Gone and Largely Forgotten

Once upon a time empty glass milk bottles were left on the doorstep and magically replaced with full ones by the milk man – who also, depending on your supplier, delivered yogurt and fresh orange juice.

The rubbish men came on Tuesday to an accompaniment of barking dog and piercing whistles: they entered, grabbed the bins, emptied them in the rubbish van, then returned them: but the daily visitor who really riled the dogs was the postman. He arrived at around 1.30 with his daily load of so longed-for letters and there was no need to wait until the end of the day for personal news.

When I was ill, the doctor visited to between 10 and noon every day, or just popped in on the way home to check on me, and sometimes even the vet would stop off to dispense advice on an ailing animal.

Professionals do their jobs differently today – more to the point, many of the jobs which were commonplace in the 70s are now obsolete. I grew up in a small academic town which boasted two photographic studios: does anyone remember those places? Every matric dance, university ball or school function, they would be there.

Proofs were posted in the window so you could go in and order the pictures you wanted. Class photographs, passport or ID photos, family portraits, they were your first port of call. Alas, no longer.

My first job as a library was at Rhodes University Library: we wrote out classification cards and passed them on to typists who, typed a series of cards to be filed under author, title and subjects, which we then filed in old wooden filing cabinets.

With computer catalogues, the typists and the wooden cabinets have gone the way of the milkmen, the photographic studios, and the friendly free medical visits.

When I was a little girl living with my grandmother in East London we went to department stores like The London Drapery or Garlicks: in the mid 60s escalators were unknown in provincial centres and we used lifts. There was always a liftman, and a doorman, and an assistant to help you when you wanted to try on clothes – although, unless you were in a huge hurry –  these were usually taken home to be sampled “on appro”.

In the newspaper industry, where I worked from 1990, the changes have been astronomical: no doubt the same applies to most other industries but since they are less concerned with the business of communication, we are less informed about the redundancies affected by technologically economical cost-saving measures.

Not so long ago, any copying was taken to a central copying department who did all your photocopying; printing was done by a printer who slotted in the hot lead, and photographs were taken on film then developed, and printed in hard copy.

News reports were dictated to a secretary or typed out and given to an editor who did corrections before sending the copy to a proof reader. I will spare you the technical details, except to say modern technology has cut out several steps, and rendered many of the old careers redundant.

Consider your skills and the talents with which you were blessed:  chances are, they are no longer as marketable as they would have been 30 years ago  –  or even 20 years ago. You toddle along, doing the job as best you can with your skill set and the available tools.

Possibly you ask for extra training: training costs though, and if you can still perform up to scratch, the company is not going to pay for you to be ‘up-skilled’. And so it goes until you can be replaced and, suddenly, your skills, experience, general knowledge, and talent, count for nothing.

Don’t kid yourself; old white women, albeit genteel blue stockings, are as out dated as proficiency in classical languages and a knowledge of the Language of Flowers. And ol white men are no better off.



One thought on “Gone and Largely Forgotten

  1. No doubt about it, we are in the midst of a massive new revolution and our children will no longer have careers. Good read, Aubrey! PS: Used to love the layer of cream that came with delivered milk.


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