Time has moved on and the two greedy young scamps from the 60s, Ronnie Hughes and Barry Ward are now teenagers about to experience the gastronomic sophistications of the 70s. Or are they?
Food in the 1960s, as long-time readers of the blog might remember, was nowhere near as bad as our memories might have us believe. Trawling through said memories with my North Liverpool contemporary Barry Ward, we found a world where food was shopped for fresh and locally most days of the week, and then cooked from scratch by our mothers, the stay at home housewives of that age.
But come the early 1970s things have gone badly wrong.
Everything’s in tins or boxes and there’s some powder up there on the top shelf called Milquick. Yes, convenience foods have arrived in a big way.
I’m seventeen years old as the money changes and have got a Saturday job at Lennon’s Supermarket in Central Square Maghull. So I’m good at doing the conversions into what I will call ‘the new money’ for many years to come.
There’s not much fresh food in our supermarket. There’s a meat counter, where I’ll get my long hair all matted up with grease carrying in sides of pork from the delivery lorry. And there’s the veg counter run by smiling and popular Ron the Racist (There are no black people in Maghull in these days for him to insult, but I know he’s a racist from his reactions to the music papers he’ll find me reading at lunch times).
But here’s a clue to what’s gone wrong. We never stack the bread shelves because they’re owned by the bread companies who fill them with replacement Wonderloaves every day. These are the new industrially produced kind of bread, churned out in vast amounts and stripped of virtually all their nutritious ingredients.
We don’t know it at the time but the people of Britain are losing control of their food chain.
Goodness only knows what chemical concoction resulted in that yellow colour but I do remember this powdered dessert tasting much better than its direct competitor.
For Sunday tea there might well be a posh dessert.
Everything is now coming pre-packaged.
And the food chemicals industry is beginning its decades long pseudo-scientific onslaught on butter.
So talking of TV, isn’t anyone providing any advice to counteract all this corporate hokum?
So what does a stylish night in look like for most of us?
In Lennon’s we have a single shelf marked ‘Foreign Food’. As well as the Vesta boil in a bag meals there are packets of spaghetti and something called Paté de Fois Gras. Hardly anyone touches the stuff, except for me taking a box of Vesta Beef Curry home one day for a bewildered mother to boil up. I liked it.
And how are Barry and his family doing in this food revolution?
“The 1970’s saw me experience for the first time the delights of curry, proper spaghetti and other forms of pasta, pizza and wine, but these were occasional treats rather than staples of my diet. I lived with my mum & dad until I got married in 1976 and looking back, I’m pretty sure that such sophistication remained alien to them, although my dad’s appetite for pigs trotters and tripe perhaps declined as the decade progressed.”
In my memory most of our mothers are still at home at this time. Women returning to work in large numbers is still years away. So they’ll still serve up the nutritious meals of the 1960s when they can. But of course they’re under pressure from the TV, the supermarkets and us lot to give us all this new stuff.
And when friends come round on a Saturday night?
“Yes, the ‘Dinner Party’ culture, shown in all its awful reality in ‘Abigail’s Party’ by Mike Leigh, and best of all to my mind, a classic episode of ‘Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads’ in which aspirational couples such as Bob & Thelma invited their newly-posh neighbours from the Elm Lodge Housing Estate to admire their soft furnishings, and eat stuff like vol-au-vents, and cheese and pineapple on sticks whilst listening to a bit of Demis Roussos in the background.”
As well as this at home sophistication, ‘going out for meals’ is starting to happen for the working classes. Naturally for us, as we’re starting to have girlfriends. But also for our parents. And where do we all go?
” Lovely to see the full glory of their menu reproduced.”
This pre-decimal Berni Inn hasn’t yet developed the standard starter and dessert that will come later in the 70s.
And of course Black Forest Gateaux to finish. Barry here on an early Berni Inn experience with his soon to be wife, Ann.
“An early date at Chester Zoo was followed by a slap up meal at a Berni Inn (Prawn cocktail, rump steak with the inevitable side order of onion rings, black forest gateaux…all washed down with a half bottle of Blue Nun’ liebfraumilch ! Yes I was that sophisticated and knew how to treat a lady, even in those days…ha. ha). Then we went to a nearby pub. A bit of a dive, but it had a jukebox.”
(Despite this Barry and Ann are still together, with three daughters and a new grandson. Well done that Berni Inn!)
“Wine…….the success of Berni Inns made many people of working class origins realise that you could ‘enjoy’ a glass of wine with a meal. This seemed like a huge leap in sophistication at the time, and I can recall the first appearances of bottles of wine in our household. Invariably these would be ‘Blue Nun Liebfraumilch’ or a bottle of ‘Mateus Rose’. After the bottles were drained, another leap into new areas of sophistication was to put a candle in the top to replicate the dining experience of a Berni Inn, even better when the melted wax ran over the lower part of the bottle and solidified!”
Talking of such sophistication, if Fanny and Johnnie are not much use in the advice department any more don’t worry, help is on the way!
But all that’s in the mid-70s as we get our first flats and discover you can’t live all that well when the most sophisticated food you can produce is a boil in the pan Fray Bentos steak and kidney pie.
Cue a top quality social history memory from Barry:
“The picture of the can of ‘Party 7’ brought back memories of the annual ritual of watching live football matches on TV in the early 1970’s once colour TV had arrived. You’ll recall that there were very few matches screened live on TV in those days, but the exceptions were of course the FA Cup Final and the Home Internationals in May. The tradition in our household on Cup Final Day would be for me to get up early to watch the coverage, which seemed to start at about 9am with pictures of the players taking a stroll in the grounds of their respective hotels. This would be followed by live footage of them getting on the coaches and someone like David Coleman conducting interviews on the coach, whilst helicopters showed us how near to Wembley they were getting. In between was the traditional ‘Meet the Players’ feature, as well as ‘The Road to Wembley’ and a football themed edition of ‘It’s A Knockout’. The excitement mounted as the cameras focused on the fans swarming up Wembley Way, and the inevitable shots of those fans without tickets attempting to scale the walls. Then there was the ‘Community Singing’ usually led by someone like Bruce Forsythe and culminating with ‘Abide With Me’ before the teams emerged.
Back to the food and drink theme! My mum, sensibly, would go out shopping for the afternoon but before going would prepare a huge plateful of sandwiches, usually cheese or ham. At about 2 o’clock various neighbours would arrive, so there were usually about a dozen men & boys crowded around the telly. Here’s the thing…..every one of the dads brought along a can of Party Seven and a pint beer glass (dimpled with handles obviously) ! The cans were opened in the time honoured way, by bashing the top with a large screwdriver & hammer, and the drinking began in earnest. By the end of the game everyone was bladdered. My dad held the record for missing the most goals over the years….I don’t think he had a particularly weak bladder, but invariably whenever he had to visit the toilet….which during the 2nd half was fairly frequently, he always missed a goal. During quiet periods of play my next door neighbour would always urge my dad to go for a wee.
Sticking with the beer theme, in the mid-1970’s my dad fully embraced the craze for ‘Home Brew’. You’ll recall that a substantial area of Boots The Chemist was given over to the paraphernalia of Home Brew kits. Various sections of our house….the cupboard under the stairs, the space next to the boiler, the loft…..were filled with demi-johns and bottles of beer in various stages of development. Obviously much of the stuff was drunk long before it was properly ready, and I can still recall the dreadful hangovers that resulted, but looking back, it’s amazing how massive this craze was at the time.”
See? It wasn’t all bad.