‘I wouldn’t swap my 70s childhood for a modern one’

28 Dec 2012 @ 4.40 pm
| Opinion

A young Steve Bradley growing up in Little Fencote
Steve Bradley is struck by how much has changed for children since he grew up in rural North Yorkshire

As well as getting balder, grumpier and even less tolerant as middle-age kicks in – I often find myself reminiscing about those long gone, and seemingly endless, days of childhood where the only worry I had was that my mum would forget to bring The Dandy back from the village shop.

If I happened to be five-years-old today, living in the tiny hamlet of Little Fencote, then at least I wouldn’t have that on my mind. The village shop was closed down and turned into living accommodation in the early Eighties – a stark reminder that the obsession with turning every available building or piece of land into a business opportunity isn’t just a recent innovation. 

The village shop, run by Mr and Mrs White, sold everything you could possibly want and more. It doubled as the post office and was always full of people, despite there being another shop and post office less than a mile away in Kirkby Fleetham, which I imagine was also constantly busy.

I remember going to the shop with my mum and nanna (pictured with baby Steve, right), and waiting for what seemed an eternity as every headscarf clad woman in the village gathered at the counter and went into conference while I was banished outside with my Remus Playkit.

With the benefit of hindsight it is clear that these conferences undoubtedly centred around crucial feminist issues for country folk of the early Seventies such as travel arrangements for bingo, my nanna’s false teeth (she wouldn’t wear them!) and the seemingly endless flow of men seen leaving Fencote Hall first thing in the morning while Major Hamilton-Russell was away.

They could have been talking about selling me to the gipsies camped up on Long Lane for all I cared. If I had to sit outside the shop for the entire morning I could have at least been allowed some Anglo bubblegum and a bottle of R Whites lemonade!

It’s crazy to think that it was common practice in the Seventies for mothers to send kids as young as five, armed only with a shopping list and basket for self-defence, to get the groceries (on the slate of course) on their own without fear of abduction or any of the other horrors we constantly hear about these days. Either the perverts of the day were very shy or paedophilia wasn’t scientifically discovered until 1985.

Anyway, child molesters were easy to spot back then – they wore horn-rimmed NHS spectacles and a long brown raincoat – and were almost always called Nobby or Frank. I recall being told not to look at or speak to them. And under no circumstances was I to accept those coveted Anglo bubblegums or invitations to view puppies.

[column width=”55%” padding=”5%”]I have many other memories of being a little boy in Little Fencote, most of them bizarre ones. I remember my mum kicking the telly when L’Escargot prevented Red Rum from winning the 1975 Grand National. I’ll never forget my nanna standing on the front doorstep every Friday night, poised like a vulture, waiting for my dad to come home from work so she could get back all the money he’d borrowed during the week.

I can still picture every cloud that formed in the sky before the first raindrop signalled the end of the scorching summer of ’76.[/column][column width=”40%” padding=”0″]

So was life better for kids back then? It is arguably easier being a kid today but it certainly isn’t as enriching.


I won’t even tell you about the incident involving my nanna, an armchair and a bar of chocolate one winter night. You had to be there! And why did her hearing aid always whistle?

So was life better for kids back then? Well as an only child with no video games or Sky TV I had to make my own entertainment. I could read at the age of three. I learnt about the countryside and animals through experience instead of the internet.

I went to Sunday School every week. I called grown-ups “Mr” or “Mrs” and put my head down when I walked past teenagers, who I was sure were at least 35 judging by their sideburns, and never cheeked anyone for fear of a tanned backside. I played football every day I could with Paul Snowdon – who is to blame for me being a lifelong Leeds United fan.

It is arguably easier being a kid today but it certainly isn’t as enriching. Sure I was lucky to grow up away from the city but a child in Little Fencote today won’t have it like I did. All the shops are gone, the farms no longer produce and all the houses have been bought up by city people who complain about the smell of manure.

I visited our old tied cottage last year. It is now three times as big while the farm next door is three times as small. Our old house is also now worth three-quarters of a million pounds according to some property website.

I’d be shocked if I went back to the village tomorrow and could find more than one or two traces of the families I grew up with. The Clarksons, the Dicks (as in the famous horse racing family), the Watsons and the Sturdys are all probably long gone and replaced by yuppies for whom not having a village shop and a post office poses no problems at all. Why go out when you can buy online?

And one final thought. Even if a kid today wanted their mum to bring them The Dandy it couldn’t happen. The printed comic has gone, to be replaced by an online version.