By Frances Ann Roper.       

8 Stoke Abbot Court, Worthing.   

(Written around 1945-6)


Those of us who are in the forties almost certainly grew up with more or less of a hang-over from the Victorian period in which our parents were reared.

One of the most deep-rooted inhibitions was that of a “lady's age”.  Thanks to Mr. Bevin that particular inhibition is now as dead as mutton. None of us is afraid to look our age in the face now that we have all had to register blatantly in our age-groups, and have to give our age to little bits of girls at the Food Office every time we put our noses inside the door.

And what fun we had when all our contemporaries were registering in their age-groups; what violent mental arithmetic we indulged in; and what a delightful opportunity it offered for honeyed remarks such as, “What, haven't you registered yet?  I registered ages ago!”  But it was not so good when we saw that faded, dowdy Mrs. Next-door-but-one whom we had always taken to be fifty if she were a day, turning up to register in the same age-group as ourselves. Didn't we rush home and stare into the mirror, hoping to goodness we didn't look that old!

Now that our age is common property we take a pride in it, and stray hairs no longer loom as tragedies.  We take a pride in doing a full day's work in our ‘directed’ jobs, and standing up to it as efficiently as we should have done twenty years ago.

Thank you Mr. Bevin, you have scotched one of the biggest bogies in the lives of thousands of women.

Another inhibition which has gone, let's hope, for good, is that of carrying our own shopping baskets home. Before the war we scorned to carry any parcel, except perhaps a tiny one containing a yard or two of ribbon or a pair of gloves, neatly and modestly wrapped up and dangling from our finger by a dainty loop. Now we flaunt our shopping baskets before all the neighbours’ gaze, and if we can display a lump of damp fish, hanging its tail out of a bit of soggy newspaper, we know we shall be the object of pure envy.

The other day I staggered home up the main street of our town, from a visit to my pet little junk shop, where, with luck, one can pick up incredible treasures. An overflowing shopping basket, a second-hand waste paper basket, and a lamp-shade, were somehow festooned on my left arm, while under my right arm was tucked the prize treasure - a second-hand carpet sweeper!  Friends stopped to congratulate, strangers stared covetously, and an entirely unknown lady stopped me to ask breathlessly, “Oh, do tell me where you got that. I have been trying to find a carpet sweeper for ages!”  I had been feeling slightly self-conscious, and rather like a travelling tinker’s donkey, but the open envy in the faces of friends and strangers alike, completely restored my self-esteem, and bang went another inhibition.

The air-raids killed a whole host of inhibitions. After all, if you have waked after a night in the shelter to find an unknown man asleep with his head in your lap, and your own head resting on the shoulder of another man, equally unknown, it is not much use coming all over self-conscious if the one is introduced to you a few days later at a bridge party, or the other one appears at your door delivering coals. A very charming friend of mine, who is completely devoted to her soldier husband, takes a fiendish delight in telling her elderly aunts in ‘safe area’ hotels, that she spends the night with a different man every week; omitting to mention of course, that it is on fire-watching duty under circumstances of extreme discomfort in a beetle-ridden outhouse.

Yes, we ‘forties’ certainly have the best of both worlds in this war.  We stand between the two generations, and can enjoy to the full the casting off of inhibitions, which is a pleasure unknown either to those younger or older than ourselves. We have stepped back into youth, as we step out into our new jobs.  We can rejoice in a new sense of freedom and adventure as we have pushed aside the ‘settled down’ atmosphere of middle age which was so surely creeping up on us before the war. Of course there has been a price to pay, a price of upheaval and the giving up of our comforts and easy pleasant home life; but how infinitely more we have gained in mental and spiritual freedom and breadth of outlook.

Go to it, ‘forties’; forget you ever had any inhibitions, step out and grasp the second youth which is offered to you, and be grateful that you are of the only generation to which this gift has been given since the beginning of history.