The Word Rabbit

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This article was written on 01 Jun 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

The delicious brownness of the seventies

I was born in 1973. If you believe Wikipedia and sundry social critics, this counts as somehow being the end of the sixties, which I’m prepared to believe, because the world I grew up in now seems like some idyllic twilight of the human spirit still basking in the glow of idealism. Before I’m horribly traduced for even daring to think this and told that I’m looking at the past with rose-tinted glasses, let me first say how it wasn’t so good. Reality first, nostalgia second.

Everyone smoked. And I mean, everyone. When I see parents smoking around children now, it’s all I can do to avoid beating them to death. Back then, it just seemed normal. My dad smoked around me as a matter of course with the result that I must have absolutely stunk. I didn’t notice, which means I must have been thoroughly used to it and deaths from lung cancer were, I expect, suitably high. People in the seventies didn’t live long into their old age because they’d effectively smoked themselves to death, sat in brown, nicotine-stained houses, and died at sixty plus looking quite a lot older and lot more shopworn.

Also, the car industry, and a lot of other industries besides them, were stagnating. Our next door neighbour always bought British cars and suffered for it. My abiding memory is of a brown and wholly styleless Austin Allegro sat on his drive like a round, slightly burned loaf of bread, cosy and homely and really bad at doing the one job it was supposed to do, which was getting people places. There are stories about cars being jacked up a certain way and the back window popping out, and people not wanting to drive cars that had been made on a Friday, because the people who built them wanted to finish early and get to the works social club.

To some extent, this was the product of the unions, who were obsessively militant to the point at which the most anodyne request was met with threats of strike action and whose attention to the build quality of their vehicles was not especially zealous. But it was also down to management who, while people like Volkswagen were redefining the class by introducing the Golf, were struggling with the Austin Princess, a galumphing behemoth of a vehicle that cost a fortune and had the performance of a suitcase being thrown into a high wind.

This story was replayed across Britain, where argumentative unions and inept management which had all the collective brain power of a cloud of whelks, did for industry on a massive scale. Pub opening hours were openly insane, Sunday felt like being smothered by an itchy wool blanket of steamed dullness and ‘The Onedin Line’ was classed as being family entertainment, complete with wobbly sets and glue-on sideburns. Clearly, all was not rosy.

And yet. The seventies were the last time when the Welfare State still worked as it was supposed to and where the popular belief in it was largely unchallenged. There was generous provision available for those who could not work and medical care for those who needed it. Nobody had yet talked about ‘choice,’ so everyone used the facilities that were nearest to them, from schools to hospitals to shops. Had anyone tried to talk about out-of-town shopping, multiplexes or heaven knows what other cultural detritus litters the outside of towns and cities, people would have fallen about in hilarity.

It was also the last time that art was genuinely concerned with being both accessible and genuinely innovative. Easily derided as being all about brown, its shapes still seem beautiful and warm to me, with satisfying geometric lines overlying soft earthy colours. Even something as simple as a lampshade, which I nearly bought on eBay, looks reassuring and friendly. If a design can be classed as cosy, then it’s seventies design, which looks like it’s there for an evening in with the fondue set and a wooden handled toasting fork.

There seem to have been vast amounts of earthenware ceramics, many of them orange, and even the fonts that were used seemed to have a chunky dependability to them. They were literally the opposite of edgy, but radiated a certain cuddly certainty. Nobody needed to be provoked or made to feel uncertain or like they weren’t good enough.

Of course, none of this was elitist. You could go into shops and buy things which were nicely designed and which wouldn’t make you feel as though you should be living the life of a millionaire on a speedboat or an international man of mystery, and which you could then put in your home and which would make you feel nice. You felt nice because society, essentially, was about feeling nice. Nobody needed to be dissatisfied and nobody was told to be nakedly aspirational because that wasn’t how it worked. You inhabited a round-edged, soft space in society that was reassuring and familiar and where you may not have been upwardly mobile, but you didn’t want to be. Where you were was fine.

Exiled from this world by time and circumstance, I really bloody miss it. The things that my eighties growth into adolescence tell me I should find stifling I think are, instead, quite nice. I have absolutely no aspirations other than trying to occasionally get paid for writing and doing things that I care about from time to time. My expectation is that is not that I’ll be massively remunerated for doing them, but will make enough to get by and lead a quiet and largely heedless life. I want to look after people close to me and have them look after me on occasion. I have no desire to cut a dash in a world that increasingly seems silly and off-kilter.

I read a hugely earnest post a few days ago about how Instagram’s new logo was terrible. Open the paper, and things as varied as a pile of bricks and an unmade bed are advanced as being bold art works, rather than the tepid intellectual musings of idiots. Somebody wants me to care about something called ‘Gawker,’ which I have never used. Pop singers are taken seriously as arbiters of taste and everyone has an opinion on Britain’s Got Talent and its dancing stormtroopers. This is a society that has gone mad for witless, diverting blather just at the precise moment that it’s all falling  to pieces around our ears. The French would riot. We change channels.

Democracy has delivered illusory choices, false promises and an approach to life which looks more like a way of playing a casino. None of it appeals, all of it appals. While we can change the government, we’re never asked what we think about the system we live under or what it decides for us, so the post-1979 decision that we should abandon the Welfare State and embrace reckless financial decisions goes wholly unexamined and unannounced.

The angry young men of the sixties fought against the hidebound class system, which I agree needed deflating, but which hasn’t been in any way injured, and kicked against the things which kept them in their place and curtailed their restlessness. Well, I’m not restless and I like being in my place because it’s warm, cosy and nice. I’m no threat to the established order and don’t want to overthrow it because it’s been there in some way, shape or form, since the Norman Conquest. It’ll never change. In contrast, I want to be left alone with my dreams of the seventies to age further into irrelevance. You can keep Instagram, Gawker and Britain’s Got Talent. I’ve got ‘The Good Life’ and ‘Play For Today.’ Now, doesn’t that sound lovely?

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