Make Do and Mend


I was born in a time of austerity.  It was shortly after the Second World War in a time of rationing.  We didn’t have much to eat – I remember sugar sandwiches and bread and dripping – not considered terribly healthy but we appeared to thrive on such meagre victuals.  There were not too many fat people around and obesity was very rare indeed.  Mind you there were a lot of medical oddities walking around as a result of various mineral and vitamin deficiencies.  It was still the early days of penicillin and antibiotics so there were childhood deaths due to the incidence of TB, diptheria and polio.

Bathtime was a tin bath in front of a stove as we didn’t possess a bathroom.  There were no such things as washing machines, just a gas fired copper which clothes were boiled in and later put through a hand turned wringer before hanging on the line or drapped around the kitchen on clothes horses.  The only heating we had was a stove in the kitchen and a coal fire in the living room which was used sparingly.  There wasn’t a fridge, instead we had a larder with a meat safe and terracotta covers for the milk bottles.  Nothing was thrown out until everything was used up, from scraping butter wrappers/or keeping them for later use in greasing cake tins, to (if times were particularly hard) opening up toothpaste tubes to get out the remnants.  Left overs and hand-me-downs were par the course and if you needed something new you saved for it, which often took a long time.  The watchword that was drummed into us was ‘Make Do and Mend’!

The Kitchen in the 1950's

A lot of our toys were home/handmade and lasted for ages as we knew they wouldn’t be replaced if lost or broken.  I would spend hours playing with big cardboard boxes to make caves, castles and houses and was forever making dens outside and in with the use of everyday items that were magically turned into …well, anything I wanted them to be.  I developed a very rich imagination which stood me in very good stead for most of my life – especially useful for my magical and spiritual work.

At first we didn’t have a TV and used to go on occasions to a neighbour’s house to crowd around with others to watch their black & white set, which was often ‘on the blink’.  We did have a valve wireless though which took ages to warm up and was listened to every evening.  Most of our spare time was spent outdoors whenever possible and/or doing something constructive.  Lots of children made models which certainly taught us a degree of dexterity.  My brother made model aeroplanes and Meccano sets and I did my best with Airfix kits which were all the rage – loads of glue and paint everywhere.   I recall the smell of solvents permeating most of the house – particularly something called ‘dope’ which coated the wings of model aeroplanes.  Given that most of paint was lead based then and flies were attacked with flit-guns which used to squirt a fine spray of DDT over us, I’m surprised some of us survived!  Having said that, we developed very robust immune systems as we were exposed to so much.

Another pursuit I thoroughly enjoyed was I-Spy books.  These were wonderful spotter guides that covered all sorts of environments – the seaside, countryside, farmyard etc.  They were little booklets that gave a brief outline and description of an item and when you spotted them, you ticked them off.  The aim was to fill the booklet up and send them off to get a small prize – I’m not sure what that was as I didn’t ever send one off – it was enough to take part in the various hunts for different items.  Of course it would be easy to cheat but you didn’t because Big Chief I-Spy would know(!)…besides where was the point?  😉


If you were a boy then you joined the local cub group and as a girl I joined the Brownies.  Our troup was run by a couple of women called Brown Owl and Tawny Owl – it consisted of different sub-groups which were divided into various Fey Folk – there were Sprites, Fairies, Elves and I joined the Goblins (which for those who know me is not surprising!) – and believe it or not we used to end every meeting by skipping around a mock Fly Agaric Toadstool!  We were taught all sorts of countryside skills like fire building, foraging and went on camps which were great fun.  Once a year we all went out into the neighbourhood for ‘Bob-a-Job’ week.  This basically meant you called on your neighbours who paid you a whole shilling (a Bob – old money roughly equivilant to 5p) to perform some service like cleaning cars, shoes, windows, cutting the lawn, getting shopping  and so on.  They filled in your card and at the end of the week all money collected would go towards some local charity.  Hard work but very rewarding and really helped with the local community spirit.

The main thing was all these childhood pursuits were not only fun, they helped build a body of knowledge and skills that has stayed with me all my life.  Also I have the ability to live frugally which is a real asset when your chosen profession does not produce a high financial income and especially nowadays given the present political economical situation!  Looking back at the things I enjoyed doing when I was a child, I suppose it’s not too surprising that I ended up at the ‘grubby’ end of witchcraft by becoming a village wisewoman as it suits my nature and temperament.

In my opinion so much of rural witchcraft comes from an upbringing where connection to community and the surrounding countryside was a crucial factor to understanding the spirit of place and thereby the essence of the local magic.  I suppose this is why I get a bit irritated, or ‘teazy’ as they say down here in West Cornwall, when I read about all these fine limited edition witchcraft/occult books covered in rather distasteful materials like toad skin that cost a small fortune to buy.  What kind of a person will pay out a couple of hundred pounds for a book that can be bought as a paperback for £10 – £15?  Would it actually be used – or will it end up in a glass display case along with other, albeit beautifully crafted but equally impractical ‘talismanic’ objects?  I must admit I never dreamed that such a homespun tradition like rural witchcraft would become so elevated and elite – but there we go…there’s no accounting for taste and obviously some people have more money than sense and there will always be some who will market that propensity!

In the meantime I am happy and content with my rather shambolic but very effective wise craft.  🙂


The Brownie Promise:
I promise that I will do my best,
To be true to myself and develop my beliefs,
To serve the Queen and my community,
To help other people,
And to keep the Brownie Guide Law.

The Brownie Guide Law is:

A Brownie Guide thinks of others before herself and does a good turn every day.

The Brownie Guide Motto is:  ‘Lend a hand’


4 thoughts on “Make Do and Mend

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  1. I do like the way you write, especially as it evokes in me memories of my past growing up in London and the hard times we went through. It is always nice to look back at a childhood that was perhaps not full of things, but so full of times.

  2. A very good blog people tend to forget how it used to be and most children find it hard to believe life was ever like that. Its all about image and money these days so it seems! 🙂 xx

  3. Were we sisters????? Your childhood sounds exactly like mine (growing up in south London) even down to joining the Brownies. I was a Sixer in the Fairies and I absolutely loved it. Life was hard but I don’t think that thought ever crossed our minds – we just accepted it and got on with it. But I do believe we were a lot happier than the children of the same age today.

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