What is it about retirement that makes you get things mended? You don’t, well, it must be me then. This story begins 36 years ago when we lived in the USA. What a bright land of plenty it was for a 30 year old Brit and his family, all glitz and gloss (and I don’t mean this in a bad way)and cheap and they had things we didn’t have. Consumer durables type things. Dollars for Pounds which in those days meant less than half price, marvellous. We lived in a place called Rockville, Maryland, just outside of Washington DC and this place had malls (long before they came to blight our shores) we thought they were great. I was walking along the shop fronts and, I was going to say, the subject of this blog caught my eye. But actually that’s not accurate, this thing did not just catch my eye, it reached out from the shop window and grabbed my eyes and pulled them right out of their sockets. Too dramatic? Maybe, but not only was this thing a beast, it was head and shoulders visually above anything I had seen in a hi-fi context that far in my life. I bought it and we shipped it home at the end of our time in the US of A. I have included a picture (above) but that does not do it justice so for only the second time in the history of this blog, I have included a short clip (below) because you need to see the sucker in action to appreciate just how attention getting it was back then and still is.
And what is this thing? Well it’s a cassette tape deck. Unless you are of a similar age to me you may not remember cassettes, no? Shame on you, they came, for me, just between eight track (which I had in my Transam, ah, life was good in those days – see end for photo) between reel to reel tapes (no chic London Avengers type ‘pad’ would be without a large, gleaming, reel to reel machine usually on the wall i.e. vertically running rather than horizontal, very important in chic terms) and CDs and alongside LPs for the non-portable version of music. To say they’ve gone out of fashion would be an understatement. I mean if even CDs have gone out of fashion then what chance have cassettes got. I’m not saying they didn’t have their downside, they did have a tendency to self-destruct – getting inextricably ravelled up in the workings of the tape machine or snapping or stretching so the music went wobbly or wearing out but that was part of their charm I think. I say I think because to be honest, until this last couple of weeks, I haven’t played a cassette for nigh on twenty years. Part of the reason being that my old cassette tape deck (how I wish now I also had kept my old Grundig reel to reel machine – although to be fair I only had one bought tape for that –The Shadows greatest hits as I recall, the rest were of course recorded from a record player) hasn’t worked.
And here comes the link to retirement matters. They say the devil makes work for idle hands. How true. One of the things that seems to happen, to me, devil-wise, at least, is that in retirement I start to regard, with affection, some or all of the technology I’ve had for years but which doesn’t work, hasn’t for years. One of the musical items that gets only very occasional use and then in the attic club (the subject of another future blog), is my turntable or record player. Just recently I’ve returned to playing my LPs or albums or whatever they’re called now. What nostalgia, they say nostalgia isn’t what it used to be and let me tell you neither are my albums. They’re more scratched and jumpy than I remember them. An ex-boyfriend of number one daughter’s when I proudly played him the finest albums of my younger days described it as like listening to music by a crackling fire. Glad she dumped him.
So it started with the records and gradually I became more and more aware of the looming presence of the cassette deck and believe me it does loom. So I decided to try and get it repaired. I know a lot of retired people decide to engage in projects, DIY or repair and restoration type projects. But not me, I pay others to complete my projects. There’s a question for interviewees in the Guardian colour supplement (Starters, Q&A) – what would you bring back to life if you could – easy, my Pioneer, CT F900. That is the tape deck which I paid a chap I found locally to repair, cost me £56 and he was honest enough to admit when I collected it that it only worked sometimes. A bit like me I thought. He said he could have repaired it if he could have got the parts but after 36 years they weren’t available. The short-termism of some companies. Honestly, nothing is made to last these days.
So home came my partially-restored, fairly-willing, deck and I’m delighted to say it works most of the time at least if you press the start button often enough. It’s a whole new free collection of music and, as you know, there’s nothing an adopted Yorkshireman likes more than getting something for free, or for £56 anyway.
There was one further expense, isn’t there always? In transporting the tape deck to my repair man I dropped the transformer – remember it’s an American machine, which means it has a different voltage and so needs a transformer to work off of our electrics – and broke one of the pins, had it for 36 years and now when its about to be new again I break the bleedin’ transformer. So I have to spend a further £25 buying a new one from Maplins. I thought no doubt it will be neat and modern looking. Judge for yourself, the new one is on the left, although I suppose you could argue I got my money’s worth.
Anyway the morale of all this for the retired person? Well, as I have suggested, restoration projects are honourable activities for the retired person. But I’m not sure that paying somebody else to do it is quite so honourable, after all the idea is that in retirement a) you have time to do such things and b) being a bit short of cash as you’re living on your pension, it helps to save money and c) there’s that sense of achievement when your project is restored to life with the positive knock-on effect on your self-esteem which, as I’ve written before in these blogs, can take a bit of a knock when a person retires. Soo, what’s the logic of what I’m doing? I think it’s something to do with being in the house more and noticing all the stuff that doesn’t work and wanting /’ needing to put it right. It’s that getting life under control business that I’ve also written about before. Taking it by the scruff of the neck and saying now I’m retired I’m going to decide what works and what doesn’t although that doesn’t apply to me of course. I’m retired so I’m not working.
Photo of Transam outside our rented cabin in West Virginia in the snow