Saturday, 8 October 2011

Tortoises with Numbers

Back to the not so dim distant past today.  Most of us in our forties and older remember the time that tortoises were commonly kept as pets.  As these creatures were lawless and didn't stick to the own gardens they were labelled with their house number so that they could be returned to their rightful owner when they were found munching through a neighbour's lettuce patch.  Where are all these supposedly long-lived animals today?  Perhaps, sadly they all failed to survive the hibernation process stuck in a sealed box in the shed.

And so onwards with this reminiscence lark.  Here are some of the other things that seems to have disappeared since my childhood.

  • A budgie in every living room.  They were normally called Joey and crapped on your food if you forgot to shut them in their cage at meal times.
  • Orange juice served as a starter.  Not even freshly squeezed, mind.  This came straight from the carton, tin or was even made up from a concentrate with water.  Those seventies restauranteurs could teach us modernistas a thing or two about keeping food preparation simple!
  • Toy sets with proper chemicals.  Plasticraft, the toy of the year for 1971, a kit for making resin jewellery probably contained real live carconigens in a liquid form and it was a dead cert that you'd spill it and ruin your parents' carpets too.
  • Keeping with the theme of dangerous play equipment let's consider those lethal devices in latterday parks.  The cheese cutters, a furiously swinging plank monopolised by scary teens, the witches hat roundabouts and great heavy iron rocking horses with their innards exposed on the underside just waiting to trap a small hand.  All housed on a bed of child-friendly concrete.


  • Slide Rules and Logarithm Tables.  Many fruitless hours were spent learning to use these unwieldy mathematical pieces of kit even after calculators had made it into the classroom.   Perhaps the teachers thought that all that electronic wizardy was just a fad?
  • Navy blue PE knickers.  Mine came from Marks and Spencer and seem to last most of my childhood.  I recall still wearing pants for a three year old when I was nine.  These alluring items coupled with a vest were de rigueur for indoor and outdoor sport even when the harshest winds were blowing across Essex down from the North Sea.  There were none of those ergonomically designed trainers for ' tender little feet' either.  Just gutties, those unsupportive elasticated plimsolls.


  • 'The Singing Ringing Tree' and other weird black and white subtitled children's programmes from Eastern European communist states.
  • Popeye icecreams:  One for the greedy guts.  A Mr Whippy cone with a luridly coloured ice lolly laden with E-numbers  stuck in its top.
  • Snorkel parkas:  Lord Anthony's navy blue version was a must have item for boys in the 1970s even though the long funnel shaped hood was a safety hazard, obstructing visibility when crossing roads.  By the 1980s though this distinctive piece of clothing became seriously outmoded and was viewed as strictly nerd fodder!

  • Looking back through my list it's a wonder that we made it through to the twenty first century given the lack of technological know how and wanton disregard for child safety and wellbeing.  But even after risking life and limb on a day to day basis, most of us made it through, unlike our poor old tortoises.

    5 comments:

    1. I love this post. I collected what seemed like thousands of Green Shield stamps to buy a slide rule -- I can't believe they actually had one in the catalogue. I was obsessed with the idea of getting it and then, once I owned it, I think I hardly used it.

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    2. Ah! Green Shield stamps. Now's there one I missed out!

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    3. Ah, what a brilliantly evocative post. I had the Plasticraft kit and the chemicals stunk so much my Mum made me use it outdoors (think I've still got some ginormous Plasticraft ring I made somewhere.)

      Yup, we had several budgies - one an albino imaginatively called Snowy - and a green one called Lucy!! They did, indeed, crap everywhere when let out.

      Our local playground had a lethal witches hat roundabout where we'd tie some poor child to the middle and all get on the seats round the outside and swing like crazy trying to bang into them. Aren't kids lovely?

      And as for 'The Singing Ringing Tree' - that programme gave me nightmares for years. I did like 'Belle and Sebastian,' 'White Horses' and the German version of 'Robinson Crusoe' very much though.

      Thanks for bringing back such wonderful childhood memories, I hadn't thought about those things for years.

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    4. Oh wow,Ive just been reminded about most of my childhood...My tortoise was called Boo Boo ,don't ask HAHA,our neighbours frequently brought him back to us,my mother used to go crazy when he was out of his box and crapped on the floor,Oh and it was never lettuce he ate,he liked to share the cat's food ahhh HAPPY days, mjust started following your lovely blog XX Manda XX

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    5. dont forget white dog poo. I had to wear red pe knickers at Westlands. How awful was that!

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