Tuesday, July 20, 2010

pop will drink itself



My father was always a big fan of gadgets. During my childhood he often brought home pioneering labour saving devices, generous 'presents' intended to make my Mum's life easier. Most of these were, it has be said, entirely useless. There was an automated ironing machine, for example, that consisted of a padded rotating drum operated by a foot pedal. When the pedal was pressed the drum revolved and a large heated panel lowered onto it. Un-ironed clothes could be fed in at one end and would plop out the other to no discernible effect.

There was also an automated potato peeler which was, in essence, a large saucepan lined with course grade emery paper. The pan was fixed via a pinion to a metal base and, when turned on, would rotate with a rocky motion, like a miniature waltzer. After five minutes of this treatment, the potatoes would emerge bruised and battered but still with their skins on.

He hit the motherlode though with Kenwood's supremely 1970's innovation, the Sodastream. This remarkable device allowed you to make your own fizzy drinks at home, an astonishing thing given the general austerity of the times. It came with a series of bottles of syrupy liquid which formed the base ingredient for any drink you wanted: cola, lemonade, ginger ale etc. A few drops of this mysterious elixir was added to a bottle filled with water and inserted into the machine. This is where the real magic happened. By holding down a lever and pressing down on a button a few times the humble bottle of water was transformed into something spectacular. An alchemical process took place inside the machine and out of it would emerge a home-made approximations of Coke, Sprite, Dr Pepper....

It was all about the bubbles. Bubbles have magical properties. They fizz on the tongue like the very essence of refreshment. The Sodastream produced nothing but bubbles in reality, which is really nothing at all. But bubbles, like gells and powders and foams, are part of the mysterious arsenal of capitalist dream products. They are the invisible but brilliant agents dreamt up by white lab coat wearing scientists in the Laboratories Garnier and the Pond's Institute. They are the mystery ingredient x of the commodity object, the flashpoint of its fetishised status.

The Sodastream was ultimately, despite its near mythical status in suburban kitchens, a clunky and flawed product. It was a consumer object that manufactured other consumer objects, assembling a passable approximation of the original in front of you. Its flaws were twofold. Firstly, by recreating simulations of branded products (homemade Coke. Just like the real thing!) it threatened to killed their allure. Coke was just black sugary water with gas in it, after all. And, secondly, it ran out of gas. The little grey bottle inside - the genie in the blue and white liveried lantern - the thing that actually carbonated the water, never lasted long enough. And, anyone who used one will recall the horror of flat cola, a glutinous, syrupy liquid that was totally undrinkable.

But, I also loved it. Having one was like living in a sweetshop with fizzy drinks literally on tap. And now, it's back, complete with ironic Rob Brydon voiced advert and limited edition Karim Rashid design. In a culture constantly consuming itself, generating ever new ways to sell the same thing over and over again, each time with an added layer of knowing affection, it was inevitable really. The product's usefulness, or otherwise, doesn't really matter. We remember it, with affection, and that's enough. The Sodastream's carbonated bubbles have been replaced by the warm splashy bubbles of nostalgia. The strange thing is though, I would really like one.

17 comments:

Anne said...

I would really like one too. We never had one, as my dad sounds like the opposite of your dad, so I coveted my cousin's instead. It was so exotic!

Kosmograd said...

I was raised on Sodastream, since my parents were too cheap to buy real Coke or Fanta. They still use it to this day - the exact model as in your picture. As kitchen gadgets go over 30 years of loyal service is pretty good.

Will said...

Bravo for the post title.

The Soda Stream was exactly the kind of consumer good that Other Children had, and we were not allowed / too poor to have. As such, it was effervescent with inaccessible glamour.

The brother device of the Soda Stream was the Mr Frosty, which crushed ice and added syrup to make slush puppies. How I desired it.

By the way, your new layout is lovely, but I just accidentally blogged this instead of commenting on it ....

Gabe said...

Not just not allowed in my family, unimaginable, along with all kellogs cereals, sugar ....

But the 70s were austere? Colour TV (ok, we only got one in 1978 or so), video games, Star Wars and all associated merchandise, all those comics... it seemed like a consumer paradise to me, even without the sugar.

Susan said...

Those of us who remember those the first time around might also recall the curiously cool ad for Cresta's soda: 'It's Frothy Man!'

Charles Holland said...

Funny this stuff about whether you had one or not. My Dad had a brief period of buying gadgets but it didn't last long, coinciding I think with a period when he felt a bit flush. At the same time crisps and fanta/coke etc were seen as a significant luxury at home. But I suppose that the late '70's and '80's were comparatively austere with today. I'm thinking how people generally still had old model cars, hand-me-down clothes etc. which they don't now. With huge credit card debt as a consequence.

I think I meant to write a more affectionate piece and then made the mistake of watching the advert which irked me.

Will, yes there seem to be two comment tabs. Will have to investigate.

Will,

Adam_Hiles said...

Following on from an earlier comment, Mr Frosty was still all the rage when I was growing up in the early 90s. Although speaking of adverts, I think certainly for my generation the advert was even more memorable than the product and was possibly the most alluring piece of childhood avertising ever produced; the lucky child who posessed this wonderous object was a beacon of happiness and popularity and in being given a Mr Frosty, had everything they could ever want.

The fact that I can still recall it word for word suggests it was quite successful I suppose! The product however was definitely not. Upon buying a Mr Frosty, most people that had one came to find that the refill sachets (or whatever they were) for the flavourings were incredibly difficult to get hold of, so after you had used it about three times it was pretty much useless. Mind you the novelty would probably have worn off by then. There must be thousands of them in boxes across the attics of Britain, shoved away after only a handful of uses. Although I have heard of people using them to mix ice and lucozade for hangover cures, so perhaps they are set for an adult revival!

Murphy said...

Ah, I remember the soda stream too. You could get Irn Bru where I'm from.

Like your use of the bubble as capitalist symbol. I think it's got legs - although Peter Sloterdijk has got a similar idea about 'spheres'

Nemesis said...

The seventies austere? You should have lived through the fifties, melad! Sweets were on on ration until 1953! Mind, sixpence pocket money went a long way. Four chews for a penny, gobstoppers a halfpenny, sherbert, liccy bootstraps, all nicely flyblown from being in the corner shop window. You could buy Tizer by the glass (1d) at our local sweetie shop too. We thought it luxury. Coke (or Pepsi) was riches beyond avarice, and hardly obtainable.

We bought a 'Sparklets' syphon in the seventies, being as we were 'modern', newly married and Habitaters, brown hessian walls, teak handled kitchen tools and chickenbrick types. I, too, am a sucker for gadgets. It made soda (you put a tablet in the water) and you used the soda to make drinks like that pretendy coke from syrup). I've just found in the barn an ancient pack of the 'bulbs' and the operating device in which you put them to fill the syphon. Must now search for the syphon, which I recall as white with -er- 'trendy' orange pattern. Also have a couple of 'vintage' ones (ie older than me!).

http://www.sodasyphons.co.uk/prices.asp

Collectable I gather.

Charles Holland said...

Chicken bricks! excellent. I'm going to post up some of my ancient habitat catalogue/book collection just for you Nemesis.

Sam said...

Re: bubbles

Reminds me of this one I wrote for Metropolis about bubbles, foam, Thatcher and ice cream.

http://strangeharvest.com/wp11/?p=191

Nemesis said...

Sadly, the chicken brick only recently met with a sad end. Possibly now would be a museum exhibit. Although not used for chicken,it was very good for baked spuds.

And despite my inability to throw most things out, Habitat cats were a casualty of a mad clearance spree, and I now realise how dumb that was. I still have BIBA ones though

It may be ancient history to you, but it's All Our Yesterdays to me (that was a telly prog BTW. Did I tell you about our first TV, 1953? A Pye...).

Oh bugger, off to dye me hair red and pretend I'm not a wrinkled, greying crone.

john h said...

Charles; your lack of gratitude to our father for his unstinting
persuit of a better life for us all, through the application of the very latest scientific research, does you no credit.
What's more, you've failed to mention the automated mashing machine, that ejaculated forth dry potato worms, and the Sisyphean leaf sweeping device that, after two hours of dangerously intense exertion, could pick up a lawn-full of leaves and return them in a slightly different order.
Oh, and , of course, the Hostess trolley, that reduced Mum's domestic burden to the extent that she didn't know what to do with herself. That's when she took to drink. Gin and Sodastream tonic.

Charles Holland said...

Sibling comments! I feel vindicated....the whole thing was clearly a cry for attention. Forgotten about the trolley. I particularly liked the fact that the trolley remained stationery whilst various bowls of heated vegetables were brought to and from it. More labour creating than saving...perhaps that was the point, shackled to domestic drudgery etc.

Markasaurus said...

We did not have a soda maker when I was a child, but we had a donut maker that I believe my father picked up at a yard sale (they don't really have those in London, do they?). It was basically a waffle maker in the shape of two donuts instead of waffles. I am sure it originally came from the same shelf in the shop as the sodastream.

christian harrup said...

I loved ours, endless fizzy drinks in flavours that really had no comparison to the real thing. Unfortunately the handle broke off and it was resigned to the back of the cupboard with all the other tuperware and useless objects..:(

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