This will never catch on

Stories about 2 March, 1981 (3/10)

People usually claim that it is the young who are victims of fashion and absurd trends, but this is only because adults have learned to disguise their silliness with rationalising.  The best kind of rationalising is often based on the wafer thin scientific or medical claims of somebody charismatic.  I believe that we can see this borne out in the modern history of the humble bed.  Like the manufacturers of toothbrushes, the manufacturers of mattresses are on a constant quest to convince us that they have made something that really needs no further improvement better.  Usually the humble consumer is savvy enough to see through the latest snake oil, but sometimes we fall for it enmasse.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present you, from 2 March 1981, an advertisement for a water-bed.

Aside from the obvious glamour of the ads with their fake wood veneers, and rich palette of brown on brown, what was it that made the water-bed so attractive to people in the 80s?

The water-bed was the ultimate mattress marketer’s dream product.  Somehow they convinced people to not only get rid of their old mattress, but to get rid of their entire bed and fill their beds with water and plug them into the wall.  Naturally this leads to an industry of people who now can install and maintain your bed, and to an entirely new field for innovations to sell on to the water-bed connoisseur.

My mother had a water-bed, and so did one of my friends.  My memory of the water-bed was that they were hard to get into, harder to get out of, and tended to leave the lighter partner at the crest of an ever bobbing wave, as the heavier person rolled around in the troughs.  There was also the problem of the power cut which turned your bed into a massive inflatable bladder of cold water.

Over time I believe that many of these problems were solved with incredible advances in water-bed technology, but surely people were dimly aware that all of these advances were essentially leading people back to the thing they had abandoned in the first place: the non-aquatic mattress?

One problem that was never overcome however was the problem of moving house or flat with a water-bed.  What an incredible pain in the arse that was.

There are still three people selling water-bed parts and servicing in the local Yellow Pages.  They’re probably a bit like antique car specialists.  In fact I can imagine quite a good documentary that followed a water-bed repair man over about a week as he visited various homes and discussed the different models with proud owners, and relived the heady glory days of the 1980s.

“They were supposed to be the future of beds.”  John shakes his head glumly as he adjusts a wire in the water-bed’s circuit panel.

“I think we went wrong when we called the mattress a bladder.  No one likes to imagine sleeping on a full bladder.”

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3 thoughts on “This will never catch on

  1. My parent had one, back in the 70’s. I can’t imagine that they were ahead of the curve. Weren’t the largely gone by the mid 80’s. I remember how much fun my brother and I had seeing how high we could get the waves to go. I also remember sleeping very soundly on it when they were away.

    Still, I don’t think I would get one today. No. I’m sure I would not get one.

  2. Richard (of RBB) – seasickness ahoy.

    CB James – I am rapidly learning that my sense of trends from the 80s is often wrong, but I am fairly confident that New Zealand was on its usual time lag with world trends and water beds were a late 70s – early 80s phenomenon here (only in the 90s with the internet did this lag begin to disappear).

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