I had to make a journey down to London from Norwich the other day to see my sister who is not at all well. Having been twice diagnosed with pleurisy by her GP she was taken into hospital just after Christmas in excruciating pain to be told she has bone cancer and ten fractures to ribs and spine and as well as being on a chemo program she is encased in a brace that resemble Robocop.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I rang the door bell but she is amazingly upbeat and is of the ‘have to get on with it’ brigade which certainly helps at times like this.
She has always been the family archivist. If you want a photo, essay, whatever, she will have it tucked away in the dozens of boxes full of photos and much much more. With her husband being a not well man with numerous serious ailments the place resembled a cross between a care home and a museum. So much stuff is kept there, it borders on hoarding.
She started to show me old photo albums and there were dozens of myself as a child that I have never seen, ‘Oh you will have to look at this then’ and out would come another full of family photos going back to before WWI.
My sister has also just taken in the contents of an aunt who just died, the last of the generation of my parents who was 96. A brilliant student at St Martins School of Art before the war, she went on to be a fashion editor for a large magazine group attending the Paris fashion shows and others; always immaculate, as she was to the end when going into hospital more worried about her hair than the illness - habits die hard.
There were folios and boxes of her drawings, not just of fashion, also going back to her student days. Much is being collated and given to St Martins for their archives; some individual pieces were stunning.
Anyway, among all this nostalgia was a series of wartime magazines called Parents, sixpence monthly. I took one copy as it contained a picture of me inside (no, I am not going to show on here): I had been entered for the Bonniest Babies competition. Amazingly it had a £50 prize for the winner, a lot of money in 1944 ! And sadly I did not win, but my mum still loved me ?
Inside this small austere magazine are the articles and adverts of the time and as always when confronted by something like this the usual, “I remember” prefixes dozens of items displayed within plus much within the articles.
The adverts naturally are child associated…..
Some of the articles today would be laughed at - or would they? So much then was basic common sense, something sadly lacking in many areas of today's world, from how to make slippers for your child from scraps from your rag bag (who has one of those these days?) to health tips on how to handle baby’s first tooth, and the problem of “dirty heads” - we all met with nitty Nora at school with her metal comb in the bowl of disinfectant ! Also we all lined up for a dessert spoon of malt from a very big tin, always a wonderful antidote to the cod liver oil we also lined up for. And how to cope with your child and his listening to the radio and its educational value ?
And Ministry of Food adverts with tips on how to make nourishing healthy meals out of very little and what we can do with cheese - the MoF recommends Cheese Moulds using grated cheese, unsweetened custard breadcrumbs, a teaspoon of made custard, a pinch of salt and pepper, all blended and mixed, poured into a mould and set: turn it out like a blancmange and serve with green salad and tomato and cold potato salad, Does anyone remember that ?
And what appears to be a curious ad for saving paper. Obviously it was a war time request, but the ad does not say what the paper was saved for. It finishes with in bold: “but it is so important, so vital, so necessary to continue to save paper all the time.” Wartime naturally had a very different set of values, so much today is taken for granted; war condensed requirements down to to the basic, the vital. It is hard to imagine going back to all that. Though the utterances of certain scaremongering idiots would have us believe Brexit will achieve the same; they have no idea.