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Memory, Colour and Childhood

ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
MEMORY AND COLOUR

I was looking recently at a wonderful picture on another Forum showing a wartime room in a nice house, decorated for Christmas. Splashes of real colour amongst all the dullness of furnishings and decoration. It made me think a bit about "memory".

I sense that no child today, and probably very few young to middle-aged adults, can have much idea of the impact that colour, because it was so much less universal, had on a young mind in the 1930s or 1940s. The world I was brought up in we now see as mainly black-and-white: photographs, film, magazines, books – even the cars were almost all black, homes were sombrely furnished and everyday clothes were dull and rarely striking. I don't remember those days as being particularly black-and-white or brown-and-beige, but when I think about it I realise that many of my childhood memories have remained in my mind because of the impact of colour: the surprise and joy, because of the immense contrast with normal surroundings.

I think of summer days and my eager anticipation of the arrival of huge, bright red poppies in our suburban garden; and, especially, that of a single peony with its crimson blooms. None of these flowers lasted more than a day or two but that made their arrival even more eagerly awaited. My father also grew Russell lupins and the kaleidoscope of incredible colours in those remains indelible. Remarkably, he had taken a few colour photographs of the garden in the mid-1930s when it was in its prime and on winter days I used to get these transparencies out of a drawer from time to time, hold them up to the light and wonder.

But it was particularly Christmas which provides me with a rainbow of memories. One especially: I remember helping my elder sister decorate our Christmas tree. It must have been the early days of the war. Out of the carton came something pink. Not one of those baubles which were made of glass and so you musn't drop them on the floor as they will shatter and can never be replaced. I think it was a little string of small, printed cards, each with a flower in shades of this gorgeous colour. What I do remember is being almost breathless at the sight of it and thinking that nothing could ever be as pretty and colourful as that. And perhaps nothing ever has been since!

The carton brought other delights, the glass ornaments of many colours, silver tinsel and finally a string of prewar fairy lights with their little oval bulbs of red, blue, green and yellow which, that Christmas and for many following, continued faithfully to light up when they were finally plugged in. And Christmas brought other colourful sights. A visit to Lewis's to see a huge Hornby train layout which I viewed at eye level, with the locomotives all either red or green and Fyffes Banana wagons in yellow and Jacob's Biscuits in maroon. Father Christmas always brought me a book or two. The one I really remember and looked forward to was the Rupert Bear Annual and that was solely because the cover and a number of the pages were printed in full colour. Wow - or OMG as some would say today! And there was more: a kaleidoscope arrived one Christmas and you could look down it and twist it around to produce symmetrical patterns of colour and glitter. Also a little device which you held up to your eye, pulled the trigger and then watched a little disc made up of segments of coloured cellophane revolving in front of you, lit up by a sort of gas-lighter spark behind it. And on a few occasions during the war, at around that time, a food parcel arrived from the USA from a friend of my father's. The colour of the label on a tin of ham or peaches as my parents joyfully cradled it in their hands and examined it! And, my favourite of all, in the same carton some tubes of sweets with their outer wrapper in glorious Technicolor, of which I never remembered having seen the like (and wouldn't see on most British products for many years to come).

Those are just a few of the things which come to mind. Events - those I remember mainly in black-and-white. Apart perhaps for one occasion when I was taken to see Snow White; and again, the contrast between that and a normal film - and life - was huge and never to be forgotten. But as for objects, they are almost all in colour. Even after the war, not a lot changed or, if it did, only slowly. I think I remember going to Sutton Coldfield to see a shop which had installed in its window the first coloured neon sign in the town after the war and you looked at it and marvelled. Either red or green. Later on, bright printing in shop windows in what I think we now call Dayglo - usually an orangey red. Gill's toyshop sold Wilders fireworks and their colourful wrappers gave as much pleasure as the detonations and were certainly worth collecting up and hoarding afterwards. If Dad went to London on business he would bring back a copy of the Saturday Evening Post with a colourful Norman Rockwell painting on its cover and, inside, adverts for vast American cars in blue and green and red. But that of course was the USA and anything was possible there.

I remember when things started to change in Birmingham and elsewhere. Or at least when I noticed that they had changed. In 1952 my dad bought, not a black car, but in silver grey and a couple of years later changed it for a stone-coloured one. In 1955 the civilian bloke who ran the NAAFI on the RAF aerodrome in East Anglia where I was based wore a PINK pullover. Blimey! Clothes clearly didn't HAVE to be grey or brown. People started to paint their living room walls in bright colours, sometimes with one wall contrasting with the other three. Bright cushions, colourful cups and saucers, lime green, purple, orange. I was on the top deck of a bus one day, looking down at the passers-by, when I suddenly realised that most people no longer looked drab, but colourful and varied. It was an awakening for me. At the time I put it down to the rise of St Michael and M&S. And at around that time I was given a camera designed to take colour film. The first time I saw my slides projected on the lounge wall, glowing in their full glory, was probably the last occasion I felt wonder at the brilliance of colour and just how breathtaking it could be.

Not a patch, though, on how those little pieces of pink card made me feel as I hung them on our Christmas tree in the dark and dingy days of 1941 or 1942.

Chris
 
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mikejee

Super Moderator
Staff member
I'm a bit younger than you Chris, but agree that there was a comparative lack of colour in the late 1940s - early 1950s. The walls inside our house were dull , and I remember my mother deciding (it must have been about 1956) to paint some orange and others yellow!!
 

Astoness

TRUE BRUMMIE MODERATOR
Staff member
what a lovely post chris...happy christmas to you in this our bright and colourful world

lyn...ps our dad also grew lupins..dahlias..snaps in our little front garden which was an array of colour
 

Radiorails

master brummie
In the late forties it seems everyone started painting their interior doors and architraves white. I guess they were fed up with dark oak colours or light oak. Exteriors started to become brighter though some traditionalists insisted on scumble.
 

Vivienne14

Super Moderator
Staff member
I remember my mum thoroughly detested green as a colour, and I mean she really detested it. I think it reminded her of the only paint that was more readily available during the War. This distaste even stretched to clothing, in fact anything in green was a no no, she wouldn’t even have the colour in her house. She too dabbled with orange in the 70s and moved to pink for everything (!) in later life.

I remember oh so wanting a lime green coat in the early1960s. She must have really wrestled with herself to buy me that dreaded green coat, but she did. I expect she hated it the whole time I wore it. I loved it, especially as I often wore it with a purple bell-sleeved dress. She was probably much relieved when I moved onto a purple velvet coat.

I never take it for granted that we live in a very colourful and vibrant world. Viv.
 

sospiri

Ex-pat Brummie
Certainly in my younger days everything was black, mid-brown or Brunswick Green or that awful pale green distemper. Our mid-19th century cottage in King Heath had wooden brown boarding halfway up the walls. Suddenly in 1960, a friend of my mother had it all ripped off & wallpapered, and window & door-frames stripped and painted in primrose yellows from Dockers. Fantastic!

Maurice.
 

Radiorails

master brummie
Green was always consider unlucky by Devon trawlermen. Local garages rarely had any green cars to sell, and other things green were usually shunned. Coneys were never referred to by their usual names, they were known - and still are by locals - as 'furry congers'. (Note how I avoided using the word ;)) Crossed brooms were very unlucky and would frequently cause a return to port if it happened at sea. Seeing a clergymen in the harbour area meant no sailing today! Newcomer clergy soon learned the ropes as fishing is not only a perilous but often unrewarding occupation. Old habits and superstitions die hard.

The interesting thing was that across the Channel most of the French boats from Dieppe were green. They often put in port during very bad weather.
 

sospiri

Ex-pat Brummie
Obviously the Irish don't think the same way, Alan, as everything seems to be green over there! Many countries also don't regard 13 as unlucky. And I don't suppose any of this would be supported statistically because of people avoiding colours / numbers and thus distorting the statistics! :)

Personally I don't walk under ladders because some clumsy twit is likely to drop something on you! :)

Maurice
 

john knight

signman
Choice depends on colour co-ordination, hence the old saying, "red and green should never be seen", yet other combinations like purple and lime green, or blue and orange can be striking, all my doors and walls are stark white,simply because I don't like wallpaper or dark colours in my place where I live,that's why I never work in artificial light.
 

Vivienne14

Super Moderator
Staff member
My mum didn’t like red and white together - to her it represented blood and the bandages. So you could never buy her flowers with these two colour combinations.

In the 1960s my mum went through her Danish interior phase. She removed all the dowdy dark oak dining furniture with tapestry covered chairs and the old three piece suite and replaced it with Erco-style furniture. The cushions were a mustard yellow tweed and the carpet was orange. Then she added various pieces of glass ornaments in bold colours; a tall deep blue glass fish which stood up on its tail and a multi-coloured one which lay horizontally. There were a couple of Parisian style paintings too. And we also had a TV on shiny thin chrome legs.

The two tall brown oak fireplace surrounds were removed with their horse brasses and brass goblets along with the brass mirror portholes on the wall. They were replaced by low sleek cream tiled fireplaces which you could prop your feet up on cold days.

All much brighter and cheerier. Viv.
 

jmadone

master brummie
In the late forties it seems everyone started painting their interior doors and architraves white. I guess they were fed up with dark oak colours or light oak. Exteriors started to become brighter though some traditionalists insisted on scumble.

In 1952 we moved into our brand new council house. I can't remember the original colour of the doors and frames but the first paint job my dad did was to paint them a shade of yellow and using a comb device "grained" them so it had the appearance of natural wood.
 

Phil

Gone, but not forgotten.
Not everybody liked bright colours, my school had no school uniform or dress code, but I still remember being sent home for wearing orange jeans in to school 1961.
 

Radiorails

master brummie
In 1952 we moved into our brand new council house. I can't remember the original colour of the doors and frames but the first paint job my dad did was to paint them a shade of yellow and using a comb device "grained" them so it had the appearance of natural wood.
That is known as scumble. ;)
 

devonjim

master brummie
I always knew this paint finish as "combing". My dad was enthusiastic in 1940's.
I do remember my mother visiting a neighbour in 1950's She had embraced the white look doors etcetera, mom enquired sincerely what colour it was to be when it was finished.
 

Vivienne14

Super Moderator
Staff member
A very fond Christmas memory. Must have been about late 1950s. I asked Santa for an umbrella for Christmas - yes an umbrella ( I was a pessimistic child weather-wise). I remember expressively asking for a red one. I can still remember the joy of getting not only a red umbrella, but the fabric was tartan and it had a wooden hooked handle. Way beyond my expectations. And of course there were many opportunities to use it. Viv.
 

Radiorails

master brummie
I always knew this paint finish as "combing". My dad was enthusiastic in 1940's.
I do remember my mother visiting a neighbour in 1950's She had embraced the white look doors etcetera, mom enquired sincerely what colour it was to be when it was finished.
Probably many trade names varied - still do I guess - from region to region and era to era. So many old names have gone out or regular use as commerce and housing styles change over time.
How many homes have inglenooks these days? Many modern houses lack chimneys being reliant on some form of central heating. My eldest son, when moving in to his first home as a married man, decided he wanted an open fire, so he had a builder construct a fireplace with chimney flue on an end wall of the house.
 

Morturn

Super Moderator
Staff member
That is known as scumble. ;)

Scrumble is a product name for the semi-transparent varnish used in graining.

The grainer, who was usually a painter and decorator would lay a base coat of buff coloured paint and let it dry. They would then apply a coat of scrumble with a paint brush. Even the coat out with a flogger and then make the grain pattern with a combination of a ‘drag’ combs and bruses. Figured oak was done with a thumb piece, a small piece of rubber wrapped in cloth.

As with most things, there were tools made for the DIY market, those rubber rollers with ridges, which looked ok ish if you liked that sort of thing.

A lot of pubs were grained, the Golden Cross in Short Heath was a fine example, with the large columns being grained. The College Arms also had some and its columns had been marbled.
 

devonjim

master brummie
David, I've made the same mistake! I Spotted it as I about to "post reply" There's a significant difference between Scrumble and Scumble!
 
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