A few friends and I were chatting about times gone by and laughing about our ‘normal’ compared to what kids today are used to.
Phones I pick this item first as every kid seems to be permanently glued to theirs.
We didn’t have phones. As simple as that. We knew two neighbours who did and in an emergency my brother and I were sent to ask if we could call the doctor or ambulance. The nearest phone was five minutes walk down the road but unfortunately, it was installed in a holiday home and the owner was rarely in residence.
This meant that after checking here first, we then had to back track and walk across the fields, clambering over ditches, falling into gorse bushes, getting chased by cattle until after almost two miles of struggling, we arrived at our destination.
God help the poor ailing person at home!
We would then hand over our money and watch in fascination as the neighbour wound the handle and then shouted our business to the switch-board operator before finally being connected to the doctor.
Our neighbour would then kindly give us a cup of tea and some home-made bread and jam before sending us back to our parents.
We needed the sustenance for the return journey. If the day was very wet, we would take the easy way out and walk home by the road which added an extra mile or so to our trek.
As we grew older, we moved to a house with a phone already installed! The luxury of it! Now if we were sick we could summon the doctor almost straight away!
The other use of the phone was, of course, the obligatory phone call from the latest boyfriend.
Oh, the days of sitting on the stairs in the draughty hall, whispering sweet nothings while my father shouted from the living room, ‘Don’t be on that phone all night! My family might be trying to ring!’ (This was our version of call waiting.)
And then, there were the days when you had to screw up your courage and ring your best friend (to moan about the latest boyfriend). I became quite adept at this. I quickly realised that if I waited until the start of the nine o’clock news, I would have at least fifteen minutes of uninterrupted chat before my father started roaring about the cost of phone calls.
It was the same in every household and we all grew accustomed to trying to gossip over the shouting of someone’s father.
Water. These days we hear so much about saving water, paying for water, keeping our water clean. In our day it was more a case of, ‘Go and fetch some water.’
Fetching the water didn’t mean going to the tap and turning it on. Oh no! We had to pick our way over a gorse-covered hill, trying not to slip on the alternately muddy and rocky path until we reached the pool of clear water tucked under a fuchsia tree.
My brother and I were usually sent for the water. At five years old, I was too young to go on my own but I still had to carry a bucket back with me.
We had to lean as far out as possible so we wouldn’t stir up mud in the shallower water as we filled our bucket.
The walk back down the hill was even more difficult now with a heavy bucket to contend with. We mustn’t spill the precious water or we’d be sent straight back to refill the bucket.
I remember the day the strange man came to walk around the field beside the house with two metal rods in his hands.
I was fascinated and followed him around for ages. Finally, he smiled and turned to my father. ‘There’s a fairly good water source here but there’s a very strong indication on the hill there.’
We all followed his pointing finger.
The drill came a few days later and suddenly we had plumbing!
Well, we had a tap in the kitchen anyway, and water for the cows but it was another while before we had a flush toilet or running water in the bathroom. Hooray! No more soaking in the old tin bath in front of the fire!
Television. Where would we be without our entertainment? Satellite, cable, digital, smart.
We had black and white.
And sometimes green (as the tube failed the picture would get progressively greener until my father announced that it was time for a replacement).
We had one channel. The six o’clock news was the ‘must see’ programme. Everybody sat down after the angelus (the angelus was a bell that was rung and broadcast to the nation at six on the dot to turn people’s thoughts to God for a whole minute and then after blessing ourselves, life would go on) and no one was allowed to speak while the news was on.
I remember when we got the second channel. RTE2. Oh, the excitement! Top of the Pops! Luckily for me, this was broadcast while my parents and brother were milking the cows and I was mostly able to watch it uninterrupted.
In the winter this became a bit trickier as the cattle were fed earlier and there was not much milking to be done but my Dad loved music and if I made him a cup of tea, he would sit and let me watch it.
Then, the most exciting thing of all happened!
My father bought a colour television!
You can not imagine my shock when I saw my younger sister watching Sesame Street and discovered that Cookie Monster was blue! Blue! I always thought he was a murky grey colour!
Music. We were lucky growing up as my parents both loved the music of the time and encouraged my brother to play guitar. He went on to become one of the best guitarists in Ireland and it was a sad day when life got in the way and he stopped playing.
We had our own way of downloading music.
We would sit for hours waiting for our favourite song to come on the radio and as soon as it was announced – or we heard the first few bars – we would press the record and play buttons on our tape recorders and capture the magic.
Most of our recordings were accompanied by day to day noises in the background and I will never forget my brother’s recording of ‘Mull of Kintyre’ with my father’s voice, ‘Is he one of the Beatles?’ and loud shushing noises over-riding the first verse.
We were fierce high tech with our tape recorders! Previously we only had vinyl and we could not record these. Ask any kid today if they know the difference between 45 and 33 and they will look at you blankly but to us, they were the most important numbers in our lives! (For the benefit of those of you unenriched by the magic of vinyl, singles were played at 45 rpms – revolutions per minute – while albums were played at the slower speed of 33 rpms)
And then, along came the unbreakable, everlasting cd!
Now we would never have to listen to skipping, jumping or scratching ever again!
We all saved up and bought cd players and then! The Sony Walkman! I never had one of these. I worked in the local record shop by this time so I had music on tap all day. Bliss!
To my friends, the Sony Walkmans were revolutionary! Before this if we wanted to listen to music as we walked along the street, we had to carry a ‘ghetto blaster’ with us. As these were usually about two feet by one foot, you can imagine how cumbersome they were! At the time, we didn’t care, but the Sony Walkman changed all that.
Now, we could listen to music privately through our headphones (no ear buds for us!) as we walked along. We could even hang the Walkman off our belts so we didn’t need to carry it!
The cd sound was so much better than the tape! We began to really appreciate music at last.
Oh, yes, and we were disgusted when we found out that cds don’t last forever either, And that they can skip, jump and scratch too.
It’s fun looking back. It makes us realise just how far we have come.
We have gained so much but perhaps we have also lost a little of the magic too.