Texas Instruments filed for a patent for "miniaturised electronic circuits" in February 1959. Now read on...
The first problem is to do with damsons. A frozen block of them that I would love to defrost for my pudding. It seems cosily 1950s to knock up a warming damson crumble on this autumn evening and settle down in front of some wholesome repeats on the TV. But I am not allowed to use my microwave (the domestic version was introduced in 1966). Or my TV. At least not in colour (BBC2, 1967), anyway.
I call Dixons, and ask if I can buy a black-and-white television. The man who answers seems perplexed. "Eeeey, brrrrr," he says. "Just black and white? I think they are still available, but not in Dixons. Caravanners and people who are into boating, they sometimes use them." Dare I ask why? "Well, they operate from a 12V output or they are battery operated, so they can take them along and they don't use a lot of power. Can I ask why on earth you would want one?"
Eventually, I cheat and turn down the colour on my TV. It would be nice to watch something old-fashioned like Supernanny or The 100 Best Cereal Boxes ... Ever!, but Channel 4 did not exist until 1981. I end the day with Huw Edwards looking distinctly peaky, as I glumly scrape ice shards of damson purée out of a Tupperware (1945, phew!) box. It is not a good start.
Sunday begins more optimistically. I am looking forward to a week without e-mail (1971), without the capricious Microsoft Word (1983) and without being woken up at 1am by a so-called friend who accidentally dials my mobile (1973) while completely out of his face on alcopops. I am looking forward to a week without alcopops, too, but then I am told about something called Cherry Bs (1950s). Apparently not everything has changed.
But somehow I need to get to work. I investigate transport options - which is not easy with no internet (World Wide Web, 1989) connection. How did they ever manage to do journalism without it? I have been told that they worked in actual cuttings libraries, full of yellowing papers and whiskery old men, but I am sure that must be some kind of joke. I make some calls. My phone doesn't make that lovely crrrk-whirr sound as the dial returns to zero, but it is soothing to remember that it once did.
I am allowed to use trains, I discover. Steam or diesel trains, that is. I could use a bicycle, but not with my flashing LED (1962) rear light, and I am still too young to die. Cars are problematic. They were invented long before 1959, but modern cars apparently contain microchips by the billion. I don't believe my car contains microchips by the billion. It doesn't even contain any heating. I once drove to Derbyshire in it on Christmas Day, and by the time I arrived my frozen fingers had to be prised from the steering wheel. I don't want to try that again.
Then I discover something wonderful. The Docklands Light Railway, or DLR, (1987), a funfair contraption that pootles though east London and past The Independent's offices, was invented far too late for me. I cannot go to work. I will stay at home and drink Cherry Bs instead.
I have now discovered the problem with 1959. It is very boring. It is no wonder they invented daytime TV (1980s). It would be fitting to watch a fine old movie on video (Betamax, 1976) or DVD (1995), but of course those machines are forbidden. I consider visiting a museum, but my area is served by trendy modern bendy buses (introduced to London 2002), so I am somewhat confined to the house. I try to read Lord of the Rings (1954 and 1955) but I am restless. I feel like I should be doing something, but there is absolutely nothing to do.
I am allowed to use my washing machine - sort of. Not everyone had a washing machine by 1959 and I have been told frightening stories about mangles and pulley systems, which had to be filled by a hose from the sink. But if I am banned from TV, I am at least going to watch my washer. I discover that the hypnotic effect of clothes going round is a match for C4, but it is only then that I realise what I am wearing. My wardrobe is not a shrine to man-made fibres but the only bones in my underwear are definitely my own. I consider temporarily purging my wardrobe of Lycra (1959, but not in Bridlington), but that is a research project too far.
By rights, of course, a 1950s woman of my age would have 2.4 children to keep her occupied and would be walking around in curlers by now, cooking her husband's tea. I pick some tomatoes from the garden (surely they had tomatoes) but am not sure that pasta had made it to south London by the 1950s and I know that olive oil was only available from pharmacies, so I cook them with some beef mince. This would explain the need for Mrs Beeton.
Is BBC 7 (the digital radio station, 2002) considered cheating? Because I desperately need something to cheer me up, and Hancock's Half Hour (1954) is being repeated ad infinitum on this strangely retro channel. I am washing up. And it is taking a long time. Last night, I cooked myself steak and kidney pie the 1950s way. "When I was little we had no fridges or freezers," says my mum. "Meat was bought on the day and kept in a meat-safe in the larder. It was a small wooden box on legs with a marble shelf and a wire-mesh front to keep the flies out. We didn't have takeaway curries in the 1950s. I seem to remember we ate a lot of offal."
It takes a long time to find a butcher in modern London. Having tracked down my kidneys I realise that my brand new, non-stick pans are useless to me. Teflon was first introduced in Britain in 1946, but far too expensive for a girl of my means in 1959. Hence the washing up. Do they still sell Vim, I wonder?
The wireless news is about a Chinese space shuttle experiencing what is being called a "wobble", and I go away to check my encyclopaedia. On 13 October, 1959, the USA launched the Explorer VII space probe - part of the programme that sent back the first pictures of the earth from space. And they couldn't even invent a decent washing up liquid.
Tony Hancock is going on about a TV commercial for Cornflakes. Now why didn't I think of that? As I scrub, I decide to stick to breakfast cereals in future.
Something terrible has happened. I have run out of money. I woke up this morning to my cartoonishly loud tick-tock alarm clock. I am sure that John Humphrys was invented long before the 1950s but my digital radio alarm (early 1960s) has been hidden in a drawer. Having switched off my central heating (ancient Greece; but only for the incredibly posh in 1959) I am not inclined to have a bath, and I am bored out of my skull. I would like to take a train to the nearest movie theatre to catch a matinee of Ben Hur (1959) but then I realise I have no cash. And credit cards didn't come to Britain until 1967. And it is early closing. I am in trouble.
I call my mum. "You sewed and knitted clothes for your dolls and played with them for hours," she says, brightly. I go back to bed.
I have had enough of this. It is time to be proactive. I need to know what my life would really have been like in the Old Days, so I take a Tube (1863, so there) to Fleet Street and start to investigate.
There are no copy boys in Fleet Street now. Instead, there are two Pret a Mangers (1986), two Starbucks (US, 1971; UK, 1998), a McDonald's (Woolwich, 1974) and a French boulangerie. "It's mostly barristers here now," says the man behind the bar in El Vino's, where I write down my notes in a spiral-bound notebook with a view to typing them up later. I sit down beside an ancient telephone, attached to which are cables and plugs like an old-fashioned telephone exchange. I am attempting the 1950s version of e-mailing in my story.
I am waiting to buy an old-fashioned drink when a sign at the bar catches my eye. "Gentlemen," it requests. "Please be courteous about where you blow your cigarette smoke." In 1959, I realise, there were no jobs in journalism for nice girls like me. In 1959 there was no Independent (1986). In 1959 I would not have been set this ridiculous assignment. I decide to call it a day, and snap open my mobile phone.
Within five minutes I am back in 2005. I have called my friends and they are sending a round- robin e-mail as I speak. One orders up a Thai lemongrass curry to be delivered and the other summons a cache of DVDs over the internet. A bottle of Australian wine is on its way. I am to rush to them on the first DLR train. Bliss.
Friday: post script
I think I have done a good job. My editor will be proud. I have lived in a pre-microchip world for one week, with only a few lapses and barely any cheating. I hand him my copy, neatly typed up and with hardly a smudge of Tippex.
"And what do you expect me to do with this?" he asks, incredulous. Crestfallen, I go back to my desk and file it into his computer queue.Reuse content