Handwritten letters, fountain pens, rotary phones, typewriters, Walkman, film cameras, VHS tapes — are these the stuff of the yesteryears? An essential yesterday, forgotten today? Have they lost their charm and utility with the passage of time, leaving just lingering memories?
Obsolete gadgets and their impact in bygone eras make for a fascinating recall. Check them out – with a piece of history and some quirky facts.
Here is the fifth in a six-part series of stories. Part four: Film cameras: When each frame was precious
How the Walkman amazed me and faded
If there’s one gadget from the past that I could have back, it would be my Walkman. The nifty piece of engineering drained countless AA batteries, outlived all the headphones it was paired with, and survived many a fall after getting unholstered from my belt.
Completely black, as heavy as a brick, the Walkman was a gift all the way from the US. My grandmother’s elder brother had brought it in his suitcase of goodies, along with several clothes, bags, shoes, books and medicines as he landed in Delhi on his biennial trip.
Throughout its lifetime, the only maintenance the Walkman ever needed was a head cleaner that I applied to it with an earbud every two weeks.
I vividly remember the first time I laid my hands on it, only to toss it away in frustration moments later. There were no audio cassettes in the house!
We were at our grandmother’s place for our annual vacation. Packed in our suitcases with comics, holiday homework, board games and puzzles. No one had thought of packing a couple of audio cassettes. There were no music lovers at Nani’s place either. So after playing with the Walkman’s buttons for some time and sporting it on my belt as I sauntered around the house, I kept it at the bottom of my suitcase and left it there until we returned home just before school.
Back home, the first thing I did was walk to the nearby music store and purchase some cassettes. I even bought some blank tapes. Connecting our music system to the TV, my friends and I made several mixtapes. MTV and Channel V used to play good music those days.
Towards the end of its life, the Walkman started unspooling the tapes from the cassette at will. Batteries, too, lasted a fraction of their usual lifetime. The headphone jack slot became loose and added a lot of static if the device wasn’t kept still.
I remember taking it to local repair shops. They could fix old TVs, VCRs and camcorders, but didn’t know how to fix a Walkman from the States.
That was the day I tossed it in a truck full of old clothes and toys. It never saw the light of day after that.
My Walkman was a tape chewing monster!
My favourite song is by the 80’s supergroup ‘The Traveling Wilburys’ and it is called ‘Handle With Care’. But my Sony Walkman chewed up the tape that this tune was recorded on.
Oh, the irony… up until that devastating moment in the year 1990 I used to love making mixed tapes on our old Boombox and then listening to them on that small portable audio player I’d got for my birthday. The Boombox was kept in the kitchen next to the hand mixer. That little egg beater was like a mini gym – it would make your arm sore within seconds when you had to whisk the cake mix. I was convinced it was helping to grow my biceps and this was very important to me because back then I thought big, burly arms would impress Jennifer McKinley, the pretty girl in my class.
I was 12 and that is how my brain worked…So, after a few weeks of extreme whisking which resulted in many delicious cakes and a growth spurt I did my best Incredible Hulk impression and flexed my muscles in the playground right in front of her believing she would fall head over heels for me. She didn’t. Not one to give up so easy I thought a mixed tape would be the perfect way to express my undying love so I recorded one ranging from love songs to heavy metal. It took an outrageous five hours to make. I even produced it alphabetically, can you believe that? The first song was ‘Super Trouper’, that catchy, bouncy jingle by Abba. Then, to change the mood, the next song was the head rocking ‘Highway to Hell’ by ACDC.
Then… I got tired and ditched the alphabetical order opting instead for a random approach and so the next track was ‘You Got It’ by Roy Orbison. ‘Every time I look into your loving eyes. I see love that money just can’t buy’. Lyrics like this by ‘The Big O’ and Jennifer would be smitten, I mused. However, the very next song included the line ‘You take it, you break it, you’re hurting me’ (Brian May, ‘I’m Scared’). Hmm, messages like this could be confusing but the tape was like my emotions back then, all over the place. I couldn’t stop now and start again because, well, I just couldn’t be bothered and also there was a rumour going around that Sarah Wilkinson fancied me.
Do you know what they say? ‘Don’t put your eggs in one basket’, so I rushed to finish the compilation and added ‘Got My Mind Set On You’ by George Harrison, ‘Sweetest Feelin’ by Jackie Wilson and ‘Mr. Blue Sky’ by ELO before ending it with ‘Handle With Care’. Pondering where Jennifer and I would go on our first date I put the cassette – which was hot now due to all the forwarding, rewinding and editing it had endured – into my Walkman and listened back at the tracks in bed.
I nodded off to the soothing sounds of Jeff Lynne, Elvis and even Kylie Minogue (give me a break, I said I was 12!) but was woken up in the morning by a strange ringing in my ears. No, it wasn’t tinnitus, it was the grinding sound of my Walkman chewing up the tape! Suffice it to say I never got that date with Jennifer and in my mind, the Walkman is a gadget of the past that can well and truly stay there.
Tomorrow: ‘Some cool 90s gadgets I miss’