Sunday, 19 October 2014


Material is so useful a word as it can cover so many different manifestations.

When I began to notice in infancy the many activities of my mother especially in the late 1940s and early 1950s, I often heard Mum and her four sisters mention "material" in conversation.

I suspect it is far from usual now in 2014, but in the immediate post-WWII period virtually everything was "on ration" and each member of each household was issued with the ever-so-valuable Ration Book, and making clothes for the family was part and parcel of not only a housewife's skill, but extended to Dad too as he had learnt to sew and mend from his first joining the RAF in the early 1930s.  But material was hard to come by in the exact colours and quantities required.

Material was in short supply as the excuse "gone for the war effort" became an expression in everyday speech in the years before I was born in 1946.  In a time of shortages, neighbourhoods did seem to be much more "neighbourly" in the sense of helping each other out particularly for special occasions such as children's birthdays, making school clothing, Christening outfits, new clothes for Whit Walks, wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses, Rose Queen and Gala Queen "uniforms", and sewing badges on to uniforms for voluntary organisations (Cubs, Brownies, Scouts, Guides, GFS).

It was slightly puzzling too arriving at age five in school when Miss Fleetwood would urge us to "collect up all the materials" which had to be put away in boxes and cupboards for the following day, and I made friends with Peter whose Dad was a builder and I heard Mr Jones say he would have to go to the suppliers for some more "building materials".

Sunday School was no help either as we were told not to yearn for "material things", but to seek "spiritual wealth" when what I longed for was the model aircraft carrier in the toy shop wingow, an electric train set, balsa wood aircraft kits and The Eagle Comic delivered to our door each week.

But I grew up never short of the more important things of home - loving parents and extended family, carpets, furniture and beds for our use, clothes on our backs and shoes on our feet and plenty to eat and drink though I never had a great appetite until much later, and "doing without" was good training for living a modest life in terms of possessions.

By the early 1950s, the general public in Britain seemed fed up of austerity, rationing and "making do" and lots of people fled to Australia, New Zealand and Canada mainly, I suspect, because they would still be able to speak English there (quite why Brits are so hopeless at learning new languages I have never really grasped), but most of all because they believed that a higher standard of living, a certainty that life would be materially better, would be available far more quickly away from broke, grey Britain.

It was quite a while later that Madonna could warble "Material Girl" and have people smile because they understand what has developed into an I WANT... society.

Our son and daughter-in-law will move to a fresh house this coming Friday and are astonished and rather flummoxed at the simple amount of "stuff" that they have accumulated in their four and a bit years of marriage.  Perhaps the same strikes you when you embark upon a "de-clutter".

Having the wherewithal to buy what you believe you need is a pleasure, but your material possessions are of little importance compared with good health, genuine companionship and friendship, an active mind, and, as Larkin almost said "What will remain of us is love".



Christo said...

I was not to know it, but Steve's blog and mine were borne out graphically by the new series of THE APPRENTICE, episode One of which I happened on having watched Match of the Day 2 late on Sunday evening.
How I dislike Alan Sugar's view of the world as a role model of how to ge on in business and the vacuous "I'M GREAT" business giants the competitors fantasize about becoming.
If that's Britain's future, I'm glad to be coming twards the end of my stint.