How in God's name did we survive the 1970s?
FIFTY SOMETHING:I was browsing through a selection of second-hand books at the weekend. This was proper browsing, the kind you do in a bookshop on a rainy afternoon in comfortable shoes and unflattering headgear, rather than from your rumpled pit in your onesey with a cursor in your paw. I’ve always liked other people’s books and clothes and houses more than my own; occasionally I prefer their spouses, too (until they open their mouths to confide their cholesterol count or say something like “I’m planning on getting to grips with the guttering this weekend”).
Anyway, I was in the second-hand bookshop. Outside, the sky was threatening rain, but I was happily nostalgic, rooting through old recipe books (remember when no social gathering was complete without a pot of goulash and a tangerine candlestick?) and a swathe of dog-eared textbooks. I was hoping to find an old Buntús Cainte edition and see Mamaí walking out the doras after a coupla buidéal and Pol agus Idé suas in the leaba ag imirt (apologies to the makers of that fine series – I’m sure these dissolute Gaeilgeoirs exist only inside my head).
Instead, I found a book of Raymond Carver short stories for three quid and the complete plays of Sarah Kane.
I was overjoyed to be leaving the shop with those two fine depressives under my arm when I came across the 1973 Christmas edition of the Psychologist magazine. It was a slender paperback, little more than a pamphlet really, which, in those bell-bottomed years, when it first hit the shelves, cost a mere 10p. A bargain at half the price, it was simply brimming over with thorny issues for you and your tie-dyed friends to knock around over the cheese fondue.
“Too Old at 40?” “Is Chastity Out of Date?” “Why Be Lonely?” I nearly brained my fellow wrinkled perusers in my haste to get to the till. Don’t glare at me with your pencilled-in eyebrows and budding dewlaps, you avaricious old crone, I got it first – oh hang on, that was my reflection I was talking to.
How in the name of God did we survive the 1970s? The wallpaper! The avocado bidets! The home-made condoms hewn from pig bladder (okay, I’m making that bit up).
When I was 11 I used to fantasise about being brought to a psychologist. I thought it would be insanely glamorous to sit in a swivel chair in my knee-socks and my Donny Osmond T-shirt and my Crimplene shorts and tell some fascinated bespectacled adult just how damn stressful pubescent life could be. Thank Christ for benign neglect and an empty wallet.
Here is what the Psychologist recommends for the over-40s: “If you are 40-plus, make the most of what you are. Get out and about; how foolish to envy the young their youthful strength and energy and allow yourself to sink into a miserable state of apathy and self-pity! What about gardening, with special attention to an attractive rockery or rose bed?”
There, you see! Look at you, you apathetic, listless, fortysomething-year-old. Put down that remote control, shrug off those decadent onesies, get your mitts off your iPad/girlfriend/snowboard/ Turkish boyfriend with the all-over body wax and the lime-green thong, and get out there and plant a rockery.
And if that call to blooming husbandry hasn’t convinced you of the magazine’s credentials, there is always the informative feature on the untimely demise of chastity. “Men who feel sexually inadequate often assume before they can marry they must prove that they are potent.”
Well, well, well. I know (now) what you were up to, you once-cavalier young men, with your straw-coloured mullets and your two-tone shoes, who led us girls off the dancehall floor and into the back seats of your mothers’ Toyotas. It’s all there in the Psychologist, in fading black and yellowing white. And we thought you had been moved to express yourselves by our Charlie perfume and a lyrical slow set courtesy of 10CC.
I don’t know what the world thought it was coming to, with all those “liberated modern women” out there “insisting that men exist to be used by women for their pleasure”. What a terrible fate for some mammy’s son to fall into, eh? A casserole of free love and mildly spiced Hungarian goulash. Is it any wonder the country went to the dogs in a dust cart?