A Seventies Halloween

Yes, the time has come again for my customary gripe about how children nowadays have a much better deal of it than I did but how ironically this means that their lives are actually impoverished. I could give it a miss and you could take it as read, but no I’m not going to. Cue the violins.

apple bobbingWe didn’t have sweets at Halloween. We didn’t have plastic skeletons and light-up witches and spend our evening going door to door begging in our supermarket dress-up costumes. Oh no. We had apple bobbing, homemade costumes which then got recycled for the guy a few days later, and baked potatoes on the bonfire.

We didn’t do pumpkins, we hollowed out swedes. These took hours as the flesh is so hard, but they were more substantial. We would put a candle inside and they smelled fabulous as they slowly cooked.

supermarket at halloweenI first heard of trick or treating when I was about nine, and it was introduced by the TV news as a form of neighbourhood annoyance. Apparently this awful behaviour had been introduced from America (the shock) and involved youths demanding money with menaces. If you didn’t pay them then they’d smash your windows or set fire to your bins. Needless to say I was horrified years later when I met people who encouraged their children to indulge in this criminality.

Watching ET when I was twelve was quite confusing, as I had no idea why there were children and adults dressing up and wandering around the town carrying sweets. I thought it must be some sort of street party.

It absolutely amazes me that in the age we live, some people still encourage their children to go knocking on strangers’ doors asking for treats. It also disgusts me that there is no space for childhood imagination and inventiveness in the racks of bought costumes and pumpkin buckets.

I suppose the main reason I get so hacked off by all of this is a similar reason that Christians are fed up with the commercialisation of Christmas. Samhain is my main religious festival and as such it is sacred to me. I can give a bit of leeway and I have a sense of humour but there’s only so far that I can be pushed.

Okay, rant over. Normal service will be resumed next week.

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

Dangerous Playgrounds

playing on the monkey barsWhen I was a kid in the seventies we went to the park on our own and played on the climbing frame, monkey bars and swings however we wanted to. There was a concrete floor and if you bashed your head on it then it was your own stupid fault. Under the big climbing frame in our park was a sandpit, to catch you in case you fell. Good thinking on the part of the park designers. Except that amongst the sand were large quantities of cat and dog crap, smashed glass, rubbish and bricks.

Our mothers didn’t write to the council and complain that the playground was dangerous, they just put stinging TCP onto our heads and told us to stop crying. Well, at least that was the case for some of us. Obviously some parents did write to the council to complain or we wouldn’t have the spongy floor and safety-conscious climbing experiences that are the playgrounds we get today.

When we were bored with the playground, we would go up to the building site, which wasn’t fenced off. I remember playing house in a half-built real house and nicking boxes of nails to nail into a tree so I could climb it. Ah, those were the days!

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

Milk bottle tops and carrier bags

too many carrier bagsEnvironmentalism became a big issue in the seventies, with 1970 marking the first Earth Day. It was something that started being taught in primary school, the idea being that if children were brought up to respect the earth then they would a) guilt-trip their parents into doing so and b) grow up to become responsible earth-respecting citizens.

I remember a song we used to sing in school that was about rubbish being thrown on the ground. I can only remember the first line and the chorus now. It went something like:

Milk bottle tops and carrier bags

Is this really <clap, clap, clap-clap clap>
What we want to see? <clap, clap, clap-clap clap>
No! No! No!

It didn’t stop children from throwing their rubbish on the floor, though, as the state of the playground attested. Obviously something a bit stronger than brainwashing was required.

There were also The Wombles, which was all about picking up litter rather than not dropping it or refraining from using the packaged products in the first place.

Milk bottle tops are not such an issue any more, since people don’t tend to buy glass bottles with metal tops. Carrier bags and plastic packaging have become a huge issue, so it’s interesting to see that they were already being seen as a problem in the seventies.

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

Seventies Bank Holiday

Me on my bike aged 7Apart from the staycation (which is when you stay at home on holiday, except that we didn’t know that this was what it was called then), on a seventies Bank Holiday it became traditional to go off somewhere to explore. Pack some sandwiches and a flask of squash, squeeze ourselves into wellies and raincoats, and off we would go on our bikes. Posh people had cars and could go further.

Inevitably we ended up wet and miserable, cursing the Bank Holiday weather and wishing we’d stayed at home after all, but occasionally there were fabulous sunny adventures and these are the ones that I try to cling to.

Dad would push me to ride the bike back home when all I wanted to do was collapse in a heap. Then we’d get home and Mum (who’d sensibly stayed there and had a lie-in) made us tea and we’d all watch the Bank Holiday film together.

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

Vesta Curry and Two LPs

Laura McWhinney sent me her post after reading the article in Mensa Magazine.

Vesta Beef Curry - aah takes me right back!I was born in 1966 and remember the 70’s as my formative years- maybe that explains a lot.

As far as food went anything goes was the attitude. A Vesta dehydrated curry on a Saturday night, reconstituted in a frying pan for 20 mins followed by peach melba with almost flourescent raspberry sauce was the height of sophistication in my home.

For a treat it was hot ‘coloured custard’ over sponge cake, this was pink blancmange made up with milk and served hot.

Spangles! At www.escape-to-the-seventies.comWe all had enough pocket money for numerous packets of spangles in many different flavours including ‘Old English’??? and Chipmunk crisps at two and a half pence a bag in abundance. I think Chipmunk was a brand rather than a flavour. Giant sticks of Bazooka bubble gum were only 3 pence, so you still had enough money for a Bunty comic or later Blue Jeans – heaven.

Seat belts were not compulsory and once when driving out of a big town car park with me in the front seat of our big Corsair automatic car I was flung sprawling across the car park as I’d been leaning on the door and it swung open – we did laugh!

Summers were great as you could go out after breakfast to play with friends and wander home when you felt hungry, parents didn’t need to worry as life was somehow safer.

The day the stereo system arrived and TWO L.P’s was very exciting, unfortunately it was a very long time until we could afford any more L.P’s so Mama Cass and Glen Campbell were played until I really grew to hate them.

Some of my friends that were maybe a bit older had their rooms papered with Red Tartan wallpaper as they were Bay City Rollers fans – I had to make do with huge purple flowers on my walls, they almost went with the swirly floral carpet and nearly matched the printed floral bedspread!

Beds used to take 20 minutes to make, as there were several layers of prickly blankets, under the bedspread no easy duvet to shake and drop.

The Wombles™

Remember you’re a womble, remember you’re a womble, remember-member-member what a womble-womble-womble you are.

Wombles, left to right Orinoco, Uncle Bulgaria, Madame CholetIf you haven’t just sung along while reading this then you need an education. That is not actually the theme tune, but was the pop song that got into the top twenty (and on Top of the Pops, and even the intermission act at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton). The Wombles™ had a whole load of hits and albums.

The theme tune for the TV show went something like this:

Underground overground wombling free, the Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we. Making good use of the things that we find, things that the everyday folks leave behind.

The title sequence is at the BBC Cult Classics site.

The Wombles™ lived underground on Wimbledon Common in London, and they recycled old junk. There was an educational message, as with a lot of children’s TV back then, this one was environmental. Anything that people threw away would be used by the Wombles™ in their home, which made for some great comedy. The Wombles™ themselves were a strange sort of teddy-bear crossed with a mole. Their home was a dug-out hole and everything in it could be identified as something leftover from human use.

Orinoco, my favourite Womble, reknown for eating lots of snacks and taking napsSome of the Wombles™ were named after places, though we didn’t really know it at the time. Even now, if I hear the word ‘Orinoco’ then I think of my favourite Womble™ and not of a river. Uncle Bulgaria was the leader and Madame Cholet was the French cook, and the only female. Yes, it was the usual sexist, racist nonsense that passed for kids’ TV, but it was also fabulous!

It was narrated by Bernard Cribbins who did all the voices as well as telling the story. The animation was stop-frame and the backgrounds were models. The stories were quite simple and always had a moral, which was usually that people are stupid for throwing things away and Bungo is even stupider for falling over Orinoco when he’s having forty winks.

The TV show was based on books by Elisabeth Beresford, first published in 1968, and The Wombles™ are still copyright to her. It was broadcast from 1973.

Wombles™ are still wheeled out to represent British Children’s TV and have recently been implicated in a campaign against American imports.

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

Doctor Who and his Enemies inside Weetabix

 Nick Griffiths sent me an extract from his 1970’s memoir Dalek I Loved You as his blog contribution.

“I imagine every Who fan of a certain age remembers Weetabix’s ‘Doctor Who and his Enemies’ promotion. It began in April 1975.

Dr Who and his Enemies promotional packet of Weetabix from the Cuttings Archive

After the ignominy of missing out on the UNIT badge from Sugar Smacks – like today’s Sugar Puffs, less the domestic violence angle – I made sure that I collected the lot and then some. Swaps? Coming out of my ears. It was the first collection that really mattered to me: it was my favourite show, the illustrations were really cool, evocative and lifelike, and there were 24 to collect (in strips of four), so it took persistence.Dr Who and his Enemies

Usually, I would only eat two Weetabix for breakfast, and sometimes just the one. Suddenly I was wolfing down three and being told that I couldn’t have any more. Mum had to start buying the family box, which had two free sets of Who strips. It all made perfect sense.

The cereal packet had a cut-out diorama on the back, so you could gaze at that, revelling in the detail, while chewing. Tardis interior, alien planet, volcanic landscape, underground caverns, alien forest, alien city. I never used them. I just stared.More Dr Who and his Enemies

There is something primevally delicious about ripping open packaging and rummaging inside, desperate to find a certain part of a collection. The horrible sense of disappointment when they are swaps (replaced later by a feeling of hope that another collector will need them, with your keenly eyed bounty in his own stash). The violent elation when they are not! And with perfect mathematics, that elation rises in direct proportion to the size of your collection.

Picture it. You need just the strip featuring two Tom Bakers (one running), Sarah Jane and a Dalek. You slide your hand down inside, between new box and ‘bix. You clutch the plastic envelope with fingertips. You close your eyes, pull it free. Open them. It’s two Tom Bakers, Sarah Jane and a Dalek! Endorphin rush! You jump up and down around the kitchen, crying, ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’. Your mother comes in, hoping the celebration is something to do with school results. You explain that it isn’t. You’ve just completed your ‘Doctor Who and his Enemies’ Weetabix collection. She smiles unknowingly. You part company, you to play, she to wash up.

‘What about your breakfast?’ she calls out, spotting the unopened cereal.

‘I’ve gone off Weetabix,’ you call back.”

Cover image Dalek I Loved You by Nick Griffiths click to buy from Waterstone'sNick Griffiths, author Dalek I Loved You. Nick has a new book published by Legend Press In the Footsteps of Harrison Dextrose

For more information on both books and the man himself, including blog and some very bad 70’s haircut photos, see the website: www.nickgriffiths.co.uk