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The Scrivener: When I Was A Boy, We Didn't Have...

Part 3

Brian Barratt recalls what life was like before microwave ovens and mobile phones arrived on the scene.

Every day, you use a ballpoint pen. You watch television in the evening. Maybe you play a computer game. Perhaps you play a CD or a DVD. If you want a snack, you go to the fridge.
I did none of these things in the 1940s and 1950s. Here are a few of the items that we didn't have when I was a boy in England.

Microwave oven

When I was a boy, we had two stoves in our kitchen. There was a gas stove, which worked on the same principle as a modern gas stove but if you saw one now you would say how old-fashioned and clunky it looked. There was also a large cooker or 'range'. This had an enclosed fireplace which was fed with coal and coke or anthracite and sometimes wood. Next to the fireplace was an oven. On the top were something like the hot-plates you see on a modern electric stove. Electric stoves were available but we didn't have one. The cooker also heated up the water for our hot water taps and bath. That meant keeping the fire alight all the way through summer in order to have hot water for baths.

Many experiments were done with microwave technology during World War II (19391945). The first microwave ovens were produced in the 1940s. This was an enormous breakthrough because it was the first time humans had used an energy other than heat to do their cooking. The first very large microwave ovens, for use in such places as restaurants, were available by the late 1950s. The first for use in the home came onto the market in 1967, which was 31 years after I was born. I didn't buy one until 33 years later, just in time to start the 21st century with it.

Mobile telephones

I made my first telephone call when I was about 13 or 14. We had to walk a few kilometres through the village to the nearest public telephone, to ring my sister. Her husband answered. I said, 'Hello, this is Brian'. He answered, 'Fishpool?' I just couldn't understand what he meant, so we repeated this a couple of times until he realised who I was. My voice had broken since I previously spoke to him. He didn't recognise my new deep voice, and thought I was one of his customers, a Mr Brien who lived in a village named Fishpool. My first phone call was a confused affair.

Later, when I wanted to make a phone call, I would visit a one of the few neighbours who had a phone. They were very proud of it, too, and made quite a fuss arranging for me to use it. I suspect that it made them feel superior.

In the 1950s when I worked for the Southern Rhodesia Post Office in what is now Zimbabwe, I had to use the phone to send and receive telegrams that people had written on the forms supplied for the purpose. Yes, it sounds primitive, but that's how things were done. Many of the messages were in Afrikaans, which I did not understand, but I eventually learnt how to say common phrases like 'Hartlike geluk op jou verjaarsdag van Oupa en Ouma', 'Hearty good luck on your birthday from grandpa and grandma'. And now we can do all that ourselves, simply by using email.

Mobile telephones were first used in 1946. France was the first country to introduce them for public use, in the 1960s. In the last part of the 20th century, they became enormously popular. And now, well into the 21st century, they and their users (in public places) are not popular with me.

Sliced bread

Bread was delivered to the door by the baker, in his small motor van. It was also sold in small corner shops. There are still a few corner shops in Australian towns and cities. Many have closed down, or become lolly shops, because supermarkets have taken away their business.
We could also buy bread from one of the local bakeries. They were very much like the hot bread bakeries we have in Australia today. However, they were not brightly lit and 'streamlined' with chrome and glass display fittings. They were often in small dark buildings that had been there for a couple of centuries.

I used travel by bus to visit a friend in a nearby village. Sometimes, I didn't go home until late in the evening. The bus stop was next to the village bakery. It was a wonderful place to stand on a cold, windy winter night, when the snow was deep on the ground. Bread for the next day was already being baked. The outside wall of the bakery was warm from the ovens inside. I would lead against that ancient brick wall to keep warm while I waited for the bus. At the same time, I could enjoy the wonderful aroma coming from those ovens!
Sliced bread was invented in 1928 and was well established in the 1930s but, as far as I can recall, I didn't discover it until the 1960s. That was probably because until 1961 someone else made my sandwiches for me.

Copyright Brian Barratt 2012

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