"Is that a utility suit?" demanded an Hon. Member of the President of the Board of Trade the other day when the Commons were discussing the annual "Vote." "No, sir," replied Mr. Dalton, "because I am saving my coupons to the utmost I can. It is the better plan to expend coupons as slowly as possible having regard to the stock of clothes we possess. This suit (he went on to the accompaniment of cheers and laughter) was made in 1930 and really it is too thin for the British climate."
Utility clothing, Mr. Dalton averred, had been very well received, especially by women. "One lady friend of mine told me yesterday that she was wearing a utility frock and that she liked it very much." Between 70 and 80 per cent of the total civilian production is now utility clothing. Among the utility goods now in course of production are pottery, hollow ware, such as kettles, pots and pans, and umbrellas- which are standardized in two sizes and will have only eight ribs instead of sixteen as now. Utility pencils, mechanical lighters, household textiles, cutlery and suit-cases are on the way, and in the case of jewelry it is proposed to limit production to clocks and watches, identification bracelets, cuff links, studs, and plain wedding rings. Notwithstanding the war's impetus betrothals there are sufficient engagement rings in stock to last for several years, so none are to be made at the present. Leather suit-cases are not being produced: perhaps they are not necessary since a haversack can contain all that is needful for a week-end's honeymoon. Lemon-squeezers, hair curlers, and electric dry-shavers are among the miscellanea whose production is banned; and if you haven't already got a fountain pen - well, you must write to him in Egypt or on the high seas in pencil. Now it's Utility, Utility, all the time; and the Utility Home will be practically complete in the autumn when utility furniture is expected to be in the shop in substantial quantities.
From furniture to food is not too sudden a step. As the war's third year draws to its close we are naturally concerned with the maintenance of the food front. Fortunately Mr. R. S. Hudson, Minister of Agriculture, was able in his Commons review on July 28 to give a fairly favourable account of our countryside as a food factory. Farmers are playing up well to the calls made upon them. It is yet too early to forecast a result of this year's harvest, since in this matter we are always at the mercy of the weather, but we are assured that everything that man can do is being done to make it the biggest harvest ever. There has been a certain amount of waste in potatoes, and there is not much satisfaction to be derived from Mr. Hudson's statement that the Hamburgers were potatoless for ten days in early July. If the weather is reasonable, it is hoped to increase our wheat acreage by 600,000 acres; and much more land is being put down to potatoes and sugar beet. In spite of the very unfavourable spring we actually produced ten million more gallons of milk than in the best pre-war years and thirteen million gallons more than last year. Not everybody was please, however, at the Minister's review, and Mr. Driberg, newly-elected member for Maldon, scored a point by a parody of Goldsmith's famous lines:
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, Where forms accumulate, and crops decay.
Meanwhile we are being urged to save bread by eating more potatoes, for the very good reason that they are grown at home while the bulk of our wheat comes from abroad and takes much-needed shipping space. Lord Woolton has provided housewives with fifty recipes for using potatoes "round the clock." He has even presided at a Ministry of Food buffet luncheon at which all of the many different dishes were composed for the most part of potatoes; he himself dined off Irish potato cakes and egg champ (made with dried egg), but some of the more stalwart guests tackled soup, cheese cookies, fish pie, scones and tarts, in all of which potatoes were a chief ingredient.
Rationing of chocolate and sweets began on Sunday, July 26, with a weekly allowance of 2 oz. per head. Some people thought that children would receive a larger ration, but the Ministry of Food has taken the view that even for children sweets are not a necessity but a luxury. Furthermore, it is always open to parents to forego their own ration in favour of their offspring... In spite of the usual eve-of-rationing rush, the country's 300,000 retail confectioners were well stocked for the beginning of this new venture in commodity control. No registration is needed, and people may buy sweets where they will on delivery of the necessary "points" cut from the personal rationing book -which made it début in this connexion.
Still the great Salvage Drive gathers impetus. Round London the racecourses are losing their iron railings, and even the graves in our country churchyards are being stripped for their iron surrounds. For my part, I can watch them go with complete equanimity, for I have long been of the opinion that the last resting-places of the dead should not be cluttered up with Italian marble and the products of the metal foundry, but should be places "where the wild flowers wave in the free air."
Nor (devoted book lover though I am) do I see much cause for regret in the "miles of books" which are being launched in many parts of the country under the direction of the Wardens of the ever-useful W.V.S. Agreed, it costs a pang to separate from a volume that was purchased out of the slender purse of boyhood days or was "picked up" in some distant place in the long ago; but there's consolation in the reflection that those vacant spaces on the library shelves may now be filled with an easy conscience - for books are still amongst the cheapest of life's goods, they are still unrationed or even taxed. So steel your hearts, out with the old books and add them to the literary snake crawling along the pavement- but don't throw away the string with which you tied the bundle. Since July 20 it has been a wartime crime to throw away string, rope and rags.
To conclude on a colourful note. In the House of Commons on July 23 Mr. G. Tomlinson, Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, referred to the "strange thing" that "though many of our girls don't object in the slightest to the risk of being blown to blazes, they do object to being turned yellow," and so scientists have been put to work on methods of preventing or minimizing this "facial decoration." In the next Sunday Express Mary Ferguson made it clear that the "yellow girls" are very few as compared to the last war. "In 999 of the cases out of a thousand," she wrote, "the girls on the 'yellow job' who put explosives into big and small bombs and into detonator caps have beautifully made-up faces. The Government has the cosmetics specially made for them, and supplies them free to every girl. The explosives workshops have beauty parlours and luxury ablution rooms." The one girl in a thousand who gets a yellow face is usually one who doesn't wash and make-up properly. "These girls, most of them young," concluded Miss Ferguson, "are heroines. They play with death all the time they work. Sometimes they lose their nerve. But for the most part they worry more about their complexions than the danger..." And that's not a bad facet of life in wartime Britain to finish up with.