Forty years ago this week, the first issue of 'Fresh Garbage' appeared - and was promptly filed in waste bins across Keble College, Oxford. It was the first of fourteen issues of this left-wing newssheet, which stumbled on until February 1977. Even by the left's standards of exceedingly short-lived titles, Fresh Garbage had an early sell-by date
Fun to put together, 'Fresh Garbage' hardly changed the world. But it was one of those modest, hand-to-mouth enterprises, which are often dismissed as ephemeral - but sometimes caught the mood more than the polished and manicured publications with a clearer message to convey.
It was put together by the college's Left Caucus, a dozen or so students of a vaguely progressive mindset. The early issues were fairly tame. By the autumn of 1976, and the freshers' issue above, we had worked out how to do some very basic graphics on the stencil sheets. Very basic!
I was leafing through Fresh Garbage the other day for the first time in decades. I gave my complete set, along with a rag bag assembly of all the leaflets, pamphlets, papers, badges and general stuff accumulated during a few years of student radicalism, to the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick. I went back there to consult a much more conventional archive, the records of the Gollancz publishing company, but also spent half-an-hour or so communing with my past.
I asked an archivist how many people consult the files I deposited. Thirteen over the previous year, she said - which was about twelve more than I'd expected (though I don't now whether any of them took a look at Fresh Garbage).
One page is a particularly evocative reminder of what we got up to as students ... a listing of local pubs, cafes and stores, compiled by the admirably thorough Colin Orr. Some of those pubs I don't recall at all - but I do remember the Carpenters in Jericho, where, I see, you could then buy a round of five pints of Morrell's bitter (the Oxford brewery closed in 1998, the Carpenters shut down quite a while earlier) and still get some change from a pound note.
The Fresh Garbage editorial committee reconvened yesterday for the first time in almost forty years. Well, sort of. Here's the story.
Forty years ago this month, I pitched up at Keble College, Oxford as a fresh-faced, naive undergraduate. Yesterday, seven of us from Keble at about that time, mates all those years ago, gathered in Oxford - a reunion of sorts. Four of us shared a house at Old Woodstock - and while I only stayed a year there before heading to Warwick as a postgrad, others stayed on quite a lot longer.
I hadn't met some of my old friends since I left Keble. So it was quite an event. We all recognised each other straight off - a relief all round! - and we all got on really well. We took a walk round Woodstock and Blenheim Park ... then a wander round Keble ... a couple of pints at the Jericho Tavern (the Jericho pubs we used to patronise, the Crown, the Globe and the Carpenters' Arms, are all long gone), and an Indian at The Standard on Walton Street, spiritual successor to the late lamented Uddin's.
One of our number brought along a scrolled photo of the entire College in 1974 - I'm fairly sure taken in my first term. Another brought copies of 'Fresh Garbage', the duplicated, occasionally legible, occasional publication of the Keble Left Caucus, and of 'Strumpet', the slightly more sophisticated (but less lively) University-wide left weekly of that time.
Quite a blast from the past. Fresh Garbage got its name from a song on Spirit's first album. (And as a bonus track for getting this far, I've posted below a YouTube video of the original Spirit line-up performing the number on French TV in 1970).
I gave all my copies of 'Fresh Garbage' to the Warwick University archive, where they have been salted away and catalogued with a reverence which is both humbling and concerning, (it was after all about the most ephemeral publication you could imagine with a circulation of, I'd guess, under a hundred). But it was nice to see and read a couple of copies of our neo-adolescent political handiwork - and even nicer to touch base with old comrades.
The only thing we didn't quite manage is a passable photo of the seven of us. We'll have to do better next time!
It's slightly spooky. As you can see from other pages on this site, I'm a manic collector - political pamphlets, ephemera, lapel buttons. I love the stuff and the vicarious sense of association it allows, the material link to a moment and place and cause.
I've often wondered what happened to all the political detritus I assembled while a hugely ineffective student political semi-activist more than three decades ago. Thanks to a chance web search, I now know.
At some stage over the decades, I have given all this stuff - I guess a cardboard box or two - to an academic archive. (I'd entirely forgotten this act of hubris or generosity.) And there the archivists have, with loving care - or gritted teeth, who can tell - listed every single item. Every handbill, stray magazine purchase, dog-eared poster ... there's even a 45rpm propaganda disc. The list runs to a full fifty pages.
So such ephemeral political publications and causes as 'Strumpet', 'Red Herring', 'Z-revue', 'Fresh Garbage' and Fred Bakunin - which may well have faced the contempt as well as the condecension of posterity - have a toehold in to a new era. And given the amount of time I have spent over the years trawling in archives through political shavings assembled by activist onlookers from an earlier era, I'm glad all this "stuff" has an enduring home.
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