You know what’s starting to bug me most about this whole Brexit thing?
It’s being lectured on social media about what life was like in the 1970s, by people who clearly weren’t there.
Being told how good we all had it, how the ‘old folk’ are selfishly depriving young people of their futures.
That all any of us want (over-55 and counting), is blue passports, hanging judges, smoke-choked pubs, shillings and pennies, and lightbulbs that last two minutes before blowing.
That nothing we think or do matters anyway because we ‘oldies’ are all about to die (apparently).
Now I appreciate that everyone’s experience of life is different. Education, family circumstances, locality and environment, peer pressures, employment opportunities, place of birth, health issues – layer after layer of stuff piles on layer after layer. And that shapes our memories.
So I did some checking – just in case my own were playing tricks.
The 1970s, according to one young friend, was ‘a time you could go to university for free’. This appears to be backed up by Robert Anderson, Emeritus Professor at Edinburgh University, who says that ‘Between 1962 and the 1990s, higher education in Britain was effectively free, as the state paid students’ tuition fees and also offered maintenance grants to many’.
To which I would say: depends on your definition of ‘free’.
When my cohort headed off to university and college in the ’70s, that grant system assessed our parents’ income and awarded us accordingly, up to a limit.
Unfortunately – or not, depending on how you look at it – my father was deemed to be earning too much for me to qualify for a full grant, so I received the minimum (around £20 per term in ‘old money’).
My dad, incidentally, just eleven years old when his own father died, ran away to sea at 16, served as a merchant seaman, then took up a job as a travelling sales rep (ironically, working for the latter part of his life for a French company, based in France, having been made redundant by the British family-founded one he’d devoted the best part of his working life to. This was in the ’70s, so before we joined the EEC).
My mum left school at 15 to tread the music hall boards as a dancer, until she met my dad. So not exactly loaded. Just hardworking and aspirational – for themselves and their kids.
Anyway, my parents couldn’t afford to subsidise my living it up in another city for four years at their expense, so I went to art college close to home and continued living at home. They tried very hard not to spend all that money at once.
Meanwhile, my new college pals, from across the UK, eked out their own grants by plunging themselves deeper and deeper into overdraft with all the other stuff besides books and basic accommodation. Eating anything other than toast for every meal, for example. Or firing up more than one bar on the measly gas fire.
My point is, further education wasn’t free. One way or another, you and/or your family paid for or subsidised it, taking on extra work, giving up holidays, plundering savings, turning to parents and grandparents for financial support, getting into debt. Much like today.
But my younger friend had more to say.
‘You could buy a house with a bank loan’.
Crikey. Sounds so simple. Bank or building society, simple it wasn’t, even into the 1980s, when interest rates hit the rollercoaster. One minute 8.5%, the next minute 15%, on a mortgage you’d already stretched yourself to pay.
Lengthy forms to fill, references to get, interviews to be had with hostile managers, peering at you over their big desks, mortgages granted strictly on 2.5 times your income, the sorry-no-can-do’s and the soul-destroying plod from one bank to the next. Or maybe that was just me.
But yeah, we had it easy.
Next up. ‘Nurses wore starched uniforms and were all women’. Not true.
Okay, maybe the starch bit.
‘Nursing has never been an exclusively female profession in Britain‘, according to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), contrary to the stereotypical image (not that you’d know this if you’ve just scrolled through page after page of historical stock photos as I have!)
The National Society of Male Nurses was formed in the 1930s and, in the 1931 census, 138,670 women and 15,000 men declared that they were nurses. By 1951, male nurses had joined the main nursing register. By 1960, they could become members of the RCN. (Numbers hover now at 10%). Predominantly female, yes, but not ‘all women’.
‘Police officers were all men’. Not true either.
Women police officers were established in London when the first Metropolitan Police Women Patrols came into service on 17 February 1919, shortly after women over-30 were given the vote for the first time. By the end of that year the Home Secretary had ordered Sir Nevil Macready, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, to recruit women into the police force. Sir Nevil is said to have insisted he didn’t want any ‘vinegary spinsters’ or ‘blighted middle-aged fanatics’ in his ranks. Nice.
Turning to the Greater Manchester Police archive, the earliest image of a uniformed female police officer is Eliza Jane Ashworth, on patrol with a colleague in 1917. Scroll down and you’ll see female police officers during a parade down Deansgate, Manchester, in the 1970s and two women police officers from a recruitment campaign in 1977.
Following the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Opportunities Act in the mid-1970s, women were ‘given the same status, responsibilities and salary as their male counterparts’. Admittedly, they were thinner on the ground than men and it may not have been the easiest career choice for a woman but the ‘House of Commons Library: Social Indicator 2615’ notes that the proportion of female police officers in England and Wales was 7% in 1977 (29% in 2017).
So. Not ‘all men’.
‘Supermarkets, credit cards and colour TV were new-fangled things’. Again, depends how you define ‘new-fangled’.
Maybe they weren’t yet the ubiquitous, sell-everything-you-need-and-lots-more-you-don’t blots on the landscape they are now, stamping their bloody great feet all over our independent shops, all sprawling car parks and cheap TVs.
But I’d call those ‘superstores’ (which did take off in the ’70s) not ‘supermarkets’, which were far from ‘new-fangled’.
Booths, for example, started out in 1847, Morrison’s in 1899. Sainsbury’s began trading on the London Stock Exchange in 1869.
Asda Price, with the ‘pocket tap’ mnemonic devised by Steve Johnson (part of the Manchester creative team which created this campaign), ran throughout the 1970s and early-80s. As a young visualiser in Manchester advertising, I was well aware of its provenance. Later, as a freelance creative, I probably hand-drew the odd storyboard for it.
The first credit card issued in the UK was Barclaycard, in 1966, where it reigned supreme until the introduction of the Access card in 1972 – strapline: ‘Take the waiting out of wanting’. By 1978, not just Access but credit cards in general were universally referred to as ‘our flexible friends’.
Any lack of colour TV in 1976 was more a case of people not yet buying a colour TV set than it not being available. By 1969, BBC1 and ITV were regularly broadcasting in colour and ‘the number of households owning a colour TV licence shot up from 275,000 to 12 million by the early 1970s’.
The first colour TV commercial debuted on 15 November 1969, with an ad for Bird’s Eye peas which went out during Thunderbirds, the first children’s show to be broadcast in colour. At the time, the government estimated that only 1-2% of households owned a colour set but, by 1976, colour TV ownership had overtaken black-and-white.
And finally, ‘You only flew abroad if you were either stinking rich or the Army sent you somewhere to go and shoot someone’. A tad melodramatic but also not true.
In 1968, Club 18-30, a company aimed at young singles, began offering package holidays to Lloret de Mar on the Costa Brava. Over the course of the ’70s, I took solo holidays to Glyfada, near Athens, Corfu and Rimini – veritable hotspots then for youngsters looking for cheap sun and raw sewage floating past their lilo. ‘Cheap’ being the operative word – the antithesis of ‘stinking rich’.
Make your political arguments by all means, whichever fence you straddle, make as many comparisons as you like between now and the 1970s, but maybe give my old pal Google a whirl before you do. You might be amazed.
Mapping out our options
Elsewhere, another meme doing the rounds. First an outline map of Europe (the continent, not the European Union), Scandinavia and Iceland, the 26 Shengen countries coloured in reddish-purple. These are all the places, runs the legend, that we can currently work, travel and even retire to, without a visa.
Then, a second meme. Same map, with only the UK reddish-purpled out. This, I read, is all that will be left once we depart the EU, should that day ever arrive. No more working or retiring abroad without a visa.
But I’m confused.
See, having had friends who lived and worked in Switzerland, a country not in the EU but a Shengen member, my understanding was that sure, you can travel and work there short term, but if you fancy staying longer than 90 days (say to retire), you WILL need a visa.
Back to Mr Google.
Sure enough, ‘under the Freedom of Movement Act, almost all nationals from the countries in the EU or EFTA have the right to move to Switzerland, although they have to register to work and apply for residence permits for stays of over three months‘.
Similarly, ‘British citizens currently do not need a visa to enter Norway but should register with the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) if they wish to remain in Norway after three months, whether to work or study’. Ditto Iceland.
In summary, ‘the 90-day visa-free period does not entitle you to work in the Schengen area. Most countries will require a visa and work permit’ and if you’ve visited the particular area within the previous 180 days before your date of travel that counts against the 90-day limit.
All this may change again if we leave, of course. But is it not disingenuous to suggest you can currently work for longer than three months in – and ultimately retire to – these countries without a visa and work permit, when you clearly cannot?
Or maybe my ‘ancient’ brain isn’t reading it correctly?
Mint tea and Brexit anyone?
And then there’s mint tea. We’re partial to a cup of mint tea, the Gremlin and me. Peppermint, spearmint, Moroccan mint, fresh from the garden steeped in Cumbrian rain mint.
So when someone shared a clip of James Acaster, mining laughs through the medium of peppermint tea, it got my attention.
Peppermint tea, he reckons, is a metaphor for Brexit. But if you’re going to use our favourite hot tipple as a metaphor, at least think it through to the end.
His flatmate, it seems, was making James a peppermint tea. ‘Would you like the bag leaving in or taking out?’ asked his pal.
‘It’s very hard…’ said James, ‘because if you leave the bag in… over time, the cup of tea itself as a whole gets stronger…
‘And it might appear like the bag is getting weaker but it’s now part of a stronger cup of tea.
‘Whereas if you take the bag out, the tea’s now quite weak and the bag itself goes directly in the bin.’
Makes perfect sense. Except that – in our house, at least – weak or strong, bag in or out (and it’s usually in), all that brewed-to-perfection mintiness gets quickly swallowed up. And ultimately ends up flushed down the pan – having worked its way through a lengthy and complex system over which we have little or no conscious control.
Meanwhile, the bag gets binned anyway.
Admittedly, that doesn’t have quite the same comedic value. But a metaphor’s a metaphor.