They say that 70 is the new 50 and certainly my grandmother was an old lady at 70 and spent most of her time reading or knitting. The most exercise she took was a short walk, probably leaning on the arm of her daughter. I know people in their 80s (and in one case 90s) who still play tennis, but 75 is still old. I am reminded of this when things that happened (in my opinion) quite recently are history to other people. I had a flat in Chelsea in the 1960s and I must have led a very pure life because I can remember most of it. And my memories go back much further than that.
Communication was so different. People wrote to each other (letters, actual letters) not exactly with a quill pen, but certainly a fountain pen. The telephone was used very sparingly. At home there was a telephone in the farm office for use by my father and his secretary. There was one other ‘phone in a box off the hall. We were allowed to use that – sparingly – there was no dial, you picked up the receiver and waited for the operator to ask you what number you wanted. If you didn’t know the number she would look it up for you. She was a mine of information. If, for example, I wanted to ring the cinema and she might say ‘Oh, there’s not point in ringing now I’ve just seen the manager going to lunch.’ And if you wanted to find out the time of the film or what was showing that night she would usually be able to tell you – together with a critique of the film.
My grandmother lived in Scotland and in about August we would book a ‘trunk’ call to her for Christmas Day. On Christmas morning we would all sit around the telephone expectantly waiting for the call to come through. Then we had a fascinating three minutes with each of us wishing each other a Happy Christmas, asking what the weather was like and how we all were. Then the operator would chip in and ask if my father wanted to pay for another three minutes. He never did so we hung up having established the fact that we were all hoping for a Happy Christmas, the weather was the weather and everyone was in reasonable health.
If my father came back to earth he would be completely mystified by the fact that every single person walking along the street was looking at a small rectangular object, sometimes chatting at the same time. I find it very useful as I talk to myself all the time and I fondly imagine, probably erroneously, that people walking past me imagine that I am on my mobile, although they almost certainly think I’m a dotty old bag.
We got a television when I was nine – it was a tremendous affair. A large piece of dark furniture with doors that pend to reveal a screen about the size of a book. Once this was turned on there was a wait for the set to ‘warm up’. We were allowed to watch Children’s Hour and then the set was turned off and the doors closed until my father was ready to watch the news later. I’m pretty sure that my father imagined that watching for any length of time would wear it out. As I remember it there was only one channel to start with and everything closed down at about 11.00 pm. All the same it was pretty exciting. We had to wait to see or hear the next episode of a serial, unlike the instant gratification of today.
And then shopping – sweets loomed large in our life. We would bicycle down to the local town when we got our pocket money to visit the sweet shop. This was the only place you could buy sweets. There were no supermarkets and at the garage someone came out and filled the car up – there was no shop attached. Once we were old enough to go to the town on our own we would take our haul of sherbert dips and gobstoppers to the Rec. Sometimes we would even buy a bottle of Tizer, much disapproved of at home, as for some reason it was considered common, although for some obscure reason Lucozade was deemed to have medicinal properties and we were allowed that when we were ill.
When I look back it was another more innocent world where swigging illicit Tizer was a major sin. My godson was amazed to hear that we had bicycles when I was young -I think’ I heard him say to my son, ‘that it was probably a Pennyfarthing’. I’m quite proud to be living history.