Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Something to do

You've seen what a muddle my bookshelves are in, so it's hardly surprising, I suppose, that whilst rummaging for one thing I should happen unexpectedly on another. In this case an old, old friend - and just seeing its faded, battered cover and yellowed pages whisked me right back to 1968 (yes, I'm afraid I do go back that far, which is not an altogether edifying thought).

It's my copy of Something To Do by 'Septima', first published by Puffin Books in 1966. Mine is the 1968 reprint and it was given to me by a teacher at my Primary School, who was also a family friend. It must have been on my eighth or ninth birthday. One of my Puffin Club bookplates (inexpertly cut along the dotted line by me with my blunt-ended scissors, no doubt) was licked-and-sticked (luck-and-stuck?) to the flyleaf. Smudgy ink, new fountain pen.

Something To Do sums up what life was like in those far-off days. When children's telly came on for an hour and a half between Playschool and whatever 5.55 delight was on at the time (Tin-Tin, The Magic Roundabout, Hector's House . . .). Betweentimes it was 'The Testcard and Music' (quite nice music, sometimes, which one could dance to in one's dressing-up princess/ballerina/fairy clothes).

A rainy day meant that one couldn't play endlessly outdoors in the garden, or someone else's garden, or along the path beside the railway, or round the roads on one's bike or generally roam around looking for discarded Corona drinks bottles which one could take along to the corner shop and claim the 'deposit' back to spend on sweets (no mobile phones - our mothers hadn't a clue where we were - so long as we came home at tea-time it didn't really matter what we got up to).

A rainy day meant finding something else to do. And that's where Something To Do came into its own.

It is described by the Editor of Puffin Books, Kaye Webb, on the opening page thus:

'Here at last is a book to fill up all the wet days and dull days that produce the question "What can I do?" in every family. Something To Do has suggestions for things children can do at home, indoors and outside, without spending much money or being a terrible nuisance.'

Ha! Being a 'terrible nuisance', indeed. What we all tend to forget when we harp nostalgically back to the days when the majority of mothers were at home and 'there for' their children (and thus 'good' mothers, in contrast to the 'bad' working mothers of today) is that, in fact, they weren't. They were at home, yes, but by goodness most of them weren't sitting around reading us stories all the time, they were BUSY. In those days, running a home meant a bit more than organising the cleaning lady and loading the dishwasher/washing machine/tumble drier a couple of times a day. It meant a hard old grind, wrestling with pre-washing-machine 'boilers' and 'wringers'; scrubbing away at tough stains with bars of hard soap; heaving laundry out of hot water with huge wooden tongs; washing terry nappies; scouring pans with brillo pads and carpets with messy shampooers; making curtains and children's clothes; darning socks; growing vegetables; shoving leftover meat through the mincer without losing the ends of one's fingers.

Children had to 'run along a play' and 'be off out my kitchen' and generally avoid being a nuisance, just as much as my children have had to shove off and entertain themselves while I work at my PC. My mother may not have had client-imposed deadlines and the stresses of finding enough hours in the day to earn sufficient money, but she had other deadlines - home-made meals to put on the table at certain times; getting the washing dry enough on 'washing day' to iron on 'ironing day'; eking out the housekeeping money; catching the butcher's shop and the baker's before they closed for lunch (no 24/7 supermarkets for disorganised people then).

Before I was old enough to go to school, I remember having Little Grey Rabbit and Thomas the Tank Engine stories read to me in the afternoons, when a 'little sit down with a cup of tea' was permissible between the chores. The rest of the time, it was me on my own, with my knitted duck, my imagination, my garden, my Lego and, later, my sister to play with.

Enter Something To Do:

'Every busy mother's vade mecum. It will refresh her memory on half-forgotten pastimes, and save her any amount of brain-searching with its detailed information and plans for practical entertainments.'

And so it did. Looking through it now, it seems almost comical in its old-fashioned innocence. Every month there was a 'bird of the month' and a 'flower of the month', a poem, games to play, things to make, ideas for vaguely 'improving' activities outdoors and indoors. Detailed diagrams show how to make an Advent Calendar or some scenery for one's model railway. It's all very post-War and frugal, and pre-Blue Peter in its outlook. And, it goes without saying, entirely Middle-Class in its literary, domestic and environmental interests and aspirations.

But who cares? I was a child of that time and that class and this is why it has been such a delight to rediscover this battered pink paperback. I realise now how well I knew it. Not because my mother used it as her own good mother's handbook, particularly, but because it was very much mine. Its covers are faded because it was rarely on my bookcase, but out, sitting on the chest under my bedroom window, being referred to as I planted seeds in little pots and watered them daily, or made lavender bags out of old scarves, or paper fans with lolly-stick handles. I took it all very seriously!

The illustrations are by Shirley Hughes, in her characteristic homely, reassuring style, and they capture small things about the age which now seem charming. In the 'games to play' section for December, a group of children are playing 'What's the Time, Mr Wolf?'. The little girls are in party frocks with ribbons in their hair (not much has changed there, then), but the boys - the six-year-old boys of 1966 - are wearing shorts, long socks and ties! It's such details which bring home to me what another world I grew up in - and how very OLD I am now!!

Here are some pages from December. I may pop up some more each month next year.
Just for Something To Do.

While thinking about what to write about today, I visited some of my favourite blogs, only to find this most distressing example of the ghastly petty awfulness of some people. Why? Just, for goodness’ sake, why? My heart goes out to you and your family, Anne.

On a lighter and more frivolous note, I suddenly felt inspired to post a nude photograph of myself on my website. Cute, huh?!


monix said...

Thank you for bringing back lovely memories with 'Something to Do.' I have the same battered pink paperback somewhere on my shelves. I wasn't a young schoolgirl, or a mum back when it was new, but starting out as a primary teacher in 1967. That book provided activities for Friday afternoons and wet playtimes for many a class. I suspect 'Something to Do' was the vade mecum of lots of terrified young teachers in those days.
I love the bold stroke of the nude photo and suspect that site will get many hits today!

Juliet said...

Yes, it was always on the desk of the teacher who gave it to me, too, and the inspiration for many a nature walk, and craft lesson, I'm sure.

60GoingOn16 said...

Yes, we have it too - or at least my daughter does. I think I bought it for her when she was six! And she belonged to the Puffin Club too - still has her Puffin Club magazines, as these were far too precious to be recycled during the Great Decluttering. I remember taking her to two 'Book Bangs' in Central London in the early 1970s, which is where she joined the Puffin Club and where we met Shirley Hughes, who did a 'Naughty Little Sister' sketch for my daughter. We framed it and hung it in our kitchen, where it stayed for years; the sketch now hangs on the wall of my daughter's own, very grown-up house.

Motheratlarge said...

The Puffin Club bookplate takes me straight back to Primary Six, and saving up my pocket money to buy paperbacks. Felt I was ten years old again reading this posting - thank you for the welcome trip down memory lane. I don't think I've thought about that in thirty year - how nice to remember.

Juliet said...

Thanks everyone - I was amazed at the force with which that familiar old cover whisked me back across the years. I hadn't thought about it for decades, either, so I'm so pleased that it's taken some of my readers back to Puffin Club days, too.

PC is still going strong, but there are so very many other children's book catalogues and clubs out there now that it is no longer unique. In the 60s it was wonderfully innovative and that sense of 'belonging' (newsletters, magazines, competitions, bookplates, bookmarks, special events, etc) was wonderful.

I fear that my family has been more ruthless than yours, Diane, and my club magazines are long gone. Shame - they were full of good things. Please, please borrow some back and share them in a blog post one day!!

Dragonfairy said...

Oh My! I had that book too! Lovely memories came back to me, thank you :)