The Summer Olympics of 1972- Munich
In those days it really did take a village to raise a child.
The 1970’s is a decade often forgotten and often undersold, a decade where the post-war affluence bubble burst with a bang and successive governments were plagued with political and economic unrest. The decade began with promise but Ted heath faced early challenges by strikes financial crash and energy crisis, and some of us went hungry. Callaghan famously told colleagues in 1974 “If I were a young man, I should emigrate.” For some of us the backbone of our extended family had already emigrated in the late 60’s as £10 POMS and were already seeking a future promising fame and fortune in new and exotic lands.
Not surprising that it was often called the lost decade and growing up perhaps that is what we were too, the lost generation, generation X, a generation of latch-key kids who brought ourselves up because nobody knew any different. Nobody even realised we were doing it on our own. We had it all, freedom and then some and yet we had nothing, no prospects but kind hearts, glam rock and big dreams.
Our parent’s generation were the first generation of latch key kids, born towards the end of World War two against a backdrop of poverty, harsh winters and a changing workforce, there was food poverty and many families were living in urban slums and the housing stock was in dire need of upgrading and repair. At the outset of the forties the menfolk were away at war and women were required to fulfil working roles in factories, munitions works, and even on the land and the docks, it meant that an entire generation of working-class kids was forced to get itself up and ready and off to school and fend for themselves at the end of school, it meant that older siblings carried the responsibility of caring for younger siblings and often completing the household chores.
The mothers were responding to the needs of the war effort and had little choice, and it was this generation of children that found themselves with a world of opportunities in the later fifties and early sixties but as new parents themselves in the late sixties and early seventies due to the economic downturn and the increasing phenomena of the working mum were to become the parents of the next generation of latchkey kids, our generation, the latchkey generation of the seventies, generation X.
My parents both worked and so in the holidays we really were home alone. Dad was working for the Post Office and mum worked as a machinist at the Isle of Man Mill, where Mr Harold Dugdale had an active workforce of about twenty working at the Rossendale Quilting Company, they made ironing board covers and continental quilts (a forerunner to the Duvet) and they were all exposed to asbestos and cotton fibres in a harsh hot noisy mill. The village was home to at least three working mills, across the river from our house and across from the Isle of Man mill was Wood-eel, it had a great timber yard to play and explore in and all the local kids would collect bags of sawdust from the mill for their pet rabbits, surprisingly it made wooden heels that were used up and down the valley in the still proseprous and busy boot and shoe factories.
Mum left us under the watchful eye of our next-door neighbour Rosina Giddens, known to us as Nana, even though we were not related. She would make us lunch, and we would wake her up to call for help in the event of breakages, windows, arms, and legs, or toys that were broken in our sibling squabbles. The older folk did that, watched out for the youngsters and we paid the kindness back and in later years when we had moved to the Post Office we went back to Nanas every evening to make her tea and make sure she was well for the evening ahead. She looked out for us and made us lunches and we looked out for her, and the day when she slumped into her sausage and mash and her gnashers fell off the table and onto the floor, we looked after her, quickly raising the alarm that Nana had fallen asleep and wouldn’t wake up. She had suffered a stroke but our speed at raising the alarm meant that she was on the mend in a matter of weeks.
If it was dry- we were outdoors, we met up with whoever came to call, who ever knocked on the door to see if you were playing out, and everyone did that. There was an unwritten rule that no-one came in the house and you didn’t go in their houses unless they were invited but you could pretty much do what you like outside the house. And we did. If it was climable- we climbed it, if you could make a game out of it, you made a game, if it needed exploring we explored.
We were very young that first summer we spent home alone, it was 1972, and I know this because we loved to watch the gymnastics that were on. It was the Olympics in Munich and we were enraptured by our favourite gymnast Olga Korbut. We thought she was amazing. Tracey loved her work on the beam, I loved to watch her floor routines. She was so small but so incredibly athletic. I was 5 and Tracey was 7.
Tracey preferred Olga, who was small and petite and in some respects the underdog, to a very womanly Ludmilla Tourishiva. I thought she was the most graceful swan I had ever seen on a gymnastics floor and at nineteen she no longer had the angular bones of the minute Olga. Tourishiva won Gold, but Olga won hearts and inspired an entire generation of young girls to take to the gym floor.
Nana would pop in and out and would get us lunch and we would sometimes go out with her in the afternoon, she would walk us to the stream at the back of Crawshawbooth and she would sit I the sun and she taught us how to wash stones from the river bed. Sometimes we would play in the garden in front of her house and make dens from sheets, and she would show us how to make clothes for our dolls with old stockings. So we weren’t officially abandoned, it was just that we were really latch key kids.
It isn’t something that you would do now, but in those days I suspect it was the same story up and down the valley. We were all home alone. When we were old enough to go to the park alone, it was obvious that this was what all the kids did all summer, the park was our meeting place and there were never any adults around and even when Lesley Stansfield broke her leg and the bone came through the skin, after she got dragged under the roundabout after falling off because it was spinning too fast when we were playing pick up sticks- it seemed to be ages before any adults arrived.
©Alison Jean Hankinson