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

The Clangers

Clangers from BBC Cult ClassicsThey were aliens for children, little pink knitted creatures with long noses that made funny noises and lived in the craters on the moon.

The Clangers used dustbin lids to cover the crater holes and wore metallic clothes that looked a bit like armour. They would make things out of scrap, a bit like The Wombles, and ate blue string soup. The Soup Dragon would come to steal the soup. It was marvellous. I loved the voice of the narrator (Oliver Postgate). He sounded very friendly.

I actually didn’t know they were pink until I was much older, because we watched it in black and white. Likewise with Bagpuss, which I’m sure I’ll blog about at some point.

I don’t remember any of the storylines, but they all sort of meld into one in my brain, where the soup dragon comes after the clangers and they manage to get rid of him but not before he’s stolen the string out of the soup. I also seem to remember there was usually a message about peace and loving each other, not overcrowding or polluting. There nearly always was that sort of message in children’s TV of the Seventies.

Froglets!I’d forgotten about some of the characters like the Iron Chicken and the Froglets until I started researching for this. Also I have found out that the blooping noises they make with a whistle are actually translatable into real words, including swearing!

According to Wikipedia, the last episode was a four-minute election special broadcast on my fourth birthday. I must have missed that one. I seem to remember there was a power cut on my fourth birthday but it might have been my fifth.

As the episodes are only 10 minutes long, a whole one can be fitted on YouTube. Lovely. Treat yourself to some nostalgia.

EDIT Tues 9th Dec 2008. I found out this morning that Oliver Postgate has sadly died. His death is a great loss to imagination and creativity.

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

Panda Cars

www.propsrcars.fsbusiness.co.uk websitePolicemen in the Seventies tended to chase criminals on foot. They patrolled on foot, by bike or in a small blue car. We called these the panda car. This was because they often had a black and white checked pattern on them to make them visible as police cars.

If a criminal hopped in a fast car and sped off then the police had lost them. This lack of a high-speed car might have been due to the police budget or it might be a symbol of a naïve time when criminals came quietly. Perhaps organised crimes were outside of the remit of the local bobby. High-speed police chases on a Starsky and Hutch level just didn’t happen.

When it became obvious that actually they did happen, the jam sandwich police car was introduced and we said goodbye to the light blue panda. Nowadays both the fast response cars and the ordinary patrol cars have the jam sandwich style (it’s called this because it’s a layer of bright orange between two layers of white so looks like a jam sandwich, us Brits being so literary).

According to Wikipedia, the change of model and pattern was due to budget but I remember at the time the newspapers and TV news going on about how the jam sandwiches were much faster and the police would be better able to do their jobs.

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.

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.

Oh Those Power Cuts!

By Dorothy Davies

candles used in power cutsBritain in the early 70s was plagued by industrial action, particularly by miners and others, and electricity had to be conserved at all costs.  This led to the phenomenon of power cuts, which were signalled by a serious dip in supply five minutes before the electricity went off.  I was working at that time in a solicitors’ office in Fleet Street, using a state of the art (to me) electric typewriter.  The dip of the electric, often at 11.55, meant a mad dash to get a kettle boiled to ensure the bosses got some tea, and then to finish off, if possible, whatever I was working on, or at least quietly shut the machine down until the electricity came back on again. 

There was a classic moment when the senior partner walked in to the secretaries’ room, put a load of papers down, looked at his secretary and said, ‘could you photocopy that lot while the power’s off?’ and wondered why we all collapsed with laughter.

Restaurants were badly affected by this problem, although those who cooked with gas could carry on.  At that time my husband had a job in the City, also working for a firm of solicitors, so we would meet for lunch.  (This after travelling to work together and then meeting up to go home together.  It did mean I could be sure the car would be at the station when I got there…) We used to go regularly to a small restaurant, almost a café really, where the meals were good and reasonable.  The Italian waiter got used to us and would put a RESERVED sign on a table for us.  We were very much young lovers then, newly married, and it obviously showed and touched his romantic Italian heart!

I recall we were able to eat there, despite the electricity being off, as it was light enough to see what we were doing.  Enterprising people found ways of carrying on.

Fortunately I had left work to become a mother by the time the Three Day Week came into force.  It caused a great many problems to a lot of people. 

Dorothy Davies’ website is www.oneinspecyal.com