Tuesday, August 02, 2011

An hour in the past

I spent a joyfully sinful hour this morning catching up, appropriately enough, on The Hour, on iPlayer. I don't know why it should have felt so wicked - Presbyterian upbringing to the fore again, I think - but the combination of wonderful sound (on my iMac) and increasing involvement with this new drama was indeed a joy. But after I'd put it all to sleep and headed downstairs, I found myself somehow still immersed in the sounds and sights of my childhood - for when men wore braces and waistcoats and hats as a matter of course and everyone smoked, I was becoming sentient and this was the world that left the lasting impression.

So what was so different? I can't describe it all, but what about a list? So ...
dingy wallpaper, tending to dark colours; green paint to shoulder-height on office/school corridors; stockings and suspenders (on women, I mean - and hideously uncomfortable this skinny 15 year old found them, before the advent of the truly stretchy nylon whose generic name I forget); dim lights; fog; Humbers and Rovers for the better-off drivers, with the rear door handle at the front of the door; tiny- screened TVs in huge wooden cases (and only one of these in our close in Hyndland for the Coronation); dubious paste in white sandwiches; dark tea with milk (ok - this is a personal shudder not shared by all) ...

I could probably go on. So could you, if you're old enough - feel free to add more in the comments. But over all, and this is a memory reinforced by listening to Stephen Fry on the radio yesterday and to someone telling us how to bake scones as we hurtled up the M6 on Friday - over all these lie the accents of the near past, the cut-glass vowels of Received Pronunciation/BBC English. Even the Queen doesn't speak quite like that these days, though I'll bet there are still plenty of people around ready to judge you by the sounds that come out of your mouth. (Tip for today: try speaking with your molars firmly clenched together. Articulate as clearly as you can. You'll be amused by the instant resemblance to at least one member of the Windsor family).

The scones, by the way, were accompanied by a discussion on how to pronounce them. Skoanes, or skonns?  I always understood it was the truly posh who used the former, but the programme suggested otherwise. When it comes to forehead, however, I seem to be ... well, posh. Forred. And we used to talk about the drawing room, which I used to wonder about: did people draw there? (I was told - it's a withdrawing room). Again, I'd be fascinated by any contributions that you, gentle readers, might care to make to this conversation. It all seemed to matter, back then.

I wouldn't go back to the '50s. There is too much around now that I'd miss - for heaven's sake, I'd have to write letters to people. I don't even know that I'd want to be 12 again. But just today, as I imagine the men I know adorned by trilby hats and the odd fairisle pullover, I shall reminisce. And I realise I can recall, quite clearly, the Suez Crisis - though it all happened on the radio, natch. Smoke, anyone?


  1. The Suez Crisis managed to coincide with my Dad's National Service... His stories mostly involve a friend being shot in the posterior while on Guard duty.

    As for the nylons... I'm away to get some Capstan and have a wee reminisce! ;o)

  2. Skoanes is vulgar; skonns is polite. I speak as the son of a baker. Picnics... white bread for almost everything, including Heinz Sandwich Spread (a concoction of something involving little bits of pickled green & red things), but only brown bread for date sandwiches (yes - that's what I wrote). Double decker buses with the entrance at the back and a pole to swing on, if you were brave or stupid enough... Tar melting between paving stones in the summer into tempting little globules, whose stains could be removed by the application of butter... Stork margarine, Trex, Daz, Omo, Tide - names & products which seemed to me to be modern, but which turned out in many cases to be pre-war products only now being revived... Winter fogs & smogs... a shrouded procession of stationary trams on Argyle Street outside Lewis's ("the Polytechnic")... Snofire to rub on chapped thighs, caused by the chafing of tight short trousers on too chubby thighs... und so weiter...
    I see. though, that the producers of The Hour, have not researched as deeply as those of Mad Men. For example, they have people hugging (imagine!) and men wearing loose ties with the top button of the shirt undone. Tut and tush!

  3. Oh, wonderful! I should'a known you'd come up with more good stuff. Anyone else out there ...?

  4. ... speaking of accents & bread... the posh tones were pan loaf accents (which character on The McFlannels had one? Was it Mrs McCorduroy or Mrs McSatin or Mrs McVelvet? Incidentally, the daughter of the actor who played Peter McFlannel was a pupil at your old school. And did the corridors at HHS have green paint? I remember the corridors as being mostly lined with gaping holes to let the snow in!)...
    Bedtime with Braden, Variety Bandbox, Semprini Serenade, Housewives' Choice, Children's ditto, Uncle Mac, Auntie Kathleen (who lived downstairs from a colleague of mine in Milngavie), The Boys of Glenmorroch, Down at the Mains, Tammy Troot, Muffin the Mule (if you had a telly).... no 24-hour television... only one channel until 1957... then I Love Lucy, The One o'clock Gang, John Grierson, Arthur Montford (his daughter was at HHS, too).... stop me, someone!

  5. Pan loaf always had a touch of the Kelvinsaid (sic) about it - a bit different from real posh as epitomised by the landed gentry of mid-Argyll, dontcha think? I wasn't really in to the McFlannels, though my parents were; it was more 17 Sauchie Street that I remember. But "Hoots, toots, me an' my brains" sticks from T.T., and I once went to a recording of Children's Hour fronted by Auntie K.
    Any more of this and I'll feel it's worth another post!

  6. Oh - and another thing: I was thinking of Hillhead Primary, though many of the corridors were in fact tiled in white and painted above shoulder level. The darker/paler green came in as something very modern (or was it modren?)

  7. The floodgates are open!
    Was it in 17 S St that Bella Vague appeared ("If ye waant me, thingmy, ring me")? Or was that in It's All Yours with Jimmy Logan ("Shaushages is the boys") and Stanley Baxter?
    I mastered a terribly posh English accent by watching the quondam Lord Home of the Hirsel: his upper lip never moved when he spoke. Add this tip to the clenched molars one.
    The wireless (never "radio") was omnipresent in my house. TV didn't appear until I was 15 or thereabouts. I can vaguely remember watching a Winter Olympics from Davos(?) involving a Dutch skater called Sjouke Dijkstra (something like that anyway).
    The march Old Comrades introducing Sports Report on the Scottish Home service.... When I heard "Dumbarton 2, Kilmarnock 1" I can remember wondering why everybody was amused when I excitedly cried "Kilmarnock won!" This was before I could spell and had not been introduced to homonyms....
    Another T T-ism involved "twixt Inverness and East Kilbride"....
    Saturday Night Theatre... Paul Temple introduced by Vivan Ellis's Coronation Scot... You can still catch him occasionally on Radio 4 Extra (the egregious renaming of Radio 7). Dear heavens! Antiquated is not the word! This was in an age when tha fact that his wife was called Steve raised nary a titter...
    Which brings me to Frankie Howerd and the Three Little Fishes who swam over the dam... I'm a pink toothbrush, you're a blue toothbrush.... Tubby the Tuba...
    Aaaaaaaaaaaaaargh! Stop me, stop me (and don't buy one!)

  8. Sparky and his Magic Piano, the Hippopotamus Song, the Laughing Policeman...