Sunday, 6 September 2020

Turbulent Times and Seeking the Safe and Secure


The only illustration I could find of an old-fashioned doctor's waiting room

What strange times we’re living through! We’ve been given warnings of a possible pandemic for many years and suitable preparations supposedly made yet when Covid-19 finally arrived, it seemed to catch the world unawares. Much of the resultant action has been reactive rather than proactive and, in many areas, chaos has ensued. I find myself turning to the safe and secure of my own world, my home, the garden, my family, my writing. But I’ve also been thinking about the past, in particular when I was growing up in the 1950s.

One particular memory came to mind when I tried to get an appointment at the doctors and had to make do with a telephone appointment (and here I have to say that I suspect that will become more of the norm even when the pandemic is over). Into my mind came old Dr Bennett’s waiting room in my home town of Horwich in Lancashire. Tucked away at the side of the house where he lived, it was painted a sickly green with wooden benches around and when you went in, you had to take note of who was already sitting there plus watching who came in after you so that you could gauge when it was your time. There was no appointment system then, you had to work out when it was your turn at which time, Dr Bennett would call out ‘next please!’ Dr Bennett was a dear old man, a traditional family doctor of the old school who had literally brought me into the world.

              Another memory came with a comment recently on Facebook about how Mums used to put their babies outside in their prams, either in the back yard or the garden, whatever the weather (obviously not if it was raining or foggy). The fresh air was considered beneficial at that time and, if it was cold, well, you just wrapped your little darling up more cosily. My own two used to love being outdoors in fine weather, being able to kick their legs and wave their arms freely. Neither of them came to any harm as a result. And, surprisingly, it was fairly normal practice to leave babies in prams outside shops then. Then, prams then were much bigger and simply couldn’t be taken into shops. Very occasionally, babies were snatched from prams but given the number of women who did leave prams outside, it was very rare.

Recently I was asked to contribute to an article about washing practices of the past. That certainly triggered a few memories! When I was a child in the 1940s, most ordinary working class people did their washing by hand and always on a Monday. To hang washing out on a Sunday was a sacrilege! Washing by hand usually involved a large tub with water boiled in the copper and involved using a dolly stick, a long stick with a handle and three prongs at the bottom which you had to swish backwards and forwards. People used a posser stick too, usually brass, which was dipped up and down. Then of course there was the rubbing board to get stains out, shirt collars etc by rubbing against the ridges with a bar of soap.

The first washing machine I remember us owning was a tub with a rotating handle on the top that you had to do yourself. Very tiring! Oh and it had a mangle at the back! Later we had a similar sized machine only it was electrical. I had a twin tub shortly after my first marriage in 1965 and it was much easier. It could be messy though lifting the wet washing with a pair of wooden tongs into the spin dryer. And there were always piles of washing around the floor, all graded into whites, towels, coloureds and finally darks. Even so, that took up much of the day so it was usually an easy tea on a Monday, leftovers from Sunday if you had them.

Me, taken around 1961, right next to our old fashioned washing machine

If you would like to find out more about life in the 1950s, you might enjoy my Roberts' family trilogy, nostalgic tales of family, friendship, love, loyalty and loss, set in a small Lancashire mill town. You can find them all here








  1. I'm a baby boomer so my memories don't stretch back quite as far as yours, Anne. But my mother, from a working class background, was resistant to spending money on things she could do herself, like the washing. I well remember the copper in the kitchen, and that steamy atmosphere and aroma of soapsuds and boiling water as the cotton sheets etc were washed. We also had a mangle in the garden. I well remember helping my mum feed heavy saturated items like towels and jumpers through it and the effort required to turn the handle! Our house had a cold larder and we didn't even have a fridge when I was young. My parents only installed central heating after my sister and I had left home in the late 1960s. I remember having a an electric fan heater in our shared bedroom and us standing over it in the winter (one at a time) so that the hot air blew up our nighties. Fond memories. The younger generation blame us for a lot of things - rightly so, in some respects - but we didn't have it easy! And, despite my mother's provenance, ours was a middle-class family.

  2. Thank you so much for commenting, Gilli, and for your own memories. The house we lived in in the 1950s/1960s was the coldest house ever! Even the thought of it can make me shiver! I used to scramble into my clothes as quickly as possible (they were usually draped over the end of the bed ready and waiting.)

  3. When I was first married and lived in Prestwich we had a gp called Dr Kay who was a chain smoker! All through the consultation he would be puffing away. And that same system, no appointments, just watch everyone like a hawk to make sure you didn't miss your turn. We had to have a special medical before emigrating to Australia and after he'd done it he said "That's 3 guineas please". I looked so astonished (not realising that it was not covered by the NHS and I'd have to pay), he misunderstood my look, laughed and said, "I suppose you don't know what guineas are". I did, so had to fork out my £3, 3 shillings. So pleased when I arrived in Australia to find you weren't "tied" to sign on to a particular doctor, could keep trying different ones till you found one you liked.