Lowry’s Matchstalk Men

An example of Lowry's art, one of many, see the video for moreThis 1978 song brought Lowry’s painting to a wider audience, before this most of us in the Midlands hadn’t heard of him and presumably the further south you went the least likely you’d be to find a Lowry fan. He died in 1976, and the song was written as a tribute by Brian and Michael who never had another hit. It went into the charts and everyone knew about Lowry’s matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs.

Perhaps I have skewed vision on this. It is entirely possible that many people in the midlands and south of England were aware of Lowry as an artist, it’s just that I wasn’t aware of him as I was growing up until this song became famous and his paintings started to be shown on the telly. Up to that point, my perception of art was the Mona Lisa and The Haywain (my mum was from rural Worcestershire and we had a print of The Haywain at home and this was my fantasy of pastoral life).

So when I started to see these cartoonish paintings of buildings and crowds of undernourished people it was quite mind blowing. That’s art? That was something that I could paint myself! That was something that a normal person could achieve. Apart from the main question of why on earth would anyone want to paint factories and streets as I had grown up to despise these scenes and idealise the countryside, I started to wonder whether it was possible for me to be an artist. This can only be a good thing as although I am not such an artist as to make a living from it, I do consider myself artistically creative.

Some of the lyrics of the song were confusing, for instance for me ‘clogs’ were something that people from Holland in the olden times wore. It blew my mind all over again when I realised that children ‘up north’ were wearing wooden shoes in my lifetime. I suppose it beats going without shoes altogether but it brought home to me how protected and fortunate I was, privileged compared to some though still in comparative poverty compared to many children today (again it depends on how you look at it, children today have a poverty of freedom compared to what we had in the seventies). Even though I used to walk around without shoes for most of my childhood, the point is that I had the choice.

I think a lot of it is a class thing, like the refusal to call himself an artist (Lowry said he was a person who paints, so I wonder if anyone hired him to decorate their dining room?). That demonstrates an inverse snobbery and a pride in his working roots. Perhaps this is not necessary now in our supposedly classless society, but it may be an interesting study to find out what a person considers beautiful, what they would choose to paint if they were an artist. Factories or fields?

Back to the record – it was the St Winnifred’s School Choir singing in the background, who were also famous for singing the godawful There’s No-one Quite Like Grandma.

Josie Henley-Einion, author, blogger, Legend in my own Living Room

Citizen Smith

Robert Lindsay as Wolfie Smith“Power to the People!” was the cry that Wolfie Smith would shout with his fist up in the air at the beginning of this sit-com. Inevitably he would be received with disdain, each episode slightly different, such as the one where a taxi pulled up, the driver thinking he’d signalled it.

I loved Citizen Smith and especially loved his girlfriend’s mum who called him Foxy and polished apples with spray polish. I once got into trouble in school for shouting ‘power to the people’ with my fist up. The dinner lady thought I’d tried to do a Hitler salute which was banned in our school, and she wouldn’t listen when I told her it wasn’t stupid Hitler salute at all but a power to the people like off the telly. I got into more trouble then for answering back.

The thing about Citizen Smith which I’ve only realised in retrospect, was that it was taking the pee out of socialists and earnest young men with high ideals, in particular those that instigated strikes for better pay. I hadn’t realised that at the time as I was far too young to see it as political and took all the humour at face value like the way that Wolfie was a hapless clown always getting into trouble. Ideal Seventies comedy really, I don’t think it would fit in another era at all.

It was such an integral part of my Seventies TV watching that I’m amazed it only ran for three years (according to Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge). The opening tune was a rallying song for Marxists ‘we’ll keep the red flag flying in’, which was one of the first tunes I whistled when I learned how to whistle.

Josie Henley-Einion, author, blogger, Legend in my own Living Room

High Street Hardship

Bread queue in London from BBC websiteToo much talk is going on lately about how we can’t afford to buy stuff. This is driving me bonkers. In the Seventies we had to queue up to buy bread and there was a rule of only one loaf per family. How on earth would today’s families cope with that? There’d be a public outcry with people complaining that the government should do something. Actually, the reason for the shortage of bread was a bakers’ strike, but there were all sorts of other shortages and people just didn’t buy the number of non-edible consumables that they do today.

Many people then didn’t have one car, let alone two. If you had a fridge that was good, and very few families owned a freezer. One TV for the whole family was the norm, situated in the living room. Kids who had TVs in their bedrooms were considered spoiled. There wasn’t such a thing as a games console, but when personal computers started appearing, they would also be used in the family main room – generally because you had to hook them up to the TV to use as monitor. I remember laughing when I found out my Gran had got a little black and white portable TV for her kitchen. It seemed completely crazy.

We didn’t have carpet upstairs. It was this awful green ancient lino that was brittle and had holes in it. Under the green it was black, and the edges of the holes were black soft plastic stuff a bit like tar. Where the holes were the floorboards showed through and you’d get splinters if you went around in bare feet. I was about fourteen when I first had carpet in my bedroom and it seemed an amazing luxury, yet this is something we take for granted now.

Our infants’ school uniform was gingham, bloody horrible gingham. My mum bought yards of the stuff and made dresses for us all from the same pattern. We had pants and socks new but everything else came in large bin bags from Gran, where she’d got all her friends in the village to donate their children’s cast-offs. I remember going shopping for clothes for the first time with my Mum when I was about twelve, to the market and I had my first ever pair of jeans.

Let’s face it, the people who are suffering in this credit crunch are not the people who have stopped buying all this junk. They (we) don’t need it, don’t know we need it until the advertisers tell us we do. We can easily do without it. The people who are suffering are the retailers and manufacturers of the junk, who have got used to a certain level of goods sold. They are going to have to find something else to do with their business instead of being purveyors of trash. Perhaps they could go and work as farmers or doctors or something more useful?

Next time I hear someone complaining because they can’t afford the latest gadget or clothes that are ‘in season’ I’m going to scream. Really scream. And then I’ll be locked up. But at least I won’t have to listen to spoilt Thatcher-generation whiners.

Josie Henley-Einion, author, blogger, Legend in my own Living Room

3 day week

Striking miners in 1974 were blamed for the lack of electricity which resulted in the three day weekWhen people used to talk about a three day week, I used to think that was an excellent idea. Wow, imagine only three days at school and the rest of the week off! Three days at work for the grown ups.

I didn’t understand what everyone was complaining about. I still think that if it were managed correctly then a three day week would mean everyone could have a job and not be stressed by overwork. But it would take a giant shift in the capitalist consumerist understanding of our current economy. And it would mean fair wages for a day’s work instead of such a great divide that we now have.

The three day week back then was about not providing electricity for two of the days that would usually be working days, which meant that offices and businesses shut down on those days and the world effectively ground to a halt. Dorothy remembers having to rush to make cups of tea for her bosses before the electricity was cut off. I was too young and blissfully unaware of these shenanigans. For me, when there were candles at tea time it was magical.

Will New Labour get socialist and propose enforced holidays and equal pay or will they chicken out because they know that the British voters won’t stand for it? We have yet to see. Meanwhile, I’ll stick to my childhood fantasy of the four-day weekend.

Josie Henley-Einion, author, blogger, Legend in my own Living Room

The Seventies Economy

Inflation Adjusted Crude Oil Price chart showing sudden peak in 1979 and more gradual rise recently. Source www.inflationdata.com

There is much discussion in the press lately that our stuck economy is ‘as bad as the Seventies’. When the drop in interest rates was announced last week, it was said that it was the biggest drop since 1981. This prompted me to wonder about the Seventies economy. As I wasn’t old enough then to know about economy, recession or any of those things, I thought back on the things that I was aware of.

Food was a main concern for me throughout my childhood. I noticed the lack of bread in the shops and when the milk wasn’t being delivered. This was around the time that everyone was going on strike like it was a fashion. I also remember not going to school because teachers were on strike. The strikes and the economy are intricately linked because inflation was causing prices to go up which meant that people were demanding more pay and when they didn’t get more pay because the bosses were also being hit by recession the workers went on strikes. That’s how I understand it anyway, though I’m no economist. A very simplistic view is that the strikes were caused by the economic downturn and they then contributed to it, like a negative feedback loop (yes I’m more of a biologist than an economist!)

The problem with the economy that we see today, again as I understand it, is that people have been borrowing more and more without planning for how they are going to pay it back. Many people are working and earning but then spending far above their incomes, this is especially so in terms of house purchases because of the improbable rise in house prices, and increased expectations such as an annual holiday abroad and a house full of technology. Then what happens (and has happened to me until I got to the point where I cut up my credit cards) is that you borrow more to pay back what you’ve borrowed. Because it has been so easy to borrow money, we are now in a situation of massive personal debt. This is very different to the Seventies as back then people wanted to earn more so they could afford to feed their children. Was there massive personal borrowing in the Sixties that led to this, or massive spending sprees? Perhaps there was, but no-one is talking about that.

It may well be that all this comparison with the Seventies is press scaremongering and pointing the finger at a Labour government (conveniently forgetting that the people who have done most of this personal borrowing were the Thatcher’s children generation with the have-it-all, me-me-me attitude, yup, me again). And when you get into looking at cumulative inflation charts, you can see that things have been getting steadily worse through the whole period from the Seventies until now.

However, a recession is a recession, and whichever way we got to where we are, it does feel like the ground is slipping. One thing I’ve noticed which I haven’t seen since I was a child is that when I go shopping there are gaps between the food on the shelves. Empty shelves in a shop is not a good sign. I noticed recently that Delia Smith’s Frugal Food, which was first published in the Seventies, has been reprinted with the byline ‘now more relevant than ever’. Clever marketing, but also sound advice. Grow your own and cheaper cuts it is for us all.

I try to be light-hearted here, but sorry if I’m sometimes a bit too serious. It gets scary sometimes to be able to understand all these statistics and still go completely mad when I have a credit card. Next post will be good ole non-cynical me again, promise.

Josie Henley-Einion, author, blogger, Legend in my own Living Room

Silver’s Mum’s Memories Part Two

Silver’s Mum’s (Judith Hubble) memories continued…

Harold Wilson, rarely seen without his pipeIn 1974 we also had a general election. Harold Wilson became PM – Labour – and the IRA bombed ‘Mainland’ Britain. London and Birmingham suffered the most. EEC membership was endorsed by referendum.

Sex Discrimination Act came in. Queen (the band) had their first number one – yay!! Equal Pay Act came in. Slight hic-up change of PM – James Callaghan (still Labour) aerospace and ship building industry nationalised – big mistake!

Again with the strikes, this caused ‘the winter of discontent‘. Margaret Thatcher became PM. The first ‘test tube’ baby was born. First commercial flights of the Anglo-French Concord. Lancaster House ended the illegal rule of Ian Smith in Rhodesia and in 1975 our second child arrived, Andrew.

Personal thoughts – still had bell bottoms, the average cost of a three-bed semi was £4,500, our first mortgage was £28.00 per month. Milk and bread were delivered to the door six days a week and supermarkets weren’t really the place to shop, he he he. Meat came from the butchers and you couldn’t take children out with you for a meal until the mid to late Seventies. If you had kids they stayed at home, with family or babysitters. Much better now.

Silver’s Mum’s Memories Part One

I had a handwritten epistle from Silver’s Mum, Judith Hubble, for Popandcrisps. What I like about this is the way that she talks about personal stuff like marriage and children in between world affairs and prices. I’ve edited only slightly.

Ted Heath outside Number TenIn 1970 we had a general election and changed from Labour to Conservative. Edward Heath became PM during the next four years. Margaret Thatcher as sec of state for education stopped milk in schools. North Sea Oil and Gas were found, the miners striked, Direct Rule from London for Ulster. Idi Amin expelled all Asians from Uganda and most came here via holding a British passport.

We had flying pickets – the state of emergency was called resulting in a three day working week. No petrol, gas and electricity were rationed so that industry could try to maintain output on the factory floor – this was when we had steel mills, coal mines and a manufacturing industry! We joined the common market and lost the pound, shillings and pence. Yes we went decimal in Feb 1971. Jeff and I were married 11th December 1971 and CT Body Scanners were introduced.

In 1974 our first born arrived. Catherine (or as she is now known as Silver) 7 lbs and 4 oz (yep, we still had proper weights then as well).

More from Silver’s Mum later!


M*A*S*H cast poseM*A*S*H was a comedy show about a war which was screened in the Seventies and still runs now on the endless repeats channels. I never understood this as a child because all the war films I’d seen had been deadly serious.

I thought it was a bit much to have people making jokes with canned laughter when there were people bleeding and dying. I think I must have missed the point about black comedy and political comedy, which M*A*S*H could be said to be both. I’ve watched the show as an adult and can now see the merits, though I still find the canned laughter and American sit-com sentimentalism a bit too much.

The show was based on a film of the same name, which was based on a book of the same name, which according to Wikipedia stands for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital which was the name of the group of misfits around which the story is based.

I got mixed up as a kid between the Vietnam War and the Korean War. It’s understandable really as I was quite small and both of them were about American soldiers going halfway around the world to fight for something that wasn’t really anything to do with them. I thought that M*A*S*H was about Vietnam and remember being corrected by a know-all grown up that it was actually about Korea. But as it turns out it was an allegory for Vietnam, as the war was still being fought while M*A*S*H was being shown. So a lot of the anti-war sentiments were actually directed at supporters of the Vietnam War.

M*A*S*H Hawkeye, Trapper John and Hot-LipsMy favourite character was Hawkeye who was played by Alan Alda. He was the funniest. I quite liked the woman in command, Hot-Lips played by Loretta Swit, although I didn’t like the way her character was portrayed as mean. Most of the comedy was based around the scrapes that the junior medics got into and their avoidance of the management, questions about ‘why are we here?’ and sexual tension between Hot-Lips and any of the many male characters who were uncomfortable with having a woman in charge.

Josie Henley-Einion, author, blogger, Legend in my own Living Room

Grunwick Dispute

Kim P Moody

Cover of Socialist WorkerDescribed as ‘One of the greatest Labour struggles in the UK’, Grunwick was a landmark dispute for the trade union movement. At this time many companies were ‘closed shops’, places of work where you had to belong to a trade union. The Grunwick photo processing laboratories, on the other hand, would not recognise trade unions and consequently the working conditions and the pay, especially for the Asian women who worked there, were appalling.

In the hot summer of 1976 about a third of the staff went on strike over the conditions in the factory. The union APEX (Association of Professional, Executive, Clerical and Computer Staff, since 1989 part of the GMB union) was contacted and the strikers signed up. They were sacked. The struggle began.

Grunwick struggle on BBC websiteThe Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service, ACAS, tried to resolve the dispute, but without success, and in October that year the Trades Union Congress (TUC) called for sympathetic strike action by other unions. As a consequence the Post Office workers refused to deliver Grunwick’s mail, a vital part of their business process. In reply they were sued under the Post Office Act 1953, for wilfully delaying mail.

Another tactic employed by the unions was the mass picket. In order to pressurise those continuing to work, and others attending the factory, as many pickets as possible were gathered. These were from other factories, students, political activists and other trade unions. No doubt hangers on from elsewhere took the opportunity to join in, too.

After a year the scene outside the gates turned to violence. Bus loads of miners were brought in from Yorkshire, South Wales and Kent to join the protest. I was working in the paint shop at Ford Motor Company in Southampton; it was a closed shop so we were all union members. I remember bus loads of workers from the factory went to London for a day out at Grunwick, paid by their union for taking a day off to go. One day in November 1977 around 8000 people picketed the gates at Grunwick, nearly 250 were injured and over 100 were arrested in the ensuing disturbances.

The government held an inquiry and APEX said they would honour any recommendation. The manager of Grunwick said only a court would make him change his mind. The ensuing enquiry and report by Lord Scarman was of no help to the striking workers, they were not reinstated and Grunwick continued not to recognise the union. On 14 July 1978 the strike was called off.

Mass picketing was one effective trade union tactic of the time, another was the ‘flying picket’. This was a group of pickets that were highly mobile and, if a factory had works at many locations they would arrive at any of them without warning. Pickets did not necessarily have to be part of the striking union, or indeed of any union, they were gathered from sympathetic groups who were happy to join in. These consisted of students, members of other trade unions and often the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Sometimes the flying pickets were described as ‘rent-a-mob’.

The power of the trade unions would be severely curtailed by the Conservative government in the 1980s, but not before more large scale industrial disputes rocked the country.

Seventies Solstice

The first Stonehenge Free Festival 1974 © Austin Underwood from BBC siteHappy Solstice everyone. Have some pics of the hippies at Stonehenge in the Seventies. 1974 saw the first free festival at Stonehenge (in the modern era, who knows what the ancients did?). Up to then there had been much appropriating from various movements.

By 1984 this had become a major event, with 70,000 people attending it was the largest free festival in Britain. See the artefacts on ukrockfestivals.com. Wasn’t life wonderful before our first religion’s place of worship was turned into a theme park for tourists? (in case anyone didn’t get the irony there, I am saying it is probably the same thing but maybe without the audio tour.)

Stone Henge Camp, from ukrockfestivals.com siteThe free love and stone-hugging of the Seventies had to change however, and Mrs Thatcher was quoted as being ‘delighted to make life difficult for hippy convoys’. It was always political to choose a happy life and enjoy sitting in the sun rather than wearing a suit and going to work. But it became more than politically subversive, it was seen by the new government as a dangerous infiltration which should be stamped out quickly before it caused the end of civilisation as we know it.

Barbed wire and the stones at dawn 1980 Photo © Guy Rowe from ukrockfestivals.com

In 1985 the festival was stopped and the hippies beaten up by police, who had been practicing on striking miners so were quite adept at brutality. This became known as ‘The Battle of the Beanfield’. This was an ambush but not totally isolated, as there had been increasing resistance to hippie gatherings, including barbed wire around the Henge in 1980. See the BBC article and video, it’s scary stuff. But then we all knew that the police hated the hippies. Too much freedom and not enough towing the line.

Obelix, from the Asterix booksI was fascinated by standing stones as a child. We had a monument on the hill near where we lived, but it was a modern standing stone, not an ancient one. I loved Obelix and his carrying menhirs around.

I used to build mini Stonehenges (still do) but never visited Stonehenge until the late eighties. I did manage to get in there with a group of others at the autumn equinox but we were chased off by the police. Sucks.

Josie Henley-Einion, author, blogger, Legend in my own Living Room