I grew up in the 1970s, now a decade tinted with much nostalgia. We’ve had big screen remakes of Starsky & Hutch and the A-Team; flick through the TV channels and you can still find The Sweeney beating criminals, whilst Tom and Barbara still try to be self-sufficient in leafy Surbiton. The death of David Bowie has meant a massive return to listening to Ziggy and the Thin White Duke. Only recently CBS announced that it was remaking Magnum PI – you think they’d have learned after their disastrous Hawaii Five-O.
If you read a certain type of history then this was a decade of struggle, both industrial and social; the strikes that put out the lights and put hooligans on the terraces. At the same time the IRA stalked the streets and inflation reduced the money in your pocket. Successive governments tried to cut their spending and wages were frozen. In 1972 we joined the EEC, in 2017 we don’t know how to leave.
I don’t remember the decade that way, perhaps it’s the nostalgic fog. I seem to remember a High Street that functioned for retail and community. I recall an education system, that although faulty, believed in the independence of the child and that they would develop if nurtured. The fewer TV channels had drama, debate and intelligence, not a stodgy diet of mostly competitive dancing/cooking/karaoke. It was Findus Crispy Pancakes and Angel’s Delight. I do remember my father being on strike and the childish joy I felt when coming home from school knowing he’d be there. I also know that 1979 was the beginning of Thatcherism and of irreparable damage to the fabric of British society.
The 70s were certainly more ‘buttoned-up’.
I grew up in a working-class council house.
My father worked in a British Leyland factory and my mother was a cleaner. They surrounded me with love, but rarely showed it overtly, and never expressed it. They cried when I left home for university, but only after I’d gone. My father firmly shook hands on departure.
When I returned from travelling the world, he took my rucksack off me to carry it to the car. It wasn’t a cold upbringing, it was close and loving, but we never talked about emotions. Hearts were never worn on sleeves. No harm was done that way.
He tells me that he loves me all the time now, but I cannot say it back; I presume he knows. My partner’s family drench me with hugs and kisses, I tighten up like a spring and try vainly to respond: I’ve got better at it. In short, I am, when it comes to expression, emotionally stunted. So when faced with anxiety, stress and grief, I ‘man-up’ or ‘tough it out’. I have only a little voice to speak with. I listen to opera; I love theatre and I’m a long way away from that upbringing, but these are other people’s animated emotions, not mine: that’s safer. Now all research states categorically that this is not the way. In the words of the Staples Singers ‘express yourself,’ but how do you overcome such deep conditioning?
The answer is develop an EQ, an emotional quotient. It needs training, but can be learned. The whole premise of TV’s The Big Bang Theory is that IQ and EQ are in competition, but are not incompatible. The modern world asks us daily to produce, analyse and compute, but it only rarely asks us to emote; that’s left very much to us. The question is, what harm could we do to ourselves, and others, if we don’t? What if we don’t as individuals learn to be more open?
In an interview given on TV just before he died from cancer, Paul Eddington, the forever stressed Gerry from the Good Life, talked about his emotions and about his mortality, he said that he wanted to be remembered only as ‘a man who did little harm’.
I’d settle for that.
I might one day even be able to express why.