Tag Archives: arguments


When I was a lad we always had two papers brought to the front door every morning.

The Times, late 19th century

The Times, 1899; it looked very similar in the 1950s

My mother read The Eastern Daily Press for local news and my father took The Times for national events. He also read the EDP, but my mother never did reverse and read The Times. Her religious principles discouraged her from reading the worldly daily papers, but she could not resist a peep into the EDP. My father enjoyed the columnists in the EDP too – especially Jonathan Mardle, Adrian Bell and EAE (Ted Ellis).

When he thought I was old enough to begin reading a paper he took out a subscription to the Manchester Guardian (as the Guardian was then called). I was about eight years old and of course it was far too grown up for me. I was more interested in the Beano and Dandy; these comics didn’t come within my father’s cognisance, and I had to purchase them surreptitiously in collusion with my older sister Tiggie. I could get quite involved in the Eagle however, which comic was more to my father’s taste and which he purchased for me every week.

Newspapers were improving by leaps and bounds on a technical level in the 1950s. In particular the quality of the press photographs was very good. This was partly from an artistic point of view, and partly because cameras were becoming more compact. They were therefore easier introduce into everyday life. The images themselves were no longer the smudgy products of the pre-war years, as printing machinery and paper-making were upgraded. The quality of press photographs nose-dived when colour was first introduced in the late 1980s. The contrast, colour balance and general appearance of coloured newspaper photographs were awful. Things have improved enormously since then, but the whole newspaper industry has been eclipsed by the growth of the internet. The high point of press photography was the 1960s. Now it all too automated for much individuality in the photographer’s work, with digital cameras that can fire off a continuous flow of images; the nuances of focusing, setting the aperture and controlling the exposure have all been lost. These were not merely technical requirements; the intelligent use of these now redundant features influenced the appearance of the photograph. Even the different speeds of  black and white film affected the end result. So it has not always been a story of uninterrupted progress, and perhaps the golden age of illustrated journalism preceded the advent of photojournalism itself. In the mid nineteenth century The Illustrated London News burst on the scene and opened the eyes of the nation to its beauties and interest; all the pictures had to be engraved and it set an extremely high standard from the very first issue.

In contrast the appearance of The Times remained as it had been at its beginning in the eighteenth century. Even in the 1950s, when I first remember the journal, the front page was the agony column, covered with rows  of personal adverts. It had photographs by then naturally, but these appeared on the inside pages. The crossword on the back page had been started by the journalist Adrian Bell (q.v. above) in 1930 and he was still responsible for many of these when we began to struggle with the cryptic clues during the 1960s. It was seldom that we completed the puzzle, and when we (i.e. my father, sister Tig and I) did it was a red-letter day.

Under pressure from me my father had by 1970 transferred our daily reading to the Telegraph. The Telegraph has always been a Tory newspaper, and although I wasn’t politically conservative myself in those days, the standard of journalism in the paper was so good that I just had to read it. Peter Simple was the best columnist, but they were all exceptionally talented. The Telegraph is now a third-rate journal that I have very little time for.

We were fortunate at both school and university in having all the daily papers laid out for us in the common room. While I was at senior school these did not include the brash tabloids, although bizarrely for the eight year olds in the junior school they did (in this respect we had a very liberal housemaster). The tabloids included the Daily Mirror and the Daily Sketch. The Sun had not then risen in the journalistic firmament, and when it did it was as Liberal and rather dull newspaper of a format larger than tabloid. It was introduced in 1964 as a replacement for the failing Daily Herald. The Sunday papers included the Sunday Pictorial and the Sunday Mirror, and the News of the World. In the 1960s this paper was still a broadsheet and not a tabloid in format, although it was always this type of journal in content, and remained so until the end. I remember being enthralled reading the stories they printed about Zoe Progl, the ‘Queen of the Underworld’.

I have mentioned that I was not interested in the intellectual content of the Guardian when I was introduced to it as a boy, and nor was I interested in the intellectual content of newspapers in general (articles about Zoe Progl didn’t count as intellectual), but as far as graphic design went it was quite a different matter. Well before I was ten years old I was producing a paper of my own called the Mouse Times. With pencil and paper I laid out the masthead, adverts and headlines that recorded my imaginary adventures as Master Mouse, and those of my mortal enemy the Rat.  My sister Christine joined in the fun with two other mice called Ferocious and Atrocious who she made up stories about. As far as the paper was concerned I was perhaps even more engaged by designing the adverts, and in making up suitable slogans. One that I remember was ‘Soap makes Big Bubbles’. I think that sometime during my adolescence I may have lost some of my early sparkle. Journalism had obviously made some impression on me, and eventually I was to write a daily column in our local paper, but it was nothing like the fun I had enjoyed as editor of the Mouse Times.






The appearance of the electric tram on the streets of Britain exploded as the twentieth century dawned; the large towns of East Norfolk and Suffolk all had a tram service by 1905, but within 35 years they had all gone. Only a century later are trams making a gradual comeback in the land. Trams in Lowestoft began running in 1903 and were discontinued in May 1931. The last tram was driven by the oldest driver employed by the Corporation, who as a young man had driven on the first day of operation 28 years before. We are fortunate that a double-decked tramcar (number 14) is still in existence.  It is part of the collection at the East Anglian Transport Museum at Carlton Colville near Lowestoft, where it was the first item to be acquired.  It has not strayed far from original working route, having been used as a summer-house at Gunton until 1962. All the tramcars were built far to the west in Birkenhead; the company, originally called Starbuck & Co., had been set up in 1871 as the first business in Britain devoted to the building of trams. At the outset these were horse-drawn, but under the ownership of G. F. Milne over 700 electric trams were built at the peak of business in 1901.

The Lowestoft Corporation Tramways fleet consisting of four single decked vehicles (unique in East Anglia in having bogies) fifteen double deckers and a works car. The service ran for about four miles through Lowestoft to Pakefield.  The tramway was built to a gauge of 3’6″ which suited the narrow streets. Lowestoft Corporation Transport continued to run buses until the 1970s, and used the same maroon and cream livery that had first been used on the trams seventy years before. There was a branch westwards to the tram shed in Rotterdam Road; the building was used as the bus depot until the Corporation Transport was taken over by the Eastern Counties Omnibus Company. It still stands, and is currently used as a warehouse by a firm supplying teachers’ resources.

The Mason family on Lowestoft  beach, August 1928

The trams ran from Lowestoft North station on the line from Great Yarmouth Beach that was opened in  the same year (1903), past Lowestoft Central station, the harbour and South Pier. The trams were fully integrated into the transport system, and were well used by the tourists who poured into the town from Yarmouth, 10 miles to the north. Although not quite so popular as the Norfolk resort – it had no Fun Fair for example – the town developed a brisk holiday trade during the first half of the 20th century.

Such was the demand for tram rails in England it proved impossible to obtain them in this country, and they were brought across the North Sea from Antwerp in a barge. The first batch arrived in the early hours of 10th March and after unloading, on the 11th the first rail was laid to much celebration. The Mayor was anxious to get the tramway operational by the summer season, and as a result work continued day and night. The tramway was formally opened on July 22nd. The universal fare for a journey was a penny and you could expect a tram every seven minutes. There was a clock on each tram and drivers who did not observe strict time keeping were disciplined by being laid off for a week without pay; the frequent opening of the harbour swing bridge must have provided them with a good excuse. After a short time during the early months of operation there was no regular service to the depot, but passengers could ride any tram that was going to  or from Rotterdam Road.

The total cost of construction had been £90,000 and in the first fortnight of operation the revenue was £800.  In 1910 the cost of a through journey was increased to 2d, with the North Parade to Pier Terrace and Pakefield to Central Station being 1d each way. In 1913 the cost of a journey from North Parade to Pakefield rose to 3d, but this remained the price until 1945, long after the tram line had been lifted.





Pancake Day always falls on a Tuesday – Shrove Tuesday – and it is followed by Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday this year will fall on my birthday, the 14th of February. This is Valentines Day, I know; how could I not? All my life it has been for me to go out for a meal on my birthday. Even when I can book a table in the crush of loving couples, all the staff would assume my companions and I were in some way romantically attached to each other; so I much prefer to stay at home and have some wine with my dinner.

The trouble is that year Valentines Day will also be the first day of Lent, when I normally give up alcohol. I afraid it is done more for health reasons than for spiritual ones; I am convinced that over a month of abstinence does wonders for my liver. I know ‘dry January’ is the modern agnostic’s way of fasting, but for me the month is so dreary that I could not possibly make it worse by giving up drinking too. A few years ago, when I first decided to give up drinking for Lent, I knew so little about the traditions that I went for the whole  of Lent without touching a drop of liquor. I now know that I can take a day off once a week, if I want.

During the years when I was growing up no one in my family ever gave up anything for Lent, as far as I can remember; if they did they kept very quiet about it, which is what they should do I suppose. The fashionable thing to say in those days was that, rather than give up something for Lent, you should instead take up some good cause. When I was at school my good cause was to attend the Lenten Addresses every Wednesday evening in the School Chapel. This was entirely voluntary, but they attracted a fair number of listeners. My friends and I would even discuss what we had heard as we walked back to our house. The fact that the Chapel was only about a hundred yards from our boarding house might explain this apparent keenness to attend. We certainly didn’t have long to finish our deliberations before it was time o do our prep.

Although the birds are already starting to sing heartily, there is no doubt that Lent comes at cold time of year. It was so cold in Dereham church in the nineteenth century (before any kind of heating) that few of the old folk used to attend services during Lent, according to the vicar. How the little birds survive with only feathers to keep them warm is a constant source of wonder to me. I suppose many of them must fall victim to the weather. I think the hibernating animals who get nice and fat in the autumn and then find a warm hole to sleep off the winter months have a much more sensible way to get through the season.

The Lent fast was taken seriously in the middle ages. It fell at the time of year when the foodstuffs that had been hoarded up from the previous harvest were beginning to run out, and fasting could easy turn into famine. With improved storage methods famines were largely a thing of the past by the sixteenth century. With the coming of the Reformation the more moderate Protestant churches continued to observe the Lenten fast, but the hard-line Presbyterians took a different view. All the annual Feast Days were anathema to the Puritans as a form of superstition; even Easer was ignored by the most extreme of them, but over fasting they were more conflicted. Fast days were prescribed in many Puritan jurisdictions, although the term Lent had Popish overtones and tended not to be used. It has never regained its former importance, and in today’s secular world it is ignored by most people; but we still enjoy pancakes.





In the past month the main source of interest in my blog was the United Kingdom (as it always has been), with over 2,750 hits. This was followed at some distance (326) by the USA. Next, and rather surprisingly, my third most prolific source of hits was India, with exactly 200 hits; then came Spain at 91. Australia with 54 is normally higher up on the chain; France, Canada and Ireland followed; they all made a predictably good showing. They were followed by Germany, South Africa, Italy and New Zealand. I could make a chart setting the populations of these countries set against their English-speaking backgrounds, but I will merely note how highly some non-Anglophone countries rate. The Netherlands, Guernsey, Denmark, the Philippines, Belgium and Sweden all come in the high single figures.

Still with multiple entries from four to two are Switzerland, Brazil, Romania, Poland, Norway, Russia, the Ukraine, Jersey, Israel, Cyprus, South Korea, Austria, Belarus, Costa Rica, Japan, Pakistan and the Isle of Man. The places with a single entry are a very mixed bag; Bulgaria, Thailand, Oman, Greece, Chile, Croatia, Uruguay, Saudi Arabia and a dozen others. I was not even sure where Brunei is (I had thought it one of the Gulf States), but in fact it is in the north of Borneo. There were 72 countries in all in January and 4,000 hits. This may be tiny compared with the big players, but for a blog that is principally aimed at the residents of a small corner of England, viz. East Anglia, that is not a bad cross-section of the world. I would love to know who these people are, but that sort of information is not entrusted to me.

Those countries that have a substantial tourist industry could have a number of internet users logging on to my webpage who are not natives of that country. I am sure this happens, but I have no way of telling to what extent. The time of day affects the source of the hits; when I wake up in the morning the blog reveals a high proportion of readers from the USA, who have been awake while I am sleeping. This state of affairs rapidly turns around as day breaks here in the UK, and by mid morning this country has overtaken all other places. I say this, but just recently the number of people from India has remained in the majority well into the afternoon, when they must be preparing to go bed. What they seem to be  interested in is my blog on school uniforms of all things. This blog, that I wrote over three years ago, has had well over 100 hits in the last few days of January, and is still getting hits into February; indeed today it looks as if the interest in my views on school uniforms will exceed British interest in every thing else I have written in the last six years. There are over a billion people living in India, but still it is all very strange.

The stats page on WordPress that enables me to tell you all these facts is one of favourite resources. It is so rewarding to have my words disseminated around the world like this. I am so lucky to live in an age when this possible (thank you, Sir Tim Berners Lee), and that I write in a language that is so widely understood. Even my bland and uncontroversial posts are getting a bigger and bigger audience. My total hits are rapidly approaching 200,000. This is quite a change from my first post on joemasonspage, when I was delighted that even one person had found me. I must be doing something right, and saying what people want to hear. And as I always point out, this blog has never cost me a penny in publicity.

My blog is two-way street; you can email me on joemasonspage@gmail.com, and providing it isn’t just spam I always try to reply. In have had all manner of people online in this way. I have been reacquainted with old friends whom I haven’t spoken to for decades, made contact with relations I didn’t even know I had, and met many new and interesting people. And all from the comfort of my own fireside.




In the distant past nearly all our energy was sourced from renewables in the form of wind and water power (sailing ships, windmills and watermills). In the long-term the burning of fossil fuels may be seen as just a blip in the history of power consumption, but for a couple of centuries coal was the principal source of energy in this country; it pumped out the mines, provided the motive power for the transport network, heated people’s homes and cooked their food. Later gas and electricity were added to the energy mix, but these too were ultimately derived from coal. It was mined virtually everywhere in Britain; there were even coalfields in the Garden of England, Kent, but none in East Anglia. Things have changed and, for the first time, during 2016 less electricity was generated from coal than from wind and solar energy; however fossil fuels (mostly natural gas) still account for about half the electricity generated in the UK.

Coastal power; Yarmouth power station was fired by coal in 1978.

The East Coast is now the energy hub of the country. North Sea Gas has been piped ashore at Bacton in north-east Norfolk for over forty years, but is with clean and sustainable energy sources that the future lies. Does the nuclear power generating facility at Sizewell in Suffolk fall into this category? Yes and no is the answer. The nuclear fuel that powers the plant is not renewable like the wind or sunlight, and it is only clean if rigorous precautions are taken. The infrastructure is mind-bogglingly expensive, but it has the ability to produce huge amounts of electricity for many years, while contributing no carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. You know all this, but I find it helpful to write it down. You can then weigh up the pros and cons for yourself. The Sizewell A power station was commissioned in 1966 and shut down in 2006, by which time Sizewell B had been generating electricity for ten years. There are other coasts round Britain that have nuclear power stations, either decommissioned, in operation or (at Hincley Point) with preliminary works being built, but Sizewll B is the UK’s only pressurised water reactor.

It is in wind energy that the East Coast predominates. The southern North Sea is shallow, and this makes it ideal for off shore wind turbines; these have relatively little environmental impact compared to on shore turbines.  The area produces the greatest output of wind generated megawatts off shore in the world. The port of Lowestoft, that was once such a centre of the fishing industry, had fallen into decline for many years, but is now being revived to service the wind energy sector. The construction of the German wind turbines will be centred on Lowestoft, while the routine upkeep of them once built will be undertaken by other local ports as well. The Outer Harbour of Wells-next-the-Sea already sends smaller vessels out to the Sheringham Shoals wind farm, to carry out planned maintenance. Great Yarmouth also has a future in the servicing of wind farms. This multi-billion pound industry has the potential to produce many high-tech jobs for local people, providing the right education is made available.

The are plans to bring two cables ashore on the Norfolk coast, brining power from the North Sea wind farms. One will reach land at Happisburgh and the other at Weyborne; that will be routed via Reepham to the substation south of Norwich. Although this is technically in the village of Swardeston, it is nearer to the hamlet of Dunston, and I used to walk my dog there, along the footpath that goes to the ancient location of the Humbleyard hundred moot (meeting place). This substation is a major hub on the National Grid where several power lines meet. It was constructed in the 1970s. The other cable will be taken to Necton in central Norfolk.

What are the potential drawbacks of wind energy? Well the obvious one is the fact that when there is no wind there is no energy produced. This is less of a problem at sea, but there are still days of flat calm. Wind power alone is not enough; nor is solar energy, as that is not produced in hours of darkness. Battery technology is also coming on by leaps and bounds, but we need a reliable source of power generation. I think tidal energy and wave power need more attention put into them; the tide’s energy is not affected at all by the wind, and even the waves, which are, continue in some way. Sir Christopher Cockerell, the inventor of the Hovercraft, spent his later years researching wave energy. This is not so much something for East Anglian coast however; this form of energy is more effective on the West Coast, where the height of the tides tend to be of a greater range, and the Atlantic swell produces much greater waves.





For men, long hair: turtle neck sweaters: flared trousers: for women short hair and mini skirts; Cuban heels for both sexes. These were the features of dress that immediately spring to mind – but there was so much more than fashion to the Swinging Sixties.  The transistor transformed our listening habits. For the first time we could carry a little radio with us out into the countryside. The Light Programme’s Pick of the Pops (the top twenty) had been essential listening on Sunday afternoons if you were a teenager, but that was a feature of the boring old fifties; the Light Programme had almost gone by the time the Swinging Sixties arrived. Radio One launched in 1967 and consigned the Light Programme to history. As far a telly goes, it is a toss-up between two programmes as to which was the show that epitomised the Swinging Sixties; That Was The Week That Was (or TW3 for short) that aired in 1962/3 or Top of the Pops that launched in 1964. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were the top bands of the day whose legacy has endured. You may have your own opinion about the artistic quality of the music, but there is no denying its long-lasting effect; it is a disgrace that it has taken over fifty years for Ringo Starr to get his long-overdue knighthood.

Movement in Squares                          by Bridget Riley

It was a time when all the arts were entering a vibrant period of development. In the graphic arts the stark black and white images of Op Art, often employing optical illusion, demonstrated a sophistication that was a refreshingly refined version of abstract art. In the world of serious music the time represented the high-point of serialism, that atonal music which dominated the Third Programme (the precursor of Radio Three). In literature it was the poetry of Allen Ginsberg and his followers that led the way. Sylvia Plath was already dead by 1964, but Phillip Larkin and John Betjeman were still writing (and much better work than Ginsberg as it happens) but they were yesterday’s men and women. The Sixties were all so different from what had gone before; no wonder the older generation shook their heads in disbelief.

The weather in the sixties is memorable for the big freeze of 1963. For almost three months from January 1st the temperature seldom rose above 32 degrees. If that sounds positively tropical to you, remember that then we still used Farenheit, and that 32° meant freezing point. It is unusual for British children to get their sledges out even for a day, let alone for months on end. At least they were proper wooden sledges, not the little plastic versions which even Amertcan children have to use nowadays, which leave you far too close to the snow.

As far as the means of transport were concerned it was of course the Mini that represented the Swinging Sixties; it was first sold at the beginning of the decade, and went on to embody it in the popular consciousness. The Mods and Rockers came out in force on August Bank holiday – which was still held on the first Monday of the month in the 1960s. The Triumph motor bikes of  the bomber jacketed Rockers and the Lambrettas of the Parka-clad Mods formed a new form of transport for the young, who a few years before could scarcely afford even a push bike. Jet airliners, which were scarcely known in 1960, were commonplace ten years later. The QE2 was the last of the transatlantic liners. Their time was really over when she was  launched in the late sixties, but her elan was both the last flowering of a vanished age and the epitome of the Swinging Sixties. The steam age finally came to an end with the slow disappearance of the smokey funneled steamers on the water, and on British Rail in 1968.

These obvious features were matched by a similar revolution in social attitudes. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the novel written in the twenties by D. H. Lawrence was published by Penguin in 1960, and homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967. Recreational drugs, although still illegal, were increasingly used by the young. The sexual revolution was a term and a concept quite unknown in the fifties; all these things were aspects of what came to be called the counterculture, and that too was part of the sixties.

National Service had ended in 1960 and this opened the way for young people to enter into the world of adulthood without any period to instil a sense of discipline. This, together with the postwar boom, produced a heady mix of unheard of wealth and unrestrained hedonism. Maybe it is because I was young then, but the sixties seemed to be an era of exciting new possibilities; in contrast the fifties had been a time when things were much the same as they had been pre-war, while the seventies were a dreadful decade of industrial action and political strife. There were many changes in the 1960s, and many are changes that I now regret, but there is no denying that we are still living in that brave new world that the Swinging Sixties ushered in.





Christmas in the 1780’s

Parson James Woodforde

Although Norfolk turkey was already a seasonal treat in the seventeenth century, none was served at Weston Longville parsonage on Christmas Day in 1782. During the previous week however Parson Woodforde held a party at which roast turkey (as well boiled mutton) was on the menu. The party food included currant jelly, apple tarts and custard. Custard in those days meant what we now call egg custard.

In the eighteenth century Christmas Dinner was very similar to what we ate when I was a boy, two hundred years later. As we have already seen, turkey was eaten by the wealthy at Christmas time, but on Christmas Day itself the Parson had roast beef. The ‘roast beef of old England’ was clearly the height of luxury to James Woodforde. At home in our modest surroundings at Poringland we sometimes had a leg of beef for Christmas Dinner, but more often it was a roast chicken. Turkey never appeared on our table until the industry started selling the smaller white turkeys – the tradition black Norfolk turkey was just too large to fit in our little oven! Such considerations would not have applied at Weston parsonage. Turkey may have been absent from the Parson’s Christmas table, but plum pudding certainly was on the menu in 1786 in Weston, just as it was in 1986 at Poringland. (Nowadays many people don’t like Christmas pudding and would rather have something lighter and more modern.) Mince pies also featured as part of Woodforde’s Christmas fare, but in the eighteenth century mincemeat was still what it said it was – a concoction of minced mutton, beef or venison.

Woodforde invited twelve old men from the village to join him for Christmas Dinner, and besides the food they each got half a pint of strong beer. The old men’s wives were not invited, but each went home with a shilling that was intended for them. This was at the Parson’s table; at the kitchen table a few days later the squire’s servants arrived  from the Hall for an evening’s entertainment, and shared a more homely repast of roast fowl and punch. (This was a drink of liquor with sugar, citrus fruit juice and spices added.)

It was the tradition to extend hospitality to those of a lower station in life at Christmas time. The Hardys of Letheringsett, who owned the local brewery,  had their workers over for Christmas Dinner; with the Hardys the workers’ wives were included. (Perhaps the bachelor Parson of Weston Longville felt more comfortable in an all-male gathering.) Unfortunately Mary Hardy (the diarist) was not so interested in those minor details that the Parson recorded, and are so fascinating to us, and did not record what the guests actually ate. I would love to know what their Christmas Dinner consisted of, but it would have been similar to the meal served at Weston.

Christmas, together with Easter and Whit Sunday, were in many parishes the only occasions during the year when communion was celebrated. If Christmas Day fell on a weekday, the sacrament could be delayed until the following Sunday. Having been to communion in Letheringsett in the morning, after Christmas Dinner the Hardy family would walk the mile into Holt for the afternoon service there. The return journey would be undertaken in the gathering dusk. If the snow was falling they would omit this second visit to church. It was not solely for devotional reasons that people attended church; it was also an opportunity to engage in social contact with your friends.

It was colder in the eighteenth century than it is today; frosts could continue into May, and a hard frost or a covering of snow was usual at Christmas time. This meant there was nothing especially Christmasy about a roaring fire; this was a necessity all winter long. Coal was available across the land by the late eighteenth century, but it was expensive; wood fires still heated the homes of the poor, or else they had to wrap themselves up as best they could. At Weston parsonage five chimneys needed sweeping at Christmas time in 1786. Five fires sounds a lot, but that was little enough to keep the whole household warm. The kitchen fire would perhaps have been the only source of warmth for the servants.

Hulver in dialect, from ON hulfr,  holly.         An age-old Christmas decoration.

Christmas was still  very much a religious celebration, and Christmas decorations in the modern sense did not really start until Prince Albert, Consort of Queen Victoria, introduced the Christmas tree from his native Germany. This was in the middle years of the nineteenth century.  The Christmas tree, although a late comer in England, is in fact a reminder of pre-Christian worship, when trees were seen as sacred. Holly, and especially the mysterious mistletoe that grew with no roots in the ground, were other sacred plants. Mistletoe must have played a part in the Christmases of the eighteenth century, but I can find no reference to it in the diaries from the period. Holly however (under its Norfolk dialect name of hulver) occurs in Parson Woodforde’s diary at Christmas time; it has been used as a feature of the winter festival since time immemorial. Dear old Parson Woodforde records the minutest details of his life, but in this instance he only mentions the holly because in that year he got a double supply of it by mistake. The decorations were put up on Christmas Day, not even on Christmas Eve, and certainly not weeks or months in advance.

St Thomas’s day (which then fell on the 21st December, the winter solstice) was the time for the distribution of money or goods to the poor, so they could have some basic Christmas fare (a pound or two of flour was a common gift). The phrase ‘going a-Thomasing’ has long been forgotten, but centuries ago everyone would have known it meant begging by the poor. The 26th of December was the day for giving Christmas gifts (or boxes) to the deserving tradesmen who had supplied the Parson throughout the year: hence Boxing Day. On Boxing Day in 1786 Parson Woodforde provided a gift of a shilling for his maltster’s man and one of sixpence went the blacksmith’ son. There were many other recipients. When I was a postman we got some Christmas tips (though far less than half our customers were generous enough  to give us anything); since Boxing Day became a Bank Holiday such gifts are no longer given on that day, and most tipping takes place before Christmas.

During the first week in January Woodforde paid his servants their annual salary, ranging from five guineas for his housemaid to ten pounds for his manservant. His servants were not universally grateful for their pay; his horseman thought he should have got more than eight pounds per annum for his skill. The sums were not very large by modern day standards, even allowing for 250 years of inflation, but you should remember that all their accommodation, most of their food and living expenses were provided by the employer. Woodforde also set out for Norwich in January to settle his accounts with his mercer and coal merchant etc.

The Weston Ringers got half a crown each for their year’s labours. (According to the Office for National Statistics this equates to £20 in today’s money.) As a young lad my son was persuaded to join the bell ringers at Weston Longville, though it had nothing to do with Parson Woodforde; I am sure he had not even heard of him. It is merely the best peal of bells in a nearby church. Anyway, after a few attendances he dropped out – bell ringing was no for him. If they were still so well rewarded at Christmas time he might have stayed! Nowadays bells are rung just for the pleasure they bring. Still it is nice to have this line to connect my family (however tenuously) with the Christmas celebrations of the Parson, a quarter of a millennium ago.





I like to think I am normal, so I know what the word normal means. I believe that most normal people don’t use the word normative; but how does the word ‘normal’ differ from the word ‘normative’? I couldn’t answer that one, and had to turn to the dictionary for help. In case you were wondering, the answer to the question ‘what is the difference’ is ‘not very much’. Normative has a technical meaning, or more specifically several technical uses among social scientists. Most people who use the word normative would however be much better off using the word normal instead; it is the normal word to use.  Nine out of ten people who go for normative just want to sound clever, but end up sounding dumb; the tenth person is a genuine social scientist – but what is one of them? The phrase embraces many of those who practise the humanities, including (rather alarmingly) historians. I regard myself as a historian, and I may be social (or at least sociable), but I certainly don’t regard myself as a scientist. Not in the tradition of Galileo, Newton and Einstein anyway. So who are they?

Science used to mean knowledge plain and simple, but things have moved on since then. Now we divide knowledge into several different categories. One of these divisions is into the Sciences and the Arts; there is plenty to say about out attitude to the arts, but for now I will stick to the sciences. Scientific method – the observation of the physical world, the creation of hypotheses to explain it, and testing these hypotheses by experiment; this defines science to me. You can observe the natural world, and you can construct a theory around it, but if you can’t do an experiment to prove your theory it ain’t science. No one has shown me how to conduct experiments with history, and that makes a non-science, not even a social science. In history I strive for truth – I hope every historian does – but this does not make me a scientist. Some people seem to disagree and think the mere use of quasi-scientific terminology makes one a scientist. This is plain tosh; anyone who uses the word normative in writing history is merely cloaking their work in scientific terms to appear more authoritative than in fact they are.

I have similar doubts about the word norm; it is in a basic sense just the noun from the adjective normal. I do use it sometimes, so it can’t be quite as bad as the word normative, but it is beginning to slide into the world of social science nonetheless. I can see it appearing in things like statistical tables, and statistics show how imperceptibly genuine science can become sheer mumbo-jumbo. Something like a bell curve seems a perfectly acceptable piece of scientific method, even (perhaps) being open to experimentation, but once statisticians get involved in things like predicting the outcome of elections you can see how unscientific statistics can be. Economics is the prime example of a social science, and economists are always making predictions which turn out to be wide of the mark. Look at the Governor of the Bank of England’s statement that a vote to leave the European Community would lead to an immediate recession. If a physicist made a prediction that did not materialise, we would never hear of him again, but economists keep on coming back with more.

Real science can make predictions with almost total accuracy, but the predictions of social scientists are almost always wrong. They may not be completely wrong, but that is hardly the way to define sciences. If it were possible for economists to conduct experiments first, their predictions could be checked, and disastrous mistakes avoided. Are there any true social sciences?  Well cookery is practical, genuinely scientific and undoubtedly social; and unlike the abstract social sciences, it is wide open to experimentation; but I think social scientists would be insulted by this suggestion. Presenting falsehoods as facts is what they do; it may be normative in social sciences, but it isn’t normal in the real world. It isn’t even right.




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“A sad tale’s best for winter. . . ” (William Shakespeare)

A garden under snow

Snow and hail, rain and ice are all part of winter, but winter weather may vary from the bitterly cold to the relatively mild. The clock however is inflexible; darkness is the predominant characteristic of winter as far as I am concerned; the lack of daylight is what makes the season. As the nights close in the lights come on earlier and earlier and the mornings are sunk in gloom. From June,when the sun doesn’t set until around ten o’clock at night, to December, when it is dark soon after four in the afternoon, the hours of daylight slowly decrease as the year enters its phase of darkness. It must be strange to live in the tropics, where the length of day and night hardly vary through the year; the long summer evenings are the most magical part of living in our latitudes. The light slowly fading from the sky ushers in a short and warm night.

Frosts may begin to nip the air in the morning in November; the trees are bare of leaves and the grass is gaunt. Meteorological winter begins on the first day of December according to the scientists, who like to impose order on the world, but the world simply is not like that. The winter solstice occurs on the 21st or 22nd of December and that is often called midwinter’s day – but winter is only three weeks old by then, according to meteorologists. In fact winter is a moveable concept: a general term that has different meanings in different contexts. The autumn leaves may have only just fallen, but in my opinion winter has already begun. The beginning of December is too late for the first day of winter. Conversely the meteorologists insist that 28th of February is still winter, which is too late: the birds are already singing their mating songs with gusto well before then, and the earliest spring flowers are out in January.

We have already had our first snowfall in early December this year, but often it doesn’t fall before Christmas. On the other hand it can still snow into April (notably on the 5th of that month, 1986 – my wedding day!). As I maintain, the season is a moveable feast, and different aspects of the seasons occur at different times.

However attractive it might be to an old man like me, it is not possible to spend the entire winter indoors; when it is icy or snowing it takes quite an important engagement get me outside, but I have to make the effort. I must wrap myself up in a warm coat and scarf, and cover my bald head with a woolly hat. My breath comes out in clouds of frosty vapour; the winter air used not to bother me at all, but now I am glad to dive into the car and turn the heater on. At home I can relax by the trusty wood burner, a great boon. All the exertion of sawing logs through the summer and autumn then seems worthwhile. I look askance at those lazy people who buy their logs cut ready to burn – for me a wood stove should entail a certain amount of preparation. Sawing up logs is a fine way to keep the cold at bay  –  as they say, logs warm you up twice.

Winter in the UK is quite a mild season compared to some parts of the world; Siberia for instance, or even Canada. As my father used to say (and in this I think he was quoting C. S. Lewis) you may venture out on any day of the year in Britain. Nevertheless, now that I am of a certain age, I feel the cold. That is when I am grateful for central hearing. I never lived in a centrally heated house until I was nearly forty; and even now I like the friendliness of a real fire.

There: was that a sad tale?  Not really; I am too jolly a person to write tragedies.




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Aunty Olive, Tiggie and Nanny

Why is nobody looking at the camera?  None of these women was shy. Who was behind the camera? These are questions we will never know the answers to.  This photograph shows three generations of my family. From left to right the people are: Aunty Olive Anderson (née Mason, the daughter of the elderly lady), Margaret Mason (my sister Tiggy, niece of Olive) and Nanny, Emily Lound (formerly Emily Mason, née Peachey). They were all examples of what the family call the ‘Peachey women’; forceful characters, and completely dominant over their menfolk, whether Peachey or otherwise. Aunt Ruth was a Peachey woman, and she rose to be Lord Mayor of Norwich, the first working class woman to do so. There are other examples, including some in the current generation, although it would be invidious to name them.

Ruth Hardy (née Peachey). Born Lakenheath 1892. Lord Mayor of Norwich 1950.

Peachey women could be extremely sweet and charming, but beneath the surface was a will of steel. They could say ‘yes’ to you, or they could say ‘no’, but what you could not do was simply not ask them.  They had an opinion on everything, and it had to be known. In many ways the best course of action was to avoid anything that might get their backs up. I can see my Aunty Olive now in my mind’s eye: she was a lovely person, but her jaw would set like a rat trap when she opposed something she was asked to do. Tiggy’s approach to a similar situation was rather different but equally effective (or even more so); her lower lip would quiver and her eyes would well up with tears.

I have puzzled myself for a long time over where the Peachey gene originated. Despite the name, I am sure it did not come from the Peachey side of the family. These hardy sons of the soil had been unobtrusively catching rabbits around Lakenheath in Suffolk for generations. It must have come from an ancestor who had married into the Peachey line: maybe the Phipps. They had enough adventurous spirit to get on the train from Bishops Stortford and move to Mildenhall; there Ebenezer Phipp progressed from a rural smallholding to running the local carriers business and gaining an entry in the Suffolk trade directory in the 1890s. Alternatively it may have come through the Jones family; they had been as placid as the Peacheys, spending centuries living in a small corner of Buckinghamshire, until one of their number took off as a railway navvy and married a red-head from Cornwall. That may have produced the fiery nature of the Peachey women, but on mature consideration it remains a mystery where they came from.

Although Aunt Ruth achieved a great deal in her political career, her elder sister Emily was if anything even more of a Peachey woman. She was so keen to begin her schooling that she started a year early (aged three), so that by the time she was ten years old she had reached the top class and had to leave. Ruth, who was not so impetuous, was able to stay on and become a pupil teacher, thus laying the foundations of her future progress. Another sister was Thirza, also a teacher. When one of her pupils was refused a scholarship on the grounds that he was only a farm labourer’s son, she went furiously to the Guild Hall to address the education councillor. Remember that she was a Peachey woman: the councillor rapidly changed his mind, and the boy went on to a long and successful career in medical research in the USA.

Emily as a young woman

My father used to say Emily should have had twenty children – or been Prime Minister! Her lifestyle could not absorb her intelligence and efficiency with anything less. She was very ambitious and very generous, but never had the chance to use her great abilities. She made life very hard for her family as a result. Her daughter Olive was the only nurse in the history of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital who lived out during training; Nanny insisted on her going home each evening to help with the housework. How she won against the awe-inspiring Matron is a mystery, but it just shows the power of the Peachey women.  And although Olive was good at games, she was not allowed to play on the school hockey team: she had to spend Saturdays doing the cleaning for Nanny. Emily went to work as a children’s nurse, and by all accounts would hold their eyelids shut if the would not go to sleep! After all, she was only ten herself.  With her first week’s wages she bought hats for all her sisters at the village shop. Her mother made her take them all back – she needed the money to feed the family. Emily and her husband William continued their education as adults by reading and going to lectures.  She died quoting an obscure 18th century poet.  Today’s youngsters don’t seem to have the same appetite for learning, but I don’t suppose any of her contemporaries did either. Peachey women were something else.