‘It was Sunday and Molly had decided to follow a recipe for vegetable and oatmeal goulash which had appeared on one of the government information leaflets that had come through the door recently. It talked about ingenious ideas for fooling the taste buds and in this recipe a bit of paprika was meant to deceive you into thinking you were eating meat.’
An excerpt from my novel: The Disenchanted Hero.
During WW2 food rationing was introduced as the government knew that it would be harder to import food.
Foods like butter, meat, cheese, eggs, milk, tea, jam and even sweets were rationed!
Most, like my character Molly, ‘dug for victory’ and turned their whole gardens over to vegetable growing and kept chickens.
The Vegetable and Oatmeal Goulash certainly doesn’t galvanise my taste buds. But, hey, you might be lucky enough to have a tin of corned beef to add to it.
One thing is for sure, very few had cars and so the vast majority got around by walking or cycling.
What with this and the restrictions on food, we were a very healthy nation.
Abundant choice in the 21st Century
We are incredibly lucky in this day and age to have access to a wealth of food. Here, in Suffolk, local farm produce is readily available and the nearest farm shop just a five-minute drive away. Chef-led TV is aired daily – Saturday Kitchen is my favourite – and then any recipes you fancy are downloadable in an instant.
We have seen the rise of convenience foods and processed foods filling our supermarkets. I think nowadays there’s a kick back against this way of eating and a move towards healthier options. Certainly in my household we have become flexitarians, opting for a lot more vegetarian foods.
Just in the last year the trend has been for:
- Plant-based proteins: tofu, tempeh and quinoa with some becoming Vegans
- Gut-friendly fermented foods
- Hyper-local food
- Recipe kits delivered to your home
- More use of spices and herbs to flavour food
- Organic food – ditch the pesticides
Which trend are you following?
Read more about Molly and her WW2 experiences in The Disenchanted Hero, now available on Amazon.
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In the recession of the 1930s it was not easy for women to work and only about 30% managed it. Of those nearly a third were in domestic service.
The character in my latest novel, Molly Brooks, went into domestic service at the tender age of 15 out of necessity because her family fell on very difficult times. Her father fell ill and lost his shoe-making business which put him and Molly’s mother in the workhouse. Molly and her older brother, Joe, knew they had to get them out and so Molly took a huge risk and travelled from Truro in Cornwall up to London to take a position as a Lady’s maid.
At that time getting married meant giving up your job. It wasn’t actually illegal to work as a married woman but socially unacceptable. The civil service, the education sector and new professions including the BBC operated a “marriage bar”, which meant that women had to resign their posts as they took their vows. About 10% defied this convention but as soon as they got pregnant, it was made impossible for them to continue.
Women were confined to the lower paid unskilled jobs. This meant:
• assembly work in the engineering, electrical, food and drink industries;
• clerical work and typing in offices;
• counter-sales in shops.
They were usually excluded from supervisory roles or work that was considered to be “skilled”, despite the fact that they had managed theses roles successfully during WWI.
The domestic life of women wasn’t easy too. Without electrical appliances like washing machines, fridge freezers and dishwashers, not to mention cordless vacuums(!) that we take for granted today, housework was time-consuming and hard work. Add on top of that having babies and bringing up children, you can see why the wider family unit would stick together.
War breaks out and suddenly your country NEEDS you
With thousands of men away serving in the armed forces, British women were called upon to take on a variety of jobs during the Second World War. By mid-1943, almost 90% of single women and 80% of married women were working in factories, on the land or in the armed forces in roles such as mechanics, engineers, munitions workers, air raid wardens, bus and fire engine drivers.
Women also played a vital role on the home front, running households and fighting a daily battle of rationing, recycling, reusing, and cultivating food in allotments and gardens.
After the war
At first the view was very much that women should give up their jobs to allow men returning from the front to have ‘their’ jobs back. But then Britain entered a period of sustained economic growth and the welfare state was launched and suddenly a larger workforce was needed.
The newly created National Health Service created jobs in nursing, midwifery, cleaning and clerical work. Banking, textile and light industries such as electronics also expanded during this period and provided women with opportunities in clerical, secretarial and assembly work.
But women still only had the lower paid jobs. The ‘marriage bar’ continued in many areas of work and women were routinely sacked for being pregnant.
So you really did have to choose between work OR marriage and having a family.
Having it all
Now, in the 21st century they say women have it all and don’t need to choose between career and family.
We do have more equality in the workplace with more women taking top jobs but there are still more women in lower paid jobs. The gender pay gap was highlighted recently when the BBC’s gender inequality was exposed after the government forced them to publish the salaries of their top earners. Interestingly, this has lead to male presenters leaving the BBC and more women in the top roles.
Many women are still working long hours. In managerial posts it is the expected norm to work longer than 9 to 5. Women with unskilled jobs often have more than one job to make ends meet.
Many jobs are proving stressful which leads to stress-related illness.
Having children makes working harder due to childcare costs. Some mothers chose to job share halving their earnings. Others give up employment for self-employment so that they can work around their childcare needs.
It seems to me that our working lives are no less challenging – it’s just a different set of challenges.
Do we have it all? Or is it all too much?
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Molly Hugh was an extraordinary woman and I’d like to remember her on this, International Women’s Day.
In 1925 at the tender age of fifteen Molly and her sisters and one older brother were thrown out on the streets with their deaf and dumb parents. Father, Anthony, had become ill and his shoe-making business had fallen on hard times and in one fell swoop they had lost everything.
But Molly was not someone to be easily beaten.
She had already left school and was working in a local cake shop where she earned very little. She quickly realised she was going nowhere. It was down to her, as the oldest daughter, and Joe, the oldest son, to get their mum and dad out of the workhouse.
It was down to her plucky ways that she landed a plum job as a lady’s maid in London after an hour answering an advertisement in The Times. She had no experience of this kind of work and was taking a huge leap of faith when she got a one-way ticket for a train out of Truro to London. Her sisters were not so lucky and were at the mercy of the nuns where they lived in harsh conditions until they were old enough to leave. Ten years later Molly had enjoyed her time in service and had a very good relationship with her employer who thought the world of her. She met Johnny Brooks having been taken in by his charm and smooth moves on the dance floor. He was quick to ask her to marry him and why wouldn’t she say yes but sadly he turned out to be a ‘wrong’en’ as folks would said and it was not a happy marriage.
It was 1943 when she met Guy Woodhead and a wonderful romance ensued, despite all the odds being against them. Perhaps it was the backdrop of World War 2 that made them reckless and live for the moment. They had to relish what little time they had together before Guy felt he should do his duty and sign up with the military police where he served firstly in South Africa and then on to Italy. He was away for many years and Molly lived out these years working as an electrician in the aircraft factory on the old Brooklands race track at Weybridge. Many men said it wasn’t right that women were doing the jobs of highly trained men how could they just pick it up and carry out important work building Wellington bombers? But that’s what they did. Some even learnt to fly the aircraft to their destinations. Whatever next?
As well as working long hours a woman was expected to shop weekly with her
coupons and somehow feed her family with what little rationing provided. Molly turned her garden into a vegetable plot and kept chickens.
Did Molly manage to rid herself of the awful Johnny Brooks?
One thing I can tell you is that I had the fortune of marrying the son of Molly and Guy so I am able to tell this heart wrenching story.
The Disenchanted Hero by Gill Buchanan will be out shortly on Amazon.
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