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Not every cloud had silver lining.


IN these days of computers and films you don't know whether the people or things you're looking at are real, do you? It's hard to imagine time spent outdoors where you could have as much fun for nothing, and not have to pay for it as people do today.

A world where things you've looked at could be anything your imagination made of it; where what you heard may not be what it was.

No drinks, no drugs, just go outside and then it was free - free as could be.

Well, this is how it was, even in the early days of the war and well into the 1950s.

Apart from the Fog, and I mean fog with a capital 'F'. It affected most of the population when it dropped, smothering the streets. And when it was mixed with smoke, we ended up with smog.

That was much worse. Because smog could kill. Thousands of the inhabitants of London, commonly known as 'the smoke', died as a result. So did countless others in big cities like Birmingham. Smog was caused when the conditions were right. The clouds over the slums and factories came down even lower, and industrial smoke that usually escaped quite easily now found itself trapped by the clouds and, mingling together, they both descended to street level.

The thick, sulphur-smelling, acrid-tasting, chemical-tainted, lung-affecting factory smoke would then overcome everything in its way.

Sounds on the street would deaden in the smog. Even if you shouted as loud as you could, you would hardly be heard.

The usual never-ending sound of factories would lessen so that you seemed to feel the thuds rather than hear them.

The gas mantles in the middle and at the bottom of the yards would begin to glimmer in the strange light, and halos of gold would appear around the tops of them.

There was another name for thick fog condition: a peasouper.

When you were a kid it was a must to get outside to play hide and seek in the streets and yards with your mates. The fog softened everything and sometimes was so thick that you couldn't see a hand in front of your face.

It was sometimes so dense that the games would last hours on end.

Walking about could be distinctly offputting, though. When you were suddenly confronted by an almost invisible person who just seemed to appear from nowhere, it was a shock to the system.

Even worse, you might run or walk straight into a lamppost or a miskin.

Nobody in Cowper Street, Aston had a car in those days but if you walked up to the corner of Cowper Street and Summer Lane you could watch the cars and buses slowly appearing through the fog, then disappearing just as quietly.

When it was really bad the bus conductor would walk in front of the bus to make sure he either didn't get lost or hit any parked vehicles.

And anybody riding a bike would be soundless and you had to watch they didn't run you down.

But one thing the fog never seemed to stop was the happy imbibing of tipplers at the Three Horse Shoes and Birmingham Arms, where they'd still be swilling down their pints regardless.

Although we didn't know it at the time, of course, smog was a serial killer. Anyone in poor health, with a bad chest or - even worse - TB was particularly at risk. There were thousands of them back then due to the terrible living conditions.

In London, Birmingham and other cities right into the early 1950s thousands of people died.

It made the government of the day bring out The Clean Air Act.

And although this act saved thousands of lives, d'you know what? It ruined a lot of good games of hide and seek, which just goes to show that not every cloud has a silver lining.


DARK DAYS: Commuters battle the fog in 1964 MASKED: A young couple take precautions as fog moves in sometime during the 1950s FLARED UP: Bus inspectors walked in front of London buses, holding flares NOT HAVING A BALL: A called-off game between Blues and Bolton Wanderers in 2005; and policeman on point duty uses flares to guide the traffic during a heavy smog in London on December 8, 1952
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Feb 19, 2012
Previous Article:BEAUTY BUYS.

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