Somehow we survived

I don't feel old, or at least I didn't until I started jotting down what we did and didn't have when I was a lad.

It was a teenager asking me what we did before we had email that prompted me to look back to that time in the second half of the 1950s and the first half of the '60s, back way before email and internet and computers and mobile phones and SMS.

In fact, very few households had a phone, and a caller would spin a handle to alert the manual exchange, give the number and wait for it to be connected. We were still making calls that way at my first newspaper, The Coonamble Times, in 1971, although by then most of the Hunter had dial phones.

Television was black and white, jittery and snowy, and very few homes had a set. Neighbours might be invited by the few to watch a show, and people would crowd around shopfront windows that had a working television. Minus the sound. People would watch the test pattern.

Water was yet to be fluoridated and many children and young adults had gaping black holes in their front teeth. In some cases these teeth had snapped off, leaving ugly stumps. Most adults had false teeth.

Things, including pennies, were counted in dozens, not tens, which meant that we really did have to know the times table.

No sunscreen. And antibiotics were not available for the range of treatments they are today. People died of infections that would be cleared up with a few tablets now.

We did have Bex and Vincents, analgesic powders that came wrapped in paper. Women especially would fold out the paper, throw their head back and pour the powder into the back of the throat before washing it down with water. The powders were addictive and very damaging to kidneys.

No pollution control, and no environmental anything.

Very few people had a university degree and very few occupations required one.

Disabled people were often hidden away, almost as a family's shame, and mentally ill people were locked up.

No coffee beans, and if there was instant coffee I was unaware of it. I did see bottles of chicory essence, an ersatz coffee, although I never knew anyone to drink it. No tea bags either, and everyone drank tea made in a pot.

No air travel for ordinary people.

Breast cancer and prostate cancer were obscure medical conditions, at least in the public consciousness, and I don't think I'd heard of prostate cancer until 20 years later.

No HIV, no mardi gras, no homosexual movement or recognition.

We didn't have the rule of vehicles on minor roads giving way to vehicles on bigger roads, which these days is clarified with Stop and Give Way signs. Vehicles gave way to the right, so a car on a main road stopped for a car in a side street on the right. Traffic lights were rare outside capital cities.

No on-demand hot water. A chip heater (which required just a handful of chips) provided hot water for the bath, and everyone used the same water. No showers.

Inside toilets were uncommon.

No gyms. No jogging.

Almost everyone smoked, without restriction as to when and where. Men and women smoked in restaurants, cinemas, on public transport, at work, in hospitals and it was not even suggested that smoking could kill anyone. Later when it was suggested that smoking endangered life the smokers, nigh on everyone, demanded proof!

No breathalyser, and a driver was too drunk to drive legally if he couldn't walk a straight line. No seatbelts. No helmets. No speed limits on many roads. And travelling in the back of a ute was great fun.

Dogs and cats were not desexed.

A bank loan was a privilege and a favour, and there was no credit for living expenses other than from a trusting shopkeeper.

Milk was delivered in bottles to everyone, and bread was delivered to most and left in a bread box attached to the house.

There was no such thing as the fat content or calorie count of food, and ingredient labels were years off.

No tissues. No deodorant.

I feel that I've spanned two ages, and I don't know how I survived the first one!

What have I missed? What do you remember or imagine as the differences between now and then?

This column first appeared in the Newcastle Herald in July last year.

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