What the Grown-ups Were Doing: An Odyssey Through 1950s Suburbia

What the Grown-ups Were Doing: An Odyssey Through 1950s Suburbia

Michele Hanson

Language: English

Pages: 368

ISBN: 0857204890

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Michele Hanson grew up an 'oddball tomboy disappointment' in a Jewish family in Ruislip in the 1950s - a suburban Metroland idyll of neat lawns, bridge parties and Martini socials. Yet this shopfront of respectability masked a multitude of anxieties and salacious goings-on. Was Shirley's mother really having an affair with the man from the carpet shop? Did chatterbox Dora Colborne harbour unspeakable desires for Michele's sulky dad? Whose Battenburg cake was the best? An atmosphere of intense rivalry prevails, with Michele's mum suspicious of her non-Jewish neighbour's personal habits, and Michele very wary of children's games like 'Doctors and Nurses' that might bring bottoms into the equation. And with glamorous, scheming Auntie Celia swanning around in silk dresses demanding attention, Michele has a lot to contend with. Only the annual holidays to the south of France relieve the tension. This hilarious and wonderfully evocative memoir charts Michele's childhood and coming of age in a Britain that was emerging from post-war austerity into the days of 'you've never had it so good'. It is a characterful and affectionate look at a way of British life long since disappeared but one for which we continue to hold huge affection.

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terrible things Cissy had done during this period. Once, she had taken a cotton reel from the sewing machine, told baby Cyril to shut his eyes and open his mouth and see what God would send him, then she had rammed the cotton reel down his throat, making him choke and go red, so that Mummy had screamed for help. Grandma came running upstairs from the shop, took Cyril by the ankles, held him upside down, shook him and ran with him like that, dangling and choking, all the way to the hospital, where

mistake. It was frump rather than trend, but how was I to know on the first day? I had to learn quickly from looking at the other girls, in the corridors, canteens and other classes. I noticed that, along with the purples, ochres, dark browns and blues that seemed to be all the rage, especially for tights, on warmer days, dresses made of Indian striped bedspread material, all bright and subtle at the same time, were popular. Miraculous. Even the teachers wore striped ties in Indian silk, and

like to join in a fight unless it was absolutely necessary. He had enough on his plate. His sister Annie was very cautious with her criticism. It was hardly a criticism, and if you rejected the stuffy mores and style of Ruislip and our relatives, as I did, it was almost a compliment. ‘She’s very unusual,’ Annie said to my mother, with a stress on the second u, and a rather apologetic simper, as if it were all a bit modern and beyond her. My mother and father fell in love with this phrase. It

appropriate hat, and bring back the dinner. Which was why he was quite happy to buy a small cottage in Porthallow. If he couldn’t go all that often, then my mother could drive down herself, with a friend, sometimes Gracie, sometimes Jean Riley, her old midwife who she’d brought to the New Forest, sometimes me and one of my girlfriends, and if she absolutely couldn’t get out of it, sometimes even Celia. My father and his brother Phil (on right), circa 1915. 37: FORCED FEEDING Auntie

said she’d met a boy who was a motorbike mechanic and had his own motorbike, but she never brought him to Ruislip, and she didn’t say much else about him, except that he took her for rides on his bike up and down the Western Avenue. Sometimes Pamela and I would see Blanche’s daughter out and about. We had never played with her as children, and only knew her by sight, but ever since her mother had made up such terrible stories about my father and proved to be a nutcase, we took more notice of the

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