Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Back In Time For The Weekend

Mum and me at my dad's company sports day, 1974.
Dressed by Cloth-Kits, by the looks of things.

It's another series of flashbacks to my childhood. This time Giles Coren takes a family (the Ashby-Hawkins) back to the leisure activities of bygone decades. It's exactly the same format as Back In Time For Dinner, only with less food, and less likable kids. I'm finding them too posh and privileged and full of themselves, and too likely to take the piss out of their parents for the slightest misdemeanour. Typical teenagers, you might argue, but they're annoying.

The kids are from a generation that spend their lives staring at screens. They would rather sit at home and Skype their friends than go out and see them in the flesh.

But in the 1970s and 80s, they can't do that. So it's off to the park to climb on splintered wood and steel scaffolding screwed into concrete, before lacerating their hands on a zipwire. Never did us any harm. My brother, who split his head open in our local adventure playground when he ran into a concrete tube and forgot to duck, may disagree.
Never did us any harm

But we were left to roam, to ride our bikes around the streets and chase each other through the alleyways. Children can't do that any more. There are too many cars on the road. Too many perverts. (Though I am sure, as the Savile Report testifies, there were plenty of those in the 1970s too.) Nowadays, two thirds of kids have never been to the park on their own.

The family finds the 1970s fun. There are spirographs and slinkies, and selfies with the camera. (Except that selfies were not a "thing" when I was little.) There is a lot of dancing. There wasn't much dancing in our house. As a university lecturer once said to me, "Some of us listen to opera, some of us listen to Boney M." In our house, it was opera. No rollerdiscos for us.
Opera in the lounge

And it's fun despite the fact for a lot of the time, there's no electricity, no petrol and for the summer of 1976, no water either.
Me in my home-made 1976 desert

And it's fun despite the fact that the kids are left outside pubs, sat in the car with a packet of crisps. The car is a Renault 5, given to the family by Angela Rippon, the original presenter of Top Gear. Take that, Clarkson. She has so much more style than you.

The 70s sunlounger

And I had my own

But at least there was a summer, and snow in winter. We had a sun lounger just like the one in the Ashby Hawkins' garden. And my dad got to use it.(See above.) Because it was sunny. The family go on holiday - a camping trip in the great outdoors, which is a lot less fun in the 2015 weather. No pop-up tents - it takes Mum and Dad a good few hours to erect the poles, while the kids whine in the Renault 5. But there's much to tell their friends in a slideshow when they get home, a tradition which my parents maintained well into the 1990s.

Proper snow in winter, even Down South

The 70s is a decade when people start to buy rather than rent their home. (The Ashby-Hawkins talk the bank manager into lending them a £5,000 mortgage.) This begins a trend for DIY. (Do I really have a memory of my dad on the roof, wrestling with a central heating flue?) The Ashby Hawkins install a corkboard wall, so Eric Bristow can teach them to play darts. (There seems to have been a lot of retired darts players on television recently.)
Yes, I really do

There's home brew, and the arrival of a colour telly, which greatly improves the family's enjoyment of Pot Black. We had to make do with black and white until at least 1984. Which is how we got to know our new next-door neighbour in 1981, because he invited us round to watch Charles and Di get married in colour.

Rob actually saw Charles and Di get married in the flesh, so to speak, since he and his mother camped outside St Paul's Cathedral for five nights in July 1981. If you look carefully, you can see their tiny heads on the television footage, which Rob is now watching for the very first time, at a retro red white & blue (indoors) street party.

In the 1980s, the house turns into a cluttered jumble of chintz and technology. They stencil the walls and scent the lounge with pot pourri. Son Seth is excited by the technology - a home computer that has to be programmed every Basic line of the way. This means he no longer goes out into the garden to enjoy their Flymo manicured lawns and hedge-trimmer strimmed privet. (It's possibly safer that way. I have an uncle who lost a toe to a Flymo.)

I was dragged out into the garden to show off my Brownie uniform.
Brother with chair.

When Seth isn't on the computer, he's watching videos on the new VCR, which only he can work. He does at least have to go outside to rent the videos from the local Blockbuster. No online streaming here. But on the high street, the cinemas are closing down. As are the youth clubs, so prevalent in the 1970s. Kids are going to play video games in arcades instead.
Whereas we went to National Trust properties
The family have become spendaholics. There's a second car to the Vauxhall Cavalier - the Ford Fiesta. If Mrs Ashby Hawkins had had her way there'd be a Sinclair C5 on the drive as well. There's another telly in the kitchen, on the breakfast bar. From 1983, there's Breakfast TV to watch on it too. There's a phone they can walk around with (even if it's still on a wire) rather than having to stay sat on the stairs. There's a Walkman to jog with. There are British Gas shares to make them rich. (But there's Live Aid to make them feel guilty.) Everyone wants to be as American as Ronald Reagan, with Dallas shoulder pads, Miami Vice jackets, and a fear of nuclear Armageddon. The look is all highlights, perms and big glasses, with a touch of Madonna thrown in. And Nick Kamen boxer shorts and Levi 501s for the boys. It's the end of the Y front.

Who is paying for it all? Why Access, our flexible friend.

Daughter Daisy goes looking for a rave, but she definitely needs to work on her acid house moves. She wasn't much good at breakdancing either. Probably safer to stay home and tape the Top 40. Her mum, having finished her Jane Fonda workout, is out at a new "ladies friendly" wine bar. The dad seems content to be at home, (finally) doing a small share of the chores and indulging in a secret passion for 80s television. He rustles up some Del Boy style cocktails at a party to celebrate the end of the decade.

In the 1980s, work starts to intrude on family life. Not just because the mother is out at work to help pay for all their spending. It's mainly because we are now contactable 24/7, thanks to the rise of pager systems. Pagers will of course will turn into mobile phones, and then into mobile internet and wifi and remote logins for e-mail access - all of which mean that we will never truly be able to switch off from our jobs again, or have leisure time which is just about us, leaving the day-to-day grind behind.


  1. Wow, 'tis scary quite how far things have changed, given that we are - ahem - still VERY young. Also scary how brown everything was in the '70s. Sometimes I think I have no idea how to help my children navigate the world they're living in now. Then I shrug and go back to ignoring them whilst I check Facebook on my phone.

    Phil @ thetwistedyarn.com

    1. Yes, our parents should be very thankful that they didn't have to navigate us safely through the Internet. Were the seventies really that brown, or is it just the quality of the photographs we are left with? Funny how you just posted about home brew though! That's very retro.