(First published in the Manawatu Standard and on Stuff.co.nz, December 24.)
They say that nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, but I’m not so sure. It can be instructive from time to time to recall how things were in the past and to ask the tricky question, is life better now?
Consider the following:
I remember when my home town, with a population of 3000, had its own daily paper and everyone read it.
I remember when primary schoolkids got the strap for minor infractions and secondary schoolboys were caned.
I remember a time when there were no human resources departments.
I remember when some state highways – the road from Napier to Taupo was one – still weren’t sealed.
I remember when you pushed button “A” to be connected when making a call from a public phone box.
I remember when people travelled to and from Britain on ocean liners with exotic names like Flavia and Arcadia.
I remember party lines and three-digit phone numbers.
I remember when the title of professor was one that automatically commanded respect.
I remember school dental nurses.
I remember when newspapers routinely referred to married women using their husbands’ initials and surname. (My wife would have been Mrs K du Fresne.)
I remember when only sophisticated people drank coffee.
I remember when we ate roast mutton on Sundays.
I remember when politicians didn’t have press secretaries and prime ministers almost never spoke to reporters.
I remember when the serial prison escaper George Wilder was considered a national hero.
I remember when no one knew what an avocado was. Or lasagne. Or Pad Thai.
I remember when the road toll reached 843 in a single year.
I remember hot pants.
I remember when boys were obsessed with World War Two exploits and amassed cherished collections of War Picture Library comics.
I remember when the local cop was regarded with respect (not always deserved) and sometimes fear.
I remember Telethons.
I remember when people arranged their holidays through travel agents (okay, some still do).
I remember when farmers could afford to buy flash new cars - Chevrolets, Dodges, DeSotos - because of the demand for wool to clothe American troops in the Korean War.
I remember when most towns had a pie cart.
I remember when a public bar was a mysterious place with frosted glass windows that were open at the top so that a fug of beery fumes and tobacco smoke could escape, and where the hubbub within suggested men having a good time.
I remember when only corner dairies and service stations were open at weekends.
I remember when bad boys were sent to borstal.
I remember the 1987 stock market crash, and the shock it caused to inexperienced investors who didn’t realise share prices could go down as well as up.
I remember when you had to catch a ferry to get across Auckland Harbour to the North Shore.
I remember when New Zealand Forest Products was the country’s biggest company.
I remember cranking the telephone handle to get through to the local exchange and being asked, “Number, please”.
I remember when bottles could be returned to the suppliers for a small refund and bottle drives were a popular method of fundraising for clubs and schools.
I remember when television came to my home town and I would ride my bike around the neighbourbood gazing enviously at houses with aerials.
I remember when everyone watched serious current affairs shows such as Gallery.
I remember when private hotels, which provided food and beds but no liquor, were a popular accommodation choice and motels were still a novelty.
I remember when no one had heard of sun block.
I remember when the state-owned New Zealand Listener sold nearly 400,000 copies a week because it had a monopoly on publication of the week’s TV programmes.
I remember when the only restaurants in provincial towns were dining rooms attached to fish and chip shops.
I remember when pubs had ladies’ and escorts’ bars and no barmaids.
I remember when radios and TVs needed a minute or so to warm up after being switched on.
I remember walking more than a kilometre to school each day from the age of five.
I remember the occasions when kindly Mr White from down the road gave me a lift in his Austin 7 and no one assumed he was a paedophile.
I remember newspaper honesty boxes.
I remember seeing a picture of the Beatles for the first time and thinking they looked weird.
I remember when flying to Australia was an adventure that you dressed up for.
I remember childhood friends dying from illnesses which today are easily treatable.
Back to that question at the start: is life better now? The only possible answer is yes and no.
For all the downsides, undoubtedly better now - treatable childhood illnesses which used to be fatal, chemotherapy which doesn't kill the patient, heart surgery, high speed dental drills etc. Poor people these days live like rich people did when you and I were kids eg a fridge, two cars, overseas travel, even flying! But there are lots of downsides.
Along Dietary Lines, some of us will also remember when:
Our regular fare was almost a clone of the British one,
Capsicum was new n all, it was called a green pepper, and few people liked its taste,
Coleslaw was a strange word on a distant horizon,
Spicy hot food was almost unknown,
Chinese takeaway was almost invariably chop suey or chow mein,
Sunday roast was a weekly ritual involving a leg or forequarter of mutton, cooked slowly, sometimes for as long as 3-4 hours,
No-one had heard of vegetarians or vegans,
And lots more.
I remember back in 1965 being able to buy 2 gallons of petrol for 10 shillings. I drove the old mans Mercury and it guzzled gas faster than a bunch of alcoholics drank in a room full of free booze.
I remember when contemplating a trip to the UK meant putting aside an entire year's salary for a once in a lifetime event. I remember wondering if the rest of the world really did exist or was a figment of the media's collective imagination. I remember the Apollo 11 moon landing as if it was yesterday and still thrill to the majesty of that achievement. We are now perhaps materially much better off but spiritually we are impoverished.
I remember the change over to Decimal Currency, 10 July 1967 and being able to get 3 jugs at the Tavi for a $1 and having 1 cent change.
Yep..chow mein taken away in own pot from the Hong Kong cafe down Colombo St, after walking the Rapaki track, or consumed on the premises with a short stack of sliced white bread on the side; lollies came in wee white paper bags after being picked from glass jars in the corner dairy, 6 to a penny or 5 to a cent after '67; first job on a Sunday 'hot bread' shop for Lanes Bakery on the North Shore; 'wigwam' indicator on Mum's Morris Minor; first avocado sliced on hot toast in Gizzy; measles' hallucinations in the 60s & GPs who'd come to the house; Rice Risotto; fish & chip deliveries to primary school; waisted glasses of raspberry fizz in the back seat while parents drank a beer in the pub en route; royal visits and time off school to wave paper union jacks...
I remember when people in towns successfully summoned their dogs by whistling to them rather than by shouting out, which works only sometimes.
I remember when dogs were called Spot or Rover, not Bella or Hugo. And there were no aggressive Staffies or ugly pugs.
And families didn't tie up their dogs and leave them alone all day-- rather they would let them roam if they were placid, and most were.
And I also remember when men whistled tunes as they walked along the street or worked in the garden. That was nice.
I remember this tall, skinny, blonde Prefect at St Patrick's College Silverstream, strutting around evening study, constantly monitoring the length of my hair and demanding I have it cut :)....Very much enjoy your Blogs though.....
Ha! Good to hear from you, Tony. But me, strut? Surely not. You must be thinking of someone else.
Sighh.. Those days growing up on the Kapiti Coast.
Doors didn't have locks.
Sun shone all the time.
All adults smoked. My parents would invite neighbours over for drinks on Sat night. Jars of free ciggies for all to have.
Collecting tadpoles in local Menin Road swamp, keeping them in a jar on kitchen window.
Flying model aircraft, my pride and joy was an O.S. Max-15 glow motor which screamed out about 0.5 horsepower at 20,000 rpm.
Reading all that exciting sci-fi which was regarded as a wee bit suspicious by parents.
Back in those days when domestic dogs were loving, playful family pets, not attack weapons.
In those days when cars had boots, and front grilles that looked attractive and shiny, like smiling faces, not black and snarly and savage!
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