I got to thinking about the difference in the generations between mine as a kid and the modern day kids. I tried to put myself in their shoes but found it impossible to wrap my mind around the huge differences between us.
When I was a kid, admittedly time and circumstances were different as it was wartime for some of my youth, but even so, everything was at a much slower pace. I lived on a road that was named Huggletts Lane and although the name conjures up thoughts of a dirt road leading to nowhere, in fact it was a tarmacked (blacktopped) road but still leading to nowhere. The road did eventually turn into a dirt road and then into a footpath leading to the next community a couple of miles down the road which is how it was with many of the small villages that dotted the countryside.
There were several kids on my street all about the same age and we spent most of our free time roaming the woods and fields and playing outdoors communing with Nature although we didn’t think of it like that. To us, the great outdoors was our playground and all that we learnt and shared was a normal part of growing up as a kid back in the 1940’s. The fact that there was a war going on and that we occasionally had to take cover from an enemy aircraft as it flew over in the early part of the war was a part of life as we knew it. We were right on the enemy flight path as they flew towards their targets and then back home.
Life was not normal because of the war but it was to us. Things like food rationing and dogfights and flying bombs that we called Doodlebugs and masses of troops of all Nationalities, tanks and armored vehicles and jeeps by the hundred tore up and down the roads and country lanes and signs of war were everywhere. We accepted this as normal because we were kids growing up in troubled times.
The closest school to us was three miles away and we generally walked as a group every day picking up others kids along the way. We were of all ages as our school ages started at five or thereabouts and went on through fifteen which was the normal graduating age at that time. We were split up into different age classes but all housed under one roof in several different classrooms. There were no organized sports other than the playground where we made our own entertainment. Coming home was a bit different as we tended to split into individual groups and we all had different agendas. Because of our closeness as kids generally speaking, things like Mumps, Measles, Chicken Pox and what are considered normal childhood diseases, tended to affect all of us one after the other. If one caught it, we all caught it. We had a Country Nurse that rode a bike from house to house checking up on the sick kids and we would write notes to each other that she would gladly take and deliver for us. Doctors, in real emergencies made house calls and were glad to spend time with the patients and most babies were born at home with a Doctor and Midwife in attendance. I remember that I had to have my tonsils removed which required spending a week in hospital in Uckfield. Any surgery was treated as a big deal back then and was a risky business.
Home life was also much different. Families tended to do things together such as always eating together, taking long walks and listening to the radio. Food was pretty plain and simple and as we all had large gardens that required the entire family to help with the garden chores like weeding and planting or gathering the vegetables for the evening meal. The women and girls in the family helped with the cooking and cleaning and the boys fed and cleaned out any animals and chickens that every house had and also did the heavy garden work like digging and planting. Sometimes, on really special occasions like Christmas, we would kill one of the chickens as a special treat. Very rarely did we get to eat Turkey and never at my house. My only taste of turkey was at one of my wealthier friends house where I had been invited over for Christmas Dinner.
The radio played a big part of our lives as this was how we got most of our news about the war. Then there were radio programs like Happydrome and The Archers and all kinds of mysteries and thrillers that entertained the entire family in the evenings. We sat and listened to it just like people do today watching their TV sets as the radio actors with their magical voices kept us entertained. We had a phonograph to play 75 rpm records of which we had a small collection.
We never had a phone, ever. The nearest public phone was a couple of miles away and most people either were afraid or did not know how to use one. My Dad went everywhere on his bike and as we grew older, we also had bikes and that became our new form of entertainment as bikes opened up new horizons. We could now get to places that were not available before such as the local Market on Wednesdays or the Movie House in Heathfield about 7 miles away or even to one of the local football (soccer) games to watch the hometown team.
As kids, we learned to entertain ourselves without getting into trouble except maybe for stealing apples from Mr Jones Orchard or getting chased by a very upset horse for us getting into his field and stuff like that. We learned to entertain ourselves making the most of what was available to us mostly from our immediate surroundings. Nature played a huge part in our lives and we are all the better for what we learned.
Compared to today, our lives back then were dull and uninteresting. Not to us of course as it was our life and the only one we knew. We never had TV to entertain us and we had to use our own imagination and brains to keep us busy. Cell phones had not yet been invented and we were no worse off because of it. Hardly anybody owned a car as we all relied on public transport, bikes or shank’s pony otherwise known as walking, to get us anywhere. Food was plain and simple and some of it pretty heavy stuff like Roast Beef with vegetables and Yorkshire pudding on Sundays, Liver and Onions through the week and Fish and Chips on Fridays. There was always Mashed Potatoes and lots of vegetables from the garden. For deserts, there was Rice Puddings, Treacle Pudding and Apple Pies. A lot of it was homegrown and there was no such thing as fast food. Milk was delivered every day in one pint bottles with a thick layer of cream on the top and the Baker made deliveries once a week.
Bath night was always a very interesting time in most houses. We didn’t have a bathroom and we made do with the kitchen. Yes we did take baths but it was not as simple as turning on a tap (faucet) and hot water came out. We didn’t even have hot water to our sink and all hot water had to be boiled in a kettle. although we were modern enough to have an electric kettle to do this. In the corner of our kitchen was what was called, a “Copper” that was comprised of a very large copper tub with a wooden lid built in to the wall with a fireplace underneath that probably held thirty to forty gallons of water. This normally was used to boil the clothes on wash day before hanging them on the line to dry but on bath nights, was used to heat the water.
The bath was a galvanized steel tub about five feet long which was dragged in from where it was hanging, once a week so that everyone could have a bath. The hot water from the “Copper” was dipped out and poured into the bath and suitable cold water added to bring it to a bearable temperature. The men were all ordered out of the kitchen and banished to the furthermost parts of the house while the ladies, starting with the Mom and then followed by any girls in the family, would take their baths one after the other all using the same water which was kept at a suitable temperature with the addition of hot water from the “Copper”.
Then, when the ladies were through and decent, the Father and the boys would take their turn adding more hot water as required until finally, all were sufficiently clean to last another week. The Bath was then dragged to the door and unceremoniously upended and the restored to its normal hanging place on the wall. You can imagine that the lowest boy on the totem pole by age (me) may have had misgivings about this particular ritual especially if there was a large family. Invariably, the boys would be reminded to “wash behind their ears” as though this was also apart of the bathing ritual. Not sure why so much emphasis was placed on this particular action but it always came up. Of course, we always answered in the affirmative whether we had or not. Even our toilet, which adjoined the kitchen, was reached by going outdoors although it did have a chain pull to flush it.
These are some of the things I remember as I was growing up, so different from modern day America and although I have never been back, probably modern day England. Was I better or worse off for my younger life as compared to the kids of today? I can’t really answer that as all I know of a modern day family is what I read and surmise. I am concerned that most modern day kids do not spend time outdoors. I am not sure if they even know how to entertain themselves without getting into trouble or without TV, Xbox and their phones or having organized entertainment. There is no doubt in my mind that modern day kids are probably much smarter and in some ways, much further ahead in their academic work than we ever were but they are missing out on the basics of life.
If I had to make a choice and had the opportunity to do it all over again, I would have to say that I would choose my life back then as opposed to being a kid in this modern world. I was very happy even in the difficult times and because I didn’t know any better was content with my lot. I do not like what we have become, our reliance on gadgets or the need to be entertained and although I use some of the technology, I do not like what the end result is in the younger generation or come to that, their parents.
I can’t change any of it and will live out the rest of my days living in the past with my many memories as I transcribe them to my modern computer hoping against hope that this modern day world in which we live does not not implode with the Global Warming that all of this modern day technology has caused…