Looking back: Why is there so much loneliness in today's world?
You didn’t lock your door and could expect at almost any time it to open and a friendly voice shout ‘Its only me!’ That would be the signal for the kettle to be switched on for a cuppa and a chat with your neighbour.
Callers at your house were daily. It would start very early with the milkman. Hearing the clink of the bottles would motivate us to get out of bed. He ran a lot, up and down paths and leaving bottle of milk in exchange for the milk tokens which your mother had purchased at the Co-op.
Later and often twice a day, it would be the postman. There were always daily letters in a time with no home telephones or mobile phones and certainly no computers.
Both the milkman and postman were extremely smart, wearing collars and ties and peaked caps.
The most exciting caller for children was the rag and bone man. We didn’t see many horses, and we waited in anticipation for his horse to drop something that father could put on the rhubarb patch. His owner could be heard coming up the road on his cart shouting ‘Any old iron’. We would pester our mother to find something to give him hoping to receive a balloon in return. Usually it would be a piece of donkey stone or a few clothes pegs.
Also exciting were the bin men who came every week. This was back breaking work when they hoisted the bin from the back yard onto their large shoulders, carried it down the path to be devoured by the bin lorry, and then carried the empty bin back.
The coal men frightened us when we were small. They always had dirty faces from the coal dust. They carried the bags of coal on their shoulders to the back yard and emptied the contents in a large pile. Mother would transfer the coal with a small shovel to the coalhouse which was just inside the back door. This would take hours and imagine her relief when a gas fire was installed.
Other callers included ‘the Man from the Pru’ who called weekly for insurance money. If people were going to be out it was quite usual for him to let himself into the house using a key which was left in a ‘safe’ place, mark the payment book, and let himself out again!
There was a knife sharpener who would also repair saucepan handles, sometimes gypsies who were selling lace, clothes pegs and paper flowers. Just like today they were subjected to unjust prejudice, and people would purchase something thinking they might otherwise put a spell on them!
The representative from Encyclopaedia Britannica told my father that unless he purchased the expensive volumes, his daughters would never pass the Eleven Plus exam. Luckily, we did, without its help!
Of course there was the Betterware man who sold useful household items like milk bottle covers to my mother, and most interesting of all, the Sheikh, complete with turban who called from door to door every few weeks. He had a suitcase with men’s socks, ties and underwear, and beautiful silk scarves. He would give a free gift of a lucky scarab if you bought anything. He was a very colourful character in a rather drab post war period.