by Mary Reed
I speak today not of grocery sacks, but of brown paper.
Stiff, shiny brown paper such as was once far more common, whether torn
from the big roll on a shop counter to enshroud purchased items or as
wrapping for the occasional parcel brought by the posty.
Most of us have been aware of the usefulness of brown paper since our
nursery days. After all, didn’t Jack get his injuries treated with vinegar and
brown paper after tumbling down from that hilltop whence he went with Jill to
obtain a pail of water?
As older children we saved brown paper. Flattened, cut into appropriate size,
and stitched together on my mother’s old treadle Singer sewing machine,
the sheets were transformed into a scrapbook. We used flour and water
paste to stick in our collections of cut-outs from Christmas cards and
magazines, not to mention portraits of favourite stars from cinematic
publications which, strangely, were printed in only two colours. Sometimes
we created pictures of rooms featuring wildly out of scale furniture
snipped from old catalogues. Like many other children, and to mangle the
country and western song, we were recycling and scrapbooking before
recycling and scrapbooking were cool!
Later still, brown paper was useful for temporary jackets for school
books, which had to be returned in good condition at the end of the
school year. There were some in my form, I regret to say, whose brown
paper covered books of shall we say racier reading than algebra or
Despite a long history with brown paper, however, it was not
until I read mysteries that I learnt that a whiff of the smoke from a
smouldering brown paper roll containing a common material
available from the chemist — in the old days at least — made pheasants
so dizzy they fell off the bough into the poacher’s hands.
And speaking of smouldering brown paper, another matter providentially hidden
from us youngsters was George Formby’s shocking confession. Singing in his
broad Lancashire accent, he revealed to the world he had smoked brown paper
without becoming ill since he parted his hair in the middle.
Our ignorance of this fact was probably just as well for the Reed hearth rug.
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