Dec 2, 2014

How things have changed

I tell you it's uncanny. A couple of months ago I was thinking about music over the years and about how songs have changed since the 80s. I mused on two things: one is how no one does the "fade out" anymore. Until quite recently all pop songs always ended in a fade out, to the point where it was just the standard way to end a song. That no longer is the case. The second thing was how singers used to do their own "special effects" such as repeats and echos - e.g, Rod Stewart in Young Turks towards the end going "ti-ti-time is on your side, side side side" (etc). It's pretty funny when you hear it in an old song now, but back then it was, again, just standard.

Then a few weeks ago I noticed Slate did a whole article on the demise of the fade-out in pop music, and BAM, I can't talk about this now.

Slate has a way of capturing what we used to call the zeitgeist: things you were thinking or almost thinking yourself which means probably everyone was thinking them. Right there now are articles about how the internet has made us constantly "obsessed" with things ("cultural manias"), how popular Taylor Swift is, and how we should not attempt to bring back extinct species (in case you missed it, some guy wants to bring back dinosaurs, as if Jurassic Park never happened).

Anyhoo, then in the last few days I've been playing with a post in my head about listing all the ways that life is different now compared to when I was a child... Well, I know that's not hugely original. But still, now I see Neil deGrasse Tyson has just done the same thing. What's more, the first thing in his list is about toothpaste tubes, which was one of mine.  So therefore, before I have to delete all my draft posts and come up with something new (of which I have nothing), I'm just going to NOT read any more of Neil's list and I'm going to go ahead with my list as it is.

Things that have changed since I was a child

H is for Home/Flickr CC

Toothpaste tubes were made of metal, and would develop very sharp points where you squeezed them, which could give you a nasty scratch. They were also messy, because they had screw-cap lids which also tended to roll lazily off the benchtop and onto the floor while you cleaned your teeth.

Telephones had three sounds that don't exist anymore. The lovely soft brrrrr made by the rotary dial, which I loved, the lovely soft brrrr-brrrr made by the telephone ringing at the other end while you waited for the other side to pick up, and the horrible, jangly, nerve-wrackingly loud ring at your end when someone called. From the time I was little until the fairly recent advent of soft-tone phones, I HATED the sound of the telephone ringing. Remember that tiny little sound it made right before it started ringing, almost as if it was taking a breath before screeching? Like nails on a blackboard.


Classroom work-sheets from mimeograph machines (mmm, that lovely purple smell...) *

Teachers thought schoolyard bullying was an inevitable part of childhood and didn't do much about it.

Corporal punishment in schools - remember that? We didn't have "the strap" from my parents' days, but boys got a slap with a wooden ruler on the back of the legs, and girls on their open palm. Or girls were told to "touch your toes" and then a slap was delivered to the bottom. Creepy.  I still remember a teacher on the first day of class showing us a wooden ruler with black marks on the back which she said were made by "boys' legs".

More things were made of wood. Rulers, strawberry crates, even some kids' pencil cases (thanks Mum for reminding me of that one). Strawberries were only available once a year.

Our parents and teachers sharpened our pencils with a knife.

We ate less. I'm pretty sure I passed most of my childhood in a state of mild hunger, being fed only with three square meals and two small snacks daily; my poor deprived childhood....

Takeout every Saturday. Fish and chips, occasionally hamburgers, Chinese dim sims with rice and soy sauce, or my favourite, Kentucky Fried Chicken (that's KFC to you, kids).  We rarely ate McDonald's, but when we did, I always had the box of fried chicken. No nuggets in those days.

In school I learned that brontosauruses were real, dinosaurs were covered in scales, and there was this ridiculous new theory that a meteor might have wiped them out. As if!  We also learned that the global temperature was cooling and we were headed for another ice age.

Expensive, special-treat colouring books made of white paper instead of the normal scratchy brown paper. Expensive, special-treat comic books made of white paper with the occasional coloured page in them, when Dad shelled out for the 75c one.

Two-colour printing. Common in children's books, flyers, and posters. This was still a thing, just, into the early nineties, when in my early twenties I worked briefly for a university printing and publishing office.  People would bring in their floppy discs, let us know if the work was formatted or not, and we would book in some desktop publishing followed by some thrifty two-colour printing.

Book pages that had visible wood shavings in them.

I remember when toast-slice bread became available. It was so decadent! A sensible friend eschewed toast-slice bread on the basis that you will always eat two slices of bread so with toast-slice bread you are eating too much bread - thus giving me a lesson in moderation which I remembered but alas, have rarely practiced.

No one I knew got up before 7.00 am. That left ample time for breakfast and the work commute.

If you were lucky enough to have a trampoline or a friend with a trampoline, then you were unlucky enough to pinch the skin of your palm in between the springs around the edge. OUCH!

There was hardly any air-conditioning. Summers were spent sweltering in unbearable heat and bathed in a constant film of sweat. Car rides were torture. School days spent in boiling hot portable class rooms, where the only air came from louvered windows right up near the ceiling that the teacher had to open with a two-metre pole.

We drank less water I suppose, because we didn't carry water bottles around. Or we drank hot water out of drinking taps. Make no mistake, I don't miss this. When I was a kid I used to wish you could buy water in a can (soft drinks were my only reference for purchased drinks).

Homemade clothes. My mother made many of our clothes, even doing a Knitwit course and making us t-shirts and sweatshirts.  So when I grew up I made myself skirts, dresses and once even a pair of cuffed trousers. Then suddenly, at some point in the 1990s, it became more expensive to make clothes than buy them.

What else has changed in your lifetime?

* As Andrew points out in the comments, I might be thinking of a roneo/spirit duplicator ( which I have for years thought of as a mimeograph ( - similar, but different.


  1. Where to start. I've written a few posts along these lines over the years. The telephone. I had forgotten the soft burr of the dial tone but not the sound of the dial as you moved in around and then it returned. This did not apply from the late sixties on when phones became plastic and light weight. Toothpaste, I don't recall the metal tubes being dangerous, but yes the cap rolling away and the congealed toothpaste at the outlet. Hang on, that still happens.

    Mimeograph? We called them 'the duplicator' or Roneo, powered by metho. Yes, you dealt with bullying on your own, but I think it is now more extreme and/or insidious.

    Often discussed with friends is how one roast chicken could fee a family. In London I was served half a roast chicken in a meal. Friends visiting the US received a whole chicken each for a meal. Chickens must have been bigger in the olden days.

    Takeout? Take away surely in Australia. I am pre McDonalds but I remember when KFC opened and it was delicious, until the rabbit substitution scandal and we were never taken there again.

    Bread, same sized loaf, sliced more thickly. It was a good marketing ploy and still is.

    I've not thought about it, but people do get up early now, even if they don't have to.

    No air con for me until I was about twenty, then have never been without it. The only heat issue I can really recall is my second day of school and I was so distressed by school but also the terrible heat. My parents took us to the local river for a swim and it did the trick.

    Ok, got something original. Not so much my experience but my parents, "Put it on the account please". The bill would arrive at the end of the month and possibly be paid by the end of the following month, but when money was tight, which bill went unpaid came from whoever would protest the least.

    1. True about the chicken. I think of that every time I try to stretch a chicken between 4 of us now. But I don't know if chickens were bigger, I think our meals might have been smaller!
      Heat distress - yes, definitely, a couple of bad memories for me too.

  2. Oh yes...all of that sounds so familiar. Some other things......bread man, milk man, ice man..all coming to your door at least once a week. Clean empty milk bottles sitting out on peoples front steps with the money in them for the next lot. Can you imagine leaving money sitting out where everyone can see it now? Ha! Wringer washers and mom doing her laundry on the front porch in the summer. Bottle brush Christmas wreaths in every window during the season. Outdoor plumbing. A one room school house. I have this horrible feeling I'm a LOT older than you are lol.

    1. Yes, most of that a bit before my time :) But there was an early morning bread delivery in our suburb which used a horse - I used to love listening to the horse's hooves clip-clopping past in the very early morning. I'm sure this was a bit unusual even when I was little, it was probably the end of a dying tradition.

  3. Very, very familiar.
    And I also remember when credit 'buying on the never-never' was considered a bad thing. Your house, and (perhaps) the car. Nothing else.
    And we got take away considerably more rarely than once a week.
    Chicken was a treat - something we had for high days and holidays, and certainly not every week.

  4. I don't remember scratch brown paper colouring books. I remember colouring books being bought as a treat for whichever child was sick in bed and home from school, mum would instruct us to stay in bed while she popped out and bought one. Imagine leaving a sick child alone at home these days!
    Chicken was a Christmas treat and usually raised then killed in your own backyard, so it was free range, organic and very very fresh and tasty, also big enough for the family with sandwiches the next day and soup from the carcass.
    I remember teachers taking a class outside to sit in the shade of a tree for a lesson that didn't require a blackboard, or often just for a half hour of quiet reading away from the stifling heat inside.
    The only takeaway food available was fish and chips, or hamburgers "with the lot" from the same fish and chip shop. KFC, Hungry Jack's and MacDonalds weren't around until my kids were born and we very rarely bought from those places.
    Soft drinks came in glass bottles, then plastic and eventually steel cans, now the cans are aluminium and no good at all for wrapping around the hole in the exhaust pipe of the car.

    1. Yes! I remember occasional classes outside under a tree or sitting on benches along a wall under the shade, on very hot days. That was nice. Anything was a relief from the sweltering classrooms.

  5. Hi Jackie,

    Most of it sounds familiar - apart from the aircon. Obviously living in Britain we didn't really need aircon; summers were and are very pleasant here. That said, we do actually have aircon around these days - so you are right.

    I actually grew up in the 1970s - which is even more different.

    I think I might write a post about that (sorry to steal your idea).




    1. Not stealing - seems to be a popular topic at the moment. I'll look forward to reading it. I grew up in the mid-70's to late 80's, so I have fond (and not fond) memories of both decades.

  6. Tuck shop at school - where you ordered lunch and it came to the classroom - do they do that?
    Proper cartoons on Saturday morning.
    Sitting on dad's lap steering the car.
    Dressing up to go into town with Mum.
    Lollies that you bought from the general store for 20 cents for a small bag of mixed - don't have them any more.

  7. Yes!
    Schools still have tuck shops (though now called canteens) and still bring the lunch orders to the classroom.
    I remember sitting on my uncle's lap in the front seat and he put the seat belt around us both. Sure, that made it safe.
    Yes taking 20c to the milk bar and the owner's barely disguised impatience while you chose 'one of those, one of those, two of those....'
    Being given a 50c coin by your grandmother when you visited and it was fantastic.



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