“two nations divided by a common language”

Just a quick post in response to Mustang.Koji’s question about something I wrote in Sleep.

“What is a pram?’

My dad and me. Beveridge Park, Kirkcaldy, 1962.

My dad and me. Beveridge Park, Kirkcaldy, 1962.

It’s not clear who said that Britain and America are two nations divided by a common language (Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw or Churchill are the main contenders), but the idiosyncrasies of language continue to confuse and confound.

So for those of you (and I know there is at least one) wondering what a “pram” might be, it’s the rather stylish vehicle in the black and white photo. Short for perambulator, these are now pretty much relegated to museums and replaced by more user-friendly devices like the one below containing my son.

Tom and me. Emberton Park, Olney, England, 1999.

Tom in his stroller/buggy/push-chair (take your pick). Emberton Park, Olney, England, 1999.

I’m not sure how much of my childhood I spent being wheeled around in this shiny metallic contraption, but I can’t imagine it was a lot of fun for my parents. They didn’t own a car in those days, so any trip that wasn’t walkable would have involved getting me and my wheels onto a bus.

By the time my brother Craig came along, my mother must have had to deal with the nightmarish daily scenario of baby-in-pram PLUS two-year-old presumably not in pram. In Scotland. Where it rains. A lot.

I remember what it was like having to faff around with Tom’s stroller when he was small and howling. There were days I found that incredibly stressful, and the thought of having to do so with a bus-load of people watching and waiting brings me out in a cold sweat even now.

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16 thoughts on ““two nations divided by a common language”

  1. Aw, I had pram just like that, fringed sunshade and all. Then my little sister had it. Seem to remember the carriage bit came apart from the wheels. It also had padded vinyl (?) covered panels inside that all lifted out and smelled rather strange. Weird the things implanted in one’s memory banks.

    • All sounds very familiar! I don’t remember that pram, but I do remember a much later version that my youngest brother had. The body of that came off and they used to put it in the back of the car with the baby asleep in it. No seat belts in those days.

  2. I had a pram like that too, the family Silver Cross that was handed down and refurbished as new babies came along. I spent a lot of time in mine, as it was where I’d have daytime naps, either in a corner of the living room or out in the garden. And I have a distinct memory of being wheeled in my pram and chewing the end of a loaf of bread, as Mum would put the shopping at the end of the pram.

    Silver Cross prams are still being made here near Leeds.

  3. Thanks Judy. The brand sounds familiar. I had no idea there were still being made. I have no recollections of being in a pram, but maybe it’s because the next brother down is only two and a bit years younger than me, so I probably would have had to get out and walk once he came along. There was a big gap (time and place) until my baby brother, who was born in NZ, so I guess that’s why they bought a new pram for him.

  4. I never thought of anyone not understanding the word “pram” and wasn’t it short for ‘perambulator’?
    I remember the old pram my mum had for us girls. It had great suspension and big slim wheels. There was a little seat that used to sit across the front for the older child to sit in.

    I had a beautiful navy cord pram for my son, it was a lot more modern than the one my mum used. I loved it. The baby looked so comfortable in there wrapped in co-ordinating sheets and blanket. This was in Bristol in 1987.

    The sleeping section came off and doubled as, I suppose, a travel cot. I could fold the base up and put it away. It could go into the back seat with a seat belt around it and the base folded into the boot.

    We managed a pub then and lived above it so when I took the baby out in the pram, I had to bounce it down about 25 steps.

    I always felt so proud pushing the pram!

    Three years later my daughter was born in Australia and had an old second hand low pram that I hated. It just wasn’t the same.

    In those days in Scotland (not sure about now), everything was paid for and left at the shop and when baby was born safely, someone went to the shop and collected the cot, pram etc and had it already for when mum and baby came home from hospital. We were all so superstitious!

    Su you have stirred lovely memories.

    • Thanks Lynn; it is interesting when you start to think of all the words we take for granted but which are quite culturally specific. I remember posting a while ago something about a colliery and that being an unfamiliar term to someone.

      I remember my parents being quite superstitious, especially my dad. He used to go mental if we crossed knives and he was always talking about not tempting fate! When we were very little in Scotland I remember old people giving us silver coins for luck. Don’t know what happened to them, but my brother was really quite gorgeous and I think got quite a lot of money from strangers, so he’d probably be rich if they’d all been banked!

      I think the pram Mum had for my youngest brother sounds a bit like the one your son had. I think it got used quite a lot as a a carry-cot. A far cry from the fold-up stroller my son had!

  5. Yes – a carry cot. I didn’t use that phrase as I didn’t think it would be understood!

    I grew up surrounded by superstition and the reason for the baby things being left at the shop of course was so as not to tempt fate. There was the salt over the shoulder, shoes on the table bring bad luck, can’t cut your toe-nails on a Sunday or you will have bad luck and so on and so on and so on. I have lived in Australia more than 30 years and I still have to tell myself it is okay if the first person over our door in a new year (our First Foot) is not a tall, dark man!

    • Yes, and “elevator” versus “lift”; “subway” versus “tube”. Even between Australia and New Zealand there are differences. What I think you call “flip flops” we call “jandals” and the Australian call “thongs.” Our “chilly bin” is their “Esky” (cooler-box in the US I think). And in Melbourne I have to change my coffee order from “trim latte” to “skinny latte”.

      I’m going to Scotland in a few weeks. That’s always interesting because after about three days there I slip into Scots dialect and my old accent comes out. The first time I did it in front of my partner was in a pub in Lockerbie; he’d been in Scotland for all of an hour, and looked truly amazed that I could actually sound so different.

  6. I loved reading about all the memories generated from this article. I’m in Canada & I actually collect these vintage prams & baby carriages. I have several Silver Cross in my collection, as well as a few Marmets, an Osnath, an LBC, a Pedigree, as well as several Italian Perego’s & Canadian manufactured baby carriages, such as Gendron & Lloyd, American baby carriages, such as Babyhood & Rex, German Kinderwagens… you name it, there’s a very good chance I’ve had it, or have it — but no guarantee. 😉 My collection actually grew so large, I’ve had to start selling them off a few summers ago. The year before last (Incl doll prams & carriages), I sold a total of 10, last summer I only unloaded 4 of the full sized prams, & this year, none so far, but have had a few inquiries (6 listed at the moment). I was SO wanting to see the new Royal baby pushed in a ‘proper’ pram, but it seems the young couple have bucked the Royal trend, which made me sad. 😦 It’s certainly okay that they chose a modern stroller, but surely, they could have a proper pram to use on the grounds, too? 😉 …I’ve been hopeful & searched online occasionally, but haven’t seen evidence of it yet. 😉 I believe (providing one has the space to keep it), that these prams are ideal for having to use in one’s own neighbourhood — nice for baby to be able to stretch out to nap in, in the fresh air, & is good for their backs, not only for resting, but also, to learn how to sit up too. Modern ones are ideal for travel & errands, of course, but I think, ideally, everyone should have one of each. 🙂 Often times (even though you can get a toddler seat for the front of these prams), parents would put 2 children in the pram together, because they were so large & sturdy. If they only had a choice to walk wherever they are going, these are perfect for that — they glide along like a dream & cut through snow like no tiny wheels can — in fact, I broke 2 swivel wheels off my ‘new fangled’ strollers that I used for them back then, only because I didn’t have the space in our mini-home when my boys were babies, so could only use it when visiting my parents, where it stayed, until we moved here, 2 houses later. 😦 For those of you who would love to acquire a vintage pram, there are many used ones in very good condition, on the market at a fraction of the cost of a brand new one — one only needs to watch the online classifieds, as they are really coming out of the woodwork! (aka: attics & basements. 😉 Silver Cross certainly had a variety of models over the years — it’s so interesting to research & find them all. Sometimes, the same body on a different chassis would deem them an entirely different model, as well, 2 prams with the exact same body & chassis design could be brought out yrs apart, with a different name (such as the Marlborough & the Balmoral), or 2 entirely different models (yrs apart) could end up with the same model name, just to confuse one even further! 😉 I’ve been doing this for about 8yrs now & I am still stumbling across ones I had yet to see! It’s been alot of fun researching them & learning about them from all over the world, but unfortunately, our house has become overwrought with them (namely our basement, shed & garage), & it’s time to share the joy! 😉 I bought my first vintage pram & used it for my own boys, over 20yrs ago, & still have it. It was (is) a steel-bodied Gendron 60s model. Not comparable to the English prams, but I was thrilled to have it & push my babies around in it & it still holds alot of sentiment for me. 🙂 Now, if I could reduce my collection down to 12, I’d be doing extremely well, but I’ve noticed it’s much more difficult to weed them out, starting at the top of my list, so I have to work my way up from the bottom! 😉 Enjoy your day. 🙂

    • Wow; what a cool-sounding collection. I have to admit I’m not a big fan of the old-style prams, but that’s probably because my life is very car-based and the little strollers were much easier to get into the car. My mum walked everywhere with my brother and I and she loved our Silver Cross prams (and yes, I think they bought a new one for my brother even though he’s only two years younger because they didn’t think he should have anything second-hand). Thanks for sharing this. 🙂

      • Thanks so much (& you’re most welcome! 🙂 It’s been a very fun & interesting hobby. 🙂 I’d be happy to post pictures of some of them here, but I’m not sure if or how I could do it. However, if you search Pram Collector on Flickr (not sure if you can search user names), you will see most, if not all of, my pram collection posted there (& some of the dolls I collected before I tuned into pram collecting — I was looking for a couple of vintage doll prams to display my dolls in & once I realized people actually collect the full sized prams, I was hooked! 😉 Have a wonderful day! 🙂

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