Every day the Government, the Media or some other body of experts tell us what we should or shouldn’t do with our lives. How we must stop smoking, exercise at least twice a week to keep fit, eat little and often and consume only the most nourishing fat free fresh food and drink. We are also told to pay strict attention to the amount of alcohol recommended as a daily tipple.
The way things were years ago such advice would have been largely inappropriate as well as contradictory. It was generally accepted smoking was good for you and people were often given a cigarette to steady their nerves when they were depressed or upset about something. The Royal Navy was probably as well known for its duty free tobacco as it was for its daily tot of rum. A ‘stand easy’ was always built into the daily routine for the men to stop work and have a smoke. At the end of this break and always ten minutes before the men ‘turned to’, the Bosun’s Mate would broadcast ‘Out Pipes’ over the Tannoy system.
Through the 20’s and 30’s it became fashionable for ladies to follow the men’s example and many different brands of scented cigarettes with coloured tips were available in the shops. Just as important to women was the design of the holder they used. In those days the Cinema set the trend that people followed and the Stars were as responsible as anyone for spreading the habit. They were rarely seen on the screen without a cigarette held in their lips or between their fingers. Passive smoking was something no one had heard of.
It is possible the smoking had less effect then than it does now because everyone lived a more active life. If you lived several miles from your workplace you had to walk or cycle. It was not unknown for a man to cover as many as eight or ten miles a day. Most of the work was manual and very few had a job they could sit down to do. Even so, in the evenings and at weekends if they were not attending a dance or going to the cinema, many young people chose to go for a walk.
Not many schools had sports halls but some had Physical Training lessons once or twice a week. No matter what the weather was like these were taken outside with the pupils dressed only in a singlet, shorts and plimsolls. Most youngsters spent as much of their daylight leisure hours as they could outside playing games of some sort. No competitive sport was allowed to take place on Sundays. This meant that in the winter when the evenings were dark, teams playing football or hockey on Saturdays had no time or place to train and keep fit.
After the war there were several ‘Home Courses’ like Charles Atlas’s ‘Dynamic Tension’ for younger people to indulge in. Little or no equipment was required for these but they were expensive and when joining, members had to swear not to disclose the methods they used to anyone else. For any young woman who had a family to look after, the cleaning, cooking, washing and housework was more than enough exercise to keep her in shape.
Even before and after rationing there was not much chance of an ordinary Working Class person over indulging in food that was not good for them. However, when the war was over, it was probably the same people who had told us to ‘Dig for Victory’ and ‘Grow more Food’ that were now telling us Fish and Chips were a good wholesome meal. A popular saying among children on the way to the shop was, – ‘A pennyworth of chips to grease your lips!’ At that time they were still being fried in lard. There was also a poster campaign saying we should ‘Start the day on an Egg’. How opinions changed as the years passed!
Money was short and there was nowhere near the choice of foods we have today but what there was, was plain simple and nourishing. Stews, puddings and soups with home grown vegetables were often served in many households. Some women made their own bread but every wife did her own baking. Usually once a week on a Thursday when they made cakes, sponges, sausage rolls, jam tarts etc. Not forgetting the scones which were a favourite when packed up with bread and cheese or jam sandwiches in the men’s dinner bag.
In Urban areas many were unable to get home at mid-day. Especially those working with horses or animals they couldn’t leave. The quality and quantity of food each family had might have depended on the size of their budget but no matter how small it might be, it was always their top priority.
Through the ages there has always been those who consume too much alcohol and some whose lives it ruined or they died as a result of it. It wasn’t such a big problem years ago, probably because it was not so easily available to everyone as it is now and the majority of people just couldn’t afford it. Generally it was the better off who drank wine and spirits regularly. Most people only had them as a luxury at Christmas and on special occasions.
It does seem that the powers that be are often very slow to forecast the inevitable. They must have known even before the last war that smoking was a killer! In the early 1950’s when television and the era of the family car spread across the country the population became more and more physically inactive.
Now the introduction of the Internet into the majority of homes has exacerbated the situation. When the parents get home from work to start their evening chores there is food of all kinds readily available with meals prepared and all ready to pop into the oven. If their hungry children arrive home first there is always a snack waiting in the fridge. The average person is probably better off today than they have ever been.
Where do we go from here? After a very long time smoking is to be banned and there is a campaign to get everyone to cut down on the amount of alcohol they consume. The Media tells us daily what to eat and drink to stay fit while they continue to advertise those things they say we should avoid because they are not good for us.
So what’s next? – The average National personal debt per head of the population in this country is in excess of ten thousand pounds and yet every day we are being urged to buy more lottery tickets and scratch cards and increase our gambling.
No doubt we will soon be encouraged to take our hard earned wages to one of the new Casinos and try our luck! Who can guess what the outcome will be? Especially for those vulnerable enough to be suffering from the consequences of this addictive pastime already?
valley lad – [SIXTEEN]