Ask Gran Hobson

Sunday, April 19, 2009

About This Blog

Important announcement —

GLADYS HOBSON 9780954888589
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Or order the new edition from your bookshop or Internet store. Make sure you order the New Edition (pub. 2009) £7.50 as the first edition is out of print. Any problems get in touch through Magpies Nest or leave a comment on this post.

When I published my illustrated book of childhood memories, When Phones Were Immobile And Lived in Red Boxes, it had an immediate success. People even stopped me in the street and supermarket to tell me how much they enjoyed the book as it reminded them of their own youth. But people of ALL ages have either bought a copy or read a copy passed to them. Having a book passed around to family members and friends is highly rewarding, even if sales suffer. Even so, some people bought multiple copies of the book for presents and that says a lot for its popularity. You can read the first two chapters by going to
Now, being a child during the Second World-War and a teenager in the latter half of the 1940's, I knew all about rationing, make do and mend, utility labelling, war effort, troops' support, war reports, air raids, black-out etc etc etc. No fancy toys in those days, nor electric gadgets. 'Elbow grease' (hard work) got clothes clean, and simple games, plus imagination, amused us. No central heating and shortage of coal kept us cool-headed and cool everywhere else too!
Because I have been asked to 'tell more' I decided to have a blog devoted to yesteryear, and to ANSWER ANY QUESTION put to me about those far-off days.

Cooking and cleaning in an age of rationing and no power points!

Domestic Science lessons in 1944-5
We had a whole day of Domestic Science in our last two years of education at the Nether Street Girls School I attended in Beeston (near Nottingham). I loved it. In those days, the school leaving age was 14. Since I left to go to the Nottingham Secondary Art School for two years at the age of thirteen, I only had one year of this delightful education. One half of the day was spent on learning general domestic skills and the other half on cookery.

The Domestic Science Department was separate from the main Victorian brick building. As I recall, it was the other side of the playground, housed in a long wooden structure put up for that purpose only.

Apart from whites, which were boiled, all washing was done by hand. We had to take truly dirty clothes to wash. We were told what to use to remove stains and what to do to remove grease and dirt. I recall washing one of my dad’s shirts — scrubbing the collar and cuffs and rinsing the garment three times. We had to squeeze the water out before hanging it dry. Whites were boiled, pulled out of the boiler with tongues into cold water, wrung out, rinsed and finally rinsed in water with Dolly-blue added. Pillow cases, table cloths, shirt collars, and such had a final rinse in water with starch added. I accidentally took a dirty hanky to be washed and had to soak the green mucus out in salty water. It was horrid. We had flat irons, heated up on the kitchen range, to press the creases out of the clothes. It was no different at home, except my mother had a big tub and a ponch plus a scrubbing board. The large-roller mangle stood in the back yard where my mum did most of the washing. Water was also boiled in a coal-fired copper in the washhouse but, since the place also housed coal and tools, there was little room to wash clothes. Clothes were hung on a line to dry. Later, mum had a rack on a pulley to dry clothes in the kitchen. But on wet days clothes had always been dried in the kitchen. No washer or drier — no power points either! Eventually, mum was bought an electric iron, which plugged into the ceiling light socket. Then an old second-hand cleaner, which had to plug into the same place. I think mum preferred the sweeping brush and mop.
We were taught about dusting and general housekeeping. Setting the table and catering for guests came in the second year.
Of course, no crease-free clothing in those days.

Everyone loved cooking. We were taught all the basic recipes for main meals, puddings and cakes. Nothing fancy, rationing made sure of that. But every girl was expected to be taught to run a home economically. We took ingredients to school to use. But it was possible to buy certain ingredients if our mothers had not sent anything. Basic stews and pies, sponge puddings, tarts, biscuits, scones, different types of pastry, bread, buns, simple economic dishes, basic recipe sponge cakes — with and without fat — Christmas cake and Christmas pudding and mincemeat, True, we used Soya flour for marzipan and a recipe using condensed milk for icing. The fruit for the cake and pudding was mostly dates, and, like the rest of the recipes, dried eggs replaced fresh eggs. May not sound tasty but everyone ate up and enjoyed every crumb. At school, we even had to drink the water we cooked vegetables in. In those days, peelings and such were collected by the pig-man. Nothing went to waste.
Those lessons stood me in good stead for when I had a home of my own.

Fuel was in short supply. Sometimes the gas pressure would drop and spoil the cooking, but it was eaten just the same. Coal, already rationed, was dreadfully short in winter. No double glazing or central heating. Cold draughts too. One fire in the kitchen was often kept going by using the dust from riddled coal to make fire bricks. Chilblains affected my feet badly. An elder sister who had to work nights would creep into our bed in the morning to warm up and then stay there. Her cold feet made sure we were not late for school.


Hi Gran Hobson
Correct me if you find me wrong. Assuming that you are from England, What do you think about your forefathers who ruled us. Who are they to do so? Why did my forefathers (and the further generations) had/have to suffer the pain. You looted us. Didn't you? Don't you think that is inhuman. The wealth in your country (including all the European nations) is not yours. Its ours. Though my mother land is basically rich we are poor now. Now, all these things on one side... you people look at us down... as though we are inferiors... Racism... Let me tell you one eg., Recently one of my friend was in UK... A kid showed gave a middle finger insult... Why should he do it?... Its because he thinks that we belong to a inferior race... You may not accept. But only the wound can feel the pain...
Gran Hobson, Sorry if this hurts you. I just wanted to ask you this. Didn't mean to hurt you. I just want to know what it is to be a UK guy. How do you people feel about this? That's it.
OUT of this topic: I'm also interested about the culture change and the education... But lets see how you take this previous question of mine...
Good questions. I am not offended. Your pain comes through to me. You are right to be angry.
You must understand that not all English people are racist, although I accept that many are (even if they refute it). It is, in fact, a crime to discriminate against anyone with different culture and religion.
It is some time now since I was a teacher, and at that time we only had a few people living in the area from different cultures. (Not so further south) The only people I found to be horrible to the Asians and blacks (a general term, not meant to be racist, but to define darker skin from so-called white — you would have to be exceedingly ill to have a white skin!) were those children who had an inferiority complex. You might say those who believed they were at the bottom of the social or academic 'heap' and it made them feel better to try to rise up by making others lower. Please ask if you don't understand my meaning.
We did have a lot of Asians move into the area where we lived previously. They had been driven out of Uganda by the Ugandan military dictator Idi Amin and, so I understand, robbed of their possessions. Since they had British passports, they were allowed into Britain. The influx swamped some areas of the country and many changes had to be made for schooling etc. It caused resentment in some areas I expect. But it was not like that up here - only a few settled in this area. I found the Indian children well behaved, courteous and very clever. These were mostly children of doctors and professionals working in the area. A lot of our consultants are Indian, and this applies to other professions. We now have many Indians in trade and business generally. I do not know of anyone who resents this, but then I would be considered a professional person myself, so I cannot speak for everyone. Of the Indian families who moved here but kept to themselves, the older members refusing to blend in or try to speak English, it would seem to cause problems.
So many misunderstandings and much resentment can happen. The children may find school life harder if parents don't speak English at home. In some parts of the country huge amounts of money are needed to pay for interpreters and extra tuition for non-English speaking immigrants — this applies to European as well as Asians. Certain National newspapers make the most of this, especially where benefits are involved, and it only inflames the situation. But look up and you will see that when you speak of the British people, you are in fact including citizens of Indian origin. There are many Asians in Britain from different countries.
The tension has built up in certain areas of the country where people have been unable to get jobs. They have to blame someone but in fact, a few would rather draw benefits than do an honest day's work. We see a lot of violence on television and it is often between rival gangs. Unfortunately, it is sometimes racially motivated, as to whether many of Indian descent are involved, I could not say. Just as it is not easy to know which country a white person is from unless you hear their voices, it is not always easy to know which country an Asian comes from originally. Some Indians have oriental genes too. Personally, I do not look at people to define their origins. We are all equal in the sight of the law and of God. 52 years ago an Indian doctor delivered my first son. I recall she wore a beautiful sari. 46 years ago, an Asian doctor delivered my third son. I have a photo of him holding the baby — a lovely man with a gentle manner. We had a lovely young man in our doctor’s practice and he was from India. Colour of skin does not matter, their humanity does.
Quite likely you have more conflict in your own country of India. Different faiths and different cultures don't always live together in harmony.
It has always amazed me how well some Indians (not born in England) speak and write in English. I cannot speak or write in any other language but my own. When I went to school — a child from a working- class family — we were not taught languages. I could have left school at 14 but went on to an art school for two years. (More of that later.) My brother left school at 14 but continued his education at Night School (as it was known then.) He was clever enough for University entrance, except that he needed Latin to be accepted, and he only had nine months to learn it. He asked a teacher (telling him a lie that he had two years to achieve the qualification, as he knew he would be laughed at if he said less) The teacher told him that he would not be able to do it, and that BOYS LIKE HIM DID NOT GO TO UNIVERSITY! (My brother DID get a pass in Latin and went on to do a number of degrees — the highest a doctorate. He had over 50 patents registered in his name before he died nearly two years ago. So you see discrimination was very much part of the culture in those years. But now universities have greatly expanded and young people from all walks of life are encouraged to go.
When I was a child, the only Asian (a wearer of a turban) I ever saw was a seller of fancy goods who went door to door selling things from a suitcase. (No TV in those days and we rarely went more than a short bus journey away from home (more about lack of money later) People were nervous of him and the word was that he would fix you with an
evil eye if you didn't buy anything from him! Silly nonsense but you believe anything until you are old enough to question what you are told.
All people in England automatically fall into a Church of England parish. Therefore many regard themselves as Christians even if they never enter a Church. In my schooldays prayers were said and hymns sung, the Bible read, instruction given in the Christian faith, in schools. (more about this later and how it affected my thinking). So you can imagine if someone came along not of that faith, he is automatically different. But that was some years ago. Now millions of people have settled here with differing faiths and places of worship. The Church of England is much different to when I was a girl.
But this FAITH setting is very relevant to what you are asking me. You see, during the Victorian period there was a huge rise in evangelism as workers left the land to work in cities and new manufacturing towns. Part of the Evangelical faith at that time was (and still is with many believers) insisted that if you do not accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, and have not given your life to him, then you are doomed to hell, (others might say eternal death). What is more, it was the duty of every Christian to spread God's Word and SAVE souls from the eternal fires of hell. Hence a movement to save the souls of the damned in foreign parts. Some of the most famous reformers of dreadful working conditions and child labour (even kiddies went down the mines, or worked in factories) not so much out of welfare considerations (although that was part of it), but the moralistic implications of women working near-naked beside men, and especially children and adults being denied education concerning the Christian faith. Souls to be saved! I might have worked in the same factories but conditions were vastly improved, mainly because of union power!
During the Victorian expansionism, egged on or sponsored by Evangelicals (taking salvation to the heathen nations), it was inevitable that those greedy for wealth and power would make the most of it. There were already good trading links and these came to be strengthened and held secure by British-led troops. The history from here on is a huge thing and will have to be looked at later. Trade and Evangelicalism rather than invasion took Britain to the 'colonies.'
Lack of understanding regarding other faiths was really at the heart of many of the problems. And a nauseating sense of superiority, which was part of the culture back home as already described. Even so, much good was achieved in some areas. To me, what is happening in India now, is just as shameful. The conditions in some places of work and the exploitation of children cannot be condoned. What is more, the decline in the silk industry and the effect it has on home-based weavers, is catastrophic. I have read that families have starved to death because they were getting so little for their goods — less than the cost of making them. I don't know what that situation is now. But India is not alone with that problem. It sickens me that while we in the West throw so much away, there are people working every waking hour for low wages just to eat enough to keep them alive. But some Indian people too make money out of the poorer workers.
When I was a child we had just enough to live on. My mother would not allow us to leave anything on our plates 'Remember there are children at the other end of the world who are starving,' she would tell us. We only had one change of clothes to wear but more of that later.
There will always be greedy men in the world, but it seems to me that greed motivates more people than just the rich. But more of that another time.
Britain did not start World-war two to expand an Empire, but to stop Hitler taking away our freedom and that of our friendly nations. But more of that later.

REPLY: Gran Hobson, Thanks for writing to me. I liked reading your answer. This mail is something that I will not wish to loose.
I do have lots to tell you. Mostly about things you have written, like the silk industry and a few others as well. I will be sure to mail and keep in touch with you.
And never feel sorry being not able to write in my language. It’s not an International language. But English is an international language. I/We should know it. BTW, my mother tongue is Tamil. Just wanted to tell you as it is one of the oldest languages. I'm proud to be a Tamilian.
Nice to know you. Let me thank God for that. It’s tough finding good people. Really tough.
My best wishes to you and your family,

I am not wonderful nor am I unusual. For instance, there are many people who would like to change things to give developing countries fair trading conditions. I support a number of charities who don't just give handouts of food etc but work to help communities build up skills and opportunities. There are people concerned about India's street children too. With the rise of China as a vast producer of goods, many economies are having to cope with loss of their own industries and the problems that brings. If people lose their jobs and their home is threatened it can be catastrophic for that family, even if by comparison with the downtrodden workers of poor nations they are still 'rich'. It is hard to see beyond one's own miseries. The greed of certain people in the banking, commerce and industry (can't go into details here) brought about the present situation, which is causing so much concern all over the world. The cruellest thing is that it is the poor that are suffering most.
We had very little when we were young. My dad worked long hours but he became disabled and although he tried to earn a bit of money trying out all sorts of things from home, and my mum scrubbed floors to earn a bit extra, things were tight. No luxuries. But then we never did have luxuries like they do today. (Although what WE regard as luxuries many regard as necessities.) I told you I went to an art school when I was thirteen for two years. The uniform of blazer, two shirts, one tie, was provided free for each year. I had a second-hand skirt that lasted the two years. I had patches on my leather shoes. I also had one yellow dress to wear in the summer. The rest of the children had navy gabardine coats. I had a second-hand pea-green second-hand coat. In the playground I stood out like a huge green parrot! So I tended to wear my blazer even when the weather was cold.
The mother of a friend from a well-off family, invited me to go with them on a trip in their little car (A rare event indeed - few people had cars in those day). I borrowed a dress from an elder sister. (It needed mending but I could do that.) When we returned I thanked her parents. My friend's dad asked me if I had enjoyed the ride. I thanked him politely and said that I had. He told me, 'So you should have, it would have cost five shillings on a coach.' (Five shillings was one third of my pay when I started work one year later) I was mortified. I told my dad and he was furious. I will not repeat what he said!
But I can tell you, young man, I vowed that no one would ever humiliate me again. I would work and I would succeed.
We never went on holidays. I used to see adverts for coach trips to the English Lake District and dream of having a trip to that magical place sometime in the future. Now we live within sight of the mountains, in a pleasant house with a large garden. I never dreamed that such things were possible. But I do not forget those less fortunate. I realise too, that much of what we have here is made by workers in other countries, where people labour long hours for little pay — just like it was here at the time of the Industrial Revolution. (We have mainly lost our own industrial base because goods are cheaper from abroad) It seems you are going through what the workers of this country went through when machines took over their jobs, and when goods could be made cheaper elsewhere. Wages were cut to starvation level and there was much suffering. Parish relief was available for some but the Workhouse was a place to be dreaded. So please don't think that all the people of this country 'stole' your riches. There were people living here dying in alleys, people were sent to the Colonies for stealing a loaf of bread to feed a hungry family, and many families living in utter squalor.
Times have changed, thank God, but expectations are now too high. When we were young it was considered shameful to be in debt, but then credit cards arrived and debt became a way of life. Money too easy to come by with no thought of the ultimate cost. We have always saved for what we NEED, but now people get what they WANT and pay later. We are in a throw-away society. We (our family) throw very little away — you never know what might come in useful. We buy clothes with no thought to fashion — fashions change but our clothes last for years. As regards who and what we are, I am not special, there are many people like me. You only hear about the nasties who are generally troubled souls. Those are the ones who make the headlines. Hatred destroys the soul. Turn that energy into useful activities and pursuits. I don't believe in violence to get what we want. Usually it is the innocent who suffer. Yes, we took part in a world war and I have to admit, that if we had not done so, much of the world would have been under the domination of a madman prepared to exterminate millions, if not billions, of people, because of who and what they were (and in most horrific ways). He had already butchered thousands of people in the lands he had already taken, as well as destroying many lives in his own country. Millions suffered in that war and in the war with Japan. Indians as men from other Colonies took part in those wars. None should be forgotten, But we are now at peace with those who were once enemies.
The violence in India was a different matter all together, sparked of, or so I understand, by insensitivity regarding the grease used by Indian troops to oil guns for firing. Arrogant leadership destroyed much good that had been built up over the years: trade, schools, communications, railway, governing bodies and so on. Not that they were perfect, remember reforms have been going on in Britain for many years. Things were not entirely just here either. The 'Evangelical' idea of: "The rich man in his castle, and the poor man at his gate, God made them high and lowly and ordered their estate." As the hymn ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ told those Victorians. (Still sung though hardly anyone believes it.)
This was seen as the natural order of things in a society riddled with class distinction. It also suited a lot of the Indians to have that order and cooperate with the British. Things have changed here, but it is up to individuals and families to make the most of opportunities that are open to all. I was 69 when I completed my Open University Honours Degree. That was just after I earned the Archbishops' Diploma for Readers (I am an Emeritus Reader in the Church of England) I was in my mid-forties when I took my teachers certificate, and 60 when I earned a certificate in Counselling skills. There are so many opportunities to study but it is up to the individual to make the most of what is available. These things were NOT available to me when I was young, but times change. Further education is available to all. Unfortunately, not all want to work to fulfil their dreams — some want an easy road and money to waste on what they fancy.
As regards education when I was young, the Empire was simply accepted — large pink areas on the map. It was not a case of 'possessions' but colourful people with colourful cultures, in lands that had strong connections through our monarchy. (It is not easy to put yourselves in the shoes of another, if that person lives in a land you have only heard of.) Since the monarch is a figurehead, rather than the democratic government by which we are actually ruled, it seemed no big deal to me that other countries came under the same umbrella. And when they wanted to break away, that to be their rightful choice. It seemed a good idea for a Commonwealth of Nations rather than an Empire. The change over was the problem, except perhaps those made up of mostly people descended from Brits such as Australia. It is the same everywhere: take away the power holding disparate groups together and each group is likely to jostle for superiority. Maybe the change over could have been done better. Remember this is the way I see things, I cannot speak for Britain.
Please feel free to ask more questions.
I suggest readers visit to understand the depth of feeling of this young man.

May I just say that racial discrimination is very widely in practice here in India too, probably more than seen in England. And I've been many times a victim myself. I'm from the North-East India. I have looks much similar to the Chinese or Filipinos and a culture much different from the general Indians. When I moved to North India for college, I was abused racially, people call me by names (based on the race)...and the same goes on till today. But I've more or less accepted racism as a part of the modern culture-diversified life, and I am not as sensitive to racial abuses as I used to be.
Many Indians talk about racism in England, but often do they miss out that in their own country.
LATEST BLOG — wonderful photographs of the Lake District combined with Checkmate (by latest novel). See where the characters lived and loved, worked and schemed, and played games — not always sporting! Lake District Saga — Checkmate