Eva Brown

In the kitchen of our Balham flat in the ‘60s, my mother had eight brown jars containing all manner of exotic foodstuffs: ginger; cloves; nutmeg; cinnamon; marjoram; mint; parsley and thyme. 

Because of my utter loathing of boiled fish in parsley sauce, I’d hide the jar marked “parsley”.  I couldn’t watch any episode of The Herbs without the fear of coming out in a rash.

What puzzled me, as a kid growing up, was why the contents of these jars were never used? 

My diet was very formulaic; I had the same thing most days; most weeks.  But cannot remember my Saturday evening smoked haddock being supplemented with a sprinkling of nutmeg; Sunday’s roasts rarely featured ginger instead of Yorkshires – and whose cloves were actually in that jar?  The Borrowers? (At this point I’d not learned how to spell “clothes” properly).

Brown was a popular colour in our flat:  Brown three-piece suite; brown carpet – with both parents being heavy smokers, it tended to hide the burn marks (and an unruly Flake packet); brown coffee pot; brown cups and saucers; dark brown sideboard and stereo.  The only brown not there was Eva Braun.

My dad had a brown suit.  He could hide his head in his jacket and my mum wouldn’t spot him sitting on the sofa for hours.  

So, when sometimes says to you, “brown is the new black”, send them off for a colour blindness check.

Partridge in a Pears’ Cyclopaedia

If we were still living in the ‘60s, as we approach Christmas, so we’d be getting ready to welcome Perry Como into our houses.

What did he do the rest of the year?  What happened to all those jumpers?  Did he sell them to Val Doonican? When we watched Val Doonican’s Christmas Specials, was he wearing Perry Como’s hand-me-downs?

Were round-robin letters describing the events of the year a thing in the ‘60s?  Did we read them by the light of our fibre-optic lamps?  (I think I have one of the fibres still stuck in my foot).

My great aunt, who also lived in our Balham flats, owned a Pears’ Cyclopaedia.  I didn’t need a letter telling me about “Melissa and the girls finding a lovely inn in rural Tuscany” to enlighten me as to what had happened in the previous year.

More and more Christmas cards are sent electronically.   It’s not quite the same having a PC dangling overhead on a piece of string.

I wonder if I’ll still be scared of the Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol? In recent years, I’ve found Miss Piggy scarier.

And so, as Tiny Tim (the Dickens character, not the singer) would say, “God bless us, every one” – even those sending round-robin letters.

Lava and lime

In the 60s you didn’t have to go to the edge of Mount Vesuvius to see lava, if you’d saved up enough Green Shield stamps you could get some in a lamp; if you had faulty wiring, there was that ever-present danger the eruption of AD79 would be re-enacted in your flat.

But, if globules resembling something out of the Quatermass Experiment wasn’t for you, then a fibre-optic lamp was the thing to adorn your bedroom in the (in my case) highly unlikely event that a girl might visit. 

In the 70s, in my Balham flat, I would turn my light on in the hope that it would act as a homing device to any unsuspecting girl in our flats (preferably one who liked cricket, Thunderbirds and Sven Hassel novels).

However, the only danger (there was no danger of anyone visiting) was that the fibre-optic lamp, though wonderfully pretty when lit up, would moult more than the hairiest German Shepherd dog. 

This was not advertised on the packaging and you only found out – given the room was in virtual darkness – when you trod on one. Think pieces of Lego, only with a skin-piercing syringe attached. 

I was clearly never going to make it as a Hippie, my mother had installed fire alarms in my room, so joss sticks were out of the question and the only flares I’d see would be my mother firing one out of our flat window signalling my dad had gone to work.