(First published in The Dominion Post and on Stuff.co.nz., January 24.)
I was enjoying a New Year drink with an old friend and discussing some of the things that have changed in our lifetime. Soon I found myself mentally making a list.
It’s a totally random, off-the-cuff list, compiled in an idle mood on a lazy day. It doesn’t purport to make a profound statement about the state of society. It’s just a reminder that, in the words of the author L P Hartley, the past is a foreign country where they do things differently.
For what it’s worth, here it is:
I remember paying mortgage interest rates of more than 20 percent.
I remember when a milkman delivered milk to a box at your gate, in glass bottles that you washed and returned for re-use.
I remember when the government went to inordinate lengths to prevent the pirate station Radio Hauraki from challenging the state broadcasting monopoly.
I remember when towns had stock routes so that mobs of sheep and herds of cattle could avoid the main street.
I remember when secondary schoolboys wore caps.
I remember standing (or not standing, depending on how rebellious I felt) for God Save the Queen at the movies, which we used to call the pictures or the flicks.
I remember railcars.
I remember when schoolkids were issued with Post Office Savings Bank books to encourage thrift.
I remember when most cars had three-speed transmissions operated by a gear lever mounted on the steering column.
I remember when every town had a dosing strip where dogs were tested for hydatids.
I remember the fathers of my school contemporaries dying in their 40s from heart attacks.
I remember when the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation banned harmless protest songs.
I remember Peter Pan and Frosty Jack ice cream.
I remember when TV transmission started at 5pm and finished at 10.
I remember when there were only four women MPs.
I remember when the film censor decreed that the movie version of James Joyce’s Ulysses had to be shown at separate screenings for men and women.
I remember McWilliam’s Marque Vue and Montana Cold Duck.
I remember when the most popular meeting-place in Wellington was under the James Smith clock at the corner of Cuba and Manners Sts.
I remember when city council chief executives were called town clerks.
I remember Cona coffee.
I remember when the police drove black Humber Super Snipes.
I remember when Catholic and Protestant schoolkids exchanged religious taunts on their way to and from school.
I remember when people got their pay handed to them in cash, in little manila envelopes.
I remember when a try in rugby was worth three points.
I remember when a diagnosis of cancer was regarded as a virtual death sentence.
I remember when new cars didn’t come equipped with heaters or radios.
I remember bodgies, widgies, milk-bar cowboys and beatniks.
I remember when young men in country towns belonged to Jaycees.
I remember morning assemblies at my state secondary school where we sang English hymns and songs like There is a Tavern in the Town.
I remember when no Pakeha New Zealanders - and not many Maori either - had heard of Parihaka.
I remember when New Zealand Truth was the only paper that covered sex cases and was kept out of sight in respectable homes.
I remember when beer was sold in flagons.
I remember when union membership was compulsory.
I remember when The Flintstones was shown in prime time and everyone watched it because TV was a novelty and there was only one channel.
I remember when the first McDonald’s outlet opened and people thought it was weird that their burgers contained a slice of gherkin.
I remember when New Zealand shut down at weekends and there was no television or radio advertising on Sundays.
I remember when “mixed flatting” was frowned upon as improper.
I remember when travelling by air was an occasion for which people dressed in their best clothes.
I remember Suzy’s Coffee Lounge, the Casablanca, Roy’s hamburger joint, the Majestic Cabaret, the Bistro Bar and the Downtown Club.
I remember traffic cops.
I remember a time before bureaucrats decided it was unsafe for New Zealand kids to do early-morning paper rounds.
I remember when people fiercely resented being required to wear seat belts.
I remember when “coming out” was something respectable young ladies did at debutante balls.
I remember when there were TV reporters over the age of 40.
I remember when everyone in New Zealand recognised the names of the president of the Federation of Labour and the chairman of the Meat Board.
I remember when everyone smoked at work, then went to the pub and smoked some more.
Is society better now, or worse? To be honest, I can’t decide. It’s just different.