Nella Last in the 1950s by Nella Last

The last book to be published using Nella Last’s mass observations diary is Nella Last in the 1950s. By this time she and her husband are getting on in years and ill health, particularly that of her husband is a major worry for Nella. But in the wider population it was surprising to me how worried people seemed to be about the possibilty of another war beginning, and the use of a hydrogen bomb in the near future was seen as almost certain. No doubt some people were missing the wartime atmosphere of everyone pulling together against one enemy and so civil defence meetings were going on, probably being run by people who were feeling rather aimless in this new peacetime Britain.

This book is quite sad in many ways, I had hoped that Nella and Will would become closer as they got older, but Will’s mental health got worse and they seemed to spend a lot of time taking him to various hospital appointments. But Nella herself suffered from nerves and I’m fairly sure that the operation that she mentions that she had had in the first book was a hysterectomy, although she never specified it. In those days doctors were keen on diagnosing women as being in need of that operation, there was almost an epidemic of them, supposedly as a means of curing women of ‘hysteria’ or nerves. Unfortunately it seems that they just told men such as Will that there was no cure for their nerves.

Although I really like Nella she was definitely a bit odd, that usually attracts me to people anyway but I did think it was weird that she got so annoyed at her eldest son and daughter-in-law when they sent her husband a scarf for Christmas. She sent it all the way back to Ireland so they could exchange it for socks!!

Nella never did manage to get a house in her beloved Lake District and as usually happens in such cases Will outlived her, I wonder how he managed without her to look after him?

Nella Last’s Peace – The post-war diaries of Housewife, 49

Nella Last's Peace cover

Luckily I have a copy of Nella Last’s Peace so I was able to dive straight into it after finishing her war-time diaries. I love being in her company although for quite a lot of this book Nella was suffering from poor health, almost certainly due to the end of the war meaning that she no longer had a reason to get out of the house and meet lots of people. Her life was closing in around her again, it’s a sad fact that the war had given a lot of people a purpose to live, they all felt they were pulling together against a common enemy – Fascism.

After the war rationing actually got worse and there are far more mentions of tinned food in this book, it seems that it was much more difficult for Nella to make the delicious meals that Will had been lucky enough to be given during the war. As Nella loved cooking and feeding people it must have been difficult for her. Petrol was also rationed until mid 1950 but luckily Will always managed to have enough to drive Nella to her beloved Coniston in the Lake District from time to time. I think it was only those trips and her beloved pets that kept her sane, but over the years she learned to be more positive and ‘polish up the dark side’.

The suicide rates particularly for women were pretty high and there seem to be a lot of them amongst Nella’s acquaintances – and they were reported in the local newspaper, something that they tend to keep quiet about nowadays if possible. Perhaps it’s just as well that we now have non poisonous natural gas and not coal gas as the preferred method of ‘topping’ themselves seems to have been to stick their head in the gas oven.

These peace-time diaries concentrate on neighbours and family members, Nella still has worries about her sons and her relationship with Will her husband is still up and down, they’re really a mis-matched couple, complete opposites who should never have married. There were times though when I was on Will’s side although after 35 years of marriage I was surprised that Nella didn’t seem to know him as well as I did. How could she have been happy that for one he had made a quick decision about buying a new (to them) car? I knew it was going to end up a disaster!

I found it very frustrating that about 18 months of the diaries went missing during the war and in that time obviously a lot of things happened. For one thing we don’t know what happened to Nella’s chickens, suddenly they aren’t there and she’s having to barter for fresh eggs.

Nella comes across as being a very caring person with a conscience which led her to being taken advantage of, particularly by her husband’s family, all of whom had treated her quite badly over the years, but it didn’t stop her from organising care for them in their old age.

Mostly though I think it was taking part in the Mass Observation experiment that had a big impact on her life and writing these diaries, getting it all off her chest, and also in some way becoming a writer, something she had always fancied doing. I’m sure she would have been amazed to see what had become of her writing. She also spent a lot of time writing to various people during the war, to friends of her sons who were servicemen and such, I bet those letters were looked forward to. I wonder if any of those were saved, I’m sure they would have made entertaining reading too.

I’ll have to track down a copy of Nella Last in the 1950s now. I can’t wait.

Nella Last’s War – The Second World War Diaries of Housewife, 49

Nella Last's War

Nella Last’s War – The Second World War Diaries of Houswife, 49 is a great read, I loved it and the author Nella Last. Nella was one of the many people who had signed up to be part of a Mass Observation project which was started in 1937 by a social research organisation. Her wartime diaries are full of interest and lovely writing. Nella would have liked to have been a writer of books, presumably novels, she could certainly write and her diaries are a window into the life of an ordinary woman.

Nella had suffered from ill health before the war and had even had operations, although she didn’t specify what sort, but it seems that her illnesses must have been stress related and almost certainly caused by the narrow life that she led. Her home was her whole world and her husband, a self-employed joiner, was an old-fashioned man who felt he had to be in control, despite the fact that he was less than dynamic. Poor Nella must have had a life of watching him make the wrong decisions time and time again and she had to cope with the consequent fall-out, particularly a lack of money.

So it’s just as well that Nella was such a good manager – give her five tins of sardines and a few loaves and she could have fed the five thousand – AND had some left over for tomorrow’s lunch! Not that her husband was impressed, he took her completely for granted. Half-way through the book I thought that their relationship was improving, but it didn’t last for long.

Nella’s mental and physical health improved vastly when she started doing voluntary work for the war effort. This was the first time she had ever set forth to do anything without her husband William, and with two sons she had never had many females in her life, she lacked a woman friend and the companionship that she found in the three jobs that she took on must have given her a big boost, even although some of the other women were of the awkward variety.

Nella had a great affinity with her animals, cat, dog and chickens and knowing this her doctor entrusted her with the life of a tiny premature baby – until the mother was well enough to look after it herself. I’m aware that as she is writing all this herself then you might think that this is just a woman who enjoys blowing her own trumpet a lot but she doesn’t come across as that sort of person at all.

There were a couple of things that I didn’t agree with her about – she mentioned that it was in the newspapers that Hitler had euthanised (murdered) a lot of Germans who had been regarded as being mentally defective and that was one thing that she agreed with Hitler about as she didn’t see any point in such people being a drain on society – words to that effect anyway. But of course Nella would not have realised that many of the people who Hitler had had ‘put down’ had suffered from similar problems that she had had pre-war, people who suffered from depression or had had a nervous breakdown were murdered in that barbarism.

Nella also ‘laid into’ her husband when he was afraid for their soldier son’s life, something that I thought was completely natural.

I could write a lot more about this book but as almost everybody seems to have got to it long before I did I’ll leave it at that. Luckily I already have her peace time diaries to read.

I enjoyed watching Victoria Wood in Housewife, 49 but now that I’ve read the book I feel that Wood portrayed Nella quite differently, as I recall Nella seemed quite pathetic at times, and I don’t think she ever was.

The War in Pictures

At the moment I’m reading Nella Last’s War, the World War Two diaries of Housewife 49 – so I’m steeped in air raids, Morrison shelters and rationing. So I’ve been finding a recent book purchase fascinating, it’s a book of photographs from that era.

Book Cover

It’s called The War in Pictures and was published by Odhams Press. This is the first one in a series of six books that were published – one for each year of World War Two. The photographs were taken from everywhere that was affected by war and they’re really interesting.

The black and white photographs all have descriptions of what was going on in them alongside, and the beginning of the book explains how the war started in the first place.

It has a stylish embossed cover of a tank, clouds and aeroplane and also lovely endpapers, and it’s in great condition. It cost me all of £1, but now of course I’ll be looking for the other five!

Book Frontispiece

I have a couple of sets of similar books about World War One, but this is the first time I’ve come across anything like this from World War Two.

Victoria Wood 1953-2016

We were driving along happily listening to the radio this afternoon, it was a beautiful day with a promise of summer around the corner and a day and evening out in Edinburgh on our immediate agenda – when the first thing on the radio news was the death of Victoria Wood. What a terrible year this is turning out to be with the loss of yet another ‘national treasure’.

I remember Victoria Wood as far back as watching her on that TV talent show that brought her to everyone’s attention, and I know I’ve blogged about her before. It was unusual for a woman to be doing stand-up comedy back then in the 1970s, she was a real trail-blazer I think but she was just hilarious. I never tire of hearing that comedy song The Ballad of Freda and Barry (Let’s Do It)

I suppose she knew how much she was loved in the UK, she got a couple of BAFTAs I’m sure – for dinnerladies, which is one of the few sit- coms that I have on DVD. It’s unusual in that the love interest becomes seriously ill so it was always tempered with a hint of sadness, but of course he got better, it’s a pity that Victoria couldn’t write a happy ending like that for her own serious illness, and so typical of her that she kept it quiet as she was a very private person, not at all like most entertainers. She was crippled with shyness in her earlier years and she apparently only really got over that when she was in her late 40s, like many of us – saying that somehow being shy didn’t seem appropriate for a person of her age.

I watched her playing the part of Nella Last in Housewife 49 and was gobsmacked that she turned out to be such a good serious actress. It’s such a shame that she didn’t get a chance to expand on that talent.

To see what Jack said about Victoria on his blog look here.