I was born at the beginning of the New Year in 1973. Suddenly, it seems like a very, very long time ago. Age does have a certain habit of creeping up on you in a way you thought it never would, teasing you with long days of eternal youth before one day smacking you mockingly in the face when you dared to believe it would last forever. The truth is, nothing lasts forever - not the 1970s, not childhood, not even mortal life.
As a thirty-something (just) parent to two children, I consider myself to have first-hand experience of childhood both during the 70s and 80s and today's modern alternative. Some things are the same, but much has changed. Nostaliga often causes us to look behind with rose tinted glasses, but which was really better? Here is a recollection of childhood memories spent during the late seventies and early eighties:
As might be expected, my memories of the 1970s are rather sketchy. After all, I was only seven at the turn of the next decade, so I look back with the eyes of a young child. My very earliest memory is the day my sister came into this world near the end of the long, hot summer of '76 (my mother has since told me that being pregnant during the prologned heat was not much fun). My memory of my sister's birth is a mere snippet of gazing at her through the transparent sides of the hospital crib on my first visit after her birth . At just over three and a half years old, I don't remember what I thought of her, but I do remember my mother staying in hospital for several days (as was the norm then) and not liking the unfamiliar experience of sleeping in an alien double bed above my grandparents pub. I did love spending time with my grandparents - grandparents didn't come better than mine. I just didn't like sleeping in a bed that wasn't mine. I have another memory (plus a photo) of stroking our family cat outside the front of our small bungalow in the sunshine and a mental picture of the tiny rust-orange flares and waistcoat that hung in my wardrobe. (My mother had a lot of authentic 70s flares, waistcoats and shirts that she never got rid of - when I was in my mid-twenties my partner and I borrowed them for a 'bad taste' party, although we actually told her it was a '70s' party so as not to cause offence.)
My grandparents ran a pub, my mother had grown up there. They retired in 1977, when I was only four, before moving into a spacious council flat with a swirly orange and white blind in the kitchen. They never did purchase their own property. Even though I was so young when they gave up the pub, I do have several vivid memories of being inside it. It was quite small and full of locals in the afternoons (mostly men in those days). The bar was very smoky - both cigarette smoking and pipe smoking was rife in the 70s. People didn't consider the effects of secondhand smoke back then. (I can also recall bus trips on which the constant wafts of trapped smoke used to make me feel really nauseous).
Back in the pub, I used to like sitting on a bar stool and making patterns with the beer bottle tops. I suppose my grandparents were working whilst I did this. I think they worked hard - my grandfather was 74 when he retired from the pub. I know that, before I was born and when my mother was young, he had worked two jobs - as a ship's engineer at the docks during the day and in the bar at night. His responsibilities as a ship's engineer saved him from being called to fight in the Second World War, as it was an important occupation then. The daytime shift belonged to my grandmother.
The pub, named the Fox and Hounds, was situated in the High Street. Every August came the summer carnival, with its floats, costumes and buckets collecting for charity. The procession meandered down the High Street, right by the pub. We had a prime viewing spot - leaning out of the upstairs sash windows, throwing money down for the buckets. Nowadays, throwing money during carnival processions is prohibited, but this was before excessive health and safety rules came into play and ruined everyone's fun. (When I was older and we watched the procession flow through the town centre, us children used to see how many of our coins we could get to hit the people sitting on the floats. I remember always going for the face. Once, my sister's coin landed right in someone's cup. All this was great fun, although admittedly not exactly ideal behaviour. Back then, nobody got told off for such antics. It was all just a bit of a laugh.)
One thing I remember with clarity from the 1970s is the power cuts - on several occasions I can recall the entire house turning black without warning and my Mum's mad rush to search out the candles in the pantry. After the initial shock at suddenly finding oneself in the pitch dark, the power cuts were a novel way to spend the evening. It was cosy and exciting. I loved the flickering candlelight and the way we all sat together until the lights came back on. Inconvenience bonded us.
Somehow life seemed simpler then. After all, it would be a while before the ever-increasing amounts of technology bombarded our households and the leisure time of children. I remember my first feelings of independence as I took the glass bottles back to the local shop on an errand for my mother. Bottles were reused, back then, and you were given a small amount for your troubles. You could still buy sweets for a penny (in fact, some even cost half a penny, and we still had the tiny, light half pence coins then). Buying our own sweets in the corner shop was a simple pleasure, yet it was enough to make us happy.
Memories from my Mother's Record Collection
Music is so often the subtle background to everyone's life. My mother had a little radio (that she called a wireless) on the shelf in the kitchen (it is still there today, although it has been reinvented as a newer model). In the living room sat a huge record player like a big box, with a lid and a long arm that you had to set in place before you played your record. I'm unsure of the make and model of this rather enormous contraption, but I understand it to be a typical 1960s record player. We kept this thing for ages, before it was eventually relegated to out-of-sight storage. It might have been basic when compared to today's high-tech replacements, but we always thought it was great. For me, the best feature was the way you could load it up with six records at once and listen as they were lowered down and played through in turn.
My mother was a huge Elvis fan; I remember she particularly loved 'Old Shep', although it was about the death of a dog and rather sad. I suppose she must have been quite upset when the King of Rock died, but I can't actually recall the occasion myself. Neither was I aware of the death of John Lennon, in 1980. Childhood is about living and playing, not the untimely deaths of popstars.
If our 1960s record player was alien to the youth of today, then our tape recorder was even more fascinating. Another enormous machine, it was one of the most fun things in our house - sometimes brought out on a Sunday afternoon to entertain us. There were two huge wheels round which long reams of tape wound around, and it always had a rather dusty and intriguing smell about it. My sister and I were fascinated by the chance to record each other's voices, plus anything else that was nearby. The low point was when I accidentally recorded over my two-year-old self singing 'Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary' - my mother was mortified at the irretrievable loss of this endearing memory.
Abba were big when I was young and received a lot of radio play. I remember my grandmother teaching me the words to 'Money, Money, Money' in 1980, after it was featured in the Christmas pantomine. I loved singing this catchy tune and, like so many, still have a fondness for Abba today. Queen were also massive at the time and I remember hearing songs by David Bowie and Status Quo on the radio, as well as Two Little Boys by Rolf Harris. I remember singing along to the catchy tune Shaddup You Face by Joe Dolce when I was about seven - the lyrics appealed to me. Shakin' Stevens also got a lot of radio play when I was fairly young and we would sing along to his songs.
Although of course I don't remember, the number one song at the time of my birth was the incredibly cheesy 'Long Haired Lover of Liverpool', performed by a very young Jimmy Osmond. Now that is definitely nothing to write home about. Someone must have liked it, however, as it retained its position at the top of the charts for a whopping five weeks. The first record I actually bought for myself was a Debbie Harry 7" single which I played over and over. From around the age of 12 or 13, in the mid-eighties, I loved going down to the record shops where you could purchase a chart single pretty cheaply (I can't recall the exact price, but it was probably not much more than £1.70.) Flicking through the record covers was a pastime in itself, rather more fun than searching for your favourite track on iTunes (although my son might disagree). I also liked to buy the now extinct 'Smash Hits' magazine, which kept young people up-to-date on the latest from the music world.
Little Jimmy Osmond was Number One from from 23 December '72 - 27 January 1973 - I was born on 18 January
Top of the Pops was regular family viewing on a Thursday evening, and its demise is something of a minor tragedy. In my childhood world, as a pre-teen and then as a young teenager, we watched Top of the Pops from our sofa, promptly at 7pm. My mother liked many of the records that made it into the charts and the Top 20 countdown was a big thing. It took many more sales to make a number one hit in those days. Amongst other music, the power ballad really found its feet during the eighties, and I distinctly recall wondering if Jennifer Rush's The Power of Love was ever going to be knocked off the top spot. Although a great song, as a 12 year old I was not exactly a fan of it, at the time preferring more upbeat music (as well as several cheesy Stock, Aitkin and Waterman numbers). I still have my collection of 7" singles to this day, and I will cherish every one forever. After all, my record collection is the background to my childhood - just hearing music from one's youth can ignite all sorts of memories that I had thought were long forgotten.
Top of the Pops was not the only way to tune into the best-selling singles of the moment - the Sunday Night Top 40 show on the radio was very popular. Of course, one can still tune into the Top 40 to this very day - but for me it is no longer the same. In those distant days, I used to attempt to record the chart show (or at least the songs I liked) using a tape recorder I was given for my tenth birthday. This was a rather messy affair and would be ridiculed by today's young listeners. Basically, I did not even have a radio on the recorder and so would have to record off another radio whilst being completely silent for the duration of the song to avoid picking up any outside sounds. A tedious task, to say the least, resulting in poor quality recordings. Things were made better fairly quickly when a Hi-Fi with built in radio and tape recorder came along and became a feature of our living room.
Wham! - Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go 1984
Madonna - One of my Favourite Artists in my Early Teens
As I mentioned, the first single I ever bought was by Debbie Harry. It was bought before I had my own music system, and so I listened to it in my bedroom on my parent's old 60s record player. I liked all sorts of pop music, from Level 42 to Erasure and Bananarama but around that time the likes of the new artist Madonna and duo Wham featured heavily in my collection. I loved the young Madonna's rebellious image. Michael Jackson, of course, was hugely popular with everyone - I can remember many youth discos where we would try to 'moondance' and imitate the moves to Thriller. At the discos, young girls crimped their hair and, at one point, took to accentuating it with bright, spray on colour. Many a time, these discos ended to the smoochy tones of Careless Whisper, by George Michael. When I was about 13, I had a very heavy fringe that flicked to the side and was secured in place with huge amounts of hairspray that rendered it rock hard. In fact, I sprayed so much aerosol hair spray around my face that I am surprised I wasn't poisoned by it. It was definitely bad for the skin on my forehead. All in the name of fashion...
Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran were very popular amongst the kids at school. I developed a liking for rock band Bon Jovi a bit later on, at the same time as revising for my GCSEs. Studying at a friend's house involved becoming totally distracted by watching music videos of Jon Bon Jovi et al (yes, music videos were becoming popular by this time - the summer of 1989). I also loved (and still love) emotional songs with good lyrics, and remember times during the mid to late 80s just laying in my room, listening to songs like T'Pau's China in your Hand, powerful, down tempo songs by Whitney Houston and Madonna's Crazy for You.
On a lighter and more humorous level, I remember the boy who lived at the back of our house and his obsession with Eurovision Song winners Bucks Fizz. He would come round to play in our garden in 1981, when I was eight, and teach me the dance routine to Making Your Mind Up. I also remember a dance routine in our school drama class to the hit Frankie, by Sister Sledge, and making up stupid words to Karma Chameleon with my sister.
Early School Days
I started school at five years old and remember it as a fairly enjoyable experience. I was quite shy then, and liked to please the teacher. I have a cringeworthy memory of showing her my new, brown lace up school shoes, which I had decided were 'proper' school shoes (and which would not be seen dead on the feet of any little girl today). We all wore knee length socks when young, although I can recall ankle socks with lacy frills as well, so perhaps the knee length version were reserved for winter. School was an old, Victorian building, very similar to the junior school my eleven year old son has just moved on from. We did a lot of painting, water play and dressing up, as well as more serious pursuits like learning to read via Roger Red Hat and co, and the extremely bland and simple Peter and Jane Ladybird books. I was a good reader, but can't imagine the same tedious books inspiring my son at the same age.
One difference between school then and school now must surely be the playground experience. Children just don't pursue the same childhood games and childish chants that existed on the concrete during playtime in the 70s and 80s. The earliest memories that I have of school playtime is everyone holding hands and forming a big ring, with children taking turns to be in the middle as we all sang 'Brown Girl in the Ring'. I'm not sure if this was a regular playtime activity or not, but I do have very clear recollections of it - I believe the teacher on playground duty joined in as well.
Often, a large part of playtime was taken up recruiting willing volunteers to join in our games. This always seemed to involve linking arms with someone else whilst skipping round the playground chanting 'Who wants to play.....(whatever)'. Any contenders simply joined the line and continued the chant. In fact, the chanting went on for so long, there can't have been a lot of time left for the game itself. I must point out that, as far as I know, there has never been any of this religious playground chanting in any of my son's schools - one must only assume it is now buried in history.
For the girls, skipping was a hugely popular activity, as was 'elastics'. Any girl worth her weight arrived at school with a long piece of elastic, tied at the ends. The game required three people (somebody had to stand at each end with the elastic round their legs, near the knees, to hold it in place) and turns were taken to be the one in the middle. 'Elastics' involved a lot of healthy jumping, alternatively on or between the elastic and the correct copying of repetitive routines.
In the early 80s, as we grew up a bit and moved to the adjacent junior school, playground activities included some serious hopscotch matches (one spent ages searching for the best stone and kept it for future matches), plus a variety of games using a tennis ball. Games like 'Donkey', where one has to throw the ball at the wall and jump over it on its return, and 'Queenie, Queenie, who's got the ball?' were the two most popular. 'Queenie, Queenie' involved somebody throwing the ball against the wall, after which all the other participants chased after it without the person who was 'on' watching. The others then lined up and the player who had the ball behind their back had to conceal it. When someone had the ball concealed and everyone was ready, the line of children would chant, 'Queenie, Queenie, who's got the ball? See I haven't got it, it isn't in my pocket....' The child who was 'on' could instruct the others to turn around, put out a hand, etc. and then try and guess who did actually have the ball. Marbles was another game with acclaimed popularity and was for both boys and girls.
Of course, school was not all about playtime. During my time at the infant school (1978 - 81), I remember school dinners where the rather strict dinner ladies wouldn't let you outside until you'd made a reasonable effort at consuming their sometimes unappetising but traditional meals. There was no choice at dinner time (although there would be later at subsequent schools). Rhubarb was a regular dessert that I particularly despised. Drink was always water served by whoever was on water duty, poured from a jug into a clear glass with a number printed on the bottom. For some unfathomable reason, lunch time rituals involved everyone commenting on what number glass they had (a similar activity to discovering what letter you had inside the lid of a packet of Smarties). In the mornings at the infant school, we were all given milk in bottles which I absolutely detested. It was always a bit warm and had a horrible cream on the top that I couldn't stand. I didn't much like milk anyway, unless it was part of a Crusha milkshake and I was very happy when it disappeared from my school day - simply saying you didn't like it was unacceptable back then and today's primary school children have no idea!
Christmas parties were far better at my old primary schools than any feeble effort from my son's modern counterparts. We decorated masks made out of paper plates to wear for this highly-anticipated social event - I specifically recall a black cat mask. Many traditional party games were played and Father Christmas never failed to turn up with a gift for every child. My son started school in 2004 and has never had a visit from the man himself (although Father Christmas did turn up at his brother's preschool, which seems a little unfair!) Likewise, I believe the nativity, as well as other amateur productions, to have been better in the 'good old days'. In contrast to my son's early school days, we did not have four 'Mary's' and ten 'Joseph's' vying for attention, but rather just one of each, chosen on their merits and their ability to remember and recite the script. Yes, this was all before any concerns about equality and competition got in the way of the simplest things. If a pupil ended up traumatised for life because the main part was awarded to someone else, then that was just tough luck.
Sports Day was also much more competitive in the good old days - there were proper races with proper rosettes. My son's earliest sports days were called, rather limply, 'Fun on the Field' and true competition did not find its way in until around Year 5, when he was 10. Also, hardly any parents watched when compared to thirty years ago because most were busy at work. My son's sports days have been quite boring compared to my own.
Not every aspect of early school life was welcomed - I distinctly remember bracing myself for swimming lessons in the freezing cold, outdoors pool at infant school. You had to line up to get in and then walk all the way round the edge of the pool, there was no getting out of it. It was certainly a far cry from my son's first school swimming lessons, typically comfortable in an indoor heated pool - perhaps we were just tougher then! My mother asked me recently if I could remember the time she was helping with the swimming when my sister - a mere baby at the time - fell backwards off the seat and hit her head on the concrete floor. I can't remember it at all, but 35 years later I can vouch that she is fine.
In my primary school days, we still had the school dentist, ready to point out anyone who hadn't been cleaning their teeth properly. We had our hearing checked, plus eye tests from a school optician. None of these health checks exist in schools today. But the most despised visitor of all was undoubtedly the dreaded nit nurse. 'Nitty Nora', she was universally called. Ours was a horrible, middle aged lady with a no-nonsense attitude, who called children up in little groups in front of the class and proceeded to examine every head in search of any nasty invaders. 'Nitty Nora' might not have been so feared, was it not for the very public manner of this execution - should any nits be detected, then you were armed with a telling letter for your parents and the whole class knew you were the one to run away from at playtime. Because nits were like a contagious disease, in those days, and children with nits were mocked. I remember the time a friend of mine caught them and I absolutely did not want to be associated with her.
These days, of course, everyone has nits and they are treated as little more than a mild inconvenience. As a parent, it seems to me that nits are in their hey-day, a hundred times more common than they were in the 70s and 80s. 'Nitty Nora' might have been the most unpopular woman in the world before she was given the boot, but it seems that she might have had a certain amount of control over the heads of little ones. Either that, or the potent, now-banned insecticides used to remove all the little critters in one fell swoop had a hand in it.
I have memories of dancing round the Maypole at infant school in the very late seventies - an activity which has almost certainly died a death ever since. If I told my children about it now, they would look at me with blank expressions, having not the slightest inkling of what that even means. I can also recall a rather nightmarish experience with unnerving clarity - the day a fellow pupil split her head open in the playground, something which I have never forgotten and never quite managed to get over. Thankfully, she was alright after a visit to the hospital, but even now I am wary of the way my children play on concrete - although I conceal my fears so as not to make them anxious.
On a more humorous level, I spent days worrying about a fact stated by a girl in my class when I was about five or six - she insisted that if you 'pick your nose and eat it, your body blows up suddenly and you become really fat'. How did she know this? Apparently it happened to her dad - something I've never forgotten but can now giggle at!
If there is one element of school life that has much improved since the 70s and 80s, it is probably the integration of ethnic minorities into the school system. The town that I grew up in was not racially diverse and introducing non-English speaking children into our schools was not always initially successful. I recall a Chinese girl entering our class in either 78 or 79 - eventually she became a friend, but when she first arrived she couldn't speak a word of English and was completely isolated. She used to sit at her desk and cry and I remember the teacher being rather impatient with her and even shouting.
In the late 70s and early 80s there was a lot of packet foods in our house. We always had a proper, home-cooked meal, but dessert was bought from the shop and ranged from icecream in three colours, angel delight and sponge cakes to rice pudding from a can with a dollop of jam in the middle and tinned fruit covered with 'Tip Top'. (Vanilla icecream had to be totally smothered in 'Ice Magic', but that was probably later on). The 70s was a decade that saw a huge surge in 'convenience' foods, with the added benefit of nobody really worrying about whether or not they were good for you. Of course, they were not really good for you, but we still consumed a heathly main course and plenty of fresh fruit (some of it from our own trees or picked at the PYO fruit farms). Mealtimes as a child was a fairly guilt-free experience, and no one I knew was fixated upon nutrition, additives or sugar content (as a mother, I pay a lot more attention to these factors today than I believe my own parents did).
As far as main meals were concerned, we ate dishes like spaghetti bolognese (I think we had it every Monday), mince and potatoes, roast dinners, fish fingers and shepherds pie. Breakfast was a bowl of Ready Brek, because that made you 'glow' on the way to school. My sister liked the rather revolting 'corned beef', which I avoided like the plague. I didn't like ham (hated the texture and I'm a vegetarian these days) and I also couldn't stomach the disgusting jelly contained in pork pies. However, I do think I was rather less fussy than both my boys, who would quite possibly live on pasta and chocolate if that was allowed.
Bagpuss - the saggy old cloth cat - loved and adored to this day
To me, the music box on Camberwick Green from which characters entered and disappeared as the show finished was magical - one of my favourites
Our first television was a black and white set which went up in smoke when I was very young. I can still remember the occasion, as I was the one to first witness its demise while my mother was in the kitchen. Thus, it was out with the old-fashioned black and white set and in with a colour replacement.
Of course, children's television was very different in the 70s compared with today. I look back with fond feelings of nostalgia to my first media experiences - for small children, viewing was generally limited to lunchtime, after Pebble Mill finished. I remember being completely mesmerised by the likes of Mr Benn, Bagpuss, Camberwick Green, Trumpton, The Flumps, Bod, Fingermouse and the Magic Roundabout (which had been around since the 60s, but which was still aired during the late 70s). For me, children's television was a magical experience that I really looked forward to, and I wonder if it was made even more so because of the short viewing opportunity. Of course, we did not have video recorders to tape any programmes we missed - and today's high-tech hard drive recorders didn't even exist in dreams.
In the 70s, 'grown up' television was cheesy, to say the least. Humour was often derogatory, and has no place in today's more politically-correct world. All the hosts that I can recall were male, sometimes chauvenistic and often elaborately camp. But at the time, no one thought any better and Saturday evening TV was a family affair; lighthearted and fun. Looking back, I think TV viewing was a lot more bonding for families than it is these days - even though I certainly don't miss the cheesy cabaret that often graced our screens. With only one TV in the house, and no other electronic devices to take precedent, we all watched TV together, curled up on the sofa. Then, children did not have the option of watching their own special channels 24 hours a day. My sister and I watched quiz shows - Play Your Cards Right (with Bruce Forsyth) Blankety Blank, Family Fortunes (which has of course been revived), the Generation Game and 321 (during which we children meanly prayed someone would walk away with the 'Dusty Bin' instead of something nice, like a holiday) were some of the earliest I can recall enjoying. The Muppet Show (which had a certain childish element but for some reason was considered good entertainment for adults) and earlier, low-tech episodes of Tom Baker as Doctor Who in the 80s were big in our house. Without today's sophisicated special effects, Doctor Who was, in hindsight, almost laughable when compared to more recent series, but I can still remember being scared. My children today would laugh, even my four year old, but back then it was serious viewing.
We all made time for sitcoms, like the much loved Terry and June and Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em'. The hapless Frank Spencer never failed to make us laugh. The episode of him falling through the bedroom ceiling is, for unknown reasons, forever etched in my mind. Certainly, my earliest memories of watching 'grown up' TV are of simple, light-hearted fun; hilarious, unassuming and yet occasionally genius. After all, who could possibly deny the success of the ever-popular Fawlty Towers (another all time favourite)? With perfect comedic performances from John Cleese, I think Fawlty Towers will always be up there with the best British comedies of all time. I also remember George and Mildred and The Good Life, as well as sitcoms Three Up, Two Down; Duty Free and Dear John, from the 80s. I also remember being really taken with the sitcom Butterflies, and watched it attentively even though I was quite young when it aired.
As I said, the nicest part about watching television was that we watched it all together. There were far less programmes produced especially for children, and none at all which aired later than the 6 O'clock news. There was no satellite or cable TV, with endless channels allowing the opportunity to watch any genre of television at any point of the day or night. We had a choice of only three channels, and by the mid eighties, four (when Channel 4 was introduced). If I remember correctly, BBC2 only aired for part of the day, showing a still picture of a girl with long hair the rest of the time. And even when I was quite old, none of the channels aired through the night. TV was fun and entertaining, but did not separate family living in the way that it often does today. I think it was better in the good old days.
Public Information Films from My Childhood
The Horrifying Dangers of Electricity Pylons
Crackerjack was always a favourite of mine to curl up on the sofa to (I especially remember the 'Take a Letter' game and the 'Take a Chance' gunge game - seeing a celebrity completely covered in something horrible and slimy was always entertaining. Rod Hull and Emu, Tony Hart on Take Hart and the legendary Blue Peter were big hits - 'Here's one I made earlier' became one of the catchphrases of children's TV, due to this cult show. The late Bob Holness' Blockbusters also made for very popular viewing - and of course it was educational as well. Children of the 70s and 80s went home from school and watched the same shows as each other, creating common bonds - today's youth have everything at their fingertips due to increased viewing opportunities, the ability to easily record shows and alternative media and computer games. The result is that this common bond is somewhat lost.
At one point during my childhood, a spate of health and safety adverts aired that showed the rather alarming and disastrous consequences of messing about in the wrong place and with the wrong things. I distinctly recall a child climbing an electricity pylon, only to fall to his death a few minutes later. I'm not sure why I so feared these public information films, since the message they put across was for the benefit of keeping children alive (and remember, children used to roam so much more then). Probably it was the rather in-your-face and very sudden death of the child, portraying the reality that children are not invincible but can meet an unexpected and very nasty demise. You can see a video of one of them to the right.
There was also a public information film about stranger danger, and that alarmed me even more. 'Don't speak to strangers' is one of the messages we all have to imprint upon our children. For me, the sinister nature of this clip must have left a lasting impact, because I remember a nice old lady offering me a sweet at the park, whilst I was in the presence of my grandparents, and feeling afraid that it was not alright and that perhaps it was poisoned or something (probably I had a rather neurotic and overactive imagination as well).
Charlie Says also taught young children how to look after themselves and stay safe, yet the animated style of these short films was a lot less alarming. Charlie is a cat who always reminds his impressionable young owner of the dangers of going off with strangers, etc.
As I grew up, I used to love coming home from school when Grange Hill was on. I was probably about ten when I first started watching it, and I was completely sucked in. Bullying (remember hardened bully Gripper?) teenage love and playground wheeling and dealing were frequent themes. The secondary school days of the likes of Gripper, Zammo, Tucker, Claire, Trisha, Jacqui and Roly was Phil Redmond's biggest success story. Sometimes the series explored important issues, such as Zammo's rapid deterioation from drug use. The episode which saw him collapsed in the toilets was both shocking and possibly my first introduction to the dangers of drug use - I cannot really recall the topic being addressed at my own school as I know it is nowadays.
In the 70s and 80s, playing outside was commonplace. We all did it, without our parents feeling the need to supervise our every move. I often played on the estate behind our house, which was great for children because there were a lot of pedestrian areas. Across the busy main road from our house was a small playground where my sister, friends and I would often go and play, after someone had helped us across the road. It was a typical, old fashioned playground, with swings, climbing frame and seesaw. We spent our time hanging upside down by our knees from the highest points of the climbing frame (something which I would never even consider now!), seeing who could give the biggest 'bumps' on the seesaw and generally just hanging about. Because we were all there on our own, there would predictably be occasional disagreements and spats between kids - these were mostly sorted out between children without adult intervention (perhaps a skill somewhat lost to today's more supervised and mollycoddled young generation).
Aside from the freedom of accessible play space on the streets, we were lucky enough to have a large garden. Ours was the biggest in the area, so other children liked to come round and play in it. We played all sorts of games, from hula-hooping to rounders, to obstacle courses, to bouncing about on space hoppers (I had the orange retro hopper that has made a recent comeback). Many of our games ended up with a ball becoming lost in someone else's garden - having to knock on the doors of neighbours and politely ask for it back is something that most children learned to do early on. Most neighbours were lovely, but one horrid woman living behind us actually refused to let us in the garden, even though we could see the ball from the fence. Neither would she pass it back to us. She had a horrible son, older than me, who would pull faces through the window when he passed. We were not deterred but simply went back when she wasn't there and climbed over the fence.
Some of our games involved climbing the trunk of the plum tree halfway down the garden. I loved this tree because its branches were low and thick, and we had a rope ladder tied to one of the branches. I always wanted to build a tree house, but it never happened. Late every summer we picked and ate the ripe fruit, until October 1987, when the tree was torn down in the powerful gales that hit England. Out of four trees we lost two, and it was quite a sad occasion. The good point was that every child got an impromptu day off school!
My mother was a keen gardener; as young children we spent a lot of time pottering about outside while she tended to her flower beds. I had a fascination for keeping 'pet' snails in jam jars filled with lettuce leaves - I would get them out every so often to 'race' them and play with them and was convinced I could train them. They all had names and I particularly liked searching for the pink and yellow stripey ones under the rocks at the end of the garden. Unfortunately, as we left for a family holiday one warm summer when I was ten, I forgot to hide the jar in the shady protection of the hawthorn hedge. Upon my return I discovered that the snails, in their sweltering jar, had baked dry; their bodies stiff and frozen in motion. It is an image that I can still recall vividly today - at the time I was racked with guilt, although it didn't put me off finding replacements. We also had a sandpit, and sometimes I would mix the sand with mud and try to make a 'brick' by drying it in the sun but it never worked.
We were allowed to go for bike rides whenever we liked - I remember going off when I was about ten, on the new racing bike I had been given for Christmas. We didn't say where we were going, and we didn't have a particular time to be back. It must have been 1983 then. Ten might not seem particularly young, but my oldest son is eleven and I wouldn't let him do that now. We live near the centre of a smallish city, and the traffic is enough to give me a heart attack just thinking about it. But back in the day, these impromptu bike rides were our first taste of real independence - we loved finding new streets that we hadn't discovered before and once we even studied a map and headed off into the countryside, trying to find one particular spot that we had decided upon as our destination. I think that then there was a lot more trust and faith put into raising children, since there were no mobile phones or any means of contacting children who strayed out of sight. Mostly it was all good - but one terrible incident occurred when my sister, aged, 10, fell off her bike and knocked her front teeth out.
Other games that we played outside, without boundaries, were Cops and Robbers and Manhunt (which were both pretty similar, if I recall correctly). The unlimited space that we had made the games so much more exciting. We would literally play across many streets at once, hiding in all the undergrowth, car parks and nooks and crannys that we could find. I think it is an experience missing from the lives of so many children today - and I can't help but wonder if the curtailment of children's freedom exacerbates the increase in behavioural disorders such as ADHD. After all, how may of our children get to run around for hours on end, working off all their excess energy, free both in mind and body? It really should make us think, because in the long-gone days of my childhood, it was the norm for children to be physically and socially active outside. Nowadays, in many areas of our society, it is the exception rather than the norm - so many of our children have no idea of the freedom that shaped their parent's younger days.
Playing with friends in those days involved nothing more than knocking on someone's door and asking if they could come out. It didn't have to be prearranged and friends that lived nearby did not have to be escorted or collected. If you woke up in the morning and wanted to play with someone, you could get ready, go off and call for them. Less mothers worked than today, but they were still busy inside the house during the day. Children made many of their own decisions.
I can still remember the smell on my hair and skin after hours playing outside, sometimes even into the evening. It was an outdoorsy kind of smell, like fresh air and grass combined. I remember standing on the patio and looking down the garden with my friend at dusk, imagining that the rocks at the bottom had evil faces on. We were convinced that they did...and scared ourselves half to death as we dared each other to walk down the garden towards them. Then, of course, we would become convinced that something untoward was lurking there, and run screaming back to the house.
We were good at thinking of things to do outside. Aside from the already mentioned Cops and Robbers and Manhunt, we created imaginary games with made up characters. We had scooters, and scooted up and down the alley beside our house. We also had strap on roller skates, which often fell off (as we moved into the 80s, disco skates were the rage). In the summer, we liked to play in the paddling pool and also with the garden hosepipe - there was something very satisfying about spraying water all around the garden and running underneath it. We invented obstacle courses out of anything that was available (this was something we also did inside the house, where blindfolds were compulsory). We played outside for hours in the summer, sometimes only going inside when we had fallen over and hurt our knees or stung ourselves on nettles (which was inevitable, since they were growing in our garden - my mother said they attracted butterflies). After some cream and maybe a plaster, we would go off again.
Embracing New Technology
When I mention the effects of excessive technology on the youth of today, this does not mean that technology was deplored during my childhood. Quite the opposite, in fact. Whilst somewhat unrecognisable when compared with today, we happily embraced any new technology that came our way with excitement. In fact, perhaps it was even more exciting - after all, often it was a brand new concept altogether, rather than just an updated version of something we already had.
Most of the interesting new technology in our house arrived around the early to mid eighties. I'll leave out the new Hot Point automatic washing machine that my mother must have acquired at some point during my early childhood. As a young girl, I can distinctly remember the cumbersome twin tub affair that burst into life every Saturday morning - it certainly makes my own family clothes washing seem like a doddle in comparison. Anyway, I did refer to new 'interesting' technology, and washing clothes is never much fun, no matter how it is done. (However, my sister and I did enjoy placing our cheap, windup toys on the top of the Hot Point machine when it was on the spin cycle, as the vibrations made the toys go crazy.)
One gadget that we all loved during my childhood was my grandparent's new polaroid camera. Somehow, the chance to pose for a photo, then wait just minutes for the finished, printed product to zoom out of the side never failed to disappoint. Prior to that (and of course until the fairly recent digital age of photography) capturing memories meant pressing the button and waiting forever (often weeks) to actually see the result, after taking the film into the shop. I'm not too sure when my grandparents bought this exciting, cutting-edge device, but many of the pictures portray me as a child of about five, so it was probably around 1978.
For me, one of the most exciting items of new technology in our house occurred with the arrival of a brand new VHS video recorder around 1985. Never before had we had the opportunity to watch pre-recorded films or programmes of any kind. All this time, we had been stuck with our three channels (BBC1, BBC2 and ITV) and all of a sudden a whole new world opened up. An outing to the video rental shop down the road to choose a family film made way for the new and improved Saturday night. I can still remember the evening we rented the hilarious film Clockwise, starring John Cleese. Actually, I always thought this to be the very first film we took out, yet a Google search tells me it wasn't released until 1986. Either it wasn't our first film, or it wasn't until the following year that our sleek, black VHS made its way through our front door.
My children love computers and computer games, and I am always moaning at my eldest to turn it off and do something else. However, back in my day was the mind of a child really much different? My parents came home with the hugely exciting and enormously clunky Amstrad 64 when I was about 13 and my sister was 9 or 10. Now, this really was the most exciting thing in the world. Prior to this time, nobody I knew had ever had their own computer at home - it was technology setting off along a brand new path. We had a few computers at school, which we only got to use about once or twice a year. But that was always really boring stuff.
On our brand new Amstrad, if you looked in the manual it taught you how to copy a line of computer language, and then it would flash up 'Hello.....(followed by your name). Bizarrely, we were all really excited by this extraordinarily simple concept - nowadays, it would seem like the most boring thing on earth. We got some great games for this new computer - they were all on tapes which took quite a long time to load before you could even begin to play. I loved these early games - I can't remember what most of them were called, but there was one about a 'Mummy', a football game in which you used your money to buy players, and a game called 'Jackpot', on which all you really did was press the space bar to spin round the fruits etc. I loved all the games and would have stayed up all night playing them had I been allowed. As it was, we did get a lot of computer time after school, since the idea of monitoring children's screen time was a yet-to-be-invented idea - at least in our house. My parents were as excited about the new technology as we were, especially my dad.
Telephones and Communication
In our house, we always had a telephone, although not everyone did. Nowadays, almost everyone over the age of about 12 or 13 seems to own a mobile phone, with the exception of the elderly. But during my childhood, things were very different.
Our telephone had a cord and a dial and was situated in the living room. Since you couldn't take the phone away and everyone else was usually present in the room, conversations were rarely private. At least we had a phone. My best friend did not - even into the mid-eighties, she would have to take coins down to the phone box at the end of her road to call me (another friend still didn't even have a toilet inside the house, but that's another story). Sometimes I would call the pay phone myself, probably when she had run out of money and was standing there waiting. I also have memories of 'prank calling' the phone box, and speaking to whoever was walking by and happened to answer.
Another one of my early friends had a phone but it was on a party line. The first time I rang her, I was alarmed to hear total strangers having a conversation. A party line meant that the line was shared, so you would have to wait to use it. Of course, this meant that your conversation could be listened to by anyone else using the line - a bit of an invasion of privacy and totally unthinkable nowadays.
Sticking cut-outs from catalogues onto paper to create a picture; making models from toilet rolls and cereal boxes; drawing; writing long stories (I always did want to be a writer); making up games; trying to make our own board games; making up plays and shows; making up stories on a tape recorder, complete with sound effects like splashing water; making puzzle books for my younger sister to do.... these were just some of the more creative pursuits I indulged in in my spare time. A great day for me was when my mother came home from the chip shop with a huge wad of thin, plain paper that the lady who worked there had given her. We always had creative ideas and just needed materials to carry them out. (I can even remember the afternoon my mother came home with a bottle of the new-on-the-market 'Tippex' correcting fluid, which meant I no longer had to start my stories all over again if I wanted them to appear well-presented. I loved this new invention and used it generously.)
In the late 70s and early 80s, we had toys. Compared to previous generations, we did have quite a lot of toys, although perhaps it pales into insignificance when you consider the commercial world of today's young people. What we did not have was a constant world of ever-changing media and technology at our fingertips. And this meant that, much of the time, we had to use our own creativity to think of something to do, or else not do anything at all. This really is something that is missing from the childhood of my own children - certainly my eldest, who is now eleven. In fact, when he was younger he did used to be fairly creative and imaginative, but never as much as we children were back in our day. Even though children inevitably do grow out of wanting to play, I never remember losing my creative side. Perhaps I am just a creative person, but I know that twenty or thirty years ago, more children continued to create things like, for instance, Lego masterpieces at a more mature age than most seem to these days. I really do think this is due to the ever-accessible electronic entertainment. My oldest son (and every other boy of his age that I know) is obsessed with computers and games consoles. Xbox is the current favourite - sophisticated graphics and online adventure mean that their minds seem to have adapted, making more traditonal childhood activities seem 'boring' in comparison. Do our children know how to think, reflect and create, like we did in the arguably more mellow days of the 70s and 80s? Do they even know how to find inspiration from doing nothing? I am only one parent and can only draw from my own experiences, but instinctively I would have to say 'no'. Unfortunately, having creative skills is something that can be useful throughout life, and entire generations of children appear to be losing that skill.
Toys, Books and Comics
I think that, as children of the 1970s, we did have quite a few toys to entertain us. Every Christmas, I remember excitedly skipping down the stairs (always very early; once in the middle of the night before my mother had even gone to bed) and seeing the two large sacks near the Christmas tree in the lounge. One was for my sister and one was for me; our presents were always conveniently separated.
I think, perhaps, the difference between my toys as a child and my children's toys today is that our toys seemed to have a bit more staying power. We did have toys, yet not so many that meant half sat forgotten or lost in a box.. Perhaps things were more apreciated back then. I remember playing with the same toys again and again, never thinking I didn't like them anymore until I naturally grew out of them.
The first toy that I can ever remember owning is a little yellow and white teddy bear called Barnaby. I have a memory of my mother, and I think my grandmother, saying goodnight to me one night with this little teddy in my arms. I think, although I'm not sure, that this was my first night in a new, strange bedroom - and we did move house when I was about three and a half, so it is a definite possibility. Barnaby was an early cuddly toy, but I acquired an awful lot more. I had a brown bear called Growly (so-called because he growled when you tipped him forwards) - I still have Growly at the foot of my son's bed today, but he no longer makes a sound. I also had a doll that talked when you pulled her cord, and my sister had a teddy bear that did the same.
One Christmas during the late 70s I received a doll's pram, and remember walking up the road to my grandparent's flat with it on Christmas Day. The craze of the 'Tiny Tears' - the doll that can cry and wee - first hit when I was a young girl and I did not miss out. I have never owned a Barbie (though my sister had the Twirly Curls version) but I did have a Sindy Doll who wore red clothes. I ruined most of my dolls in the end, by cutting their hair, piercing their ears with pins from my mother's sewing box and colouring 'make up' onto their eyes with felt tip pens.
When I was very small, one of my favourite toys was a Fisher Price doll's house - I was never lucky enough to own one of those splendid wooden models with all the posh furniture and intricate detail that cost a small fortune, but I never remember thinking I had missed out. A few years ago, I saw my Fisher Price house in the window of a quirky, retro shop close to home - it was a warm and spontaneous trip down memory lane (and the value of the Fisher Price house was holding well).
My sister and I both loved Lego. I always wanted to build the best house I could, complete with a perfect roof. Lego has since been named the best toy of all time and I couldn't agree more. It is one of the constants of childhood, as popular today as it was forty years ago. My own children both love it - Lego is imaginative, creative and educational. The possibilities are endless. We also loved Playmobil - and this is another toy that both my children have enjoyed immensely. In my house, today, we have elaborate castles and other expensive sets - back in the days of my youth, we only had the little people with a few accessories like a horse, suitcase etc. However, it was enough for us - we didn't need anything more to act out our games.
During the early 80s, the Rubik's Cube craze hit us and everyone was obsessed. I would sit for hours at home with my sister, painstakingly trying to complete this impossible toy. I would get one side sorted, but then it would all go wrong when I started on another side. If the Rubik's Cube taught children anything, it was certainly a good dose of patience. How many children today have the determination to try to crack a puzzle like the Rubik's Cube? I don't know, but I do know that in this world of instant media and electronic entertainment, my own son isn't one of them. In the good old days, we looked for something to set our minds to and pass the time - today, children wait for entertainment to come to them. Unfortunately, that does not encourage creative brain development which I believe must surely have repercussions in adulthood.
In the end we bought a book on how to complete the Rubik's Cube, by following a lot of steps (a whole paperback's worth). Even with the book, there were no guarantees - it was no quick-fix guide for cheats (the only way you really could cheat was by taking off all the stickers and replacing them). If you made a single error at any point in the book, it wouldn't work out and you would have to go all the way back and start again. The most impressive point about this book, for me, was that it was written by a thirteen year old boy. I once read a series of Ladybird books about vegetables (Sally Strawberry was one of them) which had been written by a nine year old and published when she was twelve. I was completely inspired by this, as having a book published as a child was something I always wanted to do myself. Unfortunately, this never happened, although I started many novels with an ambitious dreams.
As a child, I adored reading - I could read a whole book in a couple of days. Now, of course, chance would be a fine thing. But then, curling up on the sofa and letting the world of someone else's story absorb me was a heavily indulged pastime of mine. I loved books and reading from the moment I can remember - even school reading books enthused me. I read them to my mother and distinctly recall being stuck on the word 'rhododendron' (a word I still have trouble spelling today) when I was still in infant school, so I think my reading ability was quite advanced for my young years.
In the attic at home my mother had a box of old books left over from her own childhood - the discovery of this box introduced me to the world of Enid Blyton and the Famous Five. I was completely entranced by these musty, yellowing books that my mother had had since the 50s - Julian, Dick, George, Ann and Timmy the dog sparked my imagination with tales of islands, abandoned castles and the like. I followed on from the Famous Five with the Secret Seven, which prompted me on more than one occasion to set up my own 'club' complete with password, though it never took off. Blyton's boarding school series - Mallory Towers and St. Clare's - absorbed me the most as I grew older. Enid Blyton was an old fashioned writer, even for those times, but I didn't really notice. In the end, I moved onto Francine Pascall's 'Sweet Valley High'.
As a child, I always had a weekly comic delivered to my door. It always arrived on a Saturday morning at around 7am - I remember anticipating its arrival with excitement and if it wasn't there as expected I was heavily disappointed and went straight into my parent's room (where they were having a weekend lay-in) to complain. The first comic I used to read was the Bunty - I was hooked on this favourite for a long time. Other comics that followed on from the Bunty were My Guy and Girl. My sister used to read Jackie - it was great having a sister because when she had finished her comic I could read that as well. I also loved the extra long summer specials - I think these usually coincided with the beginning of the school summer holidays. As I headed further into my teens, I started to read magazines like More, Look, Cosmopolitan, Company and Marie Claire - most of which are still around today, I believe.
Watership Down - Bright Eyes by Art Garfunkel
Family Time and Days Out
Often, it's the little things that build the best memories. Moments in-between; conversations that happen over mundane tasks; little bits of 'nothing much' that end up remaining in our memory banks as we grow older and look back. In the modern world, we spend a lot of time aspiring to do 'big' things that will give our lives meaning and make us happy, but often in the end it is the little things that warm our hearts.
Time spent with family is precious, no matter what decade we grow up in. However, I think that in the 70s and 80s we spent a lot of time together as a family. My mother did not work, as so many mothers didn't then (although she did have a part time job delivering the free Tuesday paper to the paper boy's and girl's houses when I was 12 or 13, and a subsequent admin job in a post office). Life at home, as I remember, was not rushed. We used to make time for simple games like I-Spy while we were doing other things, like bathing and getting ready for bed. We often played board games all together on a Saturday evening - this was always fun and and a very bonding experience as we all ended up laughing and joking. Outside, I remember we liked to be given rides in the wheelbarrow - this was something of a big excitement when we were very small. And I can remember on more than one occasion pestering my mother to make us a 'Pot Noodle' telephone.
What on earth is a 'Pot Noodle' telephone? Basically, it consists of two empty Pot Noodle pots with holes forced into the bottoms, through which string is threaded and knotted (one pot at each end of the string). Then we would take one pot each, stand as far away from each other as possible, and talk to each other via our new 'telephone'. From memory, I think it did work. A bit. At least enough to occupy our imaginations for a while.
We lived in a town on the coast, so we spent long days on the beach whenever the weather was good. It was simple, seaside fun in a traditional English manner. Paddling, sandcastles, looking for crabs, trying to 'dig a hole to Australia' - we would spend all day enjoying these simple, cheap pursuits and never became bored. Of course, every trip to the beach warranted 10p to spend watching Punch and Judy - I always loved the one with Mr Punch and the Policeman - I think Punch was accused of stealing some sausages or something.
Sometimes, in the evening, we would drive to a neighbouring seaside town which was much more exciting and had a big funfair. The fair was always magical for me, and I remember being excited about it all day in anticipation. Unfortunately, this resort (like so many others) is in decline and no longer holds very much magic for me, but when I was a child it was in its heyday. We went on the rides (usually the carousel first as it was near the entrance) and bought chips from the seafront before driving home. Seaside chips in paper cones are undoubtedly the best - sea air always makes one hungry.
We didn't go on holiday much when I was young - in fact we only ever took two holidays as a family and the first wasn't until 1983. I don't remember feeling like I was missing out - today, I have a strong desire to travel abroad but back then I was perfectly content with day trips (and anyway, I suffered from car sickness as a child, which often made me dread long journeys). We visited zoos and wildlife parks, local country gardens with a huge adventure playground which we really loved, various swimming pools including a nearby outdoor pool (lido) that was always plagued by flies and grass - really, just anywhere that was within easy reach. Wherever we were, being allowed to have an icecream was a highlight - I especially remember being fond of Funny Faces and Funny Feet. Fruit picking - especially strawberry picking - was a popular pastime in the summer months. As children we immersed ourselves in this activity with enthusiam. Seeing who could pick the most gave the day a competitive element. Of course, we ate too many as well - thoughts about washing the fruit were far from our minds. As a mother myself, I know I would be thinking of the pesticides rather than the dirt, but then it didn't enter our heads. It was a good way to spend some hours in the sun, although I feel an element of disappointment as I admit that my own son would deem it 'very boring'.
As we got older, we started to take friends out with us. Us children would be off having a great time while my mother and usually my grandmother, sat and watched in the sun or strolled around together. At that time, we had a Morris Marina estate car and it was way before the days of seatbelts in the rear. We often had too many people heaped into the back and our favourite thing of all was to ride in the boot, just for fun. Of course, that was not really allowed, so we were simply told to duck if a police car happened to come along. I wouldn't dream of allowing my own children to travel in such a haphazard way, but when I was very young you didn't even have to wear a seatbelt in the front of the car. I can actually remember the new law about front seatbelts coming into play, although I can't recall exactly when. I just remember my grandmother complaining about the inconvenience.
The cinema was a rare treat back in those days. The multiscreen cinemas of today did not exist for us - only one film showed at a time, at least throughout my early childhood. Today's young people would likely consider the lack of choice and viewing times hugely inconvenient, but I look back to those days with fondness. The cinema had a buzz about it that does not exist today. It felt special. You had to queue up for your ticket (no booking in advance) and if you did not arrive early, there was no guarantee of making it to the front before the film sold out. The first film that I can recall watching as a child was Watership Down - even today I can remember how it felt to sit there in front of the big screen. Watership Down, although a U rated film, featured some content that my young mind found quite disturbing - the ever-present threat of death, the Black Rabbit and young Hazel's vision of blood made for some heavy moments. Of course, the simple graphics might not grip today's younger generation in the same way, but for me, as a young girl in the 1970s, Watership Down was both magical and serious. Another movie, a few years on, that I remember watching and being completely transfixed by was the huge hit E.T.
A trip to the theatre was an even rarer treat - generally we attended the annual pantomine every New Year and that was it. However, when the musical Annie came to a local theatre, my mother bought us tickets and I was completely entranced.
So, Which Was Really Best?
Everything has its good and bad points and it is easy to look back on life with rose-coloured glasses. However, I still can't help thinking that my childhood, played out through the 70s and 80s, has many advantages over the modern day equivalent. We were not rich with money, but we were certainly rich with ideas and imagination. We had naff looking furniture, dubious patterns and colour schemes and inferior technology when compared with today - but we had fun, plenty of family time and more freedom than many of today's young people. Interestingly, as I was writing this article I came across a piece in a national paper promoting the heady summer of 1976 as the best ever year to be a child. In comparison, 2011, followed by 2008 and 2009, were marked out as the worst. 1976 was not necessarily a great year to be an adult - there was a serious drought problem in England, combined with strikes and economic problems. (However, when I asked my mother about that year - which she could remember easily since it was the summer she gave birth to my sister - she simply recalled it as a year we were 'always at the beach'.) In any case, adult's problems were largely concealed from children, and the hot, dry summer simply meant more time to play outside, with bikes, scooters, hula hoops, balls and with friends.
So often, I think about all the things we used to do as children and feel that my own sons, especially my eldest, are too obsessed with modern day media and technology and so are missing out on some of the simple pursuits we used to love. When I told him that I didn't play any computer games until I was 12, and that we only had three TV channels with limited choice for younger viewers, he was apalled and thought that we must have led very boring lives. Quite the opposite, I couldn't help thinking. Times have changed for sure, but only in some ways is it for the better. I will always look back on my childhood during the 70s and 80s with fond feelings of nostalgia.
Polly C (author) from UK on February 05, 2014:
@Pete Clarke - Thank you for your great comments! I also feel sorry for the children of today, not that they think they have it bad - my own children hate the sound of my childhood because of the lack of technology! But there is definitely something missing today - there is no balance and they are missing out on a lot.
Manhunt was such a fantastic game. I would spend hours playing it, all through the neighbourhood. All of those activities you mention, like Airfix models and Scaletrix etc. I remember the boys at school loved. Of course, those things still exist today, but children just don't find them as fascinating anymore. The lure of technology means that, for them, everything else has become second best and their boredom thresholds are very short. My children were given Subbuteo for Christmas by my dad, but they rarely play it and when they do it is not for long. My oldest just wants to slope off to his room all the time, to talk to his friends on a headset.
Do you know, you can still buy Swingball and we have it here! Despite everything I have said, Swingball is a very successful game for us! Both of my children love it in summer and they can both beat me (even my little one, so that's not so good - better do some practicing!)
You mention the fact that we had less from a materialistic point of view, and I think that enhanced our childhoods. It only meant we had to use our own minds to come up with things to do - and the truth is that memories are made from simple fun and friendship, not from anything material. I worry when my older son spends hours playing computer games that he will not be able to look back and find all the funny moments and escapades that our generation experienced. He does have fun with his friends, but it is another world these days and I wouldn't trade my childhood either.
Having said that, my youngest son (aged nearly 6 now) plays a lot with the boy next door (age 7) and they love dressing up and acting out games like spies etc. But childhood is too short now - they grow out of everything so early.
Thank you for reading! I enjoyed reading your post too :)
Polly C (author) from UK on February 05, 2014:
@LindaK - Hi there, I'm so sorry I took so long to reply to your comment, for some reason I didn't see the notification.
Thank you for your sharing your thoughts on here. You are so right, childhood definitely seems so much more pressured these days. Not that my own children (especially my oldest) would agree with me - he can't imagine being able to enjoy a world without endless technology and everything at his fingertips 24/7.
I also remember that game 'Please Mr Crocodile"! You have brought it back for me. Didn't we have fun, playing all those simple, innocent games? I remember being outside for hours, playing games over and over, and no one said they were bored. I don't have anything against technology - it has enhanced life in ways that we couldn't have imagined years ago - but I do wish our children could lead a more balanced life, and find delight in all the things that we used to love. Every generation is different, of course, but I think my children's childhood is a bigger step away from my own than perhaps my mum's was.
Glad you enjoyed reading!
Pete Clarke on February 02, 2014:
Hi Polly! I was born in Oct 1970, so I have fairly vivid memories of the 70's & 80's. I am ***extremely*** grateful to have experienced the childhood that we had then, compared to what is on offer these days. Whilst we did indeed have far less from a materialistic point of view, we had a HUGE amount of fun! I have vivid & fond memories of seemingly endless summer holidays, playing out with my friends in the sun. When we weren't riding our bikes, we were playing football, or manhunt. Other activities included making Airfix models, painting model soldiers, playing Scaletrix for hours. We always amused ourselves and as you say, squabbles between children were usually resolved without adult intervention. I feel that our childhood experiences prepared us for the up's and down's of life, and made us much more robust & resilient individuals compared to children these days. I can vividly recall watching the news as a child in the 70's. I can recollect the strikes, the Winter Of Discontent and the woeful state of the British economy at the time. I can even remember power cuts, sitting at home with candles lit. I remember BBC staff going on strike for weeks. I remember only having three tv channels, and the stations closed down for a couple of hours in the afternoon. Children's television was of a high quality, from Bagpuss to Blue Peter and Grange Hill- it was excellent. These days, there are a plethora of channels, and a shortage of quality! Definitely a case of, 'When more is less!' I remember, 'The Sweeney,' & 'The Professionals,' the Monday morning school yard discussions concerning the antics of Bodie & Doyle-childhood heroes! I believe that we spent far more time with other children then kids do these days. We frequently played in small groups of 4-6, and we spent far more time outdoors, we were much more active than today's couch potato generation. I remember that we were all tennis mad when Wimbledon took place. The roads were full of children playing tennis! Do you recall the game, 'Swing Ball?' The pole with a tennis ball attached to it via strong elastic cord? We spent many hours battling against each other in deadly earnest with Swing Ball! I could continue and write reams about my childhood recollections Polly! I think I could produce a document that would rival, 'War & Peace,' for length of duration! I will make this my final point, under no circumstances whatsoever, would I trade the childhood I experienced, for the dull, technology obsessed, insular experience that is on offer these days. I am SO glad I have never had children. I actually feel VERY sorry for children these days. Where has all the ***FUN*** gone?? Best wishes, Pete :)
LindaK on November 09, 2013:
Thanks Polly..REALLY enjoyed you article. I was born in Dec 71 and your memories are my memories! I also had Tiny Tears, Sindy Dolls and played Donkey and marbles. We also played 'Please Mr Crocodile (may we cross the water ?). We loved Angel Delight over tinned fruit for 'afters' and enjoyed/endured numerous power cuts. I remember my dad always exclaiming 'where was Moses when the lights went out?' for some inexplicable reason when it happened! I could go on and agree with all of your article...and growing up in Milton Keynes, I can confirm we didn't have a muliplex cinema..in fact my mum was an usherette at the local cinema, which meant lots of free films for us kids. I remember first seeing Superman and Star Wars courtesy of my mummy's job!
I have four children of my own now and often wish that they could experience the carefree enjoyment of youth that we had back then. Children seem to be under such pressure these days to have the latest gadget, the right clothes and to be in with the right crowd. Thanks to television and the internet, childhood ends much sooner these days. My children laugh when I tell them I still had dolls at 12!
Many thanks for a wonderful trip down memory lane.
Polly C (author) from UK on September 22, 2013:
Hi Schoolmom24, thank you for reading, I'm glad you enjoyed it. There's nothing like a bit of nostalgia!
Schoolmom24 from Oregon on September 22, 2013:
I'm ten yrs older than you, born in Jan.'63, but have some of the same overlapping memories (even though I grew up in the 70's in the U.S. I love your first paragraph- so very true!
Some of the outside playtime brought back a lot of memories. I remember the linking arms thing, too...and I was able to ride my bike to the local convenient store alone to buy candy when I was only around 9! Something I wouldn't let my own children do! Very fun hub to read!
Polly C (author) from UK on November 20, 2012:
Whilst this hub originally contained references to children's television show Jim'll Fix It, I have chosen to edit out this section in light of recent media reports concerning the late Jimmy Savile.
David on July 30, 2012:
Good post - bought back lots of memories.. How strange that we chanted around the playground, linked arms, recruiting for such long periods... First time I've thought of that in about 30 years..
Polly C (author) from UK on June 28, 2012:
Hi houseofjcjee - yes, January 18, same day and yet so far apart. It's great to meet you too! Thank you for reading my hub :)
houseofjcjee from Philippines on June 28, 2012:
I was also born in the same year as you are. Did you say you were born on January 18? I am glad to meet my "twin sister from the other side of the globe".
Polly C (author) from UK on June 23, 2012:
Hi Kat, thanks for reading and for your great comments. It was a good time to grow up. However, I still stick by what I said about the cinema - multiscreen cinemas did not exist for me until late on in my childhood - the first definite memory I have of being inside one was probably when I was about 15 or 16, when I watched Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Are you in the UK? I understand they were introduced earlier in the US. I just did a bit of research to check the facts and found that the first ever multiscreen cinema did not open in the UK until 1985, in Milton Keynes. I lived in a small town on the east coast, however, and there was no such development there at that time. It seems a huge quantity of multi-screens (500 or so) popped up between 1987 and 1991, by which time I was well into my teens.
Anyway, thank you for your input and for stopping by :)
kat on June 23, 2012:
Nice hub, it's so nice to see some nostalgia flooding back from the 70s and 80s! What memories I had during that time as well! The only error I would point out is the multiplex cinema. I was a kid in the 80s and they were actually very common by then. My local town had one and there would also be reissues of old films as well, remember that by the 80s more and more films were being produced so multiplex had come into place. And I went to the cinema a lot so it was not a "rare treat" but the theatre was. We went every year but only once and when I was a teen, we went to the Rocky Horror Picture Show midnight showing all dressed up in costume! I'm glad to see that at leas that still holds it's tradition!