Back in Civvy Street
Eventually I was de-mobbed and returned to my civilian job at the British Tabulating Machine Co. in Letchworth where I stayed until 1963. By this time BTM had merged with Powers Samas and become ICT, later changed to ICL. With two young children it was no longer feasible to continue cycling so in 1949 I learned to drive, passed my driving test and bought a little, very old car. It was a 1933 Standard Little 9 and cost me £100 plus about another £150 to get it going. It had wooden floor boards with holes for the brake and clutch pedals through which the wind used to blast through, actually you could see the road underneath the car through these holes. I always used to tuck my trousers into my socks if travelling any distance and a blanket for Jean and the children was always taken with us. Alf my old cycling chum had also bought a car and three days after passing my test off we went to Skegness for a holiday at Butlins Holiday Camp, the kind of holiday that was the ‘in thing’ at the time. Oh the confidence of youth! Both cars broke down more than once on the journey but we got there and, we got back. Motoring was good in those days, hardly any traffic and when you met another car of the same make, the drivers would wave to each other, similar to the way cyclists behaved. Road Rage had not reared it’s ugly head in those days. The biggest hazard on the Letchworth roads were the hundreds of bicycles, mostly ridden by men, leaving the factories Kryn & Ley, Shelvoke & Drewry, Meredews, Dents and The British Tabulating Machine Co, at lunchtimes and evenings. On Icknield Way and Works road they would often be three and four abreast, and when I was learning to drive my instructor made it quite clear to me, ‘should we meet the cyclists I was to pull in and wait until they cleared’. At the other end of the town the workers from the Spirella and Marmet factories were mainly women who walked rather than cycled to work but there were so many of them that they also were quite a menace to learner drivers.
Not long after this Barry, aged about three years, went into Letchworth Hospital for an appendicitis operation and, standard practice in those days, children were not allowed visitors. Hospital staff said that children got upset every time parents left after visits so it was better not to have them. On being discharged Jean brought him home and I saw him for the first time in two weeks when I came home from work. Poor little scrap, he had lost so much weight and looked so frightened, I’ll never forget it as long as I live. I actually went into another room and wept. For weeks afterwards he clung to Jean all the time, she could not even go into the bathroom without him. How much more civilised today when parents can be found beds in a hospital while their children are being treated.
The cottage, where we had been happy since our marriage, was very small and we were fortunate to be offered the tenancy of a newly built larger council house on the other side of the town. Houses were still being built with open fires and we treated ourselves to the luxury of a gas poker, the latest gadget, just push it into the coal and light it. No more chopping firewood and screwing up newspapers. One day I made a toasting fork from a piece of brass rod and, at teatime, let the children sit in front of the fire to toast bread, they thought it wonderful, as they had only ever had toast from under the grill on the cooker. Talk about progress, in front of the fire was the only way we had been able to toast bread a few years earlier. I must have been very fit because I was working a lot of overtime, laying out a garden and trying to keep my old banger of a car on the road. We had good times with that old car, many visits to the seaside and lots of trips to St Neots for swimming in the river. Sadly the maintenance of the car eventually got beyond my expertise and with the rent of our new house being quite high, it also got too much for my pocket, so we got rid of it and for a while were without a car.
As is usual with most children they wanted a pet dog and although I wasn’t very keen we agreed and purchased a puppy for them. Not being a ‘doggy man’ myself I bought the wrong kind. It was going to be far too big to be kept in the house and garden was not over large, so we gave it to a family who had more suitable property. This really upset the children so we had to replace him and not taking any chances I involved them both when we got the replacement. The puppy was so tiny we were able to bring her home in my raincoat pocket the children christened her ‘Patsy’ and she became a greatly loved member of our family for 17 years. By the time she reached the age of 17 she had only one eye and a big lump at the top of her hind leg (the Vet had advised against removing this) and was known affectionately as Dolly Bump. Sadly she then suffered a stroke and I had to take her to be ‘put down’. I made my mind up then that I would never have another dog, there is no way that I would want to go through the trauma again of having one put to sleep.
In late ’51 early ’52 there was a Polio epidemic and we had another problem with Barry and hospitals. He complained of pains and he had a rash on his back. The doctor who examined him asked him to ‘kiss his knee’, this being the first check for Polio. When Barry tried to do this he just cried with pain and was immediately rushed off to Spitalsea the isolation hospital in Luton. Obviously we were very upset, my thoughts being that even if he did not have polio then there was a good chance of him catching it at the hospital. However after a couple of days he was given the all clear and we got a taxi and brought him back home without delay. Chatting to his pal Richard we then discovered that they had been playing on some spare ground and Barry had fallen into a patch of stinging nettles. Although Marie did not cause us any panic in the same way, she also had her share of staying in hospital. At the age of eight she started to suffer from a lot of sore throats and it was decided to have her tonsils removed. This operation seemed successful but after a few years or so the sore throats re-occurred and it turned out that the tonsils had grown again and she had to have a repeat operation. This problem with Marie’s sore throat still kept coming back and then it was realised that it was usually when examinations were taking place at school. Although she did very well in class work she suffered painfully with bad throats which started just before exams. She sat and passed her ‘eleven plus’ grammar school qualification written tests but, after the oral test and interview Jean and I were asked to discuss her future with her headmaster. He explained that although she had passed he was sure that she would be in for a very hard time at Grammar School and bearing in mind the problem of her throat condition he thought she would do better at the Secondary Modern and strongly recommended that option. Jean and I agreed with him that Marie’s health was the most important consideration. I often wondered later, as Marie became more confident in everything she did, whether we had made the right decision but it did seem right at the time. On leaving school Marie progressed to very responsible jobs with the Magistrates Courts, followed up at British Aerospace in positions higher than girls who had attended Grammar School so on balance maybe we were right. Marie was well liked at school and, except for the throats, gave us no trouble at all.
Barry however was quite different and his schooldays from first day to the last gave us plenty of trouble. During the first few weeks of his starting at Wilbury Primary School, because of building work, all the children were transported, by bus, to Norton and parents took them to the supervised bus outside the church in Bedford road in the morning. At the specified time in the afternoon parents assembled to collect them on their return. Every child was on the bus except Barry, panic everywhere. He was eventually brought back to a near hysterical Jean an hour later, with many apologies but no explanation. We never did get an explanation as to how a child of five years could be lost from a supervised group. In today’s world I imagine that a parent would be suing the education authority. From the headmaster at Norton Road we received a complaint about Barry’s behaviour in class. At playtime all the children changed to outdoor shoes and went outside into the school playground but, as Barry was very slow changing his shoes, playtime was over by the time he was ready. However he insisted that he was entitled to his playtime and refused to go back in to the classroom. So he played, all alone until he was ready and then decided to go back in. However teacher refused to accept him and he had to sit outside in the corridor for the rest of the session. When we got the letter from the head I thought that, even though he was only five we had a budding trade union leader in the family. When the building work was completed the children returned to Wilbury and Barry seemed to settle in well, only two complaints, these coming from parents requesting that he not be allowed to set next to their child as he distracted them from their learning. Barry passed the ‘eleven plus’ was accepted for Letchworth Grammar School and placed in the ‘A’ Stream for the brighter pupils. It was then that the troubles started, he could not settle down, only one teacher seemed to be able to hold his interest and he was downgraded at the end of the first term. During his time at LGS we found bookmakers slips in his bedroom, he was running his own book. Obviously I gave him a rollicking but said if he would concentrate on his schoolwork and pass his exams, I would put every penny I had to help him start up a proper bookmakers business, when he left school. It didn’t have any effect though and next we found him running a card school in Letchworth Common. Despite this he seemed to be doing reasonably well at school and we did not receive any complaints about his behaviour from there. The crunch came with the ‘A’ levels, when he failed to get good enough results to qualify for a university. His best subject was maths so we got him to take a job as a trainee accountant with a good local firm and hoped he would settle down but after about three months he asked if he could go back to school for another year and re-sit the exams. I agreed but made very strict conditions regarding his attitude to studying, he had to get down to it properly. At the end of the year he was accepted for City of London College but again started to enjoy life rather than work and had his studies terminated at the end of his first year. This really upset him and he went through a very emotional time but eventually settled down and after studying again for another year was accepted for Sheffield University where he eventually obtained his BA degree.
In the fifties we bought, on a three years hire purchase agreement, another car and were happy to be mobile again. We enjoyed ourselves, didn’t worry about the future and lived to the full extent of my wages, so occasionally things became a little tight financially. One evening Jean and I were wondering how we would be able to find the month’s HP premium, not realising that Marie, in the next room could hear us. At the time although still at school she had a Saturday job and was saving to go to Switzerland with the school. I had promised to add £2 for every £1 that she saved. When she overheard our conversation she came in and said “not to worry, we could have her holiday money”. Although she never knew it, she had two very proud parents with damp eyes and lumps in their throats. And she did not have to sacrifice that holiday. We had bought a half share in a small caravan sited at Pakefield near Lowestoft and had many happy weekends and annual holidays there. After a few years Jean and I purchased our own larger caravan and continued holiday visits there until finally disposing of it in 1967. When I say disposing that is not quite what happened, Barry took it over and kept it there for a few more years. About this time Marie decided to buy herself a new modern caravan on the same site. This pleased me as for some time I had been having doubts about the way Jean and I had been taking our children to the same place year after year, so it was gratifying to find that they both liked it enough to carry on in the same way. We had not entirely neglected other parts of the country, had taken them to the South Coast, Devon and Cornwall and naturally to the North West of England, as an ex-pat Lancastrian my family had to visit Blackpool. We did not however venture, as so many were beginning to do, across the Channel to the Continent.
For quite a while I had a small van instead of a car and the children liked to sit in the back on the improvised seats, far better than when we had the car. However on one of our trips to the north, travelling through the Bakewell and Buxton area I decided it was wrong that they should be in the back of a van with only two tiny rear windows as they were missing a lot of the lovely scenery. So I traded the van in and purchased a six seater saloon. Wrong again, I had not consulted the children. They disliked the car from the start and would have much preferred to keep the old van.
We obviously did the usual family outings to London to enable the children to see the sights, we would go on the ‘workman’s train’ very early in the morning, return fare one shilling and nine pence return, conditional on our arriving at Kings Cross before 8am. Going into supermarkets today reminds me of visiting the British Museum we were fascinated with a door that opened as you walked towards it, there were queues just to try this modern wonder. At Christmas time we would do our shopping in London, part in the West End and part in Brixton and we travelled on one of the last tramcars that operated in Stockwell and Brixton. In the big stores escalators, or as we called them, moving staircases, were in general use and little different from those in use today. Elevators were very different from todays, much slower and all operated by an attendant who gave a commentary as to what goods were available on each floor.
Copyright Eric Fitton © 2008 page last updated 30/09/2008 16:04