Tech Nostalgia

I am old enough to remember when Tech stuff just worked, and never went wrong.
The days before ‘planned obsolescence’ made sure we had to throw it away and keep buying new things.

My first ever cassette player. Never let me down once.
Then they stopped making cassettes.

The wonderful Ferguson Videostar VHS player/recorder.
Always reliable, and never once failed to work.
Then they stopped making VHS tapes.

My first CD payer. It cost the equivalent of a month’s wages at the time, and I could only afford to buy six CDs the first year.
It never let me down, but it was so big that when I moved I had to get a ‘mini-system’. I gave it away, still working.

You can buy a DVD player for £20 now, but when I bought my first one, there wasn’t much change from £500.
It was a monster machine, and always worked well. It is in a box somewhere now, as the size became an issue.

From the 1960s until the year 2000, those products served me well, and never once failed to work.

Shame we can’t say the same about the Tech that’s around today.

My Favourite Mobile Phone

The first mobile phone I ever bought was the Motorola StarTAC.

STAR TAC mobile telephone by Motorola,

As you can see, this was a ‘flip’ phone that closed down to a small and manageable size. The flip action also terminated the call, making sure that you were not still connected by mistake.

The SIM card was the size of a credit card, and slid into a narrow slot on the phone.

It had no camera.
It could not connect to the Internet
It could only make calls and send a text.

But.

It never failed to connect, and stay connected.
Any call made on it was as clear as anything, and never fuzzy or muffled.
You only had to extend the short aerial to always guarantee a signal. (At least in London, where I lived at the time).
I had it on a ‘Pay and Go’ deal, where I topped up the amount I needed. No monthly fee.
The battery lasted for days on end.

I don’t know where it is now, or even if it would still work.
But I wish I had never upgraded from it.

A Short History Of British Coinage

Here is something for you to watch and digest while I am away. My friend Antony sent me this 10-minute You Tube film that gives an easy to understand history of British currency since the time of Queen Victoria, to the modern day. It covers the change to decimal currency in 1971, and explains very clearly why all our coins are the size, shape, and colour they are.

If you are writing historical fiction, you may well find this to be a valuable resource.

And it also explains why I still use terms like ‘A quid’, ‘Ten bob’, and ‘Three half-crowns’.

And if you ever intend to visit Britain as a tourist, it will help you understand the coins in your pocket.

In Praise Of Typewriters

I use a PC with a raised keyboard. I do that for a reason, and that is because I had typewriters from a very young age. When the company my mum worked for upgraded their offices in the early 1960s, they offered the old typewriters to the staff free of charge, if they could get them home. Mum asked for a 1930s Adler, and arranged to go in on a Saturday with my dad, to collect it in the car. I was only around nine years of age when they brought it home, and placed it on the small table in my bedroom that I used as a desk.

It was huge, with a long carriage, a bell that sounded when you had to use the lever to move the roller to the next line, and a very long ‘drop’ on the keystroke. And it made a great noise when typing at a decent speed, not unlike a machine-gun. It could type in black or red ink, by moving a selector lever, and also had the option to type impressions only, for stencils. At the time, replacement ribbons were very easy to obtain, and a standard fitting for typewriters of certain sizes. Mum also brought home a box of carbon paper, called ‘Onion Skin Brand’, which was placed between two sheets to make a carbon copy of what you had typed.

I loved that old machine, and learned to two-finger type on it quite well, by the time I was eleven. I used it to write stories on, and even for homework projects to hand in at school. I typed thank-you letters for Christmas and birthday gifts, and could even type the addresses on the envelopes. If I made an error, I had a special rubber that erased the ink. Then later on, a white fluid called ‘Tipp-Ex’ that you painted over the mistake, before typing the correct letter in the same space.

Eventually, the keys began to jam constantly, and my dad said it wasn’t worth the expense of having it repaired. Instead, I was given a second-hand Olivetti portable, that came in a smart carrying case. That had the same full size keyboard and layout, but with a much neater carriage, and a shorter key drop that allowed much faster typing without jamming.

That little gem of a typewriter lasted me until 1989, over twenty years after I received it as a gift. I even typed up a neighbour’s CV and numerous job applications for him on it. But it was showing its age, with occasional key jams, and worn letters not striking the paper deep enough. And by that time, the world of typing had gone electronic, so it was time to move into the 1990s. I went for the one that was getting the best reviews, the Brother AX 450.

This was quite a beast. It was packed with features too; like repeat keys, back space delete, and a snazzy little preview window that showed what you were typing. The paper could be stacked in much like a modern printer, so no need to stop typing after one sheet of paper It also had the facility to save the whole work, then print it all when you had finished typing. I wanted to love it, but I didn’t.

For one thing, it had to be plugged into the mains at all times, which restricted where you used it. Then it had a keyboard like the one I use now, with no keydrops, and no proper typing sound. The cartridges that it used in place of the old ribbons ran out really quickly, and were expensive to buy from the few places that sold them. (No online shopping back then, don’t forget.)

Very soon, I only ever used it when I had to. Official letters, complaints, applications, that kind of thing. If a neighbour asked me to type something up for them, I sat there wondering how soon the ink cartridge would run out. Then just under two years after I bought it, well out of warranty, it did what most electronic things with microchips in them do, and just died on me. The shop where I bought it estimated around £120 for repair, which was almost what I had paid for it in 1990. A new one was now much more expensive, and I didn’t really want another one anyway. So it went in a box in the garage, and was thrown away five years later when I moved.

In 2002, I bought my first laptop. It was a heavyweight Dell, running Windows XP. I started to send emails instead of letters, but still really missed my typewriters.

The first two real ones of course, not that last one.

Thinking About: Clothes

My dad always used to tell me, “You get what you pay for”.

I was thinking about that statement a few days ago, as I was ironing some shirts. One of those on the ironing pile was a shirt I bought in 1999. It is a ‘pullover’ style, with twin front pockets and a short zipped entrance for the neck. Made of strong cotton/canvas, I bought it in the chain store ‘Next’, for almost £40. Back then, £40 was a lot of money to pay for a shirt, believe me. You could buy a two-piece suit for that money, in a ‘cheap shop’.

But here I was over twenty years later, ironing a shirt that looked as good as the day I brought it home.

In the 2014 photo on my ‘About’ page, I am wearing a lightweight jacket with a Tintin logo. That was bought from a shop in London that used to sell official Tintin merchandise. It was an impulse buy, as it had been reduced from an eye-wateringly ridiculous £199, to just £90. But that was in 1990, when £90 was around the total disposable income we had in any given week after bills. Other than some fraying inside the pockets, that coat is also as good as new. I wore it out with Ollie recently, before the weather turned warm.

Thirty years old, and still going strong. It has cost me just £3 a year to own that jacket, and I am sure it will last for another ten years. If I live that long.

When I moved to Norfolk in 2012, I bought some items of clothing I had never previously owned. They included a pair of warm corduroy trousers purchased from Marks and Spencer. Not cheap even then, at £39.99, they are still like brand new, despite being worn and washed numerous times.

One of the benefits of getting older, and being male, is that you tend to care less about fashion. You don’t get rid of things just because trends change, or certain colours become supposedly unacceptable. Most of the styles in my wardrobe I would class as ‘timeless’. I no longer own any jackets with enormously wide lapels, trousers with substantial turn-ups, (cuffs) or shirts with collars as big as the wings on a light aircraft. Those things went the way of fashion trends, when I was still young and foolish enough to have bought them.

I also don’t own any ‘skinny’ ties anymore, or knitted ones, for that matter. You see sense, you buy conventional, and you no longer read magazine articles about what is ‘In’, or ‘Out’. If you are still falling victim to that, I understand why. And I feel sorry for you.

But one day, you will ‘get what you pay for’, and be very happy that you did.

Happy Birthday Mum

The photo above is of my Mum celebrating her 70th birthday, in 1994. She died in 2012, but if she was alive today, she would be 96.

I’m not sure I would have wanted her to have still been around to possibly contract Covid-19, or to be living in fear of the virus like so many others are. Though her own protracted death was no less pleasant.

She had a hard life, living during WW2 as a teenager in the London Blitz. Then she was later abandoned by my father, in 1975. She always worked, right up until her late seventies, and she loved all her pets as if they were children.

My Mum was not only a great mother to me, but also my friend, my confidante, and a support I could always rely on.

Never a day goes by when I don’t think of her.
Never a day goes by when I don’t miss her.
Never a day goes by when I don’t thank her for all she did for me.

Violet Annie Johnson. 1924-2012.

The Quintessential Possession-my saree box

A wonderfully evocative post from Indian blogger Ritu Ramdev, about the importance of the Saree in her culture, and her own treasured Saree box.

MusingAmusing

A must have in every Indian woman’s wardrobe…saree.It not only symbolises femininity but also the great Indian traditions. The versatility stored in its weave and draping reflects the region from where it belongs. Though over the years it is losing its significance to the hassle free western dresses but still it occupies an indisputable place in each household. Every woman likes to boast of her heterogeneous collection from different parts of the country- Baluchari, Taant, Painthni,Chanderi, Kanjeevaram and the list is endless. An army wife for sure feels highly jubilant when she flaunts her collection by virtue of having been posted to such places where she gets an opportunity to pick an exclusive piece from the maiden source. Over the years, it definitely adds to her self glorification…but other than just being reflective of one’s indulgence there are innumerable stories associated with each and every saree in the box.

The…

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The Blues: Some Songs For Brian

Continuing to celebrate the life of my dear departed friend, I am presenting some of the original versions of songs he loved to listen to and sing.

Smokestack Lightnin’. Howlin’ Wolf.

Still Got The Blues. Gary Moore.

She’s 19 Years Old. Muddy Waters.


Bring It on Home. Sonny Boy Williamson.

Boom Boom. John Lee Hooker.

I am not a religious man. But if there is a Heaven, I like to think that Brian is there now, enjoying a raucous jam session with Howlin’, Gary, Muddy, Sonny Boy, and John Lee.

Local Hero – Captain John Perrin

I am reblogging this from Rich’s site for the interest of all my American readers. You might like to know that your servicemen who died in Britain in WW2 are not forgotten, and they are honoured and respected by this country. Just like this brave man.

Please read the original post to see two photos.

Richard Lakin's Blog

The memorial you can see below is just a few hundred metres from where I grew up. Although it’s close to junction 14 of the M6 there are beautiful farm fields, spinneys and streams nearby. I ran and hid and splashed in these fields, punctured tyres, suffered nettle rashes, all the usual.

What I didn’t know was that on 4 July 1944 a Mustang P-51D had crashed into a wheat-field here, close to Home Farm and the brilliantly named Sleeper’s Spinney.

USAAF pilot Captain Perrin – an ‘ace’ fighter who had shot down five German aircraft – was delivering the Mustang to Cambridgeshire when something went wrong and the plane was seen to catch fire. Heroically Capt. Perrin did not eject and stayed at his controls to avoid crashing into the populated North End of Stafford, avoiding schools, houses and a hospital.

Sadly, the New Jersey-born pilot died in the…

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A Nostalgic Journey

One of my local friends in Beetley sent me a link to this (silent) cine-film clip from 1968. It shows a train journey from Dereham Station into the city of Norwich. At the time, the line had been threatened with closure, and was eventually closed. You can still take the shorter train journey from Dereham to Wymondham, but only on special heritage days run by a volunteer preservation society.

I still think of 1968 as being very modern and progressive. But looking at this film, it feels as if it could have been shot not that long after WW2.

This is the text that accompanies the film on Facebook, posted by Russell Walker.

Video clip ‘Threat of Closure’ which shows a train journey from Dereham to Norwich Thorpe via Wymondham in 1968. Duration 10m 7s, no audio.
Edward Thorp, known as ‘Chib’, an undertaker from Leigh on Sea, spent his weekends throughout the year documenting the rail routes in East Anglia with wife Edna and their dog Micky. Chib always took along his 8mm camera, a good supply of Kodachrome film, and a tape recorder, to document their trips. On this journey Thorp travels from Dereham Central, passing through Yaxham, Thuxton, Hardingham, Kimberley, Wymondham, and Hethersett, arriving at Norwich Thorpe Station. The title ‘Threat of Closure’ refers, presumably, to the cuts made to many rural rail routes and train services following the Beeching Report.’