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
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
Trowse Millgate is part of the city of Norwich; it lies across the river Yare from Trowse Newton which used to be in the Hundred of Henstead. It has long been on a busy roadway, bringing traffic from Lowestoft, Beccles, Loddon, and Bungay into the City. King Charles II arrived in Norwich via Trowse on his visit in 1671, and Celia Fiennes described the fields there as being covered in woollen cloth laid out to bleach in the sun. In the eighteenth century this way into the city was via a toll bridge, and possibly the river Tas still had its confluence with the Yare before reaching the bridge. There had been a watermill on the river Yare since the eleventh century, and by the nineteenth century this was one of the largest corn mills in the county, being powered by a steam engine as well as water wheels. No doubt it was able to bring coals from Yarmouth directly to its doorstep by wherry. This gave it a commercial advantage over all the other mills in Norwich. Daniel Bloome the miller was certainly a very rich man.
The construction of the railway to Ely in the 1840’s brought yet more traffic to the settlement. Tens of thousands head of cattle came from as far away as Ireland annually for sale at the cattle market. These were unloaded in the sidings at Trowse Millgate. If they arrived during the previous week they would be grazed on the adjacent water meadows until market day on Saturday. To begin with the railway line crossed the road by means of a level crossing, but the number of trains must have meant that it was more often closed than open. When the railway bridge was built (some time before 1880) the arches were occupied by a number of commercial enterprises. The Pineapple had been the local on the main road since at least the 18th century. After the bridge was built it was on a dead-end road that led merely to the railway station. The station closed to passengers in 1939, but the pub struggled on until 1985. In 1789 the Pineapple had almost two acres of fruit trees on the land between lower Bracondale and the river.
Following the passing of an Act of Parliament in 1867 a sewage pumping station was built between the railway station and the river Yare; the sewage is treated a mile away at Whitlingham before the clean water is discharged into the river. A new pumping station was built in the 1960’s, when the old buildings fell into disuse which is how they remain today. The picture opposite shows the coal siding for the pumping station shortly after closure.
Trowse Millgate was also the terminus of the tramline from Orford Place via King Street. This was built at the beginning of the 20th century, but the line from Bank Plain to Bracondale was lifted in 1918 to be used on the Mousehold extension that carried aircraft from Boulton and Paul’s factory to the aerodrome. Trowse Millgate was without a tram connection for two years until a shorter route was opened from Queen Street along Bracondale.
Opposite the Pineapple a meadow was developed after the Second World War and this is now where Ben Burgess Ltd established their agricultural machinery sales showroom. All this activity was going on against a backdrop of motor traffic that was a constantly growing flow through Trowse Milligate. This all came to an abrupt halt in 1992, when the Southern Bypass sealed off the road and for the first time in its history turned Trowse Millgate into a backwater. As well as stopping the road access from the east, the building of the Bypass also required a large amount of aggregate that was extracted from the water meadows along Whitlingham Lane; this has produced two new Broads. These, and the ski slope (also on Whitlingham Lane), have replaced some of this traffic with that intent on leisure activities. On the whole however Trowse Millgate has never been so quiet.
There is one other way to approach Trowse Millgate, besides by road or rail, and this is by water. There is no problem going as far up the river as the bridge, although this is seldom done because beyond that the mill has prevented further progress along the Yare for the best part of a thousand years. I approached the bridge by motor boat in 1958, and a dozen years later I went under the bridge in a canoe. There is an island between the bridge and the mill arches and the water around it is extremely shallow; although the canoe drew less than six inches we nearly went aground on the eastern branch of the river.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
YOUTH and EARLY ADULTHOOD
Frank was my father; he didn’t like the name and (to be frank) neither do I. We do not choose our names, and we have to stick with what we are given. I cannot find another Frank or even a Francis among his ancestors. (I, by contrast, can find several Josephs in the family tree going way back to the early years of the 19th century.) Frank was born on September 21st 1911, the second and youngest child of his parents William and Emily. His father spent his life making packing cases for the electric equipment manufacturer Laurence (and) Scott. They were a working class family, but (especially Emily my grandmother) they were ambitious for their children. The family portrait above shows Frank as an infant on his mother’s knee.
When he was nearly three the Great War broke out, and this affected his earliest years, not always for the worse. Because the school he would have attended (Lakenham Council School) was requisitioned for treating the war wounded he was sent instead to Carrow School. This had been set up by the Colman family as part of their paternalistic care for their employees. My grandfather was not a member of the staff at Carrow Works but non”etheless his son was able to benefit from a rather higher standard of education than would have been available in the Council School. He remembered his earliest teacher ‘Olo’ with respect and gratitude; his name was Mr Olorenshaw.
When the war ended he did indeed go to Lakenham School, before winning a scholarship to the recently opened Grammar School, the CNS (City of Norwich School). He remained disappointed throughout his life that Latin was not on the curriculum at the CNS; this made it very difficult to apply to Oxford or Cambridge Universities, which required the language in those days, although one of his friends managed to teach himself Latin and went on to Cambridge and a distinguished academic career in America. His parents must have made great sacrifices to support their children beyond the normal school leaving age. Frank did very well for himself when he left Grammar School. Aged 16 he got a job as an apprentice optician. Now the training for such a health professional demands a university degree, but then it was all done on the job. His ability as an optician would certainly be regarded as university level today. His employer was Cecil Amey, a man not many years older than my father. It is a name which survives in the Norwich optical business community. My father was well treated by Cecil Amey, who let him ride around Norfolk on his BSA motorbike in his spare time.
Frank had to go to London to be examined by the Spectacle Makers Company, one of the historic Livery Companies of the City. He was awarded a fellowship of the company (FSMC), though this did not qualify him for membership; that was reserved for the most influential businessmen. It did however entitle him to be elected Freeman of the City of London, an something he was rather proud of although he never took the honour up. By the time he was twenty one he had qualified in the profession. He worked for a time in Stamford in Lincolnshire and back in Norwich he was employed by the firm of D. R. Grey. D. R. Grey (in spite of his style as ‘Dr Grey’) was not himself a qualified optician, and had to employ those like my father who were to carry out the sight tests. The firm specialised in going out into the countryside seeking business; my father hated going unannounced from door to door like this. He called it ‘going on the knocker’ and regarded it as very unprofessional, but it did give him reason to drive around in a Morris car.
The pastime which Dad loved the most of all was flying; remember that this was less than thirty years after the invention of powered flight; it was not the everyday experience that it has since become. He did not fly as the pilot; he would take the controls in flight but not in take-off or landing. His companion was his friend Henry Stringer, who owned a two-seater de Haviland Gipsy Moth. They would take off from Mousehold Heath (the City’s first airport) and fly to places like the Isle of Wight and the River Humber.
We have nearly forty more years of his life to record, and already it had been an eventful one. He had married in 1935 and by 1938 he was living in a bungalow in Poringland with two young daughters. My parents had been forced to leave the Old Hall in Alpington where they had first set up as a married couple; in spite of the elegant environment it was infested with fleas, which proved immune to all attempts to eradicate them. With £300 from his father in law he had established himself as a self-employed optician in 1938. In his shop in Orford Place he was a successful professional with a growing business, and all this before he was thirty years old.
The next part of the Frank Mason story will cover the wartime years and the difficulties of that time.
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA
SLEEPING UNDER CANVAS
I remember the small white canvas tent I crept into in those long-lost summers when I was a lad. It was a real tent for two, but I never actually slept in it. However it was fun to do the things that were ancillary to spending the night there, like arranging the ground-sheet and slackening the guy ropes when it rained. These are things that would puzzle most people today. Wasn’t the ‘ground-sheet’ part of the tent? And guy ropes; – why did they need slackening if it rained? I won’t bore you with the answers, but believe me, if you didn’t take these things into consideration you would have spent a wet night under a heap of collapsed canvas.
I didn’t begin real camping until I was a teenager. For most youngsters this would probably have entailed being a Girl Guide or a Boy Scout, but I was never a Scout. Instead my camping was done as an Army Cadet. Things had hardly moved on since Victorian times in terms of the technology employed. Heavy wooden poles held the tent up, and for the larger tents the pegs were still wooden wedges that had to be hammered in with a mallet. The tents I slept in were bigger than the one I had put up on my lawn at home, but you still had to watch those guy ropes and make sure the ground-sheet wasn’t outside the tent (and so letting in the rain). The canvas of an army tent was very tough, and so they were very heavy. Consequently, on one expedition, the four of us cadets decided to do without a tent at all, and sleep under the stars. It was midsummer, and the worst problem was the heavy morning dew. We did take a ground-sheet with us, and therefore slept under it instead of on top!
Some of my camping took place in Norfolk, but mostly it happened elsewhere. When I was sixteen we went on a three-day exercise from Sennybridge, a large army base that still exists in the Brecon Beacons in Wales. This time we did load our packs with tents. We also had to take a map and a compass, and we were given a map reference to rendezvous with our CO three days later. All our food we had to carry on our backs; this consisted of tinned Compo Rations army style. On the other hand, all our water was provided by the mountain streams. This was fine until we discovered a drowned sheep a few metres upstream of our watering hole; this was after we had filled our water bottles and taken plenty of swigs!
Much of my camping was done under the auspices of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, but the effect was just the same. Once I had left school my camping days were almost over, but after I had joined the Territorial Army this part of my life was revived for a short period. The experience of spending the night outdoors was not an enjoyable one in the TA; I only had a waterproof poncho for protection, and sleeping was out of the question due to fire-crackers being let off all through the night; added to that, the threat of a tear gas attack was not conducive to a good night’s rest.
I returned to the joys of camping when I was over fifty, because by then our children were in their late teens and ready for the outdoor life. We had gone to Sheffield (where they both were to attend university) to spy out the land. We spent a couple of nights at a campsite in Monsal Head. This is a beauty spot in the Peak District, and this is near Sheffield. By then the technology of camping had changed beyond recognition. None of it resembled what it had been in my youth; cotton canvas had gone, and no longer were tents cumbersome but light and compact affairs. Strong but insubstantial tent poles could be erected in seconds and separate rubberised ground sheets no longer existed. Their function was integrated into the tent itself. Sleeping bags, which once had been filled with kapok (a natural fibre that was warm enough but heavy to carry) are now made of man-made material that is both lightweight and easy to stow. I was really far too old to go camping on this occasion, but apart from the fact that my air-bed slowly went down overnight (some things hadn’t changed), it was an agreeable few days. The fact that we had our car with us meant there were no heavy backpacks to be humped across the country; our camping trip wasn’t one of the arduous kind. When we finally loaded up the car for our return home that really was my last night outdoors. I cannot say that I am sorry that this chapter in my life is now well and truly over.
My son and his girlfriend recently spent a few nights camping. We still had the equipment we had used in Derbyshire, and lent this to them. The weather was fine, and they had a good time round the fire-pit as the sun went down. Although she is Dutch, his girlfriend has lived all over the world from Hong Kong to Venezuela, but she found the attraction of North Norfolk very special.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF THE PAST
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.
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.
THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
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.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES
PRIVATE MASON No. 49919
Alfred John Mason was born on January 3rd 1898. He was one of the ten children of Charles Mason who survived beyond infancy. He was the second child (of five) his mother Alice had with Charles; she was his second wife. Alfred grew up at 25 Russell Terrace in Trowse, a village just outside Norwich. Like his brothers and sisters he was educated at the village school. On leaving at the age of fourteen he worked in the mustard mill at Colman’s Carrow Works where his father and eldest brother were also employed.
When the First World War broke out two years later he was too young to enlist, but as soon as he was old enough he enrolled in the army. He was kept in England as in 1915 (aged just seventeen) he was still too young to fight, and so he was trained in the Royal Army Medical Corps. After basic training he was transferred to the Service Corps in 1916 and deployed to France. He finally made it to a front line fighting unit, the 6th Battalion the Lincolnshire Regiment. This Battalion had been formed in 1914 and after serving in Gallipoli and Egypt they returned to France in July 1916, where Alfred joined them in 1917. After fighting for months in France he had returned to Trowse on leave in September 1918. During his stay he took the opportunity of visiting old friends and colleagues at the mustard mill. His smart military appearance and his concern for the goings on back home made a definite impression on the workers he met.
In Northern France, at the end of October 1918 his Battalion were in training at
Valenciennes, but with just two hours notice they were ordered to the front line. On the 1st of November their fellow combatants in the 9th Battalion the Sherwood Foresters were ordered into battle, with Alfred and his unit held in reserve. On the 4th the Foresters made a successful attack on the hill at Sebourg with the Lincolnshires in support. On the sixth the Lincolnshires experienced some resistance from the enemy, but on the seventh the Germans were forced back; they were in retreat and disarray, and the war was rapidly coming to an end. However Alfred Mason had already been hit by shrapnel, and on the 3rd of November 1918 he had died of his wounds. By a cruel irony he was the only member of his Regiment to be injured by that shell blast. A week later the Armistice was signed on the 11th November to general rejoicing back home in Norwich, and many people thronged the market place. Alfred’s sister Edith met her future husband on that happy occasion. At the family home in Trowse this delight turned to despair three days later when the news of Alfred’s death arrived. His oldest brother was 38 and his youngest sister was only 11 at the time of his death. It was a very cruel circumstance that he so nearly survived the war.
He was buried at the St Vaast cemetery near Cambrai. There are 45 graves of British soldiers in this military extension to the communal cemetery; for much of the war this village was in German hands. Compiègne were the Armistice was signed is about half way between Valenciennes, where Alfred died, and Paris. Cambrai, where his body lies, is between Valenciennes and Compiègne. In 2014 on the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War a display was mounted in Trowse church, with details of the twenty one villagers who gave their lives in the conflict. A photograph of Alfred Mason was among them, and two of his nieces attended the exhibition.
THE BLOG FOR the STORY OF THE MASON FAMILY
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.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
Neville Jones was a Junior School teacher at Gresham’s throughout his career. I remember his dwelling in the living quarters attached to Old Kenwyn, a block of classrooms by my time. I was taught by him during my time at Crossways, one of the two junior school houses. I cannot remember anything about his lessons. I can picture him very clearly; you will have look at the photo to the left. He was married with a young family – a few years younger than me – when I arrived at the school in 1959.
Mushy Hughes wasn’t a Junior School teacher, at first anyway; however, the term after I moved on to the senior school he took over as housemaster at Crossways. Thereafter he was naturally very involved with the junior school, but he still taught Classics to the seniors. He taught Greek to my friend James Oxley-Brennan. James was a very good Greek scholar, but by the mid sixties he was the only pupil who still studied the subject; when he left after taking his ‘O’ levels it was dropped from the curriculum. It was no longer taught at the school and, as far as I am aware, it has never been revived. James has become a leading light among learned circles in Norfolk, but his subject has nothing to do with speaking Greek; rather he is the editor of the local Industrial Archaeology journal. Even when he was at school his passion was steam engines.
I cannot remember being taught by Mr Hughes; I can only remember being taught Latin by ‘Gosso’ Mosley. That was because his lessons were an opportunity for him to produce puns, an activity in which I too participated. I was good fun, but not perhaps conducive to learning fourth declension nouns. At the time I was in the top set for Latin, but at the end of the year I was demoted to a lower set, when I may very well have been taught by Mushy. Unlike Mr Jones, Mr Hughes was unmarried, and remained so throughout my time at school. He died within the past few years, and I am sure that he remained a bachelor to the end. I need hardly explain that Mushy was his nickname; his real name was (I think) Michael. I am sorry if you feel that I am getting rather forgetful as the years pass.
My lasting memory of Mushy was his taking a group of us teenagers on holiday to Eastern Europe in 1965. He was not entirely single-handed in this enterprise, having as his deputy another young master, a teacher of mathematics called Graham Smithers. Nonetheless it was a formidable undertaking, going behind the Iron Curtain with more than a dozen schoolboys.
I discovered that I had lost my travel card (with which those of us without passports were issued) when the train pulled up at the Czechoslovakian border crossing. With his tall frame and rather snooty look – his nose was permanently in the air – he was nevertheless imperturbable. In due course I found my card – I had left it as a bookmark in the history book I was reading – but when I told him he was equally calm. Incidentally this haughty appearance was misleading; it did not represent his character, which had no hint of arrogance about it.
Somehow he seemed to have enjoyed the sightseeing on the holiday, and with a Czech acquaintance he even organised a visit to the opera for us. He cannot have been pleased when several of us absented ourselves from the second half of the performance, but only a slight frown crossed his brow when we informed him of out intention to leave. The good boys remained to listen to act two of Verdi, while we naughty youngsters were planning a trip to the Prague nightclubs, where I discovered the delights of a gin fizz. In Communist Europe we could get away with almost anything; they needed our hard currency. Back in the West, in Austria, we were put firmly in our place. There was no alcohol for sixteen year olds there.
You will not associate a vibrant nightlife with the dark austerity of the Soviet Bloc, and you would be right, as far as the local population was concerned at least. But for overseas visitors there were establishments reminiscent of what I imagine 1930s London was like. There was no music on the night I remember, but on Saturdays there might have been a small Jazz band playing in the background. Shady ladies would entertain their clientele at the bar. It was a bad thing that I did, but I am glad I went there instead of listening to Aida; that delight is still available to me, should I want it, but the Communist era and its drinking dens are lost in the distant past.
All this is only obliquely relevant to Mushy Hughes. I continued to study Latin, even after leaving school at university, but our paths did not cross after that Easter. As our party pulled into Waterloo we left Mushy and Graham Smithers and rushed off to our various homes with scarcely a goodbye.