Thursday, 27 October 2016

'The Day Before Yesterday' - Noel Streatfeild


While waiting to get some keys cut in the market a few weeks ago, I had a rummage around the secondhand book stall and immediately my hand fell upon a lovely green hardback boasting the name of Noel Streatfield. Well known to many as the author of Ballet Shoes and all the subsequent spin-offs, Streatfield is a much-cherished writer whom many women of my age hold a very soft spot for. 

The Day Before Yesterday is a fantastic idea and an even more fantastic concept. Published in the 1950s, Streatfield realised that society was changing so fast that it needed to be recorded and it needed to be recorded by the people who had lived through those times. So with a focus on the period 50 years prior to publication, she asked all manner of people to share their stories of what life was like for them. And the ensuing book is presented at all stages of a girl's life, and crossing the class boundaries - for it is clearly a female reader for whom this book is intended. 

So we start with a Victorian nursery nurse, and move on to a school teacher, and a barely-teenage housemaid. We learn about the changes in transport, as the granddaughter of a coach king shares how her grandfather's empire grew from a few horse-drawn coaches to a fleet of thousands of motorised omnibuses that monopolised the London transport system. We heard first-hand from a suffragette on the frontline, in what is possibly my favourite segment - which is all the more poignant because it is not written by a 'famous' suffragette, but by a woman whose contributions and achievements to the women's rights cause might well otherwise be forgotten. 

This is a truly delightful book. A wonderful snapshot into the history of a long-gone ages that really wasn't so very long ago. As an added curiosity, the book I bought had originally been a school prize from a fee-paying girls' school in Bristol, won by a pupil in 1956. I wonder what happened to the woman who won this book and if she felt as inspired by it as I did, 60 years later? 

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