1976 – the best year to be a child

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Wednesday 21st March 2012

1976. The year of Raleigh Chopper bikes, Abba and the longest, hottest summer in living memory.

I remember it like yesterday. But even so, it was a surprise to discover that 1976 has been voted the best year to be a child. Apparently children spent an average of 810 hours outside, went on ten weekend family trips and unlike today, 90 per cent of us felt safe. In contrast, 2011 was the worst year to be a child, with a staggering one in seven youngsters spending just 26 hours playing outside during the entire year.

So what was life like in 1976? I was a teenager and even though I was supposed to be revising for exams I spent most of that glorious summer lying on a Dorset riverbank with my school pals. A friend called Larry bought hundreds of old copies of Jackie magazine for a pound at the village fete and we spent virtually every afternoon reading soppy love stories and pouring over Cathy and Claire’s problem page. Not surprisingly, my exam results were utterly dire.

The girls all wore floaty Laura Ashley dresses and lace-up espadrilles while the boys had long hair and side burns. Me and my best friend Angie listened to Eric Clapton and Jim Capaldi on an old-fashioned record player and lived on toast and homemade biscuits. One afternoon I burned the toast and set the school fire alarm off. The whole place had to be evacuated midway through exams. Not surprisingly, I was the heroine of the hour…

12 comments so far

  • I was a little younger, but remember it as a wonderful time too. especially my lovely Granny emptying the bath water onto her fabulous garden, due to drought order.

  • I’m sure that the summers were longer and hotter than they are today (admittedly, that wouldn’t be hard!), and that there was more snow in winter. I’m sure that isn’t my imagination.

  • I remember it well. My O levels behind me I took a summer job in John Lewis (Robert Sayles as it was then) in Cambridge. After a couple of weeks, when it was obvious that we were in for a spectacular summer, I quit the Haberdashery Department and spent every day in the garden.
    I also spent an awful lot of time watching our neighbour, a student, running across the road in his shorts to play squash. He had thighs to die for.
    Thanks for bringing back happy memories.

  • I was born in 1970 and can remember most of my child hood being outdoors come wind, rain or shine! Wasn’t 76 that very hot summer. I would have been 5 at the time!

  • Your exam ‘revision’ was more fun than mine – though I did drag all my books and notes outside. I clearly remember lying on the picnic rug, watching insects crawling through the grass instead of reading up on Queen Anne.
    There was heavy snow – not that year but 1977 and particularly 1978 when I was expecting my elder daughter. We lived in a valley with steep hills whichever way we tried to leave and deep drifts at the tops. We ended up moving back to my parents for a week or more rather than risk being cut off.

  • You’re right to put the revision in inverted commas, Maryom. It was a lovely summer, apart from those annoying exams. I don’t remember the snow in 1977 and 1978 though. It sounds very dramatic so it must have been a relief to move in with your parents before your daughter was born.

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