It didn’t seem to matter that my dad was in a well-paid job. I don’t know quite what his work involved, but he went off to ‘The Labs’ every morning where he used his enviable brain power (sadly not inherited by his daughter) to fiddle about with computers the size of small houses, fibre optics, radio waves and things that involved complicated mathematical formulae. I don’t know how much he earned but it was presumably enough to keep his family comfortably in Clarks shoes and Vesta Paellas and yet the maxim in our household still remained: ‘Make do and mend’.
We didn’t replace things when they went wrong; we found increasingly inventive ways to keep them going for a little bit longer with pieces of green nylon string, old pennies, discarded chewing gum or whatever we could find to hand. And what we could find to hand was a cornucopia of oddities, because we rarely threw anything away - ‘it might come in handy one day’ being another family maxim.
Does anyone darn socks these days? My mum used to darn my dad’s socks all the time. I actually thought for years that men’s socks only came in one shade of grey with random patches of another shade of grey on the heels and toes. The giant darning needle was kept with the balls of wool that dated back to wartime, along with a vast collection of spare buttons and a ridiculous array of ribbons. I don’t think we ever needed to use ribbon for anything and, besides, most of it had already come from Christmas cake decorations and still had tiny fragments of icing stuck to it.
I’m sure my dad’s latest technical report on the descaling of electro-magnetic noodles could have bought us a new television, perhaps even a colour one, but still we persevered with the ancient black and white one because it worked. Well, it worked when you fiddled about with the strategically placed matchsticks between the control buttons when you couldn’t find the channel you wanted, and seeing as there were only three channels at the time that shouldn’t have been that difficult. The picture was ok, as long as the image being shown wasn’t too stark. Anything that had high contrast caused the picture to wobble, twist and stretch and for a long while I thought Morecambe and Wise – whose black and white suits posed a major challenge to the TV’s warp factor – were contortionists. But we soon learned that a quick thump to the top of the set could sort it out. Not just any thump, though, there was a knack. My father always got it right but then he had probably calculated the exact degree of force required according to velocity and gravitational pull.
So I grew up in a household where remnants of old candles were melted down and amalgamated to make new ones, which were then placed in empty wine bottles acting as candleholders; where cushion covers were made out of old curtains, and where my mum’s laddered tights were recycled and stuffed to make draught excluders for the back door. Is it any wonder that I still have the little red biro from my old Spirograph Set?