Perhaps I had ambitions to be an MP - or an undertaker!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008



Autumn is really the best of the seasons, and I'm not sure that old age isn't the best part of life. But of course, like autumn, it doesn't last. (C.S.LEWIS)



When we moved from the tenement in 1936, one of the first things our parents did was to buy a new wireless set.

I don’t know what make it was, but I’d never seen an aerial mast as big as the one we got. From the living room window it stretched to the middle of the back garden where it was attached to the top of a very tall pole which was held in place by four strong guy cables. We used to joke that the salesman had seen our father coming and guessed he would be an easy target for parting with money!

From then on, radio became an important part of our lives. Rita and I looked forward to Children’s Hour at 5 o’clock - from London with Uncle Mac (Derek McCulloch), from Glasgow with Aunt Kathleen (Garscadden) and occasionally from Aberdeen with the Aberdeen Animals.

There were many exciting plays and excellent adaptations of well-known stories for young people, and a great favourite was the Toytown series featuring Larry the Lamb, Dennis the Dachshund, Mr Mayor, Mr Growser, Ernest the Policeman and many others.

In the evening we had cinema organists, variety shows, talks and plays. Our parents liked the plays, though very often Mother would switch off if strong language was used. We listened to Music Hall on Saturday nights, when well-known singers, musicians, comedians and impressionists each had a 10 minute spot, all accompanied by the excellent BBC Variety Orchestra conducted by Charles Shadwell. A popular programme on Sunday evenings was Grand Hotel with a small orchestra led by the famous violinist Albert Sandler. Many years later this type of programme would be led by Max Jaffa.

One of the Scottish highlights was the comedy series The McFlannels about a Glasgow family. The cast included Molly Weir who would go on to be a household name nationwide.

Of course in those days there were just two radio stations in the UK - the BBC National programme and the BBC Regional programme. There were continental stations some of them transmitting in English, and, though they must have been available to us through our big aerial mast, I don’t recall that we ever listened to them. It wasn’t till the 1950s that I came across Radio Luxembourg.


This is a painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1525-1569), called “Children’s Games”


It’s surprising how Rita and I differ in what we remember about our childhood. On one occasion recently she said that we didn’t get many toys at Christmas, and yet my memory is the very opposite of that. And then I wondered - perhaps I’m remembering one particular Christmas when Santa Claus was more generous.

Among my prized possessions was a small battery-operated cinematograph (we didn’t have electricity in the tenement). There were two or three zoo films, each lasting about 2 minutes - one was called Brown Bears and another was about snakes. I also had a cartoon in which a funny character used the heads of others as stepping stones; this film was a loop and so went on for ever. My shows were not all that successful for it would have needed much more power to brighten the screen.

I had a small Hornby train set consisting of track, engine, carriages and a signal, and a few years earlier I was the proud owner of a big red wooden engine, probably about 2 ft in length.

Of course we had games - dominoes, quoits and bagatelle. I’m puzzled about the bagatelle, for all the holes through which the little balls might fall had the names of German towns. The only name I can recall was Magdeburg. Was this game inspired in some way by the First World War?

There wasn’t a great variety of outdoor games. A few I mentioned last week. For girls there were skipping rope games and peever (beds), and for boys football and cowboys and Indians. Everyone might join in for statues, or I-Spy - we called it High-Spy. Usually we all got on well together, and it was very rarely that there was a fall-out.



When I was at secondary school, I was given an old set of golf clubs that had been my aunt’s. Nowadays golfers go round with bags crammed with clubs of every kind, but I had four only - a driver, an iron (for the fairway), a mashie (for the rough and bunkers) and a putter. I used to golf on Saturday mornings, but, as I didn’t have a locker in the clubhouse, I found it exhausting carrying my clubs to and from the course as well as doing 18 holes.

Some time later Rita was given a golf club (I don’t know where it came from), and so she joined me on Saturday mornings with her one club. In those days she kept a diary and was very methodical in recording her daily activities. I can remember seeing what she had written about her golf and it was something like this -

Saturday 8th - went to golf

Saturday 15th - went to golf, broke club

Saturday 22nd - went to golf, broke club

Saturday 29th - didn’t go to golf

That was end of golf for Rita and it wasn‘t too long before I too had given up.


When I was born, most men smoked either cigarettes or the pipe. At that time a packet of 20 cigarettes cost one shilling which would be 5p today, and the Wild Woodbine available in 20s, 10s and 5s were even cheaper. I understand that today Woodbine cost £6.22 for 20.

I believe my father smoked cigarettes at one time, but it was always a pipe in our day. After he retired he replaced that addiction with another one - polo mints!

Jean and I enjoyed our fags for many years and it was quite a victory when we conquered the habit - she by will-power alone, me with the help of a hypnosis tape.

Here’s what King James (6th of Scotland, 1st of England) wrote about tobacco -

“A custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black, stinking fume thereof nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless.”

And this little poem is probably about 100 years old -

I’ll never use tobacco, no,
It is a filthy weed.
I’ll never put it in my mouth,
Said little Robert Reid.

Why, there was idle Jerry Jones,
As dirty as a pig,
Who smoked when only ten years old,
And thought it made him big.

He’d puff along the open street,
As if he had no shame,
He’d sit beside the tavern door,
And there he’d do the same.

He spent his time and money too,
And made his mother sad,
She feared a worthless man would come
From such a worthless lad.

Oh, no, I’ll never smoke or chew,
‘Tis very wrong indeed,
It hurts the health, it makes bad breath,
Said little Robert Reid.


A final word on smoking by the American actress/supermodel Brooke Shields -

“Smoking kills. If you're killed, you've lost a very important part of your life“


This week’s music is a typical dance band number of the 30s recorded in 1936 by Vera Lynn when she was aged 18 or 19.
She’s accompanied by Harry Bidgood and his band. He also played under the names Don Porto and Rossini, but later became better known as Primo Scala when he appeared with his accordion band.



Sandra said...

Found it! in October. My favourite period is the Scottish colourists. I like the content of October too but I shall have to come back to read more some other time. The dishes in the sink need cleared up.
You could make/copy the same contributions to FB or just link them to FB I am sure you would find many more followers there as your posts are varied and interesting. Choose other like minded folk as 'friends' and the diversity will astound you.

John said...

I'll give some thought to your suggestion, Sandra.
Thanks for your interest.