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More about the 1950’s East End lifestyle

More childhood memories from the 50’s

Because we never had a refrigerator, precautions had to be taken against flies and heat. There were two miraculous inventions of the time that I remember very well. The collapsible muslin meat cover and the Flit pump. There were no aerosol sprays then, or if there were I never saw any. My mother used to apply her hair lacquer from a squeezy plastic bottle with a primitive type of atomizer consisting of tubes that looked like they came from the inside of a Biro pen. You squeezed the plastic bottle to force it up the tube inside. I think she would have been better off applying it with a paintbrush. At least it would have been spread more evenly! This lack of spray cans meant that fly papers were hanging from the ceilings of most kitchens and were even seen in the butcher’s window. A roll of sticky paper pulled out into a coil (like a spring), covered in dead and dying flies that had been unfortunate to land on it and get stuck fast. Then one day, in walked mum from the shops with her Flit. This was a tin of insecticide mounted sideways on the bottom of what can only be described as a bicycle pump. You pumped the handle as hard as you could and a fine spray of fly killer emerged from the nozzle. The trouble was, that unless you could keep pumping at an almost impossible speed the pressure dropped and the spray became more of a squirt. You could see large droplets of the stuff spitting out and floating down to the floor as you pumped. We came to the conclusion that it was better to give the flies a sentence of death by drowning in the end, and just aimed it straight at them.

The Flit sprayer

The collapsible food cover

The next great gadget was the amazing collapsible muslin food cover. What this consisted of was a framework of four metal spokes covered in a layer of muslin, with a handle on the top. When you pulled the handle the spokes opened outward and formed a square shaped dome. It was just like an umbrella in reverse. If you cut the handle off a normal umbrella and placed it on the top, this is what you would be left with to cover the food, on a smaller scale of course. Any meat left over from the Sunday roast was put on a plate on the table, or the "flap" and the upside down muslin umbrella was placed over the top of it to frustrate the flies, who could see the meat, but not get through the muslin.. Not only did this serve to keep the flies off the meat, but it also saved us from insecticide poisoning by stopping the oversize globules spurting forth from the dreaded ‘Flit’ pump landing on the food it was covering at the time.
We were lucky, my father was a welder, and a very good one, so he was always in work. This meant that eventually we were afforded the luxury of a super size “Astra” refrigerator. The only real difference it made to me at the time was that it had a freezer compartment, and I could make my own frozen Jubblies. Apart from the convenience of being able to keep the milk a bit longer, it also meant that mum only had to wipe the ‘Flit’ off the fridge instead of washing it out of the muslin umbrella.
I found a shop that still stocks the collapsible muslin food cover recently! They are brand new, so they must still manufacture them today, but it was the first time I have seen one for many years.

The bag wash shop

One of the disadvantages of being an only child back then, was that all the errands fell onto me. Go round the greengrocers shop, nip up the co-op, run round to the butcher and get some sausages.
The one task I dreaded was collecting the bag wash from the shop on the corner of Russia Lane and Bishops Way. In case you are too young to remember the bag wash I’ll explain. We didn’t have a washing machine and laundrettes were scarce back then.
There was a white cloth bag with a number painted on it with indelible ink. Most people had one. The washing was stuffed into the bag and taken to the shop where they did the washing. It was collected next day. Now bearing in mind that this bag was big enough for me to get inside it, I was the one responsible for taking and collecting.
Taking the dry dirty laundry was ok, just up on the shoulder and away. The problem was the collecting the now very damp clean stuff. The bag was now a lot heavier than it was yesterday and very damp on the shoulders!

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