A look Back At Austerity

Posted on July 19, 2010

After years of growth, excessive spending, borrowing and lending, it would appear we are heading in to a period of unprecedented austerity. The old saying ‘If I hadn’t had such riches, I could live with being poor’ will be making a strong comeback.

I was chatting about this to friends in the pub the other night, and we had a right laugh reminiscing childhood experiences of the seventies, a time when most people had a pretty basic lifestyle, unfamiliar to today’s world of mobile phones, computers, Internet, nice cars, and holidays etc.

A Hillman Super Minx like my Dad’s

My own childhood was fairly typical in the area where I lived near the Atomic Weapons factory in Aldermaston. Being the youngest of five, food was a regular scavenging exercise, as anything that stayed on a plate for too long would have been gobbled up by my elders. The home diet then was stew, kedgeree, stew, mince and potatoes, stew, kedgeree and cornflakes. Pudding was Instant Whip, apart from September to November when courtesy of four apple trees, it was apple crumble, baked apples, apple pie, or apple stew. Chilli’s, pastas, and curry’s were not even heard of in my house. The house was generally liberal, but there was unwritten ban on tabloid newspapers and commercial TV. These are traits I have taken today on albeit to a lesser extent, though I refuse to watch ITV News or GMTV and I still find Radio 4 soothingly British.

My bedroom was one of Shoot magazine posters of Kevin Keegan, Rodney Marsh and Stan Bowles. Bedding consisted of navy blue nylon sheets and pillow cases, a crimpling blanket and an orange sleeping bag. I remember our friends up the road (the Withey’s) getting CONTINENTAL quilts, and it seemed the most exotic thing on earth, though it was several more years before I got my own bedding from the continent. My parents, like many others at the time, thought that nylon was great, be it sheets, pants (yes pants) socks, and school uniform. I have harrowing memories of toenails getting caught up in navy blue sheets, and electric shock fights with my brother, taking off a school jumper was genuine fire hazard with sparks flying all over the place. My bedroom was always freezing, though I think my Dad did put the heating on briefly in the bitter winter of 1979 when the condensation on my window froze for a month. He was always looking for energy savings, once spending a whole weekend aralditing foil to the back of the radiators in a bid to reflect the heat back in to the house on the few occasions he actually turned the heating on.

Travel was in a Hillman Super Minx (see above) that always seemed to be on the verge of death, and was on ongoing mechanical project for my Dad, who was determined to get value for money from his Haynes manual, helping him bleed the brakes wasn’t my favourite past time. I can remember a blow out of such ferocity on the M4, that it made the steering wheel come off in his hands leaving just the horn left on the steering rack. Fortunately my Dad was used to dealing with nuclear explosives, so guiding a car on to the hard shoulder with a horn was a cakewalk, though I made it more interesting by yanking his head back and forward from the back seat screaming “I’m going to die, I’m going to die”. On another occasion the gearbox simply fell off, leaving a gaping hole in the centre of car which left my sisters French exchange student shreaking hysterically in terror as she watched the white lines of the motorway fizzing past her feet. Our chaotic house was no place for a 14 year old exchange student, and I wonder sometimes whether she still suffers from trauma today, she would be about 44 now.

Holidays were based around camping trips to Bracklesham Bay, with occasional more exotic trips to Tenby, The Forest of Dean, or the Norfolk Broads, many of which were boys only trips that involved fishing and eating soya mince. They were great fun even if I was the perennial younger brother pain in the arse who always getting tangled up or breaking equipment. My Dad was an expert at avoiding camping tariffs, and I was often hidden up trees or zipped up in sleeping bags as a cost saving measure. He was also a class act at finding local hostelries, and a late night drive back to the camp site was a much better than any roller coaster ride that Pontins could offer. I actually did a Butlins holiday with my Nan when I was 14 and I thought it was shit. Being in a controlled environment just didn’t compare with the adventures you had with your elder brothers, and when they got older (they were 6 and 8 years my senior) I missed those holidays badly, and I was left with six week trips by coach to see my Grandma in Kirkcaldy, a bleak town on the east coast of Scotland which sounds more miserable than what it actually was, my Gran was a great character and always ensured I was entertained.

So if tougher times lie ahead, it may not be such a bad thing, it may get kids in to creating their own entertainment again, and going out and having adventures of their own making rather than ones created on a computer screen, though it will take a stricter attitude from parents (me included) to make it happen. The media has created a culture where parents are shit scared that if they let their kids loose they will get abducted, this is nonsense, they are more likely to electrocuted playing Grand Theft Auto. It is now apparent that the country has lived off a false economy for the last 25 years, and it is now payback time. Perhaps a decade of austerity will make us all better people!

1 Reply to "A look Back At Austerity"

  • Trevor and Amy
    July 20, 2010 (12:37 pm)

    Great post Bob. I laughed so much about your dad losing the steering wheel on the motorway. That's priceless.

    Loved the references to instant Whip as well. I've got 2 brothers and my Mom used to spin the whole packet of instant whip (which must have cost about 12p at the time) out to all five of us by watering it down – you still used to only get an egg cup full.

    The continental quilt thing was amazing as well wasn't it? Like you I had the nylon sheets and envied a friend who lived round the corner who enjoyed such luxury bedding.

    My folks used to only have the heating on for about 30 minutes a day as well and yes, my dad went for the tin foil and also put cling film on the windows for 6 months of the year to maintain the 'heat' what little there was.

    We only got a colour tele when I was about 13. It was bizarre really that my Dad held out for so long. When we did go colour we had the first teletext tv in the neighbourhood and people I'd never met before came round to look at it! The tele itself lasted another 30 years. A grundig – the remote control was about as big as the TV itself. Good old days 🙂

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