Archive for the ‘1970s’ Tag

My Life in Music: 1971

Throughout the 1970s, I was growing up in Lancashire in the north of England. My life experience was limited, and although I have memories here and there from quite early in life (the earliest one being riding in a little seat that was fixed on top of my baby sister’s pram, at which point I would have been about three years old), the memories are snippets, and a bit hazy after all these years.

Toddler Sara, in 1971

In the picture here I think I am about 18 months old. Clearly not yet toilet trained as the nappy is on full display. There were no disposal diapers in those days; they were all terry cloth, with plastic elasticated pants worn over the top. I remember a big yellow plastic bucket that my mother used to wash my little sister’s nappies in. It smelled of ammonia. I can still recall that smell.

I also don’t know where this particular picture was taken, but I always thought I look quite determined to make my own way down from wherever it was.

Anyway, for the next couple of entries in this series about music I am cheating a bit because I really don’t remember much about the music of the early 1970s. So instead I am picking a song that was released this year, but which meant a lot to me a bit later in life.

I was six when my parents divorced. I don’t have many memories of us all living together. What I do remember, though, is that after that point and before we moved to Canada, my sister and I spent weekends with my dad and we listened to a lot of country music because that was what he listened to. I grew to like it. I still have a liking for country music, however uncool it might be to admit it, and for the last couple of years I have attended the Country 2 Country Music Festival weekend at the O2 in Greenwich. I go with my dad because there’s nobody else in my life who likes country music enough to put up with a whole weekend of it.

Anyway, when we left England to move to Canada with my mother, my dad gave me a cassette of all of my favourite songs from his country collection. I was ten years old at the time, and moving thousands of miles away from my dad and from everything in my life that was comfortable and familiar was a big upheaval. I listened to the tape a lot, because it was the only link I had to my dad, and every time I did so I felt desperately homesick.

So the song for 1971 is by John Denver, and was released in this year, and it’s all about longing to be home. Although he’s singing about West Virginia being home, whenever I hear this song I think of my dad’s house in Ashton-under-Lyne, which had no TV and no central heating and was never actually my home, only a place I stayed on weekends; but still I hear this song and I think of it. And it takes me back to being a lonely, homesick ten-year-old.

I still cry every time I hear this song. So although the memories it holds for me are not from 1971, the song has such a powerful hold on me I had to include it in this series of posts.

Here, then is the song for 1971: “Take Me Home Country Roads” by John Denver.

My Life in Music: 1970

I really don’t remember much about the music of 1970. I was too busy eating, sleeping, pooping, and growing, the way babies tend to.

Baby Sara, 1970

I am not sure how old I am in the accompanying photo. Six months, maybe? So it was probably taken in the spring of 1970. Colour photography had been invented by then. But my grandfather, who took the picture, was a keen amateur photographer and had a black and white camera.

Anyway, back to the song. I’ve gone for a song that was a hit in 1970, and it’s an Elvis song. My mother is a big Elvis fan, and I grew up knowing rather a lot of Elvis songs, because she was always playing them.

I’ve picked this one, because I remember this song on the radio, though I very much doubt I remember it being played the year it was released. It was apparently Elvis’s most successful UK single, staying at #1 in the charts for six weeks in the summer of 1970.

Because this blog is all about the memories associated with music, I should also mention what I think about whenever I hear this song. I think about my mother, and the way she cried when she learned about Elvis’s death. But that was not until 1977. I also remember the flat we used to live in after my parents divorced, but we did not move there until 1976. My memories of the house I was living in in 1970 are rather vague, and aren’t really associated with any particular song, but I will explore this further as we move on in this series.

I always thought of this song as a ‘big song’. The sort of song you want to sing along to, even if you’re not a big fan of Elvis.

The video I’ve chosen for this song is not actually a video – it’s a collection of stills of Elvis. But he’s looking pretty good in most of them, and I think my mother might appreciate it. And the sound quality of this recording is a bit better than the other versions I could find on Youtube.

So may I present the song for 1970: ‘The Wonder of You’ by Elvis Presley.

Hallowe’en

This blog has been neglected of late. There’s been a lot of life stuff getting in the way of the writing, which I hope to talk about at a later date.

Today, though, is Hallowe’en. As a horror writer I feel I can’t let the day go by without comment.

The irony is that for the first ten years of my life, Hallowe’en completely passed me by. Living in the North of England in the 1970s, we didn’t really celebrate Hallowe’en – possibly because we have Bonfire Night five days later, which was a much bigger deal – when the whole neighbourhood would throw their scrap wood in a pile on a vacant lot all year, and then on 5 November it would be lit to create a big bonfire, and everyone on the street would gather to watch fireworks and light sparklers and eat Parkin and black peas. And if none of these things mean anything to you, you’re probably not British.

Anyway, in January 1980 we moved to Canada, and in October of that year I experienced Trick or Treating for the first time. I was a week past my eleventh birthday. I dressed up as a princess. My sister and I went out with my mother and stepfather and a couple of friends, and we hit three or four of the neighbourhood streets. I came back with a haul of candy so large it lasted me pretty much until the following Hallowe’en.

I didn’t get many trick or treating years in, as two years later – a week past my thirteenth birthday and in Grade 7 – I decided I was too old for trick or treating and volunteered to sit at the front door handing out the candy. I ended up serving it up to quite a lot of my classmates that year. Which they seemed to find quite embarrassing.

What I’ve always loved about Hallowe’en, though, is the concept of dressing up – of being somebody I’m not, just for a day. In high school everyone was allowed to turn up for school in costumes for Hallowe’en. One year I decided to go as a punk. This was so far removed from what I usually looked like at school that most people didn’t recognise me. Which was the idea, of course. And it was quite liberating, to shed my usual goody-two-shoes image and pretend to be a bad-ass. Even if it was for just a few hours, and it was entirely theoretical because I was way too timid to be a bad-ass for real.

Nowadays I’m in the UK again and although Hallowe’en is more of a thing than it was when I was a kid, it’s still not as big a deal as Bonfire Night. Trick or treating happens, but not everyone buys into it and for stores it’s pretty much nothing more than another retail opportunity. Some kids may get to go to school in costume, and some retail outlets let their staff dress up in spooky costumes for Hallowe’en, but I don’t know any offices that will let you do so, and as I sit here typing this at my desk at the day job (I am officially on my lunch break, so even now I’m not breaking any rules), it’s just business as usual.

But in spite of that, I still want to acknowledge the occasion.

Happy Hallowe’en!

halloween2

Childhood Hero

One of my favourite TV shows as a kid was ‘The Bionic Woman’ starring Lindsay Wagner. Jaime Sommers was my hero. She was smart, she was resourceful, she was super-strong, and she generally managed to rescue herself without any help from the men, because if she got locked up somewhere she could just punch her way out. I remember bounding around the play ground in slow motion pretending to be the bionic woman – because in the show (for some reason) whenever super-fast bionic running happened, it was done in slow motion.

I had the bionic woman action figure as a kid. It was one of my favourite toys, and it came with a bag of cool accessories – a wallet full of dollar bills; maps; mission instructions; make-up. All doll-size. When I played with my Jaime Sommers doll I made her jump over the sofa, making that clicking noise that generally indicated she was using her bionic powers.

My husband bought me the box set of The ‘Bionic Woman’ on DVD for Christmas last year, and it features all three complete seasons, plus the four episodes she originally appeared in from ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’. Her first appearance was in a two-part series. She was Steve Austin’s fiancee and a tennis pro, then she gets seriously injured in a skydiving accident, and Steve convinces Oscar Goldman to shell out the millions of dollars needed to bionically rebuild her. All goes well at first, but Jaime’s body rejects the bionics and she dies at the end of the second episode. But when ratings are high enough TV deaths are always reversible, and Jaime Sommers proved so popular, she was brought back from the brink of death and a second two-part episode in ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ has Steve discover that Jaime is still alive. But alas – she’s lost her memory and doesn’t remember being in love with him.

And so from there spun a separate series that ran for three seasons, and I’ve been working my way through them chronologically. There are few things I’ve noticed about watching a show for the second time 40 years later.

Firstly: I watched every episode as a kid, but as young as I was at the time, I enjoyed the action, but I didn’t follow every nuance of the story line. I am re-watching episodes I remember watching when I was six years old, but I realise I was misremembering them.

Secondly: I realise that watching this show sowed the seeds of feminism in me at an early age. Even in the 1970s, in a less politically correct time, Jaime Sommers was a fantastic role model. As already mentioned, she was able to get herself out of pretty much any situation, as the villains always underestimated the strength of this ‘mere woman’. An early episode in season 1 has Jaime take her class of schoolchildren (for the day job she works as a teacher) on a picnic. When the boys refuse to let the girls play softball “because everybody knows girls are no good at sports” Jaime bargains with them that if she can score a home run, the girls get to play. So of course with her bionic arm she hits the ball and it flies for miles, she proves her point and the girls get to play baseball.

But I am also realising, in this retro re-watch, that actually it’s not a very good show. Apart from the appalling seventies fashions (orange and brown wallpaper? How did anyone think that looked good?), we have cardboard cut out villains, wooden acting, and implausible storylines. And then of course there are a few logicistical problems with the whole concept of bionics. Bionics are effectively cybernetics, something that I guess was a fairly new and exciting thing in the seventies. Having two bionic legs and a bionic arm are all well and good, but without a bionic spine, if you try to lift a car you’d do yourself a serious injury! And given the fact that Jaime’s bionic limbs are complete replacement for her biological ones, which got crushed beyond recognition in the skydiving accident, there is absolutely no scarring. There are a couple of episodes in which she wears swim suits, and there is no mark at all to indicate where her real skin ends and her bionic body parts begin.

But as a kid I didn’t think about any of this. I was just enraptured by the show. I found it scary at times. The last episode of season one involves a young girl (played by Kristy McNichol) obsessed with her dead mother, who was apparently accused of being a witch, and spooky things keep happening. I haven’t got to that one yet in my re-watch but I remember being creeped out by it the first time I watched it. I also haven’t got to the episodes featuring the ‘fembots’ – female robots who set out to kill Jaime. But the scenes in which the fembots walk around with no face masks, revealing a pair of staring eyes amongst circuit boards and wires terrified me as a child. I had nightmares for weeks about fembots. Hopefully they won’t creep me out quite so much forty years on.

I am enjoying my trip down memory lane in rewatching this series, and having a slightly more objective take on the impact it had on my childhood – good and bad. As I finish this blog post with the theme tune of ‘The Bionic Woman’ I’d like to open the floor to all of you reading. What TV shows from childhood had an impact on you, and have you ever watched that show in adulthood? If not, would you want to? Or is it better to keep memories of childhood firmly buried in the past, instead of running the risk of shattering one’s illusions by realising that the show you thought was amazing was actually rubbish?

My Favourite Toy

The main reason I got so excited about Christmas was as a kid was because it was a time I used to get loads of fantastic new toys.  The presents I get nowadays are just not as exciting as they were back then.  And I suppose I’m a lot more cynical in my old age.

actiongirl

Action Girl as she looked when I first got her

However, of late I’ve had conversations with people my age about favourite Christmas presents of childhood, and that’s got me thinking back to my favourite toys.

I have to say that my favourite toy of all time was Action Girl.  I don’t remember what year I got her, or even if she was actually a Christmas present.  But she was manufactured between 1971 and 1977, and my guess was I got mine around 1976, when I was about six or so. This picture on the right is actually of my doll – same red hair, same outfit.  And she was presented in this box.  Check out that psychedelic 1970s outfit – all brown and orange!

There were many accessories available for Action Girl, including clothes and furniture.  One of my big beefs was that apart from the rubber boots that she came with (see picture) none of the shoes you could buy her ever actually fit.  Unlike other fashion dolls, Action Girl’s feet were realistic looking, with soles and heels and five toes.  The plastic high-heeled shoes that generically came with every Action Girl outfit never actually fit on her feet properly.

In the UK, we didn’t really have Barbie in the 1970s.  We had Sindy instead, who was a fashion doll known for her distinctive round head and big eyes.  I had a Sindy too, but I preferred Action Girl.  Action Girl was fully flexible and every joint could bend.  Each section of the doll was connected to the next joint by a length of wire.  It wasn’t pretty, but it made her far more interesting than Sindy, who wasn’t nearly as flexible.

Sindy as she looked in the 1970s

Sindy as she looked in the 1970s

Unlike Action Girl Sindy is still available, but she’s been through a few face lifts since she looked like she does in this picture.  In the 1980s she looked rather a lot like Barbie.  So much so, in fact, the manufacturers of Sindy got sued at one point by the manufacturers of Barbie, so Sindy’s face had to change once more.  Nowadays, it seems she looks a lot more like she did originally, and she’s once more got the round head and large eyes.

Although I preferred Action Girl to Sindy, Sindy had  far more accessories than Action Girl did, and with Sindy being a more enduring design they were more easily available.  So over several Christmases I got Sindy’s bed, and dressing table, and wardrobe, and even Sindy’s horse, but I used them with Action Girl, not Sindy.  I never got the saddle for the horse, so Action Girl used to ride bareback.  She was cool that way.

I named my Action Girl Jennifer, and she went everywhere with me.  I even took her into the bath with me, which in retrospect was a bad idea.  First of all, those metal pins holding her joints together rusted.  And her hair, which was made of nylon, frizzed up and got completely ruined after the first dip. But none of this bothered me.  I loved her, and the two of us had many wonderful adventures.

When we moved from England to Canada in 1980, we had to get rid of a lot of our toys because we couldn’t take them all.  Action Girl was one I made a point of taking with me.  When I moved back to England, aged 18, limited on space again and having to get rid of stuff once more, I still brought Action Girl with me.  For much of the last decade, I had her sitting on my PC, inspiring me to write.  She got put in a box when we moved house two years ago, and sadly didn’t fare too well in the move.  In fact she broke in half.  Her waist was fastened with that rusted pin and two elastic bands, connecting her top torso to the bottom and allowing her to swivel, but after 35 years those elastic bands were perished.  Somewhere over the last few decades one of her plastic hands, which also swivelled (I thought it was neat that her wrists could move in a complete circle), broke and fell off and got lost. But I can’t bear to throw her out, so she’s still up in the attic in a box.  I’m still trying to decide if I want to get her restored to her former glory, or whether it’s best to keep her in her original state, battered and broken though she may be.  At least this proves how much she was loved.

So, with a week to go until Christmas, it seems appropriate to open this topic up to conversation.  Can you remember those Christmases past, and what your favourite childhood toy was?

Dr Who

It’s the 50th anniversary of the TV show ‘Dr Who’, and the UK has Who mania.  The anniversary episode airs here tomorrow night, and it has been much hyped.

So I thought a post about this unique TV show was appropriate.

‘Dr Who’ first aired on British TV in 1963.  The story goes that this little quirky science fiction show about an eccentric alien time traveller became so popular, that when its star William Hartnell decided he wanted to leave the show, the producers were so reluctant to finish the series they came up with the idea that since the character wasn’t human, he could regenerate into someone else so they could carry on with the series.   They subsequently cast Patrick Troughton as The Doctor.

Every British kid has grown up with Dr Who since 1963.  I know my dad has watched every episode.  My earliest memory of the show is the episode in which Jon Pertwee regenerated into Tom Baker.  That was 1974 – I would have been four years old.  I remember it nonetheless.  Tom Baker is the Doctor I grew up with – he played the part from 1974 to 1981.  Sometimes it scared me silly (“The Hand of Fear” gave me nightmares for weeks), but I watched it every week anyway.

At the end of January 1980, we moved to Canada.  At that time, ‘Dr Who’ wasn’t on over there.  I pretty much missed everything between Peter Davidson and Sylvester McCoy, until I moved back to England in 1988 – until the early 1990s, when we got cable TV, and UK Gold repeated them all, and I was able to catch up.

Then there was a one-off TV movie, featuring Paul McGann as The Doctor, released in 1996 but set in 1999.  It had American backing, was heavily Americanised and a lot of fans think it took too much creative licence to be true to the series.

Then in 2005 the series was relaunched again, internationally.  Suddenly Americans and Canadians were big fans of ‘Dr Who’.  Following Christopher Eccleston’s departure David Tennant played the role for five years, and when he left it was Matt Smith.

In my opinion, there are two types of Dr Who fans.  There are those who have been following the series since its early days.  And there are those who have been following it since its 21st century relaunch.  This latter category of fans were a bit floored in a David Tennant episode when he made passing reference to having been a dad – the reaction was, “What?  Where’s that come from?  You can’t leave it there!”  Those of us who have been with the show since the early days know that The Doctor’s first companion was his granddaughter Susan, and therefore we already know he must have been a dad once.

The fans who have only been watching it in the last eight years are getting a different sort of experience.  The 21st century ‘Dr Who’ has a bigger budget, more spectacular special effects and far more complex story lines.  The last couple of years have been even more complex.  Once upon a time, you could sum up ‘Dr Who’ in one sentence:  “Eccentric 900-year-old alien travels through space and time in a space ship that looks like a police box”.  Try and sum up the last two seasons of ‘Dr Who’ in one sentence, and you’ll struggle.

There has also been a precedent, in recent years, to cast young good-looking men in the role of The Doctor, and have attractive female companions who he gets to snog.  This is, as I understand it, to attract more young women into watching the show, but it has given it a whole new dimension that just wasn’t present in the old days.  Could you imagine Tom Baker’s Doctor snogging Sarah Jane Smith?  It was unthinkable.  He just wasn’t that sort of Doctor.

In the UK, you can generally tell people’s age by which Doctor they grew up with.  Tom Baker remains my favourite – he was constant throughout my childhood.  David Tennant is a close second, but it’s a different league because he is one of the new incarnations of The Doctor.

The much-anticipated 50th anniversary episode is on tomorrow night, and sneak previews have been promising.  I remain optimistic that this show will marry the old series with the new – and therefore unite all fans.  That’s a tall order, I know, for a TV show.  Whether or not it will deliver, remains to be seen.  Every ‘Dr Who’ fan in the UK will be glued to the TV tomorrow night.

As a further homage to ‘Dr Who’, it seems appropriate to end on this Youtube video, which merges every single sequence of opening credits, from 1963 to 2013.  You can tell from this how the show has changed over the years.  At some point in the 1970s, it changed to colour.  The sequence from the Paul McGann film has a definite ‘Hollywood’ influence.  Sylvester McCoy’s opening sequence has a suspiciously 1980s flavour.  And the practice of including the current face of The Doctor in the credits, which was dropped in the 21st century series, returns for the last season of Matt Smith’s run – hinting of a return to the original storyline.

So, fellow, Who fans, I want to hear from you.  What’s your earliest memory of  The Doctor?  Though I ask you not to comment on the 50th anniversary episode for the time being, at least – let’s avoid spoilers for those who will be catching up with it later!

Women in Horror #3: Ripley

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

It might have been over 30 years ago, but few films measure up to ALIEN.  A masterful blend of suspense, science fiction and horror, this film about a group of space explorers who encounter a terrifying alien predator still measures up to the test of time and has audiences on the edge of their seat. And its main character is another inspiring  female role model.

Ripley

ripleyRumour has it that Ripley was written as a male character. In 1979, when this film came out, no one really took seriously the idea that a woman could be part of a space crew – even in science fiction. Let alone one as resourceful and enterprising as Ellen Ripley. But someone decided, early on in production, that a man would not go back to rescue the ship’s cat, when all the rest of the crew were dead and Ripley, as sole survivor, is trying to get to the escape pod. This was an integral plot point, as the alien gets into the escape pod whilst Ripley is in the ship getting the cat.

Another story goes that all of the characters in ALIEN were deliberately written to be genderless, so that any of them could be equally played by a man or a woman.

Whether or not either of these stories are true, I don’t know, but the fact remains that Ripley is a leading lady who does not shag anyone, doesn’t cook and doesn’t actually do anything different from the men. Except she keeps her head and therefore survives when the rest panic and get killed. In the decidedly misogynist world of Hollywood this is a rarity, even in the 21st century, and at the end of the 1970s it was pretty much unprecedented.

The second film ALIENS goes a step further and explores the concept of Ripley as a woman. Having been in suspended animation following the events of the first film, she awakens to discover that she has been lost in space for decades and that her daughter, left behind on Earth, has grown old and died in her absence. Thus she becomes particularly protective of the young orphan girl, Newt, the only survivor of a colony that has been attacked by the alien. Feeling guilty about not being there to protect her own daughter, Ripley takes on the responsibility of getting Newt out alive. The image attached to this post is one of the best portrayals of Ripley in this context – carrying the girl in one arm, whilst wielding a bad-ass gun in the other. And she has a cracking aim with that gun, even one-handed.

Ripley remains one of the best heroines of both horror and science fiction of all time. It’s rare that actresses are offered such a wonderful role, and it is testament to Sigourney Weaver’s talent that she was able to bring Ripley to life in such a human way.

Family Ties

My dad and his siblings have an arrangement to get together with their paternal cousins about once a year. This arrangement apparently came about when they realised they were only ever seeing each other at funerals. There are no surviving members of my grandparents’ generation, and my dad’s generation didn’t want to get to a stage where they were next reunited at one of their funerals, so they now get together annually. I had occasion to join the last of these gatherings, which took place at the end of October last year, to get to know all these people who share my genes, but are mostly strangers.

I find the concept of genetics fascinating. I have gone through my life prizing the fact that I am unique, and yet the more I learn about my family tree, the more I come to understand that many of the peculiar quirks that I thought made me an individual are actually family traits.

There’s no doubt that my dominant genes are those from my father’s line. It’s evident I am my father’s daughter. The philosophy of being myself, no matter what others think, I get from him. My inherent lack of interest in clothes and fashion also comes from him. It seems my dislike of vegetables and fondness of all things sweet and fattening is also a family trait. As we all tucked into our food at our family gathering I noticed I was not the only one loading up on the desserts – and no one was tackling the vegetables with any enthusiasm.

One of my grandfather’s brothers had a colour cine camera a long time before such a thing became commonplace, and his vast collection of cine film has now been converted to DVD. This footage spans an era from 1948 through to 1977. It’s fascinating to watch as a snap shot of Lancashire life through the decades, along with the changing fashions and hairstyles – most evident in what the brides were wearing. Only the family matriarch, “Grandma Townsend” – my paternal grandfather’s mother – looked the same at every wedding, wearing the same style coat and the same hairstyle as the years rolled on.

She died when I was about six. I have vague memories of visiting my great-grandmother when I was a child. She lived in a little terrace house in Ashton, characteristic of the Victorian-era houses that are commonplace in Northern towns. I found her quite intimidating – but I was very young and she was very old.

There’s some brief footage of me near the end of this family film archive, aged about five, jumping around in my grandparents’ garden with my sister and my cousin. The attached photo is of me, at around that time. Note the 1970s anorak – a good indication of just how old this picture is!

It’s always been important to me to retain my surname – through insisting on being published under my own name, and not changing it when I got married. It’s hard to explain sometimes why it was so important to me to keep my name, but learning more about the family history has given me a better understanding of why I’ve been so proud of this name I bear. We may not be perfect – what family is? But now I understand what it means to be a Townsend, and why I should be proud to be so.