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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 – 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.


  • During the day Sarah Britten is a communication strategist; by night she writes books and blog entries. And sometimes paints. With lipstick. It helps to have insomnia.