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Sewing The Seventies: 1974 in Italy

1974 starts with feeling of apprehension. The country is in the grip of an economic crisis and paralysed by the austerity measures brought in in the previous year. It isn’t possible to use your own vehicle on Sundays. The penalty for doing so is a fine of 1 million Lira. Italians find themselves squeezed onto public transport or on their bicycles on Sundays. Television transmissions finish at 10.45 pm and cinemas at 10.00 pm. There are limits imposed on domestic heating and lighting.  There are queues at the shops for simple products such as sugar. More than this, they have to endure the politician’s “patriotic calls” for a spirit of sacrifice! The irony was that Italy was manufacturing cars, but didn’t have any petrol! [1]

1974 - Corriere della Sera

“Ban on travel by car on holidays. TV, bars and public offices closed.”

The oil embargo, which began in October 1973 resulted in a four-fold increase in the price of oil in 1974. The embargo proved more damaging to Italy than the other major industrial countries. Italy is heavily dependent on raw material imports; nearly all its oil is imported and about 80 per cent of its total energy consumption.

Unfortunately, speculators sprang up that profited from the crisis increasing prices at the petrol pumps even further. The scandal uncovered implicated politicians, oil companies, and financiers.

Bologna: Austerity, winter 1973-74

Bologna: Austerity, winter 1973-74

Kidnappings continued with the Red Brigades kidnapping the magistrate Mario Sossi. The Red Brigades were an extreme left-wing terrorist revolutionaries who promoted and carried out an armed fight for communism. A hostage exchange brought about his release just over a month later. The Red Brigades weren’t the only group attacking at the heart of the state. On 28th May a bomb exploded in Piazza della Loggia in Brescia killing 8 and injuring 101 people. The New Order, a neofascist group claimed responsiblity. Another bomb exploded on 4th August on a train near Bologna. This time, the Black Order fascists claimed responsibility.

The country’s deficit reached nearly $8 billion which greatly accelerated the inflation rate, to a whopping 20%. Some goods like meat and sugar rose by up to 100%. The central bank intervened in the exchange market to support the lira. Italy borrowed from the IMF, the European Community and the Bundesbank a total of $5.9 billion. A restrictive policy was imposed. For example, an Italian tourist could take only a limited amount of money abroad to stop capital from leaving the country. The permitted amount was just enough for a stay of a couple of days . GDP and industrial production fell sharply during this time, Fiat put 73,000 workers on unemployment benefit towards the end of the year. All this provoked a political crisis [2].

Between February 1972 and the government formed by Aldo Moro in November, there had been six successive governments, three different governments in 1974 alone, each a different coalition and each without the slightest idea how to tackle the crisis.

In July, the monopoly of the state broadcaster RAI was ended and in September, the cable TV company Telemilano (in Milan) started broadcasting in the Milan area. The owner of this TV station was Silvio Berlusconi [3].


[1] Storiologia website 1974 (in Italian)

[2] The Italian Economic Crisis of the 1970s (Raymond Lubitz)

[3] Silvio Berlusconi (in Italian)






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Sewing the Seventies: 1973 in Italy

In March 1973, The Godfather, directed by Francis Ford Coppola was awarded best picture at the Oscars. The film was released the previous year and is based on the American author, Mario Puzo’s best-selling crime novel. The film details the story of a fictional Mafia family based in New York City headed by Vito Corleone (played by Marlon Brando). The film is set in the forties and fifties, but also provides the story of Vito’s childhood.

The Godfather was filmed on location primarily in New York, but also in Sicily. The town, Corleone, which the family is named after, does exist. It is where the real-life Corleonesi clan originated. However, it was considered too modern in the seventies for filming. Coppola therefore opted to film in other locations, namely Motta Camastra and Forza d’Agro. The scenes where Michael meets and proposes to Apollonia were filmed in Savoca [1].

The character of Vito Corleone was based on Carlo Gambino, who was born in Palermo and was initiated into the “cosca mafiosa” (mafia clan) at the age of eighteen. He emigrated to the United States in the 1920s where he participated in selling contraband alcohol. During the thirties he became involved in various illicit activities and became head of the “famiglia” by ordering the murder of many of his rivals.

It has been remarked in Italy that The Godfather has tended to glorify the mafia and its activities. However, an American may have a different perspective than an Italian about the mafia. The actions of the mafia in Sicily were once more like banditry and the clans ran a type of protection service that substituted for the rule of law in Sicily immediately after the unification of Italy. Perhaps, this romaticised view of the mafia, which was handed down to the Italian immigrants influences this film. In contrast, the mafia in Sicily became an organised crime syndicate involved in protection racketeering, smuggling, drug refining and distribution and the rigging of public contracts. In the seventies they had inflitrated politics at a national level and there are many more victims of the mafia’s crimes in Italy [2].

Bar Vitelli as shown in the film and today

Bar Vitelli as shown in the film and today

The Italian-American Civil Rights League wanted all uses of the words “mafia” and “Cosa Nostra” to be removed from the script, in addition to feeling that the film emphasized stereotypes about Italian-Americans. The two instances of the word “mafia” were removed from the screenplay and the league gave its support for the script.

Kidnappings were commonplace during the seventies and between the middle of the seventies and the middle of the eighties, as many as 489 people were kidnapped in Italy. The kidnappers demanding a ransom in each case [3].

On the 10th July 1973 John Paul Getty III, grandson of the millionaire oil baron John Paul Getty is kidnapped in Rome by the ‘ndrangheta calabrese, a criminal organisation. He was taken, blindfolded, and imprisoned in a cave. It took a while for the news of the kidnapping to filter through. His grandfather for a time was convinced that his grandson had orchestrated a “fake” kidnapping in order to ask for a ransom, hoping to receive the money himself. His immediate family though, immediately recognised that he was in real danger.

The police were able to establish that the perpetrators did not have any scruples and would kill the young Getty if their ransom demand was not met. The Getty patriarch, even through his money could have paid the debts of the entire Italian population for ten consecutive years, refused outright to pay the ransom. The kidnappers, at that point passed the hostage onto another group, who sent a slice of the boy’s ear to a newspaper, complaining that they were endangering John Paul’s life by taking so long (three months) over the negotiations.

A letter arrived for the family containing a few lines from John Paul. He wrote that he was only 17 years old, but he expected to die if they didn’t pay. The letter also included a photo of his severed ear. Finally a telephone call was received by “Il Tempo” newspaper from the kidnappers. The severed ear convinced the hitherto inflexible grandfather to pay the ransom. John Paul Getty III was released on 15th December, after five months in captivity. He was found at a service station on a road between Salerno and Reggio Calabria [4].

John Paul Getty III interviewed after his release

The story of the kidnapping has been told in the recent TV series, Trust. At the end of the series you get to find out how the ransom was used by the kidnappers. The money was invested into the industrialisatiion of the Gioa Tauro region. Today the economic activies of ‘Ndrangheta include international cocaine and weapons smuggling. An estimated 80% of Europe’s cocaine passes through the Calabrian port of Gioia Tauro [4].

In February, the dollar is devalued by 10%. The monetary exchanges are closed throughout Europe. The treasury minister decides to let the currency fluctuate. When the exchanges open again the lira has lost 10% of its value. A strategy of devaluation and prioritising large industrial exports, principally cars and tyres follows. This sees the prices of certain goods that Italy doesn’t produce, such as flour, rise steeply. The price of bread had been fixed at 160 lire per kilo, but in Naples, bakeries refused to bake because this didn’t cover the costs of production. For days shoppers couldn’t find any bread. In other cities it was also difficult to find bread.

An oil crisis began in October 1973 when the members of OPEC (the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries) proclaimed an oil embargo. The embargo was targeted at nations perceived as supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War. With a shortage of oil, the government set various austerity measures in place.


[1] Locations filmed in The Godfather (in Italian)

[2] The portrayal of the mafia in The Godfather (in Italian)

[3] Kidnappings in Italy (in italian)

[4] The ‘Ndrangheta (in English)


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Sewing The Seventies: 1972 in Italy

To understand some of the events of 1972, we need to rewind a little to 1969. On 12th December, in Piazza Fontana, central Milan, a bomb exploded causing the deaths of 17 people. 88 were injured. Shortly after an unexploded device was also found in Milan. The bag was recovered but the device was detonated in a controlled explosion that evening, destroying vital evidence. A further three bombs exploded in Rome injuring 16 people. The Piazza Fontana bomb was the first and most shocking terrorist act since the war and is considered as “the mother of all the atrocities” that followed [1].

The investigations into the bombs centred around extremist groups based in Milan. On 12th December Giuseppe Pinelli, an anarchist was questioned by the police. On 15th December, after three days of interrogation, he died after falling from the fourth floor of the police station. The Milan police, said that Pinelli committed suicide because they had proved his involvement in the bombings. This official version of events was strongly criticised by the press, due to inconsistencies in the accounts of the witnesses.

An inquest was held. The three police officers interrogating Pinelli, including Luigi Calabresi, were put under investigation for his death. Luigi Calibresi was targetted by the press and received frequent death threats from extreme left groups. On the city’s walls, graffiti was daubed depicting hands dripping with blood, accusing Calibresi of having assassinated Pinelli.

CALABRESI ASSASSINO (Calabresi is an assassin)

On 17th May 1972 Luigi Calabresi was shot by unknown assailants from a car as he left his house. Calabresi, mortally wounded, collapsed on the pavement. People tried to save him; an ambulance arrived and took him to hospital, but Calabresi died. The car used by the assassins was found abandonned, it had been stolen. Members of the hard-left Lotta Continua group were found responsible for the killing.

The inquest into Pinelli’s death finally reached its conclusion in 1975. Pinelli’s fall was attributed to him fainting then losing his balance and falling from the room’s balcony. It was proved that Luigi Calibresi was not present in the room at the time of Pinelli’s death. There was found to be no wrongdoings regarding Pinelli’s death [3].

And what of the investigations into the Piazza Fontana bombing itself? Tobias Jones, in his book “The Dark Heart of Italy” [2], devotes a whole chapter to this. In 2000, a commission was once again looking into the atrocity, the eighth investigation (yes, you read that right, the eighth) into the bombing. Over the years, any who have come close to explaining what happened on that day, including Pinelli and Calibresi, have become themselves additions to Italy’s long list of “illustrious corpses”. Suspects, witnesses, police and magistrates all became indirect casualties of the Piazza Fontana bomb. Victims of the escalating cycle of recrimination. Vital evidence too has been lost or destroyed in the intervening years.

The investigations concluded that the atrocity was carried out by far-right extremists, organised, promoted and supported by men within Italian institutions and by people linked to American intelligence. The Vatican too, cannot escape mention here. It had an ambiguous attitude to fascism and was in favour of whatever intervention was necessary on the part of the USA. The aim being to spread panic and justify a state of emergency in the country, a plan known as the “strategia della tensione” (strategy of tension). Of the actual perpetrators, several individuals were sentenced, but were always acquitted on appeal. Like Tobias Jones notes in his book, we will probably never know the entire truth and the case will remain one of the “misteri d’Italia” (mysteries of Italy).

Last year I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on the foods that people ate in the 1970s. In the UK our diet has changed quite considerably to embrace cuisine from other countries, including from Italy. Our family used to spend the summer holidays in Italy each year and drove by car from England to Italy. One of the annual rituals was a stocking up on Italian foods whilst we were over there. On our journey back the car would be filled to the brim; there would be the clanking of the wine bottles and a huge canister of olive oil and the aromas of parmesan cheese and cured ham would mingle with the smells of a damp tent and unwashed socks.

Whilst many Italian foods have been embraced in the UK, who doesn’t love a good pizza or pasta dish, the same affection has not been extended to every Italian food. These are the Italian marmite equivalents:

Fette biscottate

Fette biscottate are packaged slices of toast – light, crisp and largely tasteless. They are the kind of snack you snatch from the hotel breakfast bar on the way out and find yourself nibbling later on the train in disappointment.



This is a fizzy drink that comes in a lurid shade of red. It comes in cute little bottles and is known as an aperitivo (aperitif), so is apparently drunk before dinner [4]. I’ve always known the drink as “gingerino”, but this is just a brand name (the manufacturer being Recoaro), but there are also other brands such as Crodino or SanBitter. This is definitely something you need to grow up with, because trying this drink out on friends and colleagues most can barely manage a mouthful without wanting to spit it out! The only person I found who liked drinking it in this country was Swiss!

A bitter fizzy drink


Another drink. Cynar is a bitter tasting alcohol digestivo (a digestive – for drinking after dinner, do Italians have a drink for every occasion?) It is made from artichokes. It is similar to some other drinks. My personal favourite is Avverna, made out of basil leaves amongst other things and is somewhat sweeter.

A drink made from artichokes

Pocket Coffee

I’ve actually got a few of these chocolates left in the fridge from a recent trip to Italy. They are a little like liquor chocolates, but have what tastes like a sip of neat coffee in each chocolate. There is even a decaffeinated version! They are made by Ferrero-Rocher, but I’ve never seen them in the UK.

Pocket Coffee

Squid ink spaghetti

This one is like all those foods that are just the wrong colour. I can’t say I’m too fond of blue cake either. Of course, it doesn’t really taste any different from ordinary spaghetti. But ee get so used to spaghetti’s usual wheat-like shade, that somehow dress it up however you like, it just reminds me of a plate of black tentacles!

Squid-ink spaghetti

[1] The Piazza Fontana bombing – wikipedia (in Italian)

[2] The Dark Heart of Italy (Tobias Jones)

[3] Pushing past the night (in English) / Spingenda la notte più in là (in Italian)

[4] Cos’è il gingerino? (in Italian)

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Sewing The Seventies: 1971 in Italy

A North-South divide exists in the UK, but its influence is not felt as keenly as the North-South divide in Italy. On the surface, geographical differences in Italy don’t seem so huge; the Italian regions, seem to have more in common than anything that sets them apart. The food, culture and climate are broadly similar, although they do reflect the different climates and geography up and down the country. However, there is considerable prejudice. I know people in the North who won’t set foot anywhere further south than Florence. My landlady in Italy used to get very upset about hanging out the washing on the line on Sundays. She used to declare that “we aren’t in Naples here”, the implication being that only Neopolitans would be as brazen as to let their undies flap around in the breeze on holy days. Even cleaning is a prejudiced activity in Italy; many Italians clean their kitchens with an almost competitive fervour; the Southerners must outdo the Northerners and vice versa! I find it perplexing when even a marriage between a Northerner and a Southerner can be discussed in hushed tones.

Dear Peppino, this is the divided Italy before the Vienna Congress…that is the united Italy with its regional authorities

This North-South divide has existed at least since the unification of Italy in 1861 and throughout Italy’s history there has always been some factor that has contributed to this ongoing division. [3] In the seventies, public life was dominated by a “razza padrona” (the ruling class) which exhibited a code of silence, a hidden economy and extensive bribery. This was the beginning of wide-spread corruption and an abuse of power in government that lasted until the nineties. During this year, it seemed that all the parties were engaged in their own internal squabbles and made no attempt to occupy themselves with the evident economic and social problems. There were strikes and there was pervasive absentiism in the workplace. At Fiat, every day 20,000 workers were absent, resulting in 35-40 lost hours in the course of the year. [1] No wonder the Italians suffered from a “stanchezza politica”, a tiredness for politics! Turning their backs on the political vacuum in Rome, the “Modello Terza Italia” (The Third Italy Model) economy emerged. In brief, this Third Italy consisted of the North East and Central regions of the country which thrived on the dynamism of small industries and local and community cohesion.[2]

May 1971 saw the first transmission of “Telecapodistria”. This was a public television and radio service that broadcast to the Adriatic coast area including parts of Italy, Slovenia and Croatia (the former Yugoslavia). It was broadcast from Koper in Slovenia and became very popular both in Yugoslavia and Italy because it was broadcast in colour. Until 1976, when it was ruled that privately owned, fully commercial stations could be established on Italian soil, it was the only fully commercial station broadcast in Italy. [4] Spending much of the summer holidays in North-East Italy, I remember watching this channel on TV, particularly the cartoons. The channel also broadcast the first music video TV show. It featured Western pop music and was broadcast both in Yugoslavia, and neighbouring Italy.

TV Station Telecapodistria

On the 30th December a law was passed extending maternity rights. This allowed pregnant women to stop work two months before the birth of their child and allowing them leave for three months afterwards.

I can’t leave this year without mentioning the continued grip of the mafia on Italian society. In 1971, the attorney Pietro Scaglione and his driver were murdered on the orders of Salvatore Riina, head of the “corleonesi” mafia.  This murder was the first in a war against the state by the mafia. And yes, you would be right in thinking that the corleonesi came from the Sicilian town of Corleone, made famous by the The Godfather.


[1] Storiologia website – 1971 (in Italian)

[2] The Third Italy Model (in Italian)

[3] The North-South Divide (in Italian)

[4] Capodistria TV and station on wikipedia (in English)

[5] Salvatore Riina on wikipedia (in Italian)


Sewing The Seventies: 1970 in Italy

Last year when I was doing research for my year-by-year account of the 1970s (click here to read it), I realised how little is actually written about this period of history. In bookshops or in the library you’re lucky if you come across any volumes about the seventies squeezed between the second world war and a biography of Margaret Thatcher (Yes, Margaret Thatcher was PM from 1979, but her premiership is synonymous with the eighties).

In contrast, in Italy, the years that encompass the seventies are considered of pivotal importance in post-war history and are given their own name – “anni di piombo” or the Years of Lead. These years are characterised by social and political turmoil in Italy including public disorder, social conflict and terrorism. The term’s origin is a reference to a 1981 German film Marianne and Juliane directed by Margarethe von Trotta, which was released in Italy as Anni di piombo. The film centres on the lives of two members of the West German militant far-left group Red Army Faction. However, the term “The years of Lead” has come to have wider meaning, encompassing various terrorist activities, the “strategia della tensione” (the strategy of tension in Italy), Operation Condor (South America) and the cold war (US / Russia). Given the prominence of this slice of Italian history, I wasn’t short of historical source material, only short of my own ability to read and absorb it!

Anni di Piombo film

Juliane visits Marianne in prison in the film Marianne and Juliane, as known as The Years of Lead in Italy.

On the 1st December the Fortuna-Baslini Law was introduced which legalised divorce. However, there was widespread controversy and many of the political parties were opposed to the move. In the same year another law was passed specifically in response to the controversy. This law established that referendums could be used as a means for citizens to express their opinion. The hope, in some quarters, was that this law could be used to revoke the “scandalous” divorce law. [1][2]

Womens' rights protesters in Italy

Placards – “Italians and Love” and “In love we want the same rights as men”

The first regional elections were held this year. There are twenty regional governments in Italy. Although some of these were already in existence before 1970, for example Sicily and Trentino-Alto Adige, the elections saw regional governments set up for the remaining Italian regions. What might not be obvious is just how autonomous these regions are. All regions can keep 20% of all levied taxes. Regions with special status are able to levy their own taxes and are entitled to as much as 100% of the tax revenue raised locally. Italy has only been a united country since 1861 and it is a cultural and linguistically diverse country. This return to regional politics not only retained this cultural and regional diversity, but in some regions alleviated political tensions, such as in Trentino-Alto Adige, where a large percentage of the population are German-speaking. In contrast, the Scottish parliament and the National Assembly for Wales were only granted in 1998. [4] [5]


[1] Storiologia website – 1970 (in Italian)

[2] Divorce on wikipedia (in Italian)

[3] The years of lead on wikipedia (in Italian, in English)

[4] Trentino-Alto Adige on wikipedia (in Italian)

[5] Italian Regions on wikipedia (in Italian)



Fabric Africa: Textile Exhibition at Bristol Museum

I happened by chance to come across this all-too-small exhibition of African textiles at the Bristol City Museum. It encompassed only two relatively small rooms, but what a lot they managed to pack in!

The first room was a display of various different fabrics and clothing. The items came from Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Sudan, and Mali to name a few of the countries and spanned the late 1800’s to the present day. There was audio commentary, insights into the textile’s origin and first-person stories to provide context.

The second room showed a video of a tailor making up a dress. He had an old electric sewing machine, probably as old as mine. He was so quick and sure with his sewing, it was amazing to watch. I really marvelled that he could apply yards and yards of trim using just one pin!

Here are the pictures I’ve taken of the exhibition and some notes about some of the fabrics. I’m hoping I’ve got all the details down right as I know very little about African fabrics. This exhibition really opened my eyes to the great variety of textiles that come from the continent.

Kaftan (Sierra Leone)

Boubou, or kaftan, made in Sierra Leone (possibly Mandinka people) in the 1960s-70s (on the left)

The kaftan is ancient Mesopotamian in origin. Islamic influence brought it to Africa and from the late 1950s European fashion adopted the garment, where it is commonly seen as beachwear. This kaftan has been dyed using tie-dying or Gara as it is known locally.


Bogolanfini, or “mudcloth”, made in Mali (Bamana people) in the 1980s

Mud cloth is cotton cloth and dyed using fermented mud. The high iron content in the mud produces a black pigment when applied to the cotton textiles. The cloth was originally worn as wraps or made into shirts.

One familiar textile to me are the West African “wax” print cloths. In the early 1800s the Dutch tried to sell their mass-produced version of wax-resist cloth, batik, in Indonesia. But the production process gave a “cracked” look to the finished print and the textiles were rejected by the Indonesians, but became popular in West Africa when Dutch and Scottish trading vessels began introducing the fabrics in those ports. The Dutch company Vlisco still makes this type of fabric, and it is also produced in Ghana.

Tunic made in Cameroon

Tunic, made in Cameroon (Bamenda Tikar people) in the 1960s-80s

Animals are often used as symbols in African art to associate the owner with the qualities of a particular animal.  The elephant represents qualities associated with leadership, strength and wisdom. The u-shaped designs are iron bells on the tunic (above) and are a royal symbol. This type of tunic until recently would have been worn only by the elite of North West Cameroon society.

Tunic from Sudan, Fabric showing Robert Mugabe Zimbabwe, Commemorative fabric, Malawi

Left: Jibbah, or tunic, made in Sudan in the late 1800s Right: Fabric showing Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe Behind: Twentieth anniversary of forming of Republic of Malawi

There were a few textiles that had been designed to commemorate particular events, such as the 20th anniversary of the forming of the Republic of Malawi or for politics, such as the fabric showing Robert Mugabe above.

Sun dress and Masquerade costume

Left: Maxi sun dress (bought in Kenya in 2018) Right: Masquerade costume, made in Nigeria (Igbo people) in early to mid-1990s Behind: Kente cloth, made in Ghana (Asante people), early to mid-1990s

Kente cloth from Ghana was originally woven in traded silk. Between 16 and 24 strips would be sewn together to create the cloths worn only by the king and his family. Today mass-produced and high-end versions of Kente are worn throughout Ghana. The colours in the cloth have symbolic meanings; blue means peacefulness, yellow royalty or wealth.

The masquerade costume from Nigeria represents a young woman who has died. The performer, would wear the full costume which includes a mask, and attempt to help the deceased pass onto the next life.

Adinkra cloth, Ghana

Left: Adinkra cloth made in Ghana (Asante people) in the 1960s-80s

Adinkra cloth was originally worn only at funerals, but it is now worn commonly seen at other important occasions in Ghana. The word “adinkra” refers to the hand-stamped symbols on the cloth. Adinkra means farewell to the dead. On the cloth above the heart signifies love, patience and tolerance, the circles which look like “eyes” mean accepting the supremacy of God and the leaf-like symbol represents keeping confidences.

I noticed on the website once I’d seen the exhibition that they also had put together African textile handling boxes. I think these were primarily designed for children and somehow I hadn’t seen them. There is no better way to explore fabric that to feel it in my opnion, so I was disappointed that I’d missed this.

The exhibition runs until May next year and there is a Fabric Africa fashion show on 17th October.


Sewing The Seventies: 1979

It’s my final year of the 1970s and today is the final year of my tour through the decade. The start of 1979 was the coldest winter for sixteen years, and during a freezing January, the widespread industrial action spread to the public sector as the “winter of discontent” continued. With many workers in the private sector having secured substantial pay rises, public sector workers became concerned that their salaries were not keeping pace with those in the private sector.

Winter Of Discontent Cartoon

Winter Of Discontent Cartoon

Rail workers began a series of 24-hour strikes. Ambulance drivers took strike action in mid-January. Piles of rubbish, due to a refuge collectors strike, built up with local authorities running out of space and using local parks to store the rubbish. Leicester Square, in London became one of these storage points and was unofficially renamed “Fester Square”. Even more notorious was the industrial action by gravediggers. Eighty gravediggers went on strike in Liverpool and the council had to hire a factory to store the unburied bodies. The gravediggers settled for a 14% rise after a fortnight’s strike.

Fester Square

Rubbish uncollected in “Fester Square”

On 28th March, James Callaghan’s government lost a motion of confidence by one vote, forcing a General Election. The famous “Labour Isn’t Working” advertising campaign was run by the Conservatives in the lead-up to the election. It featured a queue of people outside an unemployment office, snaking back into the distance. It remains one of the most iconic political posters to this day.

Labour isn't working poster

Labour isn’t working poster

On 4th May the Conservatives win a land-slide victory in the General Election and Margaret Thatcher becomes the first female Prime Minister of the the United Kingdom. On winning the election, on the doorstep of Number 10 Downing Street, she remarked:
“Where there is discord, may we bring harmony;
Where there is error, may we bring truth;
Where there is doubt, may we bring faith;
And where there is despair, may we bring hope.”
She later won two successive general elections and has become one of the dominant political figures of the twentieth century
Margaret Thatcher1979 Election

Margaret Thatcher 1979 Election

Today I’ve opted for some warmer clothing as it is snowing again. I’m wearing my new late seventies popover Liberty shirt and my jeans.

This evening I decided to try a recipe that I remember from my childhood – meatloaf I’m also making a recipe that I’m simply dreading. It is an atrocity of the seventies that completely offends my Italian heritage. It’s “Macaroni Fritters with tomato sauce”. Essentially, cooked pasta is cut up into smaller pieces, covered in egg and cheese and fried. If I had to come up with a recipe for left-over pasta, this would not be it, but actually it was harmless, if slightly weird. The meatloaf which featured layers of meat and egg was deemed rather bland by all, but again edible.

Macaroni Fritters

Macaroni Fritters

Meat Loaf

Meat Loaf

I apologise for the photos which seem for some reason to be blurred. You can’t go back and take more photos when you’ve already eaten the food! Incidentally I decided to check to see if Italians do make anything like fried pasta and I did find this recipe, which seems to be a frittata, therefore more like an omelette. Somehow that looks so much more appetising.

Finally, we’re about to settle down to watch Pink Floyd’s The Wall and just a little word on my reading from this week. I’m still reading Joan Aikin’s “Voices in an Empty House”. I’m been really enjoying this book. Rather than appearing dated, it actually seems to read as a book that is just set in that period. The story revolves around a kidnapping of the son of a famous scientist and author, but it isn’t a straightforward plot. The story jumps around and is told in chapters, by the boy, his mother, his uncle and his step-father. The characters are richly drawn and interesting. I read the many books in the Wolves of Willoughby Chase series by this author as a child, I’m just left wondering why her adult fiction is not well known.



Sewing The Seventies: 1975

I’m at work again today and it turns out that 1975 was a particular important year for working women. Two new laws, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equal Pay Act 1970, come into force aiming to end discrimination and the unequal pay of men and women in the workplace.

The gender pay gap for full-time employees was about 45% in 1970. [1] This has narrowed considerably over the years, with the average pay for full-time female employees 27.5% lower than full-time male employees in 1997 and 9.4% in 2016. [2]

Of course, this isn’t the full story, there are many other factors at play here. Women tend to work in occupations which offer lower salaries or they may take time out of the labour market to have children. Many women, including myself work part-time. When these factors are taken into account the statistics are less impressive.

The gap for all employees (full-time and part-time) has reduced from 27.5 % in 1997 (before this point, data was not collected) to 18.1% in 2016. 

Ford Machinists

Dagenham Ford Machinists’ protest about unequal pay paves the way for the Equal Pay Act.


At the same time though, unemployment in 1975 was regarded as high. The jobless total in this year rapidly rises to the 1,250,000 mark. This figure was shocking at the time and set to get worse. It’s a little hard to place this in context with today’s statistics as successive governments were committed to the principle of full employment during the 1970s and obviously the working age population is larger now. Unemployment today stands at 1,439,000 based on the latest figures. [3]

A more appropriate comparison could be to look at the employment rate (the number of unemployed people over 16 divided by the sum of employed people over 16 plus unemployed people aged 16 and over). In 1976 this was between 4.0 – 5.1%, today it is within the same range at 4.4 %.

This look at the working world in the 1970s got me thinking about what sort of wardrobe a working woman would have worn during the 1970s

The term “capsule wardrobe” was coined in the seventies by London boutique owner Susie Faux. She set out to help her customers define a wardrobe that was versatile and confidence-boosting.

According to Susie, the elements of a capsule wardrobe are:

  • a jacket
  • a skirt,
  • trousers, which could be part of a suit,
  • a blouse,
  • a sweater,
  • shoes,
  • tights,
  • a coat or raincoat,
  • a dress,
  • a bag,
  • a belt,
  • jewellery,
  • gloves and
  • evening wear

She states getting a wardrobe right “will make you look and feel confident and successful”. It’s all sensible advice. Susie continues to dispense her wardrobe advice today on her website I was hoping to include a few links to her old website, which had numerous detailed articles on the capsule wardrobe, but it seems to have disappeared since I wrote my draft for this post. I did copy out this snippet from the blog about jackets and cardigans, which I thought was aimed just at me:

To my mind, the jacket has to be the basis of every busy woman’s wardrobe. Research has shown that women are taken far more seriously when they’re working if they wear jackets.  Cardigans are all very well, but you may be asked to make the tea.”

Well, that’s told me! When I meet customers, I often wear a smart pair of trousers or a skirt teamed with shock, horror, a cardigan! Clearly, this is where I am going wrong as I surely can’t be taken seriously while I’m wearing a cardigan!

I think working in IT does give me quite a bit of licence to dress-down. Often face-to-face with customers and colleagues is limited, communing as I do, with my computer all day. I am wondering though how I would have dressed in the work environment in the 1970s. I work in an office after all. I wore my flared jeans and the Butterick 5024 shirt today. I’m sure such a casual outfit would not have been worn to the office in the seventies. Oh, and a wore a cardigan to work today too…..


[1] The gender pay gap (BBC website)

[2] Recent pay gap statistics (Office of National Statistics)

[3] Employment statistics (Office of National Statistics)

[4] Employment rates (Office of National Statistics)


Sewing The Seventies: 1974

Before I forget, I have had a few queries about this challenge on instagram. The hashtag to use is #SewingTheSeventies2018.

Today marks 1974, a very turbulent year – the Three-Day Week, two general elections, a state of emergency in Northern Ireland and numerous Provisional Irish Republican Army bombings on mainland Britain.

The Three-Day week was introduced by the Conservative Government of Edward Heath as a measure to conserve electricity during another period of industrial action. The coal miners were already on “work-to rule” and threatening all-out strike action. The measures involved cutting electricity to only three days a week to conserve coal and other fuel stocks. There was also an ongoing oil shortage caused by an embargo by members of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) targeting nations supporting Israel during the recent Yom Kippur War.

Three Day Week

Three Day Week

The minutes of the cabinet meeting on 3rd December 1973 [1] bring home the seriousness of the situation:

“If demand for all sources of fuel remains at its present level – a very serious situation would arise in early February. There would be widespread electricity disconnections and some oil consumers would be without supplies for a period……This paper considers measures to reduce demand for all types of fuel so as to postpone the date at which this situation would arise and so as to minimise the damage to industrial production and the distribution of essential goods, to reduce hardship to individual firms and companies and to avoid gross inequities, but yet to bring home to the public the seriousness of the position and the need for all measures of conservation.”

The measures also “prohibited the use of electricity for display lighting and flood lighting and for the heating of commercial and other similar premises” There was also “an anti-hoarding Order.”

The good news is that heating in the home will not been restricted: “Orders to limit the use of domestic heating, seem to be unenforceable, even if we took the undesirable step of taking powers of forceable entry into people’s homes. But the importance of savings on the domestic front makes it essential that there should be further appeals for voluntary co-operation in the home

Even parliament were not excused from the restrictions:

“THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL said that in the interests of electricity saving, and in order to ease the travelling problems of Members and of Parliamentary staff, it was desirable to consider proposing some temporary changes in Parliamentary hours.”

At a cabinet meeting on 24th January 1974, with the industrial action entering its 4th week, the cabinet discussed the possibilities of relaxing the electricity restriction and returning to a five-day week. It was strongly argued that the restriction could not be endured much longer and “many companies, large and small, would soon be in difficulties, and this could have wide repercussions throughout the economy.”

However the government didn’t want to appear they were relenting to pressure from the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

“Relaxation now, would be seen as a sign of weakness on the part of the Government: the miners would be encouraged in their resolve, since a relaxation would be taken as firm evidence that the economy could not stand a three-day week and that the Government, rather than impose even harsher measures, would quickly settle with them. Public opinion would almost certainly see relaxation in face of the risk of a strike as an act of great imprudence.”

No decision was made by the Cabinet at that meeting and on 7 February, Heath called an election for 28 February. [2]

On 10 February, the miners went on strike and the three-day week continued. The general election resulted in a hung parliament. Labour formed a minority government and brought and end to the strike and the three-day week in March.

Private Eye Cover Feb 1974

Private Eye Cover Feb 1974

Meanwhile, the newly formed Northern Ireland Assembly with a power-sharing executive made up of unionists and nationalists was dissolved. The government re-established direct rule over Northern Ireland  after declaring a state of emergency.

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) continued its campaign of violence with extensive bombings on the British Mainland. In June, a bomb exploded at the Houses of Parliament in London.

In October, the Provisional IRA (a sub-group of the IRA) planted bombs in pubs in Guildford frequented by British Army Personnel, killing 5 people. In the following month, 21 people were killed and many others injured in the Birmingham pub bombings. 

A second general election was called in October and resulted in a narrow victory for Harold Wilson, giving Labour a majority of three seats.

I’m not been very adventurous with my clothing choice today and have just gone for my Burda dress and purple shirt, just like Saturday’s (1972) outfit.

I did try today to make a pack lunch improvement. I bought some ryvita and took the remains of the Avocado chilled soup and the cottage cheese to use as dips. I do seem to remember that ryvita was a definitely beloved of dieters in the seventies, which might explain why it really wasn’t a filling lunch.


Packed Lunch

This evening, we are experiencing a power cut. We’re eating our dinner by candlelight [3]. But we’re all cheered up by the Eurovision Song Contest which is held in Brighton this year. It was won by the Swedish group ABBA with their song “Waterloo”.

Abba Eurovision

Abba performing Waterloo at the Eurovision Song Contest

[1] Cabinet meeting 3rd December 1973

[2] Cabinet meeting 5th February 1974

[3] A collection of photos from 1974 with employees working by candlelight and queuing for bread



Sewing The Seventies: 1973

The Farmhouse Kitchen recipe book has quite a mixture of recipes, ranging from traditional regional dishes that are centuries old to recipes tackling new ingredients. One ingredient that crops up frequently in the book is the avocado. I suppose these days we don’t tend to think of the avocado as particularly exotic, it’s been in our supermarkets for so long, but in the seventies it was relatively new. It was Marks and Spencer that first introduced avocados to the UK public in 1968. Apparently, it was introduced as an “avocado pear”, which people would eat with custard. Anyway, it seems that crimes against the avocado are still being committed in the seventies with this recipe for “Chilled Avocado Soup”. I’m slightly doubtful about the whole concept of chilled soup anyway, but this was rather weird. It is basically made from cucumber, avocado and yoghurt and is meant to be eaten with hot toast. Master Steely declined, probably wisely. Mr Steely will eat anything, but he was not impressed either. The hot toast was enjoyed though.

Chilled Avocado Soup

Chilled Avocado Soup

Today I’ve just decided to go with a ready-to-wear turtle neck jumper and my rust-coloured corduroys. Although, the cords are not made with a seventies pattern, just the colour and the flares are reminiscent of the era.

Orange Flares

Orange Flares

This evening we are watching the cult film Logan’s Run. Set in a dystopian future, all citizens are required to “renew” at the age of thirty. Some people want to live beyond thirty and attempt to escape the confines of the domed city. The story follows Logan Five whose job appears to be to kill any escaping citizens, known as runners. That is, until he meets Jessica, who tells him about the existence of sanctuary outside the city’s domes. The city scenes looked like a model railway enthusiast had designed them and scanty costumes were frankly hilarious. Although clearly dated, it was quite good fun to watch.

Logan's Run

Logan’s Run

I really needed to make something quick tonight for dinner and I considered making a pasta dish from the Farmhouse Kitchen recipe book. On assembling the main ingredients I wasn’t particularly keen though. The recipe called for olives (another exotic ingredient!), ham and yoghurt. This combination sounded alarmingly nasty and in the end I just decided to make a conventional tomato sauce and add in the olives and ham. I suppose I felt like I couldn’t inflict anything that bad on Mr Steely after he bravely ate the chilled avocado soup.

Finally I’ve been placing the recipes up on Instagram under #livingtheseventies, if you feel tempted to try that soup.