Can You Rememember What You Used to Eat?

Posted on March 30, 2011

I read an article the other day by Alex James (former Blur guitarist) which, quite frankly, amazed me. Did you know that in the 1970’s yogurt was a new craze? Yes the humble yogurt was a new and exotic treat that had never been able to be packaged before plastic containers came on the scene. This got me thinking about what I ate as a child apart from heavily sugared bowls of cornflakes that would often be my breakfast, lunch and evening meal. It is quite incredible to think how one dimensional our food was in an era when a Baguette was what those smelly French people ate and Zendic Luncheon meat was for eating, not for catching fish with. Argentinian corned beef was about as exotic as it got, and that’s if you could undo the key on the tin without slicing your hand off. Do you remember those things, bloody deadly they were.

Basingstoke is hardly a throbbing metropolis of fine dining, but even here, where I now live, we can eat Italian, French, Indian, Thai, Chinese and Spanish food. None of this was even thought of in the 1970’s, a golden era of Smash, Luncheon meat, Soya mince and another part of my staple diet, Instant Whip (Angel delight was for snobs). My dinners, as far as I can remember, were Mince and Potatoes, Stew and Kedgeree. As there were five of us, the cupboards were pretty much bare, but there was always bread, cornflakes (in a great big black sack) Scott’s porridge oats, Lyons golden syrup an ancient packet of icing sugar and some marmalade that we were forbidden to touch by my Dad, who was, understandably, fiercely protective of his only treat. My dad was and still is, a placid man who would forgive you for throwing a brick through the neighbours greenhouse, but if you touched his marmalade he would momentarily consider violence before simmering down and spending the rest of the morning singing half verses of songs by Perry Como or Frank Sinatra. He would then trundle off to work to design some nuclear missiles.

The cupboards below the sink would always have semi fresh vegetables in them that had been bought from Swan’s the Greengrocer at the other end of our lane. Swan’s was metal shack that sold rotten vegetables, black jacks, liquorice sherbets and Dandelion & Burdock. They were a notoriously mean family and as their empire grew, they opened another shop in Franklin Avenue and became active Conservatives on the local council. In an extreme act of pomposity they named their house “Cygnet House” and built two gate pillars with large Swans on them. They lasted two days before David Anderson snapped their heads off in an act of mindless yet hilarious vandalism that was greeted with great delight, even by the most law abiding members of the community who had seen their names on a printed “bad debtors” list stuck on the window of the shop for the passing public to see. Many years later my Mother and Warwick Lovegrove overturned Swan’s Conservative vote in a brilliant election campaign where my friends all voted for them under the influence of my Dad’s Barley Wine. It was one of those great moments in life that will be treasured forever for those involved in the landslide victory.

Anyway, back to the food. The fridge always had milk, but often little else, except maybe some pork in jelly called Brawn, and a festering block of Echo cooking margarine that my brother once mistakenly thought was cheese. Picture in you minds eye, and in your taste buds, the sensation of biting in to a sandwich that contains thick yellow slices of cooking margarine thought to be cheese. I think you will agree that it’s an awful thought and Bruce’s face painted a graphic picture of the distress he was in. What he was doing thinking that we had anything as luxurious as cheese in the house is any one’s guess, maybe it was Christmas. I don’t think these were really hardships as such, more just the era we lived in, and I don’t really remember any of my friends being much better off, though some did have Soda streams and snacks such as crisps and Jammy Dodgers plus alternative cereals to Cornflakes such as Rice Crispies and Frosties. My Mum was adamant that snacks and flashy cereals were not allowed as they would make us fat and unhealthy. She needn’t have worried, I looked like someone from a prisoner of war camp.

My only flirtation with restaurants or take away food came in the shape of a Fish and Chip shop (Mr Fish) owned by the parents of a school friend and, extraordinarily, a Spanish Restaurant called Casa Roberto’s in Tadley where my Mum worked as a cook come waitress. What the fuck a Spanish restaurant was doing in Tadley in the mid 1970’s I just don’t know, but I can remember eating in the kitchen at Roberto’s on the nights my Mum worked at weekends. A Spanish restaurant in a one horse town with a Scottish waitress in the 1970’s sounds like a shit sitcom but it really did happen. All I can recall is my Mother, who was not known for her cool head, perpetually trying to pacify and calm down Roberto, who I can only remember for his mood swings and violence towards kitchen crockery. The restaurant didn’t last too long and later became The Curry Garden, I guess in the early 80’s,and it is still there now. For the record my Mum wasn’t kept on by the Indians.

So the next time you are tucking in to your Cantonese, Thai, or Moroccan, if you are as old as me, cast yourself back thirty years, it is pretty incredible how our food habits have changed and why we have more problems with weight control.

Anyone fancy a Spam sandwich?

No Replies to "Can You Rememember What You Used to Eat?"

    Got something to say?

    Some html is OK

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.