As the ‘just in time’ supply system of the major supermarkets, together with a mass change in shopping habits, has left empty spaces on supermarket shelves lately, there’s been a good deal of ‘so you think this is bad’ talk from those of a certain age on social media. Like a Monty Python sketch but mostly focussing on food and toilet roll, a prominent nostalgic boast has been that ‘this is nothing to me, because I survived rationing.’ Which got Sarah and I thinking, after we’d finished our work together today on Sarah’s Allotment, what might we claim to have survived?
Well, walking smartly past rationing as any kind of a comparison to today, that being the planned feeding of an entire population by successive governments that were up to the task, we came up with this short and paltry list that we, children of the 1950s and 60s, thought might amuse you.
- Planned Poisoning
- The White Heather Club
- Brentford Nylons
- Family Visits
- And Nuclear Annihilation
Yes, a shocking collection. So, looking at each briefly and in turn.
We survived regular and Planned Poisoning. Low flying aircraft would swoop regularly over the farm fields spraying them with DDT, at least toxic, possibly carcinogenic, long banned in most countries, and even in Britain since 1984. But we both remember the planes. We also remember Angel Delight. Still available, but whatever no doubt noxious chemicals made it those colours and tastes in the 1970s are also long gone. And we survived.
We also pulled through the crisis of bad TV. Although there was spectacularly good TV in the 1960s and 70s, whole hours and days of it were the turgidly awful Variety Shows that seemed to be on all the time. From a long list of the guilty we both chose ‘The White Heather Club.’ Broadcast what felt like every week from somewhere that looked like a Scottish Conservative Club and every programme exactly the same. It both frightened and bored me, some achievement. And even years later, when my friend Phil and I crossed the Scottish Border, on a bus full of socialist scousers bound for the 1981 unemployment march in Glasgow, we weren’t absolutely sure the bus wouldn’t soon be boarded by the Massed Ranks of Conservative Kenneth McKellars on day release from The White Heather Club.
But Phil and I survived that and arrived in a Glasgow full of Thatcher-hating people much like us. To our delight.
Then there was the bitter cold. Neither Sarah nor I grew up in centrally heated houses, so we both remember ice inside the windows and getting dressed while still in bed. But it really was cold too. Sarah wasn’t yet born but I pulled through the snow-bound winter of 1963, in short trousers. Which brings me onto the Chilblains of those days. Excruciatingly itchy and painful at the same time, in the folds behind my knees and on all of my toes. They seem to have disappeared now like many another medieval disease, and awful as they were I remember often hiding them for fear of their only known treatment, Fiery Jack Ointment. Which stung and stank from down there in the bed and never healed the chilblains anyway.
Talking of beds and getting dressed in the comfy wynciette winter sheets, reminded us both of the horrors of Brentford Nylons. Sudden, brutal, yellow and fitted replacements for the lost wynciette, that were easy to dry, apparently, but caused sparks of static as you got into your now cold bed, were never remotely comfortable or comforting, and were an unbsleepable-in shade of yellow only duplicated by Angel Delight. But we survived.
Then there were the endless Family Visits, for me growing up in Liverpool. This has meant that I am pathologically resistant to visiting people in their houses. Sorry and all that if you actually know me, but I think it’s the result of hours of forced boredom and best behaviour, all dressed up and dragged into the homes of relatives I barely knew for reasons I never fathomed, and from which there was no escape, obediently eating Sunday Tea, forever. But I survived.
And then of course there was Nuclear Annihilation. It never happened, or hasn’t yet. But in the 1960s and 70s, underneath all the brilliance of the Rolling Stones, Martin Luther King, Dusty Springfield and Morecambe & Wise, there was always the lurking threat that we weren’t going to grow up or grow old in any case.
But we did, despite all the horrors. And so it was that today, in the Virus-Spring of 2020, we sat on the allotment, self-isolated in the early evening sunshine, and enjoyed making up our list. Not to make fun of our present predicament, not at all, but to be buoyed up by thoughts of people much like us, surviving the likes of Brentford Nylons and The White Heather Club, and so confidently feeling like pulling through this too.
Go well everyone xx