July 6, 2008

Times May Have Been Hard but We Took Comfort in Luxury

In the midst of war there was no such thing as obesity. Given the gloom of the credit crunch and thinking about how we shall have to make a few financial sacrifices - it really can be a great philosophical boost ...

In the 1940s it was an apple a day and a spoonful of cod liver oil and malt extract that helped us youngsters work rest and play. Looking at old snapshots, most of the population was lean then.

Arguably this was due to the way we then lived. Manual work, even household chores were taken on with the proverbial 'elbow grease' still in fitting with the Victorian era.

The manual operated horse and plough was still a common sight in the countryside and 'working class' housewives hand washed, scrubbed floors, regularly polished brass and vigorously tackled the 1001 jobs for home and family without the resources given to the press button age now taken for granted. Only the rich could afford motor cars so most of us walked.

During the war food rationing contributed to one's slimness. In many ways we seemed more healthy then. The common aches and pains we hear of now were not so prevalent, we didn't need the exercise, every day we exercised without knowing it. We had no need for dieting books or public gyms and such - it was all there, in the ration book!

But we needed the nourishment to live the way we did and the Ministry of Food were keenly aware of this, especially during the war when everything was expected of us to fight the goods fight.

So although there was a war on, standards attributed to health care in the 1940s was generally good. In the light of food rationing much emphasis was put out my the media on how to cope. We grew accustomed to the regular 'Food Flash' features in cinemas, newspapers and on the 'wireless.'

The radio doctor broadcast regularly and his rich soothing voice advised the best way to treat out ills and medical disorders, often related to the lack of vitamins in our wartime diet.

I remember at nine years old getting enormous boils on my knees, whish were bathed by my Mum very painfully in a 'bread poultice' - a hunk of bread wrapped and squeezed in a twisted cloth, dipped in boiling water for a couple of minutes and immediately placed on the offending boil. The plan was to make them burst, to dispose of the white puss and it usually did the trick.

The Ministry of Food distributed informative leaflets about the essential vitamins A, B, C and D and how best allocated given the very limited food available. Apples came up trumps. Orange Pippins and the cooking varieties, usually Granny Smiths, stewed, poached, baked and stuffed were favourite.

We all knew what 'Dig for Victory' meant and many of our flower beds were turned over to the production of essential vitamin rich vegetables. In their spare time folk were busy turning over the soul in their gardens.

Horse manure, collected after the horse drawn delivery tradesmen had been, soot from our open fire chimneys and ashes from the coals and logs served as good compost. Some sports and recreation grounds were turned over in pursuit for those health giving vitamins.

Even bomb sites were converted into allotments. Vegetable patches, chicken runs and even pigsty's appeared in every spare patch of land.

I remember one Sunday a new kind of street trader appeared with horse and cart loaded with all manner of goods in the quest for self sufficiency. Cheap garden spades, forks, rolls of chicken wire mesh, sticks and tacks, he was on to a good thing. He could even supply the chicks - 'cocks for the table and hens for the eggs' was his slogan.

'Place your order now, give you time to erect the chicken runs and I'll be back with the chicks next Sunday.' Or, for the price of a penny, he'd sell you details of how to build your own.

I took the job on with the assistance of my brother. Between us we built something which resembled a chicken house and run and, given a few weeks, we were experts. Trouble was, when it came to the slaughter a kindly neighbour had to do the nasty work, but soon there were two lovely chickens ready for plucking feathering for the Christmas table, a luxury to behold in those days.

But we didn't know what we had let ourselves in for when it came to the plucking. We tried it on the kitchen table - feathers everywhere and mum wasn't a pleased lady, but two hours later and the job was completed. But it was all in vein: when it came to eating the chicken we remembered how just the day before they were alive and healthy, we had become too attached, they were like pets! We forgot the idea, got rid of the remaining cocks and decided just to keep the hens for their eggs.

Special priory was given to children and pregnant women and extra coupons were allotted in their ration books. School children had extra milk in third of a pint bottles at school and school meals were garnished with raw vegetable gratings and, of course, an apple!

As always, money helped. As far as youngsters were concerned, it wasn't just the clothes that advertised wealth, it was the size of their belly! anything could be bought from the infamous 'black marketers'.

We never missed the opportunity of making a few pennies for those extra goodies kids like and what our parents were unable to afford in those war torn days. Building a chicken house or two meant a deposit for a new bike, or some under the counter sweets and chocolates, But an apple a day still keeps my doctor away!


Two Acre Close


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