Thursday 2 December 2010


No irony intended in the current title. I do understand that my inner world consists almost entirely of a huge cupboard of rememberings. The other day, those contents were seriously challenged to move over and make room for a whole lot more. On television, I watched a programme which is, evidently, part of a series. A group of shopkeepers is transported back to various epochs in history. I did not see any of the others, which, I believe, started in Victorian times. The one I saw was war-time Britain. You won't need to be adequate at Maths to work out I was there. A baker, a grocer and a dressmaker were set up to run businesses in the physical representation and the garb of the time. I was overcome by such a sense of deja vue and recognition that I had to keep checking that the Guru, very much a figure of the 21st Century, was actually in the same, here-and-now room with me. I remember the way the shops looked; the sacks of provisions on the floor, the scales, and the scissors which the shopkeepers used to cut the coupons out of our ration books. I remember the queues and the cold standing outside waiting to be served. Things were a touch easier for us in some ways because my Father kept hens and we were able to benefit from more than the one egg a week ration, when they chose to lay, that is. Their rations were not rich, either and, though my Father filled them with love enough to lay their eggs in his hand, they were not so robust they could lay copiously and reliably. Some American Forces were billeted in our town and my Father, having been overseas in the forces in the First World War, went in to their Post Office and arranged to 'adopt' two men who were working there. He felt it was his way of re-paying the local hospitality he had received all those decades before. In this way, we also had supplementary chocolate and treats that were familiar and forgotten to my Mother and sister and fascinatingly new to me. Occasionally, they offered - wait for it - nylon stockings. The older females in my family swallowed their guilt, washed off the black line that had simulated a stocking seam on the backs of their bare legs and wore them as if elevated to Royalty in one silky gesture. Guilt was a real issue among the adults. There was unbearable conflict between the wish to do the best for one's family and the knowledge that one was indulging in unfairness, a sin above many others at that time. I doubt there is a way to make the young to-day feel, empathise with, the altruism and the strength of acceptance of the 'other' that helped keep us afloat in the chaotic, sterile and decimated era of that war. Stuck in a recent snow-storm, how could being told they were sharing in the "spirit of the blitz"mean anything to anyone under 70ish?

In the programme, the grocer was found guilty of serving people " under the counter". Should you, Dear Reader, be of the wrong epoch, this meant he sold goods over and above the ration allowance. This was not only immoral, it was illegal. I remember the collective guilt if one had benefitted from this practice, and the perpertrator was caught and seriously fined. However, if one had not benefitted, one was obliged to collude in ostracising the guilty one. Talk about a no-win situation. What a strange set of morality and rules of community I must have absorbed and what an odd old lady that makes me, to-day. I apprehended the Guru looking at me in a way I couldn't read. Perhaps it was the way I would have looked at someone whom I knew had taken part in the Charge of the Light Brigade. History was sharing the living room with him. How rum is that? (Actually, he was probably wishing we were watching "The Apprentice" or something else with contemporary relevance. I must ask him.) I experienced the rippling chill of the air-raid siren when it was reproduced: the chill, but also the excitement if you were a little girl pulled out of your bed in the huge dark of the middle of the night. I re-felt the hands of my sister helping me zip up my siren-suit with its bunny- eared hood. (For those of you lacking a Grandma or acquaintance of the age, a siren -suit was just like a baby- grow but for all ages. The Prime Minister wore one. It covered you and your nightie from tip to toe and kept you warm in the air-raid shelter). When you are a little person, your way of life simply is; everything after is change. Perhaps I never really moved on from that time. In future, shall I have to call this blog "75 going on wartime"? C U soon.
PS My gas mask was Minnie Mouse shaped. Go on: you do know what a gas mask is.

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