One Christmas, when I was about 17 and milking cows for my father, the radio in the farmhouse conked out. My mother, an ardent royalist, was distraught. “How will we hear the Queen’s Christmas day message?” she asked. Remember, this was before black-and-white televisions in every house – and we certainly didn’t have one.
My father looked at me and said: “You’ll have to bring back the radio you’ve got in the milking parlour.” I resisted because I enjoyed the Light Programme while I milked. Truth be told, the radio was more for my benefit than for the cows. But there was no point arguing, so on Christmas Eve I arrived back at the house with the radio under my arm.
We duly listened to our youthful Queen and some seasonal programmes broadcast by the BBC for the holiday. Mother was happy and the day after Boxing Day the radio was reinstated in the parlour. But milk yields were down 15% on the days the radio was missing. Father said it was because I’d rushed milking to get back to the family for Christmas dinner. But I was sure the cows had missed the music and I never let the radio leave the parlour again.
I was thinking of this the other day as I contemplated the return of recession following the collapse of the world’s finances of how, a few years before the incident with the radio, food had been severely rationed. On the farm we usually managed to find a chicken for Christmas, but one year it was mutton – or so the butcher said. It smelled and tasted more like billy goat.
As a child during the World War II, I was told of the problems Father Christmas had getting round all the children because of air raids and petrol rationing. Some of my greatest Christmas treats during the war years were a second-hand bike one year, and a third or fourth-hand Meccano set the next.
Living on a farm during and after the war, we were more fortunate than most. We always had eggs and milk, for instance, which were strictly rationed for the rest of the population. When I first went to grammar school in Norwich the lady maths teacher sidled up to me and asked if I would give a note to my parents. It was a request for half a dozen eggs a week, which I then delivered in a discreet box every Monday. I did better at maths that year than ever before or since.
Are we heading for such deprivation again? Quite possibly. And it will be harder this time because we’ve become used to life’s luxuries and learned to take them for granted. But for what its worth, I don’t remember feeling hard done by back then. In fact it was a happy time and there was a warmer sense of community as people united to tackle their problems. Maybe we can recapture that spirit over the coming years.