This morning a handwritten envelope landed on our desk. Inside was this truly fantastic poem, entitled Memories of the Forties. It was sent to us by Donald House, a loyal Daily Sparkle reader and a resident at one of our subscribing retirement homes. Donald’s poem shares his memories of life as a child in the 1940s. We hope you enjoy reading this as much as we did!
If you know what a ‘cat’s whisker’ is, you are older than you look!
Perhaps your dad brought you one, or you read about it in a story book?
To the uninitiatied, many years ago, a ‘cat’s whisker’ was the thing that made a crystal radio set ready to go.
If I remember rightly, a crystal radio set was one of the cheapest inventions your mum and dad could buy you, without them getting into debt.
The only two other things that went with this toy was a piece of wire (an aerial) which together with headphones brought you great joy.
The idea was that to find the BBC from London or a radio station overseas, you had to tickle the crystal with the ‘cat’s whisker’ to receive a signal.
How simple then was life, living with Mum and Dad at home. But what excitement we experienced, when Dad installed our first telephone!
We could actually talk to friends and relatives when all was said and done, without going to the public phone box, a beloved landmark, now nearly gone.
In those good old days, clothing and food were in short supply. You had to give the shopkeeper your ration book, in order to qualify.
And to get extra coupons, you had to take a test, to see if your feet were over long, or you had a bigger chest.
To find another person’s unmarked coupons was an extra treat. That meant that you also had extra money – extra clothing Mum could buy you, or perhaps some extra meat.
Life as we knew it was a struggle for mums and dads to do, but it was full of happy memories that we would not exchange with you.
The next thing I remember was our first TV. Of course it was a black-and-white set. If you were very, very good you were also allowed to have your very own ‘doggy’ pet.
In those good old days, refrigerators were unknown. Instead your pantry had a cool box all to its very own.
You topped it up with water to help it stay cool. It was no good for ice cream, as within an hour or two it would melt and you’d have a creamy mess in a pool.
Salted peanuts did not then come in packets, you had to extract the nuts from their jackets, fry them in some margarine, adding salt to make them taste. They were really, really scrumptious. Never was there any waste.
Ice lollies as we know them only happened in the winter. You had to squeeze an orange on a frosty night, place it on the windowsill til it froze, then it became a genuine breakfast delight.
Those were the days of shortages of food. As kids we thought how much you had depended on Mum’s mood.
We did not know that was all she could afford, from the two-pound weekly wages she got from our dad (who she affectionately called ‘My Good’).
With regularity, air raids happened both night and day, sometimes within minutes of us kids going to bed, just as we ‘hit the hay’.
You were rudely awoken from your sleep, by a wailing siren not going just ‘BEEP BEEP’ ‘BEEP BEEP’ ‘BEEP BEEP’.
It wailed again, when the raid was over and the planes had gone to their home across the channel – way beyond the cliffs of Dover.
At the sound of those sirens to our shelter we would scamper. And if Mum could afford it, we ate food from a hamper.
Sometimes we stayed all night in that cold, damp hideaway, safe in the knowledge that as long as it wasn’t a ‘direct hit’ you would survive another day.
We eventually woke from a very disturbing night, having had bombs exploding all around us, causing us many problems, together with some fright.
When the dawn eventually brightened up the Eastern sky, you thanked your lucky stars (and your God) that it had not been time for you all to die.
Your parents just carried on regardless, no matter what had transpired, they were truly exhausted, it showed in their faces, they looked so very tired.
Sometimes those raids went on both day and night, sometimes affecting our hearing as well as our sight.
These days it’s unlikely the raids will happen again, but in far-off lands people still suffer similar pain.
Yes, we must be vigilant, just like our parents were, and put on a very brave face. With the threats from Mr Putin, China and other factions of the human race.
Yes! You children of the 21st century, they say you have never had it so good! With your mobile phones, iPads and laptops. If you had any problems with these gadgets, we would help you – if we could!
Our age is all against us, but perhaps time will tell, so if you have any problems, and need help, us ‘oldies’ are here – why not just give us a bell?
We would not trade our happy memories, for the luxuries you now enjoy. As children of the forties we found our pleasure in party games, walks in the park, picking flowers or simply playing with a toy.
I wonder what bedtime stories kids of today will tell their grandchildren in beds or in their cot? Perhaps the stories will be about Covid, Brexit, the EU, or maybe not?!
About Queen Elizabeth, Anne, Prince Philip, Charles, William, Harry, or their young children? Who did they marry?
The questions now on our minds quite a lot are about ‘partygate’, Boris and of course Andrew – did they do it? Or did they not?
Perhaps more important news will soon hit the headlines. What was the outcome of the Met’s enquiries, was it lots and lots of fines?
We will watch BBC news and await the outcome of court cases, hopefully some people will in future be able to save their faces!
Those were the good old days which some of you may have experienced too. As a child in Bristol, another treat was, of course, a trip to the zoo.
Living the simple life then brought us kids so much joy. At Christmas time, if we had been good, we would get a Christmas stocking with a blood orange in it, an annual and a toy.
At nearly 90, my own memories of the past are getting rather dim, but I hope my old thoughts have given you a grin!
Thank you for sharing this with us, Donald.
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