Friday, 14 February 2014

Disappearing Worlds

For people of a certain age like me, it isn't just the mass immigration in to the UK, that has caused Britain to feel like a foreign country ..... No, there is also the fact that when we cast our minds back, many of the sights and sounds of our childhoods are now long gone, and only live in ours, and our contemporaries, memories. Obviously, these memories are therefore doomed to disappear from any collective consciousness over the next few decades.

So just for the record, here's just a few of those sights and sounds, purely from my personal memory in the UK ..... and from record where the post refers to foreign lands. 

Rag and Bone Men:

These were still a common sight when I was a kid. And yes, they were still on horse and carts like 'Steptoe and Son'. I vividly recall going to look at the horses .... and my dad telling me to keep an eye on the back garden, as he had car parts lying around (this was the age when men still did their own car repairs), which he didn't want 'disappearing'. Nowadays, although there are still a few totters about, you mostly just see vans with tinkers roving around looking for anything that they can lift, including public statues.   

There Are Still A Few Horse Totters About

Knife Sharpeners:

These men came around once or twice a year, and had a big grindstone flywheel in the back of their vehicles (sometimes foot operated), from which they would sharpen kitchen knives or garden spades etc - this was a source of almost endless fascination to children, as the sparks flew everywhere.

Organ Grinders (aka Hurdy Gurdy Man):

With or without the monkey, they were still about, although admittedly a rare and dying breed even then .... I last recall seeing one in the UK when a circus turned up a few years ago, but I had seen them in the street when I was a nipper. Health and Safety for animals will have killed most of those with animals off, the others soon followed, all except the 'retro ones', you know the ones, the ones you see at 'school fayres', usually manned by the maths teacher .... which don't count in my world.

Onion Men:

These were a seasonal visitation of men on bikes, who were selling strings of onions door to door ... I believe that the vendors were usually Spanish, or occasionally French, and would even make it to small semi rural areas like ours. Of course not all of them went home .... My Grandmother took in lodgers, and 'Emanuel', one of her lodgers, had come over from the continent selling onions but decided to stay. He still wore a beret! I and my siblings were much impressed by this fact.   

Traditional Onion Men

Wednesday Half Day Closing:

Yep, never mind Sunday shop opening, back when I was a lad, it was a feature of street life that all the shops closed on a mid week afternoon .... even the Co-Op. I can recall on a Wednesday during the school holidays, having to run down to the shops to get bread for my mother before 12:00 midday. Now of course shops are seven days a week, and in some case 24hrs a day.   

Harvest Festival:

This was still celebrated at school when I was a kid .... with the added bonus that as I lived in an unbuilt up estate, with what was then farmland all around the estate, we had real farmers produce on the festival church altar. We walked from the school down to St Philips the Unitarian (or maybe C of E) church for the Harvest Festival carrying our offerings - usually in my case a can of peas (we didn't go to the Roman Catholic church - St Patrick's - as they had their own school attached).

Wakes Week:

They were common enough around Lancashire when I moved there as a school kid - they were  called the 'Wakes Week' holidays, which became a tradition in northern towns following the Industrial Revolution, so the cotton mills and the manufacturing factories could be closed for maintenance. So for example Oldham had one week closed down, and Salford had another .. in fact they could occur any time between June to September, with a different town on holiday each week — and although the workers were not paid for these breaks, there was invariably a trip to Blackpool or another seaside resort, and often had a 'religious walk' for the children. These children's 'walks' still happen up here in the North, but are not linked to 'Wakes Weeks' and are also largely gone, as less children are 'Christian'

The Pop Man:

A van would call around once a week, a bit like the ice-cream man and sell 'pop', which was carbonated drinks of different colours e.g. red was 'strawberry', they had no 'cola', but they had 'Dandelion and Burdock' which was a favourite, partly because it looked like Coke. You got a discount if you took the re-sealable bottles back.

Green Grocer Shop Vans:

These were common a few decades ago, although not quite so in urbanised areas. I guess the nearest equivalent we had at the time to 'on-line' shopping. A van with a shop in the back would appear, and offer discounted 'farmers' products, as well as a limited supply of canned items and bread. It was terribly exciting to shop this way, even though we had a Co-Op down the road. 

Cinema Clubs:

The Saturday Club - either in a real cinema or in my case, the local Church (St Phillips again), which had the kids cinema in the main church hall .... 'Flash Gordon' or 'Superman', a cartoon, and a Western (mostly with Audie Murphy), were the usual fare. When I later moved to a more urban area, there was still a Saturday Club at the local proper cinema - but with better movies. 

These changes are also happening Overseas as well ...

Organ Grinders in Mexico:

Apparently, what has happened in the UK, is now occurring in Mexico .... gentleman like Don Odilon Jardines, who is now 73 years old, is the oldest of the dying breed of Mexican organ grinders, a trade which he's practised on the streets of Mexico City for all his life, and which has paid him well enough for him to provide for his family, so that all his children went to university. His grandson is a doctor and his son is a government lawyer ... they even have an 'Organ Grinders union'. But now beggars playing CD's in empty fake organs, and people using the iPhone for their street music, has all but killed off the tradition. Like the UK, it will be left to a few amateur enthusiasts to keep it going.

Afilador's in Spain:

Afilador, translates into English as 'a sharpener' .... and is the knife grinder of Spain .... there are probably only five left in the whole of Madrid, and the situation is similar in the rest of Spain ..... like the knife sharpeners of the UK they will soon be gone.

Handmade Noodle Makers:

In Taiwan, these are now a dying breed - noodles or rather hand-pulled string noodles, called mian xian in Mandarin, have been made for around 2,000 years, but now for the most part are made by machines - Today only about 50 hand noodle makers are thought to remain in Taiwan.

Cigarette Lighter Repair Men:

These were very common in Turkey, even up until the 1990's, and could usually be found at markets or on busy streets of big cities and towns such as Constantinople (Istanbul) or Bursa - these men would repair broken cigarette lighters for a few pence (I had it done for a laugh for about 50 pence - which is what the lighter had cost me in the same market!) - but now the throwaway lighter has killed many of these 'semi-skilled' street artisans off.  

Indian Street Typists

In India, the illiterate or poor could get everything from a love letter to a legal document typed, usually on an old Remington, by a legion of 'trained' typists in the streets ... this was an essential service, as much of the legal work had to be done in English (or that approximation which anyone who works in IT will be familiar with, known as 'Hinglish'), but once, where there were thousands of such street typists in Calcutta alone, now the numbers have dwindled to just a few hundred. The laptop, tablet, and smart-phone email have killed this trade off, and its thought that there will be no more such vendors, even in the most backward of regions, by 2030.

Indian Street Typists

And finally, the Afghan box cameramen:

Afghani Cameramen

These street camera men use a simple wooden camera known in Dari (Afghan Persian) as the kamrae e-faoree - which are hand-made out of wood, the kamrae e-faoree is both a camera and darkroom. The camera is completely manual - it does not use electricity - the photographic process is analogue using chemicals and paper rather than film. It has been used in the region for years and generations of Afghans have had their portraits taken with it but the rise of smart-phones they are likely to have gone from the streets within a few years. Or of course the Taliban could be back, which will result in them being banned again.

Such is progress eh? .....Still it was ever thus, and now many of us feel like strangers in a strange (or at least culturally poorer and less interesting) land.


  1. I'm 65 and I recall many of the things you have mentioned, but you have missed a few.

    The Conker Season. Horse chestnuts being smashed out of trees making parks a hazard as planks, aimed at knocking conkers from trees fell to the earth.

    There are probably other things, like going to the local 'Lido' which depend more on where you lived.

    1. Good Spots ... I couldn't make the post too big, but your right, fancy me forgetting the conker season!! In fact I can feel a whole post coming on for that alone LOL.

  2. Steam Trains and Rollers. Admittedly a technological change but sad just the same, a smell and sound that's disappeared.


All comments are welcomed, or even just thanks if you enjoyed the post. But please try to make any comment relevant to the post it appears under.

Comments are only monitored for bad or abusive language or illegal statements i.e. overtly racist or sexist content. Spam is not tolerated and is removed.

Commentaires ne sont surveillés que pour le mauvais ou abusif langue ou déclarations illégales ie contenu ouvertement raciste ou sexiste. Spam ne est pas toléré et est éliminé.


Blog Archive

Its a Pucking World

Its a Pucking World
Dreamberry Wine Cover

Blog Search Links

Search in Google Blogs

About Me

My photo
A middle aged orange male ... So 'un' PC it's not true....