In the 1950s expectant mothers knit bootees, bonnets, cardigans, matinee jackets and leggings for their babies. The favoured colours were white, lemon and pale green. Blues and pinks were for when after baby was born. It was held that anything brighter than pastels would hurt baby’s eyes. There were no scans in those days so the only way you’d ever know the sex of an unborn child would be by swinging a gold ring on a thread over the bump. If the ring went clockwise it was going to be a boy and anti-clockwise indicated that a girl was expected. But it was still best not to get the pink or blue wool out yet as this test often proved unreliable.
As well as his wardrobe of hand-knitted garments baby would also need lots of little woolly vests, at least three flannel nightgowns with embroidered ducklings marching across the bodice and two dozen terry towelling napkins. Baby wore plastic pants over a big napkin and this made his bottom look very large indeed. Baby also needed a soft white shawl for swaddling for there was no central heating in those days. Summer wear would have been romper suits for boys and smocked dresses for girls.
Prams were gigantic, pushchairs were merely large and car seats were non-existent. Baby travelled on mother’s lap, who sat on the front seat beside father, who always drove. Mother and father might both be smoking but mother would be very careful not to drop her ash on baby’s head.
Fresh air was considered essential for baby’s wellbeing and he’d be well happed up, settled down in his gigantic pram and left in the garden for at least three quarters of an hour be it snow, hail, rain or shine. If baby cried it was considered to be good for him as it strengthened the lungs. The only thing that mother worried about while baby was in the garden was that a crow might come down and peck at his nose or that a cat might climb into his pram, curl up on his little face and smother him. Mother’s vigilance was constant.
Baby did not have the toys that the modern child depends on. A rattle was considered sufficient amusement. Those were simpler days and who is to say that they were not better times. Is today’s child any happier with his primary colours, his designer wardrobe, his Cat boots, his baseball cap, his baby-walker and his pram that cost twice as much as Nelly’s current car? Will he grow up more contented than his grandfather who was taken for walks in a rattly old pushchair or left in a freezing garden determinedly waving his rattle in the air to keep the crows and cat at bay? I think not.
Maybe there is just one area where the modern infant is more fortunate – none of those rotten, scratchy, itchy, woollen vests.