The 1950’s Council House Diet In Shrewsbury
“As a kid I never lacked for anything. No one felt poor because everyone was the same. We lived off broken biscuits. It was great.” That’s not me speaking but John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor. Who is he kidding? I was very aware of being poor as a council house child in Shrewsbury. I was poor even amongst the poor. That said, the 1950’s council house diet in Shrewsbury still amazes me.
The 1950’s council house diet in Shrewsbury
We kids seemed to have so much energy and yet we ate so little. Breakfast was cornflakes and two slices of toasted white bread coated with Echo margarine and jam. No healthy gut for us! That word jam could be libellous. Ripe strawberries would appear on the label yet could not be identified in the contents. Shopping at Woolworths, in ignorance, I once bought a tin of apricot preserve. It was from East Europe, cheap, full of real apricots and delicious. Woolworths never stocked it again.
My mother was unwell and never went out. As the oldest of five schoolkids, it was my job to do the shopping. This was always done on late Saturday afternoon, after I finished my weekend work on the milk-round. Late Saturday afternoon was deliberate because as the day ended, perishables had to be sold. A cabbage, swede and carrots were all local and cheap. The meat was local too, as there was an abatoir in the town. Breast of lamb was the staple Sunday roast. Finding any meat in amongst all that bone was the challenge but the fat made for good roasters and a tasty gravy. The following day, the bones went into a stew with suet dumplings. Today, they say suet is the worst kind of fat and yet we were as thin as laths (that’s me, on the right, as a 15 year old horticultural trainee).
For certain, I knew my way around every store, not least Home & Colonial. This shop used pneumatic tubes to send canisters holding your money to the cashier. Back it came, flying across the ceiling. Undoubtedly, Woolworths was then the major food source. Racks of tins holding loose biscuits lined the counter. The broken biscuits were placed in a paper bag and lasted only one day back home. One tin of mandarin segments was our fruit, but only on a Sunday. There were six of us and I think I counted out seven segments each plus the juice. Carnation evaporated milk was the cream. That spawned a poem in the US – ‘Carnation milk is the best in the land. Here I sit with a can in my hand. No tits to pull, no hay to pitch, you just punch a hole in the son of a bitch’.
I realise now that I was less a shopper and more a modern forager. That Neolithic skill kept me close to Zuri in 2200 BC. Few of our ancestors had more than enough to eat. Because food was at the head of our needs, even broken biscuits were a treat. But for John McDonnell to say it was great is a lie.