Monthly Archives: October 2015

Exams of ‘44

Marjon is known mostly for the training and educating teachers, but it is a little known fact that it used to offer different kind of courses and skill training. In our collection there is a set of examination papers that next to English, French, Mathematics, Science and other veritable subjects, included Cookery, Needlework and Home Economy. Surprisingly, I found it quite a fascinating read as the way the questions are oriented are reflecting the times and the social mores. Some questions were quite specific and highlighted some interesting social details. Imagine, it is the year 1944 and you’re just about to undertake your exam in Practical Cookery. The question reads:
‘Cook dishes to illustrate how, with skill, a cook can make attractive dishes with uninteresting food using (i) cheap meat (ii)stale bread (iii) bruised fruit.’
Well, it is the wartime after all, you can’t get whatever you want, you have to work with whatever you have. Maybe there is a local butcher that sells off-cuts at a discounted rate. Maybe you have a victory garden, and with some luck, an apple tree that drops its small fruit in autumn. And I can imagine that without preservatives the bread would go stale the moment you looked away. This is a very different way of cooking, designed to reflect the needs of the times, not to imitate an ideal. Imagine a cookbook that starts not with ‘you will need…’ but with ‘raid your fridge for anything that…’
Some questions are weirdly specific and my writers mind just can’t resist making up a story:
‘You and your girl friend want to entertain two men on leave from the Army to a dinner which will show your prowess as cooks and will not use your meat ration. Plan and cook meal and make a cake suitable for the same party.’
Well, men are scarce with war and all and husbands don’t exactly drop from trees. What are girls to do? I know, lets invite two soldiers (let’s hope they are officers!) The shortest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, so dinner it is! We’ll even use our sugar rations to sweeten the deal and make a cake for dessert. But not the meat rations, those we’ll use to celebrate our success:-).
And this one is from Home Economics, and here is where I draw the line:
‘Supposing you share a bed-sitting room with a friend, and have no attendance except for meals, carry out typical work you could do in the room when you had a free morning.’
Hah, no. When I have free morning there is no way in the world I would waste it for housework. This one I would fail. Sorry Home Economics, I cannot be trained to care as much.
I wonder how many of those exams I would pass? I can do ‘commando cooking’ and simple household tasks, but my needlework is ‘stitch it together and worry later’. And how do you stand with the everyday skills?

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Filed under long time ago

Reading the Archives

readingarchivesPoetry can cross boundaries of many disciplines. Sometimes the effect of this can be terrible (*cough* Fugitive Pieces *cough*), but sometimes it is nothing short of awesome. I had a pleasure to witness such a crossing when the archives had a group of poets visiting on the 6th of October. The group of poets, led by Paul Tobin, came over to share their poems. The presentation of the poems was titled ‘Reading the Archives’ and the poems were drawing the inspiration from the many materials that the archive has to offer. The presentation, or rather the performance because the readings by the poets themselves were of a high quality, was a delight. What I witnessed was the history being transformed from science to art, from dry fact to juicy narrative. I’ve heard stories created from one look, one gesture of a person long dead, but captured in a sepia-toned picture. I watched how a sentence taken out of a block of text could be turned a meaningful poem, sometimes funny, sometimes thoughtful or sad. I saw a cheap piece of old journalism turning into a commentary on inequality. It was amazing.
I wish that more of the Creative Writing students turned up. They could learn a lot from Paul Tobin and his group as they are just so damn good.

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Filed under guests, people, poetry, special occasions

Stone Age Computing(or very nearly so)

There isn’t a better place to observe how the time flies than the archives. And the time flies especially fast for the computing history. For some reason we have some computing-related objects that for now can be labelled as severely outdated, but one day…

Four booklets for one laptop- all I got was two cd's and a printout:-)

Four booklets for one laptop- all I got was two cd’s and a printout:-)

Among the things we have is a set of instruction booklets for a Toshiba laptop. We used to have a scheme that would give each and every student enrolled a laptop. I was the last class to benefit from this scheme and my laptop didn’t come with as much paper instructions. Not to mention that apparently the system that these laptops came with was Windows 95- dating the set more or less 25 years ago, an eon in the computing history.
And that’s nothing. We have instructions and certificates for Windows for Workgroups, which is so old it actually comes with a paper registration cards. That’s right, no internet for most computers in 1992. This stuff would come on a series of diskettes(no cd-roms then

A diskette- soon to be put alongside Edison cylinders.

A diskette- soon to be put alongside Edison cylinders.

either) and behold: a sheet of printed labels that you’d have to put on them yourself.
Speaking of diskettes, we also have a companion diskette for Toshiba, still in an unsealed envelope- I can’t believe there are humans alive right now who have never seen one. I remember the time when buying a new box of diskettes was like buying a box of After Eight’s- open the seal on the box and each diskette came with a plastic envelope of its own.
Right now, these things are a bit(pun intended:)) of nerdy nostalgia. But one thing I know about nostalgia is that it can graduate to history when you have your back turned.

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Filed under artefacts, long time ago, technology