Archive for the ‘1970s’ Tag

Public Information Films

In the days before mobile phones, the Internet, and even 24-hour TV channels, even very young kids used to spend a lot of time outside, unsupervised, playing in places it wasn’t advisable to play. The adults decided the best way to stop kids from playing in dangerous places was to employ scare tactics – thus the age of the Public Information Film was born.

Anyone who was a kid in Britain in the 1970s will remember these. As far as I am aware they were a uniquely British phenomena. They were all pretty scary, but the one that traumatised me most was a film called ‘The Finishing Line‘, that was all about the dangers of playing on railway lines.

The film in its entirety doesn’t seem to be available on YouTube. The full film is 20 minutes long and starts with a young boy fantasising about what might happen if his school sports day featured fun activities like running across a railway line, throwing rocks at moving trains and so on. It was commissioned by British Rail, since apparently vandalising trains and kids playing on railway lines and being hit by trains was a big problem in the 1970s. The video below is the first five minutes or so. Beyond the retro images of 1970s fashions, you might notice the nurses lining up a bunch of stretchers. In the first ‘game’ – involving running across the tracks into the path of a moving train – there is one casualty, which the nurses bundle into one of stretchers. The film goes on with other ‘games’, each one producing more casualties, and at the end of the film, pretty much all the kids are dead.

It was released in 1977 – at which point I was seven years old – and it was broadcast several times on TV, and taken into schools.

I remember a retired train driver coming to our junior school (in those days junior school was for kids age 7-11, and was between primary and secondary school), and showing us slides of damage to trains, and the injuries he suffered to his face when someone threw a rock at his train and the glass from the shattered window got into his eyes. He also told us about the kids he ran when he was driving his train, and how many pieces they got cut into. He told us he wasn’t going to show us those slides – that was for the older children.

As I recollect I didn’t see ‘The Finishing Line’ at school on that day. My memory is that I watched it on TV, where it was shown to an audience of kids and there was a televised discussion afterwards. Right after the film one young boy felt so sick he had to be taken out of the room.

The scene that really traumatised me – and this is the one I can’t find anywhere on the Internet – was the final ‘game’, where all the school kids have a race through a train tunnel, and they get hit by a train. All the dead and bloodied kids are lined up on the tracks in the final scene. There’s a long range shot of that on the film poster on the IMDb entry.

There’s no doubt that the ‘scare them silly’ tactic employed in the 1970s to deter kids from hanging around places where they might get hurt was effective. After nearly 30 years of commuting by train to work, I still worry about standing too close to the edge of the platform when waiting for my train. But every once in a while I also lie awake at night thinking about this film and remembering the trauma of watching it. Given that it’s been over 40 years since I saw it, the tactic was clearly a bit heavy-handed. Apparently I’m not the only one to think so – the film was so controversial, and caused so many kids distress, it was banned in 1979 and replaced by a less gruesome film called ‘Robbie’.

Hopefully we have slightly more subtle ways of discouraging kids from playing on the railway lines these days, and subsequent generations don’t carry around the psychological trauma we Generation X-ers do from growing up with Public Information Films.

Girl Power

Growing up in the 1970s, I was acutely aware of gender stereotypes. I was a very ‘girly’ girl as a child – fond of dresses and dolls. I didn’t climb trees, I didn’t like getting dirty. Then I moved into the 1980s, and adolescence, and I became more aware of the imbalance between girls and boys. And it seemed unfair. I figured out very early on that I didn’t want to have kids, and I liked doing things that girls weren’t supposed to like doing. I started writing horror stories at age 14. I started playing Dungeons & Dragons at 15. I was the only girl in the group for much of the year, and I have already talked about how all the boys ganged up on me in a previous post.

Fortunately for me, when I want to do something, the fact that other girls don’t do it has never put me off. But this isn’t always the case. A lot of girls are put off pursuing an activity or career they enjoy, because being the only girl can be off-putting, especially if you get picked on, as was the case in my first D&D group.

This is why it’s crucial to have role models, especially for girls. Why are there not more women playing lead guitar, or bass guitar, or driving race cars? Why are there not more women pilots, or women fire fighters? There are, of course, women doing these things, but they are still very much in the minority, and they need to be a lot more visible in order to inspire the next generation of young women to follow in their wake.

My inspiration for playing bass guitar was Suzie Quatro, who I remember seeing on ‘Top of the Pops’ in the 1970s and I thought she was a cool rocking chick. My inspiration for writing horror was Stephen King, who of course is male but he writes sympathetic female characters – something some male writers aren’t able to do – and it never occurred to me, as a teenager, that writing horror was something women weren’t supposed to do. Over the years there have been a number of people who have said to me something along the lines of ‘what’s a nice girl like you doing writing horror stories?’ but it does happen less frequently these days, and I hope people are more enlightened. After all, in the view of many people the first modern horror novel was FRANKENSTEIN – written not only by a woman, but one that was only seventeen years old at the time.

Mary Shelly. Image (c) National Portrait Gallery

I’ve considered myself a feminist since the 1980s. Although we have made some inroads since then, it seems we’ve still got a long way to go. I was touched recently by a news article about four-year-old Esme, who told her mother she needed to be a boy because she wanted to be a fire fighter, and she’d only ever seen male fire fighters in books and she ‘didn’t want to be the only girl.’ This prompted fire crews all over the UK to post tweets and videos from their female fire fighters, to prove to Esme that you can be a fire fighter if you are a girl. The story is encouraging, but also highlights how important it is for female role models to get more coverage.

We also seem to be making some inroads in sports. The women’s football league got national TV coverage on terrestrial TV for the first time this year, and had the best viewing figures ever. And the England team did quite well, I note – getting to the semi-final. I am not a follower of football, but this made even me happy.

I am also happy that there is a series of races for women drivers, again on terrestrial TV, for the first time this year. I have been a fan of Formula 1 for over 25 years, and I’ve been banging on for just as long that there aren’t enough opportunities for women racing drivers. This year we have the Formula W. OK there are only six races, of only half an hour each, which is nowhere near equivalent to Formula 1, but they don’t have anywhere near the investment, and it is a start. If people watch the Formula W races, and support them, they might get more investment and most importantly these young women (and they are all young, but so are the male drivers), will pave the way for little girls who dream of becoming racing drivers to understand that this is a dream within reach.

We need these trailblazers. We need women of courage, battling against the preconception that women can’t do these things to prove that they can, and the fact that they are doing these things needs to be publicised so that young girls can see that they can do these things and they won’t be ‘the only girl’.

The final Formula W race takes place at Brands Hatch in the UK next weekend, and I have tickets. I will be there in the stands, cheering on these trailblazing women.

In a small way I hope I am also encouraging a new generation of women bass players. When I have my bass guitar lesson, there is a young girl – maybe about 12 – who watches me through the door for the last few minutes while she waits for her own lesson to start. She seems to genuinely enjoy watching me play, and always gives me a ‘thumbs up’ at the end of my lesson.

I feel that at last we are taking steps towards gender equality. They are very small steps, but at least they are being taken. Which is why it’s so important to support trailblazing women when they come along, forging a path for others to follow in their wake. And it’s why I am so excited about going to Brands Hatch next weekend for the final race in the Formula W series. It doesn’t really matter who wins the championship. In my opinion, all of these women are winners.

I’m finishing this post with a video of the trailblazing woman I still see as an inspiration: Suzie Quatro, performing ‘Devil Gate Drive’ in 1974.

My Life in Music: 1979

There’s a bit of a convoluted story attached to the song for this, so bear with me.

In 1979 my mother married my stepfather and he moved in with us, and my sister and I saw my dad during weekends and school holidays. I guess we’d more or less got accustomed to this arrangement now, but I was still suffering badly with nightmares. And one of the things that always seemed to trigger nightmares – from early childhood it seems – was distorted and featureless faces.

There were a few things on TV in the 1970s that I vividly remember giving me nightmares. One was the fembots episode of  ‘The Bionic Woman’, when the fembots took their face masks off, revealing a pair of eyeballs in a maze of electronic circuits. There was an episode of ‘Sapphire and Steel‘ where the supernatural entity removed Sapphire’s face (I can’t find the name of that particular episode). There was also an episode of the original ‘Star Trek’ where a supernatural teenager removed the features from a woman’s face for laughing at him.

All of these things rather jumped out at me without warning while I was watching TV as a child, freaked me out completely and gave me nightmares for weeks.

And there was the album cover of a band called Sad Cafe, called ‘Misplaced Ideals’, which I am including below.

My memory of this is that I was walking through Ashton during the Whit Walks with my sister (referred to in the post for 1978), and this poster was stuck up everywhere. We talked about how it freaked both of us out, and we didn’t know exactly what it was advertising, but I thought maybe it was a film.

Since then I’ve done some research into this. The band Sad Cafe were from Manchester, which explains why posters advertising their album were all over Ashton-under-Lyne. But the album ‘Misplaced Ideals’ was released in 1978, not 1979.

I do remember that this image featured in my nightmares for rather a long time. And the next time I came across Sad Cafe was when their biggest hit was in the charts in 1979. And every time I heard the song on the radio I remembered what I thought of as the scary Sad Cafe image and it gave me nightmares all over again.

I look at this image, and it still freaks me out, although as an adult I don’t suffer from nightmares the way I did as a child. I have been trying to analyse for years what it is about blank or distorted faces that freaks me out so much. I think perhaps it’s connected to a primal fear of loss of identity. Is this a common fear? Does anyone else get freaked out by images of distorted or blank faces?

The story connected to the photograph for this year is slightly happier. It was taken by my grandfather, who was a keen amateur photographer. He had a real eye for detail and probably was good enough to be a professional photographer, but he was a working-class Lancashire mill worker and probably didn’t consider that such a career was open to him.

This is my favourite photo of me as a child, because I think it captures the essence of who I was then, and I still look enough like ‘me’ to be recognisable as the adult I would become. I recall it being taken – in the local park. My memory is that it was taken on or around my tenth birthday, so it was autumn.

Life would change quite dramatically for me, for the second time in my short life, in just a few months, but we’ll get into that in the next post.

Meanwhile here’s the song for 1979, and one that still makes me think of that creepy album cover: ‘Every Day Hurts’ by Sad Cafe.

My Life in Music: 1978

In 1978 I was living with my mother and sister in a small council flat, and my sister and I went to stay with my dad every other weekend. We were still living in Mossley in Lancashire, but we were now on the other side of it.

Mossley was, and still is, a small town. The church was often the centre of the community in small towns, and it certainly seemed to figure prominently in our lives at that point in time. My sister and I went to Sunday School at St George’s Church, and I went to the same church hall once a week for my Brownie pack meetings. I remember the vicar coming round to talk to my mother about cleaning jobs, which she was looking for. As a single mother she was working three jobs around feeding us, taking us to school, picking us up again, and putting us to bed. I never realised that at the time.

The church was involved in a lot of fetes and festivals, and Whitsun in particular, taking place in the Spring a few weeks after Easter, was a big deal. Every year at this time we had the ‘Whit Walks’, which appears to be unique to the North West of England. There would be a big parade through the town, and everyone who belonged to any of the churches would participate. My sister and I would both get new dresses for the occasion, and we’d join the parade, walking through town and waving at people who lined the streets to watch.

Each church also crowned a ‘Rose Queen’ every year. As far as I can tell the Rose Queen originates from the May Queen, but I can well understand why the Christian church changed the name – the May Queen has somewhat sinistar pagan origins connected to virgin sacrifices. The ceremony would be held at the church with all the queens from the neighbouring churches in attendance for the ‘coronation’. Sunday School took place in the church hall, and although everyone was in the same hall there were lots of tables in there and the classes were divided up by age (and apparently by gender). In 1978 it was my Sunday school class – a group of eight-year-old girls – from which the Rose Queen was chosen. The honour went to the girl with the best attendance. I was never in the running – although I was told I had to go to Sunday School I wasn’t made to go every week. In the end there were two girls who had the same perfect attendance, and in the end they had to draw lots to find out who got to be Rose Queen. The one who didn’t win had to be a Maid of Honour like the rest of us, wearing a long dress and carrying the Rose Queen’s train, at not only the coronation of our Rose Queen but at the coronation of all the other Rose Queens as well. We also got to ride on a float in the Whit Walks, which I quite enjoyed because it meant I didn’t have to walk that year, and I was never very fond of walking, even as a child.

So the picture here is from June 1978 and shows me and my best friend Helen in our ‘Maid of Honour’ dresses. I think the picture was taken outside the church hall. My sister is in the middle, in her ‘Whitsun’ dress. Helen and I were born four months apart and were friends from infancy because our mothers were friends. We went to the same school and the same Sunday school and were pretty much inseparable until the point we moved to Canada. I never really had a best friend in quite the same way after that, and she’s someone I would dearly love to find again, but have failed to do so, despite many Google searches. Sometimes you have to accept that people in your past stay in your past.

Anyway, being a Maid of Honour for the Rose Queen was quite possibly the most exciting things that happened to me in 1978, in a life that consisted of school, Brownie meetings, Sunday School, watching TV, playing with dolls and weekend visits to my dad’s house. One of my favourite TV shows was Top of the Pops, which would have a weekly count down on all the chart hits, and it was filmed in a studio where they would roll out some of the top artists of the day performing their hit song to a studio audience. I was already a big Abba fan, and they featured frequently on ‘Top of the Pops’ during the 1970s, but generally in a video and not a live performance because of the distance involved in travelling from Sweden.

This year’s selected song is one that I remember watching on ‘Top of the Pops’ this year, but for once it’s not Abba. As an eight-year-old I was a very ‘girly girl’. I liked wearing pretty dresses (one of the reaons I liked Whitsun so much; I always got a new dress), I didn’t like getting dirty or climbing trees and I thought boys were noisy and uncouth. But I saw this video, featuring a tiny but dynamic woman sporting an enormous bass, and something awoke inside me. Something that would grow up to be a wannabe rock chick.

It’s entirely down to Suzi Quatro that I now play bass guitar and like strutting my rock chick stuff at open mic nights, and it was this song that first brought her to my attention – “If You Can’t Give Me Love”, which hit the UK charts in the spring of 1978. The video is the performance I remember watching on ‘Top of the Pops. Note that the instruments are not plugged in, because all the songs are mimed. I never twigged that at the time.

My Life in Music: 1977

There is only one song that I can feature for 1977, because it had such a profound effect on me, and my life. When I started doing this blog feature I knew that I would eventually have to deal with this one, and to be honest I’ve been rather putting it off, because this song still has power over me.

It’s a song that spend five weeks at the top of the UK charts in April 1977. At that time my family had been shattered by my parents’ divorce, and we were all still picking up the pieces.

The timeline for that year and the one before is still vague, in my head. I don’t remember exactly when I knew that Daddy was no longer living with us. I remember someone at school asking me if my parents were divorced and my not understanding what that word meant. I went home and asked my mother what it meant when your parents were divorced, and to my recollection she said it meant that Mummy and Daddy didn’t love each other any more but they both still loved me and my sister. I remember suffering from nightmares around this time. I did eventually grow out of them, but over 40 years later I can still recall some of them, and at the time they were terrifying.

I do remember moving out of the house that had been my home since birth. I can still remember that house, very clearly, and all my memories involve both of my parents, together. I have memories of moving out and then the next memories are of the council flat I lived in next, with my mother and sister, and the house my dad moved into which my sister and I would go to on weekends.

People often talk about going back ‘home’ when they go visit their parents, because they are returning to the house they grew up in. I always felt I never had that. A few years after that we moved to Canada with my mother, and we lived in a number of different properties over the next few years. After moving out of the only house I ever lived in with both my parents, I don’t think I lived anywhere that I truly identified as ‘home’ until I met my husband and we bought our first place together.

This song happened to come out at a time that made it hugely relevant to me. For a very, very long time – decades, even –  I could not listen to this song without reverting back to that lost little girl whose world had been torn apart, and it made me cry. Often it still does.

And just a word about the photo. This is from the school year beginning September 1977. My sister had started her first year of infants’ school; I was in my first year of junior school. When siblings went to the same school they were rounded up for a picture together on Photo Day, so parents only had to fork out for one set of prints. For all I know this still happens in schools in the UK, although it wasn’t done that way in Canada.

This was the first of the three years my sister and I had our school photo taken together, before we moved to Canada. Note we are both wearing matching blue jumpers and pinafore dresses. My mother laid out our clothes for school in those days and we’d get dressed in whatever she picked out. She liked dressing us in the same outfits. We are evidently still young enough in this picture to comply with this; we objected when we got a bit older.

So here’s the song for 1977, now that I’ve bared my soul about it: ‘Knowing Me Knowing You’ by Abba.

‘Bunty’ and Ballet

Growing up in the 1970s, comic books for children were very popular, and consisted of a series of comic strips that told a story. Some, like The Beano and The Dandy, which my grandparents kept at their house to entertain their grandchildren, were suitable for boys and girls and generally the stories were humorous. Others were more specifically targeted at boys or girls and the stories were serials, usually more of a drama (or possibly soap opera). From the mid-1970s to the early 1980s I had a weekly subscription to Bunty, which would arrive with the daily newspaper.

bunty-the-book-for-girls-comic-annual-from-1979-E37AAD

Stock photo of the ‘Bunty’ annual for 1979, which I owned

I loved Bunty. When we moved to Canada I objected to the fact it was not available over there (I objected to many things, actually, but this is the one that’s relevant to my story). My dad, back in England, picked up the subscription for a while and would periodically post my Bunty to me in Canada, but I guess he got bored with doing it because I was informed one day I was too old for Bunty and no more would be forthcoming. I was quite aggrieved about that for a while. I always hated things to change.

But the comic book itself changed in time. It ceased publication in 2001, but I remember seeing it on newsagent shelves in the 1990s and it looked like any other teen magazine, advertising articles about make-up and boyfriends, despite being aimed at girls under 14. In my day there was no boyfriend advice in Bunty. It was just full of stories told via comic strip.

I did love reading the comic strips, and would eagerly await the next issue as my favourite stories always ended on a climax. There was always a story about a girl and a horse, and always a story about little ballerinas, because a lot of little girls are into horses and/or ballet. I always preferred the stories about orphans, although I remember one story (‘Melody Lee, a dancer she’ll be’) was about an orphan who was also into ballet.

I might have been more into ballet if I took lessons, but we didn’t have the money for such things. Along with piano lessons and holidays, dance lessons were one of the things I promised myself I would be able to afford when I was older. Well the holidays I have caught up with and then some, the piano lessons became bass guitar lessons when I finally got to a point when I decided as an adult I was going to take music lessons, and I did take dance lessons for a while in the 1990s, run by a girl I knew through my amateur dramatics group. Although I enjoyed the lessons I discovered I have two left feet. I am not a dancer. I lack dexterity and manual co-ordination.

However, having discovered first-hand that dance lessons are really hard, I have an appreciation for those that can dance well, and I have discovered a new love of being a spectator at the ballet in recent years. I think ballet dancers move so gracefully and beautifully, and there is much to admire in the complexity of the choreography. Not to mention the beautiful scores, with all the classic ballets being penned by some of the greatest composers that ever lived.

I have now seen ‘The Nutcracker’ performed as a ballet twice, and each time loved every minute of it. A few days ago we went to see ‘Swan Lake’, which is a ballet I’ve wanted to see for many years. When I got notification earlier in the year that the St Petersburgh ballet company were coming to the London Coliseum to perform ‘Swan Lake’, I nabbed some tickets.

It was a wonderful spectacle, and now I can cross watching ‘Swan Lake’ off my bucket list. I may be a rubbish dancer myself, but I enjoy watching those that are good at it do their thing.

The theme from Swan Lake is one of the my all-time favourite pieces of music. The clip below is a bit boring because there’s no dancing, but it’s the best version of the music I could find on Youtube. It gives me shivers whenever I hear it.

My Life in Music: 1976

In the 1970s, a group called Showaddywaddy was taking the UK by storm, though I don’t expect anyone who wasn’t growing up in the UK in the 1970s to have heard of them. In some ways they were a British version of Sha Na Na – they dressed as Teddy Boys and they performed covers of early 1960s hits.

Their song “Under the Moon of Love” was first released as a single by Curtis Lee in 1961. The Showaddywaddy version spent three weeks at the top of the charts in December 1976.

I remember Showaddywaddy being everywhere in the mid-1970s, but apparently this song was their only number 1 hit. They were rather of an era, cashing in on the nostalgia of the early days of rock & roll which was obviously a thing in the 1970s, when punk was at its height and people yearned for a simpler time, but they do come under the ‘where are they now?’ category. I was quite surprised to learn they are still together and touring, according to Wikipedia.

1976

Sara in 1976

As for the photo to accompany this year’s music offering, this is me in September 1976 – about a month before my seventh birthday. I think this is the first picture I’ve posted in this series where I look recognisably like me. It’s the appearance of adult teeth that does it. I have pretty much the same smile now as I had then.

I would have been commencing my last year of All Saints Infants’ School in Mossley, Lancashire at this time. The UK schooling system in the 1970s would have been quite incomprehensible to anyone in the US. We had three years of infant school (Reception Classes, Middle Classes, Top Classes), followed by four years in the junior school next door (Junior 1 to 4) by which point you were eleven and ready to move on to secondary school. I never experienced a British secondary school; we were in Canada by that point. But more about that, to come later in this series.

Hearing this song takes me back to the 1970s. It was a difficult time politically in the UK; strikes and riots and general dissatisfaction. I was not aware of any of that. I was a child. My world consisted of playing with toys, making up stories and becoming ever obsessed with this new skill I was learning called reading, and I left it to the grown ups to tell me when it was time to go to school or to bed, or even what to wear. I was not remotely interested in clothes as a child. My mother used to decide what I was going to wear and she’d lay out my clothes for the day the night before, so I’d just get up and get dressed in whatever outfit she’d picked out. And I was quite happy for her to that. It really didn’t matter to me what I was wearing. Although the dress I am wearing in this picture I remember quite liking. It was a pull-on thing that was worn over jumpers and just had a single zip at the front, which I liked. I didn’t like having to fuss with buttons or ties.

This was all a very long time ago. We’re going back over 40 years, and most of the people I work with now weren’t even born then. But sometimes I still look in the mirror with a sense of disbelief that I somehow managed to get this old, and I wonder what happened to that little girl.

Anyway, here is the song to represent 1976: Showaddywaddy performing their biggest hit, “Under the Moon of Love”.

My Life in Music: 1975

1975 was the year I became an Abba fan. When they exploded onto the music scene by winning the Eurovision Song Contest with ‘Waterloo’ in 1974, Abba took over the pop scene in the UK. Every birthday party I went to in 1975 seemed to be playing Abba records, and by the time of my sixth birthday, in October 1975, I was a firm fan.

I don’t remember my birthday party that year. I know I went into hospital a few days later, to have my tonsils out, because the day I went home was Hallowe’en. We’d been making decorations for a Hallowe’en party in the children’s ward during my stay, and I was a bit miffed that I missed the party because I had to go home.

I seem to remember a lot of birthday parties that year, and the year after, perhaps because I was now in school and inviting lots of classmates to your birthday party was the thing to do. It seems appropriate, then, to include a photograph of myself ready to go to a birthday party. This may be early 1976 rather than 1975, to be honest. The clue is the fact I am missing my bottom two teeth in this picture. These were the first two to fall out. Was I five or six when I started to lose baby teeth? I can’t remember. But by the time of my 1976 school picture, which must have been taken at the end of the year, all my adult teeth had grown in. You’ll get that one in the next post.

1976 birthday party

Sara circa 1975: Short frocks, skinny legs and missing teeth…

What I do remember, however – but possibly only because the photograph is captioned in my photo album – is that the birthday party I was going to was for a classmate called Angela. No, I don’t remember what was in the gift-wrapped box. It was over 40 years ago, after all.

My loyalty to Abba remains unwavering, after all this time. I still love Abba and always have, even through the 1990s when it was decidedly uncool to admit to liking Abba. Until, of course, the musical ‘Mamma Mia’ appeared. Ever since then it’s been acceptable to be an Abba fan.

The early songs of Abba still remind me of those childhood birthday parties. We sat on the floor and played Pass the Parcel, or jumped around to music and then had to be very still when it stopped (Musical Statues). We ate jelly and ice cream, and chunks of cheese, tinned pineapple and pickled onions, on cocktail sticks stuck into a potato wrapped in tin foil. We were a bunch of over-excited five and six-year-olds buzzing on sugar from too much birthday cake. Those birthday parties must have been hard on our poor parents.

One of Abba’s biggest hits in 1975 was ‘Mamma Mia’, and it is my choice of song for 1975, presented with the official music video. I remember watching this one on ‘Top of the Pops’. Who can forget those classic Abba poses?

 

My Life in Music: 1974

The song for this year I remember being in the charts, and in a way it’s the song that indirectly inspired this series of posts. I remember every time I heard this song, I felt sad and I couldn’t understand why. I was too young to understand it at the time, but it’s the song that first made me realise the power of music on our emotions.

The song is about death, and I think I knew that. But at the age of four I didn’t really understand what death was about. All of my grandparents were alive, my parents were still together, and I didn’t really appreciate what grief was all about.

I started school in September 1974, at All Saints’ Infants School in Mossley. Fun fact – TV presenter Melanie Sykes was my classmate in junior school, all the way from the first day of school until my family moved to Canada in 1980.

The school was an old building, and we spent three years there before moving up to the junior school next door – Micklehurst – which was a newer building and had portacabins for some of the classrooms, and went from Junior 1 to Junior 4. I looked online for the school, which is still there, but it looks like they’ve now combined the infant school with the junior school, and the nursery school next door which I also went to. I don’t recognise any of the pictures at all. The location is the same, but either the school’s been renovated beyond recognition over the last forty years or they pulled the old buildings down and rebuilt it completely.

My best friend at that time was a girl named Helen, who lived down the street from us. Her father was a policeman. He died, in this year or the following one, I can’t remember exactly. This was my closest experience of death at that time, and all I really understood was that Helen’s daddy wasn’t around anymore.

This song still makes me feel sad. It makes me think of primary school, and the house we lived in until 1976, the first place that I came to understand was ‘home’. There’s also a very odd memory that comes to mind whenever I hear this song. At the age of four I was still trying to understand the world and every day was a new adventure. I had very little understanding of what a cruel place the world could be. I knew that wars existed, but it was all so remote from my own existence. I guess I was lucky in that sense. But I remember my mother talking about a news story in the paper. There was a picture of a woman lying on the ground, and one of her feet was gone. My mother said the woman’s foot had been blown off. I didn’t know what bombs were at that age. The only thing I knew of that could ‘blow’ was the wind, and for quite a long time afterwards I was afraid to go out in a strong wind, because I thought wind had the power to blow body parts off.

It’s a strange memory, and I have no idea why I connect it to this song, except perhaps it was playing on the radio in the background at the time of the conversation, or maybe my immature brain connected this song about death to the article about war and destruction, in an attempt to understand the adult world.

The picture of me here is from a day trip – to Great Yarmouth, I believe. I don’t remember the day out. I do, strangely, remember the anorak I’m wearing.

So, here is the song for 1974 – ‘Seasons in the Sun’ by Terry Jacks. The video is a series of images that relate to the lyrics of the song. I can’t watch this video without crying. This song has that kind of power over me. And that’s why it was the only choice for the song for 1974.

My Life in Music: 1973

As has been evident in my previous posts in this series, the music that made an impact on me in the early years of my life was influenced by my parents’ tastes in music. The song for this year is from my mother’s music collection.

It’s from an album by the Carpenters, called Now and Then. The album is effectively a mix of old songs and new, with one side being original Carpenters tracks and the other covers of old songs, set up on the album to sound like they were being played on the radio, with a DJ between the tracks.

The Carpenters were a big influence in my childhood, because my mother had most of their albums. I thought Karen Carpenter had a beautiful voice, and of course she was a drummer before she was a singer. Women drummers were rather rare in the 1970s and I’ve always been drawn to women who dare to venture into worlds traditionally occupied by men. It has been pointed out that Karen’s anorexia, triggered apparently by media criticisms of being ‘chubby’ in the early days of the Carpenters, perhaps is evidence of the fact she was never very comfortable being in the limelight, and might have been far happier had she stayed hiding behind her drum kit.

I do remember that when she died, in February 1983, my eighth-grade English teacher used the event to trigger a discussion about anorexia in class.

The track I’ve picked for this year is not my favourite track off the album but it is the most evocative. We listened to it a lot, and we must have had the album on tape, because when I hear this song it reminds me of being in the car with my mother, driving through Mossley, the town in Lancashire where I lived for the first ten years of my life. The tape had a ‘wobble’ in it partway through this song. Those of you who are the same generation as me will remember that a hazard of cassette tapes – the only portable medium of music we had in those days – was that tapes would often get ‘chewed up’ by players, and they never played quite the same way again.

Sara in Portsmouth, Summer 1973

And the photo? My album says this was taken in Portsmouth. Evidently it was summer, which means I was probably a couple of months away from turning four. I was all skinny legs and knobbly knees at that age, but I’m wondering now if it is actually 1973. All the childhood photos I have of me I gathered together before I moved back to England from Canada in 1988, neatly arranged in an album in order of year, but I am starting to wonder if the year is accurate in all cases.

I do vaguely remember this holiday, though. My grandparents lived in Portsmouth at the time. Being a naval town, Portsmouth had big black anchors arranged as sort of sculptures in the town, and I remember climbing all over them. Well, I remember them being giant-sized anchors, but I was very small back then. In this photo I am standing on a narrow wooden post on the beach. It was hot. I was very good at balancing on things when I was very young – I lost the ability to do that a few years later, when the fear of falling kicked in. I do remember it was the only time I had my hair cut very short, during a summer that was rather hot (though not as hot as the British heatwave that kicked in a few years later). I decided I really didn’t like it short, and I refused to have it cut that short again. Even as an adult, I’ve always worn my hair fairly long.

Anyway, following this collection of memories which appear to span quite a number of years, here is the song for 1973, which definitely was released in this year – ‘One Fine Day’ by the Carpenters.