Whilst sorting out some of my Mothers things after moving her into a nursing home I came across an old tape recorder complete with two spools of tape. My mind immediately lurched backwards to my fifties childhood when my Father had purchased this item to record our voices for posterity.
Oh what fun, winter evenings were no longer boring as we gathered round the tiny microphone, singing songs, reciting poetry or in my Father’s case reading from our encyclopaedias or the bible. I vividly remember his rich Irish accent as he read and how, when he sang Irish folk songs with us children, his accent broadened with words from his homeland.
When the rest of the family joined us for Christmas the tape recorder was brought out again and my Father would secretly tape the parties when my Mum’s five brothers brought their families over to our house. They were such noisy events and I remember some of the recordings were ruined by the shouting and laughing of children and adults alike as we played our Christmas games.
On summer evenings we would hold the microphone to the open window and record the birdsong in our garden and sometimes when she had gotten up early, Mum would record the dawn chorus.
We would sit very quietly listening to our favourite radio programmes, holding the microphone close to the gold mesh speaker on our large Bakelite radio. Programmes like ‘The Clitheroe Kid or ‘The Navy Lark’ were always punctuated with my brother’s and my stifled giggles in the background. Then, when I was older, there was ‘Pick of the Pops’ with Alan Freeman, I always managed to keep quiet whilst taping that, and afterwards my friends and I would dance around the house to our favourite songs.
All these things would still be there on those spools of tape, I could only hope that the tape recorder would still be working.
But first, the plug. At the end of the lead was a round pin plug; at least it had three pins although the flex had only two wires. Thankfully I wired the replacement plug correctly and switched the machine on. I then put one of the spools of tape on the machine and threaded the end of the tape to the empty spool on the other side. I cleaned the tape heads with a cotton bud, crossed my fingers and switched the machine to the ‘play’ position.
I seemed to be waiting forever as the clear end tape ran through the machine followed by the brown recording tape, and all the time the machine just made a loud humming noise. I really thought the words on the tape were lost.
Then suddenly, although the humming continued, I could hear my Dad singing! The tears sprang to my eyes as the years fell away and I was a child again, six years old and singing ‘Katy Daly’ with him, and later were the party games and the voices of my uncles, aunties and cousins, all young again, lovely carefree times. The birdsong and favourite radio programmes of that time, they were all there as I painstakingly went through the tapes – snatches of conversations between Dad and his brother Andy, when he visited from Ireland. My Mum chatting away and our Siamese cat, Simba, howling dramatically in the background.
Voices of people long gone from my life, my father died when I was 19 years old. He was not there to give me away as I married and he never met my two wonderful children. All of my uncles except for one have died; even some of the cousins have left this world. I stood, an emotional 52 year old, listening to them all – it was like a miracle! A world away from today where all sound and movement is recorded in one place – onto a DVD!
I will find a company who can get these voices onto a compact disc and bring the past to the present without the humming noise. Where my children can hear their Grandfather laugh, joke and sing together with his daughter, their mother. Hopefully some young entrepreneur has already designed the means to find the voices on these tapes and load them onto CD.