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Tony Grist

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Get Back In Time For The Weekend [Feb. 3rd, 2016|01:54 pm]
Tony Grist
A modern family is taken back in time to live in a 1950s bubble. It's been done before with food; this time the focus was leisure. They got the look of it right, but otherwise...

I don't remember my father spending his time in the shed doing DIY. He kept a lot of tools but he hardly ever used them. Plus he didn't have a shed.

Doing the washing may have been a chore, but it was a once weekly chore. I remember a clothes rack hanging in the kitchen. We ate out meals in its shadow. The TV family didn't have one of those.

Middle class families (and this was a middle-class family we were following) hired working class women to do the bulk of the housework. The mother in the TV show complained of being tied to the kitchen sink, but my mother got out of the house a lot; she went to the shops - which usually involved a cuppa and a cake in a Lyons Corner House- visited her mother at least once a week, took tea with friends and neighbours, walked the dog, paid regular visits to the library. Everyone walked more than they do now, but we had a car (my mother drove- as did my two grandmothers) and if we hadn't have had a car the buses were reliable.

Something the people who talk about the 50s tend to forget is that this was a generation of young adults who had lived through the war. They were toughies. Both my parents had been in uniform.

And where was the radio? We listened to the radio all the time. Music, soaps (the Archers and Mrs Dale's Diary) comedy shows like The Navy Lark, quiz shows, current affairs. Radio was the river we swam in.

I don't remember being under that much pressure to go to church. My mother and father weren't regular attenders. Lots of curtain twitching? Not on our street.

I was free to wander the streets and the surrounding countryside- as middle-class kids mainly aren't these days- but I hated being in the Cubs and avoided uniforms and tents and camp fires and all that shit as much as I possibly could. Mine was a Just William existence, mooching about, playing games that generally involved replica firearms and so on and so forth. Where was the TV kid's cap gun? I had an arsenal of the things. And where were all his other toys? I had an army of plastic soldiers; one of the cheaper figures cost sixpence- and that's what my pocket money mostly went on. Then what about hobbies? I collected stamps, tea-cards, made model aircraft. Also I read a lot. All the TV kid had to amuse himself with was one sodding jig-saw.

This was the 1950s as re-imagined by people who grew up in the 70s. It comprehensively illustrated the difficulty of getting into the mindset of a past era- even a very recent one. It showed why historical novels and movies have to be taken with a very big pinch of salt. If you weren't actually there you'll never know what it was like.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: heleninwales
2016-02-03 02:17 pm (UTC)
I didn't see the programme, but you're right. The Home Service (forerunner to Radio 4) was on most of the time. As you say, washing was a once a week thing and my mum had a washing machine, washing was swooshed around in the tub then squeezed through the powered rollers before being hung on the line in the back yard. Our airing rack was on the upstairs landing.

I was a kid in the 50s, but teenagers had record players and hung out in coffee bars with juke boxes. I think the programme makers were probably confused by the fact that today people spend a large proportion of their leisure time in their homes and couldn't see what people could do without umpteen million TV channels, DVDs, computers etc.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-02-03 02:50 pm (UTC)
We had a washing machine too, but I suppose most people didn't- or at least not until the end of the decade.

That's true about modern people spending more time in their homes. The TV show painted a picture of the 50s as
a time of tedium and routine- but that's not my memory of it at all.
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[User Picture]From: heleninwales
2016-02-03 03:05 pm (UTC)
Those who didn't have washing machines in the working class area of Manchester where I grew up would take their washing to the public baths which not only had baths and the swimming pools but also had laundry facilities of some kind. It may have been tubs and wash boards, I don't actually know, but it was social.

Re most people not having washing machines, my great-grandmother had one, apparently. It was hand powered -- you wound a handle or something -- but it beat having to wash sheets by hand. But I think she took in washing as a way of making a bit of money, so that was no doubt why she invested in the "washing machine".
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-02-03 03:50 pm (UTC)
According to the BBC, Britain's first coin-operated laundrette opened in West London in 1949. I don't know how quickly the idea spread.


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[User Picture]From: matrixmann
2016-02-03 02:18 pm (UTC)
This is a thought I also sometimes have: Are you really capable to imagine what it was like in earlier centuries? Wasn't it very much the same like these days?
Sometimes I got the impression things only get reinvented in different form. With technical gadgets you can see that the best: What today the Stasi-telephone does, 10 years ago it was a telephone and an mp3-player, not even 10 years before that it was a portable cd-player, and before that it was a walkman playing cassettes. Emails and messages? Well, what does the postal service exist for? What can you use school or work for? Why calling 5 times at home "should I bring this, should I bring that", you could also write a shopping list for that.

It's just the thing you get upon that cognition that, if mankind was doing so bad in former times, it surely wouldn't exist anymore.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-02-03 02:53 pm (UTC)
We can't help but take our modern assumptions into the past with us- and so we mostly notice the things that are missing. But in the past people didn't know about the things we miss and happily got on with what they had.

I had a happy childhood in the 1950s. There was lots to do, lots to enjoy. How many of today's kids go fishing for frog spawn?
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[User Picture]From: matrixmann
2016-02-03 03:27 pm (UTC)
Always keep saying to myself: Circumstances were adjusted to the lifestyle that people had. Or maybe it's the other way round. At least, so people didn't miss some things that are common today and they had solutions for things where people rack their brains about these days.
It literally didn't disturb them just because the circumstances didn't call for life to be different than it was. You... didn't have anyone pulling on you "satsisfy this, satisfy that" - well, in some way you had it, but not in an omnipresent way as these days and not so much in a perfectionist style.
You could also let things run by itself, not try to interfere or control everything at any time.

Edited at 2016-02-03 03:28 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-02-03 03:55 pm (UTC)
For people in the past the past was the present. They were at the leading edge of things- just as we are now. They couldn't miss things that hadn't been invented yet.

And when they tried to imagine the future they mostly got it wrong.
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[User Picture]From: matrixmann
2016-02-03 03:59 pm (UTC)
That's the way I imagine it.

Maybe also a reason why I can't imagine what there could emerge in the future...?
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From: cmcmck
2016-02-03 06:53 pm (UTC)
When are you living?

Now.

When did people in the 17th century think they were living?

Now.

Most kids understand that very well, most adults do not.

It's taken me a lifetime of study to even begin to get into the 17th century mindset. Much of it is utterly alien to people alive now.

Examining how people alive then perceived their own past is endlessly fascinating!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-02-03 07:49 pm (UTC)
"The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there."
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From: cmcmck
2016-02-03 08:00 pm (UTC)
That exactly!
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[User Picture]From: basefinder
2016-02-04 01:49 am (UTC)
I can't hear the first line of that quote without chiming in, "And Lovejoy doesn't live there anymore."
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[User Picture]From: huskyteer
2016-02-03 03:16 pm (UTC)
Yes, I can see you as William. A questioner of authority and hater of cats.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-02-03 03:52 pm (UTC)
I didn't have his adventures, but I enjoyed the same kind of freedom to come and go as I pleased. The 50s was a pretty good time to be a small boy.

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[User Picture]From: chochiyo_sama
2016-02-03 05:29 pm (UTC)
I grew up in the late fifties and sixties. I was born in 1954. I spent most of my time playing with my dolls and their accessories. My mother sewed piles of doll clothes for us. I spent a lot of time riding my bicycle, pretending it was a horse or a rocket ship. I grew up on a farm, so my siblings and I were pretty isolated. We climbed trees, played with the animals, and roamed through the pastures and woods. The sandbox was a great place too. We had tons of plastic Cowboys and horses and Indians as well as cars, trucks, and farm animals. I don't remember being bored.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-02-03 06:38 pm (UTC)
Your childhood sounds quite a lot like mine. I grew up in Croydon- which is a town on the outskirts of London- in a an area that was suburban but within walking distance of open country.

The 50s weren't boring- at least not if you were a child.
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[User Picture]From: sorenr
2016-02-03 07:22 pm (UTC)
Being born in the late 70's myself, I actually think I have a pretty good impression of what life was like in the 1950's. Or at least what life COULD be like in the 1950's in a middle-class farming household with small children.

My grandmother had 4 kids during the 1950's, lived with her in-laws on their family farm and was part of an 11-person household (including the two farm hands and the maid). She worked hard - in tandem with her mother-in-law - to keep the household going, but there was also time to go on family outings or trips to visit her parents in another part of the country. There was church, sure, but also reading clubs, lectures, socialising with neighbours and so on.

Perhaps that's why the TV-wife felt trapped in the home? She wasn't surrounded by neighbours who were in the same situation that she could visit? Being a housewife today is bound to be more lonely than in the 1950's.

And of course I only have this feeling of an intimate connection because my grandmother has told me so many everyday stories - and continue to do so. I wonder what she will tell me tomorrow when I visit her?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-02-03 07:55 pm (UTC)
The family in the TV show were living in artificial isolation. And so, yes, the mother had no-one to talk to apart from her family. In the actual 1950s she'd have had an extended family, neighbours, shopkeepers, all sorts of people to relate to. She'd have belonged to a community.
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[User Picture]From: sorenr
2016-02-03 08:10 pm (UTC)
My grandmother was certainly not isolated. I remember meeting many of the old neighbours from before the family farm was torn down to make way for a large council estate - so they she was still friends with her old neighbours many decades after they all had to move. That is surely not "being trapped at home".

In that sense I think fiction can represent the past so much more realistically than any "reality TV" show... (It doesn't always do so, but at least it has the potential to do so. I think that's why I love fiction.)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-02-03 09:13 pm (UTC)
Fiction brings imagination into the equation. And empathy. A novelist feels his or her way into the characters.

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From: artkouros
2016-02-04 02:22 am (UTC)
I watched on of those shows - the family went back to 1900 or so. The father was a cop, and of course the mother stayed at home.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-02-04 09:54 am (UTC)
The mothers always stay at home.
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