Thursday, 12 June 2014

70s Child

Ertanch pictured on his first day in the UK

By Ertanch Hidayettin

Which decade do you most associate your life with? Which decade has played the most important role in your life?

I consider myself a 70s child. Although I was born in the early 50s, I was more interested in staying alive in war-torn Cyprus than fashion and pop music. So the 60s – the decade of freedom – passed me by.

The other day, waiting to pick my prescription at Tesco, I came across an amazing CD sale. I grabbed the 3-CD collection titled ‘Greatest Ever 70s Pop: The Definitive Collection’. I listen to the unforgettable tunes of that great decade, as I write this.

The 70s were the most important decade in my life. I lived many firsts during this decade.
I experienced migration for the first time in 1970. From a limited existence on a small island to one of the largest cosmopolitan melting pots. London. I realised there was a culture shock, as well as an electric shock that year.

Like a fish out of water, I spent a whole six months frustrated, unable to make myself understood. And I thought my English was fantastic. After all, my lowest mark was 95 out of 100 in that subject. Later, I would appreciate what a good deed our teachers did to us in Cyprus, by emphasising grammar.

I was so hungry to learn, to see, to absorb the culture of this city. I visited all the main museums and galleries, and places of interest within a few weeks. I even hopped on a coach at Turnpike Lane bus station, purchasing a ticket, not knowing where the coach was going. In the event we visited the hops gardens of Kent and learned how beer was made.

I went to ballet for the first time a few weeks after that. I wouldn’t have dreamt of doing so but for the insistence of my first girlfriend, lovely Shirin from Iran. I tagged along to the Coliseum with her and her cultured parents.

I learned there were other ethnic communities other than Turks and Greeks. In actual fact it was the first time I ever spoke to a Greek Cypriot. I don’t count the angry words uttered by the huge bloke who once chased me out of the Nicosia Library in 1969.

I loved mixing with lots of different ethnic cultures, hungrily absorbing information they volunteered about themselves, their families, communities, and their way of living.

I touched snow for the first time. I played snowball on the morning of 25 December 1970. I received my first Christmas presents for the first time that day. I watched Clive Dunn singing ‘Granddad’ on Top of the Pops.

My first gainful employment took place in the 70s. As a washer-up at the Palmers Green Wimpy Bar.  Washing dishes at Wimpy Bars was then every Cypriot’s first job.

When we got fed up of Wimpies, our Chef Altan (Altan Gultekin of Starburgers now) cooked us delicious Cypriot dishes in huge pans, quenching our longing for our motherland.

My next job was working at a smelly plastic factory in Barnet. It was the first time I mingled amongst predominantly English people. The school-master like foreman loved pop music. So we listened to Radio 1 all day while working. He especially liked Jimmy Young’s Hour.

The Winter of Discontent came by in the early seventies. We watched violent clashes at various mines on our black and white hired TV set. Frequent electricity cuts meant I had to study for my ‘O’ Level exams under candle light during those dark, cold winter nights, wrapping myself with thick blankets

The ‘Iron Lady’ gained prominence during the seventies, first as the Education Minister. I remember leading marches as a college student, shouting into the microphone: “Mrs. Thatcher, milk snatcher” with my thick Cypriot accent.
Ertanch saw Chuck Berry play at the Rainbow in London
My adventure with discoteques started almost as soon as I arrived in London. The first disco I was taken to by my cousin was Tiffany’s in Leicester Square. With ten Cypriots – we went around in large groups then.

I wore platform shoes for the first time at Birds Nest on Muswell Hill. That would become our regular place on Saturday, sometimes Sunday, nights. There we danced to the tune of ‘Dancing on a Saturday Night’ with Cypriot Greek friends. The music sounded slightly Greek in the middle.

Oh yes, we used to wear sunglasses at this disco. Frequently bumping into posts, saying sorry.

At the Rainbow Theatre, Finsbury Park, I went to my first concert given by an internationally famous singer. I watched Chuck Berry make his guitar cry. I did not understand the meaning of the song ‘My Ding-A-Ling’ then.

I wore prescription glasses in the 70s for the first time. That very day I picked my glasses, I went to a football match at White Heart Lane. Needless to say I couldn’t see a thing. I don’t think I missed much.

The first time I went to an Arsenal match was exactly two weeks after I arrived in London. They were my heroes even in Cyprus, due to my fanatical Arsenal-supporting uncle’s influence. We used to watch them on our newly acquired black and white TV set. I would watch many more matches with my uncle from the stands of the North Bank.

I got drunk for the first time, drinking Cyprus wine. I think it was Othello. Much later, my friends and I would be drunk, drinking mainly vodka and orange, or vodka and blackcurrant juice, occasionally Johnny Walker. I always cried when I was drunk, especially when I listened to The Carpenter’s ‘Yesterday Once More’.

I become politically conscious in the 70s. First, I followed the establishment of the first Turkish Cypriot left wing party, CTP in Cyprus. Huseyin Osman, a CTP activist organised us youngsters and lectured us on weekly sessions.

I would then have my horizon widened on Socialism and the importance of the union movement during lessons given to us by Yashar Ismailoglu at the Metal Box Company where I worked during the holidays. These sessions always took place in the toilets. One of us would be assigned to stand guard outside in case Woolly, the fierce foreman, decided to take a pee.

I became a tenant for the first time in 1971. Later, we would be tenants at a few more houses with my wife. I remember high-pitched screams of Erkan, the young ground floor tenant, one sultry summer evening. He had just heard of his idol’s Elvis’s death. That whole week we both played Elvis songs: he downstairs, me on the top floor.

I left the warmth of family life the second time and went to live in halls of residence in 1974. I completed my higher education as a teacher in 1977. I understood for the first time the true reason for education in those years.

Then the start of voluntary work in numerous community organisations, including those from my own community.

In 1974, while working at the Metal Box factory one hot summer day, Yasar Ismailoglu told me that my town had surrendered, and many people were taken prisoners. My grandmother and brother were among them. Subsequent long days passed as I waited hoping to get good news on their fate, along with the fate of many other Cypriots, Turkish and Greek.

My first-ever visit from UK was to Germany, West Germany then, to see my aunt. When I returned, my brave response to an arrogant immigration officer’s question, “How long are you going to stay?” was, ”As long as I like”. I had ‘indefinite leave to remain’ stamped into my passport.

In 1977, I bowed to my mum’s pressure and agreed that she should search for a suitable wife for me. I was 24. Marriage to my lovely wife Ayla took place at Wood Green Civic Centre, where I would attend numerous meetings as a Haringey employee in later years.

My first regular employment after graduating from teaching college was not as a teacher, but in a variety of positions in various local authorities. That would go on for what seemed like an eternity, concluding after 30 years.

David Cassidy’s popular song ‘Daydreamer’ is playing on iTunes. I better wake up from dreaming and finish my urgent reports.

Ertanch Hidayettin is a Cypriot Turk of African heritage and a new T-VINE columnist. He arrived in the UK in 1970 and qualified as a teacher before choosing a career in local government. He has 30 years experience in working for local authorities in a variety of posts and was an Equality Officer for Islington Council when he took early retirement in 2007. Since then he has been working for the National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education (NRCSE), supporting supplementary schools in North London. He has extensive experience as a community activist, and in recent years has become a media commentator, presenting on Kibris Genc TV and writing a regular Turkish column for Kibris Postasi.


  1. Fascinating article Ertanch - thank you for sharing your experiences.

  2. Great stuff, matey !
    I hope your marriage survived ! - you didn't choose your bride??
    All the best.

  3. Thanks for the memories Ertanch. I am originally from Barnet and frequented the same North London clubs as you in the 60s and 70s.