Memories of Stock - John Evans
Then and Now
For many people, childhood memories remain the most vivid throughout life. All is new in childhood, and the emotions stirred by new experiences in those early years probably provide the key to everything else. Not wishing to get too personal, I would like to consider some of the practicalities of life then and now, the mundane things, and the expectations we had sixty years ago. Has life changed so much, or are we reverting slowly to an earlier style of living?
Having given up a car some time ago, I have been cycling to work for a few years on a bicycle that is a little inferior to my 4-speed bicycle that was bought from Mr Upson's shop in the 1940s. So as I cycle to the other side of town, I often reflect that there has been little overall change in my lifestyle. Life has gone full circle, and I am back more or less to where I started. In those days, we imagined that we would all be flying to work within a few decades, and that personal helicopters would be common. That certainly hasn't come to pass, and instead, we have our roads choc-a-bloc with the same old petrol engines expelling noxious fumes. Bus and train services gradually deteriorated as we insisted on having our own personalised form of transport. Hardly anyone suffered from asthma; now about half of our children do.
In the 30s and 40s, wireless was extremely popular, and most people listened in during the evenings. Most important to me were the concerts and recitals, full details of which I could find in the Radio Times each week. But wireless, or radio, was not on tap as it is now. Wireless sets ran on accumulators (batteries) which had a very limited operational time of a few days. So people generally had two accumulators if they could afford it, and while one was being used, the other was being recharged at a little shop next to the blacksmiths. As the accumulators consisted of metal plates in a large jar of acid, we had to take great care in handling them. Most wirelesses had medium and long wave bands, and a few had short wave. The dial showed us cities all over the world, and it was quite exciting to receive programmes from places hundreds or thousands of miles away. Quite a lot of effort went into arranging outside aerials so that we could receive long-distance signals. Now today, after fifty years of being fascinated with television, I begin to get a sense that we are returning to the radio which can stimulate our imagination - TV having largely the opposite effect by forcing pictures on us.
I grew up with oil lamps - no gas and no electricity. Gas was laid on during the late 1930s, and electricity came ten years after that. Gas was confined to three lights downstairs, and one cooker. Overall, I suppose this represented progress; yet there was something very homely about the big oil lamp on the kitchen table in the winter, and all the games we played under it. But much more comforting were the coal fires in each room. Agreed, they made for quite a lot of work, and preparing supplies of kindling wood and logs was a permanent Saturday chore. Life is much simpler now with central heating and electrical plugs and gadgets for all manner of tasks. But after a hard day, there is nothing quite so soothing as a lovely open fire to sit by.
For the first twenty years of my life, there was no bathroom, and only an outside toilet. If you have never had a modern bathroom, it is not of course a hardship. But few of us would choose to return to pre-war plumbing, especially in winter. Nor would I wish to return to pre-DDT times when in the summer, every kitchen and dining area had masses of flies that we could do little about, apart from hanging those awful yellow sticky papers that caught a small percentage. The sudden huge use of DDT just after the war transformed the situation once and for all. Summer was not my favourite season when I was very young, and I always looked forward to winters, to the open fires, and to the large snowfalls in January, with taboganning in the fields and wonderful slides on the frozen ponds often with a hundred or so people.
Gardening was a major feature of life in the village, particularly in the war years. In addition to their own gardens, many had an allotment just off the Back Lane. One of the weekend features of village life involved careful assessment of how everyone was getting on with their vegetable patch. We had a largish vegetable garden at home, and grew potatoes (early and main crop), peas, runner beans, carrots, onions, radish, beetroot, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, tomatoes, and sometimes strawberries. During the war, I almost came to enjoy this, more so during the late summer when we had to harvest, dry, and store vegetables for the winter. Very few children today have any experience of growing vegetables, and often seem averse to food coming straight out of the ground. This is rather sad, and which we must try to change.
I think it a considerable advantage to have been educated sixty years ago, and not today. I did teach for a few years after graduating, and at a time when things were similar to my own schooldays. We learnt languages and maths and science in a thoroughly systematic way with dedicated and specialist teachers who knew their subjects inside out. There were of course difficulties during the war years when some teachers were called up. But, by and large, schools functioned then as if there was no war - there was real determination to retain all the elements of civilised society. Today, it is so difficult to find adequately qualified teachers, and consequently our children learn few things in a disciplined way. In recent years, many foreign students have stayed with us, and who have had the rigorous teaching similar to ours of fifty years ago, much to their benefit.
But society moves on, and we must try to be positive. I am thankful that class distinction is much less obtrusive in our society, with many unnecessary taboos disappearing. Nostalgia can play a positive part; and in moves towards natural health treatments, in organic farming, in the efforts to get away from urban areas, we see a yearning for something simpler, and a desire for a communal life that we have largely lost over fifty years. Modern electronics is now playing its part in this, with internet and email helping to bring families and friends together again. This website is certainly a step in the right direction; and already I have found new friends, as well as hearing about old ones. Let us use the new technology to try to recapture the best in traditional village life.
John's email address is
Also see
Back to Memories Back to Stock main page