If ‘hair or care’ was as much a career choice conundrum back in the late 1970s/early 1980s as it is today then I must have been a pretty bad school pal because I don’t recall a single friend ever telling me about their ambitions to bubble perm, crimp & colour or peg out potato-stamped paintings for a living. Ever. Then again, I’ve never been known for my listening skills. I was always far too busy dreaming about living in a kibbutz for a few years before moving from country to country, year after year, on my own, living the culture and mastering the language before ending my days in complete self-sufficiency: growing carrots & potatoes, gathering bracken & twigs and hand-rearing chicks from a remote cliff-top cottage. Cut out for children – and convention – I was not.
Could this be because I grew up in the grip of a sociopath who thought nothing at all of taking free milk out of schools and the cream out of ice cream? There’s no way on earth a megalomaniac of this proportion could ever breastfeed, burp and bath a baby. Or cook a meal for a family or iron a shirt for a husband. Could she? And if she didn’t have to then why should I? She had us girls believing that we too were capable of far, far greater things than rearing offspring, especially of the working class breed: you know, things like start wars for our own glory over countries we’d never heard of, never mind ever visited or were ever likely to visit; destroy whole industries and decimate entire communities and then turn to touch up our lipstick and spray a bit more lacquer on our bouffant.
There are still those walking among us who hark back to the good old days, even those most desperately oppressed back then although somewhat appeased with the opportunity to buy their own council houses and stick sandstone cladding on the walls and lead diamonds on the windows so all their neighbours knew that they were a lot more scared to lose their jobs than they were before because they were enslaved to their bank by a 25 year loan now so that’s them not sleeping soundly again till early in the 21st century if it’s not already been repossessed by then. A new breed of Tory voter was born.
Life was interesting if nothing else. If there wasn’t rioting there was bombing, if there wasn’t striking there was street mugging. And for the unremarkable days in between there was always a bit of racially-motivated police brutality to keep up the ‘desensitise the teens’ programme. (There must surely have been one?) Strong, industrial, working class culture hit back so hard that donkey jackets, braces and steel capped boots became bang-on trend. Even kids from the posh private housing estates started wearing commercially distressed 501s with frayed hems to try and fit in a bit.
When all our Dads lost their jobs in the shipyards we used the haversacks they took their flasks of tea to work in to carry our furry pencil cases and wallpaper-backed exercise books to school in. We knew whose bag was whose purely from which badges we pinned all over them. Suzanne had her Duran Duran while Clare had her Paul Young (she had his hairstyle too). Music and fashion was anarchic and provocative – but the artists still kept their clothes on.
New words entered the Oxford English Dictionary: verbs like ‘to handbag’ made an appearance – meaning a woman who treats someone or something ruthlessly or insensitively. No prizes for guessing where that came from. And even old words took on new meanings…words like scab.
Now how could we think of having babies with all that going on?
But in spite of the violent and chaotic backdrop to my childhood, I have ended up becoming frustratingly conventional. How I ever became a Childminder, a Lecturer, a Writer, with a husband and a grown-up son and a mortgage and a car just like everybody else is beyond me. I still play my old Adam & the Ants records on my little record player from time to time; still scream at the telly whenever Maggie comes on; and I’m still drawn to big, fast, noisy motorbikes and black leather. But apart from that, I’m more normal than I ever would have foreseen.
Except for becoming a working class Tory: things never got quite that bad.