Tags: primitive system

Jonathon Green writes about ancient technology they had when he was a boy. Ah yes, my little ones, we used to have these brick-shaped “cassette recorders” into which you’d put tape cassettes, which were easier to use and more portable than reel to reel (should I add a tag for “archaeology”?) but nevertheless were dreadful little cursed demons which would jam, break, tangle and inevitably lose their audio quality as the magnetic tape deteriorated – or they’d stretch the tape so they sounded like the dying HAL 9000, a character from a story also about ancient technology.

Panasonic cassette player, 1970s

My first cassette recorder was just like this. I got mine when our family stopped over in Hong Kong on the way to the UK. (My Dad had a job close to Oxford, and the family relocated to a little village called Ewelme for six months.) It was a primitive system. There was an attachable, not built-in, mic which we used to record “radio programs”. My brother R, whose birthday it is today, was eleven at the time. I was thirteen, or “old enough to know better”, as you’ll be muttering darkly when you’ve finished reading this story.

Ewelme was the cute English village from central casting to a ridiculous degree. Think Midsomer Murders (in fact, it’s been used as a location for filming MM on occasion.) We had fair-dinkum stone cottages, narrow hedged lanes, streams full of watercress and a lytel church going back to Chaucer’s time. My stepmother, being the bright and sociable person that she is, started enthusiastically forming friendships with people nearby.

One rainy weekend, my brother came up with a wicked idea for the tape recorder. He put a blank cassette in the machine, fast forwarded it to about ten minutes in, then he shrieked and howled and moaned for a minute or two like a soul suffering the tortures of the damned. So, you had ten minutes or so of silence and then all hell broke loose.

That morning, mum had invited one of the nice local ladies over for tea. R hid the tape recorder behind the sofa, plugged in with the tape rewound to the beginning. When he heard our unsuspecting visitor coming in to sit down, he pressed Play and we scarpered upstairs to await the ensuing consternation and LULZ.

We were horrible children. I apologise to my parents, to that poor woman, to everyone, really. Happy 50th Birthday, R.