‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Change! Some Things That Have Disappeared and Some that Have Come and Gone Since the 1950s.

‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Hippy Attempt on the Summit of Mount Snowdon. What Foolish Things We Did as Students! Cup of Tea Tales

  1. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Hippy Attempt on the Summit of Mount Snowdon. What Foolish Things We Did as Students!
  2. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Ashworth’s Sweet-Shop, Harehills. Sweets, Victory V Lozenges, Sweet Cigarettes and Other Delights We Have Lost Over The Years. 
  3. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – A’ Levels, the Final Year at High School, Planning to Leave Home, Getting into College and Growing Older if Not Wiser.
  4. David’s Bookshelf Issue 5
  5. ‘Cup Of Tea Tales’- Remember, Remember the Fifth of November – Bonfire Night Shenanigans! Not Fun for Everyone!

You know you are getting old when museums start having displays of everyday items that you knew as a child. This has become much more common in recent years and was particularly noticeable at the Electricity Museum here in Perth and when we visited St Fagans Natural History Museum near Cardiff. If you have never been to St Fagans, then I would thoroughly recommend it, as there are a range of dwellings that have been carefully demolished and rebuilt on the site. There are terrace houses that are just like my grandma’s at Chapel Allerton and decorated and furnished as they were at the time they were built. I suppose it reminds me of the streets in the Castle Museum in York, and in the Stone House pub in Sheffield, but these are real rather than replicas.

St Fagans Museum

My grandma’s house had a black iron range and an oven on each side of the fire. She had irons that were solid, non-electrical, that were heated on the hot plates, and the two were swapped when one cooled. They were heavy, and as a little boy, I could hardly lift one. The parlour fireplace had a coal scuttle, fireguard, brush, poker, tongs and little dust pan, and they were used daily. I must admit that her house seemed quite old-fashioned then, as our house was a more modern semi. The guzunders in the two bedrooms, wash basins and large jugs, were replaced when a bathroom was installed in one of the bedrooms. The installation of electricity replaced the gaslights, and the modern world was arriving.

The changes have been so many during my life that as I start to consider these, I am swamped by how life has altered, and I feel so ancient.

As a child, I can just remember the trams in Leeds, but unfortunately they were supplanted by the buses and the trams disappeared in the hurry to modernise. It is a shame as the cities that retained their tram systems have found them worth keeping. Steam trains, like the trams, disappeared and cleaner, but less exciting and dramatic, diesel trains took their place. Carriages with compartments off a corridor became the open carriages with seats facing across a table which were practical, but lacked the romance of the Agatha Christie compartments.

Being born in 1954, I was a post-war baby, but I didn’t realise it at the time I was a little boy. There were still the remnants of the Second World War, air-raid shelters in Chapel Allerton Park, my grandma and mum telling me how they had to go down into her cellar when the sirens went off. I also went into abandoned ones in the small wooded area at the back of the Olympia Works, where Tescos is now, between Harehills and Oakwood. It must have been frightening, but I believe Leeds had far fewer raids than London, Coventry and other cities. Apparently, my aunt had been evacuated to the countryside, but my mother wouldn’t go. I remember my mum showing me an old ration card when I was little and I also remember seeing the old military pillboxes when on holiday.

In school we had free school milk and even at Roundhay School we had it for the first few years, before it was cancelled. One thrill was being the milk monitor at primary school as we got out of class before the morning break so that you could go down and collect the milk crate and take it back to the class. I used to love the milk in winter when it froze and it was almost like having ice cream. In summer though it was warm and sometimes just turning. Of course, for many years we had home milk deliveries and the milkman would come every morning and take back the empties and leave the order for the day. I loved the full cream milk and my elder brother Andrew and I used to fight over the cream off the top of the bottle for our cornflakes. The arrival of supermarkets and large fridges saw the job of a milkman start vanishing. One interesting thing was when I migrated to Perth in 1992, milk deliveries took place at night, the reason being that it was cooler and so the milk didn’t spoil.

Another school monitor job was ink monitor. In the middle to top years at Harehills County Primary we were allowed to start using a pen. At the time, it was a pencil-thick piece of dowel with a metal band that held a large pen nib. The dip-pen required a lot of skill to be able to use properly, and it required proper handwriting, not printing. Cursive handwriting allowed the pen to write with few lifts off the paper and was therefore quicker and, when mastered, easier. The teachers, mine was Mr Kelly, issued the pens and the nibs, and he made sure we used them properly. We were given a small piece of blotting paper, and the inkwells were filled with ink that came in powder form and had to be mixed with water. We had practice books where we would copy off the blackboard, the loops and joins and letter shapes and then practice sentences. The work was graded on how well we did and stars, gold for excellent work, silver for pretty good and coloured for so-so work. The term ‘Don’t Blot Your Copy Book’ refers to the times of pens with ink-wells. Blotting paper soaked in ink would be flicked, pens thrown and stuck in the floorboards and dipping girls’ ponytails into the inkwells was the norm for naughty boys, but woe betide you if Mr Kelly Caught you!

Whilst we are remembering primary school, I have just recalled that we used to have technical drawing lessons with Mr Kelly. We had boards, t-squares and he gave us very formal lessons. Of course, these skills, like the inkwells, blotting paper and dip-pens, are now long vanished. The initial replacement was the fountain pen with a lever that drew ink from the Quink ink bottle and stored it in the pen. These were essential when I started Roundhay, but were soon overtaken with cartridge pens with replaceable plastic reservoirs full of ink that were pushed into the nib assembly. Ball-point pens were available, but not allowed at Roundhay, far too common, I should imagine, but the world has changed and fountain pens are reserved for the special occasion, or for the die-hards.

This has brought to mind that in preparation for the eleven plus exams, we had to learn how to write letters. We had to write the address of the person we were writing to on the top right corner and the lines of the name and address were indented. Our address had to go next on the left-hand side and the lines were parallel with the paper’s edge. This was followed by Dear Sir or Madam, or the person’s name. At the end, we had to write Yours sincerely, if we knew the name of the person we were addressing, or Yours faithfully if we didn’t. I hope I’ve still got that right. Of course, this is just another thing that has disappeared. Few people still write letters, and a text message, in its own language, is the most that young people do. When we came to Australia I wrote every week to my mother on an aerogramme. This thin blue, self-stamped, folding paper used to take two weeks to get home and another two weeks for me to get a reply from home. I didn’t phone often as it cost about a pound a minute at the time, and when I did, it had to be kept brief.

The coming of television was a major event that changed all our lives, and now it seems strange to imagine life without them, but even there the system of only having ITV and the BBC now has been replaced with a host of TV channels and on top a wide range of streaming services. The problem now is that the dilution of the viewing public means less revenue for advertising. This doesn’t impact on the BBC or the ABC here in Australia, but the quality of programming on the remaining channels has been reduced in order to produce cheap ‘reality TV’, game shows, and the like. When you can watch countless programmes when you want to on the streaming services, at low cost, it is the death knell for the traditional broadcasters. It only seems a handful of years ago that the most modern families were buying video recorders, in order to have programmes to watch when you wanted. The old VHS tapes sparked a whole industry that has been and gone in two or three decades. Shops where tapes could be hired boomed and have now almost completely vanished. I remember buying a Betamax recorder as the quality was meant to be better, but they soon died a death. The system continued to be used by TV companies for filming. Of course,these were replaced by dvds, and unnaturally sharp pictures filled our screen until our eyes adjusted and they became the norm, before Blu-ray disks came along. The small televisions were replaced by large screens, then projector screens and wall projectors, and finally to flat screens with plasma TVs and LED, and OLED with ultra high definition. 80 inch screens are no longer unusual. I can still remember each of the televisions we have had from the very first black and white, the first colour, the first with a cord remote control and then the wireless remote. We even had one that was rented, a Bush TV, where fifty pence pieces had to be fed into it, to be used to pay the rental.

There was something quite exciting about looking at the rows of video tape movies in the stores, but despite the range, there were rarely many that you wanted to watch. I have memories of taking the First Conan the Barbarian movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and watching them at home on a Saturday afternoon.

As children, we played walkie talkies with two cans and a length of string. The theory may have been sound, but I don’t think they ever worked as you could hear clearly without the string and cans, but it gave us something to do. Telephones were quite unusual in the home, at first, and the telephone box with its A and B buttons was the usual port of call, particularly if you wanted a private conversation. Much better for calling girlfriends than having my father shouting out ‘witty’ comments, or if he answered the phone, and a girl asked for me he delighted in saying, ’Is that Susan, Betty, Joan, Mary?’ when he knew all along who it was. Oh, what sport! The problem with the phone box was that it was often occupied and you could wait forty minutes whilst someone had a long conversation and they used to pretend that they couldn’t see you waiting. Even worse, there could be a long queue. Sometimes, if you were feeling brave, you might open the door and ask nicely if they were going to be long. If they said they were, then you would walk to another one and hope for better luck.

Eventually, almost all homes had the large black, heavy telephones with dials, but push-button phones of a variety of colours then replaced these. In the early 1990s, mobile phones appeared. These were large, and you had to carry a small suitcase around, but these then became smaller and smaller. They got so light and relatively cheap that they became difficult to use. The introduction of cameras to the phones then changed everything again and created the modern monster, the selfie! Within a few years, people were hardly using the mobile to phone people. Texting became the norm. Social media was added to the computer in your pocket, iPhone or android, and video texting has now become common and we are living in the age of science fiction.

Computers were room-filling behemoths in the 1950s and 60s, but soon they were miniaturised and the home PC became the must-have technology for the tech savvy. It could do word processing, play games and then, with the birth of the internet, it replaced so much. Travel agents became less common as people could do it themselves, tickets for sport, theatre and concerts could be easily bought from home. Now, with the pandemic, shopping from home is ringing the death knell for shops, shopping centres and general retail. You can order one of my books today. It will be printed and delivered to your house the next day if you live in the UK or USA. For some reason, it takes longer here in Australia.

And whilst we talk of books, the printed page has seen a real challenge with eReaders. Some people prefer the printed page, but the new readers are light, the books are cheaper, and you don’t fill your house with dusty tomes. The smart phone now gives us access to a world of knowledge, instantly, and the printed newspaper has suffered falling sales. This is the same with magazines and many are no longer published. Even stalwarts such as Encyclopaedia Britannica have disappeared. 

Not all changes are positive though, and the humble telephone had its nuisance, obscene and hoax phone calls, but email, text messaging and the like have allowed a new form of criminal scammers to take the unwary for a ride, and sometimes taken all their money. I seem to remember that there was a spate of bomb hoaxes at some schools when O and A Level exams were on at the start of the 1970s. I suppose some people will go to any lengths to get out of exams. Unfortunately, exams are not one of the things that have vanished, and they continue to be the bane of schoolchildren and students the world over. We were used to handwriting for two to three hours, but children now rarely write and type on keyboards for much of the time. They must really suffer when they have to write for so long. One positive of getting older is we don’t have to do exams!

For those who might be interested I am almost ready to publish Another Cup of Tea – The Teenage Years, which takes the story of growing up in Leeds from1966 until 1973. It should be available in a few weeks.

2 Replies to “‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Change! Some Things That Have Disappeared and Some that Have Come and Gone Since the 1950s.”

  1. As a nice segue from your preceding post, that cast-iron range that your grandmother (and mine) had was appropriately named the ‘Yorkshire Range’.


    Liked by 1 person

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