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The Scrivener: Managing Without

Brian Barratt’s mother philosophically accepted a life with few material possessions. Along with many another housewife in the 1930s, used to making do with very little, she would have disapproved of the extensive range of electronic gadgets now deemed necessary for every-day living.

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My mother didn't make a fuss. She had her own style of philosophical acceptance. There are two simple entries in her domestic diary for 1935:

November 19. Electricity.
November 21. Marconi Wireless.

They appear between Shirt size 5 3.6 [three shillings and sixpence] and Suit size 7 12/6 [twelve shillings and sixpence] purchased for one of my older brothers. He was aged 12 at the time. Until that week in November, he and the others did their school homework by gaslight and fiddled around with a crystal set to listen to radio broadcasts.

Shirt. Electricity. Wireless. Suit. You can't get much more matter-of-fact than that, can you? Mind you, there is no mention in the diary of electric light fittings being installed. Although she coped very well with progress, that event probably upset Ma's quiet routine. She and my aunts had one comment, in their homely Notts/Lincs accents, to express their reaction at anything new or strange: 'I don't know, I'm sure.'

In a 1927 programme of Newark Choral Society (of which my father was the Secretary), there are advertisements which speak of progress. Here's an extract from one of them:

Someone, Somewhere, wants Your Portrait....

Electric Light —The Lombard Street studio is now equipped with the latest and best electrical devices for the assistance of professional Photography and when our clients are unable to take advantage of natural lighting conditions we can assure them of complete satisfaction in every kind of Artistic Studio Portraiture.

In 1931, Amplion advertised their current wireless, which was cheap at 20 guineas [twenty pounds and twenty shillings]:

The Amplion Six is entirely mains operated.
Its speaker is the latest Amplion Moving Coil.
Its six valves comprise two screen-grid detector, push-pull power output and rectifier.
Its single Tuning Dial is calibrated in Wavelengths.
It is equipped for reception on Long and Medium Wavebands.
By means of a Local Distance Switch, selectivity on foreign programmes is increased.
A single switch turns the current on or off and also controls the volume.

It has as much gobbledygook as an advertisement for something like a mobile phone, doesn't it?

My mother departed in the no-fuss pragmatic style in which she had lived — one morning 40 years ago, she simply didn't wake up.

Another of her sayings was, 'Let me know what you want, anything at all — and I'll tell you how you can manage without it'. If she could see the wireless electrical gadgetry, mobile phones and all, which has inundated us since she died, I have a strong feeling that she would say exactly that.

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2009


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