Life before gadgets

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?

57 thoughts on “Life before gadgets

  1. I do have a slow cooker and use it-as it is wonderful when you have to work-I want a toaster, as you described. Other than that I do not even use an electric can opener or microwave. I enjoy tasks by hand and I do think maybe convenience has cost society some sensibility of sorts-something has!!! haha! Oh-I like the remote too! fondly, Michele

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Tupperware proliferated because of those parties in the neighborhood. You practically were shamed into buying it from your friend. My favorite toaster was my grandparents’ which had little shelves that you tipped toward the elements. You had to repeatedly open it to see if the toast was done. Of course as a kid I kept opening it for the novelty, leading my grandfather to opine “a watched slice never toasts.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A fun topic. I find that people either like gadgets or don’t. The gadgets I do use, I really use, so I don’t feel it’s a waste. The Crock-Pot, for instances, is great for working mothers. You can’t leave the oven on during the day, and fixing the dinner meal and letting it cook while you work — to come home to the smells and have that task already taken care of is a godsend.

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    1. I have never had a garbage disposal device. I just put the stuff in the bin. But I have become far too used to using a microwave now, I confess. They have gone from ‘gadget’ to ‘essential’. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I must admit to buying a few in my time, many just to gather dust, although some have been repurposed over time. I used to make chess sets many years ago and I found an old electric razor was perfect for vibrating the moulds to release the air bubbles from the plaster whilst casting the pieces. And the old slow cooker is now used to make soaps, in fact Gosia uses it to make Castile πŸ™‚

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  5. There’s a tendency to have gadgets for the sake of it sometimes. But I remember my dad pre remote control days jabbing buttons on our battered grundig TV with a dowelling rod from his chair. With expert accuracy

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He was lucky to have buttons to jab, Rich. We had a TV with dials, and it was always my job to have to get up to change channels. Mind you, we only had two channels, until BBC 2 came out in 1964. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Not so much now but I remember as a kid, a big culprit for introducing pointless gadgets was that annual Ideal Home Exhibition at Earls Court. My mum often went and was persuaded to buy some new fangled thing to help around the kitchen. Back of the drawer stuff, I call it.
    Mind you, I was almost on the point of buying one of those small electric blenders from Lidl, in their odds and sods aisles, to do pesto sauce, curry paste and such things. Luckily I saw sense, and I quite like preparing it all by hand the slow way anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I used to be taken to the Ideal Home Exhibition. It was indeed ‘gadget heaven’.
      There used to be a ‘Schoolboys Exhibition’ too. I loved that!

      Glad to hear your resisted the special offer at Lidl, BF. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. We don’t have a dishwasher – unless you count me. The trouble with gadgets is that they often lead to loss of skills, a topic on which I’ve posted often. I doubt our kids could get a coal fire burning (they’re scared of matches). New drivers soon won’t be able to manage a car with a manual handbrake. The list goes on with things like decorating, car maintenance, basic repairs, woodwork, growing vegetables, film photography …

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  8. During he Academic year, 1968-9, I lived in the Washington DC area while serving as a Congressional Fellow. I visited the Smithsonian many times during my internship. One of my favorite places to stop was at the table where the Smithsonian had gadgets from the previous centuries and asked people for help in identifying what the gadgets were or for what they were used. I have not been back in the days since I left, but suspect the tables are still there with unidentified gadgets. The gadget I always wanted as a kid was a Swiss Army knife. I suppose now that I have a smart phone, I have the modern equivalent. I suspect gadgets get superannuated quirky judging from the viral videos of teens trying to use a rotary phone. On toasters, the first one I remember toasted one side of the bread at a time and one had to open it and turn the bread over to finish the jobβ€”however it did do two slices at once. I also remember my grandmother using a mangler https://www.bing.com/images/search?q=mangler+laundry&qpvt=mangler+laundry&FORM=IGRE
    Warmest regards, Theo

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I turned the mangle for my grandmother. She fed huge sheets into it, in her back yard, and they dropped into a galvanised tub on the other side.
      I was gifted a Swiss Army knife as part of my leaving present, when I left the Police. But I cannot carry it, as the main blade is classed an an ‘offensive weapon’ here. πŸ™‚ I keep it shut away in my camera bag, in case I happen across a horse with a stone in its hoof.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. How long is the blade, Pete? Swiss Army Knives are normally permissible in public. I think it has to be no more than 3 inches and able to fold away. I always carry a Leatherman style multitool when walking the countryside, it’s been useful on several occasions. Good reasons, m’lud. πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I doubt it’s much longer than 3 inches, and it folds away. But when I worked for the Met Police and they gave it to me, they told me not to carry it in public. Maybe they were pulling my leg? I do still ‘carry it’ as such, just inside a shoulder bag.
          Best wishes, Pete.

          Liked by 1 person

  9. All those chopping gadgets – and there have been many – end up at the back of a cupboard after being used once or twice – until finally given away. So much easier to use a knife and not so many parts to find and clean. Live and learn I guess!

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  10. They don’t qualify as gadgets, but a year or so ago, I bought an inexpensive kit that includes a grapefruit knife and two spoons. They have serrated edges and are made of stainless steel. The knife’s blade is slightly bent so that it espouses the curve of the grapefruit. So now, preparing a grapefruit is fast and easy! I haven’t used the “keeper” container yet, as I never eat just half a grapefruit, but I’ll find a use for it.

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    1. My Mum had such a knife and spoons in the 1970s, David. I don’t eat a lot of grapefruit, as I find it too acidic on my stomach. But those utensils you describe do work very well, I agree. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Had to laugh at the suction cup bath pillow, my Mum had one too, think it came from Avon who used to do weird stuff as well as make up and perfume. I hold my hands up at being an inspector gadget, bread maker, soup maker, slow cooker, rice cooker. But they do all live in a cupboard so don’t take up workspace, and I use them all a fair bit.

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  12. I never had a dish washer until we bought a house in 2002 and it included one. Couldn’t so without one now, they are brilliant and use less water than you think. In the useless category I would put a bread maker – got one as a wedding present, used it a few times, but I prefer to make bread by hand – and a juice maker. Guilty of that one, bought as a house present for that same 2002 house and it has NEVER been used! What I actually miss from the past is a decent walk in pantry with deep shelves and plenty of storage for large dishes (not that I need them now there is only the two of us) and dried or canned goods.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Julie bought a bread maker. She made one small loaf, then stored it on the worktop, where it has remained ever since. For two people, I really don’t ‘get’ dishwashers. Two plates, two knives and forks, one or two saucepans, that’s it. As for a juice maker, I will stick with red wine. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete. x

      Liked by 2 people

  13. The toaster story reminds me of a Peanut cartoon when they put bread in the toaster, out pops the toast and in the final picture the speech bubble saysd, ‘But where did the bread go?’ I’ve always regretted not buying a Ryvita spreader. It was a plastic plate the shape and size of a Ryvita, with a corner cut out for easy removal, which kept it from breaking as you spread on the butter. Often when I read recipes which demand I blitz and whisk and puree using gadgets, I think of how my mum would have made it without any of those gadgets.

    Liked by 2 people

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