The things we couldn't have lived without...

Cast iron smoothing iron

The good old hot water bottle kept feet warm!

The world has come a long way since I was a boy in the late nineteen thirties – this has been what must be the greatest period of change in history, and I must admit I sometimes yearn for the ‘good old days’, when everything moved at a slower pace and your business was your own! Big Brother has crept up on us, not as George Orwell forecast, but much more stealthily and just as effectively!

To get back to times passed … One gem of the thirties was a so-called vacuum cleaner called “The Star” This comprised of a long steel tube with a handle on one end and a spout on the other. In between was a cylindrical bellows, about the size of a five-litre paint can. The idea was that you moved about the room with this contraption, sliding the nozzle across the floor and pumping like mad on the bellows, creating a small vacuum effect on the ground. Needless to say, by the time you had completed one room with this hefty exercise, you were pretty exhausted, while the room looked no better than it had before you started. The Dyson works a little better!

Another piece of household equipment was the cast iron smoothing iron. You had to heat this contraption on the gas stove until you estimated it was hot enough to iron the clothes. Then you’d wrap the handle in a piece of towel to stop it burning her hand and hold it up near your face to feel the actual heat coming from the sole. If you decided all was well, you would start ironing, at the same time putting a couple more irons on the gas, to heat up while using the first one.

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Cast iron smoothing iron

Electric kettles were virtually unheard of, another use for the gas stove, with a cast iron kettle simmering away on the hob, while for the weekly bath, there was a gas ‘geezer’ over the bathtub upstairs, which heated the water as it was required, gave off an awful smell while it was working and was extremely dangerous unless the window was left open, summer or winter, because of the poison gasses it produced.

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There was no central heating or air conditioning of course. The house was warmed by the coal fire, burning in the living room downstairs, with the coal smoke going up the chimney, together with most of the heat, to poison the air outside! The rest of the house was at the temperature that nature intended, apart from the beds themselves, which were at least comfortable for a little while because of the hot water bottles used each night during the winter. The only trouble with hot water bottles was that they tended to concentrate the heat around your feet and resulted in chronic chilblains until the spring arrived.

Star – vacuum contraption

It was never a surprise in winter, to find ice on the outside of my bed sheets in the morning, where my breath had condensed and frozen, especially after severely cold nights. Getting up to go to school was one of the most cheerless experiences of my young life at that time of the year, the effort to get out of my warm bed almost too much to accomplish. I invariably went down to a cholesterol rich breakfast though, which cheered me up immeasurably, eggs and bacon, thickly buttered toast with jam and hot steaming porridge all helped to put me on the road to school in a more cheerful frame of mind!

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Now we have electric irons, electric kettles, air conditioners, electric blankets and all manner of electronic wizardry to help us through our day, but honestly, are we really any happier, with the loss of privacy we’ve had to suffer in order to get it?

What items do you remember most fondly from our early years that you don’t see now?

 images:  carletaorg,  Michael David Pedersen