Hot Now, Hot Then

“Healthfully Air-Conditioned!”

healthfullyWhen they filmed “The Blob” at our local movie theater in the 1950s, there was a banner on the cinema proclaiming it to be “Healthfully Air-Conditioned”.

Every year for Blobfest they put up a replica banner (among other things. You really ought to come for Blobfest some year) and it takes me right back to our days in Boston where we lived without air-conditioning (and were too poor & stupid to buy more than one fan). I used to go and see movies on my day off, or go to the mall, just to get out of the heat. Today I walked back into the house after being outside and the lovely air-conditioned 77°F (25°C) felt positively chilly.

Life Without AC

I once asked my 82-year old friend Emily what they did about the heat in her childhood when cooling-off options weren’t as easy to come by.

“Well,” she said thoughtfully. “We sat really still.”

She laughed at the memory and continued.

“You did any baking that needed done, early in the morning. Then my mother would draw the curtains and tell us to be quiet. We played a lot of board games and did a lot of puzzles!”

We are so soft. Can you imagine being imprisoned in your oven-like house with several small children for a couple of months in the summer, telling them to be quiet and not move?

I know folks now who live in older houses and only have an a/c window unit in one room. They spend a lot of time at the pool. (Our local YMCA pool stays open an extra hour, until 9 pm, on days when the temperature gets above 90). Everyone camps out in the air-conditioned room on really hot days. Down south, those big verandas you see on old houses used to be known as ‘sleeping porches’, because that’s where everyone ended up, to survive.


My friends laugh at my tales of headlines in The Sun proclaiming “Phew! What a scorcher!” when temperatures in the UK reached 80°F. But then I explain that no-one has fans, or air-conditioning, or the clothes for that weather, or bug screens or outdoor pools to cool off in.

I’m sure people from the deep south 150 years ago, who worked all day in woollen clothes, would be disgusted by our dying fly act in the summer vacation with abundant air-conditioning and near-nudity perfectly acceptable.

It’s all about norms, what we’re used to, and what we expect.