An Alphabet Of My Life: Y

Y=Yearning.

I looked up this word to make sure I was using it correctly. I was.

yearning
/ˈjəːnɪŋ/
noun
a feeling of intense longing for something.
“he felt a yearning for the mountains”

I have definitely yearned for many things in my life. But nothing comes close to how much I discovered yearning when my mum got her Winter shopping catalogue from the Catalogue Lady who lived nearby. The catalogue was bigger than a telephone directory, and so heavy I could hardly lift it. It was like a Bible of consumerism, lavishly illustrated with photos, and containing everything a family might ever want to purchase.

The most popular companies in 1960 were Freemans and Littlewoods, both competing for an eager market of shoppers who wanted to have everything in the post war boom. And they could, because those companies offered credit with a simple and affordable system. Each item had a price next to it of course. If you could afford it, you could pay the catalogue agent outright when it was delivered. But there was also an easy payments system that went something like this.

Say you spent £50 on an assortment of items. (£50 was a lot of money then, my dad earned less than £20 a week at the time.) You could pay just £1 a week for those items, over a set period. That was usually 60 weeks, so ensured the company received £8 in interest. The Catalogue Lady would call at your house each week, take the £1 payment, and mark it off on your payment card. You could see the debt decreasing, and you were also able to order more items if you so wished, the card being altered accordingly.

Yes, this was something of a ‘Debt Trap’ for working people before the age of credit cards, and when bank loans were hard to get for anyone on a weekly wage. But working-class people no longer had to save up to buy something. From a new tea-set to a girdle, a vacuum cleaner to a pair of slippers, they could have what they wanted or needed, and it almost always cost just £1 a week.

The catalogues included toys, and the Winter edition included dozens of pages of toys, usually at the back of the catalogue. As soon as I was left alone with the catalogue, I immediately turned to that section, and began yearning for many of the toys shown in the photos.

It was real yearning, believe me.

Not allowed to mark the items on the page using a pen or pencil, I would turn down the corners of the pages I was interested in, then add scraps of paper sticking up from those pages with the stock number of the toy I liked best on that page. Then I left the catalogue for my mum to look through, and yearned.

Waiting for Christmas morning to open my presents and see if the intense research had worked.

Most years, it had.