Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Bell Bottoms, Slade and Cadbury's Smash. It's the Seventies!

 I’m at that deliciously exciting stage of planning my next story. It’s far too soon to decide whether it will be a novel or a 30,000-40,000 word novella, but a couple of things are now firmly set in concrete:

 *It will be a horror story (now there’s a surprise!)

 *It will be largely set in 1972-73 in Leeds, West Yorkshire

A trio of other points are set in what could be best termed lumpy porridge:

  • The twist-in-the-tale ending (you don’t honestly think I’m sharing that with you now, do you?)
  • The main (female) character and her three room-mates
  • A working title – The Darkest Veil

As some of you know, I’m having medical issues at present and am not able to spend as much time at my desk as usual. This means I have to seek alternative ways to get on with my work. The horror and plot of the story will develop in due course when I am able to get back to my normal way of working. Right now, in order to ensure an appropriate sense of time and place for my story, I need to do some ‘set dressing’ – include authentic references to products in everyday use, events, fashions, music and the general day to day ingredients of the world my characters inhabit. So, blessed with an impressive collection of historical reference books, I’ve been saturating myself in early Seventies social history and the memories have come flooding back.

So, for those of you who remember the early 1970s, prepare for a splash of nostalgia. For those of you too young to remember, suspend your disbelief…

 Remember how we shopped for soft, flowing maxi dresses in Wallis, Dorothy Perkins, Richard Shops and C & A. And what about those horrible communal changing rooms, where you had to think carefully about whether you’d put on a bra that didn’t look as if it had been washed with a load of grey clothes! Not to mention whether you’d shaved under your arms in the last month. Never mind though, you could always Immac away that unwanted hair. I can still remember the stink of that stuff!

Make up. We applied it thickly. Eyeshadow creased within minutes, eyeliner caked, mascara dripped. Miners, with its bright colours. Gala, which was highly perfumed and used to sting. Good old Rimmel - still with us after all these years. When we walked into the room it was to the aromatic accompaniment of the rather insipid Tweed, Aqua Manda’s chocolate-orange, Mary Quant’s Patchouli or the floral tones of Blue Grass. We cleansed our faces with piles of cotton wool and Anne French Cleansing Milk, treated our spots with Clearasil and had a weekly facial with LemPak (which set like cement and cracked if you so much as blinked).

 We coloured our hair with Harmony or Sea Witch which conveniently washed out after 6-8 weeks (handy is you were experimenting and didn’t really want that bright orange hair). Actually it was 6-8 washes, but we only washed our hair once a week.

We fell off our increasingly high platform boots (which should have come with a Health and Safety warning), all looked the same with our identical midi haircuts (which took ages to grow out once the style had gone out of fashion), fell over our bell bottoms, and read Honey and 19 magazines.

 For many of us, our first taste of ‘exotic’ food came courtesy of a Vesta Ready Meal. These dried food packets came in a variety of flavours – Beef Curry, Chop Suey, Paella, Chow Mein, Beef Italienne and more. To those of us raised on a plain British diet of meat and two veg, with suet pudding for afters, this was an adventure. For those of us in bedsit land with no refrigeration, they were a godsend. And who remembers the Harvey’s Duo Cans? Beef or Chicken Curry in one end and boiled rice in the other. You just heated them up and tucked in. Delicious.

 Mashed potato also came as a dried powder, as did milk (remember Marvel? Coffee Mate?), and Surprise dried peas alternated with their dried runner beans to provide a dubiously nutritious accompaniment to our Fray Bentos individual steak and kidney pudding.

We bought our boyfriends Hai Karate aftershave for Christmas, because they were bored with Brut, and took our lemonade and cider bottles back to the shop to get the promised money back. Those few pence soon added up. That’s what I call a real incentive for recycling!

 We probably listened to the Bay City Rollers (I hated them!), David Cassidy, David Bowie, Rod Stewart and Slade (Abba would come along a couple of years later) and our transistor radios ate up the batteries (some things don’t really change).

In the UK, our TVs gave us the choice of three – yes THREE – channels. None of which were on all day and most went off around midnight during the week. Most of us watched on Black and white. Colour TV was still a novelty and very expensive. Even monochrome TVs cost so much most people rented them. DER, Granada, Radio Rentals and Visionhire all rubbed shoulders on every High Street and there was enough TV rental trade for all. Videos were still unheard of.

 Ah, yes. Those were the days!

For the first time, a generation of young women were leaving home and living in bedsits. They were leading independent lives and ‘going on the Pill’. They went down to the pub and drank lager and lime or Pernod and blackcurrant, worked in offices where they slaved over chunky manual typewriters or, if they were lucky, the slightly less chunky electric ones. Bosses were male and women were still largely expected to marry, get pregnant, leave work and raise children. The choice was still career, or marriage with children. Rarely both.

 In my case, I remember vividly my first job at the Midland Bank Trust Company in Leeds. I was bored and fed up of seeing males come into the office only to be promoted over my head and given more interesting work to do, when – all too often – I was given the filing. I looked for a job that would help me develop a real career and found one – working in newspaper advertising. I duly handed in my notice and all hell broke loose. Evidently, the Bank was trying to present itself as an Equal Opportunity employer (really?) and for me to resign placed a black mark against them in the eyes of Head Office. They did all they could to persuade me to stay, culminating in me being summoned to the Manager’s office.

From behind a cloud of Silk Cut cigarette smoke, the man I had been instructed to call, ‘Sir’ said, ‘Don’t you ever want to get married and have children?’

I stared at him, then replied, ‘I’m only 19 years old, sir. I want a career.’

He had no reply and I left – both his office and the Midland (ironically, it was called ‘the listening bank’ in those days!). I went onto develop a successful career, in a far less male dominated environment - with better pay and prospects. Oh – and no filing!

So while I’m enjoying my trip back to the Seventies, if I’m ever tempted to say I’d like to go back there for real, all I have to do is remember that bigoted boss - so typical of the time - and the rose tinted glasses fall off.


  1. OMG..... that is all I am gonna say.... Oh and ok...I did once have black platforms as high as those. Brilliant blog

    1. Thank you, Shehanne . Now confess. Did you ever fall off those shoes? I chickened out after I tried on a pair and went dizzy. Vertigo, I think. ;)

    2. I didn't. They were actually not that uncomfortable to wear in that the heel was low. However I must say thinking back, they were ugly as hell. I do know this guy in our school who thought he was the cat's pj's....well okay, underneath he didn't, but anyway he had a pair and he fell off the pavie and broke his ankle.

  2. Oh gosh, I remember all those things. Don't forget David Cassidy and dry shampoo for hair (that turned it white and awful). It's going to be a good book, Cat.

    1. Batiste dry shampoo. I may be renewing its acquaintanceship when I go into hospital. I am told it's lost some of its talcum powder-meets-cement tendencies. I hope that's true ;). I certainly remember David Cassidy. Bless him! As for the book... Well I know who the characters are, and where it,s set...I even know how it ends, and that I am calling it The Darkest Veil. So, all I have to do now is establish where the horror comes from, how it manifests, what happens, create suspense, tension and drama. Scare my readers into keeping all their lights on. Permanently. And that's it. Job done... Should be finished by lunchtime. I'm just not prepared to say which lunchtime! Thanks for dropping by, Sue !

  3. Wow, those are great details. Thanks for the glimpse of what it was like in the '70s in the UK. I'm really looking forward to reading the book!

    Hope you're feeling better soon.

    1. Thanks, J.H. Of course, there will be horror... Mind you, looking back at some of those fashions, I won't have to invent too much of it! Also, interesting to note that James Herbert wrote The Rats during the lengthy strike by the refuse collectors that went on for weeks and resulted in mountains of rubbish piling up all over the country. Needless to say, the rat population thrived and gave a great horror writer a brilliant idea!