In My Day, subtitled You and Me before TV,[i] could be easily dismissed as a bit of reading fluff. It isn’t full of beautifully crafted phrases and concepts. Nonetheless it is a magic carpet ride, taking Aussies of a certain age, back to life as it was, not just before TV, but somewhat after that as well.
The book was gestated during a sudden power outage, reminding the author and her friend of just how much their lives had changed over the decades. (I did smile at that because with Darwin’s lightning season, we get a fairly regular reminder of life-without-power).
If you want to know how your parents or grandparents lived in those ancient days of the 1950s, or even the 1960s, a quick dabble in this book will reveal new and astonishing realities. If you lived in those decades, or even earlier (heaven forfend!) you will enjoy a walk down memory lane, bringing back events and experiences long vanished into the recesses of your mental hard drive.
Hands up who remembers Mum’s washing copper and the rituals of Monday washing day (it was always Monday!)…as a child there always seemed to be jobs for you to help with on a Monday. How about the ice man, dunny man, butcher’s and baker’s vans? The corner store with its large glass jars of lollies. Saturday afternoon (arvo) at the movies (flicks) and maybe rolling Jaffas down the aisles.
That warm milk each day at school. Getting the cuts (cane) if you misbehaved in class. Boys dipping the girls plaits in the ink well. Scratchy slates, then pencils, pens with nibs (when you’d grown up), chalk on the blackboard. Remember when a biro was a novelty? Pounds, shillings and pence in the pre-decimal currency days of the “14th of February 1966”.
And then there are the stories of children being set free first thing in the morning on weekends or holidays to roam all day, only returning as dusk fell. This always mystifies me, because never in a million years would that have happened in our home, and yet we lived in a safe neighbourhood.
One thing I remember that isn’t in the book is the rat catcher. Did other cities have these, or only sub-tropical Brisbane? A Council worker would tour the street, eager fox terrier at his side, on the hunt for rats in the neighbourhood. This always induced a sense of anxiety because you really wouldn’t want to have him find a rat in your yard, even if he never had before.
The book has one or two page aides memoir with space at the bottom for you, the co-author, to add your reminiscences. I’ve had my copy for a long time so it may not be readily available but if you can find it in a library, why not borrow it and see how much you remember. Or read in astonishment.
[i] In My Day, You and Me before TV. Whitcomb, N. Adelaide 1996