history, Politics

History, according to the British

If you’ve ever wondered why the UK acts the way it does, consider that my formal history lessons at school went like this:

  • Boudica had a perfectly justified but ultimately futile fight with the Romans
  • Saxons exist
  • “William the Conqueror” came, saw, and conquered liberated and/or unified the country
  • “The” Manga Carta
  • Civil war War of the Roses
  • Henry VIII
  • Civil war Catholics or Protestants argue about which one is sent from God and which is the unholy spawn of Satan’s armpit hair
  • Witch hunts
  • “The civil war”
  • The Spanish Armada is defeated by Britain being awesome in a totally unspecified way
  • Britain decided to end the slave trade but only after profiting from it greatly and at around the same time as everyone else in Europe, probably because the industrial revolution had started and manual labour was becoming less important
  • The Industrial Revolution, which according to this version of events consists entirely of “Steam Engine → power loom (that it exists, no description given) → one specific picture of Isambard Kingdom Brunel
  • Queen Victoria, who never smiled, perfectly embodied the essence of what it means to be British by calling herself “Empress of India”, marrying her first cousin (Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha) and being the head of state when the Great Famine hit Ireland and a million people starved to death
  • World War 1
  • World War 2, where the UK stood alone against the Nazis with only the help of USA, the USSR, the British Empire, the French resistance, the Danish resistance…

In addition to my sarcastic strike-through comments, notice what is missing:

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Noteworthy

XKCD-2152

Hover text: “Sitting here idly trying to figure out how the population of the Old West in the late 1800s compares to the number of Red Dead Redemption 2 players.” — https://xkcd.com/2152/ — This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.

Population of old (1900) American West: 4.277.402
Number of Red Dead Redemption 2 sales: >24 million.

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Personal

The 1950s (ish) according to my mother

 

This list was created November 14th, 2015. In retrospect, mum was already starting to show early symptoms of Alzheimer’s even before this, but we only became sure of her condition in late 2016.

Mum was born in ’43, in the UK town of Horsham, and this is what she remembered of her childhood years:

  • “Poland” sounding like “coal-land”
  • Coronation day, “quite a lot of cars by then”, but not by today’s standard
    • Only 2 teachers had cars. At least one of them was a 2-income family.
  • If you had a car radio, the antenna was really visible. Coronation meant flags on the antenna.
  • TV was rare. Tiny, square, black and white screens.
  • Life was quiet. People didn’t get excited, being excited led to comments and funny looks.
  • Locked doors were very unusual
  • No health and safety
    • Very lax drug testing rules
  • School was quiet, but not boring.
    • Teachers were all female bar one, all single
    • Almost no men due to WW1
    • Women ran “everything” (all-girl school), general assumption was that they could
    • Games/gymnastic/country dancing every day; ball-room dancing once a week with boys school; dating done via dancing
      • Netball, tennis, relaxed about sports; could do this on weekends without staff because no locked doors
      • Discus, javelin, hurdles, high jump
      • Cross-country running
      • “Denn park” and “Denn hill” (what size are those places?)
    • Every morning was a bible reading and a hymn
    • School dinners. Everyone had them, they were “hearty”.
    • Normal to learn how to swim
      • Horsham had an open-air, unheated pool, school took everyone there to learn to swim
    • O-level courses:
      • [Needlework optional at O-level, mum didn’t do it]
      • Physics with chemistry
      • Biology
      • Latin
      • Geography
      • RE?
      • English
      • French
      • [Mum took German as an extra in the 6th form]
      • Art [mum didn’t do it]
      • Music [mum didn’t do it]
      • History [mum didn’t do it]
    • No national curriculum, every school was different, no teaching qualifications needed
  • Church attendance was almost universal; most had youth clubs
    • Self-segregation of which church, often on a class basis
  • Everyone was trusting and trustworthy
  • Ordered and orderly
  • Big events:
    • Old Vic theatre in London, organised by school
    • Local concerts
  • Clothing was sober, boring, dull. Plain colours, few or no patterns
    • Men and women both wore suits
    • Most people made their own clothes. Almost no clothes in the shops, but fabric and patterns.
    • Tweed very common due to the cold
    • You were not properly dressed without a hat and gloves (because it was so often so cold)
  • A lot of women went to the hairdressers every week
    • Straight hair was considered a great misfortune. Curly hair had a fuss made of it.
    • Curling done with chemicals, not tongs; clearly artificial, but most liked it
  • High-heels were smart, flat were a no-no
  • Fastidious neatness
  • Not respectable to talk about sex
    • Not much contraception
    • Babies before marriage was shameful, hushed up, mothers disappeared without discussion
  • Food boring, limited variety
  • Shops were all separate; no supermarkets combining them
    • Bucher
    • Greengrocer
    • Chemist
    • Clothes
    • Books
    • Jeweller
    • Ironmonger (kitchen utensils)
    • Fishmonger
  • Everyone cycled everywhere; shopping, church, school
  • Almost no obesity
  • Eating out was very rare
    • One or two cafes, no restaurants in Horsham
    • Nobody bought sandwiches, everyone made their own packed lunches
  • Most houses don’t have central heating, therefore very cold
    • Open fires very common
    • “Spring cleaning” was needed because of the dust from the open fires; called “Spring” because you waited until winter had finished and you no longer needed to burn fires
    • Chimney sweep needed to stop chimneys from catching light
  • Few houses being built. Council houses boring but very solid.
    • If you wanted a new house, you bought land and materials and hired a builder. When builders finished, they put a union jack (in UK, other symbols elsewhere) when they reached the chimney.
  • No spare money
    • Everyone put money into savings accounts
    • Shabby houses
    • Nobody bought stuff unless they had to; mend instead of replace
      • No built-in obsolescence; stuff bought new lasted
  • Rained a lot more. In any trip, people invariably packed raincoats in their bags
  • Men worked, women ran households
    • Running a house was much more time consuming than it is now
    • In the 1940s “laundries” was a service that took your clothes, returned them cleaned and ironed the next week.
    • By the 1950s people had washing machines in their homes
  • Cats and dogs very normal to have
    • Fed scraps; tins of dog/cat food not available until 50s
    • Mum saw dogs crossing roads on Zebra crossings
    • Lots had a budgerigar or two
    • Lots kept chickens. Couldn’t necessarily buy eggs, things in shops often sold out because the supply chain was no good
  • Battery farms had not been invented (invented in the 60s?)
  • Diets:
    • Vegetarianism was almost unheard of; archetypal meal was “meat and two veg”
    • Main meal at midday, light meal (bread and butter, perhaps a slice of ham) in evening
    • Home baking was the norm; if you want a cake you bake it, store bought cakes were rubbish
    • Tea was normal drink; coffee was instant not ground
    • Foreign food was unusual/unknown (no restaurants)
    • People might have their own fruit trees
    • No snack food available, apart from crisps
    • Helpings much smaller than modern days
  • Health:
    • Everyone caught measles, mumps, chicken pox; vaccination done by infection parties when as kids (as they are less serious when infecting kids)
    • Diphtheria was pretty much eradicated; smallpox vaccine was new, disease in the process of being eradicated; TB vaccination had started;
    • Appendicitis was serious
    • Eye testing rare, people did badly at school because nobody realised they couldn’t see the blackboard
  • Substances:
    • Smoking very common; seen as sophisticated and not as anti-social; cinemas stank of cigarette smoke so badly that watching films required one to change clothes afterwards because the clothes picked up the smell
    • People didn’t drink very much.
      • Pub once-or-twice a week for a glass of beer (but only men, it was a men’s drink not for ladies); larger hadn’t reached the UK
      • Smart people had gin, brandy, whiskey and offered small glasses of sherry (in particular) to guests
      • Rum was for drunken old sailors
      • Extremely drunk people was pre-WW2, 1920s-1930s ish?

Take all of this with a few pinches of salt. The thing about vegetarianism being “almost unheard of”? Although it might well have been extremely rare, she previously told me her brother was ‘officially’ vegetarian during WW2 because vegetarians got better rations.

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