Thursday, 23 October 2014

The 1970s: Golden Years, or should we Look Back In Anger?

I’ve been spreading some nostalgia about the place on Facebook over the past week or so. In particular I have busied myself by designing memes, essentially through the simple expedient of adding thoughtful slogans to photographs which have either been lifted from the web or borrowed from my own hard drive.

As I’ve said many times before I have a real weakness for the 1970s, in particular for the period around 1976. But as well as giving pleasure to many my recent activities have aroused hostile emotions amongst some, who seem to look back to that decade with an extraordinary sense of bitterness.

Perhaps not entirely without reason, the unbelievers point to the ignorance of its social attitudes, its political extremism, its violence, its hijackings, its industrial unrest, its shortages, its Cold War fought all across the globe by proxy, the absurdity (to many) of its fashion and culture – and, more recently, of the unspoken sexual depravity of too many of its key personalities which was not to emerge into the gaze of daylight until, in some cases, 35 years or so later. Looking back, I’m rather relieved that I didn’t join Gary’s gang.


Nostalgia’s beauty and its weakness both lie in the fact that we tend to see the past through rose-tinted spectacles. The power of romance is so immense that for many of us it trumps any amount of adversity. Although like any other teenager I spent much of the 1970s in a state of fear, in anxiety, in conflict and in sorrow the simple fact is that I remember nothing about that period that was not steeped in pure joy. At least, that was, until the last few years of the decade, when I completely went off the rails and lost touch entirely with the spirit of the ‘70s while others were enjoying its final throes to the sound of the Bee Gees or post-Pistols New Wave, according to their fancy.

It is pointless trying to make the case for the seventies over modernity on technical grounds, far less on diversity. Television was three channels (although the dial on our TV sets always seemed to have about thirty settings – futuristic or what?) and they all finished at around 10.30 in the evening when the more traditionally patriotic of viewers would stand to attention for the National Anthem. The service then continued with a small spot of light on the screen and a white noise for the benefit of those who couldn’t be bothered to get up and switch it off.

The telephone was fixed to the wall and to speak to another person involved a multi-part operation in which the dial was turned several times (assuming the neighbours who shared the party line were not on the ‘phone) and the person on the other end, if at home, would then answer. No mobile telephones, no texting, no voicemail, no saved address book, and certainly no e-mail. If you didn’t know the other person’s telephone number though help was close at hand, with a telephone directory the size of an encyclopedia containing the names, addresses and telephone numbers of more or less everybody in the hemisphere.


Then of course there was the telephone box, at least one of which was always only a short walk away, and the (also bright red) post box for sending letters, a far more important medium then than today in the absence of home computer technology.

Out on the street, whilst the gun crime that we see today was almost non-existent and confined where it did exist to discreet closed-door gangland feuds, small-time violence was always in the air. Platform shoes did not deter any lad from kicking seven bells out of another upon the slightest provocation, and yet nobody ever seemed to get seriously hurt. Football thuggery was on every spartan, overcrowded terrace, but had not yet achieved the sophistication of the besuited and post-adolescent knife gangs of the 1980s and beyond. One could walk around a football ground in pursuit of “aggro” – little silk scarf tied to the wrist, flares flapping in the cold winter wind. Much swearing and pointing, against a sumptuous backdrop of heavily fried onions amassed upon cheap hot dogs. Everybody went home in one piece.

In the wider world everything seemed to have broken down. Strikes and more strikes, refuse piled up in the streets, power cuts and three-day weeks due to lack of fuel. Wars were being fought in Africa, in Asia, in the Americas – always the same, with regional quarrels fought over regional issues but with one side inevitably being “Russian backed” and the other “US backed”. Two superpowers, each too cautious to confront the other in open combat, using their little brothers to settle their playground squabbles.

But it was in film and music that the 1970s stood out for me, and much of it was pretty simple stuff. There was some hugely creative material around too – Mike Oldfield had unleashed Tubular Bells upon an unsuspecting but unexpectedly grateful public and Bowie was setting every trend for the decade and beyond. But the glam era was innocent, lots of fun, flamboyant and competitive. I recall the unspoken contest that seemed to be taking place between Gary Glitter and Elton John, when each would appear on Top of the Pops in a more highly-stacked pair of platform boots than the other had done on the last occasion. In any other era they would have seemed ridiculous, as indeed would we in our multi-coloured loon pants and tank tops, luminous socks and wide-awake butterfly collars, but it was a flippant dress code for a flippant age. Nobody could parody us or our musical heroes, for we parodied ourselves.

Alongside glam came disco, but as befits the 1970s it was a different type of disco to anything that came before or since. George McCrae, Van McCoy, Candi Staton, Barry White – each played their part in leaving a lasting imprint on that magical age.


When the music I loved and from which I drew comfort did take its bow as the decade ploughed relentlessly on towards its dotage, young people began to turn to wild extremes, marching and counter-marching. Politics seemed to define everything in the later seventies once the musical and cultural pack had been shuffled and the new bands had stepped up to take their turn in the limelight. There was an ugliness about the whole thing, and a sense that the magic spell was soon to unravel forever.

The critics go so wrong when they sneer upon the values – part innocence, part ignorance – that informed our 1970s way of life. The humour was unsanitised, our trust in our cult figures naïve, our empathy with the less fortunate patchy and incomplete. But we weren’t being serious. We were just having fun. The whole ethos of the 1970s was, for us, about not taking ourselves too seriously and having loads of fun. And we did it in a way and in a style that has never nearly been rivalled by any subsequent generation.

The 1970s had a cast and a playlist that reads like a veritable Role of Honour. Long hair, Pan’s People, Mivvi lollies, Stewpot, Concorde, glam rock, Look-In, Steve Harley, Georgie Best, Green Shield stamps, platform shoes and loon pants, the Capri Ghia, Rollermania, Morecambe and Wise, CB radio, Chopper bicycles, Dial-a-disc, lollipops and candy cheroots, Angel Delight, Ziggy Stardust, Oxford Bags, milk machines, The Hustle, Starsky and Hutch, pinball, Cadbury’s Crème Eggs, The Goodies, Pomagne at the fairground, tank tops, Top of the Pops, Radio Luxembourg, Evel Knievel, watch out there’s a Humphrey about, Candid Camera, the glorious summer of ’76. The streets were dark but we strutted them without fear, the youth clubs were church halls with table-tennis tables and paint that crumbled. It didn’t have to be smart, practical or politically correct. It didn’t even have to make any sense. It was raw, it was barren, at times it was bleak. But it was our time.

For those of us who are of a certain age the spirit of the seventies came not from what was provided for us. It came from within us. It came from the age we were at the time and the experiences we all went through together. That is why it is futile to look down upon it with disdain from the ivory tower of the age in which we live today.

Those who truly feel the spirit of the seventies will understand me when I say it never leaves you. Periodically something is said in conversation or posted on the web that invokes that inner sense which cannot be put into words. For those who look back to the 1970s with sadness I feel pity. For good or for bad, there will never be its like again.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Why "A Community In Action"?

I have been asked this question more than once, bearing in mind that many of the articles, particularly the more recent ones, have focused on issues of national and even international import.

The short answer is that when this blog began I was a community councillor for Isleworth, and the majority of my material was based upon my experiences in that role. Now that I, although still a proud activist with the ICG, have effectively moved on from matters local electoral, it could be said that there is a case for changing the name.

I have resisted the temptation to do so. We are all part of a community, indeed in most cases we are probably part of more than one community. As well as our local neighbourhoods there are also communities to be found on the web - not least on Facebook, communities revolving around work and communities centred on our individual social and sporting interests. Indeed, cliché though it may be, we are more than ever a global community.

It is my hope and aim that readers and users of this blog will become something of a community in their own right. What binds all communities is a common interest and common action. Let's leave it as it is.

Incidentally this blog now has its very own Facebook Page. If you get a moment please click here and like us. Many thanks.

Hounslow Animal Rescue Table Top Sale - ROWE Centre - Saturday, 18th October

There will be a table-top sale this Saturday, 18th October at the ROWE Centre in Unwin Road, Isleworth to raise funds for Hounslow Animal Rescue.

Opening times are 11.00am till 1.00pm. Refreshments will be on sale, and I believe a nominal entrance fee will be charged with all proceeds going to the charity.

Please come along and give this worthy cause your support.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Leaders’ TV Debates: Middle-Aged, Rich, White Men Telling Us What’s What, Again

Excluding the Greens and other parties in favour of Ukip will leave the election debates devoid of even a modicum of diversity

by Alex Andreou

Broadcasters yesterday announced their proposed format for televised election debates. Sky and Channel 4 are opting for a presidential style, David Cameron v Ed Miliband head to head; the BBC will repeat its 2010 format which included the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat leaders; and ITV will have the same three, plus the surprise inclusion of Nigel Farage, probably holding a pint of bitter.

This structure has caused much reaction from the four parties involved about the inclusion of Ukip. Farage – displaying the same sort of one potato two potato mathematical complexity that yielded “29 million Romanians and Bulgarians” – reckons if one MP means inclusion in one debate and Ukip wins the Rochester byelection, then surely two MPs means inclusion in two debates. The other leaders have expressed anger at Ukip’s elevation.

What is less clear is what any of them believe should be the position regarding parties that hold the remaining 28 seats in the House of Commons and their exclusion from the debates. The Green party has threatened legal action over its leader Natalie Bennett’s omission. Good on them.


The inclusion of Ukip to the exclusion of others is complete nonsense whichever way one cuts it. If one goes by number of MPs, questions regarding the exclusion of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish parties loom large. The answer is, I suspect, that these are not national parties, followed by the non-sequitur that they must therefore have nothing to offer to a national debate. For a triumvirate that only a month ago was pleading with Scotland not to break up this “family of nations”, relegating all non-English parties to the children’s table is unfortunate in the extreme.

If one goes by how parties did at the last general election, then the exclusion of the Greens – who had an MP elected – in favour of Ukip is irrational. Perhaps convincing a constituency that electing the same MP wearing a different rosette represents real change is a magic trick worthy of TV. And how about the Social Democratic and Labour party that has twice the number? The broadcasters have cited the recent European election as a measure of Ukip’s popularity and irrefutable evidence of its worthiness for inclusion. But if that is the criterion, one must question the inclusion of the Lib Dems, who polled lower than the Greens on all measures and came a joint sixth with a host of other parties in terms of MEPs.

The only way to justify the inclusion of Ukip in these debates is by somehow extrapolating its future popularity in the next election by looking at meaningless opinion polls. Essentially the broadcasters are saying, “We think they will do well, so we are pre-emptively including them”. It is not up to a TV executive to be making any such subjective assessment. If you want to open the debate, then do so properly. Make it a panel discussion that includes genuinely diverse views.

I am certain that the expectation the inclusion of Ukip might make for salacious TV has also not been far from TV executives’ thoughts. It is the natural extension of the bizarrely dominant idea that if you include a person saying something sensible in any debate, you must also include the polar opposite, even if inflammatory and illogical, “for balance”. Which is precisely what has secured Ukip its popularity in the first place.


However, the exclusion of parties such as the Greens, the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru has another deeper effect. It excludes anyone who could lend a modicum of diversity to these debates; who might challenge the status quo on the environment, on devolution, on constitutional change, on free-market economics, on gender politics. What we have ended up with – again – is a platform of two, three or four rich, privileged, white, straight, middle-aged, male, career politicians from a tiny part of south-east England telling the rest of the country what is what.

This monochrome palette, this disturbing example of what Grayson Perry recently described as “the default man”, is bad for political engagement and grossly unrepresentative of the country. It ensures that large swaths of the voting population will flick on to the debates, see a pictorial representation of the same dull grey suits talking in soundbites and switch back to Britain’s Got Talent, secure in the knowledge that, if Britain does indeed have talent, politics is carefully sealed from any hint of it.

Reproduced with acknowledgements to The Guardian

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Reunion (Part One)

Next month I will be going along to a reunion with some old friends and acquaintances from Worple Road Primary School at an Isleworth pub (the reunion is at the pub, not the school). I am really looking forward to it.

Most of those who will be attending weren't in the same year as me, and I probably didn't spend a great deal of time in their immediate company even when I was at school. Nevertheless there is something about the distant past, almost like a gravitation pull of some indescribable kind, which draws me to places and people with whom I spent my formulative years. It's like when I made certain fateful decisions towards the end of the 1970s which were to take me along an erroneous and destructive path for such a very long time a part of me stubbornly refused to join me on this hellish adventure, opting instead to sit back and wait for me to make a safe return to the sanity and security of my childhood days when I had compassion in my heart and the tuneful ditties of the day in my mind and in my soul.

It was one of those friends (who was in my class) who remarked on Facebook recently that there is something uniquely special about the friends we grew up with, and that is so true. As children we see things differently - colours are more vivid, shapes and textures more pronounced. We also "learn" things together which the adult world takes for granted. Innocent things have their own importance and the absence of the cares and concerns of adulthood help us to truly absorb the beauty of all that is around us.

There is a lump in my throat as I write this, so pleasantly unsettled am I by the thought of this impending coming together late in November.

I attended reunions from Isleworth Grammar School in 2001 and Worple Road again in 2002 and they were fantastic and memorable events, but there is something about this one which promises even more. Maybe it is the urgency of the situation that we all feel as we race relentlessly through our fifties. Let's face it, some of our number are now almost within touching distance of retirement!

The only thing that compares with it for me was a series of reunions that I enjoyed with some old friends from my Church youth club back in 1990/91. The down side of those - even those, in the company of my dearest and most treasured friends from the most unique and wonderful period of my life - was the feeling of raw emptiness they left in their wake when the evening was over and everybody had gone their separate ways. We coped with this only by organising repeat reunions, each with less novelty appeal than the last, until one day we all simultaneously kind of dropped the idea.

I don't think that will happen this time. We are a spiritual diaspora, spread around the UK and even the world. We cannot get together every month or two on a whim, even if we wanted to. But neither, I hope, will we leave it another twelve years.

The Tattle

The Tattle is an excellent 16-page magazine published by a group of residents living in properties owned by Isleworth & Hounslow Charity Ltd., a local provider of affordable housing for people in need who meet certain criteria laid down by the Trustees.

As a former Trustee myself (until I developed my own financial difficulties on a scale which rendered my status with such a charity something of an oxymoron), I recognise the fine work that I&H does. Indeed my wife Caroline still serves on the Board and so I hear enough to convince me of the dedication and hard work of all those involved. The charity manages a number of properties in the local area, with the recently-built Tolson House, in Parthenia Drive off North Street in Isleworth, being the jewel in the crown. Activities provided for residents include a film club, craft sessions, yoga, aerobics, tai chi and regular outings.

The Tattle is independently produced by residents, albeit fortified I believe by support from the charity itself, and even boasts an editorial board of eight people spread out amongst the various properties. The layout is extremely professional, revealing an obvious acquaintance with Publisher technology on the part of the Editor.

Features include articles both about the activities of the charity and its residents, and the local area in general. In the latest issue this is complemented quite interestingly by an informative memoir from a German resident about living with the Berlin Wall.

It is initiatives like this from within the community which come together to create a bond between local people and to define what we are. I wish The Tattle continued success, and hope that other local people might take inspiration from it. Let a thousand flowers bloom, as somebody famous once said.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Clacton, Rochester and the Challenge of First Past The Post

I had always been certain the United Kingdom Independence Party would win the by-election in Clacton. Every factor that could point in the party’s favour did so:

1. First of all Clacton was, as it happened, UKIP’s most winnable seat in the United Kingdom to begin with, at least according to the people who have ways and means of calculating these things.

2. It was a by-election, which meant voters did not need to have any fears (or hopes) about who would be running the country the next morning. The “Vote UKIP – Get Labour” mantra much beloved of the Prime Minister David Cameron did not apply here.

3. Being a by-election all media attention was focused on Clacton rather than upon a country-wide contest as would have been the case in May next year.

4. The contest was all about UKIP. It was about a sitting Member of Parliament, Douglas Carswell, who had resigned his membership of the Conservative Party and joined the Eurosceptic group amid a blaze of publicity. Try as the establishment parties might to focus the discussion on the NHS or the economy, this by-election was never going to be about anything other than the United Kingdom Independence Party and its political programme.

5. Carswell was always going to gain kudos from the fact that he had resigned his seat and reverted to the electorate, to give voters a chance to approve or disapprove his decision to change party mid-term. Let us be in no doubt that as a decision it was tactical rather than courageous. Carswell was smart enough to understand that sitting as an anonymous backbencher for the remainder of his elected term was a sure-fired way of courting defeat at next year’s general election, where conditions would favour the big parties. By raising his profile and winning back his seat by a huge majority he has given himself a good fighting chance of retaining Clacton next May. Nevertheless he and his party were able to make much of the fact that he had been willing to incur a certain amount of risk in going back to the electorate to allow them to have the final say on his decision.

For these reasons a UKIP victory was always on the cards. But the magnitude of the win (with some 60% of the votes cast), considered alongside the fact that an unfancied UKIP candidate in the former Labour stronghold of Heywood & Middleton in the North came within a whisker of also being elected on the same night, has persuaded me to reassess my previously held view that the forthcoming contest in Rochester would prove a by-election too far for UKIP. I now believe, as indeed do the bookies, that Mark Reckless will be back in the House to keep his new colleague company when the votes are counted in Kent.

So will Carswell’s victory be the death knell of two-party system as we know it? I suspect not.

Whilst I would expect UKIP to hold Clacton next year and also possibly to gain South Thanet, where Farage himself will be standing, in the total seats stakes the party will still be languishing some considerable way behind the unfashionable Liberal Democrats, in spite of the fact that it is likely to win more votes. The reason for this is because the Lib Dems cottoned on to the fact many years before UKIP did the same, that disproportionate power can be gained by concentrating all available campaigning resources in a small handful of areas.

UKIP, of course, are talking up their chances of scoring well in May 2015 because, frankly, they have to. The ball is rolling. If they are going to have any chance at all they must at the very least create an air of confidence. The task before them though – the discontinuation of the endless dreary ritual engaged in by millions of voters of voting against the party they dislike the most every bit as much as for their party of preference – is a massive one. Cameron knows what he is doing when he tries to frighten Tory-leaning UKIP voters with the prospect of a Labour government. Expect a significant chunk of the UKIP-friendly vote to revert to the big parties when the real election comes around.

Unsupportive though I am of UKIP’s main policy planks I nonetheless rejoice at the implications for the old system of the results in Clacton and Heywood & Middleton, because there are few evils in modern politics to match the ongoing fraud perpetuated against the voters by the Con-Lab duopoly. But I do fear we have a long way to go yet before we will see, as one day we certainly will, the replacement of the rotten old system by something more open and inclusive.