Tuesday 1 January 2019

What I Don't Miss About the 50s 10

It was a lovely time; as long as you weren't working class, black, gay, eligible for conscription, pregnant and unmarried, disabled etc etc.

Inequality, much stronger class bias, a stronger tendency to cover up and be less accountable. (SP)

Britain 1949 when even happiness was as rationed as tightly as sweets. (Harry Leslie Smith)

Woolworths, jumpers for goalposts, NHS glasses, football violence, unchallenged racism, soggy cabbage. (@IanDunt)

In 1956 Stephen McGann’s mother, aged 21, had twin boys who died. “She never got a chance to hold her dead babies and was never told by her husband where they were buried. Instead, she was warned by doctors she must stop grieving, or she would be given electroconvulsive therapy.

Early closing Wednesdays, everything shut on a Sunday. 

Keep Off the Grass, No Ball Games, and the whole jobsworth culture that went with them.

People saying “What you don’t know can’t hurt you” and “No sense, no feeling”.

Agony aunts told women to return to their abusive husbands (“You know where your duty lies, my dear.”).

We didn’t know what to do when people cried or were hurt. We didn’t know how to say “I’m sorry you’re upset, you poor thing”.

Men had the upper hand, legally and financially. Many of them had been in the army where there is a top-down hierarchy, and expected to be obeyed. Wives and children had only recently (1920s) ceased to be a man’s possessions. Heads of households could be little Hitlers in their own domains, and the more they isolated their family, the more power they had. (My father used to accuse me of "dumb insolence".)

Parents could always find reasons for constantly denigrating, never praising, their children (stops them “getting above themselves”). Cruelty and bullying were common in offices and institutions. Children had few legal rights.

Everywhere a hierarchy was possible, there was a rigid hierarchy, with deferring up and bullying down. It’s less fun when it’s you doing the deferring. No wonder we got the self-esteem movement in the 70s and 80s, and tried to abolish hierarchies.

Adults believed that children were tough, they didn’t remember, they “got over” things quickly. This was convenient for the adults.

In 1962 (the 50s were still going on), child expert Walter W. Sackett Jr insisted that a baby can't learn that it'll get everything it wants in an instant. He equated soothing a crying baby to "sowing the seeds of socialism." (Grunge.com)

Laughing at disasters that happened to other people was routine. When I didn't laugh, I was accused of having no sense of humour. I also hated people to laugh at ME. Perhaps they were trying to train me not to mind being laughed at, by forcing me to laugh at other unfortunates.

Ridiculing children was always excused, but satire directed at the status quo was frowned on and even officially censored, and nobody made fun of the royal family because “they can’t answer back”. The establishment and the royal family had feelings that must be considered, but children were fair game. In fact, laughing at them was good for them.

You couldn’t swim or even paddle for three hours after you’d eaten. If you did, you’d get stomach cramps and drown. There were even leaflets with diagrams. It was reduced to an hour, then forgotten.

Problems were treated by ignoring them. Because you only thought you had a problem in the first place.

There was no hugging, no social kissing – hardly any hand-shaking. Parents barely hugged their children (warned off the idea by those child experts), siblings and friends didn’t hug. At boarding school there was a strict no-touching policy. And you couldn’t even say “pleased to meet you”! But then we had to go to teenage parties and snog total strangers.

My parents reluctantly bought me the Meccano set I wanted, but wouldn’t buy me a Barbie.

At art school in the 60s, we weren’t allowed to paint or draw anything we cared about. We weren’t allowed to make political statements. Also we weren’t supposed to paint people for fun, or if we did we had to think they were no more interesting than a bunch of flowers or a cabbage.

"There’s no such word as can’t." Of course it’s really: “There’s no such word as can’t in the dictionary,” because it’s a contraction of “cannot”. But even if that was true, which it isn’t, sometimes you really can’t do something – it’s not because you don’t want to or aren’t trying hard enough.

You were supposed to stop eating while you were still hungry.

We had fruit cake for birthday cakes, even though we got the occasional Victoria sponge as a treat. We didn’t like fruitcake – dry, tasteless, chewy, the only nice bit was the icing.

If you dared to ask for a glass of water in a restaurant or cafe it was brought grudgingly or not at all. If it arrived it was tepid and tasted of chlorine. There was no free water at the bar of the Royal Festival Hall, no bottled water on sale. But you could always ask a chemist for a glass of water to take an aspirin, and there were drinking water taps in most public conveniences. There were also a few functioning Victorian water fountains. (And we hydrated with endless cups of tea.)

More here, and links to the rest.

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