Weird birthday cards of the 1970s

1970s birthday card

I go into my parents’ attic occasionally and chance upon some of the very weird birthday cards from the 1970s that I got in my childhood. I have to say of all of them, this has to be the oddest of the lot. It was sent by my lovely Portuguese grandmother but definitely a different era. I mean, could you imagine a kid walking down the street dressed like that now? Ah – it was a different time!

The horror of 1970s school dinners!

school dinner

Spam fritters, stringy beef, scoops of mash potato shaped like an igloo and vegetables boiled until any vestige of vitamins was removed. Chocolate pudding with matching chocolate custard. Tapioca that looked like frog spawn.

Metal water jugs and Duralex glasses with a different number at the bottom of each glass signifying who knew what? Not a sign of fresh fruit anywhere. And discipline maintained by stern dinner ladies who’d seen off Hitler and the Luftwaffe and weren’t going to put up with nonsense from a bunch of nine-year-olds.

The canteen was a Nissan hut extension of the school thrown up after the Second World War. More than likely we were getting a constant light dusting of asbestos throughout our meals – which were eaten on long benches. Each table was supervised by a monitor, normally a physically bigger kid with a penchant for bullying.

A skinny guy called John seemed to have an eating disorder or maybe just had a discerning palate. Either way, he used to stuff the stringy beef into his trouser pockets when the dinner ladies weren’t watching. Because we were expected to eat everything slapped in front of us. And if we had difficulty cutting the aforementioned beef, a dinner lady would hover over us and hack at it with our knife. “There,” she’d snarl, “you can eat it now!”

Spam fritters were so dire that we used to chuck them on to the ground in the hope some hapless kid would slip up with his tray and send his school dinner flying. That was the only decent use for them. They’d obviously been one of those wartime staples that lingered inexplicably into the 1970s.

All that said, at the end of the decade, school dinners took a fast food turn under the Tories. Out went the stringy beef and igloo-shaped mash potato and in came sub-Wimpy burgers and oven fries. Maybe more appetising but not more nutritious. I’m struggling to find the fond memories. Just memories…

Anybody use a calculator like this in the 1970s?

Texas Instruments

This was the first calculator I ever owned. Made by Texas Instruments and possibly the last thing I ever got from that company.

Think this wizard piece of technology was from around 1978 and could do everything from long division to logarithms. But – we weren’t allowed to take them into exams. Infuriatingly, we still had to use “log books” to calculate logarithms and slides rules.

Anybody who remembers slide rules will know how fiendishly difficult to use they were. I hated them. Still shudder when I see one.

Power cuts in the 1970s – my experience

The recent Coronavirus lockdown in many countries will have come as an unpleasant shock to millions of people – especially the young. To have bars, clubs, shops and meeting places closed by order of the government must seem very disturbing. But to us Boomers, there’s a ring of the familiar. And here’s why…

Because in the early 1970s we endured regular government authorised power cuts. This was a measure in the United Kingdom by the Conservative government of prime minister Edward Heath. He was locked in battle with the National Union of Mineworkers – an episode dramatised in the Netflix series, The Queen.

In order to conserve coal stocks and face the miners down, Heath ordered that energy consumption needed to be reduced. To achieve this – at a time when coal-fired stations provided most of our energy – he demanded that at certain times of the day, the lights should go out.

And I wrote about this in my Holiday Diary in 1972 (aged 8 or 9) – a journal we were ordered to keep by our teacher at school. Amusing to read how my piano lessons were cancelled (oh the horror!); the local swimming pool was freezing and we couldn’t go to Sunday school.

The latter was a particular relief – not being browbeaten by nuns in order to get my First Communion. Because I went to a state school – or “Protestant” school as our local parish priest called it – I had to endure an hour of the Sisters of Mercy (inappropriately named) every week. Thankfully, they couldn’t bully us without the lights on for some reason.

Then there were all the TV shows I had to miss. A serialisation of Ann of Green Gables – which clearly had me hooked. But mercifully, they still managed to screen the Cliff Richard Show with the UK’s Eurovision Song Contest entry for 1972 – The New Seekers singing Beg, Steal or Borrow. We lost that year.

What I don’t mention in the diary below is going to the local library and the whole place being illuminated by candlelight. Could you even imagine that being allowed now? Rows of highly combustible material with candles flickering on the shelves alongside. Different time.

The Anti-Nazi League carnival of 1978

Anti Nazi League 1978

It’s still a day I look back on as mystical and magical. On the 30 April 1978, I went on the Anti-Nazi League march from Trafalgar Square to Victoria Park in the east end of London – and there, your humble scribed aged 15 at the time, saw The Clash and several other legendary bands play. What a time to be alive!

Though I should remove my rose-tinted spectacles at this stage of the blog post. Because it was also a time of racist attacks – especially on Asian people – unbridled bigotry in the tabloid press and the National Front (the main extreme Right party) doing well in local elections.

We had a handful of wannabe Hitlers at our school but they were rather pathetic suburban poseurs. But more worrying, the skinhead scene had been infiltrated by extreme Right groups and there had been some high profile murders.

So, a group of us went on the tube down to Charing Cross to join the demo in Trafalgar Square and a VERY long march to the Mile End district of London. Not sure you’d get anybody to march that kind of distance these days! But all that roller skating and cycling round on Chopper bikes meant we were always up for some exercise – especially in a good cause.

I actually got separated that day from the group and ended up marching on my own. There were so many people that it was useless trying to find my mates again. I have a small confession to make and that is I didn’t pay too much attention to The Clash on stage in Victoria Park and much preferred the Tom Robinson Band. I’ve been kicking myself ever since.

Tony McMahon remembers the Anti-Nazi League carnival in 1978