Is it time to go back to make do and mending?

The recent scare mongering about a possible shortage of toilet rolls were Brexit to go belly up, (should that be bottoms up?) had a certain ‘we’ve been here before’ feel about it.

By Monica Dyson
Thursday, 24th October 2019, 10:15 am
Updated Friday, 8th November 2019, 2:02 pm

Funnily enough, having no toilet rolls could be quite usual when I was a child, certainly throughout the 1940s, and so people improvised. Who remembers sheets of newspaper cut into squares with string threaded through the top corner and hung on a hook on the back of the toilet door? Some papers were more absorbent than others with some making worse black marks on your bottom from the newsprint.

So, today, having no toilet rolls wouldn’t be the end of the world, but I suspect that the squares of newspaper would be placed into a colour co-ordinated box to match the toilet walls!

We Brits are a stoic lot and many of us remember times mostly throughout the 50s when there was a shortage of flour and of yeast and during the Suez crisis when petrol was in short supply. Even earlier than that, there was shortages of almost everything during the war. A whole generation of us grew up never seeing a banana except in pictures, and only saw pineapples on the labels of tinned fruit.

Many years ago, my mother-in-law heard a rumour that Oxo cubes were to be discontinued. She bought up so much of the local shop’s stock of the cubes that when you opened her kitchen cupboard doors, you were quite likely to be assaulted by a shower of little red boxes. The rumours were unfounded, but I don’t think she ever had to buy any Oxo cubes again!

That may sound a bit over the top, but it seems that some years ago actor Sean Bean is reputed to have bought two gallons of Henderson’s Relish after hearing that it may be facing discontinuation!

Shortages made people very resilient, especially housewives, and especially both during the war and after it. People today may think that recycling is a pretty recent thing, but I assure you that is far from the case. It was previously known as ‘make do and mend’ with a booklet issued by the Government in 1943 which became a household bible for many women who were trying to look after their families through food rationing and other deprivations of war time. In fact, clothes were still rationed until 1949.

The idea was not to waste anything. Leftover food was turned into further nourishing meals with crockpots on every housewife’s stove which would contain vegetable and potato peelings for making soup. The vegetables had been grown in the back garden. ‘Dig for Victory’ was a wartime motto. Pressure cookers saved on energy and tenderised tough meat.

Offal was cheap and tasty and there was no part of a pig that wasn’t used for food. Stale bread could be used to line pudding bowls for savoury puddings. Milk was stood in saucepans of cold water to keep it cool. With no fridge, mother shopped for fresh food as it was needed.

The present trend for customising clothes with trendy patches was then a necessity with clothes passed down through the family. The wool from jumpers and cardigans was unpicked and re-used. Even if old it could be used to darn socks. Mother never seemed to be without the wooden darning mushroom in her lap.

Father heeled and soled shoes and boots using a hobbing foot. Sewing clothes and knitting jumpers was the norm. Every elderly man of a certain age remembers the striped tank tops he wore when he started school.

Traditional sewing and knitting skills have made a come-back in recent years. Sewing machine sales have risen together with sales of fabric, knitting wools and haberdashery. I remember when I had babies that it was a matter of pride that they had hand-knitted garments. Then some years later, babies weren’t wearing hand knitted things anymore. It was seen as old fashioned. Young mums were all going to Mothercare. Now it’s done a complete about turn, and the stylish baby wears again, beautiful hand produced knitwear, with poor old Mothercare in financial trouble.

Housewives in the 1940s placed new bars of soap between towels and sheets to make them smell nice.

They had usually been hand washed, then squeezed through a mangle and hung out on the line to dry. In fact, twin tub washing machines were not generally affordable until well into the 1950s.

Vinegar was a very useful household item for post war housewives. Not only was it used for pickling onions and other vegetables, preserving cheese and keeping flies away from meat, but it was used for medical purposes and for general cleaning purposes.

Tea leaves were not only used so many times that there was practically no taste left in them but were then dried and used to sprinkle on carpets and rugs before being brushed off.

Funnily enough in today’s world we are again ‘making do and mend’. Jumble sales have never been so popular, and many people patronise shops called ‘vintage’ or ‘dress agencies’ which sell upmarket jumble which is described as ‘pre-loved!’

We are paranoid about saving electricity and about recycling. Some of us make an art form of it!

And as for leftover food. Well as pensioners we don’t tend to have much of that. We’ve got pretty good at assessing how much to prepare. But when we do it’s always used for another meal.

The most amazing money saving tip I ever saw was the one to freeze left over wine in ice cube trays. Left over wine? Now that’s interesting!