There is a lot of nostalgia for the past floating around at the moment. Things were so much simpler, there was a stronger sense of community, we knew our place in the world… Well, I lived in this “past” and I struggle to recognise it from the discussions around me. This is the past I remember and it bears little resemblance to the comfortable, secure world described by some.
I grew up in the 50s and 60s on the fringes of Greater London. My overwhelming impression of this time was being cold. There was the “Big Freeze” of 1963 of course but every winter – and many springs and autumns – were extremely chilly too. Hardly anyone had central heating or double glazing. We woke in the morning and drew pictures on the ice inside the windows. Beds at night were often damp as well as cold and adding more heavy wool blankets didn’t help for hours. I was lucky for we had a new-build home whilst a lot of my friends lived in “pre-fabs” – prefabricated houses thrown up to alleviate the desperate housing shortage. Designed for ten years wear, some are still in use today. And they really are cold.
Most of us wore home-made clothes (even school uniform sometimes) and our mothers sewed and knitted an astonishing range of garments from anything they could get their hands on. I had a duffle coat made from old army blankets and all my hats, gloves and scarves were made by my mother. But the worst clothes ever were socks. Hand knitted wool socks. How we hated them! They itched and scratched and never stayed up so we had to use rubber bands that dug in and stopped the circulation to our feet. They just sucked up the moisture so they were always damp. But this was nothing until combined with the curse of my generation – chilblains.
For those of you unfamiliar with this ailment, chilblains are painful little lumps that erupt over toes, fingers, ears and noses when the small blood vessels get too cold and then warm up again. They are also horribly itchy and if scratched feel as if they are burning. Combine chilblains with damp wool socks and you have total misery for months on end.
Sometimes I get cranky when people eulogise the past. It had its moments but nothing was perfect. A lot of it wasn’t very nice. We were insular, tired and poor and no-one who experienced it would want to go back. So to prove my point I choose my superpower. I would like to inflict chilblains for a week. They sum up the era somehow. Try it for a few days and see how nostalgic you might be then.