Many things that are considered to be normal everyday items now didn’t exist in my youth. The idea of owning a machine to wash your clothes was something that didn’t even enter the heads of the adults in my family, and we didn’t get one until 1968. Likewise a machine to wash plates, dishes, and cutlery. That was something I didn’t see until the late 1970s, and to this day, I have never owned one.
The one thing we did have was an electric 2-slice toaster. This appeared around the time of my tenth birthday, and seemed like something from the future to me back then. I was so excited to watch the toast pop up when it was done, it was not uncommon for me to toast a few slices even when I didn’t want to eat them. The one in my kitchen in Beetley at the moment is virtually identical to that first one in 1962, showing that a good design never needs to be altered.
Just because gadgets started to arrive on the scene didn’t mean they appeared in our houses. Things like electric food mixers were incredibly expensive then, and well beyond the financial reach of working-class families. Electric knives, electric can-openers, such things were even laughed at, when we had perfectly serviceable knives and can-openers that we could use with our hands. Plug-in crock pots, slow-cookers, they just took up space on worktops, and we already had casserole dishes that could be put into the oven.
The proliferation of gadgets appeared like an unstoppable tidal wave though, and it became harder to resist. One day, I arrived home from school to find that virtually everything in the kitchen was now stored in a Tupperware container. From my breakfast cereal to Oxo cubes, they all had a perfectly airtight-sealed place on a shelf. Not long after that, small wire devices turned up, propped over each of the heating radiators. They were to be used for drying clothes during bad weather, turning every room into a miniature laundry.
When I no longer saw the kettle standing on the cooker hob, I was told that we now had an electric one instead. Very noisy in operation, and not much faster to boil water than the one we had used all my life until then, it now took up valuable space in the kitchen. And we had to have one. Because everyone else did. The next arrival was an electric hand mixer. My Mum was a keen cake-maker, and she loved the twin-head mixer that saved her the effort of spending so much time with a hand-whisk.
TV advertising soon embraced the sales of all sorts of weird and wonderful ‘must-have’ gadgets. One really crazy one I remember my mum buying was a plastic tray to make slicing a cucumber supposedly ‘easier’. The vegetable was placed inside, and a knife could be used in the numerous slots, leaving her with a perfect, evenly-sliced sliced cucumber. To me, it looked no different to how it had been sliced previously, but she was delighted with her purchase.
I will spare you a list of the many useless items that followed. Things like an inflatable ‘bath-pillow’ that fixed to the bath with suction cups, or trays that hung upside down in the fridge to store cooked meats. But they came thick and fast.
All of a sudden, it seemed that nobody could remember a time without such wonderful gadgets. How did we ever cope?