I am a kid of the seventies and this is what I remember – what makes me smile each time these memories are recalled…
I grew up in a time when televisions didn’t have remote controls. Changing the TV station required someone to get off the brown vinyl couch, walk over to the set and turn the dial onto the other four channels that were available. There was no channel surfing.
Families usually had one car, at least four kids, one bathroom and one toilet to share which resulted a l-o-n-g wait to use the loo, and a fairly quick visit requiring expert holding of breath, if the person prior to you had an upset stomach. Every family toilet had a chenille lid cover and matching floor mat, usually in mission brown, burnt orange or lime green.
We had a small collection of clothes and shoes, neatly divided into school wear, outside wear and ‘good’ outfits. God forbid we should wear a Sunday best outfit into the backyard and get it dirty, or worse, torn. My dresses were decorated with bows, ruffles and pouffed shoulders.
The coffee machine in my house consisted of a kettle that whistled when the water had boiled atop a gas flame, and a glass jar of Nescafe blend 43. A ‘milky’ coffee was one with two dashes of milk instead of one. Lattes were unheard of.
My parent’s wine came out of a cask or flagon -Riesling or Moselle, Shiraz or Claret. For dinner parties a bottle was purchased, or the cask wine poured into a crystal decanter that sat on the shelf gathering dust for eleven months of the year, simply because it was ‘too good’ to use every day.
My mum’s dinner parties consisted of at least three courses and were eaten with the ‘good’ silver cutlery that sat in a velvet-lined wooden box for eleven months of the year because it also was ‘too good’ to use. And even though it was rarely used, it was polished regularly, along with every other item of silver and brass.
Dinner parties started with canapés and an aperitif, such as Sherry or Vermouth in order to stimulate the appetite. After dessert came the cheese platter and port or muscat or tokay, and lively debate on politics or religion. The next day the room smelt of Brut, Old Spice, Charlie and stale tobacco.
Carpet was shagpile- fibres inches long and impossible to vacuum clean. God knows what lurked beneath everyone’s luxurious flooring, most likely Ebola or Typhoid. However, because we played in the dirt and mud, and ate bugs and dog food when dared, we had strong immune systems.
Walls, and even ceilings, were adorned with wallpaper. Psychedelic prints, geometric prints and large green leaves were all the fashion. My mother used to wallpaper everything. I remember her threading each sheet of wallpaper through a special water-filled trough that dampened the glue sufficiently to make it cling to a wall. Prior to this invention she used to lay the paper on trestle tables and paint the claggy-glue on with a wide blonde, horse-hair brush.
Our television, a wooden box on four skinny legs, had rabbit ears as an antenna. These ears were temperamental and required much jostling, tweaking and experimenting to find the ‘sweet spot’ where the static didn’t ruin the picture and sound was clear. On many occasions it was my job to stand next to the TV and hold the rabbit ears because that was where the picture was best.
After school we would play with our friends on the street or go wandering around our suburb, or to the local park. Home time was when the street lights came on. We knew everyone in our suburb, and everyone knew us, which meant that we were sure to get caught if we did anything stupid.
Nothing was more important than playing outside, riding bikes, mastering rollerskates, laughing, playing tiggy or chasey or flirting innocently with boys. No one wanted to stop playing to eat lunch or dinner. Food was an inconvenience, an unwanted (but necessary) interruption to playtime.
After playing with our friends all day, we’d go home and talk to them on the phone all night. Our mothers and fathers would interrupt us constantly, telling us to get off the phone, that it was bedtime. And constantly, we would ignore them because there was still so much to say to this person we had just spent all day with.
Holidays were spent at the beach. Four weeks in a caravan and canvas annexe. BBQ each night for dinner, spotlight in the trees at night, days of swimming and tobogganing on the sand dunes. Pure heaven. Pure freedom.
We would tape songs off the radio on our cassette players because we didn’t have the money to buy a song from a record store. Music came on flat black vinyl discs that were played with a diamond stylus. My mum’s copies of Hot August Night and American Pie were the soundtrack to my childhood. I still know all the words.
Dinner was meat and three veg, tuna casserole and rice or curried sausages. Dessert was tinned fruit and plain vanilla ice cream. Lunch was a cheese sandwich that sat in our bags for hours, in hot, humid school corridors. Ethnic kids had salami sandwiches. No fridges. No one ever got food poisoning.
A plain icy-pole cost five cents. Lollies were displayed in specially made glass cases in milk bars. We took our time in choosing exactly which lolly, and how many of each, we wanted in our bag of mixed lollies because it was a hugely important decision. Twenty cents was a fortune. Fifty cents practically made you a billionaire. A crisp white bag of sugary treats was move valuable than diamonds.
The shops closed at midday on Saturday and didn’t reopen until nine on Monday morning. We never ran out of bread or milk and didn’t panic buy simply because the shops were closed for a day and a half. Car parks made great racing tracks for our bikes. We would pretend we were adults, driving cars and parking our bikes in the middle of empty car parks.
I wish I could take my kids back to my own childhood, just to share with them the pure magic of having been a seventies kid. The freedom that they don’t have now. To show them that life does not revolve around ipads, tablets, laptops and mobile phones would be heaven. To see them fall into a hot shower each night to hose off their dirt and sweat covered skin, to ravenously throw dinner down their necks and collapse into their pillow each night out of pure exhaustion and happiness, would be wonderful.
They ask me about the ‘olden days’ occasionally and shake their head when I tell them what it was like. No internet. No computers. No mobile phones. No international school camps. For all the convenience and promise the kids have now, I wouldn’t swap a thing. I love my seventies childhood, and feel extraordinarily blessed to have these memories.