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1950’s LIFESTYLE (2)

The Flit Spray

Because we had no refrigerator, precautions had to be taken against flies. There were two miraculous products 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.

At Last, A Fridge

The next gadget was the amazing collapsible food cover. They still make them today, but they were essential back then. They consist of a framework of metal spokes covered in muslin, with a handle on the top. You pull the handle and the spokes opened and formed a dome. Like an umbrella in reverse. 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.

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, 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!

A Life of Grime

Our house, and many others, had no bathroom. We had two concrete yards, one of contained our outside toilet. That is why people kept an enamel bucket or a china piss pot (Gerry) under the bed. You didn’t want to wake in the night needing a wee and go out into the freezing cold and dark to do it! Unlike kids of today we spent most of our time outdoors and we got mucky, very mucky. The tin bath was used to get the bomb site grime off of us but there was no running hot water and we had to boil up kettles and saucepans, so it wasn't a daily scrub. Continued >
.The Front Room As I mentioned previously, the front room was used only for special occasions or if we had visitors. Mind you, I think I spent more time in there than anyone else. I would sneak in when no one else was in the house for a quick concerto on the piano and explore the wonders of the slide-out cocktail cabinet and pink and blue Bakelite musical cigarette box. There were some old 78 rpm records in there with the wind-up cabinet gramophone. The only song that stuck in my mind was a song called "How bright everything seems"! I don't know why, but I have never forgotten it. Unfortunately, many of these "special occasions" turned out to be funerals. This was when the house was invaded by men wearing suits and trilby hats and a crowd of old women (they looked old to me) dressed in black astrokan coats and hats with giant decorated hat pins who insisted that they were my aunts, and proceeded to slobber me all over, leaving heavy deposits of lipstick and face powder over my cheeks. At the time, I wondered why they all had the same smell. In later life I associated this with Gordon’s gin. The men stood in a group with their beer and cigarettes while the aunts sat around the room nattering and weeping together. This was until the alcohol started taking effect and the piano started up for a sing song. The joviality went on all night, interrupted only now and again by one of the aunts deciding that their "old man" was a no good lazy so and so, and helped by the gin she had consumed, decided to tell him so in front of everybody. The good-bye kisses at the end of the evening were even worse than the welcoming ones. It seemed to go on forever, the slobbering of their darling nephew! It did have one advantage though. Many of them would be pressing a three penny Joey or, if I was lucky, a sixpenny piece into my waiting palm as consolation for the suffering I was enduring!

The Kitchen, Living Room

People who had a whole house to themselves, mum, dad, and the kids, were lucky. They had six rooms, and one or two even had a bathroom. For most of us though, the kitchen was the hub of the house, where everything took place. Washing, cooking, eating and watching TV (ours was a 12 inch screen in a wooden surround as big as a filing cabinet). I think the main reason my parents were so happy that I got married and moved out was because at last they could have a proper everyday front room and a separate kitchen when I went. Anyway, this room being the hub of the household sometimes had its problems. I don’t know if you have ever experienced the smell of “Amami” or “Twink” home perm, but it made a stink bomb smell sweet. So when you were trying to get your dinner down your gullet at the same time as the next door neighbour was giving mum’s hair a perm with one of the above products, it was not a very pleasant experience. The room was also shared by our dog, cat and budgie. Almost everyone had a cat. This was due to the numerous mice from the derelict houses. They were always on the lookout for a new place to live. These rooms were pretty spacious, and just as well really. They had to house the legendary ‘flap’, the kitchen table and chairs, two armchairs, a settee, and all the other household items that didn’t belong in the bedroom, or the sacred downstairs front room. There was also a fireplace and mantelpiece. We didn’t use the open fire in this room. We had a paraffin heater, which had its own special odour when first lit. This was later replaced with a four bar electric ‘Magi coal’ fire which, as the name implies, had a simulated coal fire effect with an orange bulb behind fibreglass coals. The clothes >>

A Life of Grime


When you reach a certain age the last thing you want is your Grandmother, who happened to live downstairs, or the next door neighbour, coming up unexpectedly and seeing you washing your private bits in the kitchen! Not that it made any difference to them. They had seen it all before over the years. When this stage of near puberty was reached it was time to start the weekly trip to York Hall Baths. As well as being a boxing venue it had two swimming pools, slippers baths, and a Turkish bath. The Turkish baths were to be avoided, as even in those days they were frequented by some very weird people. Anyway, you paid your shilling, got two towels and a small bar of soap and waited in line on the benches for your number to be called.

York Hall Baths

Once inside your cubicle the water gushed out from a giant brass outlet and started to fill an enormous bath. An attendant turned the water on and off with his crank handle from outside. The trouble could always start here, before you even dropped the bath cube in. The problem was that there was only one handle and that stayed with the attendant as he went topping up or filling empty baths. It starts to go wonky when a few numbers are called out at once. This meant that several baths were being filled at the same time by the attendant and his single brass key. Now the water gushed out of the oversized taps so fast that when four or five were going at once it sounded like Niagara Falls. So if the man with the key was too far down the aisle he wouldn’t here your shout. You stand watching the water rise to the top of the bath knowing that even if you pulled the plug, the water flowing out could no way match the flow of the water pouring in! I am sorry if this is getting a bit long winded, but the memories are flooding back (excuse the pun). Looking back, I suppose the man had it all under control, but kids tend to panic. I know I did!

More Hot Water Number 8

Right, you were lucky that time. A sigh of relief as the key man hears your shout and returns to turn off the water. BUT, you never realised in the panic that it was luke warm. “More hot water number eight” you shout after making sure that you have let enough out via the plug hole to make room for it, and the noise has died down for a bit. “Okay son, mind your feet” (they always said that). A clank of the key and out it gushed. Now you pray he doesn't wander off again, or you'll have to ask for more cold to even it up! "OK mate, that's enough". Another sigh of relief as the handle turns and the flow stops. You start scrubbing and wonder if your mates ticket has been called yet. “You in yet Ron?” you shout. “Yeah, just after you” came the reply. “what number are you in”? you enquire. “Number fifteen. What number you in”? Ron shouts. “Number eleven” I call back. Now you may have noticed that I told him I was in cubicle eleven when I was in fact soaking away in number eight. There is a very good reason for this. It's because in a minute I’m going to holler for more cold water in number fifteen and lay there giggling as the unexpected freezing liquid gushes in on poor old Ron (the man never tells you to mind your feet when you ask for cold). Having given him the wrong number for my cubicle, when he returns the compliment the poor old sod in number eleven gets the cold shower! To make it worse, if Ron had been alert when I asked for his number, and he too, falsified his information, there are now two poor unsuspecting old geezers effing and blinding over the wall! It was chaos sometimes when we went mob handed. We would never do it with hot water though, they would be boiled alive before the key could shut it off! Anyway, we came out smelling sweeter, all ready to start getting grimy again. I was 24 years old, married with three children before we had a bathroom of our own.

Our House

Our house was a three up, three down council house. No bathroom, no hot water and an outside toilet in the yard. The top three rooms were where me and my parents lived, and downstairs were my grandparents. We had two bedrooms and a kitchen and my grandparents had a bedroom and kitchen. The downstairs front room, which housed an upright piano, wind up gramophone and drinks cabinet along with the “best” furniture was reserved for 'occasions' (normally funerals), visitors and Christmas. The rest of the time this room saw no activity apart from the prescribed dose of ‘Flit’. Our kitchens also served as sitting room and dining room. As there was no bathroom it also served as wash-room for humans, cooking utensils, crockery and laundry that wasn't suitable for the bag wash. There was also only a cold tap, so all hot water had to be boiled on the gas stove first
The Flit pump
Flit refill
The muslin food cover Our front room