Were the 1970s so awful? The Daily Mail ran one of its scare splashes the other day under the headline: “Corbyn plot to drag UK back to the 70s.”
On Twitter the writer Brian W Lavery, whose handle is “Scottish author in Hull”, offered this riposte: “Do you mean the 70s when higher education was free, foodbanks unheard of, a person could live on their wages and zero hours contracts did not exist. Oh, and parliament worked! Fire up the Tardis.”
This set me spinning in my own personal Tardis. If you ask this not so wild child, the Seventies were great – apart from the bit at the end when Margaret Thatcher was elected.
Never mind the late Baroness Hacksaw, I’d whirl back there in an instant.
For me it wasn’t about strikes or the Winter of Discontent or departing Labour prime minister Jim Callaghan dismissing the social chaos with a breezy “Crisis? What crisis?” Callaghan never said that, by the way; it was a headline in the Sun, making mischief then as now (although more effectively then than now).
No, for me the 1970s rolls on the rails of boyhood to sort of manhood (still waiting for the full version to arrive).
That decade took me roughly from 12 to 20; grammar school to university; sensible trousers to loons with bum-clinging tops and ballooning bottoms, or to jeans with flowery triangle flares sewn in by my mother; wizard T-shirts that were tight up top and with drooping sleeves; early flings and a bruise or two to the heart; youth hostels in the Lake District and warnings about under-aged drinking; Friday nights in a local pub, where the backroom was more or less the sixth-form common room.
And then there was the music. The first Knebworth Festival; seeing John Martyn at Salford University; all those gigs at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester (John Mayall, Yes, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, John McLaughlin…); the Buxton Festival, reduced in misted memory to watching Steppenwolf under plastic in the rain.
The Goldsmiths years, studying English literature, were the making or the unmaking of me, with more friends than ever. They’ve died or drifted now, some of those friends, but one keeps in touch. My great friend died 20 odd years after university, only in his early 40s: a continuing loss, but we did get to drive across America together.
That was in the 1980s, but the one before was great. Decades, you see, are personal and political, comprised of broad history and personal history. And no one can take the 1970s away from me. And, as Brian Lavery points out, the university education I had was free, supported by local authority grants. I didn’t receive a full amount and my dad declined to fully make up the difference, but I was fine, self-supported by summer jobs, including working nights in a crisp factory (main memory, apart from smelling of that night’s flavour, was eating whole potatoes dropped into the boiling fat; they emerged like a cross between a crisp and a baked potato).
Yes, whizz me back now; back to that fully crazy afro worn away by the years to shiny nothing; back to hope and dreams; back to all the great things waiting to happen; some did happen, some are still waiting, others were written in disappearing ink.
Life now is wrapped in digital complications, everything in an instant, every distraction you could want, and a few you never knew you wanted. Even a Twitter twerp like me can see that the pre-digital world had a lot going for it, especially for what became my line of work. At the end of the decade, the News of the World sold more than four million copies every Sunday, while even the Observer managed nearly a million.
Those inky days are dust, the new world has its benefits, the world in the palm of your hand and all that. But like Brian, I’d step in that Tardis right now to escape the splendid present.