Gone, but never forgotten

YOU cannot stop progress! You cannot live in the past! You must keep moving forwards, not looking back!How often do we hear comments like those, usually aimed at the older generation.

YOU cannot stop progress! You cannot live in the past! You must keep moving forwards, not looking back!

How often do we hear comments like those, usually aimed at the older generation. Those chiding us think nostalgia is a degenerative condition with which many oldies are afflicted, and believe we ought to do ourselves a favour by abandoning our rose-coloured spectacles and take an eye test to correct our retro vision.

Agreed, in our eyes the summers of yesteryear were always sunnier, the grass always greener, and life was less frenetic and stressful - all symptoms of that nostalgia disease because in truth we are well aware that we are viewing decades past like a Technicolor fantasy film and the past half century and more has not all been the figurative bed of roses or bellyful of laughs.

I have been musing on some of the pluses and minuses of the second half of the 20th century, prompted by the writer of a letter in a national newspaper who commented: “Despite our wealth, in many areas of service to the general public we appear to be going backwards.

“When I think back to my youth, I remember many occupations and services that did so much to make daily living a little more pleasant and easier in simple ways. Here are a few of the services I am sure people would welcome back with open arms: park keepers, bus conductors, shops such as the butcher and baker, lift attendants, station porters, improved railway services where you have a seat and luggage space, petrol pump attendants, usherettes, police on the beat, road sweepers, telephone operators who are far more pleasant than a voice telling us we have the following seven options.

“We may have digital television, mobile telephones, CDs and DVDs, but we have lost a great deal that made daily living a pleasure.”

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Permit me to list some of the things I miss - not just services but poignant reminders of my younger days.

Shops with counters and staff standing behind them like Woolworth used to be; our Regal/ABC/Cannon; the herring fishery; the outdoor swimming pool and Rollerdrome in Gorleston; the picturesque old Dutch South Pier; Yarmouth Speedway; weights in avoirdupois, liquids in pints and gallons; proper post offices in their own building selling postal services and not items alien to it; Steward and Patteson and Lacons breweries and their ales in pubs; Yarmouth Corporation buses in their elegant blue and cream livery serving the old urban borough and Caister.

Errand boys on trade bicycles; big bands (Pete Fraser and his East Norfolk Jazz Orchestra, evolved from the youth band he formed in the Seventies, continues to recapture that wonderful sound); Bert “Sailor” Brown leading Gorleston on to the football pitch at the Reccer, Jack Bradley doing the same with the Bloaters at Wellesley Road.

Toast made on an extending fork over an open fire, then covered in lashings of butter (the first carcinogenic if burnt, the second leading to obesity and cholesterol-clogged arteries, if we believe all the healthy-living propaganda); the Morecambe and Wise television shows, the Black and White Minstrels (superb entertainment but dumped for its racial stereotypes and white performers); umpteen other TV shows that older viewers want to see rather than those young smart-Alec producers think they ought to see; radio programmes like Dick Barton, Special Agent, and the Paul Temple mysteries, Sunday lunchtimes with Two-Way Family Favourites presented by Cliff Michelmore and Jean Metcalfe (who married after meeting over the airwaves), followed by Take It From Here, Educating Archie or Life with the Lyons, then a film review (Movie-Go-Round?), Jack Jackson's record show late Saturday nights introducing new names that became top stars, like Guy Mitchell, Frankie Laine and Johnnie Ray.

But I am digressing: back to the things I miss with more than a tinge of sadness, like ice-cream wafers made in that special metal gadget as you watched, the biscuit put into the holder, the ice-cream spooned in and the second biscuit put on top, then ejected and handed to you; leather traditional school satchels (mine came from Southey's in Market Gates) rather than today's back-packs; a bustling Arcade, not as it is in 2008 with most of its shops empty.

Vehicle registrations in the borough's EX series; once-familiar household brands like Oxydol and Rinso, Burdall's Gravy Salt, Matthes bread, Zebo grate polish, Odol and Maclean's toothpaste and other “solid dentifrices”, Mazawattee Tea; Market Place chip stalls all together at the Burtons/TSB end; tea shops with a selection of pastries on a cake compote; weekly domestic refuse collections; police messages on national radio asking for witnesses to this or that road accident to telephone Scotland Yard on Whitehall 1212.

On the other hand, there are plenty of things I am glad are in the past because life has been more tolerable without them. I love cold milk just out of the refrigerator and marvel now that we used to keep the bottles covered by a damp cloth in a galvanised pail of water in a shady spot to try to stop it curdling.

The computer has opened untold worlds…and I can type perfect letters whereas on my old typewriter they were often full of blobs of white Tippex, and I had to hammer the keys to keep a copy using a sheet of carbon paper.

I wish I had not been dosed regularly with California Syrup of Figs and cod liver oil with malt (although perhaps they kept me healthy), forced to wear school caps and short trousers in my first years at senior school, and inflicted with the misery of compulsory PT.

Warm homes with central heating and duvets are another blessing, for I well recall ice on the inside of bedroom windows, sleeping in socks as well as wynciette pyjamas, keeping day clothes under the blankets so they were warm to put on in the morning, the agony of getting up in a bitter bedroom, the smell of paraffin heaters as we tried vainly to spread some mild heat into parts of the house away from the lounge fire, cleaning out the grate and relighting the fire daily, refilling the coal scuttle in wintry weather…

And who really liked the routine of Monday washdays and Thursday house-cleaning days? I wish the litigation culture and those elements of health and safety that make people frightened to do ordinary things hitherto never considered risky were part of that past and not an intrusive factor in our present.

Oh yes: and why does not the sun shine any more?