My good friend Scott Pack has been by here before, to talk about his short-story-reading project. I’m delighted to welcome him back here today with his shiny new book, ’21st Century Dodos’, to answer some questions.
So, Scott, what was your motivation for writing ’21st Century Dodos’?
It was something that I had been pondering for some time – a tribute, of sorts, to the many inanimate objects that are in danger of becoming extinct – but I was finally kicked into action by an event that happened at my local charity shop. I was dropping off a bag of old VHS tapes, some movies the kids had grown out of, and the lovely old lady behind the counter turned them down on the grounds that no one wanted them any more. I realised then that the time was right.
And how on earth do you go about writing a book about things that people have pretty much forgotten about until they read your book?
Well, I’ve been compiling the list for many years, jotting down things as and when they occurred to me, so I had a pretty hefty collection of possible entries. Also, if I mentioned the idea to anyone in passing they always had suggestions – “you have to include Texan bars/fizzy pop deliveries/C&A” – which added a heap more. And when I put a call out on my blog I was inundated with ideas, many of which have also gone in to the final book.
The thing I discovered is that while lots of these Dodos will have been forgotten by lots of people, and stumbling across things your mind had erased is one of the pleasures of the book (I hope), all of them are remembered by someone.
Did you remember/discover any additional dodos after the book went to print?
Loads. Enough for a second volume (should this one actually sell!) Combovers, postage stamps that you lick, the Waterstone’s 3 for 2. I also thought I’d written an entry on how television used to close down in the middle of the afternoon but when it came to deadline day I realised it wasn’t there. No idea where that went.
What are we using/doing now that you predict will become a 22nd century dodo?
An excellent question, and one I can answer safe in the knowledge that no one reading this will be alive by then to check if I am right or not. If you look back 100 years and think about what everyday objects, experiences and traditions from then are now defunct, I am sure it would be a huge list covering pretty much everything. So I wouldn’t be surprised if 90% of the stuff we use or know today has gone or is on the way out in another 100 years time. I hope Marmite is gone. I suspect almost all the electronic devices we use will have advanced so far that they are unrecognisable. A whole host of high street names. Perhaps even high streets themselves? Here’s a controversial one: the Internet.
And… what’s your favourite dodo?
There are 134 entries in the book, and I love them all equally. Obviously. But here is one I am quite fond of.
For decades, the holy trinity of pavement litter was cigarette butts, blackened wads of chewing gum and drink can ring pulls. Since 1989 these have been reduced to a double act only.
Younger readers, by which I mean anyone under the age of about 30 (most of whom won’t be reading this book anyway), may be unaware that the ring pulls on beverage cans – Coke, Fanta, whatever – used to come right off the can.
That’s right, clean off.
They were usually thrown away, often in complete disregard of the little stick man next to a wire bin who wanted us to Keep Britain Tidy, and were a common sight on pavements and kerbsides everywhere.
This removable ring pull, or pull tab, was invented in 1963 by a man with the wonderful name of Ermal Cleon Fraze. Prior to that time, cans had a variety of opening mechanisms, the most common of which was just to punch two holes in the top. Ermal’s idea quickly caught on and became the standard for many years.
It was not without its problems, however. The edge of the tab, the bit that looked like a tongue, could be quite sharp and often resulted in cut fingers. This was before the days when everybody sued everybody else for the slightest injury, no matter how bloody stupid the injured party may have been, so that alone did not warrant sufficient reason for change.
Having been removed, it wasn’t that difficult to pop the ring pull back into the can. Which was a good way to avoid littering the streets but not so great if you forgot it was there and swallowed the blighter.
And then there was that litter issue. Millions upon millions of ring pulls covered our streets. You couldn’t walk down any suburban road without spotting them. They were the postman’s red elastic bands of their day.
So, in many respects it was a good thing that the stay-on-tab was invented. Actually, the technology existed as early as 1975 (it was designed by a chap with another splendid name, Daniel F. Cudzik) but it wasn’t adopted as standard in the UK until 1989. By the time the 90s hit, the road sweepers of Britain had disposed of nearly all the remains, any new sighting causing great excitement, as if it were a historic fossil find.
But, progress does have a way of running roughshod over traditions of cultural importance, and the death of the ring pull is not without its cost.
We have lost, for example, the ability to disconnect the ring from the tab, slot one into a notch in the other and create a flying saucer/discus/ninja throwing star that zooms across the room. It was a special skill that took, ooh, minutes to learn but years to perfect. I will never be able to pass on this considerable talent to my own children.
And then there is the small matter of love. Yes, love, I tell you.
Numerous pretend playground weddings took place between junior school boys and girls, and were marked by the placing of a ring pull on the finger. It was a moment of romantic innocence and we shall not see the likes of it again.
I think you’ll find that it is a statistical fact that divorce rates have gone up since the ring pull became extinct.
Coincidence? I think not.