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I am currently reading Paul Feeney’s book, A 1960s Childhood, From Thunderbirds to Beatlemania.
When I began reading this marvellous book, I didn’t expect so many memories to come flooding back, but they did. However, one of my most awful (horrific!) memories, that I didn’t need any book to remind me of, is the dental practices we endured in the early ’60s.
For the first time in my life – at least in this country – Canada – I have, at last, validation that the anaesthetic gas they inflicted on children back then caused undeniable trauma. What I remember of dental visits is the dentist placing a very large, black, rubbery mask over my face, while forcibly holding the back of my head so that I couldn’t move.
What I remember happening next were flashing psychedelic lights and screaming in my ears.
After the large black mask, my dentist began using a small, black, rubbery cube that would be placed between my teeth at the back of my mouth and, once again, the awful experience of flashing lights and screaming.
I have mentioned this numerous times over the years, yet no one could quite understand what the hell I was talking about. Dentistry in Canada was a far more civilized occupation, it seemed, and children weren’t seen kicking and screaming in the dentists’ office. Well, not half as many as in Britain back then, I swear.
So, it was with relief when I read author Paul Feeney’s section on dentistry in A 1960s Childhood…
Dental treatment improved during the 1960s, but a visit to the dentist was still something to dread, especially for those unfortunate enough to have experienced the gas anaesthetic dentistry of the early sixties. It was the stuff of nightmares. That horrible cube of dry wadding the dentist would shove under your back teeth to keep your mouth open and the awful smell of the black rubber face mask that was held over your nose and mouth to administer the anaesthetic gas that would send you to sleep and into a world of hallucinatory nightmarish dreams. Afterwards you drifted back into consciousness tasting the disgusting mix of bleeding gums and residual gas in your mouth, and the nausea inevitably brought on bouts of uncontrollable vomiting. The horrendous experience didn’t end at the dentist’s door because the soreness, nausea and dizziness could last for several hours. Who could question why a child of the sixties would often need to be dragged screaming and shouting to the dentist’s chair?
A 1960s Childhood, From Thunderbirds to Beatlemania, Feeney, Paul, The History Press, 2010
I’ve since spoken to Paul Feeney about this and we both agree that it was, without doubt, one of the most awful of medical experiences for a child.
I found it rather odd that the BBC’s website’s headline read, “UK unemployment continues to fall,” followed by the story in the post title above, “Department for Education cuts 1,000 jobs.
I have the BBC on my Twitter feed and noticed the tweet there first. It piqued my curiosity.
Perhaps it is symbolic of my own 1960s decade, when I spent my early years going through the British education system, that I still maintain an interest in this topic. But more than that, I think it was my more recent visit to my former junior school (Canadian ‘elementary school’) that shed new light on school memories from that decade.
I’ve written before about that schooling. I attended Muswell Hill Junior School, adjacent to Alexandra Palace in north London (N10) from 1966 to 1969. A quiet Edwardian suburb, my school memories there consist of harsh rules and strict methods of learning. A headmistress who, in retrospect, could well have stepped out of a Victorian novel for all the compassion she showed.
I still have memories of morning assembly, all pupils sitting daily on the floor in the ‘hall’ (gym) cross-legged, hands on knees, straight-back, ‘listening carefully, children.‘ Our headmistress sat on the stage – a religious pulpit would have been more apropos – leading with hymns, reading us stories (Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress) informing us of any pertinent news (as much as any child under the age of eleven could absorb) and at the end of her time up there on ‘stage’ we could look forward to her reading the closing list of ‘naughty children’ who were fidgeting, or not paying adequate attention, for they would be kept in at playtime (recess) and would write line after line in a classroom, watching headmistress’s lead and hoping above all else that our perfect Marion Richardson penmanship was in keeping with her absurdly high expectations of young children.
I was ‘caught’ only once and that was enough punishment for me. To say that I was terrified is a gross understatement. After my due punishment, I made sure I had the straightest back, the finger marks on my knees adequate proof that I didn’t move a finger even an inch, nor did I take my eyes off the disliked woman on stage. I didn’t move a single muscle in my body from that point on and, for what seemed like eternity, I sat there, along with the rest of the school’s pupils, dead-still and eyes fixed. We were lifeless mannequins until we silently marched into our classrooms and at last we could breathe again.
In 2006, some thirty-seven years after leaving the school in July 1969, I saw MHJS for the first time. Its architecture was still unique, still ‘modern’ to me (we were the first students in the newly built school in 1967 or ’68 – before that we occupied a wartime building with a corrugated roof down the street.) But it was now 2006 and the school’s perimeter was guarded by a high fence, the newly built tunnel of 1968 that was dug as a pedestrian walkway underneath Muswell Hill, now showed signs of vandalism and a place you wouldn’t want to send young children on their own.
It was like stepping back in time. Pink and brown uniforms, white socks, sensible shoes, hair pulled away from the face… it was nothing of its former self.
I can’t honestly tell you that the two ‘head teachers’ were particularly friendly or helpful, but others were. Two children from one of the classes (classes were now referred to as colours: Blue Class, Gold Class, Orange Class… which seemed a bit off, if truth be known) were assigned to take me on a tour. I was surprised when the children referred to their teachers, not as Miss, Ms., Mrs., or Mr., but by their first names.
Call me old-fashioned, but I didn’t like the way this was going. The school had gone from army-strict to the opposite end of the spectrum. Couldn’t someone find a comfortable centre?
*Of course, I’m not commenting on the quality of the education, I’m only commenting on how things had changed with respect to pupils and staff.
The children who were assigned to take me on the tour were delightful and chatty. I’m not sure I heard all their words for the words of my former schoolmates whose voices still rung in the air as I wandered through hallways and rooms where once we weren’t allowed to venture. Off-bounds, off-limits… rules, regulations, punishments…
Some things are better left in the past. In this instance, I’m not sure the past was better than the present, or the present any better than the past. They are too far apart to compare.
Anyway, I’ve been sidetracked with my own recollections. Here’s the article…
If you’ve read anything at all about the recent student elections at Western (University of Western Ontario) you’ve no doubt been witness to an astonishing amount of naiveté.
In a world where hackers are so adept at their trade that they can hack into the technologically strongest of world banks, how difficult could it be for the so-called talented, manipulative individuals who took hold of a school’s voting system?
Furthermore, there is a shocking level of naiveté on the part of the school’s administration, perhaps too complacent in its ivory-towered offices. Have the tweedy academics, ensconced in their preferred surroundings, become the artless amongst a far more clever lot?
As adults, we’ve all been witness to this sort of complacency elsewhere, but when those halls of academia evolve into nothing more than a protective moat, keeping at bay the evils of society, then this becomes their day of reckoning.
While the fresh out of high school and the young twenty-somethings are hit with something as devious as this so close to home, they are learning something far more important than rising to an elected seat within the confines of school walls. For years, students have been shielded by teachers who have enforced rules, perhaps ignored reports of hacking making the 6 o’clock news, or laughed at technologically-inclined others who rail against the system and infiltrate more powerful institutions. The hotbed of university life during the sixties was, after all, a mind-awakening experience, full of student power, flower power, and damn-you-establishment power. If the culprits are students themselves, then that student power has finally inflicted its wrath upon its own.
It’s a valuable ethics lesson learned for the students who will rise above this episode. For the administration, well, call it what you will.
Today my husband and I spent the morning and early afternoon antiquing in Elora and Aberfoyle. We were on our way specifically to pick up a 1958 Pyrex promotional piece called Pink Scroll, which I’m happy to report was in mint condition with glass lid and stand. We also brought home my first piece of the Early American pattern, which I like far more than I thought I would. It’s also the first time I’ve ever seen the pattern outside of Barbara Mauzy’s book, or the Internet and it’s much lovelier close up.
On the way home, we stopped at the Aberfoyle Antique Market “just for a quick look,” but typically, we wandered around mesmerized by all the antiques on display. It was a great place to stop and we saw so many really interesting ‘things’ that we just had to pick up and examine.
I also came across plenty of Pyrex and brought home a 1950s Flamingo (dark pink) cake dish, a Flamingo lasagna dish, a black on yellow Gooseberry pattern cinderella dish, and another casserole with stand, although I’m not sure at this point what the pattern is called. There were so many pieces to choose from and I felt like the proverbial kid in the candy shop.
When we were driving to Elora, we stopped at a farm that was advertising antiques. All of the pieces were in a huge barn built in the early 1800s, which was absolutely beautiful inside. It was like stepping back in time. On one beam I spotted the initials “D.B.” dated 1947 carved into the wood. We hadn’t planned to stop at this farm, or at the Aberfoyle Antiques Market, but come October we’re planning on returning to wander around again. I bought one dish at the barn (for $1.) a 1950s white milk glass with blue and grey Atomic-age pattern, which match the custard cups I already have. **I have just found out that the pattern is “Blue Heaven” by Royal China, produced in the 1950s and 1960s.
I’ve noticed the last few months that Pyrex collecting, as well as collecting Jadeite and others, has become more and more popular and has been featured prominently in issues of Martha Stewart Living and Country Living magazines. Martha’s collections of Pyrex and Jadeite are astronomical compared to mine, though. (I have only one Jadeite bowl which has resided at our cottage since the 1950s and is in pristine condition and there it will stay. Martha and Alexis Stewart, on the other hand, have literally hundreds of Jadeite pieces.)
Collectors aren’t all that thrilled, it seems, that many of the magazines are now devoting pages to collecting these old items. One of Oprah’s spin-off shows – a decorator whose name escapes me – also did a huge segment on retro collecting. While it’s great to see this catching on, it also drives up the price of the pieces. Luckily, I have almost all the pieces that I love, but of course, there are those elusive pink gooseberry and turquoise butterprint and snowflake patterned dishes that I’d like more of. But, that’s the most satisfying part of collecting – coming across something that catches your eye, that you don’t already have, and finding it when you least expect it.
All in all, a great way to spend a Sunday.
Earlier this month, my daughter and her friends picked too many strawberries at a local farm. I thought of the usual cold desserts, but wasn’t in the mood for something like strawberries and ice cream, or anything particularly cold, despite the summer heat.
Instead, I whipped up a strawberry crumble, using oats, brown sugar, ground flaxseed, and whatever other handy and/or healthy staples I could find in the cupboard. I didn’t make the crumble too sweet as the fresh Ontario strawberries were sweet enough. (If it were colder, I would have made custard to complement this, but that’s the British in me. Alternatively, fresh, unsweetened Devon cream is a wonderful second choice.)
As I’ve said in earlier posts, recipes seem to turn out so much better when baked in vintage Pyrex, and this was no different. The dish here is a 1960s Pyrex Spring Blossom pattern, though the green – my favourite colour – in this photograph does not do the actual bright green colour justice.
P.S. The crumble was delicious and didn’t last very long.
One has to wonder what drives an author like Harper Lee – or any other “reclusive” author – to live a life as far away from her literary legions as possible. One also goes on to wonder why she wrote only that one – albeit incomparable – novel and no more.
I couldn’t believe what I was reading in the Muswell Hill Journal this morning. (See story below)
For many, including me, W. Martyn Tea Specialists in Muswell Hill Broadway is a classic – there’s just no other way to describe it.
When I was growing up in London in the 1960s, the aroma of the old (ancient) coffee roaster in the front window could be detected long before you arrived at the shop. That unmistakeable, tantalizingly delicious aroma is a huge part of that shop, a place that has been a staple in the Broadway for decades. It’s the sort of place where you can linger for ages, just scrutinizing all of its traditional – and new – wares. It was even more captivating for me as the last time I was there was just before Christmas.
Click on this LINK to go to W. Martyn’s website. Also click on the link below to visit the Muswell Hill Journal website where you can read about the store’s current dilemma.
Here are a few photos I shot just before Christmas three years ago, along with the two above.