Sunday, 8 March 2015


Studies on memory, such as Martin A Conway’s Autobiographical Memory: An Introduction (1990) generally begin with the premise that the experience of remembering is determined by the recall of events or episodes that are dominated by a particular sense of place and time. The memories of our childhood in particular are often dominated by vivid, visual reference-points that are the remnants of the intense and unmediated experiences of a child. Back in June 2013, in a post called You're My World I recalled what I think is my very earliest memory: of me and my Mum and Dad viewing what was to become our new council house in the early Spring of 1964. The one visual reference point I have of that time was the stainless steel kitchen sink unit, and the two chrome taps that hung over the sink. I particularly remember that these taps had little red and blue dots embedded in them, one for hot and one for cold, like this:

They were called Supataps, and they were all the rage in the 1950s and 60s due, to some extent, to their space-ageish design and to the fact you could change the washer on them without having to turn off the water supply. Supataps also became the council house tap of choice. Here they are in a plumber's merchant catalogue from 1964, the year we moved into our house on Dunstall Walk:

I tend to articulate the memory of seeing those taps in our new kitchen in terms of being transported from a monochrome nothingness into a pop art world of red and blue dots, as my family finally crossed the threshold into 'the Sixties'. But I'm not sure how reliable the memory is, or the sentiment that I now attach to it. As we enter adulthood, the direct sensory experiences of our childhood become dulled by familiarity, and they are gradually substituted by a mode of appreciation and remembrance to the point where we become almost wholly incapable of recalling or even imagining what we saw and felt as a child. Nearly all that can we can experience has already been had. As Jorge Luis Borges once stated:

Memory changes things. Every time we remember something, after the first time, we're not remembering the event, but the first memory of the event. Then the second experience of the second memory and so on.

Or, as the psychologist and author of Pieces of Light: The New Science of Memory (2013), Charles Fernyhough put it, 'Our memories are created in the present, rather than being faithful records of the past'. But if our memories are (re)created in the present, then they also have the potential to be generative of meaning in relation to our future. In the wider context of the history of the council estate, and of its dwindling meaning in a time of acute, market-skewered and ownership-driven housing shortages, my memories of my childhood home could be construed as mere nostalgia. If so, then I'm happy with that, and I will press on regardless because, as Paul Ricoeur rightly said somewhere in his studies of time, memory and nostalgia, 'Nostalgia is to the emotions what idealism is to the intellect'. 


  1. Found this link when i was looking for a spare part for supataps in my house! (I'd seen you speak at a Lincoln Seminar on housing estates a few years back so blog link was in my favourites!)

    Supataps are a brilliant tap design, took me aback to find they are not made any more (that makes little sense actually - I wonder then they were ended?) - I have some like the ones in your pic, and some with the 'handles' ie the bit you grip, in moulded plastic - I think from late 70s or 80s. Very annoying that you can't get them as the plastic will not last for ever.

    They are a very long lasting tap due to their quality of design and build.

    I see an unused pair on an architectural salvage site at £150 - several weeks council house rent even now!

    I wonder why no ones makes them as repros. Ideal for the retro hipster market one might think!

    I realise spare parts for taps is a bit off the theme of the post on early memories, but compared with the memory of trying to turn off a jammed mains stop tap the Supatap comes into its own!

    Nice post


  2. I love supataps. I once found a basin with supataps dumped outside a block of council flats. I regret not taking it home.

  3. Thanks so much Dan and Richard for your comments - we should start reproducing them, we might make a few bob! However, I do remember us having to put those rubber funnel type things on the end of the taps in the kitchen - would this be because they didn't run so well?

  4. Thanks Ian for the comments - I'm sure we could make a few bob although a few supatap fans might mean limited production runs.
    I suspect the rubber tap swirls were so your mother (?) could direct the flow to other parts of the sink, for example if wishing down soap suds etc. rather than an inherent flow problem for supataps. If water pressure was low that might also be problematic.

  5. Yes, I recall the rubber attachments. I agree with Richard, in the kitchen sink handy for directing the flow round the sink if needing to rinse it or contents. I suppose a simple equivalent of a swivel type tap.

    The only other thing is that if the spouts get too much lime scale around them they can spray a bit and the rubber attachment stops that, better to treat them with limescale remover of course.

    The ability to take them apart that stops the flow is a winner every time, esp when your mains stop tap or in line pipe valve is seized!


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  7. I too came to this post looking for spares and also hoping to find a new bib type Supatap. Depressing to hear these aren't made anymore. I remember the directable wobbly rubber attachments too. A brilliant simple design.

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