The other night, whilst our kids ran themselves ragged at a soft play party, my mum friends and I had a conversation about how we ever lived without the internet. It was sparked by one of the boys getting a stitch, and one of the mums Googling what causes it. “Aaaah!” we all exclaimed, “now we know! Whatever did we do before Google?” Funnily enough, earlier in the day I had been helping Big with his homework project, all about Tim Peake and space. Again, another ‘what would we do without the internet?’ moment. Big was doing a powerpoint and needed to save it, so I told him to “click on the disk.”
“The what?!” he said.
“The disk. The picture of the disk!”
“What’s a disk?”
Of course, Big is only 9. He would have no concept of what a floppy disk looked like. They are obsolete nowadays.
So, this, along with the conversation between 40-something mums led me to ask a group of bloggers what else they remember from their own childhood that would baffle their children now…
Unsurprisingly, given how fast it evolves, tech featured highly in people’s memories.
Several people, including Just Average Jen and Family Makes remember having only a landline telephone, often attached to a wall or in the hall, perhaps on a telephone table (a convenient seat/table affair, perhaps with room for your Yellow Pages and your address book). If you didn’t want to sit in the hall. Hex Mum Plus One says you could try to stretch the line into your bedroom, and I remember feeling so grown up when I was eventually allowed my own extension in my room! I was only allowed to use it after 6pm though – calls were cheaper then, as Little Hearts, Big Love remembers. Mind Your Mamma tells of knowing your mates’ numbers by heart, as does Frances from Whinge Whinge Wine, who still remembers her bestie’s now. Imagine, memorising several strings of numbers?! Nowadays I can barely remember my own mobile number when asked, let alone anyone else’s!
Mummy To Dex recalls how a lack of mobile phones meant we weren’t instantly contactable like today, unless you hung around the phone box like A slice of My Life Wales in case your mates rang to say they were running late. Phone boxes were pretty useful really; Arthur Wears and Belle du Brighton would ring the speaking clock to find out if it was time to go in for tea and several people, including Kirsty Dee and Dad’s Sofa remember asking the operator to make reverse charge calls to home when you didn’t have any money, even though calls only cost 10p back then, as Mummy On A Budget recalls.
Eventually, the amazing invention called ‘the internet’ began creeping into our homes, with dial-up still strong in many people’s memories. Mummy est.2014 remembers how it was a toss-up between having the internet on or the phone line free – you couldn’t have both at the same time. The Mum Reviews remembers the god-awful sound of the modem as it attempted to connect and Rock and Roll Pussycat laments how it took ages for computers on dial-up to load and how we spent hours chatting to anyone and everyone on MSN.
Computers were used occasionally for homework purposes, although Devon Mama remembers having to format floppy disks and then losing her homework – great excuse! But we mainly used them for playing games before the internet really took off. We had an early Sinclair Spectrum ZX, and A Life Just Ordinary also remembers having to connect up a cassette player in order to load games. He says the length of the scrambled beeping noise the tapes made could indicate the quality of the game. Trouble was, invariably, the game wouldn’t load properly and, after wasting half a day, you’d have to do it all over again – a bit different to today’s apps! Five Little Doves also had a Spectrum with games on cassette and was chuffed to get a joystick for it! I recall upgrading our ZX to a ZX +2 128k – with integrated cassette player – and feeling so fancy!
A little more recent, but still pretty retro, Sensory Sensitive Mummy still has a Nintendo Gameboy at her mum’s house and her five year old couldn’t understand why it wasn’t touchscreen, and why it was such a funny colour! It also seems odd now to have the little cassette disk things to change games. That British Betty finds it amusing that her teenage daughters struggle to understand our lives before internet and mobile phones and Falcondale Life tells the tale of how she learnt to touch-type in 6th form on a typewriter and how her own daughter now thinks her mum belongs in a museum – along with the typewriter!
If we weren’t playing on our computers, we might have been watching the telly. Not much though, as Edinburgh Life -With Kids remembers, children’s programmes were only on for a couple of hours after school and on a Saturday morning – there were no dedicated children’s channels like there are today, feeding our littles an incessant stream of cartoons (and related merchandise!). Whinge Whinge Wine tells of how we all used to watch the same programmes because, as several people mentioned, we only had 3 and then 4 TV channels for a long time, which The Speed Bump, being just a youngster herself, cannot imagine! Devon Mama remembers the excitement when the Spice Girls launched Channel 5 (for those of us not fortunate enough to have satellite telly), but The Non Perfect Parent recalls only certain areas being able to get it at first!
Of course, we didn’t have fancy recordable TV like we do now, so we can pause and rewind and record several channels at once. Toby Goes Bananas remembers the scramble to find a blank VHS tape with enough room left on to record your programmes and Nomipalony tells of how her five year old saw a VHS tape and thought it looked like a robot! And, if we wanted to watch a film, we’d go to the video shop, like Bamm Boo (don’t forget to rewind before you return!), or, if you were lucky like NeonRainbowBlog, you might have had a Video Man who visited in his van. DVDs were a revelation, with no rewinding and fast-forwarding needed, and then came the wonder that is Netflix – and we’ve never looked back!
As far as music is concerned, before we had downloads and before that, CDs, we had good old cassette tapes, as Hex Mum, Jo Dunlop and Fern remember. Dad’s Sofa and Rock and Roll Pussycat remember the perils of trying to record the Top 40 off the radio on a Sunday afternoon, trying to pause the tape before Bruno Brookes started talking over the end of the song. You might have played your cassettes on your Walkman, and you probably, like A Slice of My Life Wales, sang along to the songs using the lyrics printed on the sleeve in the cassette box. And you know that compilation series, ‘Now That’s What I Call Music!’? It’s up to number 96 now, but Pack the PJs remembers having Now..1! Now, of course, we can just create our own compilations by simply downloading songs to our phones, or we can just stream music as and where we want!
Something else that cropped up (pun totally intended!) was how our photography has changed. Just Average Jen remembers how it would take weeks to get a film of photos developed at the chemist or developer’s, and then they’d come back covered in stickers as they were blurry! Whinge Whinge Wine said we had to be so careful about what we snapped as we were limited to 24 or 36 exposures to a film, unlike today where we take and re-take photo after photo, simply deleting the crap ones. And, of course, we all have a camera and a video with us at all times now we’re addicted to our smart phones.
Being a kid 30 or more years ago was very different to the childhood of our own kids today. Belle du Brighton remembers ‘playing out’ with our mates from morning until bedtime, only returning home to shovel down some food before racing off again. Kerry Shaw, Mummy of Four recalls this freedom and hours playing ‘Kerby‘, while The Organizer UK reminisces over games of ‘Elastics’, using two chairs if your friends’ legs weren’t available. We and our children have friends all over the world, who we can chat with ‘virtually’ via the internet and even directly using Skype. But, when Hex Mum was a kid, she had pen pals, and remembers the excitement of receiving a new letter every few weeks! I can’t imagine my children being as patient; in fact, Big gets quite annoyed if his friends aren’t online when he’s on his Xbox or pc!
Another thing we’ve reminisced about is sweets! Dad’s Sofa remembers penny sweets, but A Life Just Ordinary pips him with his ha’penny fruit salads and black jacks! I used to love going to the ‘paper shop’ (newsagent) on a Sunday morning to get a 10p mix-up, with shrimps, foam bananas and flying saucers – and you’d get loads! Mummy and Moose remembers those packs of candy cigarettes that we all used to pretend to smoke. Can you imagine that now?! I did love those necklaces and bracelets made of sweets though, that you could just nibble off as you wore them, leaving a soggy piece of elastic dangling around your neck. Kerry Shaw, Mummy of Four also remembers the ‘Pop Man’, who delivered glass bottles of fizzy drinks such as dandelion and burdock, limeade and cream soda. And, when you returned the bottles, you got 10p (to go and spend on your mix-up at the paper shop!)!
I had a conversation with Big recently where I was trying, and failing, to explain about my first car, and how I had to use the choke to start it, especially on cold mornings. He just couldn’t understand, but it’s something that Home Family Life remembers too. My first car (a C-reg fiesta, with a choke but no radio) was a far cry from the modern cars our kids are used to travelling in. At least modern cars are much safer; I remember the days before seat belts were compulsory and no-one had heard of car seats.
And now you can’t smoke with your kids in the car, or anywhere inside, as Thrifty Mum mentions. Although relatively recent, most of our own children won’t remember a time when it was normal to go into a restaurant, cinema or on a bus and have to suffer the stench of cigarette smoke clinging to your clothes for hours afterwards. Although, it was quite a handy excuse to give your parents when you’d had a crafty fag on the way home from school… There was even a smoking section on planes, where there was literally no escape, as Mummy on a Budget recalls.
I’m sure you can think of many more. It’s amazing how quickly times change and it’s easy to look back on our own childhood with rose-tinted glasses and a strong shot of nostalgia. However, our children will never know the agony of mis-dialling the very last digit of your best mate’s telephone number on the dial phone and having to start all over again.