I was brought up in a small farming village of East Cornwall, two younger brothers, a farmer Dad and farmer/Girl Guide captain Mum. We had a telephone, because all farms needed them, and my Mum could drive a tractor and a car having been to University after the war to study Agriculture having enjoyed being a Land Girl for the war years. We got a T.V. after an electricity generator was installed to make milking the cows easier. School was perfectly adequate. I wasn’t marvellous at anything, tried quite hard, and secured enough ‘O’ Levels to get me into Occupational Therapy College in Exeter. Had kissed two boys but hadn’t had any dates … as I write this, I am thinking that I would have said, ‘been kissed by’.… because it wasn’t something that girls actively did… we were passive and waited to be kissed. Has that changed? Discuss.
We had little holidays not far from home. It might be a week at the beach in a caravan park, time at our grandparent’s homes, or day trips with thermos and sandwiches. Trips abroad were unusual although there was a girl in our class who went touring Europe in the summer holidays which we thought exotic. And of course there was Girl Guide camp.
The parents of my school friends were mostly local and mostly from a farming background. I remember a nurse who had come into the village, and married a farmer. We took the same exams as the boys, although not many girls took the science and Maths ‘A’ levels. There was further education, but hardly any of us went to university. Girls had the options of secretarial work or teaching, and the caring jobs of nursing, O.T. Speech Therapy or Physiotherapy. Then there was working in the banks or shops. The thought of a girl engineer, architect or science teacher seemed odd then. There were a few woman vets and doctors. Teacher training was acceptable for both girls and boys although primary schools had more women teachers than men. Most of these courses were still taught in colleges and we achieved a diploma not a degree. It wasn’t until the 80s or 90s that the colleges achieved university status.
Those of us who went off to further education often left the area and never went back.
I left home in 1969 the year Colour T.V. started arriving in a few salubrious places. The effect of Woodstock and the summer of love was making itself felt. We emerging young women had been given a bridge to cross over a Rubicon without knowing it. When I got to college in 1970, curfews were no more. Reliable contraception in the form of the pill was being widely used, and although there was talk of people ‘living in sin’ and although sex before marriage, was still talked about as if it were ‘a big thing’, we were free to have boyfriends to stay over, at college (but not usually at home).
What were our ambitions? We had the idea that happiness could be achieved if we were good. We ought to have a qualification to fall back on, find our Mr Right and buy a sensible house, have a nice little family, and go back to work if we wanted to. That’s what school, parents, T.V. and magazines steered us towards.
I met Chris at Eighteen and we married when I was twenty and he was twenty four. That was early, but fairly normal for the time. I wanted to finish training, and Chris was perfectly happy for me to do so. He was in The Royal Navy and was often away flying helicopters from an aircraft carrier for those years anyway. I stayed living in student accommodation. I qualified in 1973 and Chris aimed to have a shore job at the naval air station at Culdrose so we went to live in Cornwall, a couple of hours from my old home.
At that time women couldn’t get a mortgage in their own right. That wasn’t possible for another decade or so. We usually partnered, through marriage with a man and his salary, and then bought a house that had both our names on the deeds. The question of careers opposed to having children, was still answered in favour of giving up work while the children were small. There wasn’t a lot of childcare, and there was no great financial need. Mortgages were arranged up to three times the man’s salary which was doable on the one main salary. If he were lucky, the husband would be earning between two and four thousand pounds a year. I think a year’s salary at that time for an O.T. was around £1,500. Our first house in 1974 was around £10,000.
In my Cornish family, my brothers and I moved away from Cornwall, but we stayed in the UK. The children of the next generation have moved further. Our three children have ended up with Tim going on a student exchange in Chicago and staying over there, Lucy settling in the Leeds area, and Nick going on a trip to explore the world and ended up in New Zealand.
In our generation, there was no more Sunday lunch with grandma and grandad, and no more driving 100 miles for a summer week at the beach with the kids and dog on the train.
Whilst this scenario doesn’t describe everyone, and apologies to those who this doesn’t resonate with, I think I have described a pretty normal childhood for you grandmas in my cohort, my research group who were brought up in the fifties and sixties. If you had kissed more boys than me by the age of seventeen and had more than three mini-skirts, well lucky you.