‘The music and fairy tales from the old Bakelite wireless’

Sep 11, 2019
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A teenage girl relaxes with the radio, a glass of milk and a plate of biscuits. Source: Getty Images

When I was a very little girl, Mum and Dad had an old Bakelite wireless on a shelf in the corner of our living room. It was our only source of entertainment. On Sunday mornings there was an hour of children’s story telling. Mum and Dad were happy for us to be entertained as they could then enjoy a bit of a sleep in.

My favourite was The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde. The narrator would say, “Swallow, little swallow, won’t you stay with me just one more night”. Now, the swallow dies, and I was heartbroken. I would howl and weep because the narrator had such a sad voice. I was totally devastated as it was a really sad story. I didn’t want things to die in my childish world. But The Little Engine That Could was much more inspiring. And Scuffy the Tugboat.

The Pokey Little Puppy had me in raptures of delight. There were many more stories, and it was a happy escape for me and my younger sister to sit entranced listening to stories that would take us away from the mundane suburban world of Sylvester Street, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Then it was Mum’s turn. After church, she would listen to the Sunday request session while she cooked lunch with her pinny on to cover her Sunday dress. Without fail, every week Jim Reeves’ ‘Where We’ll Never Grow Old’ would play and Mum would accompany Jim with her flat and tuneless warble.

When it came to Dad’s turn, we had to all listen to the cricket. Now that was really boring. Poor Dad would eventually retreat to his shed to listen to it on his little portable transistor radio.

As we grew older, our tastes changed. Mum and Dad invested in a record player radiogram, which was housed in a handsome wooden console. It had pride of place in their front room. Their music appalled me, so I bought Cream’s ‘White Room’ with my pocket money at age 15. I almost wore that single out. Poor Mum and Dad would thump on the wall begging me to turn it down and I would ignore them.

As I reflect on those days, I have thousands of songs downloaded on my smartphone that I can play through my bluetooth sound bar and also in my car. I’ve gone through the eras of records, tapes and CDs. Now it’s all digital and comes from some nebulous cloud up in the sky. I think of a song and the next minute I have it on my phone. Instant gratification whether it is a blast from the past, grunge, opera, classical or a bit of heavy metal.

But I still have fond memories of that old Bakelite wireless. It took a while to start while the valves warmed up. It had a mellow resonance, which modern players cannot offer. A memory I enjoy returning to.

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Did you have a wireless radio to listen to when you were growing up? What music were you a fan of?

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