Necessary to the active male in 1959

Here’s a little gem of an ad. for Chilprufe underwear from the Winter 1959 edition of The Countryman magazine to celebrate the first frost of the season.

When I was a teenager in the early ’70s tie-dyed “Grandad vests” like the one seated gentleman is wearing were quite the thing in the hippy community – the wearing of vintage clothes isn’t a new trend! I never really went in for tie-dye myself, but many of my clothes came from the Oxfam shop, jumble sales or secondhand clothes stalls on Cambridge market.

Back then nearly all clothes, bags and shoes back were made of natural materials and lasted for donkey’s years. I wouldn’t fit into them now, but I’d love to still have some of the cotton, silk and wool garments I treasured in my teens just to enjoy the feel of them. The quality of the fabric was wonderful – buttery corduroy and velvet, soft Viyella and cotton, heavy silk crepe and all wool was real wool.

And then there were the beautiful leather handbags, shoes and purses that cost pennies and wore so well they looked even better with the patina of age than they did new. I still enjoy buying secondhand clothes, but the treasures are much harder to find nowadays and are priced accordingly.

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Local shopping – the greengrocer’s

I’m lucky to live within easy walking distance of a good range of independent shops and, although I do a weekly(ish) shop at a supermarket, I like to support my local retailers too. Kimpton’s greengrocers shop has been at 6 Station Parade for 56 years and thus is just a couple of years older than me. I love the sense of stepping back into my youth when I shop there.

When I popped in the other day to buy some sprouts and salad stuff I asked if I could take some photos. Not only did I get permission to snap away, but I was also shown the owner’s album of photos from the shop’s heyday and heard some fascinating reminiscences. Sadly there wasn’t time for more than a brief chat, but it was lovely talking to someone who clearly enjoys his work and to hear something of the history of businesses in the area.

There are several vintage weighing scales on display in the shop. The set you can see on the right of the picture was used not only for produce as you would expect, but also for weighing the local babies! Health and safety would have a fit at the thought of such a practice nowadays, but I love the idea of the local young mums wheeling their prams to the shops to buy their groceries and get the baby weighed. The modern digital scales of today seem dull in comparison, but in forty or fifty years time they too will be vintage items with stories to tell.

Inevitably the owner of Kimpton’s has seen a lot of changes since he began working there. Once there were three sweet shops all making a living in the parade, two banks and other food shops. There are still numerous businesses in the area, including a newsagents, a pub, a couple of cafes and the garage where I get my car MOT’d, but some premises have been turned into homes, some are boarded up and others that were once shops are now offices.

Taking my inspiration from blogs such as Spitalfield’s Life and Julia Cameron on Upper St Giles Street I intend to investigate my local area more thoroughly in the coming months and to write about my discoveries. People are wonderfully willing to chat about the things that interest me and I’m nowhere near as shy as I used to be about initiating conversations with strangers!


Vintage media

To celebrate the addition Nicky’s interesting and amusing Knit for Victory to my blogroll, here’s an image from my own, much smaller, collection of vintage knitting patterns.

As well as my knitting patterns I have …um… quite a few vintage magazines, mostly from the 1940s, 50s and 60s and a collection of early to mid 20th century household management, gardening, cookery, craft, DIY and self-improvement books.

I find old print media utterly fascinating and although I’m not an obsessive collector by any means, I do love picking through a pile of dusty musty paper in pursuit of treasure.

OK, so a picture of a bloke wearing a fancy-knit pullover and lighting a fag might not be everyone’s idea of treasure, but to me it’s 20 pence worth of interesting social history.


Driving test

It’s 29 years today since I passed my driving test. I can still feel the sense of achievement and excitement I felt that grey November day! I failed my first attempt at the driving test when I was seventeen and, as was the way in my family, that was that. No “better luck next time”, no money for more lessons, no second chance – just the sense that I’d missed my chance and proved once again to be a disappointment.

It wasn’t unusual for young people not to have a driving licence in those days and, even if I had passed, there would have been little prospect of owning a car. So I put the failure behind me and carried on as before using public transport and Shanks’ pony. For a couple of years I had a small 120cc motorbike, but I didn’t need to take a test for that and when I got married it had to go to help fund our setting up home costs.

By the time I was 25 I was ready to have another go at learning to drive. I was earning a good salary and had more confidence in myself. I got my provisional licence and booked a lesson with an instructor recommended by someone at work. The first lesson was terrifying! I was expecting to be driven to a quiet road to be shown how to use the the controls, instead I found myself driving along one of Brighton’s busiest roads during the rush hour!

Of course I survived to tell the tale, though I was shattered by the effort of concentration by the time I got home. My instructor was right to throw me in at the deep end, after that first nerve-wracking lesson I progressed slowly, but steadily though the challenges of the three-point turn, reversing round a corner and negotiating a roundabout until he decided I was ready to take my test.

I wasn’t so sure, but I knew that this time I could have another go if I failed, so I booked the test and chewed my nails until the big day came. Somewhat to my horror I wasn’t able to take my test in my instructor’s car and had to have another instructor for my pre-test lesson. I wonder if that was a deliberate ploy by the instructors? I was so sure I’d fail and have to take the test again that I was probably more relaxed than if I’d been expecting to pass.

As it was, although I still hadn’t much confidence in my abilities as a driver it seems that the examiner was determined to pass me. In those days there was no written test, you just proved your knowledge of the Highway Code by answering the random questions the examiner posed. I hadn’t a clue what the answer to my final question about motorway signs was, but after several very hefty prompts from the examiner I arrived at the correct conclusion. And that was that, I was a driver!

I went back to work in a quiver of excitement. I phoned my husband who promised a celebratory meal later and my colleagues seemed as excited as me by my pass. Nowadays I suppose most people except the most impoverished learn pass their test before they leave school. Driving is now seen as an essential skill, but back then it was more of a luxury and for me in my mid-twenties, one of the most significant events in my life.