The Freedom of a 1970s Summer

What did your kids get up to this summer? Were their holidays a whirlwind of planned activities, outings and excursions, playdates, scheduled fun, exciting road trips and educational activities? Did you spend the last few weeks of term scouring Pinterest for all the wonderful arts and crafts you would create together; and the fun but nutritional foods you would offer them and they would willingly imbibe? Perhaps every day was going to be a themed frenzy of pirate, princess, mermaid, safari and Hogwarts fun?

Or in the end, did you just collapse in a heap like the rest of us and enjoy lie-ins and lazy days, marvelling at how very quickly a week passes when nothing seems to happen? I bet you felt guilty though, and felt you should be entertaining them, or felt even worse guilt if you were working.

Most of us look back on our childhoods with rose-tinted spectacles, eulogizing about the long, hot summers full of endless days of fun and laughter, without a cloud or a rainy day in sight. For those of us around in the 1970s this is actually pretty true, with 1976 bringing a three month heatwave. And I’m sure my birthday in the middle of August was always a sunny day, or is that just nostalgia...

It’s not just the weather that is different these days, of course, we live in a very different world. For us it was the click clack of a typewriter not the tap tap of a laptop, not that anyone worked from home then! The sound would probably have been drowned out by ABBA on the teak-encased stereo anyway.

For me, those long hot summers were full of driving toy cars through the dirt, creating nests for fairies and dollies, eating sandy egg Mother’s Pride sandwiches on the beach, playing in sprinklers and paddling pools, cold Lemonade and Cream Soda being poured from bobbly glass Corona bottles, chocolate bars costing 4½p, and being outside pretty much all the time. Riding on bikes, kicking a ball about, playing in our little cul-de-sac with friends, picnics, paddling in streams and at lakesides, stomping through fields, running, jumping, skipping: always outside and always moving.

What about children nowadays? How many hours did they spend in front of screens this summer? How many hours being occupied, with activities and educational days out, and classes and all the rest? How much time did they spend being free? Because that’s the main thing I remember, that sense of freedom. No-one entertained us, you found other kids and got on with it.

We played cars and dollies, jacks and marbles; skipped, rode bikes and climbed trees; chalked galleries of art, noughts & crosses, and hopscotch lines on the pavement; played Oranges & Lemons, Stuck in the Mud and British Bulldog in the street; hunted for bugs and seed pods, and made imaginary shops, cafes and houses from nothing.

No-one worried about us being out in the road because it was a cul-de-sac and there were so few cars around, plus some of the ‘new’ houses had kitchens at the front so those mums could keep an eye on us through the window. There was only one mother in our road who worked full-time, and she was a teacher, so around during holidays anyway. All the other mums were at home all day, or worked part-time, and we were in and out of each other’s houses and gardens all the time.

Even the dads were home a lot of the time. People still worked to live then, not the other way round. Leisure time, even though there was less to do and less money to do it with, was all.

A couple of years ago, 1976 was declared to have been the best year ever to be a child and, despite the political and economic problems of the time, I think perhaps it was. We were free. The Wombles were on the telly, and you could buy 4 aniseed balls for a penny at ‘the little shop’. Life was good.

Things have changed, there are it seems a lot more ‘funny people’ about – even our beloved 1970s entertainers it turns out! – and there aren’t enough mums and dads around to keep an eye on everyone. Mothers have since been pulled into the workplace with the carrot of economic benefit, and the stick of a skewed kind of feminism which insisted they should ‘have it all’, whatever the cost. Freedom, for parents and children, comes at great cost these days. And let’s not even get on to the crowing spectre of ‘elf and safety! (Clackers anyone?!)

So what can we learn from a 1970s summer? More freedom, less planning; more fun, more spontaneity, less stress; a revival of old-style games and play, and put the SmartPhones, tablets, Wiis and all the rest away? Maybe. Take from it what you will, but I wonder how many lifelong memories those computer games are giving our kids.

Maybe letting them loose with no agenda and just a few simple toys would be the making of them. The summer holidays may be over, but why not try it this weekend?

Oh, and please let them and their clothes get dirty, preferably caked in mud; and say they can use anything from your house that doesn’t cost more than £50 or have lots of sentimental value. No plans, no electronics, no schedule, just imagination, dirt and fun. Wouldn’t it be wonderful?

Pin it: