It was one of the ironies of winning the Second World War that, from about 1948 onwards, Britain was actually worse off than the Continental countries it had defeated or liberated.
It had ruined itself financially in funding the war effort and its infrastructure was worn out after years of being worked very hard indeed without getting any care and attention. Home-produced food was scarce and there was no money to buy in supplies from abroad. This meant that the only equitable way to distribute the food there was, was to continue with rationing which actually became even more limiting for some years until the country started to recover.
This meant that, as a child growing up in the immediate post-war period one was used to severe constraints on what could be eaten. It was a healthy diet, to be sure, but a tight one where waste was considered a mortal sin. For a fussy eater this could be a problem but parents were adept at producing meals which we all liked.
Certainly in my household, father was as involved in this as mother and not only did he do a good deal of the shopping but took his turn on the cooking as well. A Sunday roast was a particular pleasure for him, spending the morning pottering on in the kitchen while mother had a long lie.
Oddly enough, during the war things were, if anything, better as there was a flourishing black market to tap into. Father’s ship was based on a small harbour with an agricultural hinterland. As his family owned the ship, he could quietly fill a sack with good Admiralty bunker coal and offer it to one of the farmers he had connections with. A sack of coal was worth a lot on the black market and by barter we were well fed throughout the war. Returning to a major city once hostilities were over saw a major drop in our feeding standards.
While staples and luxuries were strictly limited, some items escaped the rationing net. Offal was a primary one, and father had good relations with a specialist offal butcher who produced some very strange items. The rest of us drew the line at tripe or sheep’s head but father happily ate both. Beyond that we all regarded liver, kidneys, heart and even sweetbreads as normal meals which for once were not tightly limited in quantity. The shop itself was as complete charnel house with bloody entrails lying about and no obvious attempts at hygiene but curiously no-one seemed to fall ill from eating its wares.
As the years lengthened away from the War, items slowly began to come off the ration and great were the celebrations as each one became freely available. Butter was a particular high point but it was to be years later before us youngsters stopped asking if it was all right to have some from our stock which had been so severely limited but was no longer constrained. The abolition of rationing in 1953 saw a final freeing up of availability of sweets and chocolates and that is the day which stays in my memory. I had saved my pocket money for weeks beforehand and on the magic day went to the confectioners shop close to our home to splurge on buying as much chocolate as my funds would allow.
I got very little sympathy for the rash and disturbed innards I had for several days afterwards.