Objects of desire

L.V. Martin & Son sell electronic goods and household appliances.  They’ve been around for quite a while.  Their slogan used to be “It’s the Putting Right that Counts”.  There are two things that show that this company is from a different era.  Firstly, the “& Son” has a really old-fashioned flavour hinting at either a classic comedy show of British miserable-ism called Steptoe and Son, or a time when sons replaced fathers in the family business instead of trying to explain what I.T. is to their dads and buggering off to London.

The second thing that dates L.V. Martin is their slogan.  I always used to mock this slogan when Alan or his son Neil used to come on the telly (“It’s the not breaking in the first place that counts”), but the very idea that a company selling electronic goods would actually fix something has completely gone out the window.  Take a product back to a shop now and they either tell you (a) “it’ll cost you $50.00 for us to even bother having a look”, or (b) “it’s cheaper to get a new one”.  If you’re covered by a guarantee then they just chuck your one out and give you another.  Fix it?  What the hell would be the point of that?  Don’t you know that electronic appliances grow on the electrical appliances tree?

The early 80s really sees the rise of small, relatively cheap gizmos that every boy and girl wanted.  Here are three (from an L.V. Martin  advert in the Listener, 9-15 January 1982) that I coveted.

First Object of Desire

Actually this not quite what I wanted.  What I wanted was a calculator that played a different game.  In this game numbers scrolled across from the left, and you destroyed them by matching the lead number and hitting the “destroy” button (I can’t remember what the button was actually called, but let’s run with destroy).  I think that you could only destroy one number at a time unless it was an 8 (?) and then it wiped out the whole line.  Naturally the numbers began to race faster and faster towards the right hand side of the screen as time went on, and if they got there you lost.  I invested a lot of thumb time in this game.  It had a relentless simplicity, and very few competitors in the field of cheap video games.  Clearly having a game on a calculator was a big selling point because in this ad information about the game takes up most of the copy.  At the bottom of the ad we learn fascinating facts like that the calculator can actually do maths, and that it can be yours for $38.95.  In the past 30 years many things have gone up in price, but electronic goods have certainly moved the other way.  However, I fear that calculator businesses may have gone the way of watchmakers with the rise of the cell phone.  Probably they still make senior maths students buy scientific calculators, but I can’t imagine that the basic calculator moves many units any more.

After a quick trawl through the internet I found my old Casio.  It was a Casio Musical Games Calculator MG 880.  Wow, I had totally forgotten that it also let you play  “music” and programmed melodies.  Looking at this picture now I find myself curiously moved.  I spent so many hours flogging this thing (and I never, ever figured out how to use the MR, M- and M+ buttons).  It lasted an incredibly long time.  When I was at secondary school I had to get a scientific calculator and I managed to crack the screen on about three models even though it came with a plastic case.  Calculators were not the friend of a teenage boy’s bag.  In fact, a teenage boy’s bag must be one of the most powerful forces of destruction known to man.  Whatever law of physics applies in there scientists should study it, because it can bend steel rulers, crack open calculators and spit out mangled tin lunch boxes like nobody’s business.

Second Object of Desire

Sanyo tries to compete with Sony’s Walkman with its catchily named Portable Stereo Player with Headphones.  I love the way they try to sell it as a product for active people.  Look!  You can wear it when you’re biking, when you’re running, skiing, wrestling bears, kayaking the amazon!  How about saying you can wear it in your room, on your bed, daydreaming about being a rock star, and blocking out your annoying parents?  I reckon it got a lot more wear that way than from skiers.

Two features intrigue me.  Firstly, the talk line.  Sony had this feature too on its early models.  I guess it was early days in the field and the designers didn’t realise that people wearing these things in public specifically didn’t want to talk to other people.  Also, they foolishly assumed that social interaction takes precedence over technology.  Everyone knows that if you’re listening to your favourite song, whoever it is can just frigging wait until it’s over (same goes for answering your cellphone in the middle of a conversation with the person who is actually sitting in front of you).

Pitch control?  Allows you to adjust the speed of the music?  Now I’m guessing this didn’t send a signal to the band to change the tempo, so it must have turned songs into slurred, drunken death throes, or high-pitched Alvin and the Chipmunks’ squeals.  Why?  Why would you want this function?

$180?  Wow.

No wonder I spent my time listening to the radio.


Third and Fourth Objects of Desire

Nice use of an oxymoron in the clock radio ad: “stylish simulated woodgrain”.  Good one. Check out the features feature: a snooze button. Impressive. There’s no point in laughing; if you were alive in the 80s you wanted one.  Who wouldn’t?  This is modernity at it’s best; saving humanity time with labour-saving devices.  This device saves you five seconds of fumbling around in the dark in the middle of the night to turn on you bed side lamp and read your watch, and it’s digital.

Like the digital watch.  The early 80s were a tough time for grandfathers who bought their grandsons watches.  “Look, it tells the date and the time, and you only have to wind it once a day.”  “Gee, thanks Granddad.”  This was probably a boy thing, but digital watches had a strange attraction and the more pointless features the better.  It wasn’t about being small with a digital watch it was about having a watch face crammed with as many buttons as possible.  On the wrist of the smug nine-year old boy a digital watch with masses of buttons seemed to indicate to his shamefaced analogue friends that he possessed almost bionic powers.  Yes, with those buttons he could do almost anything.  Perhaps fire a laser.  Perhaps see though walls.  Perhaps simultanously tell the time in five countries while adding two and two and keeping a stop watch on how long it took to burp the alphabet.


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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō

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