Manchester, So Much To Answer For

Even Mike Leigh at his most misanthropic couldn’t have come up with something as grimly excruciating as this. Don’t miss “One of Great Britain’s top recording groups” about 3 minutes in, and stay for Charlie Williams making racist jokes. After that it somehow manages to keep getting worse. 

We occasionally watched Wheetappers & Shunters at home and I don’t know what is more depressing: The show itself or the sad thought that I might have actually found it entertaining.

Conversations With a Working Man

This is almost 45 years old but sadly could have been filmed yesterday, and I don’t just mean that Yorkshiremen are still always complaining. If anything, working people seem to be going backwards economically these days.

The saddest part though is that his ambition for his daughter doesn’t go beyond hoping she grows up to be a “glamour girl” and some “fellow with a Jaguar” will come along and marry her into the middle class. I hope that would have changed a bit at least, even in Yorkshire.

Not had any Reggae here in a while, this is from Johnson’s 1984 album Making History.

Download: Wat About Di Workin’ Claas – Linton Kwesi Johnson (mp3)

When Love Breaks Down

It’s mean but I feel like getting a time machine so I can go back and tell her what happens.

Download: Don’t Talk To Me About Love (Extended Version) – Altered Images (mp3)

Low Fidelity

Speaking of Lo-fi music technology, this was our family record player for most of the 1970s, a fact which may have influenced my memory of how music sounded back then. It’s a Fidelity HF42 which, according to my research, only cost £13.95 from Argos in 1976 which seems ridiculously low even for 40 year ago. It was mono and made of plastic — even the “wood” bits — with a whopping output of 1 1/2 watts of tinny music power. Sad to say, my mum probably bought it because it was the cheapest one there was — we were poor, you know.

The Fidelity was where I first played such epochal albums of my youth as All Mod Cons (I’m amazed I could hear Bruce Foxton’s bass), but the record I most associate with it is the 45 of “Telephone Line” which I played incessantly for a while. I think I literally played it a dozen times in a row the day I bought it. I listened to a lot of ELO records on that thing and was probably only hearing about 25% of the sumptuous production, but Jeff Lynne’s songs were so strong they still sounded great on a shitty record player, or radio.

Download: Telephone Line – Electric Light Orchestra (mp3)

We eventually got a Panasonic music centre at the end of the decade which felt like a top-of-the-line Bang & Olufsen system to me — two speakers!

The Mad Woman in the Kitchen

I think even back then we knew Fanny Cradock was a bit deranged. I love the way she says “A PROPER OMELETTE PAN!” as if she’s going to come round your house and hit you with a ruler if you don’t use one. And how crappy that stove looks now compared to the fancy, well-appointed kitchens Nigella and Jamie cook in. But at least it’s something her viewers might actually have themselves — looks like the stove we had, in fact — and not some aspirational Aga range which cost more than most people’s cars.

This is the Christmas episode from 1975 and apparently things were so bad that year — terrorism, unemployment, inflation — British housewives were reduced to making their entire holiday feast out of mincemeat. It’s all rather sad and desperate and Fanny even gives a little speech at the end about the “appalling present conditions” as if the country was in the middle of the Blitz. Pretty sure we had turkey as usual that year.

Early Doors

Well, that didn’t last long did it? England were barely in the World Cup long enough for you to read your special issue of the Radio Times.

Despite the early exit I’m not as depressed as I was during the last World Cup where we got past the group stage but were so dismal it was almost a relief when we got knocked out. This time we actually showed glimmers of playing decent, attacking football. Not much to cling to, granted, but I’ll take it.

I’ll still be keenly watching the rest of the tournament of course and there are a few other teams I’d be happy to see to do well, but if it’s a Brazil v Germany final I may find myself overwhelmed by indifference.

But while we might be rubbish at football not many other countries can make records as great as this. No small consolation, that.

Download: Say Hello, Wave Goodbye (12″ version)- Soft Cell (mp3)

Nanny Knows Best

It wasn’t just kids who got lectures from the government about the correct behaviour. In the post-war years they liked to nag at grown ups too via posters that gave advice and instruction on the correct personal habits that were required if we were going to work together to build the New Jerusalem of happy, healthy people.

Many of these have been collected in the new book Keep Britain Tidy And Other Posters from the Nanny State which is full of State-sponsored finger-wagging about personal hygiene, diet, fitness, smoking, litter, drinking and driving, and even when to take your holidays.

A lot of the posters are about health and hygiene as this was an era when most people only had one bath a week (I think we had two as kids), smoked like chimneys, cooked with lard, caught diseases like Tuberculosis, and a lot of homes still had outside toilets. There is even a poster in the book telling people to change their underwear more often. Life was grim back then kids, everything was covered in soot, even the people.

Though the tone of the posters is mostly benevolent they do occasionally take on a more sinister Big Brother vibe like the giant finger below, and that Watch Out! There’s a Thief About poster from the late 60s seems like the beginning of the paranoia about crime that I mentioned in the previous post, and the government taking a more sensationalist, scare-mongering approach which was seen in those scary public information films aimed at kids.

Nowadays this might all seem very Orwellian, but the British have a love/hate attitude towards this sort of authoritarian maternalism. We gave the much-loved BBC the cozy nickname “Auntie” because of its we-know-best elitism, and Maggie Thatcher built her career on lecturing voters about how we’d been naughty and immoral. But in the past I don’t think we ever took the government and civil servants seriously enough to feel threatened by them, they were just old duffers telling us to brush our teeth more often.

Download: Danger Signs – Penetration (mp3)

Be Very Afraid

They really did try their best to scare the shit out of us kids in the 1970s. If we weren’t being warned about getting locked in old fridges, drowned in dirty canals, crushed by farm machinery, blinded by fireworks, or catching Rabies, we were being told not to talk to strangers.

That last one seemed to be the most deathly important of all — for reasons we didn’t quite understand as kids – and clearly no expense was spared in the making of “Never Go With Strangers” a 1971 film that was shown in schools. It’s an epic of the scary safety film genre complete with animation, special effects, and a huge cast of creepy-looking men.

Though it is a well-meaning attempt to talk to young children about a difficult subject, some of the script is almost surreally funny (even in context) with lines like “People like this might be a bit odd in the head”, “That’s a lovely cape you’re wearing” and “There’s not even a baby donkey in the field” — personally I’d have run a mile if some strange man had complimented my cape and offered to show me a baby donkey.

With all these apparent dangers you’d think we lived in a state of perpetual terror locked in our bedrooms, but like most parents my mother let us go out on our own unsupervised and out of contact with her from quite a young age (no cell phones then either of course). I don’t know when or why that changed but you couldn’t make “Never Go With Strangers” in the same way now because those kids wouldn’t be out on their own. One very sad statistic in this article is that in 1971 80% of 9-year-olds in the UK walked to school alone, by 1990 that number had dropped to only 9% and now it’s even lower, despite there being no rise in the number of child abductions — though you wouldn’t know that from the pitchfork-waving hysteria about paedos, predators, and kiddie-fiddlers in the British tabloid press these days. Even the smiling old man who winked at you in the street when you were a kid would be suspect now.

Despite my mother’s apparently laissez faire attitude to our safety she still had her moments of terror. I can vividly remember an instance of her “losing” me for a few minutes in a crowd of shoppers on Kensington High Street one Saturday afternoon, and the panicky, tearfully relieved tone in her voice when she found me made it clear how awful those few minutes must have been for her (a feeling I know myself now with my own kids.) Then she spanked me and said “DON’T EVER DO THAT AGAIN!!!” — that’s 70s parenting for you.

Download: Fear Of The World – ABC (mp3)

What’s it all about?

The sentimental musings of an ageing expat in words, music, and pictures. Mp3 files are up for a limited time so drink them while they're hot. Contact me: lee at londonlee dot com




Follow me!

For Hire