When I was a lad we always had two papers brought to the front door every morning.
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 BLOG FOR THE STORY OF THE PRESS
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.
THE BLOG FOR HISTORY
Writing has always been a major part of my life; after finishing my education (with its intensive weekly round of essays) I embarked on a diary which I kept up for fifteen years. Then, for about half a dozen years, I was paid for what I wrote. It wasn’t a great payment and it wasn’t my only source of income, but it was at least a regular salary. It wasn’t great writing either, but it was what the public wanted. The vast majority of my output during this time was quizzes. This meant that there was no thought of starting a story with a plot, nor of planning how you would set out an essay or even of using the journalist’s stock way of writing up a news story. It was simply writing questions and answers. Almost every sentence I wrote ended with a question mark, and the answers were mostly single words. As a result it is no wonder that I am not a fan of quizzes. I have done enough to last several lifetimes.
The most boring part of writing is not the composition (even of quizzes), it is the proofreading. Going through what you have written word by word and letter by letter, while keeping the grammatical structure and the meaning in mind is a skill in itself. If you are an important person you can perhaps get someone else to do this for you, but this unsatisfactory because only you know what you meant to say. When done by a sub-editor this sort of checking will take care of simple errors like spelling mistakes and duplicated words etc. For the job of improving the style the activities of a diligent sub-editor will throw up things like a lack of brevity, but too much reliance on house style will only dilute your own. The job of proofreading must ultimately be down to one’s own diligence.
I would much rather have been writing history books than quiz books, but that brought in hardly any money. I was paid for some history articles that I wrote in local magazines and newspapers, but these were on a one-off basis and the income was pin money. I also wrote for learned journals, both national and local, but having no academic appointment this has always been just a labour of love, rewarded only by seeing my name in print. Such writing requires a lot of work, making sure the result is as accurate as possible. This is true also of writing quizzes of course, but in that case the subjects one is considering are not complex. A quiz question must always have a simple and unambiguous answer, which cannot be said of an historical essay. One should never exhibit ambiguity, but history can certainly be complex, and an essay does not have to reach a firm conclusion; examining the options may be enough.
My first piece of writing to appear in print was in 1964, when I was aged fifteen. I will not say it was published, because I am not sure that an organ with such a limited circulation as my school literary magazine, The Grasshopper, would count as a publication. Nevertheless, such a great poet as W. H. Auden had also written in the same magazine as a schoolboy, so it is not an entirely inconsiderable organ. My piece however was, and I had completely forgotten it until reminded recently by an old schoolfriend. It came about through a bit of nonsense I had been doodling instead of doing my maths prep. The prefect in charge came over and demanded to know what I was doing; at first he was about to reprimand me, but on reading The Illiterate Hyperstot he was very impressed. He got me to submit it to The Grasshopper’s editor. The editor too was pleased with my rubbish, and that summer it appeared in the magazine. It had a certain similarity to the literary work of the Beatle John Lennon that was then being published, though I was not consciously imitating him. As result of my endeavour I became something of a literary celebrity at the school, and within a couple of years I had become the editor of the magazine myself. As such I would not have given any thing like The Illiterate Hyperstot a second glance.
The written word in general (by which I mean the hand written word), like the printed word in particular, is now almost a redundant form of communication. Words are still very important to me, but now they are all typed on a computer keyboard and disseminated into cyberspace (as this is). I have written well over a quarter of a million words on this blog alone, but none of it has any physical existence. Nevertheless it as been read by many more people than my earlier printed efforts. For hardcopy I have a printer that I hardly ever use (it also has a scanning function that is much more important to me). I have yards of press cuttings, the forgotten remnants of the daily quizzes which I wrote for several years. Those have a physical existence; you can certainly pick them up, but nobody ever will – not even me! They were entirely ephemeral pieces of writing, forgotten even before the next day’s edition got off the press. But such is the fate of journalists, even those that write great things, which I have never done.
I hope books continue to be published however, because they have a permanence that e-books lack; besides, I have just finished writing another one myself. It is due to be published this April. Make a note of the title – St Edmund and the Vikings. Be sure to get your order in soon, because the edition will not be large, and I would hate you to miss out. Books now have lots of colour illustrations, which adds to the appeal, and mine should be no exception. More of this anon, including the ISBN.
FOR STORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
Many people will immediately identify E. Nesbit’s book The Railway Children as the most famous piece of fiction involving railways. This children’s story was first published over a hundred years ago, and has proved an enduring favourite. The story is one of a false accusation of espionage set in a political situation far removed from the present day; its popularity must rest with Nesbit’s ability to tell a story. I saw the 1970 film version shortly after it came out, and most people these days know the story from its film or television adaptations. But there had already been several film versions before 1970, from 1951 onwards. Although the story is set in Yorkshire, the railway setting is thought to have been inspired by the railway that runs through Chelsfield in South East London, near Nesbit’s home.
Perhaps as famous as The Railway Children is Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express; this uses the backdrop of the broken down train to provide the enclosed environment in which the typically involved Christie plot is played out, but otherwise the railway does not feature largely in the story. Both The Railway Children and Murder on the Orient Express first appeared in book form, although they have long been adapted for the screen. The Titfield Thunderbolt must be the most famous work of fiction that appeared as a film from the start. Its plot is about railways, whereas the works so far mentioned only incidentally involve this form of transport. It is one of the Ealing Comedies, released in 1953. The Titfield Thunderbolt celebrated the first Heritage Railway (although the term had not then been invented), the Talyllyn narrow gauge line in Wales, which had been taken over by volunteers three years earlier.
A whole series of books by the Rev W. Awdry has been a runaway success. The first book in the series, The Three Railway Engines, was published in 1945, and Thomas the Tank Engine, the most famous locomotive, had to wait until the second book was published in 1946 to be introduced to the world. The anthropomorphic locomotive and his railway engine friends exhibit all the human frailties that you meet in life, and the stories all have a strong moral tone, in keeping with the author’s clerical background. It is a pity that the illustrator Reginald Payne has not received more credit for his iconic work.
Wilbert Awdry was among the first undergraduates to study at the newly created St Peter’s Hall in Oxford. This was founded by the Bishop of Liverpool to provide a Low Church environment to instruct the clergy of the Church of England, in contrast to the High Church Keble College. From the start the Hall was fully integrated into the intellectual life of the University, and a broad range of subjects was studied, though railway engineering was not one of them! The Reverend Awdry first composed the railway stories to amuse and educate his young son Christopher, and was encouraged to publish them by his wife Margaret.
Ivor the Engine should also be mentioned in the context of children’s stories on a railway theme. These are a series of stop motion animated films for television, produced from 1959 by Oliver Postgate. The subject concerned a Welsh railway, though not a narrow gauge one. Ivor has no face, unlike Thomas, but has other human characteristics; he is for example a member of the local Male Voice Choir.
I should mention among other works of fiction with railways at their heart The Signal-Man, an 1866 short story by Charles Dickens. This is a horror story and is centred round a railway tunnel. Tunnels are pretty spooky places at the best of times. Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar is one that author’s best known books, but it does not count in this list as it is not a work of fiction. The non-fiction books written on railways form a subject in themselves.
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY of RAILWAYS
From a personal point of view this decade exactly encompassed my twenties. For most people today this is perhaps the most momentous time in their lives. This is the period when you finally leave education behind and embark on your career. In the not too distant past this change took place much earlier in life. My grandmother for instance left school at the age of ten. The school leaving-age was only raised to fifteen by the 1944 Education Act. It rose to sixteen in 1972.
Nowadays one’s twenties are for most people a very stressful time. Nearly half of young people go on to higher education, and only start looking for employment at the age of twenty-one or twenty-two. In 1970 it was still common for youngsters to start their working lives in their mid teens, but things were already beginning to change. For me, although the seventies were certainly a time of change, the eighties were even more eventful. But enough of my personal memories – I want to concentrate on the spirit of the age. What was it like to live through the 1970s?
The decade began with the Premiership of Harold Wilson (the politician we associate with the sixties) and ended with Margaret Thatcher, the guiding light of the eighties. It wasn’t an easy time to enter into the adult world. With an unemployment rate averaging 4% employment was still easy to get, but it was a time of political strife nonetheless. This was at its most violent in Northern Ireland, but it inevitably spread into England. Until 1970 terrorism was something which happened elsewhere – not in good old Blighty; since then it has never gone away, though the nature of the threat and its perpetrators have changed. The industrial action which affected the whole of the UK began with the Three Day Week and ended with the Winter of Discontent; it rumbled on throughout the decade. It wasn’t just in the UK that things were unravelling; the oil crisis gave a shock to the entire global economy. Here we were going through a particularly difficult time. In the circumstances the joining of the Common Market – as we then called the EU – provided us with a little reassurance that we were not completely on our own in the big bad world. That is why the referendum (another unfortunate development in British politics of the 1970s) produced such a resounding ‘Yes’ in 1975.
Outside politics it is hard to point to any feature that represented the 1970s apart from a general feeling of decline. In East Anglia the long overdue road improvements at last got underway, but in a very half-hearted manner. All the towns and villages on the A11 that were bypassed in the 1970s had to bypassed again within a few years with a proper dual carriageway; if this had been done properly in the first place we would have saved a lot of money. Short-sightedness on the part of the government and a chronic shortage of money were the reasons. The motor industry in Britain, which had been flourishing in the sixties, was merged into the inefficient mammoth BLMC. A few years later it effectively went bust, and had to be nationalised in 1975. We expected things to continue to go downhill, and with good reason. We had no idea of the phenomenal growth in house prices that was to come; the corresponding growth in many people’s wealth is seldom acknowledged. In 1970 the price of a terraced house in Norwich was around £1,000; it is now approaching 200 times as much. If house prices had merely increase with inflation, a house today would cost under £20,000! In contrast rent controls made the ownership of property to let utterly unattractive to investors. No wonder the 1970s saw a high point in home ownership in Britain.
Why it was such a problematical decade I cannot say. No one has ever explained it to me. I do not want to make too much of these troubles; they just formed the backdrop to our lives. Occasionally they came to the fore, such as the inconvenience of the left luggage offices being closed at London railway stations (for fear of bombs) or the power cuts that were imposed to save energy, but for the most part things continued as normal. The sun rose every morning, and we got on with daily tasks. The computer age was not even a cloud on the horizon; these exotic electronic monsters existed, but they were still enormous and enormously expensive machines in 1970. They could never enter our everyday lives, could they? The personal computer was yet to be invented.
The weather in the 1970s was notable for the long hot summer of 1976. The sun shone down on us relentlessly, and it never rained. The reservoirs dried up and hosepipe bans were imposed everywhere. Recycling bath water was the only possible way of watering the garden, but any hint of beautiful flowerbeds caused the public to look on you askance. The crops died in the fields, but for most people the sunshine was a delight. What could be better than endless sunny days? Suntans were still fine as far as most people were concerned, and risk of skin cancer was not ever mentioned.
People who had grown up under Queen Victoria were still around in 1970, and veterans of the First World War still walked the streets. Shoemaking was still a major industry in Norwich and there were at least two major printing firms in the city. You could still smoke almost anywhere you liked – on the London Underground, in aircraft and even in restaurants. Sitcoms like Porridge and Fawlty Towers represent a high point in British humour; they showed that we could still laugh at ourselves, whatever our political differences. The 1970s were a world away from today’s politically correct environment.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF THE PAST
Working with wood is something I have always enjoyed. Despite my father’s fine collection of woodworking tools, many of which he had inherited from his father (who was a carpenter by trade), my first woodworking experience was undertaken at school. We all started with a couple of basic projects – I think a matchbox holder was one – and then it was on to more substantial artefacts; in my case a book trough and a stool. I abandoned formal woodwork education after a few years; my manual training lessons moved onto metalworking, and then I gave up the subject entirely in favour of art.
That was not the end of the story however. My Dad had already bought me a wood lathe, and although woodworking ceased as far as school terms were concerned, I spent the holidays happily turning up wooden articles on the lathe. I made all the usual things while still a child. I had a Myford 8 lathe – it was one of the first tools my father set up in the workshop he established in the basement of his business premises. I made a table lamp in 1960, and my cousin Tony made a candlestick soon after, while on holiday with us. It is still a prized possession in his house. There were lots of other things to do during the all-too-brief school holidays, so woodturning did not take up all my time. It was however always there in the background.
The various trades that require wood as the raw material require very different skills. Carpentry and joinery need similar attainments, but cabinet making, woodturning and woodcarving are all trades in their own right. Of course my only qualification was the bookish one of historian, and as a worker with my hands I was a rank amateur. Any skills I might have developed in woodturning or woodcarving were entirely self-taught. Perhaps you can tell this from the illustration below.
I was a WOODTURNER for much longer in my lifetime than I was a WOODCARVER. I related details of my woodcarving career last year, and anyone who wants to learn more about it should click on the link above. Woodcarving came about as a result of my artistic pursuits rather than through woodworking itself. In woodturning I have made bowls, plates, chair legs, whistles, candlesticks and door knobs – in fact almost anything that can be made of wood and is round, and not too big. When my optical instrument making took a nosedive after Mrs Thatcher imposed a huge increase in VAT in the early 1980s, I turned my hand to woodturning in an attempt to keep the wolf from the door. I went weekly to Oulton Broad and collected a car load of wooden blanks, and returned a week later with them converted into stool legs. These were then made up into the finished article in the factory in Oulton Broad North railway station, and sold to retailers like John Lewis.
The production of endless stool legs was extremely boring, but I also made more interesting things on my lathe. I was well into playing music on the recorder at the time, and as they are round in section and made of wood, I thought ‘why not make my own?’ So I did. The basic woodturning was not too difficult, but the internal turning of the tube required a whole new technique (and additional tooling). The drilling and enlarging of the finger holes needed some practice. The fundamental of the instrument is produced with all the finger holes closed – or in this case, before any have been drilled; with the note above you need two holes for the semitones, but after that all these intervals are produced by changing the fingering. It is not only the position of the finger hole but its aperture that alters the pitch, so it is wise to start with a smaller hole (i.e. lower pitch) and increase it by increments. You can always go higher but not lower. In the end it was possible to produce an instrument that sounded pretty much in tune with itself; that is I could play a scale on my home-made recorder. The problem came in producing instruments that sounded in tune with each other, and this was something that I never resolved. It required very accurate measurement and precise woodturning skills, and this gave me great respect for the instrument makers of the past.
Since the war the recorders played in schools have all been mass-produced in plastic, and even the wooden ones are made on automatic lathes. Centuries ago they had much more primitive equipment, but they produced instruments with beautiful tone as well as an attractive appearance, and they were all tuned to the ‘A’ of the time – or at least to the standard tuning of the district they were operating in. A consort of recorders is no use unless they share the same notes. You can alter the pitch by pulling out the top joint of the instrument a little bit, but this produces no more than a slight change and is only used for fine tuning.
So much for round things, but what is not widely recognised is that you can make things that are not round as well; these are things like Queen Anne legs, which are produced by altering the centre of the object while working on it. I have made these too.
THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
EAST TO WEST AND BACK
On Tuesday 6th January 1981 I got up when it was still dark and my sister Tig cooked me mushrooms and bacon for breakfast; there would be no more meat on that day, for reasons that will become apparent. It had been snowing the day before, but a thaw had set in overnight. I drove to Aylsham to pick up my friend Laura (not her real name), a middle-aged nurse. She was also a music therapist – it was through a mutual love of music that we first became acquainted. She was moving from Norfolk to Gloucestershire, and as I had a boat trailer I had agreed to take her sailing dinghy to her new home in Tewkesbury. I collected her from the stately home where her job had required her living-in (West Lodge, which belonged to the Cozens Hardy family), and drove to Hickling Broad to collect the boat. I securely lashed it and its launching trolley to the trailer and tied the mast on the roof rack.
We got on the road at 10.20 a.m. and stopped in a lay-by at Wymondham for coffee. After making sure the boat was secure it was non-stop to Bedford. There we had our packed lunch. Laura had provided me with Brie and Stilton in wholemeal rolls, but she is a vegan and had an apple and a banana. Laura was very pale in her complexion, which I am sure was because of her diet. It snowed as we travelled through Buckinghamshire. She told me that she had an osteopathic and homeopathic practice in London in her twenties, but becoming disillusioned with alternative medicine she then trained as a conventional nurse. Becoming slightly more traditional in her medical opinions did not extend to her eating habits however; this was fair enough as far as she was concerned, but when she said she had brought up someone’s baby on soya milk I thought she was being positively barmy. She was a follower of Rudolf Steiner, which rather confirms my point.
Beyond Buckingham the road left my well-travelled route to Oxford, going west through Chipping Norton and Stow-on-the-Wold. We got to Tewkesbury at 4.30 and left the trailer at the marina. (I collected it the next day.) We went to her friend Hon’s British Legion flat (she had served as a Queen Alexandra’s nurse on a hospital ship); I must say I met some unusual people on this trip. We had a cup of tea – it was green tea. At 7.20 I left for my room in the Bell Hotel, which had a lovely log fire burning in the hearth; just what I needed after a winter’s day. I walked round town and had a drink before returning to my room to watch some telly. I had a bath before retiring to bed.
Being free (temporarily) of my vegan friend I had sausage and bacon for breakfast. I waited by the log fire for Laura to arrive. We went to have look round the impressive Abbey, where the BBC were preparing to record that day’s Choral Evensong with the Exeter Cathedral Choir. We got chatting to a young man from Ipswich who was repairing the organ. He worked for the 200-year-old firm of Bishop and Sons. Tewkesbury is a charming town, with well restored timber-framed buildings and of course the fine Abbey. We went to the marina, unloaded the boat and hitched up the now empty trailer.
Tewkesbury lies on the confluence of the rivers Avon and Severn, and it is a perilous place in times of flooding. Laura and I left Tewkesbury at 11.30 and had an uneventful journey back through the Cotswolds. From Newmarket we were back on the old A 11; none of the route was dual carriageway in 1981. We talked on the journey, and I heard how she was always moving round the country: before coming to Norfolk she was working with disturbed children in Stroud. I heard more of her unorthodox ideas as we drove along; her friend Hon obviously does not share all these, as she had made me some ham sandwiches for lunch. I took Laura back to Aylsham and drove home to my sister and the dogs; Suki was the only one who heard me coming, which delighted her enormously, as her wildly wagging tail showed. All in all this was an extraordinary round trip of nearly 500 miles.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF THE PAST
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
The loss of Colman’s mustard to the city of Norwich finally ends a tradition that goes back two hundred years, but it has been inevitable since the company of Reckitt and Colman sold out to a faceless multi-national. One of the first things the new owners did was to sell off the collection of silver mustard pots that the Colman family had built up over many decades, and which should have been left to the Castle Museum. The amount raised by the sale was insignificant in comparison to the company’s annual turnover, but it showed that only money mattered to Unilever. I for one will be glad to see the back of them in Norwich. I wonder what Sir Timothy Colman makes of it? In spite of his directorship, the family had no real control over the company that bore his name by the time the end came in 1995.
It is sad for the remaining workers at Carrow, but the factory is but a shadow of its former self. In the seventies I knew a manager at Carrow and he showed me round the works. Mustard was but a detail of what they then produced at the site. Besides mint and horseradish sauce they had Robison’s fruit squashes, made from juices imported from South America and brought to their doorstep by freighter up the river Yare. Tonic wine was a major product at the site. That was after the company had acquired the similar sounding Coleman’s, of Barn Road Norwich in 1968, makers of Wincarnis.
Before 1862 the mustard had been made at Stoke Holy Cross, the village a few miles outside Norwich. Before the arrival of the railway at nearby Swainsthorpe station in 1847, the mustard was taken to London by a fleet of five horse-drawn wagons. Tins were first introduced in 1851, and until then smaller quantities were supplied in bottles; larger amounts were sent in casks. The growth of the company to such importance could never have occurred without the railway. The sidings to Carrow Works from Trowse station, with their bright yellow mustard wagons, started the journey that spread the condiment throughout the British Empire. It was a brilliant business strategy; the milling of corn produced just flour for bread making, but the pounding of mustard corns produced a powder that could be sold for many times more. How did such a strong flavour become the essential addition to the roast beef of old England? The phrase “keen as mustard” is recorded in the seventeenth century, so the condiment was appearing on our tables long before the Colmans started milling it. Before the Colmans started selling the powder, it was a difficult sauce to make. Even if the plant was available locally, it was used in such small quantities that I can’t see that it was worth your local windmill producing it it. Perhaps you pounded up mustard seeds as part of the preparations for Sunday dinner. That was of course roast beef by tradition, if not always in fact.
Unilever have made a sort of’ promise to retain a mustard milling facility in Norfolk. This is put forward as a sop to local opinion, but it cuts no ice with me. Without Carrow Works at its heart, there is no mustard in Norwich. In fact when I first remember mustard it was always mustard powder, and this we are told will remain a local product; it was mixed fresh for every meal, and then thrown away. Hence the saying that Mr Colman was made rich by the mustard we left on our plates. I don’t think the way of preserving mustard ready mixed had even been invented in the fifties.
I wonder what my ancestors would make of the news that mustard was to desert the city? My great-grandfather spent most of his working life at Carrow, and his eldest and youngest sons followed him into the mill. It had an important part in my ancestral past, but times move on. Mustard making is but a quirk of history, like shoemaking, silk weaving and woollen cloth making, trades that once defined the city but are now no more. We still have an insurance industry, but even that may pass into history.
At least I will feel no compulsion to buy Colman mustard ever again. In future I can use the French variety which I actually prefer. English mustard is just hot, but Dijon mustard has subtle flavours.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
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.
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.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF THE PAST