As I’m writing this, I’m looking out of the window and thinking that the weather is telling me very clearly that winter is on its way. The wind is hurrying leaves along the pavements, the clouds are hanging very dark and low, and the threat of rain seems ever present. It’s only 11am, and yet I’ve had to turn on the lights to see what I’m doing.
It’s the time of year when I begin to miss the real fire we used to have in our previous home. On days like this, there’s nothing more comforting than curling up in front of living flames. In my current house, in place of the once open hearth sits a rather ugly gas fire. I’m guessing the old fire was replaced in the 1960s or 1970s when it became commonplace and affordable to install boilers to heat water and radiators, and sometimes the unsightly boiler could be hidden in the chimney space behind an artificial fire on the front.
My dad talks about this topic in his column from 27th October 1979, when he mentions the regular power cuts that affected us in the 1970s. Country folk could rely on their oil lamps for light and their cooking ranges for warmth and food. But he also laments the fact that we had to remove our own cast iron range to make way for a modern new boiler.
It does make me cry a little inside when I think back. I have vague memories of that great big traditional range, which was clearly the heart of our 19th century cottage. But I remember the new white, rumbling boiler far better, as it symbolised the dawn of a more modern, heat-efficient age. It brought hot radiators to our bedrooms, and you had to love the big brute of a boiler for that fact alone.
In the 1970s, we didn’t have the same affection for the old, labour-intensive ways, or an appetite for preserving original features of aging homes. We chucked out anything that hinted of history and tradition to make way for modern and convenient. Why have original ceramic floor tiles when you could cover them over with easy-to-clean patterned lino? Who needed draughty wooden sash windows when God invented double glazing and uPVC? And why put up with heavy dust-riddled four-panelled doors with rattly brass knobs when you could have plain, lightweight Sapele mahogany veneers with easy-to-use lever handles that closed with a whisper rather than a clout?
And then you have the bathroom. White suites were so boring compared to such glorious colours as alpine blue, peach melba, harvest gold, and avocado green. And to keep up with the trend, the loo roll manufacturers produced toilet rolls in a whole range of hues that you’d be hard-pressed to find today. In fact, you could match all your bathroom accessories, like mats, soap dishes and toothbrush cups, to your chosen suite.
I used to work for the company that made Andrex loo roll back in the 1990s, and even then you could still get toilet tissue in yellow, pink, blue, green and peach. In fact, white was only just beginning to be popular again. Today though, the most exciting loo roll colour, apart from white, that I can find is ‘champagne’. I think they’re giving the loo roll ideas above its station with that name. Just ‘cream’ would suffice.
While researching this piece, I came across a blog about the history of the sanitaryware firm, Twyfords, and if you’re interested in revisiting the memories of those fantastic bathrooms of old, then it’s well worth a visit. According to the blog, Twyfords introduced coloured suites as far back as the 1930s and continued increasing its colour palette right up the 1990s.
In 1977 Queen Elizabeth II had been on the throne for 25 years and in a rather unique tribute, Twyford launched its ‘Queen Silver Jubilee’ bathroom suite, which included a huge corner bath, a large oval sink, a grand toilet and, to cap it all, that noble 1970s emblem of wealth and success – a bidet. The whole suite was in the rather unusual colour choice of ‘sepia’ brown. But what really set it apart was a distinctly regal flourish – a garland of golden vines weaving its way round each piece of porcelain.
I do wonder if the Queen was amused.
Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug