I’ve been wondering recently what would I have been like if I’d lived during another era, I’m not thinking of too long ago, just the 1960s. I’ve been following the Electric Generations blog and Twitter account as they’ve been working on setting up their exhibition and thinking about the short talk I’m going to be delivering on 16th October. The exhibition shows how many people initially feared this new power – that it might be dangerous in terms of fire risk or could be harnessed to cause harm to neighbours and enemies. It also explains the campaign for popular acceptance of domestic electricity. The final section of the exhibition illustrates how the electrical home was marketed as desirable and empowering for women and I think it will be interesting to see the various educational and advertising campaigns that were organised. It is also displaying various gadgets that became available to householders at that time – be it dishwashers, hairdryers or even just taps to provide hot and cold water.
Woman’s Way, August 1965 – cited in Electric Generations
Would I have been an early adopter of new electrical gadgets I wonder or would I have been happy to continue as I was? It’s been getting really wintry lately and I made vegetable soup last week. This reminded me of last year when my mum asked me if I would like a soupmaker as a Christmas gift. Bear in mind that I was the kind of child who viewed gifts like clothes as a complete waste of what could be a good gift. This soupmaker was wonderful, she assured me, for €130, you could chop your veg and have pureed soup within half an hour. But I have a saucepan, I said, and a liquidizer. I like multi-tasking you see, and having a large object taking up space in a cupboard that only did one thing was just an anathema to me. “I don’t need a soupmaker,” “But what will I get you?” “Books,” “But you already have so many books” she kind of wailed. You can tell my mum and I are chalk and cheese. I think she views my many bookshelves of books as dustcatchers and a symbol of disturbing hoarding whereas to me they represent memories and stories and magic. Anyway, as my liquidizer is kinda giving up the ghost and I need to get a new one, I was thinking that maybe I should have taken her up on it!
My maternal grandmother was quite progressive. Before they got electricity, she had piped water and a bathroom. They had a large water tank in the attic space or on the roof and every two days, using a petrol pump, my granddad pumped water up to fill the tank. When she got electricity, she thought she was in heaven.
My paternal grandmother was a bit of a Luddite I think. They managed to get electricity quite early, in 1948, partly due to my grandfather’s enthusiasm and partly because our farm is located near to a coalmine that was being re-opened at the time. Electricity was installed in the house. They got a vacuum cleaner soon after that. A salesman called to the door and having mentioned that he sold one to a neighbour, once he’d finished the demonstration and mentioned it could be paid for in stages, it was a sale. They got a refrigerator and my dad still remembers the long icecream block that used to come out of the icebox at the weekend. They got a washing machine, it was a twin tub with a wringer over it. They had an indoor flush toilet fed by water that filtered down to the house by gravity from a spring. But they still didn’t have piped water in the house until 1964. So water still had to be carried in from the yard in buckets and heated on the cooker. Washing up was done in a bowl on the kitchen table and the water thrown out afterwards.
My mother likes gadgets. She got a dishwasher in the late 1960s. The house she moved into had only got piped water five years previously and now it boasted a dishwasher. Neighbours scoffed at it, what was the point in having a dishwasher when you still had to dry the dishes? They didn’t realise the steam dried them. When you think that some daughters-in-law were being told they were too lazy to carry buckets of water, you can imagine how this dishwasher was a conversation piece for a while.
So would I have been a Luddite or an Early Adopter? Probably somewhere in the middle. One of my jobs every morning and evening at the moment is to feed and water the “waifs and strays” in one shed. There are the 3 fattening bulls, there’s a heifer weanling who had pneumonia and there’s 3 bull weanlings, one had a biopsy recently on a suspect lump, two were a bit poorly and were brought in. As we’ve been doing some building work, there’s no piped water to the shed so I’m hauling buckets of water up to them, spronging silage in and giving them buckets of feed. I don’t think I would have been very tolerant of having to carry in buckets of water to wash dishes and clothes but I doubt I would have had the interest in buying new magazines to see the latest trends in electrical gadgets.