It was rough, being a child of the seventies. Not only did we have to cope with the usual trauma of growing up, but were forced to wear the worst fashion since Charles I decided flowing locks and neck ruffs were the way forward. Even though Alan was never into glam rock, and pun largely passed him by (since he was an Abba fan), he still found himself as an eleven year sent out in pink herringbone flares, complete with short brown cardy, high waistband and black platform shoes.
After all, school uniform is school uniform. (In fact, even his secondary school gave the option between purple and gold shirts).
But clothing was not the only downside to being a child of a decade sandwiched between Watergate at one end and Thatcherism at the other. Politics were not of much interest back then but food was. This was the era of Pink Panther bars, Bar Six and where nothing of dodgy taste was barred. Caramac – chocolate made from, and tasting like, the product of a person with gastroenteritis. Space Dust – a sweet so dangerous it was eventually banned under the Geneva Convention. Lucky Strikes. Remember them? Probably, you don’t. And there’s a reason for that – chalk doesn’t work as a sugary treat, even if you print the names of football teams on the surface.
And if the flavour didn’t get you, then the hallucinogenic qualities of many products guaranteed a future living under a railway arch, a serene but slightly disturbing gleam in your eye. Kali – multicoloured layers of sugary sand; sherbet – Kali in cocaine form; sweet cigarettes; you could even get a confectionery version of rolling tobacco, to ensure that your student spliffs were made with experience as well as marijuana.
Mind you, to Alan, even the most awful of concoctions presented a gastronomic treat (although he drew the line at Candy Necklaces). That was because his dad was a new man. One who not only cleaned and ironed at home, but frequently did the cooking as well. Although, that term offers only the loosest of connections to what eventually arrived on the plate.
Growing up in the 70s meant cards by candlelight as the three day week and power cuts made evenings a thrilling, if chilling, occasion to a young child. They were times when a beating from a teacher was not only common, but an expectation. A time when Grange Hill broke the Blue Peter mould of children’s TV which was decidedly ‘good for you’ rather than entertaining or true to life. After all, we all have elephants pooing on our sitting room carpets, didn’t we?
It meant British cars that were either splendid, or down right weird, to look at (consider the beautiful Triumph Stag and the bug shaped, square steering wheeled Austin Allegro). But if appearances differed, British cars shared one thing. A guarantee to break down before evaporating in a fine mist of rust after a couple years.
What about holidays? While the rest of Britain was learning through trips to Benidorm that Spanish cuisine consisted of fried egg, chips, beans and bacon – English, but with extra grease, Alan’s family enjoyed an annual renaissance in the genteel surrounds of the Isle of Wight. There, the joys of a splendid esplanade, amusement arcade bingo and dry fish meant a week of joy and a brief experience of the life of the middle class.
‘Dib Dabs, Allegros and Loving Thy Neighbour’ is a comprehensive review of the 1970s, from the perspective of an Infant who grew into an infantile teen. So this book is about music, film and TV (with its compulsory racism in every sit com; although homophobia was equally popular. There’s nothing so funny as a camp man – gay women didn’t exist in those days); it is about going to see his local football team, and being able to get up close enough to touch the players. It is about hiding swimming trunks behind the tumble dryer to avoid having to go to the Barry Road pool with its malevolent instructor and three to a cubicle changing arrangements. (Eventually, the tumble dryer was replaced and a dozen pairs of trunks discovered) It is about the things that matter to a child, not an adult, To anybody else who grew up back then, ‘Dib Dabs, Allegros and Loving thy Neighbour’ will stir memories, cause some laughs and, maybe, a tear or two in the eye.
Here’s a little taste of what to expect when you buy a copy of Alan’s latest book:
‘Dad was somewhat ahead of his time. A new man for the old times. All the household chores were shared between him and mum, and Sunday mornings were the time for these. But dad also did most of the cooking. Always Sunday lunch, and when mum was working too, a lot of the evening meals.
My memory might be serving me wrong here, but I do seem to recall that his method was to play safe when it came to cooking times. He had spent his national service in India, and along with his distrust of the North Circular there were many foodstuffs he felt held a personal grudge against him. Among these were Indian meals, Chinese Meals, spaghetti (unless it was out of a tin), fresh grapefruit (again, the tinned variety was fine) any kind of sauce that wasn’t either gravy or red and anything that was undercooked.
The last point is fair enough, but his definition of undercooked was pretty liberal. Basically, it meant anything that was not either turned to mush or black. In fact, black mush was his definition of culinary excellence. I didn’t know that vegetables tasted of anything except bilious water until I hit my mid-teens; I didn’t know that Yorkshire pudding was light and airy. In fact, I wouldn’t eat it. Dad’s own recipe resulted in a black rectangle, sunk in the middle into a sort of luminous yellow goo and either as brittle as slate or wet as bread soaked for a week in dishwater. There was no middle ground.
My sisters loved it, and their taste buds grew to appreciate the taste of Dad’s Sunday lunch in a way that mine never did. But he was a kind man, and never was I left facing a plate of cooling stodge until I ate it.’