Vol. 8 No. 3 - 2005
Sad to say, much of rural life common 50 years ago has rapidly disappeared. The blacksmith's shop, the hub for media news, the local debating chamber, has long since departed. Sunday night at the corner, where young people gathered flirting, one with another, oh the innocence of it all. The local post office, recognised by the red pillar box set into the wall and the telephone box at the road, the fundamental resource link with the outside world, all now relegated to oblivion. There were few houses in the country with a telephone anyway; the exchange was behind the counter of the post office where the post mistress pushed in the relevant plug that connected the caller with civilisation.
Electric light only came to the Montiaghs in the 1950s and not all homes availed of this modern phenomenon. I recall one elderly gentleman stating it was invaluable as a resource to get the Tilley lamp lit. We had an Aladdin light with the mantle that glowed and a double burner to light the sitting room, only ever used on a Sunday and at Christmas.
Those were the days when the bread man called twice a week, the oil man came once a fortnight and the postman cycled over 20 miles every day. Each carried the local gossip from house to house, often the story ending up unrecognisable from that which started out. Water was carried in buckets from a neighbour's well and bath night was Saturday in the galvanised bath in front of the open fire. We felt quite a progressive family in that we had a paraffin cooker complete with an oven on top.
Crocks played an important role in the preservation of food and were also used to store the drinking water. A visit to the loo on a wet dark evening took quite an effort. This meant a walk of 70 metres to the dry toilet, a draughty experience; loo roll didn't exist, rather squares of newspaper had to suffice.
Our radio was powered by a wet battery brought to town each Thursday, left in to be charged at the local electrical shop while the spare was collected from the previous week. Battery power usually lasted 5 days, so we never had news on Tuesdays or Wednesdays! The highlight of the weekend was to listen to Radio Luxembourg on a Saturday night, Pete Murray with Irish requests and Keith Fordyce playing Scottish requests.
Rarely was the front door opened, every one knew to come to the back, knock the door, lift the latch and just come on in. As a child I was relegated to the back of the room, privileged to be allowed to listen to the adults' conversation. My parents believed in the expression, "little boys should be seen and not heard." We had a stone watering trough by the roadside at the bottom of our garden. Excitement was heightened when the turf men returning from town stopped to water the horse; I hid and listened to the one-sided often inebriated conversation with the horse.
Our Christmas tree was a holly branch cut by my brother from a holly tree, then decorated with the ornaments out of the china cabinet, and sprigs of holly were placed behind the pictures. Christmas morning was excitement personified, a toy, a quarter pound box of Milk Tray which I was forced to share with the rest of the family, and always the traditional apple and orange. Summers seemed idyllic, we seemed to enjoy weeks of warm sunshine, a chance to walk over the fields with our black Labrador dog.
The local farmers helped each other; one had a horse drawn mowing machine cutting the hay into swathes, then turning it with the pitch fork and when dried it was lumped before the familiar haycock was built. Two grass ropes held it in place and eventually it was winched by hand on to the hay shifter and brought to the yard where it was again pitch forked into the hayshed. The big day in the autumn was the day the thresher came, when the rick built of sheaves of corn was brought to the farmyard, again by shifter. This was a dangerous process; I recall the Fordson tractor with the long sagging canvas belt driving the huge noisy machine and the field mice and rats scurrying for cover.
I recall the first tractor coming to our area, a grey FergusonTE20, the pride of its owner. I remember him driving it round and round the field for hours on end, and the opinions of the traditionalists saying it would never replace the horse! Cars were pretty special too, our doctor had an Austin Atlantic and one of the local dignitaries drove a Rover 90.
Police men got around by bicycle, usually a dark green Raleigh, known fondly as the £20 bike! My, we as children were in awe of the law enforcers, to be caught playing football on the main road meant a humiliating telling off, and what if your parents were to find out. School for me was a 5 mile bicycle ride on a handed down daisy bell bicycle.
A three penny bit enabled me to buy 5 blackjacks or 4 fruit salad, a packet of Smith's crisps and still keep a penny for the next day. Sundays were sombre occasions; I never was allowed to play. Sunday school was first when large chunks of Scripture had to be learnt and recited and then to church for the hour and a half service. I used to envy the boy who got to pump the organ as he was allowed to hide behind the red velvet curtain. Sunday afternoons were occupied by a walk with Father and his friend, again the chance to listen to adult conversation.
Often I hear the expression "The good old days", but were they so good? Definitely one for debate. Certainly the ice on the inside of the bedroom window in the winter time wasn't exactly luxury personified; remember the fire in the bedroom was only ever lit when someone was ill. Were we happier then? Debatable too, certainly life had few of the luxuries we take for granted today. One thing I am sure about, if some of the characters I knew as a boy were to witness society today, they would be bewildered. I wonder did Paris buns really taste so much better then, than they do now!