Nostalgic for the 1980s? Think again - here are the things we didn't have back then
Pricewatch: When Houghton put the ball in the English net avocados were not part of our world
A vintage video game. The gaming world has travelled some distance since the 1980s
It is as plain as the Ronnie Drew beards on their young faces, the milk bottles doubling as jugs on the tables of their achingly hip coffee shops, the Rom runners on their feet, and their delight in Stranger Things that the young people of Ireland hold a torch for times past.
Pricewatch has as much time for nostalgia as the next occasionally light-hearted consumer-focused page found in a serious newspaper, but we feel duty-bound to explain to the millennials of our world that while Dublin may well have been great in 88 (you can ask your parents what that means), the 1980s were not all ironic T-shirts and coolness. Indeed, many things that the young consumes of today take for granted either did not exist or only existed in the world’s of the super- rich living behind big gates in leafy south Dublin suburbs.
Don’t believe us? Here are just some of the things we didn’t have back when Ray Houghton put the ball in the English net.
Online publications: It was 22 years ago today that Pricewatch joined The Irish Times. We weren’t Pricewatch back then, though. And it wasn’t really The Irish Times either. In fact what we joined was an offshoot company that went under the name Itronics. Itronics published something called The Irish Times on the Web (so new was the online world that we had to tell people reading our content on the web that we were actually on the web).
On the day we started work we had no idea what the web was or what it could do. We only got the job after reading a magazine called DotNet on the bus on the way up to Dublin. By using all the buzzwords we’d come across in the magazine in our interview we blagged our way in the door. Turns out the people interviewing us had no idea what the web was or what it could do either, and had read the same edition of the same magazine and were using the same buzzwords as we were.
On February 12th, 1996, The Irish Times (on the Web) published around 18 stories – a process which took six hours. There were no pictures, there was no audio, no video and hardly any audience. But look at us now!
Avocados: Now, obviously avocados did exist in the 1980s, but they were not part of our world, and anyone walking into a greasy spoon asking for mushy avocados smeared onto some class of fancy toast would have been met with a mystified stare and possible mild violence.
Coffee: Again, coffee has been with us for a long, long time, but not like it is today. We all take it for granted, but the very idea of buying a coffee in a cafe and then leaving the place with it in your hand was completely alien to Irish people in the 1980s. Takeaway coffee did not really exist until well into the 1990s. Nor did the varieties. Today we are all about the flat whites and half-caffs and skinny cappuccinos and fancy Nespresso machines that will give us high-class barista-style coffee in our homes with the press of a button. Back in the day the choices were Nescafe or Mawell House, and – while we did not know it at the time – both choices were manky.
The internet: That has had quite the impact on all our worlds over the last 30 years or so.
Couscous: We had potatoes. And – at a pinch – we had rice. There was no such thing as couscous or quinoa or sweet potatoes.
Pasta: Young Pricewatch used to read a football magazine by the name of Shoot. We still remember Trevor Francis as the cover star after he became the first player in the world to command a transfer fee of £1 million – or the amount of money a top-class player earns in a single week these days. There was a small section of the magazine that used to quiz players about various elements of their private lives, including their favourite television programmes and favourite films and the like. Invariably, when they were asked for their favourite meal they would answer spaghetti bolognese. In a world where spaghetti could only be found in tins, it seemed impossibly exotic. The only place dried pasta could be found in Galway was in the high-end food retailer McCambridges.
Delivered food: If the likes of Deliveroo and Just Eat continue to grow at the pace they have been in recent years, it won’t be long before you will be able to get a 13-course tasting menu from Chapter One delivered to your front door while you sit on the couch watching Ireland’s Got Talent. Pricewatch can still remember fondly the day Supermacs rolled out its first pizza delivery service in the west of Ireland in the early 1990s. It made headlines in the local newspapers. Even Domino’s only started delivering pizza here little more than 25 years ago.
Condoms: It is hard to believe it now, but it was not until the mid-1980s that condoms could be legally bought in Ireland without getting a nod from a doctor, and for quite some time after legalisation the sale of such things was shrouded in some shame in some quarters. Even in supposedly liberal bastions of learning like University College Galway, condoms were controversial, and Pricewatch can recall a holy fuss after the students’ union there bought machines to dispense them. The plan was to put them in both the men’s and women’s toilets, but protests meant a single machine ended up instead at the end of a very long and public corridor.
Bagels: There are more than 40 types of bagel selling in Pricewatch’s local supermarket today. In the 1980s, unless you happened to live near the Bretzel Bakery in Dublin 8, the bready treat with the hole in the centre was all but impossible to find.
Television: Oh, we had television back then, we weren’t that bad. But it came in a form that is all but completely unrecognisable today. Every now and then we like to scare our children with tales from the olden days. The conversation frequently turns to television, and stories of black and while boxes and just one channel and programming that did not start until 4pm in the winter and 5pm in summer. Not long ago the Pricewatch Progeny looked on in horror as we explained that there was a time when if you wanted to change the channel you had to get off the couch, walk up to the television and hit a button. There was, we said, as they recoiled, NO REMOTE CONTROL. “But Dad,” came the response, “how did you pause the cartoons when you wanted to go to the loo?”
Pausing television: It is easy to forget how handy it is, isn’t it.
Streams: They only streams we had back in the day were wet and – unless you lived somewhere pretty in the country – seen flowing through the building sites we were allowed play in without anything as ridiculous as parental supervision. The notion of streaming television and streaming music and on-demand children’s channels was so fantastical that such notions never even made it onto the pages of the comics we read or into our living rooms via Tomorrow’s World.
Phones: Keen readers of this page in recent weeks will have seem the name Eir crop up again and again and again as people have lined up to complain about its poor levels of customer service. A time traveller from the 1980s would marvel at how demanding we have all become given that they would have just come from a world where waiting months for the Posts & Telegraphs or Telecom Éireann to install a land line was commonplace, as were queues outside payphones. Can you even remember the last time you used a pay payphone or even saw someone else using one? Now we all have smartphones on which we can read our emails, post hilarious memes on social media and keep tabs on exactly what everyone who we have ever know is doing in real time. Sometimes we even use our phones to talk to other people.
Online banks and a cashless world: Our relationship with banks and cash was very different 30 years ago. Bank managers were pillars of society, and people had no choice but to go into branches to get access to their cash. No one has to go a bank nowadays, and it is quite possible to get from the start of the week to the end without even looking at old-school money.
Photographs: Some older readers may recall the anticipation of sending a roll of film off to be developed, and the inevitable disappointed when the pictures came back all dark and blurry and completely useless.
Microwaves: When they came into our world they came with such promise. People were going to cook their Sunday roasts in the things in a fraction of the time that it would otherwise take. They never delivered on their promise, but they are still pretty handy when it comes to reheating soup.
Kale: Actually there was kale, but it not the kale we see today. Kale was a poor person’s food and found in colcannon. It was not in any way super or found in smoothies. In fact there was no such thing as either super-foods or smoothies.
Bagless or cordless vacuum cleaners: The 1980s were simpler times for domestic products, and vacuum cleaners – or Hoovers as we called them – were not conversation starters. They came with unwieldy cords and disgusting bags, and were pretty useless at sucking up dirt. Then James Dyson came along, and made vacuum cleaners cool.
Sushi: Last week a sushi restaurant opened in Dublin’s Stoneybatter. They are popping up all over the place, and with good reason – sushi is both exceptionally tasty and exceptionally good for you, and it is not horrendously expensive. But if you had said to the boozers in Walsh’s pub – which is next door to Stoneybatter’s sushi restaurant – that one day their neighbour would be a restaurant selling raw fish, we can’t imagine there would have been many takers.
Eating in restaurants: Restaurant culture came to Ireland slowly. In the 1980s going out for a meal was something of a novelty for many people – an event to mark a special occasion like an anniversary or a christening or a First Communion. Nowadays you find people eating in restaurants on random days of the week just because it is a nice thing to do, and not because they have been saving up for months or have some major life event to celebrate. It’s just mad.
Craft beer: In the early part of the 1980s there was Guinness, Harp and Smithwicks – and, occasionally, cans of Tennants which came with “sexy ladies” in states of undress posing on the sides. As the decade progressed exotic beers like Heineken and Carlsberg appeared, and every now and then you might come across a pub selling Budweiser.
Online news: Within seconds of almost anything happening anywhere in the world, you can read all about it.
Parmesan cheese: While fresh hunks of Parmesan cheese can be found in every supermarket, there was time when it only came in little tubs. It was not a good time.
Computer games: Over Christmas an xBox One games console arrived in the Pricewatch house. The last time we owned a games console all it could play was Pong. The gaming world has travelled some distance in the intervening period, and to say we were completely lost when trying to navigate the brave new world would be something of an understatement.
Cheap flights: In the mid-1980s the cost of an hour-long flight from Dublin to London topped £200, which, allowing for inflation, is almost €450 today. A 15-hour bus journey, on the other hand, cost £40 or €80 in today’s money. Today a canny flier can frequently get to London for less than a tenner. Back then only a handful of airlines took off from Dublin Airport each week, flying to around 30 destinations within the EU. Last year 127 different routes formed part of the regular EU-bound flights leaving the airport.
Ready meals: The ready meals of the 1980s were uniformly vile. Today some such things are still vile, but the likes of Avoca and Marks & Spencer and Fallon & Byrne have made that world a whole lot more pleasant.
High Street shops: Is it a good thing that the main streets of any large Irish town are virtually indistinguishable from the main streets of any large town in the UK with the presence of Next and Boots and River Island and H&M and Zara and TK Maxx and all the rest? That is debatable, but what is not is that Irish consumers today have a whole lot more choice in how they spend their money then they ever had back in the 1980s.