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Wednesday 3 March 2021

The Happiest of Times: Childhood in the 60s

 Admiring the Christmas cakes: children from Geason's Lane Primary School, Plymouth, in 1971

Whatever decade you were born in, you probably think you had the best time of it.  Even today's children, driven to school, never allowed out to play and given ipads for distraction, will probably look back and said the 2020s were marvellous.

I have very happy memories of childhood - it was a rough tumble time of grazed knees, skipping, dens and fields full of wildflowers.

We first moved to the house in Plymouth where my mum still lives in 1964. The house cost three and a half thousand pounds and was the first to be built on a new development. At that time it was surrounded by fields and lanes. Prior to Plymouth we lived in a "hiring," a rented house in Morden, Surrey.  Here I am with my elder brother, left, and the boy from next door, Chris, in Morden.

My dad was in the Royal Marines and my mum was a housewife. Most women were then:  employers simply got rid of women who were pregnant or had children. 

There was me, my brother Snurge  (we all had nicknames) who was 6 years older than me, and Chops, 4 years younger. My nickname was Gull. Here we are looking angelic for a rare studio portrait, both trying to hold Chops down as he rarely sat still for more than 10 seconds.

Is This Mutton's Gail Hanlon, right, with brothers in a studio photograph around 1967

Typical Play Fun 60s Style

During the holidays we stayed out all day playing, and could safely roam quite far afield.  Parents didn't expect you back until tea time.  I had a little group of friends from around the neighbourhood and we'd formed The Spy Club and used to go off searching for murders.  We found a bag of old clothes - and was that a blood stain on one of them? - and took them to the police station. A very game constable looked at us very seriously, with our Spy Club badges, and asked who was the leader.  "I am," I said.  He wrote down the details of the find and said I could claim it if nobody else did.

We had two dens we would escape to.  One was "the cave," which was a disused mine shaft a mile or so down the road. It was a nice woodland walk to get to the cave.  We never actually went in it because legend had it the cave was full of bats or rats.

The other den was in an overgrown area next to woods.  It had probably been the gardens of a couple of grand houses, long since demolished, because there were still roses clambering around.

The den was down a perfect little windy path and next to a wall.  The trouble was other people knew about it and we once barged in on some "dope heads" who weren't happy to see a bunch of kids. 

During long summers we might get bored and pick a fight on "the enemy end," the kids who lived at the other end of the road, among them the children of my dad's friend and colleague  (we never got on).

These were quite ferocious scraps. 

Kim pushed me over just inches from a moving car, but I managed to grab her leg and pull her down.  I limped home where Nan Tyler, my dad's mum, was staying with us, and kept saying "oh my, oh my," as there was blood everywhere.  Kim's mother came up later, bristling, to talk to my parents about what I'd done, but she retreated when she saw how bad my knee was.


Every Christmas brought a game or novelty of the year, as it still does today.  One year it was "clackers," pictured, glass balls that you banged against each other.  I never actually had these, my mum said they were too dangerous.  Another year it was space hoppers.  One time it was a tube of plastic that you whizzed above your head and it made a "woo woo" noise. 

Conkers were a yearly thrill:  they fell from the tree every autumn and boys in particular were meticulous about "priming" them:  dousing them in vinegar and putting them in the oven to harden up. You then got your dad to bore a hole through the best specimen, put it on a rope, and off you went to do battle.

Fizzy drinks were only for Christmas

As kids we weren't very well off - there were no holidays until the 70s when we started having caravan breaks funded by mum getting a part-time job.  There were few luxuries. Fizzy drinks were only bought at Christmas when the Corona (yes!) lorry came round. We had to drink squash which I always hated:  Kia-Ora, Treetop or Quosh.  Orange juice didn't arrive until the early 70s when it was frozen in cans. Nesquik, a powder to add to milk, was a treat, as was Crusha. 

At school we played a game which has long since been banned, "British Bulldogs," where kids would assemble at the top and bottom of the playground and then run at each other with battle cries. 

When it was your birthday, people gave you "the bumps"  (also long since banned).  Your arms and legs would be seized and you would be bounced up and down. 

As we got a bit older, we loved to create plays.  A curtain would go over the clothes line and a cardboard clock would appear. The play was invariably something to do with ghosts, and one of us would flap around in a sheet.  Our mums were too busy gossiping to watch the action, except for sometimes telling the ghost to get off the garden.


Our family Christmas always started the same with Cadbury's chocolate biscuits for breakfast and then opening the presents.  We never had stockings but pillow cases, and there would be a couple of tangerines and nuts at the bottom. 

We didn't pressurize our parents for presents we knew they couldn't afford. I would loved to have had a Chopper bike but I knew it wasn't feasible so never asked for one. I liked a creative sort of present at Christmas:  I loved a paper doll kit, where you cut out the little outfits and bent the tabs around the doll. When I was a bit older, I had Spiromatic and Spirofoil, successors to Spirograph, and a resin kit like Plasticraft where you could embed wasps for posterity. I also had a Chad Valley projector. 

Christmas dinner (never called lunch in those days, although we had it at 1pm) was a capon, a large castrated chicken, which was ordered from a farm. Grandma and Granddad would have been collected around 11  (my mum's parents) and sat down with a scooner of sherry.   "Emergency chairs" were placed around the table which would have been extended.  You can see the table below with the orange seersucker tablecloth. There's a blue "emergency" chair from the kitchen. 

After dinner we played games.  Movie Maker was a fave; I was always a bit bored by Scrabble, Cluedo and Monopoly and used to cheat without anyone seeing, as did Snurge who was always the banker and used to slip himself a few notes.  TV fare was Billy Smart's Circus and comedy duo Morecambe and Wise. 

For tea we always had chicken sandwiches, a Bird's trifle, or sometimes my mum's own creation of a sponge cake covered in Dream Topping with tinned peaches that invariably slid down the sides.  There would also be home made sausage rolls, cream slices and a Christmas cake that no-one wanted.

The Christmas table at Is This Mutton's family home back in the 1960s with seersucker tablecloth

The sideboard had a selection of chocolate, nuts and fruit for Christmas and we would choose something for the evening.  Mum always bought things we didn't like because it was "traditional" to have them:  Newberry fruits and Eat Me dates.  If we were really lucky there might be a box of chocolates, usually Milk Tray, Weekend or Reward.

School Dinners - My Daily Trial

I went to Geason's Primary School from age four to 11.  I wasn't seen as very bright for the first few years, I was slow to learn to read and it was my dad who taught me, persevering with Lady Bird books.

At lunch time we were marched down to a huge old Nissun hut for our school dinner. I really hated school dinners.  I made sure to sit on a table with a kid called Vernon "the dustbin" who would happily eat anything you didn't want. We were then free to run around the playground or, if it was summer, go into the large school playing fields. 

As soon I was considered old enough (around 9 or 10), I was allowed to go home for lunch.  School was about a mile from where we lived, and we only had 45 minutes, so I would practically run home where mum had my dinner waiting, and then rush back.  She didn't drive so there was no car option:  Dad took the car to work.  Sometimes I had to call in at the general store Willcock's to pick up pet food for the school gerbils and guinea pigs.

When we got home from school, there was never any snacking. We had our tea around 5 o' clock. We watched some TV programmes, typically Blue Peter, Vision On and a kids' drama like "Joe and the Gladiator."  Mum would change her outfit and put some makeup on before Dad came home.

Dehydrated Days

I was terribly dehydrated most days, looking back, because I wouldn't drink water from the canteen's mugs or fountains (strange smell), and we weren't given drinks to take to school.  It was a struggle to drink the cup of tea we had for breakfast.  School kids in those days had a small bottle of milk in the morning which I found OK, unless it had been left out in the sun.  I had kidney problems a couple of times because of my dehydration. When mum used to pick me up from school I used to turf Chops out of his pushchair so I could have a ride home.

Parents came for sports day but they never watched much because they were always too busy talking.  One year Vernon (the dustbin) set off a fire extinguisher in the classroom when we were all out on the track, and my dress was soaked.  I was driven home by Miss Bond, the headmistress, in her vintage car.

When I was 10 and 11, drama was again playing a big role and we were always putting on Sherlock Holmes plays at school under Mr Mogford,  mainly because Duncan, my studious friend, had a deerstalker hat. Four chairs would be arranged to look like a car. 

Mr Mogford is in the picture at the top of the post on the day that we were sent down to the secondary school to admire their Christmas cakes. I was taller than most at that age and I'm on the right - did you spot me? I was reunited with that picture, taken in 1971, when I started my newspaper journalist apprenticeship and happened to come across it in an archive book. 

I thought I was a shoo-in when Mrs Horsley was casting for "A Christmas Carol," which would be performed down the road at the secondary school, a big honour.  I was flabbergasted when I wasn't given a role except as an onion seller in the crowd.  Here's the final cast below, you can see me in a fur trimmed green hood, second row from the top on the far left.  That cape was beautiful but unfortunately it was a hand-me-down from my mum's friend's daughter, and I was dogged with the epithet "Second Hand Rose" when I wore it. 

The young cast of A Christmas Carol from Geason's Lane Primary School in Plymouth in 1970-71

We had our photo taken by a photographer nearly every year but we were never given any warning. Mum  was beside herself when this photo turned up because I had a tooth hanging by a thread. Now you can see why sometimes I was mistaken for a boy.  I'd had long hair (to the shoulder) but it got very tangled and Dad was the only one willing to comb it out. So we went to My Lady Hair Fashions where Valerie the Penguin, as I called her, cut it all off.

Is This Mutton blogger Gail Hanlon aged around 8

Weekends - Dr Who the Highlight 

On Saturdays we were sent to "Saturday morning pictures" at the Drake cinema in Plymouth. The man who declared "doors open" always looked a bit fearful as the hordes of kids rushed in. The audience was full of shrieking children eating Ever Lasting Toffee.  There was always a feature film from The British Childrens' Film Foundation and a couple of other shorter B films. A film called The Sea Devils had me captivated. If a film wasn't deemed up to scratch, the auditorium would be like bedlam as kids stood up and jostled and jeered. 

When new feature films came out, there were often queues around the block as families converged on the three big cinemas in Plymouth.  The worst moment was when the cinema's concierge, in his smart uniform, would put out the "House Full" sign just as we approached. 

My first ever film was A Hard Day's Night with the Beatles, in Morden. But the one that had the biggest impact was Oliver! in 1968.  How we adored that film. I still do, even though I'm not keen on musicals.

On Saturday nights the highlight was Dr Who, and I can remember the first doctor, William Hartnell, and some of his enemies - a thing that looked like a giant hair brush, and of course the cyber men, who scared Chops to death. Mum always rushed to get tea ready in time and we had toast with jam on and chocolate digestives.

On Sundays we often went out for "a tonk" in the car, wearing car coats. We sometime went to Tavistock where Chops would play on Stumbles the Steamroller, or just for a drive around Dartmoor with Mum gripping the seat because there were too many sheep on the roads. 

Does any of this chime with you?  Do you also believe that the childhood of our youth is nearly always looked back on with happy memories?  Do let me know in the comments.

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Wow On Wednesday Link Up 

Now it's time for #WowOnWednesday, where bloggers find new readers, and readers find new blogs to read!

Last Week's Favourites

Valerie from Maple Leopard with her post "The Ultimate Stylish Collection for Travel." We'll soon be getting ready to travel again, fingers crossed, and we'll be needing some tips on how to look good while being comfortable!

Penny from Frugal Fashion Shopper with her post "Looking Back, Looking Forwards," which featured some lovely pictures of her with her husband over the years, including the present day.  They celebrate 48 years of marriage in August.

My favourite was Estonian blogger Leelo who looks so colourful and spring-like in her yellow and green. Check out her post "Yellow and Green Outfit for Spring."

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  1. Oh how lovely to read this. Growing up in Plymouth sounds amazing. I do remember a lot of things that I played with too. Can't say I had a happy childhood though, but Gerben made that up for the last 29 years!

  2. Sounds like a pretty awesome childhood, Gail. My childhood was interesting. I am an only child. I grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles, so I was exposed to many different cultures early. I always was interested in others’ traditions, etc, but I never appreciated what a leg up this upbringing gave me in navigating life until I was adult. My parents lived pay check to paycheck, so I am familiar with not asking for things that they couldn’t afford. Ha! And I remember clackers. LOL!



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