The advent of rock’n’roll

Until I was 15, popular music was about ballads and crooners, and was enjoyed by adults and young people alike. Many of the songs were hit numbers from West End or New York musical shows. The lyrics were often inane, and the music saccharine. Typical was: “I’d like to go away, be a stowaway, take a trip on a ship, let my worries flow away.”

That all changed in 1955 when the movie “Blackboard Jungle” came out. It starred Glen Ford as a teacher in a tough inner city school, but the movie was legend because of its opening music. It introduced rock’n’roll to the world via the thumping beat music of Bill Haley and his Comets.

“One, two, three o'clock, four o'clock, rock

Five, six, seven o'clock, eight o'clock, rock

Nine, ten, eleven o'clock, twelve o'clock, rock

We're gonna rock around the clock tonight.”

It was a sensation. Young people danced in the aisles at cinemas. They did even more so when the movie “Rock Around the Clock” came out the following year. Cinemas were closed, and some employed security guards to stop the dancing, but it went on anyway. Teenagers, as opposed to “young people” came into existence as a class, and their music and dress diverged sharply from those of their parents. They now wore jeans and sported fancy haircuts, and asserted a separate identity.

There was a minor rebellion at my school during an assembly to practise Christmas carols. When the “Rocking Carol” was called, instead of singing “We will rock you, rock you, rock you,” as the lullaby called for baby Jesus to be lulled, the pupils, including myself, began to chant, ”One, two, three o'clock, four o'clock, rock...” We covered our mouths with our hands, so it was not obvious who was doing it. The outraged teacher, Mr Parr, stormed up and down the aisles trying to stop it, but to no avail. Eventually the deputy head came in and cancelled the practice session.

Popular music was never the same again, and nor were teenagers.


Early television and The Silver Swan

We had no television at home during my childhood. A family friend halfway up the street did, however, and sometimes we were allowed in to watch it with her children. It was black and white, of course, with a small screen set in a huge wooden cabinet. Of course, to a child it was magic.

A series we watched every Tuesday was “The Silver Swan,” which came on in the early evening so children could watch it after school. It featured a girl called Lucy, staying in a big house adorned with family portraits, and containing an old violin with a silver swan on the back. Lucy stepped through the mirror each week into the past, and was there for an adventure featuring a different generation of the family in the portraits, and always involving the old violin. It was very well done, and completely absorbing. I suppose it was educational, in the way children’s TV tended to be in the early fifties.

Less educational was the TV I watched at my aunt’s in the afternoons off school. It was “The Flower Pot Men.” It was obviously intended for infants, and was totally formulaic in each episode. It taught me nothing, except how to say, “Plobble-op.”

The big TV event was the 1953 Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, shown live on television for the first time. It was enthralling pageantry, even in black and white, and featuring the reverent tones of Richard Dimbleby, who did the commentary for all important occasions.

I had a surprise for my grandmother when I left home at 18 for university. I had spent the summer working, and saved enough to buy her a TV set with an aerial installed on the roof. The point was that she would now be alone for the first time in her life, and the TV set would provide company for her in the evenings.


University library snoozes

My studies at Edinburgh University centred around George Square. Despite the name, all of its Georgian buildings had been replaced by modernist glass and concrete skyscrapers. I studied philosophy in the David Hume Tower, history in the William Roberston Building, and I read in the University Library.

It was both intensive and competitive. We all egged each other on and struck sparks off each other. In between lectures we read. I read books at the rate of at least one every day during term-time. A group of us would usually have a quick lunch together in the basement cafeteria of the David Hume Tower, normally yoghurt and a sandwich, before heading back to work.

I would read in the University Library if there were no afternoon lectures. There were comfortable armchairs on the top floor. The problem was the heating. The whole place was vastly over-heated. Given how cold Edinburgh can be, this as undoubtedly better than being under-heated. But it made one drowsy. Every day after lunch I would start to nod off, and fall asleep in my chair, waking up fully refreshed after a snooze of about 10-15 minutes.

It must have been habit forming, because when I taught at Hillsdale I would take an afternoon nap on the couch, again for 10-15 minutes. This was nothing like a siesta of one or two hours. It was just a short nap. I still do the same, lying down after lunch. I never set an alarm, but always wake refreshed after a nap of never less than 8 minutes, never more than 20 minutes. Uncannily, 9 days out of 10 it is exactly 12 minutes. I think I may have been conditioned into this by those years long ago in that over-heated library in George Square.


Singing with cracked voices

One of my grandmother’s favourites was Gracie Fields, a working-class girl singer and performer known as “Our Gracie.” She’d been born above a fish and chip shop in Rochdale, and had been a big hit in the 1930s, especially with the song “Sally,” that became her theme song. She’d made movies, and spent much time on Capri. She’d married an Italian, and that was her undoing. Because of the war, he would have been interned had they stayed in Britain, so they went to North America and spent the war there.

This was regarded as desertion by the UK population, who never forgave her for abandoning them. It was Vera Lynn, instead of Gracie Fields, who became the forces’ favourite and the voice of hope in the dark times of the Blitz.

Gracie came back after the war, and still performed in concert halls and on BBC radio. My grandmother still liked her, and would listen in, but her audiences were a fraction of their prewar levels. By the time my sister and I had to listen to her on the radio, she could no longer reach the high notes, and people listened more out of sentiment than artistic appreciation. My sister and I had no such sentiment or loyalty, and we used to mock her by imitating her cracking voice. We’d sing, “Sallee, Salleeee, pride of our alley,” making sure our voices cracked like hers on the high notes. Our grandmother probably heard her and remembered her talented voice of the 1930s. In the 1950s we had no such memories and thought her performances excruciating. Mind you, I sometimes cringe when I remember some of the songs and singers we liked as children.


St Andrews corkscrew  

I was a guest at high table at Jesus College, Cambridge a couple of years ago. On hearing that St Andrews had been one of my universities, the professor to my left told me an amusing story. He'd been on a train coming down from Aberdeen to Edinburgh and beyond. It was one of the old style trains with a corridor that had compartments off it, each taking six people, or eight with the armrests up. Each compartment had a sliding door into the corridor.

The professor heard someone open one of the doors down the corridor and ask, "Anyone here from St Andrews?" On receiving no reply, he did the same at the next compartment. Again nothing, and he worked his way down the corridor until he reached the professor's compartment. "Anyone here from St Andrews?" he asked. This time a young man sitting next to the window had raised his hand.

"Yes, I am," he volunteered. "Good," came the relieved reply. "May I borrow your corkscrew?" The young man nodded, and duly produced a corkscrew and offered it to the man. The professor laughed at the memory as he recounted the story. He laughed even more when I reached into one of the sealed sleeves that hang from my black academic gown, and produced a folding corkscrew.

Sometimes at college formal dinners the wine comes in bottles that have corks, rather than screw tops, and I carry the folding corkscrew to save the trouble of having to ask one of the waiters to bring one. But I had not realized that St Andrews students had that reputation. I doubt they do now, given that these days the less costly wines overwhelmingly come in screw top bottles.


Humber ferries

As a boy I was occasionally taken to Hull by my grandmother, who had relatives and friends there. This involved going to Cleethorpes or Grimsby station and catching a train to New Holland. From there a ferry boat, the Tattershall Castle, would take us across the Humber to Hull Corporation Pier. And what a boat it was, a side paddle-wheeler that made a tremendous threshing noise as it manoeuvred. I used to go and look at the engines, gleaming steel and brass things that were driven in and out to work the paddles via giant pistons. They were immaculately clean, and completely dazzling to a small boy.

I sometimes rode it as a student, cutting hours off the overnight journey from St Andrews to Cleethorpes by changing at York for Hull and taking the ferry across the Humber. It was quite invigorating to sail in it as dawn was breaking.

An engraved brass plate told that the ship had played an honourable role in the Dunkirk evacuation. It was one of the small boats that crossed the English Channel to take soldiers off the beaches and home to safety. I last travelled it when I was setting up in London after my spell at Hillsdale. My flat had no furniture, but an aunt in Hull generously donated some of her old stuff, and a friend and I packed it into a hired van and took the Tattershall Castle across the Humber. In Cleethorpes another aunt did the same before we drove it to London.

The Tattershall Castle was retired when the Humber Bridge made it redundant. It was moved to the Thames, where it now sits just opposite Parliament and the London Eye, and operates as a floating bar. I've been on it occasionally, fondly remembering the many journeys of my youth as I pace its decks and inspect once more its giant engines, now silent.


Little masked bandits

When I had a house on Ramrod Key in the Florida Keys, raccoons were an occasional feature of life there. They are quite cute to look at, being about the size of a small dog, furry with stick-up ears and a ringed tail. Their most distinctive feature, however, consists of the black patches around the eyes, looking something like a bandit's black mask.

They are quite common among the string of islands that make up the keys, and live close to water. They are very intelligent, and can learn how to unpick locks and open doors. My neighbours used to tell stories of raccoons opening their fridge doors. It's very credible because they have delicate little hands than can grasp and manipulate. My own house was built on 13-foot concrete stilts, so no raccoon could ever break in, but occasionally in a morning I would find their tiny footprints on the car I kept below the house.

The places to see them were at the tip of Big Pine Key, and just across the bridge onto No Name Key. I would drive there with friends just before dark, and wait quietly until nightfall. The raccoons would emerge, curious about us, and perhaps expecting food. They are omnivorous and nocturnal, eating insects, small animals and plants. They also like biscuits, picking up ones dropped in front of them, and even taking them by hand. We had to do this carefully, not wanting to be scratched in case rabies was endemic among the population.

I've read that research has established that they can remember how to perform tasks three years later, and that they are intelligent enough to learn which boxes contain 4 grapes, and which have only 3. They are also likeable, and add much to the local colour.


Cleethorpes rock and Tickler's jam

The same Miss Burgess who took her class of 8 and 9 year-olds to see fishing docks, a lighthouse, and the local brickworks, also took us to visit a factory that made Cleethorpes rock, and another that made Tickler's jam.

Rock is a traditional seaside candy made of sugar and glucose syrup. Much of it is made by hand, so the class got to watch every stage and have it explained by those performing it. The sugary syrup is boiled and cooled, then aerated and pulled out into slabs. The part that interested us was watching the red letters made of coloured toffee inserted into the white toffee so they would spell out the word CLEETHORPES, all the way through the stick of rock when it was rolled out. We were all presented with sticks of Cleethorpes rock to take home.

Most children like rock because it is sweet and chewy, and don't seem to mind that it sticks to your teeth and is probably quite good at pulling out any fillings you might have.

The visit to Tickler's jam factory was no less enthralling. Thomas Tickler had been a local celebrity, serving as mayor and later MP for Grimsby. He'd built up the jam business out of a small grocery, but now it was a giant factory. We saw the fruit boiled up in huge cauldrons, and watched the stream of sugar cascade into it. The fun part was watching the jars moving along belts in a constant line to have a stream of liquid jam squirted into each

Again, we were all given a small pot of Tickler's plum jam as a souvenir. I later read that Tickler's supplied tins of its jam to World War I troops, who sometimes used the empty tins as makeshift grenades, known as "Tickler's artillery."

These visits that Miss Burgess took us on were educational in the broad sense, in that she wanted us to grow up knowing how things were done and how they worked. I look back on them fondly. In my mid-30s, when I was a professor at Hillsdale, I went back to my junior school and asked about her. She had retired, but lived with her brother not far away. I paid a visit, and expressed my appreciation over a cup of tea. When she knew who I was, she immediately asked, "Are you a professor?" I replied that I was.

"I thought as much," she responded, not having seen me since I was 10.


Not seeing the Titanic

Robert Ballard ended decades of speculation by discovering the wreck of the Titanic in 1985, using technology he'd developed to locate and inspect the two lost US nuclear submarines, Thresher and Scorpion. James Cameron, the filmmaker, went down several times to inspect it while making his 1998 blockbuster movie about it.

Shortly afterwards a commercial firm hired a Russian submersible, with crew, and began offering tourist trips to see the wreck. This immediately attracted my interest. It involved flying by helicopter from Newfoundland to a support ship, and spending a few days on the ship preparing for the descent. The preparations included a special diet. The submersible would then take the passengers, two at a time, down to the depths to spend a couple of hours inspecting the wreck and the debris field.

I booked a place, and paid my fare, being the first person from the UK to do so. The anticipation was thrilling as the big day approached, but the let-down was very disappointing. Ten days before my trip was scheduled, the Russians re-requisitioned the submersible to work on pipelines under the Baltic. My fare was refunded in full, but I never made the trip. I did, however, in the run-up, learn almost everything there was to know about the ill-fated ship.

There's an epilogue, in that a new firm, OceanGate, has a submersible capable of making the dive, and is offering inspection trips to paying customers, starting this year. Their ticket prices are, unfortunately, over 6 times higher than mine was all those years ago. And I am somewhat older.


Basil the friendly maggot  

The rather eccentric house in which some friends lived at St Andrews had many novel and quite engaging features. It had no electricity, only gas lamps. Its carpets were worn to the point of threadbare in some places. Its sofa and armchairs sagged in the middle. These attributes all helped give it a comfortable air.

The heating was by a gas fire whose heat-reflecting ceramic columns had to be replaced periodically. They were very brittle, and could easily be broken during the process of lighting the fire. Above it was a mantelpiece, probably as old as the house itself. It was adorned, as students did in those days, with items and trinkets from their lifestyles and experiences.

One such object was the label that had once adorned a tin of tomatoes. We all regularly made spaghetti Bolognese using tinned tomatoes. The reason they had saved this label was that it proudly proclaimed, "Tinned tomatoes – with basil." On opening it they had found a white grub, perfectly preserved. It was either a maggot or maybe a small caterpillar, pickled, perhaps during the preparation of the tomatoes it accompanied.

Obviously, my friends deduced, this was the "Basil" advertised on the tin, so they christened him "Basil." He was placed upon a small plinth in front of the label from the tin, with his name on a little placard. At one stage he was even given a tiny top hat made of paper. He thus achieved a fame and immortality that other grubs could only dream of, if indeed they dream at all.


Radio Relay

Throughout my childhood there was no radio in the house. There was one at my Aunt's house in Scunthorpe, and when I stayed there on holidays, I was amazed at its array of dials and knobs. In my grandmother's house there was only one knob on the side to control volume, and a click switch on the wall that had four positions.

This was Radio Relay, the local name for Rediffusion, a company formed in 1928 to provide cable radio services. In the early days people were irritated by the howls and whistles caused when they tried to tune in to weak radio signals. Rediffusion rebroadcast from a powerful receiver, sending signals into homes via cable connection for a monthly fee. In the homes it served, nothing more was needed other than a loudspeaker and a selector switch.

My grandmother had three choices, the BBC's Home Service (which morphed into Radio 4), the Light Programme (whose successor was Radio 1), and the Third Programme (today's Radio 3). These were the choices. There was no pop channel because the BBC was in thrall to the Musician's Union, which insisted on live performances of "light" music. At my Aunt's house I discovered Radio Luxembourg on 208 metres, which circumvented the BBC monopoly by broadcasting its pop music from abroad. It took the pirate stations in the Sixties, broadcasting from beyond territorial waters, to introduce us to non-stop pop and forced the BBC's hand.

Rediffusion later went into Television broadcasting, and eventually became part of Thames TV, but in the late 1980s the rentals business and the cable network systems were sold off.


Journey into Space

I was just 13 when “Journey into Space” began on the BBC Light Programme, the precursor of Radio One. It was a science fiction series by Charles Chilton, and became the “must listen” of every schoolboy. Indeed, it reached audiences of 5 million, and was reportedly the last radio show to attract bigger audiences than those for television shows.

The series was originally broadcast on Monday evenings at 7.30pm, and featured the space-borne adventures of Jet Morgan, played by Andrew Faulds, supported by Doc (Guy Kingsley Poynter), and Lemmy, the cockney radio operator (David Kossoff, and later Alfie Bass). The first series, set 12 years into the future, in 1965, covered man’s first trip to the moon, albeit in a British rocket launched from Australia. Each episode ended with a cliff-hanger that encouraged the listeners to return next week.

The science was somewhat bizarre, in that after landing on the moon the crew was hijacked by a flying saucer and taken back to a prehistoric Earth peopled by savage cavemen. It all ended happily, of course. It occupied our school-day conversations, and we rushed to finish homework before it came on the air.

The series was so popular that it was extended to 18 episodes. Other series followed, including a strange one in which they kept getting flashbacks to the Great Exhibition, plus a Martian who had “conditioned” humans to assist him in his planned invasion of Earth. The series featured “space music” whose eerie tones conjured up alien settings.


In those balmy days we all still thought Britain would be at the forefront of technology and would take the lead in space exploration. Dan Dare, the Eagle’s “Pilot of the Future” was solidly British in the Biggles tradition. Andrew Faulds, who played Jet Morgan, was not, however. He went from being a boyhood hero to becoming a foul-mouthed left-wing Labour MP. And it was the USA and the USSR, rather than the UK, who took us to the final frontier.


It's worth a pound if it's a penny

When I was small it was quite exciting to visit Grimsby Market with my grandmother. It was then an open market in Freeman Street, having been going since 1873. It still is, but I believe it has since been covered. There were stalls selling everything, not just fruit and vegetables, but clothes, household supplies, and tools, among many other things. Traders would shout their wares to passers-by, and around some of the stalls small crowds would gather.

Most of the stallholders were accomplished salesmen (there were very few women), and knew how to entice an audience with a practised patter. They would start of by demanding a high price for whatever item they were selling, and then gradually lower it, keeping the audience in suspense until the final price was announced with a flourish.

"I'm not going to ask five pounds for this, not even four. It's worth four pounds if it's a penny, but I'm not going to ask four, not even three. I'll tell you what; I'll offer you two of them for three pounds. No, make that two pounds ten for the two." He would then clap his hands to indicate that this was his asking price.

As the final price was reached, customers would step forward eagerly with raised hands to buy before the supply sold out. They knew they were not really getting the items at a quarter of their real value, but the prices were still good, and in the privations of postwar Britain, people looked for value.

I still use the phrase "It's worth a pound if it's a penny," doing it humorously to indicate good value, and I sometimes I even use it for time, saying, "It must be four o'clock if it's a penny." Such is the legacy of my visits to Grimsby Market.


St Andrews society mottoes  

Because St Andrews was a small university set in a small town, student life necessarily revolved around university societies. It is still small, with fewer than 9,000 students, but was even smaller when I knew it. There were societies for every conceivable student interest and sport, and if there were an activity or interest not covered, some students would start up a new society. Ones that were affiliated to the Students' Representative Council (SRC) would qualify for grants to assist their activities, and supplement the membership fees a few of them charged.

To qualify for affiliation, a society had to have an approved constitution that had been vetted by the SRC. Sometimes we formed societies for the sole purpose of teasing the SRC and exposing the bias it showed in determining which ones to approve and give grants to.

We formed the "Duck Club," whose declared purpose was to feed the Kinnessburn ducks. The Kinnessburn is the small stream that runs through St Andrews from West to East, just downhill from the town centre. The last clause of the society's proposed constitution declared that its motto would be "amate anatem," which translates as "lovaduck," a slang phrase that denotes an exclamation of surprise.

It was obviously a spoof, but the application was put forward and had to be taken seriously. The SRC went through contortions to turn it down, rather than have student money used to feed ducks. The same happened with the "Aye Aye Club," a society set up to sue the SRC. Its name was pronounced as "The I – I Club," referring to the initial letters of an Interim Interdict, the Scottish equivalent of an injunction. Its motto was "And having writ, moves on," a line from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. It was not approved for affiliation.

The "Three Bears Club" never sought SRC approval or affiliation, though it did have a constitution, whose last clause declared its motto to be "Exit, pursued by a bear," a stage direction from Shakespeare.


The return of Stork margarine

Many things were in short supply in World War II, including butter and quality margarines. During wartime rationing, only two types of margarine were available in the UK, a premium brand costing 9d a pound, and a cheaper budget brand costing 5d. These were the two types of "National Margarine" commissioned by the Ministry of Food. Both came as blocks wrapped in waxed paper. Even the premium brand dubbed "Special'" deteriorated as the better quality ingredients it required became harder to secure, and lower level ingredients had to be used owing to wartime shortages.

Both were somewhat unappetizing blocks of grease, good for cooking, perhaps, rather than spreading. The "Radio Doctor," Dr Charles Hill told us that “special” margarine "contained hard and soft vegetable oils and marine oils in proportions which were frequently varied according to the supply and the time of year, as well as milk, salt, flavouring and vitamin." That may have been so, but I still grimace when I remember the taste.

I remember the return of Stork, trumpeted in advance by mass advertising. "Stork is back," was proclaimed in newspapers. "What was it?" I asked. I was told that Stork was a "premium" brand of margarine first produced in 1920. When rationing finally ended in 1954, the product was relaunched, with most people regarding it as a luxury after the years of "National Margarine." When commercial television came to the UK in 1955, Stork took adverts on ITV to boost its popularity and sales.

Although Stork had a good brand image promoted by massive advertising, I never really rated it. It was something you used when you were poor. I used it for making pastry and for cooking when I was an impoverished student, but I've not used it since.


Simple as that.

An American friend occasionally stayed at my flat when he was visiting London. Since I did not have a washing machine or dryer at that time, laundry had to be done at the local coin-operated launderette. He had to do the same, and headed off with his washing in a black refuse sack, the only bag big enough to take it.

He washed and dried his clothes, and bundled them in the black bag, and slung it over his shoulder. When he returned to the flat he was pale and trembling. I asked what had happened. He explained that on the way back, a policed squad car had screeched to a halt beside him, and two menacing officers had leapt out to confront him.

I should explain that this was at a time of IRA terrorist bombings in central London, and people, including the police, were on edge and extra vigilant.

 "Excuse me, Sir. Would you mind telling me your name?" demanded one of them. My friend did so.

"And where are you going?" Somewhat shaken by the inquisitorial tone, my friend hastily told him.

 "Do you mind telling me what is in the black sack?" he was asked. He told them it was washing.

"Do you mind if we look inside it?" It was asked politely, but refusal was not an option. He opened the bag to let them look inside.

"Washing," confirmed the policeman. "Simple as that, eh? Thank you, Sir. On your way."

The police were doing their duty to protect us, and doing it quite properly and politely, but it left my friend quivering from the experience. Since then the phrase "Simple as that, eh?" has been a catchphrase for me and my friends whenever a straightforward explanation makes something obvious and unremarkable.


Dick Barton, Special Agent

Dick Barton was an essential part of my childhood. It was a BBC radio serial that aired at 6.45 pm every weekday. I was addicted to it, as were all children I knew. Between the ages of 6 and 10 it was a nightly ritual. Each episode was only 15 minutes long, and was introduced by the thundering music of a tune called "Devil's Gallop."

Dick, accompanied by his mates Snowy and Jock, was involved in all kinds of scrapes, fighting enemy agents, crooks and subversives. Despite hair-raising situations every night, he always managed to extricate himself and his chums, and to thwart the evils he confronted daily. He saved Britain from disaster on a regular basis. It was harmless fantasy, and provided the material for schoolyard games as we re-enacted his adventures.

When the series stopped, in the spring of 1951, it left a huge hole in our lives, though the 6.45 slot was later filled by "The Archers, an everyday story of country folk," that still runs today. Dick Barton was featured in three Hammer movies, but they never achieved the cult status of the radio serial that at one time had a peak audience of 15 million. Somehow, seeing it on screen in black and white was not nearly as vivid and exciting as the sound-only radio version whose worlds and characters were conjured up by the imagination of the listeners.


Protest poems

The St Andrews Phoenix Society was the literary society of the university. It hosted speaker events by writers and critics, and produced an annual magazine of student poetry. On one occasion they held an evening devoted to “Protest Poetry,” at which students would read poems they had selected that were about protest.

Most of the poems were about war, protesting about its waste of life, and its glorification. They were by writers such as Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. Some poems were about oppression, some about injustice. I had asked to participate, and stepped forward when my turn came. I introduced my choice, pointing out how it covered a very different theme from those of the others. “My poem,” I told them, ”is a protest at the system of price support through agricultural subsidies.” I then recited Ogden Nash’s poem, “One From One Leaves Two.”

“Higgledy piggledy, my black hen,

She lays eggs for gentlemen.

Gentlemen come every day

To count what my black hen doth lay.

If perchance she lays too many,

They fine my hen a pretty penny;

If perchance she fails to lay,

The gentlemen a bonus pay.”

There are several more verses, all of which I recited deadpan. The poem is very funny, and cocks a snook at bureaucracy and planning. As the evening ended, the chairman thanked me “for introducing a welcome change of pace and mood.” The others had been gloomy and downbeat, but Ogden Nash had inserted a note of lighthearted satire.


Christmas bake and Christmas Club

There were two rituals that preceded the Christmases of my childhood. My grandmother and aunt would put vast amounts of effort into making Christmas cakes. They did not do the actual baking, since the oven was too small. They put all the ingredients together into huge tins that were then taken to the bakery a few streets away. As children we were allowed into the hot bake-house to watch as the bakers placed them onto huge metal paddles to lever them into the ovens later on. It was not something done while you waited. The cooking must have been slow because it was an overnight thing. Customers went back the next day to collect their now-baked cakes. I believe this practice must have died out in the early 1950s as home ovens became larger.

The other ritual was the Christmas Club. My grandmother paid small sums into it every week, going in person to deposit money and having it entered in her book. When Christmas came along, she had enough saved to pay for Christmas goodies, and the ritual came when we accompanied her to collect the money. It was really just a way of saving. I'm not sure if it paid interest. I believe it did not, but with the money out of reach in a Christmas Club, it could not be spent before Christmas.

Such clubs were popular in Victorian England, with poorer families paying a couple of pence a week into clubs to save up the funds for festivities. Goose clubs were popular, with working class families saving up for a Christmas goose. I think my grandmother's Christmas Club was near the tail end of a once widespread practice, as society became more affluent.


Hitler was no a Pittenweem man

My St Andrews friends who studied medicine did their 3 pre-clinical years at St Andrews itself, and then went to Dundee or Manchester for the 3 post-clinical years. While at St Andrews they had to familiarize themselves with mental illnesses by spending time with patients at the mental hospital in Dundee.

One friend was interviewing a man who seemed so completely rational that there seemed to be no reason for him to be in a mental hospital. Only gradually did it emerge that he was being spied upon by a German submarine lurking off the coast of Fife near the fishing village of Pittenweem. The man's entire world revolved around the few places in East Scotland he had visited or knew about.

But he knew Hitler was after him, even though Hitler had died over two decades earlier. "Of course," he told my friend confidently, "Hitler's no a Pittenweem man. He's from Anstruther." This was another fishing village a further one and a half miles up the coast.

Gradually he became more talkative about himself. It turned out that he was Pope of Rome. When he further admitted he was also Archbishop of Canterbury, my friend thought to catch him out. "Isn't it difficult," he asked, "being head of the Roman Catholic Church and also head of the Church of England?"

The man looked thoughtful, but replied, "Aye. I ken it'll be difficult, but I'll just have to do my best." The phrase became one of our catch phrases for many years, and still is, over half a century later.