Tag Archives: memories

MOWING THE LAWN

Mowing the lawn has been a constant feature of my life for as long as I can remember; yet it is so mundane a task that I can recall so little about it. Obviously I was too young at first to do anything in the garden but watch others at work, but by the time I moved into my teenage years I was helping my father to cut the grass, and particularly to do the edges with shears. Dad’s contribution was to install ever more complicated motors to drive the simple Qualcast push mower that he started off with.

His first attempt was to fit a 34 cc 2 stroke JAP engine, which only powered the cutting cylinder and not the roller, which would have made the machine self-propelled. Even so it was a little under-powered, so he moved on to a TVO 4 stroke BSA engine. TVO (tractor vaporising oil) is otherwise called kerosene or paraffin. The engine had to be warm to vaporise the oil, so it had a small subsidiary petrol tank for starting. We used to run our engine mostly on petrol, because by the time it had warmed up enough to switch over to paraffin the lawn was cut and it was time to put the mower way.

Mountfield motor mower

At 120 cc this BSA motor was quite adequate for the cutting the lawn, and next my father wanted to make his mower self-propelled. The meant adding a clutch and a belt drive to power the roller. This added a complication, because the mower ran a little too fast and poor Daddy had almost to run to keep up with the machine. Rather than adjust the gearing he decided to remove the petrol engine and go electric instead; so next it was off to Hagg’s shop in King Street to select an electric motor. He tried both mains (which meant a long cable) and battery power that needed a heavy 12 volt car battery. You may wonder why he did not simply buy a motor mower, but the fact is that he loved the experiments he was making; he said that buying a motor mower was too expensive, but he must have spent much more on his schemes than several off-the-shelf mowers would have cost. The hours he spent on the work bench devising solutions to mechanical problems were much more interesting to him than the boring business of actually cutting the grass.

Eventually he did buy a Mountfield petrol rotary mower. The design of this machine (illustrated above) has not changed in fifty years. Our front lawn at Poringland was quite large, so as my father got older and more frail a reliable motor mower was becoming needed. For one thing the Montfield was much easier to start than the JAP or BSA engines, as it had an automatic rewind on the starting rope, which the others did not. With those engines you had to wind the rope by hand, and if it misfired (as often was the case) you had the tedious business to do again.

While my father was busy experimenting with his lawn mower I had moved on through school to university, and you might think that the study of Anglo-Saxon England and Baroque architecture had pushed all thoughts of mowing the lawn to one side, but this was not so. My landlady had to get up early in the morning to catch the train from Oxford to London, where she was librarian at Imperial College. This left me alone to make my own breakfast, read history books and incidentally to cut the grass in front of her house!

We briefly lived in a second floor flat when I was first married, and there was of course no lawn to mow. Soon we moved into a bungalow which had both a front and a back lawn, and out came the mower again. Our next house (where we still live) also has grass to cut, but now we have gardener to it for us. Now I just clip a bit here and there with garden shears which, as you may recall, is how I started all those years ago.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA

 

THE FALKLANDS WAR

APRIL 2 – JUNE 14 1982

This is the story of how the war developed. These extracts from my diary will, I hope, give you an idea of the facts as they unfolded, together with the daily round of ordinary events that carried on as usual.

We listened to the nightly bulletins to learn what was going on far away across the Atlantic Ocean. The first reference to the coming conflict came at lunch time on Saturday the 3rd April:

We had corned beef for lunch; I was deeply suspicious that it came from Argentina. That evening I was anxiously watching TV to learn what was happening; I continued to follow the news closely through the following weeks. On Thursday I watched Question Time, which in those days was still hosted by the bow tie wearing Robin Day; there is no doubt what was on everybody’s mind. The spring proceeded nonetheless; the sloes were beginning to blossom on Alderford Common.

With incredible speed a Task Force of 100 ships was assembled at Portsmouth and was ready to sail by the 5th of April. There had been no contingency planning before the invasion; everybody thought such a thing  against British Territory impossible. After the initial flurry of activity there was a lull while the Task Force made its way across the equator and into the South Atlantic. My diary concentrated on other things, notably the week’s performance I was giving playing the double bass in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe. My friend Bill came down to the Saturday performance and recorded it on his little tape machine.

On St George’s Day I drove to Oxford, where I took my landlady from my student days out to a meal at the Cherwell Boat House, a rather superior restaurant. I must have been  feeling well off, because I spent £25 on the meal for two. This was a sum that I would feel a little excessive, even today more than thirty years later! Penelope enjoyed it anyway. The next day I joined a meeting of the Recorder Society (of which I was a member) at Magdalen College and played (so I said at the time anyway) rather well! Back at Penelope’s house we continued to listen to the news, and it was on Sunday the 25th April that we heard of the outbreak of fighting on South Georgia. I had earlier been enjoying the Botanical Gardens by the river Cherwell, and had a drink at the Welsh Pony in George Street. This had been my favourite pub as a student, and in 1982 it was still open (it has long gone now). In the evening Penelope, Ian (her fiancé) and I pored over the atlas to discover more about South Georgia. I learned that Ian and Penelope had been a couple for eight years. Ian, who is disabled, works for British Aerospace. He lives in Stevenage, so theirs is long distance relationship during the week. They get together at weekends.

On Monday I returned to Norfolk. The windscreen of my car already had a crack in it, but at Thetford a pheasant crashed into the car, which made the crack much worse. Back in Norwich I had fish and chips for supper with my sister Tiggy. The primroses were out, and the cuckoo was singing; in the South Atlantic winter was coming. On Saturday May 1st things were beginning to happen, as the Task Force approach the islands: We saw the News to keep up with developments in the Falklands. During the next few days the TV was full of updates. On the 4th of May I saw the News, which was rather bad (this was following the sinking of the General Belgrano, the Argentine battleship). The sinking of HMS Sheffield followed shortly afterwards.

The Government spokesman was a man called Ian Macdonald, and he gave daily updates on the BBC; the eyes of the nation were glued to him. My sister Tiggy and I drove up to Yorkshire with our dogs to spend a few days in Bill’s house near Whitby. (Bill was manager of Whitby hospital.) Naturally we had to visit the North Yorkshire Moors Railway while we were there, and an evening was spent at the Spa Theatre in Scarborough. It is rather strange how serious things were going on across the world while we were enjoying ourselves in the British summer.

Victory for Britain came in the middle of June. The Falklands War demonstrated among other things the great abilities of the Harrier jump jet,  without which we would have struggled. The war provided the Vulcan, the last of the three V bombers to remain in front line service, with its only taste of real conflict. Mrs Thatcher, who had been far from popular in the months leading up to the Argentine invasion, drew huge and approving crowds in the aftermath of victory. Following a successful war, for the outbreak of which the UK was in no way to blame, the outcome of the 1983 general election was never in doubt.  It was of course a Tory landslide.

The liner Canberra was converted from a cruise ship (taking schoolchildren on education voyages) to a Hospital Ship, for dispatch to the South Atlantic. Like all the work needed to prepare for the distant conflict, this was done in record time. That summer, when she returned to the UK to a hero’s welcome, she was again fitted out as a cruise ship. After a successful new  career as a cruise liner the ship was eventually scrapped in 1997. My friend Bill Wragge (who we had visited in Yorkshire) is a long-standing member of the World Ship Society, and members contributed to the definitive history of the ship, published  twenty years ago. Bill contributed the chapter on her time as hospital ship.

It was the Falklands War that persuaded me to join the TA, but that is another story, which I have already told. Click here to read  of my time as a private in the RAMC(V).

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF THE 1980s

POLITICS IN NORFOLK

Norfolk; it is impossible to talk of Norfolk politics without acknowledging the great divide between Norwich, which has been Labour inclined since the birth of the Independent Labour Party in the last years of the nineteenth century, and the rest of the county which has (in the popular imagination anyway) been painted Tory Blue since time immemorial. This, particularly the latter part, is not true by any means.

For hundreds of years the tiny area of Castle Rising in West Norfolk returned two MPs. Some well-known figures sat for Castle Rising, including Samuel Pepys and Robert Walpole. The elections were never contested although they could be bought and sold. Following the Reform Act of 1832, which abolished most of these notorious Rotten Boroughs, some of the smaller boroughs remained until 1867/68; both Great Yarmouth and Thetford returned two MPs until that date. These Rotten or Pocket Boroughs were in the ‘pockets’ of the local landowner and did not respond the changing political mood in the country at large. After 1832 Norfolk was divided into two constituencies, East and West; previous Norfolk had been one. Each constituency in the country returned two Members of Parliament. The bigger constituencies of East and West Norfolk regularly changed their allegiance between Tories and the Liberal Party.

In the House of Commons Norwich was a separate constituency from the first establishment of Parliament in the Middle Ages. In the sixteenth century one of the Members for Norwich was called Thomas Sotherton, a name that may be familiar to the residents of Taverham; his family provided all the squires of the village from 1623 until squires as such disappeared at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Norwich returned George Roberts as its first Labour MP in 1906. He had stood unsuccessfully in 1904.  George Roberts lost his seat in 1923, but by then he had ceased to represent the Labour Party.

Ruth Hardy, first woman socialist to become Lord Mayor of Norwich

At the same election Norwich returned one of the first three female MPs to represent the Labour Party. Her name was Dorothy Jewson and she was hardly a typical member of the working class. Her father had been a prosperous coal merchant, and her educational background was Norwich High School and Girton College Cambridge. She was firm in her principles however, and was a pacifist who had opposed the First World War. It was a time of political turmoil nationally, and she lost her seat in the 1924 General Election, although she came closely behind the winning candidates. She stood again in 1929 and 1931, but she never again entered parliament. She sat on the City Council as an Independent Labour Party member, at a time when my Great Aunt Ruth Hardy- a woman of authentic working class roots  – was establishing her career in local politics, which led to her becoming Lord Major in 1950.

In the General Election of that year the constituency of Norwich was abolished, to be replaced by Norwich North and Norwich South. The number of representatives did not increase, as the old two member constituencies were replaced by single member ones. The ‘first past the post’ electoral system that we regard as a basic (though controversial) facet of British politics is in fact not that old. I can claim to older than it is, though only just.

In Norfolk the picture is more varied than that in Norwich; West Norfolk has been a Tory stronghold pretty consistently from the nineteenth century onwards, but East Norfolk has swung more between the major parties. North Norfolk has long struck an independent course; throughout much of the twentieth century it returned a Labour MP, and in the twenty first century it has loyally stood by its Liberal Democrat representative, Norman Lamb.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

 

GREAT CRESSINGHAM

This Norfolk village is hidden away in the depths of the countryside. It is twenty five miles south west of Norwich; it is not exceptionally picturesque but pleasant enough. It comes under Breckland District Council. In summer it is surrounded by green hedges and fields of corn. The church of St Michael is set back on a bend in the road and the bell rings the hours; when we were there in June the clock was a quarter of an hour fast. It has a fine display of 15th century Norwich School stained glass and five remaining figures set in brasses on the floor.

The river Wissey passes through Great Cressingham and rises a few miles north at Bradenham. You are a long way from the Norfolk Broads here, and further downstream the Wissey is home to narrow boats that have come to Norfolk from the Midland canal system. It has more in common with the river Severn that the river Bure in boating terms – almost a foreign country!

POLLY CYCLING

Molly and I were there to watch our daughter Polly compete in a British Cycling road race. Although this was held in Norfolk the competitors came from far away; several from London and one from Shropshire. The field was therefore a strong one and Polly did well to finish around half way down the field – there were 30 in the women’s race. It was her first road race, previously she had competed in a Mountain Bike contests near Brandon which we had also gone to watch. On that occasion we never even found the venue! This race started at the village hall and there were seven laps of the surrounding roads, each one taking about 20 minutes to complete. Along the Watton Road the villagers had turned out in force to watch. They probably don’t get very much entertainment in the village. My wife could get no signal on her phone – maybe it would be better on another network.

The nearest town is Watton and for ninety years until 1964 that was their nearest railway station, on the Swaffham to Thetford branch. Great Cressingham may have felt a little less cut off before the Second World War because southwards the Stanford Battle Training Area now blocks off Great and Little Cressingham from the Thetford area. In all five villages (plus a deserted medieval settlement) were taken over by the War Office in 1942 and remain out of bounds today. STANTA is used for regular training exercises by the Paras and others, and soldiers from Europe are frequently to be seen there. The former habitations have been wrecked by decades of neglect and gunfire, but the churches have been preserved. The fine church at West Tofts was largely rebuilt in the 19th century by Pugin, at the expense of its millionaire vicar. It is described as one of the finest Gothic Revival churches in the country and so it is doubly sad that it cannot be visited. However occasional services have been held there since the 1980s.

As a civil parish Great Cressingham is combined with Little Cressingham and two villages together had a population off 421 in the last census. The village school close in 1992 and there is no longer a shop, but the 17th century pub (the Olde Windmill) remains. It seems a popular place with a dining room and guest bedrooms as well as wide range of cask ales.

THE OLDE WINDMILL

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

FERRIES

There used to be many ferries across the rivers and estuaries in Norfolk. Now there are only a few; Reedham ferry across the Yare and the ferry across the Great Ouse from Kings Lynn to West Lynn. There are also the ferries to Blakeney Point; these popular trips to see the seals leave from Morston Quay and Blakeney Harbour. Going back into history, in Roman times Holme-next-the-Sea (where Peddars Way reaches the coast) used to be the base for a ferry across the Wash. Its destination was the Roman station of Vainona (now called Wainfleet) in Lincolnshire. About forty years ago Norfolk Line used to run two ferries a day from Great Yarmouth to Holland; these ferries, the Duke of Norfolk and the Duke of Holland, were mostly for commercial freight, but they were also used by the general public.

REEDHAM FERRY

In Suffolk, since the MoD left the Orfordness peninsular in 1973 there has been a ferry service to allow people from Orford to explore the sand dunes and derelict military buildings across the river Ore in the Nature Reserve. There is a ferry service between Felixstowe and Harwich on the mouths of the rivers Orwell and Stour, linking these major ports of Suffolk and Essex. There is still a rowing boat that ferries people across the river Blyth from Walberswick to Southwold, though it only operates in the summer season.  It only costs a pound. I have used the Walberswick ferry (many years ago) and also went across the Deben ferry which goes across the Deben estuary from Bawdsey to Felixstowe, with my new wife (and our bikes) in 1986.

Pulls Ferry in about 1800.

The rowing boats that used to ferry people across the river Yare were common before the 20th century. They had all been abandoned by the time I was aware of my surroundings, but many of the boats themselves survived, as battered and unloved hulks pulled up on the riverbank. One such boat was at Pulls Ferry on the river Wensum in Norwich (it was broken up by vandals around 1970). Why a ferry had lasted so long there is something of a mystery. Bishops Bridge is only a few hundred yards away, and it had ceased to charge a toll in the mid 19th century; yet Pulls Ferry only ceased to operate within living memory, during the Second World War.

The boat which used to link Brundall with Surlingham at Coldham Hall was by repute going into the 1970s, but whenever I saw it the boat always appeared disused.  I was a not an infrequent visitor to Coldham Hall in the 1960s, where my father would buy his half pint on a Sunday. I dare say we should have gone during the week to see the ferry in use. There was also a ferry that linked Surlingham with Postwick at the suitably named pub, the Surlingham Ferry. Between there and Norwich was Whitlingham ferry, and although I have never heard of a ferry at Bramerton, I am sure that at one time you could take a boat from the Wood’s End (as the riverside pub used to be called) to Hall Lane in Postwick.

BUCKENHAM FERRY

The ferry at Buckenham was always remote from human habitation, although across the river was the Ferry Inn. The Ferry Inn (now rebuilt and called the Beauchamp Arms) figures prominently on this picture from 2oo years ago. It is across the river from Buckenham in Langley near Loddon. It is still a popular place of refreshment, although it draws almost all its trade from thirsty holiday makers who arrive there by boat. The only difference with the nineteenth century is that then its customers were working wherrymen.  Note that in 1826 ten sheep, two cows and three people were waiting for the ferryman to pull the pontoon across the river to pick them up; two sailing boats are tied up at the pub. I went there as a teenager with my cousin Andrew, when we spent day sailing my dinghyfrom the Buckenham Sailing Club. Despite being an almost uninhabited location, the hamlet of Buckenham still boasts its own railway station, although it served by only a couple of trains a week.

The layout of the roads shows that once it was possible to take a ferry from Cantley; in fact there were two routes across the river Yare from there, but all traces of them have been lost. Reedham car ferry has already been mentioned, and it remains in use. It was almost the last ferry before you reached Great Yarmouth; the last one was a marshland ferry near the Berney Arms pub. Heaven only knows who used it, as the pub must accessed by railway or river boat, unless you walk for miles across the marsh from the A 47; what sort of income did the ferryman earn I wonder? The steamer which used to ply the river between the South Quay in Yarmouth and Gorleston saved holiday makers a long walk via Haven Bridge.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA

RAILS ACROSS THE WORLD

Modern train in the country where it all began

I have been to many parts of the country by rail in my lifetime; some so long ago they are barely remembered, and some much more recently. When steam was king I took the railway from Norwich to Barnstaple in Devon. I was under ten at the time, and can remember nothing of the journey. Fortunately there were still steam engines on the tracks when I was a little older and I can well remember them. I was 19 before dieselisation was complete on British Rail. I rather lost interest in railways after the demise of steam, but I should’t have done, because the rolling stock was still from the 1950s or even pre-war, and it is the rolling stock that you are mostly aware of as you travel by rail.

The plush elegance of the coaches was something you will never now experience. You may get a hint of it on a heritage railway, but that is a short journey on a special occasion. The lovely feeling of establishing oneself in a compartment for a journey of two or three hours is hard to convey. This was completely normal for us  back in the day; the trains were still well supplied with staff but under used by passengers. It couldn’t last, nor did it. The last compartment coach I travelled in was on the way back from Chester to Norwich in the late 1980s. That was highly unusual by then, and most coaching stock was open throughout.The high backs of the seats in the compartment, the clean anti-macassers, the pictures above your head, even the air that rushed in from the ventilator and occasionally covered you with smuts from the coal fire, all these things have utterly vanished. Air conditioning is fine until it ceases to work; then you might hanker for something a little less high-tech.

Bill and Joe have dinner on the train, 1980

I must say that the reliability of the rolling stock continues to improve in matters like doors closing, but in other respects the quality of service has declined. The refreshments available are awful; a trolley may appear bearing sandwiches and instant coffee, but where is the three course meal served by a steward in a white jacket? It has gone, together with all the other things which made up the romance of travel. Or most of them at any rate, though I would still like to take the night sleeper to Aberdeen.

But this blog is meant to be about the places I have been to on the train. I have been to all the mainland countries of the UK, but I have never travelled the trains in  Ireland. I have used the trains in much of Europe; France, Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, Portugal, Denmark and Norway. I have even been for a train journey in Canada. (My friend Jill has been to China on the Trans Siberian Railway!) Holland and Poland I have been to but never used the trains there. In 1967 I spent an interesting morning inspecting the steam trains in a motive power yard in Rimini, but again I have never been on any Italian trains.

Back in the UK I have taken a Castle class to West Wales back in the days when you really could go behind such an engine without relying on preserved locos. (It shows how old I am.) I took the train to several places in Scotland in the early 60s, but although I saw plenty of steam engines, those I travelled behind were all diesels; their were no electric trains in Scotland then. I went to Weymouth behind a Merchant Navy class Pacific, which was a great experience. More recently I have been on the High Speed Train from London St Pancras to Brussels. Because I went first class I did have lunch on the train, but it was only a two course meal. It was served by a waiter, but he didn’t wear a white jacket. It was all served in plastic trays and none of it was hot. Still, for the 21st century, it wasn’t bad; it would cost you a fortune unless (like me) you were disabled – I went business class for a second class fare!

JOSEPH MASON

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF RAIL TRAVEL

joemasonspage@gmail.com

CINE PHOTOGRAPHY

NANNY – my paternal grandmother – gave me £15 for Christmas 1962; I was thirteen. She and Uncle Laurie were living in a retirement flat in Recorder Road in  Norwich. Uncle Laurie was her second husband, her first husband, my grandfather, had died before I was born. Quite why she decided to be so generous I don’t know; fifteen pounds was a king’s ransom in 1962 – at least £250 in today’s prices. I believe she preferred to give me my inheritance while she was still alive; certainly there was nothing for me in her will when she died three years later, but that was fine. I rather doubt if she had intended me to spulge it all at once; no doubt she would have preferred me to squirrel it away in a bank account.

Paillard Bolex 8mm ciine camera

However this gift enabled me to buy an 8mm movie camera. ‘Super Eight’ had not then come available, and in retrospect I believe the old ‘Standard Eight’ (as 8mm was thereafter called) equipment was being sold off at a discount to make way for the new models. Although Super Eight was promoted as far superior, the main difference was that the four minutes of film did not require turning over half way through. The 16mm film had to be split  when it was sent off for processing (which had already been paid for as part of the purchase price). You had to send off your Kodachrome film to the lab and then wait for the postman to call. At least the pictures were in colour by 1962; the previous generation would have had no film at all (it was wartime), and before that it was all black and white. Movie cameras were powered by clockwork, so no batteries were required.

Gregory’s camera shop in Lower Goat Lane had a Paillard Bolex camera going cheap, and this Swiss make was very good. I had hankered after it as soon as I saw it in the window, and thanks to Nanny I was able to afford it. I must have written her an effusive thank you letter, but I am sure I did not reveal my purchase to her. Inflation was soon to gather pace, and soon the £15 would only have bought the family a good meal at a restaurant, so in retrospect it was a wise decision.

Although still cameras were quite plentiful among my school acquaintances, none had a movie camera. They were not common in the 1960s; many of my peers came from much wealthier families than I did. Their fathers were directors of national organisations like Norwich Union, and could easily have afforded a movie camera for their offspring had they wished to indulge them.  I’m glad that I had the imagination to make my purchase; I took full advantage of my new toy, and my first film was used photographing the severe winter of 1963. There is a view of us youngsters building an igloo on the snowy wastes of what should have been the junior school football pitch.

I was also able to capture some of the last of the steam engines on East Anglian railways. Diesels had already taken over in Norfolk and steam had vanished from the Norwich shed, but the steam depot at March was still operational. On January 1st 1964 my cousin David Anderson (aged 32) organised a trip to the Cambridgeshire station, where we were conducted on a tour round the extensive sheds by a member of British Railways’ staff . The party consisted of David, my father and me, plus a young train spotter who had been jotting down numbers at March station and who tagged along. David’s children were unfortunately too young to join us.

No longer being cared for, the steam engines were all extremely dirty, but at least those in steam still possessed their nameplates; many of those that stood cold and abandoned had already had their identification plates removed. Even then a brass  number was being avidly sought out by collectors. A Jubilee class (Barham) steamed past us, and is recorded on film. The Britannia class Oliver Cromwell stood cold and out of commission but under cover. She would undoubted have gone to the scrap yard like Barham, which succumbed to the blow torch in 1965; however Britannia herself, which had been destined for preservation, was subsequently vandalised. Oliver Cromwell was therefore substituted for preservation instead. As things turned out both locomotives were eventually preserved, Oliver Cromwell as part of the national collection.

I also took pictures of my canoe, Red Squirrel, taking to the river Blyth at Southwold and the sea at Snettisham. Two people could sit in the cockpit, and both my cousins Jill and Tony Sansom went out in her with their father Uncle Arthur. We explored the river Waveney at Bungay. It’s all captured on film. Picnics and picking primroses also feature among my early movies, as does the visit of my sister from Canada with her young family. My cine camera was a marvellous purchase, and fifty years later I am so glad to have this moving record of times long past.

Compared to modern videos the 8mm camera was basic. The definition was not great and you could only shoot very brief scenes; the film was expensive. Now you can record hours and hours on-line or on DVD for virtually nothing, and sound is included. Once exposed the film had to be sent away for processing, so there was no possibility of checking what you had photographed – no instant rewind in those distant days. It was a matter of guess-work. Should it be f 16 or f 22? It depended on how bright the weather was. These arcane terms all passed out of use and out of memory many decades ago. Now you can whip out your smartphone and get a much better sequence than you could ever have done with a 8mm camera; but now that anyone can take a movie, what’s the point?  When I was recording my teenage years my ciné camera was a real novelty.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

THE STORY OF A HOUSE (13 )

FIRE PRECAUTIONS

The family had owned the property at 29 Surrey Street in Norwich for over 20 years, and the house itself had stood for over 200 years without mishap, but in 1982 there was an unwelcome visit from the Fire Department. They informed me that the internal arrangements were a fire risk, and alterations were required; the stair well in particular needed modification. There was a degree of conflict between the government agencies on this matter; the Planning Authority wanted this listed building left in its original state, while the Fire Authority demanded the changes. In this case fire precautions trumped listed building consent. For once I was entirely in agreement with the planners, to leave everything well alone, but that was irrelevant; what the owner of the building would have preferred counted for nothing. The Fire Department juggernaut pressed on.

At least asbestos had been identified as a hazardous substance by then, or this ghastly material would have been introduced to this old building, only to be removed at a later date. As it was, there were a lot of unwelcome changes – all to be financed by me of course. The first was the demise of our lift. This was only a small Victorian affair which you pulled up on a rope, originally intended for taking trays of food up from the kitchen in the basement to the dining room on the first floor. It went beyond that to the third floor, to take bed linen etcetera down to be washes. It went up the stair well, but in the opinion of the inspectors, this was chimney flue to funnel flames up the building, and the lift shaft had to be sealed off at ground floor level. This was niggling change to the building, but it did not modify any original features, so it as not too bad; the next alterations certainly did.

In the entrance hall, where formerly the eye was lead from the front door through an elegant arch to the staircase, now a fire door with an automatic closure mechanism blocked the view. A prominent sign saying Fire Door – Keep Closed met the eye instead. The elegant six panelled doors were one of the finest features of the house, but they were unsuitable to be fire doors; the chamfered panels were apparently too thin to arrest the flames. All the doors opening onto the staircase had to be covered with a fire-retardant layer on the inside. I had these plain panels decorated with wooden mouldings to imitate the original, but it was a poor alternative. These doors also had to be fitted with automatic closers, and FIRE DOOR signs in red affixed. These changes demonstrate the problems that arise when modern ideas of Health and Safety are applied to an old building, constructed in a different age to very different principles. Put brutally simply, the understated elegance of the Georgian house was ruined by these blunt instruments. If I had limitless resources I could have made these modifications slightly less intrusive, but not much. With my shallow pockets these changes led severe expense, with no financial return. Of course I would not have wished to be burnt to a cinder when the house caught fire, but in the case of a conflagration I wonder if such fire precautions would have saved me? Perhaps, but most likely not. Personally I would have much rather have taken the risk.

I am glad that the arrival of the fire inspectors happened after my father was no longer alive. The property at Surrey Street was a great source of pleasure to him, and to see these touches of beauty stamped out with such a heavy hand would have distressed him enormously. It distressed me too, but it made the wrench of having to sell the property about a decade later somewhat less of a catastrophe. The house would never again be the Georgian gem I had known.

       FIRE DOOR

                                                 KEEP CLOSED

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

SIGNS OF AGEING

The signs of ageing are always taken to be the obvious ones like wrinkles, cataracts or greying hair. I know that for men the social attitudes to these things are different; a craggy brow and sinking jowls can produce a kind of grandeur in the male face that is much harder to replicate in women. In the not too distant future these physical signs of age may eventually be much reduced (or even eliminated) but this will not mean the end of ageing. In a less superficial sense ageing will always be with us.

“You’re as a young as you feel” is the common cry among those who feel that age is creeping up on them, and the unspoken (and rather pathetic) implied continuation of this phrase is “And I feel really young”.

The last thing I would want is to feel young again, even if this were possible. I remember only too well the lack of self confidence, tongue-tied indecision and general misery of being young. Youth has its positive side, but this is seldom apparent to the young themselves. Trying to find one’s place in the world is a fraught business at the best of times, and the problems of youth are many; young people adopt all sorts of absurd ideas; the adolescent whose legs are growing out of kilter with the rest of his body has an ungainly stride; and the embarrassing effects of a breaking voice on the pubescent male are a penance. Who would want to revisit these things? In contrast age brings a certain gravitas to even the most unlikely candidates.

Even if the passing years do not bring great wealth they bring a certain stability to one’s finances. The young always begin with nothing; wealth, influence, or the sense of acceptance at the lack of theses things – they all have to be acquired over the years. To most of us offspring come with the passage of time, and the trials of having a young family fade as one’s own children shake off the insecurities of youth and progress into adulthood.

The undoubted bodily vigour of youth is not something I would wish to retain or return to. This slowing down in physical activity is another sign of ageing that is likely to remain long after most other such indicators have been banished to the past. The middle-aged may retain a youthful appearance in the future, but I very much doubt they will ever run as fast. The sight of an 80 year old running the Marathon may become more common, but such a competitor will always come way down the field at the finishing line. The twenties are the most physically productive age, and I can see no likelihood of this ever changing.

A certain forgetfulness is a general feature of the ageing process, but that does mean we are all irredeemably stupid. Our brain mass may decrease as its age increases, but the number of wrinkles in the brain tissue grows exponentially. As the wrinkles signify knowledge, this produces the wisdom of age. We may forget more things as we age, but we have an awful lot more to forget. The young brain is a huge blank canvas; it has masses of potential but little content. Potential is a wonderful thing, but it would be sad if that was all an old brain had to offer. We have far less space to store new memories, but that is fair enough as we have little time left to acquire them.

Some people lose all their memories, and this seems sad; but if you don’t know that you have forgotten everything there is a certain seemliness about this. Senility has dropped out of the lexicon of ageing, to be replaced by dementia. This is a pity, because senility has a direct correlation with the concept of ageing, coming from the Latin word senex, an old man. Dementia merely means a loss of reason, which can occur at any age. Senility was used where now we would say an old person has Alzheimer’s. Not one in a hundred has any idea what are the precise symptoms of this disease, and the use of the term only obfuscates the condition. The non-specific term senile dementia was far preferable; we all recognise that it affects the old, but this malady is not an inevitable consequence of ageing.

Like it or not, ageing is something we are all going through. Fighting it is a pointless exercise. Rather than hanker after lost youth you should celebrate the signs of ageing; stop regarding yourself as a time-expired old has-been and return to the idea of the wise elder. You still have a lot to offer.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES

SUPERMARKETS

SUPERMARKETS have taken over the retail sale of food in this country, and in those remote county areas, where small food outlets still remain, they are all branches or franchises of national or international chains. They are all set out like mini-supermarkets; i.e. shops where you select your goods from the shelves and take them in a trolley to the till. Yet this great change in shopping has happened in my lifetime.

When I first used to accompany my mother shopping we would go into a small grocer’s shop about three quarters of mile from my home. There we could see (but not touch) the groceries on the shelves, because they were on the other side of the counter. ‘Can I have a tin of beans please,’ Mummie would ask, perhaps pointing to a tin of Heinz baked beans (the only tinned beans available were baked beans, and Heinz had the baked bean market sown up). The shopkeeper – Mr Spalding or his wife in this case – would take down a tin and add them to the purchased goods behind the counter. My mother would not take them and put them in her shopping basket until she had counted out the change and paid for them.

This was in the village shop. In the city there were a number of larger shops, like the Co-op and the Maypole. There was even a Sainsbury’s, but they were all still just grocers’ shops.  At Sainsbury’s the procedure was slightly different; you would still stand at the counter where the shop attendant would cut your bacon or cheese, but then he or she (normally the latter) handed you a chit; this you took to a separate desk where a cashier took your money and gave a receipt. You then took it back to the shop assistant who handed you your goods. It was a very hygienic system whereby the handling of money was kept well away from the handling of food. This made the purchase a rather long-winded affair; you can see why supermarkets caught on.

The first supermarket to arrive in Norwich was Downsway in St Stephens which opened in about 1968. This was closely followed by Keymarkets at the other end of the same street. Also in St Stevens, between these two, Sainsbury’s opened a supermarket; their previous grocer’s shop with the cashier had been in Gentleman’s Walk. Tesco opened up in Guildhall Hill and there were others whose names have vanished long ago; Fine Fare was one; David Greig and the International were others. These were all town centre shops; there were no out-of-town supermarkts for at least a decade. The first one in Norwich was Asda on the corner of Drayton Road and the Ring Road, where it remains today. Before then the site was a corn field! I remember it well.

These shops were all in Norwich; further out in the sticks the process of introducing supermarkets was much slower. There is still a little local resistance to the modern way of shopping; Sheringham for instance long resisted the introduction of Tesco, although it has now succumbed. You can still find a few independent  butchers and bakers in the larger villages.  Reepham is too small to support even a Tesco Express; its main retailer is a franchised branch of Spar. It retains an independent greengrocer in the town square, which doubly unusual; not only are independent food outlets rare, so too are greengrocers. There is a fine line between a community being too small for a national chain of shops to open a local branch, and being so small that it cannot support a shop at all.

The most recent development has been the arrival of the European discounters like Aldi and Lidl. The first of these no frills outlets I became aware of was the Danish firm Netto, which opened a shop in Dereham over twenty years ago, but the brand was never a great success. Netto is now no more in this country, having been bought out by rivals. From this rather shaky beginning the discount stores have dented the profits of all the big four (i.e. Tesco, Morrison, Sainsbury and Asda). They have spread to the larger market towns, and I went shopping in a branch of Lidl in Cromer only the other week.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE