With apologies to Edward Thomas
And ‘Yes. I remember Adlestrop.’
These items will not be in the memories
of anyone less than 70 years old.
However, they might be of some use
to future Cultural historians
I remember England.
In most cities
Cosy corner shops
Never more than
five minutes walk
in any direction
Presided over by
Mrs Smith, Brown or Green.
Pop in for
a crusty unsliced loaf
the pride of all mums
Or a pint of run-out-of milk.
Shelves replete with multicoloured
Packets of fags
Senior Service, Craven A (Black Cat) or
the cheaper sort for the plebs
Jars of boiled sweets loved by kids
Jelly Babies, Barley sugar and black liquorice
Sherbet dabs, lump of toffee on a stick
sealed in a bag to be dipped and sucked
flying saucers soon dissolved
to shed sparkling powder
on innocent tounges
Lemonade and Tizer to swig
and brown paper bags for the lot.
The grocers shop
proudly displaying its red bacon slicer
a spinning silver wheel to slice rashers
thick or thin as you like,
cheese cut with a length of silvery wire
and butter patted into shape
with wooden spatulas
Rows of half empty sacks
their tops folded down
Peas, beans, rice and orange split peas
Jams of all colours
and, Oh golly! Nearly forgotton
Much gossip from ladies sensibly clad
Clutching worn leather purses
and oil cloth bags
for potatos from the greengrocers
at tuppence ha’penny a pound.
I remember the greasy spoons
Bacon egg and chips
or sausages with tea and two slices
for one and ninepence
Smoke from Players Weights and Woodbines
rising around worn flat caps and Daily Mirrors
the silver tea urn pluming steam at the counter
and everyone speaking understandable English.
When schools come out
flaunt their Grammar school blazers
while the riff-raff make do
with their dad’s cast off trousers
their bottoms cut shorter
and hemmed by Mum.
Ball games in the road
fearlessly running to catch
’till someone shouts ‘CAR’
as far down the street
comes a boxy vehicle
Slowly grinding its way
through the gears
to build up a some speed
but plenty of time
to dash for the pavement
and wait for the danger to pass.
Prescreen indoor games,
Snakes and Ladders.
Belisha Beacons, blinking a gentle safeguard
at pedestrian crossings.
Hop on and off buses
with cheerful conductors
Rattling their bag of coins
and dinging their ticket machines.
With racks of multicoloured tickets,
Indiginous motor bikes
AJS, Norton, BSA and Matchless.
Royal Enfields, Ariels and Triumphs.
Vincent Black Shadows
Speeding the highways, ton up to the next cafe.
Teddy boys putting the frighteners on oldies
With their smart Edwardian velvet collared suits
and D. A. (ducks arse) haircuts
Police cars, black Wolseleys with silver bell
fixed to front bumpers
A shrill authoritive ring, but not offensive
in melodious pursuit of criminals
unlike neurotic sirens copied from America
Ambulances similarly equipped.
Fire engines with a large and lustier bell
vigorously hand rung by a crewman
clanging its way on possible missions.
Roger Bannister and his four minute mile
as commendable as Hilary and Tensing’s
Girls, their pointy bras
sticking out from proto T shirts
(Sloppy Joes) sharp enough to take out an eye
if venturing too close.
Hair backcombed and piled high
Into a ‘Beehive’.
such is the fickle nature of fashion
‘Bohemian girls’, flat shoes, black sockings
and mascara blacker than black
Haunting the sixties and nearly all on the ‘Pill’.
Fashionable youths wih yellow socks
Suade shoes, ‘Brothel Creepers’
with half inch thick crepe soles.
coffee bars, a tasteless brew
With useless foam piled high.
Charabancs to the coast
for ice creams and ‘Kiss me Quick’ hats
Returning along dual carridgways
with obligatory sing song.
Does the driver want a wee wee?
Cos we all want a wee wee too
Then a scramble in the dark bushes
Men one way,
And more songs
Roll out the Barrel, Nellie Dean
and Pack up your Troubles.
The ‘Dandy’ and ‘Beano’
with Corky the cat to enjoy.
Tucking into Aunt Maggie’s
Cow pie, the horns sticking
up through the crust
Hungry Horace and Keyhole Kate
The ‘Film Fun’, with capers of
Laurel and Hardy
‘The Rover’ and stories for senior boys.
Brave heroes in foreign parts take no cheek
from the natives,
evading their spears with a machine gun’s burst
to show them who’s boss
Greyfriers upper class boys
with Quelchy the Master
and Bunter the fat fool
‘Ow! Leggo you rotters’
Toad in the Hole
Pig’s Trotters and Chitterlings.
with Cockles and
Pins threaded into table cloths
beside each place, to skilfully
winkle out the Winkles.
Porridge and the odd Kipper for breakfast.
Fish and chips
wrapped in newspaper sprinkled with salt
and soggy with too generous a libation
of vinegar and perhaps
a gerkin or two as the taste might be.
‘Made in England’ cars.
when ‘Made in England’
was the emblem of top quality.
Standard, Humber, Riley.
Morris, Lanchester, Austin.
Armstrong Siddley, Hillman.
Wolseley, Singer, Sunbeam Talbot.
Made in Dagenham Fords.
Proto plastic ‘Bakelite’.
Bakelite doornobs, ashtrays.
Tuning nobs on wireless sets.
Old men watching children playing
the same games they knew as a child
Conkers in season soaked in vinegar
to make them harder and threaded on a string
ready to give or receive a mortal blow
from another of its kind.
Roller skates in season and marbles along the gutter
Home made Bows and arrows and catapults
Cigarette cards, one in each packet,
soldiers uniforms, warships,
Flicked against a wall to lay like leaves in autumn
If your card overlay another – it’s yours,
therefore old tatty ones flicked first
and a more niggardly caution with new ones.
Children’s Saturday morning cinema,
Abbot and Costello
The Three Stooges
The Lone Ranger with side kick Tonto
and ‘High Ho Silver’ his horse.
All in black and white.
Then on the horizon a whiff of the future
Dan Dare in the ‘Eagle’ a modern format
Tho’ not much of a challenge to Rupert the Bear
His mystery adventures to unknown lands
always ending well and returning to Nutwood
with Mummy and Father Bear at the gate.
Just William, no TV or phone for this lad
his mischievous tricks making fun of his elders
in spite of the threats of Violet Elizabeth
‘I’ll thcweam until I’m thick’
Her childish blackmail works every time.
When most boys carried penknives
Boy scouts and cubs
with sheath knives on their belts
No dangers here
For a well known fact
No Englishman would ever
draw a blade and use in anger.
Only Dagoes liable to such unsporting behaviour
Dagoes (Spanish), a cast of humourous
but not too unkind nicknames
for foreigners – Wops (Italians)
Spics (Greek), Wogs (Dark skinned)
Kikes (Hebrews) wartime comic’s (Japs)
with large round spectacles and too many teeth.
Chinks (Chinese) Micks (Irish), Frogs (French)
and other now unmentionables.
Englishman, Scotsman and Irishman jokes
Now also Tabu!
The wireless, wait for the valves to warm up
with ‘Home’ ‘Light’ and ‘Third’ for the snobbish
Monday night at eight o’clock
and once more we stop the mighty roar
of London Traffic to see who’s ‘In Town Tonight.’
Valantine Dyle as ‘The Man in Black’
Sending icy chills up the spine
Housewives choice, Donald Piers and his ‘Babbling Brook’,
Vera Lynn, ‘Bluebirds over the White cliffs of Dover’
Gracie Fields, ‘Sally, Pride of our Alley’,
Max Bygraves, ‘Tulips from Amsterdam’.
George Formby the naughty window cleaner
who sees hairs on many things
when he’s cleaning windows.
Banned from the BBC for that little ditty.
Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth Light Operatic duets.
The Ink Spots and Nat King Cole
Victor Sylvester and his ‘Strict Tempo’ dance band
Vic Oliver, jokes and fiddle. And worker’s playtime
giving the factories a voice.
Tommy Trinder. PC 49.
Eddie Calvert trick valve trumpet.
Then silence while dad listens to the football results
Fills in coupons to win or to lose.
Now the exciting ‘Dick Barton, Special Agent’
the hero toff with ‘Snowy’ his Cockney support
and Scotsman ‘Jock’ his other pleb accomplice
thwarting all the baddies.
While Paul Temple, another Etonian stalwart
with his wife Steve quaffing her ‘Dry Martini please Darling’
at the close of each episode.
For humour ‘It’s that man again’, Tommy Handley
‘I Don’t mind if I do’ Colonal, and Mrs Mop
‘Can I do you now Sir?’ or Arthur Askey’s
‘Hello Playmates’ with Dicky (Stinker) Murdock.
Flanagan and Allen. The Crazy Gang’. ‘Underneath the Arches’.
Round the Horn’ with Kenneth Horn, and Ted Ray ‘Ray’s a laugh’.
Ronny Renaldo, whistling imitator of birds,
Terry Thomas Naughty Cad and silly Norman Wisdom
On the Third, Professor Joad and the Brains Trust
Too much for the ‘Proles’ who preferred Funf the Hun spy
‘Zis is Funf speaking’, a comic German accent.
Children’s hour at five.
Uncle Mack with Toytown and Larry the lamb.
Dennis the Dashound another comic kraut, and Ernest the Policeman.
We are the Ovaltinies little Girls and Boys
Then ‘Goodnight Children,
I remember the dark side of childhood.
School and ‘The Cane’.
A threat more terrible
than a trip to the dentist.
The street cries.
Horse and cart
‘Rag a Bone’
Horse and cart milkmen
or hand pushed barrow,
The shouts of Newspaper boys.
‘Star, News and Standard!’
and the coal men.
Huge draft horses
Pulling a heavy cart, rows of filled sacks
The men taking a sack on their back
and carrying it through the house
to the coal bin next to the outside mangle
with wooden rollers,
to be emptied into the bin
with a roar like thunder
while the mum followed the
man with her vacuum cleaner
to rescue her carpets from his
dust shedding boots.
Red phone boxes mostly working
Press A to connect, press B for money back.
Often small queue outside, impatiently tapping window
While inside chat with girl/boy friend takes too long.
Famous comet of the time
Haunting the skies for all to see.
The demise of King George VI.
The accession of Elizabeth II.
Skies filled with tangles of vapour trails
where Messerschmits, Focke Wulfes
Spitfires and Hurricanes dueling to the death.
Growling bombers, Dorniers and Heinkels
nightly terrorising the quaking population below.
Air raid sirens wailing a ghastly song
Until the relieving ‘all clear’.
Little boys hoarding their collections
of shrapnel and nose caps from Ack Ack shells.
Dug up after the nightly raid
from the molten tarmac pavements
with a large nail
Silver barrage balloons
hanging over the cities like shoals of fish.
But always with a song,
‘Kiss me goodnight Sargeant Major’
‘Bless ’em all’, ‘Keep the Home fires burning’,
The days of austerity
Returning evacuee children
with strange sometimes
Welsh, Scottish, Geordie and Mancurian.
British Restaurants for the Plebs
Different colours for main meals, sweet or cup of tea.
The advent of newfangled hardboard.
(pressed cardboard) for furniture etc.
‘Comet’ the world’s first jet airliner
A tragic end, and ‘Brabazon’
Titanic of the air – a useless one off.
The Vickers Viscount VC10.
The Bristol Britannia
Soho in the late Fifties
Tommy Steel live at the ‘Two Eyes’ coffee bar
Sam Widges and the Nucleus for off duty Jazz musicians
‘The Farm’ with the singing folk
Davy Graham and Long John Baldry
Trad bands – Cy Laurie, Ken Collier and Bill Brunskill.
The Moderns – Ronnie Scott’s at the old place
in Jermyn Street, or Chris Barber with Beryl Brydon.
Humphry Littleton, Bruce Turner
featuring virtuoso Trombonist John Mumford.
and Sandy Brown at 100 Oxford Street.
The film stars – ladies first.
Married to the scandalised War Minister Profumo
in association with ladies of the night
Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice Davies.
(‘Well he would say that wouldn’t he?’)
Jean Simmonds and Elizabeth Taylor,
Flora Robson, Margaret Lockwood and Glynis Johns
The comic Margaret Rutherford
Often with accomplice Alistair Sims.
The men – …
Kenneth Moore and Trevor Howard,
John Mills and Dirk Bogard
James Mason and Charles Boyer
Michael Redgrave and Jack Warner.
David Niven, the dwarfish Richard Todd,
playing Guy Gibson in ‘The Dambusters’
with his ‘N’ word black Labrador.
True blue Englishmen all.
Top of the list of fame.
Stanley Matthews genius centre forward
a name familiar even to those
disinterested in football.
And boxing’s heavyweight Bruce Woodcock
England’s great hope with an unfortunate ‘glass jaw’.
Or middleweight Bombadier Freddy Mills
Cricketer Jack Hutton another household name
Eric Chitty New Cross motor cycle speedway champion.
Speedsters Stirling Moss and Malcolm Campbell
A rollcall of familiar cultural aspects
unremembered by younger generations.
Yes I remember
A warts and all but stable common reality
Then one wave of an electronic wand and…
ABRCADABRA, POOF gone!
Potatoes and motorbikes
Hairstyles and comedians
Footballers and filmstars
A lost world now unremembered
Replaced by the online and charmless
screenworld of WWW.uk.com
Photo Nick Victor