For anyone who grew up in the 1950 and 60s this book will be full of memories, as you turn the pages it will be like opening a curtain on a world that seems so different to the one we live in today. Alan looks at every aspect of life as it was when he was young, he looks at school days, the work place, how we shopped on the high street pre Supermarket days, how we relaxed and what we did on our holidays. He sets out to show the good and bad of the way we lived back then interspersed with stories about his own growing up in Ilkley, Yorkshire. For those who were not about 50 years ago you will find a well illustrated look at how you parents or grandparents lived. I sometimes find it hard to believe that I grew up in a world where horse drawn vehicles were still common site on our streets, where to daily postal delivery was often the only way of communicating with people outside of your area and when you could go out eat and be entertained and still have change from a pound note.
The excerpt from the book I’ve chosen is a description of what to us is an essential everyday item. The telephone.
Hardly anyone had their own phone at home when I was small, but you’d find telephone boxes in towns, strategically situated outside the main post office, in the square and on major street corners. They were the proper red sort, which are mostly collectors’ pieces now, and used as garden gazebos. Goodness knows who people phoned, except for shops and businesses. But if you needed a plumber you could at least ring to book your burst pipes in for treatment, which is why ours was one of the first houses in our street to have a phone. Dad needed it for work. Ilkley 107 was the number, sadly just a digit off James Bond, but then dad had a licence to plum.
At least by the time we got our phone, in the in the early 1960s, you could direct dial. People who had a phone in the 1950s often had the old upright ‘candlestick’ phones with handles that you banged up and down to summon the operator. When she replied, you’d dictate the exchange and number you wanted (Whitehall 1212, for instance was Scotland Yard), and she’d connect you. A phone was a great luxury to be used very sparingly-children and teenagers never used it without permission – and everyone kept calls short and to the point, with no idle chit chat. A lot of people put on a special ‘telephone voice’ for answering the phone to impress whoever was on the other end with their refined tones.
STD (Subscriber Trunk Dialling) didn’t come in until 1958, and then only gradually, but it was seen as a huge advance since you dialled the number of the telephone switchboard followed by the number of the subscriber you wanted to talk to, and the call went straight through automatically. As the demand for household phones grew, ‘party lines’, where one line was shared between two houses, were introduced as a way of stretching limited resources round all the people who wanted to be connected. People would never know whether their neighbours were on the phone until they picked it up and heard a conversation already taking place. Good manners demanded that you put the phone down right away, without listening in, and try again later, but there was no such thing as privacy. And how on earth the telephone company worked out the bills I’ll never know.
Alan Titchmarsh’s book is a great read and one that can be dipped into whenever you feel the need of nostalgia.