‘The good old days’. This phrase has always seemed to mean just a couple of generations ago. Were they all that good? Probably not in many ways but, in some ways, it was wonderful.
Growing up in the fifties meant that I never knew poverty. As long as food arrives on the table and you have a warm bed to sleep in, children do not think they are poor. All my friends seemed to live in the same circumstances I did, we always thought of people in bigger homes to be ‘well off’ but the kids in my neighbourhood all felt secure and cared for.
I certainly seemed to grow up in an area that felt safe as everyone I knew had a very relaxed attitude to security. This could have been due to the fact that everyone knew who lived nearby and a stranger was viewed with suspicion.
This easy way of living made everyone in town trusted and it was a common practice to leave the house key “under the geranium pot”. I really don’t know why people bothered locking their doors as most of them used the flower pot to hide the key. Other hiding places were on the ledge over the door or, hanging on a string, through the letterbox.
I never saw mailboxes outside the house until I came to north America as most English “front doors” came with a letterbox built in. It was a common practice to hang a key on a long piece of string, on a nail about six inches above the letter box, on the inside of the door. Anyone needing access to the house just put their fingers through the flap of the letterbox and pulled the string, which was long enough to reach the keyhole.
If you were expecting a serviceman to call, while you were out, you told him where to find the key. It was either in the letterbox or under the flowerpot. I don’t really know why anyone bothered to lock up.
Some people were naturally viewed with suspicion, for example the coal man. If you were going to be out during regular coal delivery time, then a neighbour would quite often come into your yard and count, out loud, as the sacks of coal were emptied into the coal shed.
Coal was delivered at approximately the same time, every week as everyone heated their home with a coal fire, and it was difficult to see if five or six bags had been dropped, it was just a big heap.
Now and again, the delivery had to be changed, due to unforeseen circumstance, but then the delivery guys ran into trouble. The rows of houses all had back yards, mostly with a back lane with gate access to the lane. Across this lane would be strung miles of washline and the laundry hung to dry. On coal delivery day, laundry would not be done, but once laundry was strung out, God help the hapless delivery man who had to take the coal to the yards.
The horse and cart and, later on, the truck would be left at the end of the lane and coal hauled, by the sack full, on the backs of the men. If washing had been left on the line, he would have to walk underneath it with the sack of coal. Of course, this left black streaks across whatever it touched and resulted in a very angry housewife.
The window cleaner was also viewed as not totally trustworthy. He came every two weeks, which seems really excessive compared to how often I do my windows in Oliver, but in those days the air was dirty with smoke from factory chimneys. As most homes were two storeys, a hired man did the windows. Once again, a neighbour would keep a watch out to make sure he actually climbed the ladders to do the upstairs windows.
It really seems strange to think that some people were felt to be totally unscrupulous but leaving your key for the whole world to have access to your property was just fine.
But, these were the Good Old Days.