Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten

Back in my day

Life was simpler in the 1970s. Those were the days when my mother dressed me in brown corduroy and made me eat Jungle Oats, and Maya the Bee was on TV. Things have changed since then. Yes, there is the obvious stuff like no apartheid and iPads and cars that can park themselves. But what about the less noticeable stuff? The little things we don’t think about, but which have also changed radically?

Take pet food. Remember when dogs ate Epol, cats ate Catmor and really spoilt cats ate Pamper? What’s with this R200 for a bag of Royal Canin or Eukenuba? Somehow the pet food industry has managed to persuade us to spend five times what we used to on keeping Ninja and Tiger happy.

There’s a similar situation with chocolate, now that the every shelf in every supermarket everywhere is crowded with 70% Lindt with bits of chilli in it, and we’re willing to spend R45 on a 50g bar of organic Madagascan with citrus notes (or at least, I used to be willing to spend that). Back when I was a kid, Top Deck was the apex of confectionary achievement. In the 80s, there was Ferrero Rocher and those Cote D’or elephants but not much else. Life was simpler when Jelly Tots weren’t sour and there was one kind of Kit Kat, which came in lovely crinkly silver paper that made nice decorations for school art projects.

Coffee. I didn’t know about coffee when I was young, because I only drank rooibos tea (my mother had read about Annique Theron so gave it to me in my bottle). I do know that back then, coffee came out of a Frisco tin, and if you were feeling adventurous, you went to the Wimpy. Nobody had heard of a cappuccino.

Tea gardens. Where have all the tea gardens gone? I loved them as a child, and now I battle to find them. Enough with the coffee shops now.

Clothes. My mother got most of my clothes from Woolworths, back when they had the Princess label and they weren’t considered posh. Designer clothes for kids didn’t exist. You weren’t considered a loser if you didn’t wear the right label, and your parents didn’t have to get a second mortgage to afford your pocket money. I look at photographs of myself from then and marvel that I turned out normal despite the appalling outfits I wore. Oh, wait.

TV. In the 1970s there was one channel and nothing to watch except Ter Wille Van Oorlewing. Now there are hundreds of channels and nothing to watch at all.

Cars. In the 1970s, CitiGolfs were just Golfs and you had three brand choices if you wanted to show fellow Joburgers that you were rich: Mercedes, BMW or Jaguar (and BMW didn’t really count). There were no SUVs unless you counted the 3-door Range Rover, Datsuns came in avocado green, white people drove Cressidas and Cortinas were everywhere, like that restaurant that used to be at Hyde Park Corner. My father drove one of those Peugeot 405s with the sloping backside, and we survived many journeys in it to the coast with no power steering, no seatbelts in the back, no ABS or EBD and definitely no airbags.

Age. Back then 40 was the new 60. Women my age were already tannies wearing pants suits and tight perms and hauling spare tyres around their middles. Today, you’re still expected to look good at 60 and the trend will continue. Pretty soon 80-year-olds will be expected to look impossibly glamorous. With 92-year-olds completing the Argus, men will be required to be more Zoo York than zimmer frame.

Massage therapists. This is the best single thing about life today: Thai massage therapists. Have you noticed how Thai massage parlours have mushroomed in recent years? Curiously, while there have been arrests of Ukrainian strippers, there has never been a crackdown on Thai massage ladies. Perhaps Douglas Gibson has been putting in a good word for them.

There are things that haven’t changed. Appletiser is still around ā€“ it’s my strongest memory of visits to my great-grandmother – and so are Liqui-Fruit and Koo baked beans and Riaan Cruywagen. Iceberg lettuce is still everywhere even though it should be banned. But I can’t help noticing a consistent theme: that the biggest difference between back then and now is that there are so many more ways to be parted from your money. More getting and more spending appears to be the predominant theme of the past 35 years. And lovely though many of these new things are, that’s just a little sad.

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    • OneFlew

      Maybe a little more 80s than 70s – some of the things you list maybe managed to sneak into the 70s but were perhaps more of the early 80s.

      And maybe the change is partly about more crass consumerism. And that may be a measure of philistinism.

      But SA in the 70s and early 80s was not a nice place. Now you have more democracy, less forced resettlement, fewer necklacings, no Casspirs and Ratels in the townships, and no 2 years of conscription for young white men.

      It may be possible to think that a world in which Dazzle Datsuns existed was a more innocent place. Simpler. Less mentally and morally demanding. But that just isn’t really true.

    • Ryan Whittal

      I say it is better now. I think you are stuck in some kind of “reminiscing zone”. I know because I do it too. And I have figured out why…

      We remember a time when life was less stressful, and that I reckon is an age thing.

      I had maths and science home work, but I did not have another 16 years on my bond and 12 years of private schooling for 3.

      I miss Macgyver and the A team and Depeche Mode. And I miss the next day at school wnen everybody spoke about Macgyver and the A team, because everybody watched them and watched the latest Depeche Mode music video too.

      I miss Benson and Hedges cricket between Transvaal and Western Province. But I took my family to a 20-20 game the other night between the Lions and the Cobras and it was great. Then I had a cappucino because Rooibos sucks! And there were blacks, Indians and colouerds, whites, even some jews with yamacas at the game, some coloureds even started a fight…it was a perfect rainbow. It was a happy moment. But I still have 16 years left on the bond

    • Ryan Whittal

      We slip and and slide as we fall in love and i just can’t seem to get enough of…(cue synthesized keyboard with a few awesome plinky plonk notes and bad robotic-styled dancing) its all been down hill since the 80’s…

    • James Siddall

      Lovely Sarah, it takes me back to a simpler age. Even I’ve become convinced that my two hardly little mongrels won’t survive unless they’re fed Eukanuba…

    • Tal

      I am so very glad that the changes have happened. While I write this, I am on the other side of the planet and am listening to Madness “One Step Beyond”. We were a brutalised generation and have turned out pretty well, all told. I’d still like to kick my dad in the pants for stuffing it up for us young ‘uns who are now middle-aged. Weird how that happens. Bet my son wants to kick me in the pants for something else.

      “My girl” and “Night Boat to Cairo”. An older ex-girlfriend has a son who believes ads are public service announcements. I think the level of distrust we learned was formative.

    • Tal

      “Your comment is awaiting moderation.”

      That’s a work of art, that is.

    • http://n/a LJ

      Nice article.
      If you’re in Jozi, try Paputsi in Linden for a nice tea garden – just ignore anyone who orders coffee!
      Small point – I don’t remember Woollies in the 70’s, I think they only arrived in the 80’s. To my chagrin, my Mom bought my jeans from Game in Durban when we went on holiday.
      TV arrived in ’76 and I have enduring memories of Haasdas and Bennie Boekwurm, the latter being a dead ringer for my English teacher in Std 9.
      Seems we have oversupply in all areas, probably because the consumer market exploded post-94. If only we had a govt who knew how to protect the market.

    • PM

      @ OneFlew:
      No, SA in the 70’s was not a nice place–but i do think that it was simpler–at least politically. There was Apartheid and the Nats, and you were either for them or against them–oh, and there was the United Party, too. I still try to forget about them.

      But my larger point is that in many ways, the Nats and Apartheid made things simple–all you had to do was to be opposed to them, and life (morally speaking) was fairly simple. And the Nats didn’t really care if you opposed them–as long as you didn’t do anything about it.

      It was after 1976 that things started to get more complicated….

    • NATE IV

      Great piece, Sarah.

      I just wish someone would pen down something similar – excursive trip down memory lane for a darkie like me.

      The Wilson’s Champions, our (adults) obsession with black and white Crocket & Jones shoes and BrandWood pants that are still loved by streetwise 30 somethingers today the chimneys that adorned (it was considered a luxury back then) 50% of the neighborhood, but now part of the aesthetic appeal of the interior – like a fireplace in the ‘burbs. During winter the entire neighborhood would nigh invisible on account of smoke. Daily evening visits, horde of us kids, to the family that owned TV set – that’s 1 in every 50 – to watch Lesilo or Mopheme, and the latter is still watchable…among darkies, that is.

      Soccer, soccer…if you think blacks love soccer, you have only witnessed Soccer Fans Anonymous phase. Back then we would fill concession stands + every other area with a capacity for a man to either climb or stand. Basically, linesmen (assistant referees) skipped instead of running.

      Kids feared Boers like the West to the Boogieman. All parents wanted their kids to either be a teacher or nurse, depending on the sex of the kid.

      Teachers whipped us to a pulp. Dolls new out of the box were believed to smell like white people. A visit by ANY whitey meant the utilisation of the long hidden expensive chinaware, finally. I think it’s still the case even today.

      Memories, memories.

    • Ryan Whittal

      Dolls new out of the box were believed to smell like white people…

      Man, that is the funniest thing I have heard in a while…

      Its like Billy Connolly thinking that to the Queen of England, “the world” smells like a newly painted place…because wherever she goes, its been newly painted…

    • Grant Walliser

      Pet food is a dirty business, much dirtier than you think. Most pets are fed a disgusting mix of sawdust, low grade carbs which they do not need and can’t process properly and a filthy mix of diseased meat which can include euthenised pets effectively enforcing cannabalism in dogs and cats. It started post WW2 when people realised what low quality food you could keep them alive with and now it is entrenched.

      The main reason your pets survived back then is probably because you supplimented the crap you fed them with cooked scraps from your table. Dogs and cats are to a great degree carnivores. They should be eating meat with small amounts of veg and fruit and NO carbs are necessary. Ask any wolf or leopard you meet. Yet the cartel that sells pet food through Vets only as ‘prescription’ and charges incredible prices are feeding them swill full of carbs and filler and go as far as to worm their way into Vet courses at varsity level and write ‘textbooks’ for Vets on nutrition because they don’t study it as a subject.

      Dogs should be living a lot longer than they do but they die early and spend more time in Vets (conflict of interest since the Vets sell the foods anyone? Banned in Brittain now.) than they should because of the bullshit that people feed them. That is not cool.

      Surely these animals are worth more than R200 a month when your shoes cost 10 times that?

    • NATE IV


      We had lotta odd notions and superstitions back then.

      Though the analogy is somewhat odd, I think she, Billy, had a point –

      “Short, “slice of life” stories come the the closest to a
      still-life painting when comparing the two genre. Both capture just a moment in time, one with paint, the other with words. Both examine the moment with detail, uncovering particulars missed in a casual glance.
      And both give a sense of more…of something beyond the canvas and of events outside the story.”

      Both = Writing & Painting

      Billy was reconciling the beauty of nature, as a cinematographer would, with how Rembrandt et al. would memoralize a pastoral scenery.

      We, on the contrary, were delusioned by mass media. White man was someone you wanted to be when you grow up – we thought it was attainable thru hard work and volition.

      We thought Bruce Lee, given a chance, could end Apartheid, single handedly. Only if we knew how insulting an overstatement it was to Chuck Norris.

    • MLH

      I remember my first box of Smarties, circa 1954 and I didn’t give a damn there were no green ones! We only really had sweets in Christmas stockings, so that was a huge treat, but we had pudding every night, always made to share the UK milk ration ecquitably.
      Our dachshund had a small piece of raw chuck every evening for her dinner and still did in the 80s. Mum made a jug of coffee on the stove for my father; real coffee grounds boiled in an old flour sack drunk it black in demitasse cups after dinner. Children did not drink coffee.
      In those days, Woolworths was posh! I grew up in a series of madeover grey serge skirts and reknitted grey jerseys for school. Out of school was an assortment of handed down trousers and more reknitted jerseys. My first bought dress was sent by my SA ‘Oumie’ for Christmas and I hated it because my sister received one identical. We had never been dressed the same and only wore dresses about once a year.
      We were allowed to watch half-an-hour of TV each day in the UK and once we hit SA, there was only the library; no TV.
      In the late 50s, my dad bought a Ford Prefect. In the mid-70s, my first car was a fourth-hand Anglia stationwagon (R100). It cost me R5 to fill the tank and I saved for a few months to buy a new battery for about R10, once I got tired of pushing it and then dashing around to the driving seat ‘kick-start’ it each morning. By that time, I was living alone in CT and a good bottle of red wine cost 60c.

    •!/McEwansholic Guinnessholic

      On chocolates: OK Bazaar used to have a chocolate aisle near the front where you paid by the kilo. They were all individually wrapped chocies that the lady would scoop out of the perspex boxes for you, and you hoped they got a big dollop of your favourites.

      I can distinctly remember a young man (in OK’s) demonstrating the integrity of the new fangled answer to LP’s. He would throw this small, silver disk on the ground and cover it with gook, then wipe it all off and insert it into a cd player. And it played. And then repeated demo.

      It was amazing!

    • PM

      @ Nate IV

      Bruce Lee would kick Chuck Norris’s ass!

    • Tarupiwa

      The way I see it – lets all die young and forget about life. Is life realy worthy all the trouble one goes through. And, besides, you are 100% assured – nobody will ever come out of it alive. Its high time for a cost benifit analysis. Very soon, those wringles, stooping and walking stick. A nurse aid & no privacy just to do your toilet. Life is just one big cheat. We all waiting for to die and be totaly forgoten.

    • NATE IV

      @ PM

      If u didn’t receive a quantum telekinetised roundhouse kick after showing such a blatant irresponsible disregard for the invincible Norris then the legend isn’t true.

      In fact, I think “the kick found you” just when u were about to elaborate on your inference, hence u managed to only confer one liner.


    • Lucky Ntuli

      I remember very vividly the “eLollipop”.

      I remember running free in the mountains of KZN, along Polonga river, swimming there, fishing, herding the cattle.

      Life at one stage was very simple……..

    • pat bam

      Lovely piece. Iā€™m reminded how all fruit had pips and Chicken a la King was fancy and Chopper bikes with three gears were the best. And then learning to drive on the old family car, a huge pre-OPEC Dodge Chrysler.

    •!/McEwansholic Guinnessholic

      And this is why I like Lucky Ntuli. Always positive, not harping on his background as some dark past where Apartheid destroyed his life. Not like others out there who find profit in their alleged victimhood.

      Good on ya Lucky. (PS. Lockstock sends his regards).

    • Rod MacKenzie

      Hey Grant Walliser –pets are fed crap? We were recently adopted here in China by a teen tomcat who we have both fallen in love with….. he was a stray and absolutely LOVES whiskas and the meaty treatrs we give him…. is whiskas also crap? Dunnu if you are still on this thread but will google….

    • Michelle Gillie

      Excellent article Sarah!!! The world, in my opinion, has become a very dirty place fuelled by crass consumerism at the expense of our planet and all of its creatures. From the crooked pharmaceutical companies, to the equally nasty pet food manufacturers to private schools. Private schools I hear you echo? Yep, businesses like any other and in it for (exorbitant) profit. My 10 year old, Grade 4 son attends a private school that costs us the equivalent of the tuition fees for a first year ‘varsity student. True story. And yet the employees of said educational institution baulk at actually having to – gasp – teach!! It is my additional responsibillity as the already financially over-burdened parent to foot the bill for that much prescribed and over-used institution known as “Occupational Therapy” (OT to those of us in the know.) to assist my little darling to perfect his cursive writing. Yep, it is no longer the teacher’s responsiblity to actually DO the job I pay them for. And handsomely at that. Nope that is left to the Occupational Therapists who “align” themselves with the school as the “OT of choice”, and with whom the teachers unapologetically and blatantly collude. Always inventing yet another “syndrome” that needs to be addressed. There is not a single child in my son’s class that has not “had to” attend OT – how are we raising a generation of learners THAT CANNOT LEARN TO WRITE??? Back in my day we practiced our cursive writing until our…

    • Tirelo Mabetoa

      Well back in the 70’s and 80’s I wasn’t allowed into certain areas or to use certain toilets so I’m afraid I don’t share in your nostalgia, bit it sounds like you had a good time.

    • MLH

      @Guinessholic: Lucky Ntuli is all-star!

      @Michelle Gillie:

      If you’re prepared to do the time getting your son supposedly up to speed, you can easily do the OT yourself with him. I backed out when I was told the educational psychologist said she’d need him an hour a week for a year. How could she have any idea how long it would take him to learn to stay within the lines?

      Later, when half of the boys in his his Grade 7 class had ended up at the psychologist and she declared she’d never written the report the headmaster swore he was leaving on my son’s file, I asked her which of them was getting the backhanders. It’s a good way to make two more enemies…
      We later found out he’d been going thru’ a bad divorce that year.
      I learnt that some boys habitually ‘kick against the pricks’ (a Biblical phrase) and they are often the ones with the most common sense.
      School second time around (as a parent)? I remember it well! It hadn’t evolved in the forty years since I’d been there.

    • Lucky Ntuli

      @Guinessholic, right back at you. How is the geezer, Lockstock doing?

      @MLH: My sister, you and I will one day get together. You know how hight I hold you in my book :)

    •!/McEwansholic Guinnessholic

      Tirelo: You didn’t get to use toilets when you were young? (As an aside, where I grew up as a kid in Glasgow, we shared one with our neighbours at the back of the tenements, amazingly, I still believe I had a magical childhood). But you’ve made my point. You’re so desperate to be seen and known as a victim your entire life, you find a way to turn a simple nostalgic journey over chocolates, television programs, clothing and cars into a melancholic meander through your pathetic existence today.

      MLH: Quite right. He’s a pukka gentleman. As a PS I enjoy your responses. You come across as someone who has formed educated and intelligent opinions thanks to an interesting life. Lockstock enjoyed them too!