Street Life: Where did it all go….?

Imagine stepping into your house to find it had gone back seventy years in time.

If you had a telephone, it would be bakelite, and probably stood on the hall table for maximum impact on the neighbours. The primitive instrument didn’t have a single push button, let alone a touch screen. I wonder how many of today’s youngsters would know how to go about using it to ring Failsworth 1956?

In the kitchen, you would probably find packets of clear starch, washing soda, dolly blue and laundry soap on the oilcloth-lined shelves.

Somewhere there would be a wash boiler or zinc tub with posser, rubbing board, flat irons and a ‘maiden’ (wooden clothes airer).

If the house lacked a larder, there might be a wooden cabinet with perforated zinc doors. This meat safe was designed to allow air but not flies to get to foods now kept refrigerated.

Fireplaces were the focal point of the living room. The hearth would have a stand with fire irons (poker, shovel, fire tongs and small round brush), known as a ‘companion set’. The mantelpiece likely had at least one black and white family portrait, sometimes hand-tinted to pass as a colour photograph.

Hi-tech at the time, the radiogram replaced the piano as the status symbol in ‘the best room’. With parlours kept exclusively for visitors, a fire screen (the more ornate, the better) concealed the bare, seldom used grate. Lacking a parlour, the one my parents received as a wedding present stood before the desultory iron grate in their bedroom.

The most noticeable bedroom disappearances are, chamber pots (the Po), flock mattresses, and counterpanes. Wartime shortages meant bedding was often patched and dingy from much laundering. Young housewives disguised the shabbiness of their beds with fashionable sateen or lacy counterpanes like the ones they saw at the cinema.

My grandparents slept on their lumpy flock (kapok) mattress until the 1960s.

As a young child, I had my afternoon sleep on that bed. But I was oblivious to the lumps while falling asleep to the strains of ‘My old man said follow the van’, which was one of nana’s extensive repertoire of music hall songs.

In the days when Friday night was Amami night, bathrooms for those lucky enough to have one, were often cramped and cold.

My mum’s horror of nits meant my long hair was washed with either Derbac or green soft soap in the kitchen’s pot sink. Something must have worked, as I never had an infestation of those nasty crawlies.

Between the weekly hair wash, pin curls (a strand of hair secured by two crossed kirby grips) would do for work. But come weekend, styling was achieved with paraphernalia the Spanish Inquisition might recognise.

Water lily shampoo pads were the latest thing. After washing, setting lotion was applied, and depending on the style required, one or more items of ironmongery were employed. A sort of curved bulldog clip with fierce teeth was used for waving, while curls were created by winding hair onto metal curling pins.

Until the boyfriend’s knock sounded at the front door, the finished style was protected by a hair net. These nets could vary from ‘invisible’, to the full ‘Ena Sharples’.

The lad’s hair would likely be Brylcreemed, and if he was a ‘sharp dresser’, might be sporting drainpipe trousers and crepe soled, ‘beetle crusher’ shoes.

The disappearance of some items is to be regretted, but I feel seamed stockings won’t be missed by anyone forced to wear them. They were becoming old fashioned when, as a young teenager, my dad came home with a pair he probably bought cheaply from someone in the pub or at work. Those seams never stayed straight, and I would honestly rather have gone out with my legs covered in gravy browning, complete with eyebrow pencil seams, which was the wartime answer to a shortage of stockings.

Products containing the lethal hexachlorophene once added to Signal toothpaste and baby toiletries, has rightly been consigned to the dustbin of history. However, rather than vanishing altogether, other less than healthful products simply changed their name. These days, no cigarette manufacturer would dare tempt smokers with benign pastoral names like Woodbine, Sweet Afton or Passing Cloud.

But, some things really did vanish. Who now remembers Rinso (detergent), pluck (offal for animals) or Benger’s food (wheat flour and extract of pancreatic enzymes which pre-digested warm milk for invalids).

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North West Theatre Arts Company – Phantom Memories

The new season at North West Theatre Arts Company, Lightbowne Rd, Moston is under way and what a great start!

Phantom Memories is set in a disused theatre that four youngsters find their way into. Dusty props, odd items of costume and pieces of faded scenery present a creepy, haunted atmosphere. They’re caught red handed by the ageing caretaker, Bud Berger, superbly played by the young Harry Gardner. They run off leaving one young lady behind.

Finding herself alone she curiously starts to sort through the dusty objects. Each one she touches conjures us up ghostly images taking her, and the audience, back in time as they perform their memories from past musicals.

NWTAC’s theatre school term started just 4 weeks ago and the cast represents the full range of students including the newest members and the most experienced. A month is not a lot of rehearsal time so it was ‘in at the deep end’ for the newbies. They did so well. Early nerves soon dissipated and everyone grew in confidence as the show unfolded.

The musical numbers showcased a variety of West End productions, big box office films and the best of Hollywood hits such as Jesus Christ Superstar, Grease, The Sound of Music, The King and I, Evita, South Pacific, The Wizard of Oz, Half a Sixpence and more. Something to suit everyone.

The full company kicked off with The Phantom of the Opera, closing the show two hours later with Born to Hand Jive and You’ll Never Walk Alone. In between we had solos, duets, comedy pieces and one or two cheeky numbers too.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow is one of my all-time favourites. It’s just ‘up there’ and Amelia Zatorska sang it so sweetly that I and the rest of the audience melted. Gareth Maudsley’s rendition of Flash! Bang! Wallop! was brilliantly energetic and I’m convinced he’s related to Tommy Steele. If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It by Maria Collins was soooo tongue in cheek it made us blush. James Llewellyn Burke nailed all of his numbers including Gethsemene and Madame Guillotine with real passion, matched by Solomon Asante-Owusu and Lois Ormerod’s ‘crime of passion’ with We Both Reached For the Gun.

All these numbers would have fallen flat without the brilliant staging and direction of the production team. It’s easy to overlook the skills involved. Some of dance routines were complex yet executed with precision and that’s a tricky challenge for such a large cast, so, well done to Choreographer Katie Gough. A total of 39 musical numbers must have left Bethany Singh, Musical Director, feeling very proud and rightly so.

This was the first of a season of 8 shows that NWTAC will perform over the coming months and the script was inspired: A lovely trip down memory lane. What can beat a live performance, close to home and it doesn’t break the bank to go and watch?

If you have never been to NWTAC’s theatre and don’t know what to expect this is a view of the interior with the show’s Director, Prab Singh in the foreground…

NWTAC are truly a talented group of people but don’t take my word for it. Go and see for yourself. Winter Wonderland, a variety concert to get you in the mood for Christmas, comes up next from the 18th to 20th November. See you there.

Details of all forthcoming shows, how to join the mailing list and book tickets etc., can be found on NWTAC’s website here, along with details of the North West Stage School.

You can also follow them on Facebook, just click here.

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