Stanley Rice remembers vividly going to the cinema as a child, on a Saturday afternoon, and it is an activity that most working-class children shared. He says he enjoyed watching Charlie Chaplin, Ben Turpin and American film actress Pearl White and ‘many others that made Saturday afternoon a real outing’ (5). These films were aimed to help people escape from the humdrum of their lives, and as they were usually left on a cliff-hanger, there was something to look forward to on the big screen the following week. Rice looked up to these characters and found that his ‘favourite cowboy was Tom Mix’, who appeared in 291 silent movies; a popular defining character of the ‘cowboy’ genre.
He also mentions a small amount of pocket money he could use to ‘buy sweets for a halfpenny which included Barretts sweet tobacco (very careful with this as it was easy to lose a strand or two), sherbet dabs, tiger nuts, (which seemed to chew forever), gobstoppers which changed colour as they were sucked – the colour of the tongue changed too!’ (5) The great detail he goes into proves how much he must have appreciated these treats, because they would have been few and far between.
Something which reflects working-class society at that time is the popularity of public houses, especially for men. Most men would use this time as an escape from reality, a way of relaxing and having social time away from their long working days. Rice says ‘It was not uncommon in those days to see children, even babies in prams, hanging about outside public houses, and waiting for their parents. Understandable in a way, as really the only break they could get from an otherwise hard and trying life. No ‘baby-sitters’ in those days. They had to make their own relaxation, each in their own way’ (11). It is shocking today to think of children and even more so babies in prams, being left on their own outside a public house, but then it was the norm. Communities were stronger and tighter than today, everyone was pretty much in the same position so the public house helped bring communities together, when times were hard.
Art was an interest he found in school. His teacher noticed his flair for drawing and painting, so pushed him by giving lots of homework, which he enjoyed greatly. This was around the time when War broke out and it could have been a form of escapism from the harsh reality that was taking place around him. However, he had to leave school to earn money for the family, so there was no choice but to suppress his artistic talent. Near the end of the autobiography, in old age, he returns to painting. He says, ‘For my birthday Ethel bought me oil and water colours and the necessary paper boards and brushes. I thought I would try to recapture something in the way of creative work by painting. What I have done may be no outstanding success, but… they have pleased Ethel and in that respect I am satisfied’ (66). Painting is a relaxing hobby for Rice, as with old age he finds that activities are restricted for him and Ethel, especially as they both have health problems. It seemed a natural pursuit for him to revisit what initially made him happy as a child. He doesn’t mention a particular subject that he paints, so presumably he would pick at random, whatever would take his interest in that moment.
Rice recognises the difference in having technology and enjoying the simple things in life. He talks about how he used to escape working life with his wife and friends to the countryside, and be put up above a pub by a friend. This did not cost much at all as ‘on an average, our week-ends away could not have worked out at more than 15/- (or 75 new pence) per head. We played cards a lot for pennies, and many a week-end walk finished up at our flat doing just that, plus a good laugh’ (33-34). He shows his appreciation for simple activities, and engaging with other people is most important, and how it is ‘Strange to realise that even television, had it existed then, would probably have meant our missing all that simple enjoyment’ (34). This probably stems from having very little in childhood. Laughter and humour was a common working-class way of getting through the tough times, by being able to make fun and light of the situation. It was a way of sharing their difficult experiences; escaping the repetitiveness of everyday life.
In the early 1900’s, when Rice was growing up, children had more freedom from a younger age. Rice remembers playing in large fields with his younger brother, at the age of seven. He says ‘we thought it fun to tickle the horses’ bellies with twigs… We had foolishly thought it fun until one horse had had enough of our pranks and turned to run towards us instead of away’ (3). This then resulted in his younger brother being knocked down by a horse drawn cart. Rice felt a sense of responsibility towards his brother, as he was older and he should have took better care of him. Soon after this he attended ‘Band of Hope’ (4), which was an organisation for working-class children, founded in 1847, where children were taught that drinking was evil and was provided with weekly lectures and activities. A song they learned called ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ (4), still to this day, reminds him of that fatal day when his brother was carried to hospital, showing the prominence of childhood memory.
Most working-class children had similar upbringing and the activities they engaged in included going to the cinema and making the most of small amounts of pocket money. Rice, even as he ages, he appreciates spending quality time with loved ones and shows that if he would have had technology when he was younger, he would have missed out on many of these wonderful experiences.
RICE, Stanley, ‘The Memories of a Rolling Stone: Times and incidents remembered’, TS, pp.68 (c. 33,600 words). Brunel University Library, Volume 2:661.