Once upon a time

hot water bottle

Standing on Camp Street recently in Oughterard, sharing memories with a lovely lady, was one of those uplifting moments in life. Amidst peals of laughter we talked about our non-digital lives growing up when the only chips we had were the edible kind, home-made from an actual potato. They were the ‘smart’ chips. It was wonderful to trawl back through the years, and I would like to share some of those memories with you. 

Eating dinner off a plate on your lap was not an option. Tables were set properly, and families sat down together to eat their meals. 

Going to bed with a hot water bottle in the depths of winter was normal. Even better if it was your granny’s bottle. No! No! Not the sherry bottle, but the round stoneware one that you could roll around, now considered vintage. 

Duvets were unheard of. Instead, we had blankets that slithered off the bed on a cold night unless they were tucked in so tightly you couldn’t move. 

Central heating was your own hot breath which created clouds in the cold air, or if you were canny enough you blew under the sheets and blankets to create your own sauna. 

A foot spa was a basin you filled with hot water. It didn’t have a plug, a recharger, or a smart chip, but nonetheless, it elicited sighs of pleasure. 

The only memory board was the one in the classroom with verbs, or city names, or times tables chalked on. We chanted the information aloud over and over and over again until we knew it off by heart. 

Memory foam mattresses were the dip in the middle which you always rolled into. A shower was a small plastic yoke attached to the taps which always came off at a crucial moment, the water either scalding or freezing you. Having to crouch down to avail of the weak spray of water was your unique yoga pose. 

If your hand knitted sweater was made from mohair wool, it made you itch and twitch. Only the sheep had the luxury of wearing a warm fleece. 

The story of the fur coat

The story of the fur coat arriving from America seems to be popular in many homes. To wear that outside the home was not an option. 

“Who does she think she is? Wudya look at her? Fur coat and no opinions”.  On particularly cold nights this fur coat was used as a blanket on the bed. Nowadays, faux fur throws as they’re called are scattered on couches all over the country. Whatever you do when you visit your younger relatives, don’t sit on the cat. 

Cats now reside indoors, kings and queens of the home, their haughty tails swishing as they sashay by, with French manicured toenails. What happened to the cats yowling and howling outside the back door wanting a touch of human kindness? They stayed out. Their job was to keep the mice at bay. 

If your bedroom had a single wardrobe, you were the bee’s knees. Every time you turned the key to open it the key always fell out. So, you knelt on the floor, hands splayed out until you found it. Meanwhile the door had swung open and as you got up you whacked your head on it. The only sympathy was a roar from someone – “What’s wrong with you now?” 

The empty steel hangers in the wardrobe swung back and forth with a clatter when you opened the door. A few were adorned with your best Sunday clothes, and a few others you had inherited from older siblings – clothes that is – not hangers. If you were hoping to find your favourite dress – hope was in vain. The sibling thief was long gone. 

Now walk-in wardrobes are full of clothes and handbags and shoes. Needs must, you could throw the odd guest in there. There’s a fierce shortage of student accommodation in Galway so your walk-in wardrobe would suit them fine. 

The handbag was just that. One, just the One. Forlorn. Lonely. Sometimes used for the ‘important papers,’ or you may have been the proud owner of a string shopping bag that expanded with the weight of groceries leaving your legs well bruised. Now handbags are born daily shrieking out their heritage – Calvin Klein, Valentino, Prada, Micky Kors and tons more all with fancy names and labels, and in thousands of colours and shapes and sizes – the designers as well as the bags. 

Not an Ipad


People wrote to each other using writing pads. No, not an iPad – actual writing pads. The few pages were put in an envelope which was licked then sealed, the stamp was also licked and off it sailed into the great universe with your DNA. When Aunty Rosie read the letter, she licked her fingers before turning the pages, just as you do when you’re reading a book. Your spit and Aunty Rosie’s is on every crime DNA site world-wide. 

Amazon was a river discovered by Francisco de Orellana in 1541, and not Jeff Bezos. Google was something you did with your eyes when you saw a ‘fine thing’ meaning a good-looking guy, or something you said to your baby who stared back at you in disgust wondering why adults couldn’t speak properly. 

Aunties and Uncles existed and were generally shown great respect, especially when they dipped into their bags or pockets and handed you a tenpenny piece, or a half-melted chocolate bar, or an embroidered hankie. When you’re eighteen years old you expect a bit more – actually a lot more. But thanks anyway. I’m proud to be called Auntie in Cape Town, or Granny, even by children totally unrelated to me. It’s a lovely tradition. 

The only islands we knew of were the Aran Islands. Now every kitchen boasts an island surrounded by high stools or chairs instead of water, unless you’ve got a plumbing problem.

The smell of pigs’ trotters or a chicken carcass cooking on the stove has long gone. Sanitized kitchens with shining stainless-steel appliances smell of modernity, a unique aroma which can be purchased in any supermarket and sprayed liberally. 

Modern Convenience


Nowadays, we have all kinds of machinery in our kitchens. An electric kettle so Polly can’t put the kettle on anymore. A dishwasher so Maggie who used to wash the dishes with sunlight soap is now curled up with a book under the faux fur throw. There is no-one shouting for ‘someone’ to dry the dishes. I never found out who ‘someone’ was. It wasn’t me. I was smart enough to make myself scarce. 

We have washing machines so poor Jane who used to pummel the washing on the wooden scrubbing board and put it through the hand ringer, got the heave-ho and no pension. We have tumble dryers to dry our clothes, but not our tears. That’s the job for the tissues which have replaced cotton handkerchiefs. Does anyone stick their hankie up their sleeve anymore, or dare I say it wipe their noses on their sleeve? 

Hanging out the washing in between showers of rain is a national pastime in Ireland. You have to get the timing right. A quick dash before the rain lashes down again and the sun pretends to shine. 

Slán go fóill.


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  1. Such nostalgia!! Brings me back Helena-youre always spot on with your descriptions and the way it was compared to today.

    • There is so much more I could write about. It’s amazing how many changes we have seen in our lives. I wonder if our children will reminisce also?

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