From the 60’s to the 80’s across three countries

A recent email from my friend Dick gave me the idea for this article: three pieces of memory from three different decades in three different countries: the US, the UK and Italy.

My part, the last one, is of course the longest: as already discussed on this blog, the skill of being concise is not among the ones that God gifted me with.

Dick, USA, the late 60’s . The summer of 69 was just after the Stonewall Riots.  I was in Providence RI at my parents’ house finishing my master’s degree from NYU and reading all about the riots in the Village Voice and the NY Times.

That fall I had my first college teaching job and the following spring Nixon invaded Cambodia and there were a lot of demonstrations at campuses all over the country.  I can recall suspending classes and meeting with students on the lawns of the campus where we held “teach-ins” about why the US should get out of VietNam.

Ironically it was the antiwar movement which led to the summer love, pot, free sex and all the other good things that came out of that period along with the beginnings of the gay liberation movement.

America was in a foment and the youth were uniting against the establishment, corporations and the government.

You would have loved being alive in these times.  I miss them still and sometimes go to YouTube to listen to all the great folk music of that era:  Bob Dylan, Peter Seeger (who comes from across the river in Beacon) Joan Baez, etc.

The following year on June 6, 1970, I moved to NYC and my life was never the same.  🙂

William, UK, the 70’s. For me the 70’s started in the summer of 1970 when at the age of 10 I went to Senior School for the first time. To get there I had to take 2 buses on my own, it was exciting. In November the family moved closer to the school and that was when I first started to cycle.

In the new house was our first ever telephone which had a “party line” (you shared with another family in the street – pressing a button each time to check they were not on the line – or listening in if it was anything interesting).

The family still did not have a car so summer holidays were by coach to the same seaside resort in Broadstairs, where we went to up until 1975.

One year I remember going home in a Ford Zephyr 6 as a family we always met offered us a lift and which was a real treat!

But the 70’s woken me to the wider world, as school trips took me to Switzerland, France, Greece and the New Forest in Hampshire.

At the same time I was enlightened to a darker side: Watergate, the fall of Saigon, the energy crisis, the Munich massacre and the USSR invading Afghanistan, to name but a few.

Music saw the birth of Abba and the splitting of the Beatles.

The rise of punk and my first ever concert – The Stranglers.

The first floppy disc was invented and video games like Space Invaders, Pong and Snake saw the first light of day.

I got my first ever job at the age of 16, in Marks & Spencer’s and later in 1978 my second with the Norwich Union Insurance Company, which  the  following year saw its MD arrested for shoplifting ladies panties in M&S.

I got my first ever car in 1977, a yellow Ford Escort which in 1979 took me to university and a whole new life ahead of me in the glorious 80’s.

And finally the UK got its first ever female PM, Mrs Thatcher.

Paolo, Italy, the 80’s. I still remember our first phone in the house. It was the first half of the 80’s and if I have a clear memory of it, it cannot be anywhere before ’84. I don’t know if, even at that time, it was unusual for the average middle-class Italian families getting the first telephone so late or that’s just how it was supposed to be.

My friend Fabiana and I were playing on the living room’s floor, my Mum sitting on the sofa, perhaps watching TV or knitting (strangely, she used to knit a lot during her 30’s and doesn’t now that she is a Grandmother of one. And a half. The more she grows, the younger she gets!) My echoic memory (not as well developed as my olfactory memory) can still hear and reproduce the alien, never-heard noise which started as briskly as a glass crashing on the floor, taking us all aback, initially resembling a police car siren but then clearly too long to be that. Moreover, the noise was coming from inside, not outside! That area in the outskirts of Rome, which is where I was born and grew up, was much more like countryside at the time: traffic was limited to the local cars, despite the busy Via Casilina nearby and any new, unusual sounds where soon caught by our ears. I looked at Fabiana, who had stopped playing too and was staring back. Then I looked up at my Mum, who was now looking towards the door, where the sound was coming from the kitchen.

“What is it, Ma’?”, said I. She took some seconds to give the answer but then shot it out the moment she realized what that was.

It’s the phone!” She stormed out the room, my friend and I following, perhaps more because an adult was acting so weirdly than because we really understood what she had said.

And then there she was: standing against the counter, speaking into the mouth piece, we kids looking in bewilderment. Who had called that day it’s far beyond my echoic or olfactory memory, and I will never know.

Some 25 years later that kid will have been writing this story on his “touch-screen tablet”, while sitting on a train speeding through London, listening to music coming from his “iPhone”, the screen flicking from time to time because of “emails” and “Facebook” notifications coming in. I still wonder what I would come up with to explain these four things to that 25-year ago child.

I have other random memories, distinctive of that decade: I remember Chernobyl, my Mum and her friends being dead-worried and people not wanting to buy milk. I also remember us children looking at the sky, waiting for the toxic cloud to pass by – I still try to picture in my mind what a toxic cloud looks like. I don’t have memories of the Aldo Moro’s kidnapping and his killing – I was way too young for that. I remember, though, the fact being mentioned after, but still too young to understand how that did change and imprinted into my country’s history. November 1989: I’m glad and happy that I still have in front of my eyes the images coming from the TV showing a whole lot of people knocking down a graffitied wall in a city called Berlin. Friends reunited and people hugging in the streets. I was 10 and a too much a little boy to understand what had just happened on a global level and what that was going to mean for Italy, a country just next door to Eastern Europe.

Nonetheless, if I have to give a memory which describes the middle-class Italian society of that period, there is one which repeated itself every summer, until early 90’s perhaps. As soon as the summer kicked off, Sundays were the day for hundreds of Roman families to embark, all together, at the same time, on one-day trips to the near seaside. We would all wake up at dawn on Sunday so to be on the road as early as possible and avoid being stuck in the traffic, just to find out, as soon as we entered the Ring Road, that tens of other families had had the same idea. I remember that sometimes I used to go to bed the night before with my swimming trunks already on, not because I wanted to gain some more minutes of sleep in the morning but just because going to the seaside was so exiting that I couldn’t wait, every time like the first time. My Dad would load his old blue Ford Escort with the beach umbrella, folding chairs, folding table, beach towels, pump to inflate my small dinghy along with the small dinghy itself, my beach toys, beachtennis rackets and of course, the inevitable fridge box to carry all that a family needs to survive one day on the beach: fruit juices, fresh fruits, coke and water. Bread, cheese and prosciutto to make us panini. Pasta salad, rice salad and sometimes even cold lasagna to eat on the beach together with the grain of sands blown by the sea breeze. I remember kilometer-wide beaches of fine sand where you could hardly find a spot for your umbrella, hundreds of families who for one day where sharing the same location, the same equipment, the same food, the same idea of fun. If the heat on the beach got too unbearable, we would all go to the nearby Pineta di Castel Fusano, a pinewood so thick where the Sun doesn’t get through and we would spend the rest of the day there.

Among all the memories from the 80’s, being stuck on the Via Cristoforo Colombo (the long road that connects Rome to Ostia) on a torrid summer day is by far the one I miss the least.

My family at the seaside, early 80's

My family at the seaside, early 80’s

What’s your memory?

14 thoughts on “From the 60’s to the 80’s across three countries

  1. Well to follow to the 90’s, I clearly remember getting our first desktop PC for the family to share, with good old fashioned dial-up AOL and windows 95! I would fight with my siblings about who got to use the internet (to speak with strangers in chat rooms- a more innocent time) or play Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego.

    The schools were just starting to get computer labs which had macs, so we had typing lessons (Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing!) and other educational games which have left an impression in my memory, such as the classic Oregon Trail.

    They sure don’t make computer games like they used to.

  2. Random memories from the 70s (California, USA): Bicentennial celebration of American Independence; Elvis’s death (though not really knowing who he was); thinking that political cartoons of the then president Jimmy Carter were mean (I guess I was a democrat even at a young age); watching black and white TV while eating a baloney sandwich (on white bread) with a side of Cheetos; my mom going to see Saturday Night Fever at the movie theater; drinking Shasta grape soda; liking candy cigarettes; being forced to wear a wool sweater that itched my arms; seeing Star Wars and Superman when they came out; waiting in line for gas during the Energy crisis; not having to wear a seat belt in the car; AM radio; falling asleep at a Donny and Marie concert…

  3. When I think of the 80’s and 90’s I always think about how my grandparents were resistant to technology and how they would always say “they don’t make things like they used to”. Now as an adult I completely understand what they meant and couldn’t agree more.

    Remember when TV’s were actually a piece of furniture. When you were buying your living room furniture you had to make sure it would go with the TV. I remember a time before remote controls. We had a large box with a wire that lead to the television. There was a sliding knob that you would slide to the right or left to get to the channel you wanted. Before that you actually had to get up to change the channel. The horror! Also, when the channel didn’t come in you had to play around with the UHF dial or the rabbit ears (nicely adorned with aluminum foil) to get the picture to come in clearer.

    Remember phones before they were cordless? Somehow my family managed to make our corded phone cordless. That cord was so stretched out we could bring it throughout the house. At times people would have to maneuver through the wire like it was a game of limbo.

    I remember our first “computer”. It was a keyboard that you would connect to your television. It also came with a book of various codes. You would literally type in pages and pages of code to get the screen to turn blue. If you missed a period or a comma it wouldn’t work. We would spend hours and hours trying different codes with a similar outcome. We were so easy to please.

    My fondest memory is being outside with my friends. Whatever happened to kids going outside and enjoying the fresh air? We would stay outside until we would hear the yell of one of our parents telling us to come in. We knew that once one parents called out the others would follow. We always hated having our parent be the first one to call us in. We would stay outside for hours (assuming our homework was done) and make up games and actually use our imagination.

    As my grandparents did I long for the simpler days when you were in your car driving no one could get a hold of you. My first “cell phone” was actually a pager. I remember it well; it was green and clear so you could see the inner workings of the device. Your friends would send you a page with their number and “911” meaning call me back NOW! I would have to stop at a payphone and deposit 10 cents to see that was up.

    Ah, the good ole days! They don’t make things like they used to!

  4. Some memories from Italy:

    80’s : The unforgettable “Cornetto Algida” (ice-cream) as well as “Timberland ” shoes….”hip hop” watches….and “Sposero’ Simon Le bon” movie for granted!!! 🙂

    90’s: “Take That” pop music group…..”jeans dungarees” and “Dylan Mckay or Brandon Walsh in Beverly Hills 90210??…… an enchanting dilemma” 🙂

  5. Honestly, sometimes I mix up the 80s and the 90s – it was all a blur of neon for me! Being in my elementary years in the US in the 80s means that I don’t have a ton of memories of cultural happenings, but spent most of my days with Barbie dolls, Debbie Gibson and random toys like the SkipIt! (

    Once I entered high school in 1993, I remember being obsessed with Beverly Hills 90210 and leaving behind the sitcoms of TGIF (ABC’s Friday night line up of Full House, Perfect Strangers, Family Matters & Step by Step). Computers didn’t make an appearance until my senior year – before that I was typing essays on my typewriter, having to use LOTS of correction tape!

    I was probably a fashion nightmare, but I remember a store called UNITS that sold simple bands of clothing that could be worn as a skirt, tube top, or belt. I tight-rolled my jeans in the 80s, and the bigger the hair fringe, the better. Basically, I wanted to look like Kelly Kapowski from Saved By The Bell. (

    • – We both entered High School in 1993
      – We were both obsessed with Beverly Hills 90210
      – We both used typewriters until late years! I think i stopped in 1998/99, when I got my first PC
      – I was and STILL am a nightmare fashion as well. Used to love huge squared-shirts, huges hoodies, long sleeves to cover my hands and in my early High School years, I really didn’t have a sense for matching colors.
      – Tight-rolled jeans: done that!
      – I didn’t have big, spried hair fringe in the 90s (thank god!) but went all the way to have a Brandon Walsh-hair style.

      Looks like we’ve got lots in common! 🙂

  6. Well…I’m definitely an adult lady. My memories as a child go back to the …FIFTIES! and the greatest emotions, of course, to the exciting Sixties.I was born and brought up in a village in the Marche region, Italy. It was a backward place , believe me, and yet I don’t remember ever being without a telephone at home. I remember the first 600 Fiat car my father bought and our trip to Venice, with the whole family in the car, about six of us. Then the first 500 Fiat in the Sixties as a student in Bologna and then the students’ movement and riots and Joan Baez and Janis Joplin and the women liberation movement and then my first going to London and then and then….

    • Hey Prof (of shall I say Miss Cappannini, as students refer to teachers here across the Channel?), thanks for commenting and sharing your memories with us! I like to think that my parents were at the forefront of technology already in the 80s and they knew that, about 30 years after, a home phone would have become an obsolete device to have. That is why they waited so long to get the first one 🙂

      Above all, thanks for giving the foundations to my English about…. XX years ago (we don’t have to share this detailed memory too, do we?)

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