually Christmas cake), for … well food. At that point everybody had a drink and then moved off on foot to visit all their friends and neighbours, who were expected to be well stocked with drink, until the early morning; then home to sleep it off. Everything was closed on New Year’s Day.

When I left Tyneside in 1966 there were very few pubs selling ‘real ale’. The trend was to ‘keg’ beer which was pasteurised in sealed barrels and pumped to the taps using carbon dioxide under pressure. It lasted longer and needed less skill by the publican. Indeed for a time some brewers had vast tanks in the cellar filled by beer-tankers like those delivering petrol to garages. Since it was all we knew, we put up with it. Initially it was brewed locally as the real ale had been, but once pasteurised it could be moved anywhere and national brewers like Whitbread, Worthington, Bass and Scottish and Newcastle, produced brand after brand of almost identical beers. Lagers ‘took off’ at about the same time and created quite a dent in the traditional beer market with their image of continental holidays and louche Australians.

At about this time home-brew became popular and whether there is a connection or not, some brewers began to reinstall traditional hand-pulled ale in their pubs. Initially this seemed to attract the aficionado who knew his fuggles, but now there are pubs with 12 hand-pulls and even the tied pubs offer real-ale among their kegs and lagers.

Beer is only part of the story. Spirits on offer at one time were whisky (blended), gin and rum, vodka came later. They were always more expensive than beer. Ladies, once rare in pubs, were attracted by drinks like Pony, Babycham, Snowballs and Sherries of all degrees of dry/sweetness and fancy stemmed glasses. The men’s bar and the lounge were combined. The modern pub was born with its single-malts, alco-pops, fruit beers, strong lagers, mixers, ‘shots’, over-priced wines, satellite TV, fruit machines, jukeboxes, children, dogs, wi-fi and of course food.

Finally there is coffee. It goes without saying, but that won’t stop me, that ‘proper’ coffee was not available to us and the nearest we got was a substitute liquid called Camp Coffee, before instant coffee reached us. What Camp Coffee was made from is anyone’s guess, but it was an acquired taste. Coffee from the bean is difficult to get right in the home. It involves always having fresh beans, grinding to order, and then dissolving the coffee. Percolators, cafetieres and filters have never proved successful for me. Again in the ‘50s came the ‘coffee bar’; a café which along with a pseudo-American décor, made coffee from a hissing, steaming, stainless-steel magic machine. Believe me that from that moment on coffee has got no better! There has been more twaddle written about coffee than about any drink (except perhaps single-malt whisky). It’s made with ground coffee beans and water: you can add hot milk and froth if you wish to pay for air. That’s it! The proportion of the three constituents can be varied and syrups and cocoa powder added to taste, but that’s it! You pay more than it’s worth and a barista will perform, but it’s just all showbiz and big business.

17. Pen and ink

It struck me recently that my life has mirrored the history of the pen. When I started school the first ink-based writing tool was a ‘dip pen’. Desks were Victorian oak with cast iron frames, in pairs, with tip-up seats. Each pair of desks had two ‘inkwells’ into which the pen was dipped. The pen had a metal nib and a wooden handle like a paintbrush. At one time we could not write for a while because the soluble ink powder had not been delivered.

Dip-pens continued for a time until we had been given, usually by our parents, a ‘fountain pen’ – oh the kudos!. A fountain pen (now sometimes called an ink-pen) has a reservoir of ink which is filled by a lever which squashes a rubber bulb, while the nib was immersed in, more-refined, ink in a bottle. There was a more sophisticated model with a syringe type reservoir. You can still buy Quink and perhaps other brands are available as they say on TV. The pens had names like Waterman, Parker, Schaeffer or Conway-Stewart, and could be very ornate and expensive. They had gold nibs of widths and styles to suit the owner. They still exist, but are now status symbols, seen on antiques programmes and awarded as prizes for newspaper crosswords.

As ‘posh’ fountain pens were/are expensive, a cheaper alternative was produced, with a disposable cartridge replacing the rubber bulb, which anyhow tended to perish and leak.

Ink of course comes in many colours. The ‘default’ was known as blue-black, but blue was acceptable. It was ‘cool’ to use black, green or turquoise although some teachers objected. Recently some members of the teaching profession have claimed that marking in RED “scars the pupil for life”. What a load of old tosh. But I digress.

I got my first ‘Biro’ ballpoint pen in about 1950 for Christmas when they were new on the British market. The Biro or perhaps the more ubiquitous BIC was an invention of the plastics age, where oil-based ink is held in a thin plastic tube and deposited on the paper by a tiny ball-bearing. At the time they were expensive, but now are so cheap that they litter the counters (and floors) of every betting-shop and ARGOS.

Water soluble ball-pens, marker pens with felt tips, thin and thick, are still around. There is even one for use in Bingo-halls which dimply dabs a large blob of ink on the required number and another for white-boards which rubs off with a duster when dry.

My pride and joy is a Fisher ‘SPACE PEN’. Developed by the US space programme to be able to write in zero gravity and no atmosphere; it also claims to work underwater, although I have not tested it in any of these conditions. The Russians of course used a pencil!

My Victorian grandfather could neither read or write, but I never knew that until long after he died. His more educated contemporaries would have been drilled in ‘Copperplate’ script; a very proscribed form of what my children called ‘joined-up writing’. The exam papers I mark are often in a kind of hybrid print-script which is often difficult to read, especially as what I see has been scanned and sent on the internet. The writers I fear only write in the context of the schoolroom as, when they are not communicating in grunts, they communicate by email and more often by texts, which appeared only to be operated using thumbs. Since voice-to-text has been around for some while, perhaps the need to write and eventually to read will disappear. BT NT IN MY TM I FNCY.

16. Collar studs, fly-buttons and elbow patches.

I was putting out the re-cycling bin the other day and realised that ‘back in the day’, nothing in that bin would have been there. Plastic had not been invented, newspapers were used for lighting the coal fire and bottles carried a deposit and were returned to the shop.

Even after I was married, my wife ‘turned’ the collars of my shirts when they became worn, by some wifely magic sewing skill I never understood. Discarding a shirt, simply because the collar was worn, was out of the financial question.Earlier in this story I mentioned darning socks and re-knitting jumpers, but I had quite forgotten separate collars.

When you see a young executive wearing a white collared – stripy shirt, he is harking back to the time when shirts and collars were two different items. The shirt itself was what these days we call a ‘grandad-shirt’. Each shirt came with two collars. Collar-studs were two discs with a short stem (‘Google’ collar-studs for images) and came in two forms; front and back. The back stud was short because it only went through the shirt and the collar; the front stud was longer as it went through two layers of shirt and the two ends of the collar. Both studs had a big disc against the skin and a small disc to go through the holes: the front small disc folded to make it easier to pass through four holes, but it was always a faff to fit them. Similarly, cuffs could be folded two ways with cuff-links instead of buttons.

I suppose the air was dirtier then and personal hygiene not such a big deal, but with two collars, a shirt could be worn for four days if each was turned the other way. Remember most men wore shirts and ties all the time. Children wore shirts as they are now and it was a ‘rite-of-passage’ when you wore your first ‘proper’ shirt as it was to ‘graduate’ to long trousers.

Shirts, and especially the collars, were ‘starched’ to make them stiff, and in doing so it made them dig into the neck uncomfortably, sometimes to the point of rawness. Wealthier folk sent their collars to a laundry in special boxes to get them starched and ironed ‘properly’. Indeed a generation earlier some people wore celluloid (an early plastic) collars, which could probably be washed by hand.

While on the subject of clothing it would be remiss, not to mention fly-buttons. I know men who still bemoan the introduction of the zip(per) fly and the demise of fly buttons as a loss of personal security. They regard the loss of one button as less of a catastrophe than the failure of the zip or the risk of personal injury.

Schoolteachers seem to have an image of wearing leather elbow patches, but everybody once wore elbow patches to reduce (or cover-up) wear. In addition the edges of the cuffs and even the vertical edges near the buttons had a folded strip of leather to extend the life of the jacket.

There must be more from a time when everybody wore hats and all trousers had turn-ups, but that’s enough for now.

15. Working on ‘the sands’

The North-east coast of England has the most wonderful long sandy beaches. When we were young, the fact that most of the time it was freezing seemed to make no difference.

However in the summer months it seemed glorious to spend hours lounging on the beach and paddling (or ‘plodging’ as we call it) in the sea. Swimming was an altogether braver challenge.

Before package holidays, at bank-holiday time ,which was often the same (first) two weeks in August for everybody, the beaches were so packed with people that it was difficult to find a spot where you didn’t encroach on anyone else. You should also remember that a lot of folk hired deck-chairs to sit in, and tents to change in. These had to be carried between other groups before erecting. I have a wonderful black-and-white photo somewhere of my grandfather on the ‘sands’ complete with tweed suit, tie and cap; my grandmother with her best frock and hat, my mother in a woollen knitted swimming costume and my father with a one-piece costume.

The problem was not helped by the fact that during ‘Scotch Week’, which in reality lasted about three weeks, train loads of Scotsmen and their families arrived at Tynemouth and more-so Whitley Bay. This accounts for these two railway stations having very long platforms to service more than one train at a time and why the town now has empty hotels which then would be turning people away.

I worked at least one summer on Tynemouth Longsands which, back then had cafes and amusements at both North and South ends. There were ‘shuggy-shoes’ (or if you lived in Whitley Bay ‘shuggy-boats’). These were swing-boats which held two people facing inwards and propelled by ropes hanging from a crossbar above. My particular job was on an, inadequately electric powered, small roundabout, which because of its lack of power had to be propelled by me towing it round until such time that the motor might be switched on. Lord I must have been fit.

One of the perks of working on the beach was beach-combing for lost coins. You probably have discovered that if you drop a coin on a dry sandy beach, it disappears, never to be seen again. Well actually that’s not actually true as given a high wind, the sand blows away and the coin appears on it’s own little mound. When the visitors had all returned home or to their b & b for ‘high-tea’, we were left to cash-in on their losses and believe me we could earn more than a days wages sometimes. Another trick was to wait for high tide washing over where they had been sitting and as the waves break and recede on the sand, the coins flip over and over to be collected at will.

The beaches are still here and I feel sure that the temperatures cannot really be much different, but the crowds seldom turn out like they used to. The amusements at both ends have gone and only one cafe remains to service the surfers, dog-walkers and those who make the effort.

14. Christmas Post

Until the advent (no pun intended) of email, Christmas was the busiest time of year for Royal Mail. Extra staff was taken on for the week(s) before. Students, like myself, were employed temporarily, but so were the unemployed of the time.

You should understand that it was unusual to be unemployed at that time (~1960) as, not only were there more than enough jobs to go around, but also if you turned down more than 3(?) jobs you were offered then DOLE (unemployment benefit) was withdrawn. It’s safe to say that such people were not willing employees and often posted their first bundles of mail in the nearest post box and went home. In passing, I don’t actually recall seeing a female postman at that time.

The sorting office, often set up in a local church hall for extra space, was interesting. The first job was to arrange all the letters the same way up and the same way round, for the electric franking machine. Then they were sorted into areas by experts who knew the town. Each area(round) had a pigeon-hole for every house arranged in a carefully thought-out sequence depending on how the street was numbered e.g. odd one side and even the other, or how the route took you up a side street before returning to the original (all clever stuff).

Parcels were different as, then, as now I believe, bags were suspended from a metal frame of squares; each square corresponding to a town or city. Parcels were then ‘lobbed’ into the correct square/bag (or sometimes accidentally into the one adjacent). It is no accident that a parcel for Newcastle ended up in Newark! I remember someone marking a parcel “FRAGILE – PLEASE THROW UNDERHAND” – he must have done my job at some time! Marking a parcel as FRAGILE in any case was a forlorn hope as however gently we handled it, when it went into the bag, the sealed bag was thrown unceremoniously onto the van and then the train to complete its final journey.

Sorting started at some ungodly hour eg 3/4 am, followed by bacon sandwiches and tea, before departing in the dark to the required destination. Usually this was by normal service bus, full mailbag and all. There were at least two deliveries per day (which was normal at any time of year), but at this time there were often more. In this run up there were also Sunday deliveries and indeed at about this time I was part of the last ever delivery on Christmas day itself.

Dogs were, and still are, the bane of the postman’s life: either barking threateningly, actually biting your legs, or catching your fingers through the letterbox. Incidentally there seems to be no standard design or position for a letterbox. Some are big and some too small; most are horizontal, but some vertical; most at waist height, but some almost on the ground; some have soft springs and some so tight that two hands are required to open them without ripping the envelope.

Other hazards include the occupants: young wives answering the door in nightwear excited, but scared, a naive young man like me, and the many offers of a Christmas drink might well have prevented me completing the rounds particularly on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Delivering packages was a bonus, as actually coming face to face with the occupant usually resulted in a tip.

It was memorable time. I expect it was usually cold and often wet and tiring, but I would do it tomorrow – if my knees would let me.

13. Take your picture gov?

Like watches, bicycles and especially clean handkerchiefs, I can barely remember when I didn’t own a camera. People with cameras on their smartphones will find it difficult to believe that the first widely available camera, the Kodak box brownie, was a rectangular black wooden box about 12 cm by 12 cm by 9 cm. The viewfinder was a small glass prism in one corner which one peered down into while holding the camera at waist level. There was no focusing. The film inside was on a roll and had to be wound-on by hand after every ‘shot’. There were perhaps 12 or so photos on a roll. The roll had to be removed carefully, to prevent light entering and taken to the local Chemist (Pharmacy) to be ‘developed’. The result was a series of transparent (black and white) negatives and paper-backed prints of exactly the same size. My grandfather processed his own ‘contact’ prints as I did later and went on to build my own enlarger to magnify the size of the finished print.

Seaside towns sported a breed of street photographers who would pretend to take your photo, then if you showed interest, really took your picture which you could collect at the end of the day from their temporary premises. Of course if you go on modern rides in amusement parks you may well be offered the same service.

The production of plastics led to cheap smaller cameras and eventually, the improved chemistry allowed smaller film sizes and hence smaller cameras with coloured film. The final film size, which produced a camera mirrored in the cameras of today i.e. small, but convenient to hold and with a diagonal size of 35 mm.

Now of course only the devoted few use film, as the digital age has produced sensors so small that they are actually smaller than the crystals of silver-nitrate that they have replaced and lenses so complex, accurate and cheap that could not have been imagined even 20 years ago.