With queues for petrol, inflation and Abba on the radio, it’s easy to compare the two decades. But you wouldn’t if you were there, says Polly Toynbee, as she revisits the styles of her youth
Queueing for petrol, I turn on the radio and there are Abba, singing their latest hit. Shortages on shop shelves are headline news, with warnings of a panic-buying Christmas. And national debt is sky high. But this isn’t the 1970s; it’s 2021. People who weren’t born then have been calling this a return to that decade. There are similarities, of course: this retro-thought was sparked by the recent petrol queues, people as frantic to fill up to get to work as I remember back then. Elsewhere, flowing floral midi dresses are back, just like the ones I wore; Aldi is selling rattan hanging egg chairs; and, as well as Abba, the charts have been topped by Elton John. But is this really a 1970s reprise?
No, nothing like it; not history repeated, not even as farce – just a stylist’s pastiche, as bold as the wallpaper I’m posing in front of here. Folk memory preserves only the 1974 three-day week; the miners’ strike blackouts, with no street lights and candle shortages; the embargo that quadrupled the price of oil. True, I did queue at the coal merchant’s to fire up an ancient stove for lack of any other heat or light. But the decade shouldn’t be defined by this, or by 1978-79’s “winter of discontent” strikes, a brief but pungent time of rubbish uncollected and (a very few) bodies unburied by council gravediggers.