THE OVALTINE TIN
I’m six and on the way home from a Sunday visit to my Granny. It’s the middle of the afternoon, but it’s a cold December day, it’s getting dark and everyone has coal fires burning in hearths everywhere to keep the damp mist away. It’s a strange mist, because it’s yellow and it stinks of what I later learn to be sulphur. It’s already a problem, burning coal to produce electricity and keep the wheels of industry turning. Little do we know that these little coal fires are adding to the problem and the problem has a name – Smog.
My family is walking the mile or so along Commercial Road from my Gran’s house to our home in what is now docklands. The visibility is so poor that, as my Dad used to say “You can’t see a hand in front of you”. No traffic moves except buses, at a snail’s pace, with the conductor (the issuer of tickets) in front waving a torch at the driver so he knows where to go. He has to stay very close. People are coughing badly. It’s not nice.
We get home and quickly pass through the open door, watching the smog curl in almost glutinously behind us, as if to seek shelter itself from the street. Dad shuts the door quickly and switches on our electric “fire” – three glowing bars that drive the street chill away very quickly. We huddle around it, my younger brother and I, and Mum brings us all a cup of hot Ovaltine. As I bring it to my nose the wonderful aroma of chocolate and malt wafts up. I take my first sip and I know I’m safe and comfortable at home while the evil mist swirls around the street lights outside.
The empty tin brings back all of this – the love, the warm comfort of home and above all the feeling of security. Dad tunes to Radio Luxembourg, a commercial station, and we listen to a bunch of very jolly children, singing the Ovaltineys theme tune and we are blissfully happy.
[The great smog crisis in London during December 1952 lasted for five days and killed over 12,000 people, resulting in the introduction of the Clean Air Act and smokeless fuels soon after]