Category Archives: Growing up in the 1950s

Odd One Out – Markets

Did you spot the odd one out?

According to my stats page a lot of you flirted with this one.

Well done Sheree, Sue and Margaret and Derrick who got it right but for the wrong reason.

European markets.  This is the odd one out because it was taken in Leicester in the UK and the UK is in Europe but sadly not in the EU.  All of the others are.

I was born in Leicester in 1954 and my parents lived quite close to the city centre.  I don’t remember much about it because we left when I was six but I do rather curiously remember the Leicester Market where Mum would go shopping maybe twice a week.  I never liked the place.

On my return journey to the city a couple of weeks ago I went looking for Lineker’s fruit and vegetable pitch,  Gary Lineker is/was a famous England footballer whose family worked the Leicester market.  I asked this man where it was and he burst out laughing.  “Been gone for twenty years he said” so, hiding my embarrassment  I asked him if I could take his picture instead and he happily obliged.

A to Z of Statues – S is for Stan Laurel

There is a pub in Bishop Auckland in Durham called the Stanley Jefferson to commemorate the fact that Stanley Jefferson once lived in the town and attended the Grammar School there.

Stanley Who I hear you ask?  Well, Stanley Jefferson is better known to everyone as Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy fame.  There is a statue of him nearby on the site of a theatre that was once owned by his parents, long since gone of course.

I remember Laurel and Hardy from Saturday Morning Pictures at the Granada Cinema in Rugby where I lived as a boy.  They were my favourites then and they remain my favourites now.  Surely there has never been a finer comedy double act in entertainment history.

I have always taken some sort of patriotic pride from the fact that Stan was from England and was the comedy genious of the pairing.

True story… a few years ago I took my Mum to the cinema to see the Film ‘Stan and Ollie’ and as we left I asked if she had enjoyed it, ‘oh yes’ she said ‘I didn’t know that they were still making films’.  She was 85 years old and I was quite unable to offer an explanation that would have made sense to her.

There is a city in New Zealand called Auckland and a county in New South Wales in Australia.  They were both named in honour of George Eden, 1st Earl of Auckland (1784-1849) who held the title but never visited the town (or New Zealand or Australia).

Read The Full Story Here…

 

Memory Post – Danger, Railways and Canals

In my occasional series of memory posts I link to my second (now discontinued) blog “Age of Innocence” .  In this two part post I look at growing up and playing dangerously…

Play places didn’t get more dangerous than the London to Birmingham railway line  It was relatively easy to get up on the tracks and put half pennies on the line for the trains to squash and expand to the size of a penny in the optimistic hope that this would double the value of the coin and shopkeepers wouldn’t notice.  (This never worked by the way).

This was rather like in 1969 trying to tile the edges off of a half crown coin to double its value to make one of the new 50 pence pieces.  (This didn’t work either).

Read The Full Story Here…

Ivan Petcher, Sports Reporter

My dad, Ivan, the one in the middle, would have been eighty-nine years old today but sadly he didn’t make it by some way.  I think about him every day but especially so on March 27th.

Luckily I have boxes full of memories and amongst them I have his exercise books where he wrote his sports reports.

Read The Full Story Here…

He was an avid sports fan, anything about Leicester, if I could wish one thing it would be that he saw Leicester City win the English Premier League in 2016.

It’s a Bugs Life

The unseasonally good weather has encouraged the plants in the garden to grow, buds to swell and bugs and insects to make an early appearance.

There is a plethora of ladybirds…

In the USA a group or swarm of ladybirds (which they call ladybugs) is called a loveliness. How nice is that.  The wife of Lyndon Johnson, the 39th President of the USA was called Lady Bird and that is a curious fact and good pub quiz question.

Other famous people with creature names are Buffalo Bill, Bear Grylls, Seal, Tiger Woods, Michael J Fox  and Newt Gingrich,

Butterflies too in the garden, the second one seems to have been in a scrap and come off worst…

There were bees as well, but they were too quick for me to get a picture.

Butterflies are easier because a stay still…

On This Day – Independence Days

The following day we went on another coach trip. Were we mad? I am a believer that the mind cancels out unpleasant events, like bad dreams for example and despite the fact that we had endured a nightmare coach ride to Nicosia only three days previously with blank memories we set off again, this time to the Troodos Mountains.

This time it didn’t work and after only twenty minutes I remembered why I had said that I would never do this again as we went through the same tedious routine of picking people up from all over the holiday resort of Paphos.

After an hour or so we arrived at our first stop – the village of Omodos which turned out to be one of those tourist trap villages where all coaches make a stop-over and the local people pester the life out of you to buy souvenirs that you really do not want or need. We successfully ignored them all and made our way the centre of the village and the Timios Stavros monastery that we had come to see.

The monastery itself was mildly interesting, mostly icons and incense as you can probably imagine but it was other exhibits on the site which made it really worth going to see. First of all a room of precious Byzantine icons several hundred of years old; I am not especially interested in Byzantine icons I have to confess but what fascinated me was the fact that they were just decorating the walls without any protection or security and looking quite vulnerable. I suspect that there was most likely some CCTV somewhere in the room or maybe they are just not especially valuable. Who knows?

Even more interesting was a discreet little museum tucked into a corner room that wasn’t especially well signposted.

It was about the struggle for Cyprus independence which was a bad tempered little spat that took place between 1955 and 1959 between Greek Cypriot freedom fighters in an underground organisation called EOKA (Ethnikí Orgánosis Kypríon Agonistón or roughly translated National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters) and the outdated colonial rule of the British.

Discreet because although Cypriots celebrate independence and consider the terrorist fighters to be resistance heroes I suspect that they don’t really want to offend the hundreds of thousands of British visitors to the country because the reality is that the Cyprus relies heavily on three things – Russian gangsters and money launderers, wealthy Chinese émigrés escaping the communist regime in Beijing and British visitors with more money than sense to support its economy. Specifically here in the tourist shops in Omodos.

I try to be objective in matters like this but the bottom line is that EOKA were terrorists, much like the IRA in Northern Ireland and the Mau Mau in Kenya and they killed three times as many British soldiers as British soldiers killed Greek Cypriots. They employed guerilla warfare tactics including sabotage, civil disobedience, civic disruption, cowardly assassinations, ambush and unjustified attacks against police stations, military installations and the homes of army officers and senior officials including civilians and families of army personnel.

The museum consisted of display cases honouring each of the freedom fighter heroes who died in the struggle and who came from nearby. Each case set out details of their lives and the circumstances of their deaths and contained their clothes and other personal items – sometimes blood stained for effect.

There are no memorials here (or elsewhere in Cyprus) to the British soldiers who died.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs I found this little museum rather interesting and was glad to come across it because two days earlier I had avoided the Independence museum in Nicosia on the advice of the guide book which said that it was especially anti-British and we might not be all that welcome.

Cyprus celebrates Independence Day on 1st October each year. Worldwide there are one hundred and sixty countries that celebrate an Independence Day. This sort of thing is quite difficult for us British to understand, we don’t have an Independence Day to celebrate. England hasn’t been successfully invaded since 1066 and whilst we were glad to previously see the backs of the Romans and the Vikings the Norman Invasion has never really been seen as occupation or subjugation but instead something to be proud of.

France doesn’t have an independence day but it does have the 14th July (Bastille Day) to celebrate the end of the Divine Right of Kings. Germany has a Unity Day on 3rd October to celebrate reunification in 1990 and Spain has a National Day on 12th October which celebrates Christopher Columbus reaching the New World and the subjugation of an entire continent, a sort of Independence Day in reverse. Similarly Australia whose National Day is 26th January and celebrates not the departure of colonialists but the arrival of the first British Fleet in Sydney Cove in 1788.

Latvia has two Independence Days both from the same oppressor, November 18th (1918) from the Russian Empire and May 4th (1990) from the Soviet Union.

Another interesting fact is that of the one hundred and sixty Worldwide Independence Days fifty-seven (35% of the total) celebrate independence from the British. Whoops! France is second with twenty-eight and Spain third with twenty-one.

Let’s hope for all of us that the Brexit Nationalist dimwits don’t start cheering January 1st as UK Independence Day because I for one won’t be joining in to celebrate a day of National self harm.

On This Day – Crossing The Green Line in Cyprus

This is quite recent, the last time I travelled to Europe before the pandemic locked us down. In February 2020 I qualified for my State Pension and I spent the first month’s payment on a trip to Cyprus. On the 28th February I visited the capital city of Nicosia.

One of the places that I was determined to visit in Cyprus was the capital Nicosia. I thought I might hire a car and drive there but I changed my mind when I saw daily coach trips advertised as a much cheaper option. With an eye for a bargain I signed up for the tour.

What a mistake that turned out to be. One of the first to be picked up we spent a tedious hour driving around Paphos collecting up everyone else. Why they can’t have one or two convenient pick up points is a mystery to me but I suppose being picked up at the hotel is a selling point.

Eventually however we hit the highway and were on our way. The coach had an informative guide who entertained us with a commentary about the history of Cyprus which came to the story of the Turkish invasion and the current partition of the island into Greek South and Turkish North.

I wanted to see Nicosia because only recently I had visited a previously divided city – Berlin. It is said that Nicosia is the only remaining divided city in Europe but I am not certain that this is true because I recalled visiting Belfast in Northern Ireland which has a massive wall dividing Catholics and Protestants, Unionists and Nationalists and the gates are closed every night to keep people apart.

Berlin…

Belfast and that is what I call a wall…

We arrived in Nicosia about mid morning and I was immediately disappointed. I am not sure what I was expecting but this wasn’t it.

It is a grubby sort of place, grey, boxy and falling apart and in need of a lot of attention, an awful lot of attention. Anything worth seeing is neglected and deteriorating. A bit like Coventry. In 2017 Paphos was awarded European Capital of Culture status and I wondered why not the capital city, ten minutes into Nicosia and I understood exactly why.

We made straight away for the border where we needed passports to cross to the Turkish side. Not so long ago it was said that if anyone visited Northern Cyprus and had their passport stamped then they would not be allowed to visit the South or anywhere in Greece ever again or at least until getting their passport renewed. I don’t think this is the case anymore but I was relieved when they didn’t stamp the passport because later today I rather wanted to return to Paphos without too much fuss and bother.

Kim at the border crossing…

Stepping over the border there was an immediate change of culture which was impossible to miss. It was like moving into a different time zone. From modern Europe we passed into Asia with minarets, souks and bazaars, a constant call to Muslim prayers and a completely different atmosphere. The border is called the Green Line and this is because green is a neutral colour, not the blue of Greece or the red of Turkey. That is how sensitive people are about the partition issue. I understood straight away why the Cyprus problem is so difficult to resolve.

The Green Line is rather like the London Underground District (Green) Line that separates north London from the South, keeping apart the red of Arsenal from the blue of Chelsea.

An example. The city map that we had been given in the south had no street details for North Nicosia. We got hopelessly lost and I showed the map to some local people who claimed complete ignorance about their city geography and refused to help. I think it may have been because the Greek Cypriot map referred to it as an area under Turkish occupation.

Not very smart of me to show it to them and expect any sort of assistance because they are a bit touchy about their status. The postcard at the top should have given me a clue – no recognition of Southern Cyprus at all.

We groped our way back to the border and stopped for lunch before crossing. It seemed to me that most people in northern Nicosia were not especially happy people.


The Little Chef All Day Breakfast

“Little Chef had its roots in the days before Britain had a motorway network, in fact, there are some who believe that our motorways were built primarily to join up all the Little Chefs.” The Caterer.

My Mum likes to tell a story about how as a boy I was a really fussy eater. It might be true. I do know that my own son was a terribly fussy eater. Once on holiday in Portugal in 1994 I had to take him every night to the same bar for a cone of boiled rice and a Pingu ice cream because it was all that he would eat.

This is a Pingu ice cream…

Getting him to eat was a real challenge but the one place he did like was the Little Chef Roadside Diner at Little Eaton near Derby so in desperation and before he wasted away completely we used to take him there now and again for his favourite meal of chicken gougons and French fries.

This is the Little Chef Diner at Little Eaton.  It was an old farmhouse with character.  It is a Starbucks now…

In 2000 there were almost four and fifty branches of Little Chef across the UK and Ireland. Barely fifteen years later there were just 70. Now there are none. The brand simply went out of fashion.

The relationship between driving and eating can be traced back to the economic boom of the 1950s. People had more money to spend, they had cars, they had time to spare, and they were taking inspiration from American culture and heading out on a road trip. What better place to stop for a meal along the way than an American style diner.

The first Little Chef opened in 1958 and restaurants appeared by the side of main roads nationwide and managed to convince families that their cheap, no-nonsense menus would be better than going to the bother of preparing a picnic.

This is a Petcher family picnic in 1959…

Little Chef was most famous for its all day breakfast which thanks to a standardised corporate menu was pretty much similar in all of the restaurants. If you went for a breakfast then you knew exactly what you were going to get.

The basic breakfast was two rashers of bacon, a pork sausage, two free-range eggs, mushroom, sauté potatoes, griddled tomato, Heinz baked beans (specifically Heinz as though this was some sort of gourmet ingredient) and two slices of toast or fried bread. For some reason a slice of black pudding cost extra. I have never really understood why, it is the same today if you buy a breakfast in Wetherspoons, you have to pay extra for black pudding.

This was most likely a rather unhealthy breakfast but Little Chef had a reputation for serving big calorific meals. The company logo was a cheerful looking chef unashamedly called Fat Charlie.

Some studies have shown the health benefits of eating breakfast. It improves energy levels and ability to concentrate in the short term and can help with improved weight management. That may be so but breakfast means means a morning meal, which literally means to break the fasting period of the prior night. I am not so certain therefore that an ’all day breakfast’ meets the healthy criteria..

A couple of weeks ago I recreated the classic Berni Inn three course favourite of prawn cocktail, steak garni and Black Forest Gateau and this week I made an attempt at recreating the Little Chef all day breakfast.

I was not straying too far from the original for this one…

Two rashers of good lean unsmoked bacon (I am not a fan of smoked food of any sort), one Lincolnshire pork sausage (it has to be Lincolnshire of course), just one egg because one egg is enough, sauté potatoes, grilled tomato, baked beans (served on the side because I don’t like baked bean juice all over the plate), a slice of Lancashire black pudding (at no extra cost) and some toast.

And here it is…

Better off at a Berni

A week or so ago I wrote a post about Black Forest Gateau.

Whilst preparing the post I was distracted for a short while as I remembered occasionally eating out in the 1970s at a Berni Inn.

Berni Inn was a national chain of pub-restaurants founded just one year after the end of war time rationing in 1955 by Italian brothers Frank and Aldo Berni  and  was based on the American concept of dining out. The production line model – cheap, clean, consistent and quick.

The Wimpy Bar restaurant chain opened in the UK at the same time but I have never been a fan I have to say. McDonalds and Burger King didn’t arrive until 1974.  Pizza Hut turned up in 1980.

After giving the matter great consideration and a sleepless night I genuinely cannot remember eating out until at least the mid 1970s.

We always ate at home mostly for two reasons, Mum and Dad were not especially well off and rather crucially there was nowhere to eat out even if they could. For twenty-five years after World War Two had ended there were very few restaurants in the UK available or affordable for family dining and children weren’t allowed in pubs anyway. I have seen the period described as the ‘lost generation of English restaurants’.

Frank and Aldo marketed the Berni Inns as somewhere to go for a reasonably priced and hearty meal with a reliable product in a mock Tudor decorated dining room that was suggested might be a better experience than eating at home.

I am fairly certain that if I suggested such a thing to Kim then I would get a Geordie Kiss  but lucky for him he seems to have got away with it!

In 1972 I went out for a meal with three pals to celebrate leaving school and going off to University but except for the odd pub chicken or scampi in a basket meal after that I really don’t think that I went to a restaurant again until after 1975 when I had left university, got a job and a car and a girlfriend and discovered the Berni Inn.

If you were out to impress this was the place to take a girlfriend on a first date, or later on, if the date worked out successfully, to any sort of subsequent celebration or anniversary.

If you of my generation and ever dined at a Berni Inn then for sure you will remember the most popular combination on the menu – Prawn Cocktail, Steak Garni and Black Forest Gateau possibly with a bottle of German Blue Nun white wine. This combination was voted the UK’s favourite meal option right through the 1970s and 80s.

So, why am I telling you all this?  Well having brought up the subject I shared memories with Kim who also has fond memories of the time and we decided to make a Berni Inn tribute meal for Valentine’s Day.

But we updated it just a bit. We started with the prawn cocktail but added the avocado to the dish. The avocado was introduced to the UK in 1968 but wasn’t immediately popular and it wasn’t a part of a Berni Inn prawn cocktail and I am fairly certain that they didn’t add a liberal sprinkle of cayenne pepper either.

We slightly reinterpreted the traditional main course as well and substituted fried onion rings for the garden peas. I was pleased about that because to be honest I am not much of a fan of frozen garden peas and never been very successful at eating them without scattering them all over the table.  We also had oven baked chips instead of frozen.

Frozen oven chips were introduced into the UK by the Canadian company McCain  in 1968 and very quickly they were supplying supermarkets and the catering industry across the country.  I am certain that they were used in a Berni Inn main course.  Most places served frozen oven chips in the 1970s.

The first McCain processing plant was in Scarborough which must have been a bit of a shock to the people of Yorkshire who make the finest ‘proper’ chips in the country, maybe even the World.

It remains their UK Head Office.

Even today If you eat a McDonald’s or a Burger King french fry then it will almost certainly have come from Scarborough and that is how Yorkshire keeps control of the chip.

Finally for dessert we passed on the chore of making a Black Forest Gateau because there was no way we could eat a full one between us and Kim presented a chocolate fudge brownie with raspberries as an alternative.

So now we will have to decide where to eat next weekend. Maybe a ‘Little Chef’ Olympic All Day Full English breakfast.

Memory Post – Barmeston Road, Catford, London

One day in 1995 I was at work and driving through London and on impulse took a detour to Catford and to Barmeston Road where my grandparents used to live to see the house that I used to visit with my parents when I was a boy.

It was having a bit of renovation work carried out to it at the time but although it seemed smaller (everything looks smaller as you grow older, especially chocolate biscuits) it looked however almost as I remembered it and the memories came flooding back.

Read The Full Story Here…