Recently, I’ve been reading the lovely book, A 1950’s Housewife by Sheila Hardy (learn more about it in my Current Reading post here). It’s a nifty little book with a lot of history.
If you can’t tell already, I loooove vintage things, this shows in the way I dress, my personal overall aesthetic and to an extent my values. With an emphasis on the 50s, which is what some would call the ‘golden age’ of families. The nuclear family era. It is in some ways and in other ways, not. No era is perfect and being against absolutism that I am, everything has exceptions and areas for criticism.
I picked up this book since I wanted to know more about the historical context about an era that I love. I realised recently that most of what I know about the 50s are usually just around the family values and the fashion! Not much about the historical details and my knowledge of their everyday life was shallow.
A lot of what most people see from the 50s are usually shows and colourful advertisements- come to think of it, these are not usually very realistic because the media usually isn’t! They are based largely on reality but not entirely realistic. So it is my responsibility, as someone who proclaims to love the era so much, to learn about its proper historical context and be truly informed.
So then, I devoured this book as it educated me on everything from the materials available to young women in the 50s due to rationing, how both the rich and poor had weddings, all the way down to their schedules as married couples and families.
One thing that really caught my interest is a section about Leisure and what many British families with a homemaker and breadwinner did during their leisurely time on weeknights and weekends. Specifically weekdays. With a wife at home, the housework and all the cooking was basically taken care of by the end of the work day, the moment the husband comes home. They just have to eat and clean up the table, then the rest of the evening was theirs. They had hours of leisure time after dinner (usually around 3-4), unlike most married people nowadays who squeeze time around them both working outside of the home.
So what did they do during this time?
Contrary to popular belief, in the 50s, only the very few privileged had TV sets and usually those were the types with the insanely small screens that were a bit of an eyesore to watch with unless you sat reaaaaaally close. It wasn’t as relaxing and easy as it is now. So of course, our 1950s married couple did not have a TV to eat up their attention to pass the time.
They just had a radio and comfy couches where they sat and basically faced each other. Enjoying their time completely in each other’s presence.
Now I don’t want to be that annoying person who glamourises one thing and spits on another (damn you modern life, grrr!), not if I can help it! Though if you really think about it, nowadays we have so many devices that are very useful yet when it comes to spending quality time, these screens usually just eat up our attention and time when we could be giving more attention to our loved ones, specifically during assigned quality/leisure time. We’re almost drunk with it and we aren’t fully in the moment.
Back then, when there were nearly no devices to get ‘drunk’ on (you read a newspaper til it finished or you were bored or you read a book), people had to actually focus on each other to enjoy the company. You had to talk and do something with the time rather than just filling it with background noise or watching something continuously.
According to the book, the only device that really could have done that was the radio. Couples would listen to news and radio drama, discuss it, while the wife usually worked on some sort of needlework or craft work that still enabled her to be attentive to her husband and have meaningful conversations while her hands were busy. They could dance when the music came on, too. Or they could just talk while the music quietly played on in the background.
The main thing was, aside from radio drama, during these leisure times couples had nothing that would consume all their attention and they had to focus the bulk of their attention on each other all of this time. Which definitely can lead to good quality time, I believe.
So I pitched this idea to my SO. Let’s have some good quality time in the evening after dinner, no phones and no screens in general, unless it was used as a radio.
Use it as a radio, he did! That following week, he set up a 1940s radio horror drama on Spotify that we listened to together in the dim lamplight of the living room with hot cups of tea while I did some crochet. We looked at each other in wonder and raised our eyebrows at tense moments and afterwards, we had a good discussion about how great the acting was in the radio dramas for that time and the funny stereotypes from old time stories.
I can’t wait to do more of it..
…more of this good quality time indeed, the old-fashioned way!