Monday, February 9, 2015

2015: The nearest thing to heaven

I've been doing a lot of reminsicing lately, and today I thought I'd trawl through this blog for old times sake. While I've been appalled at some of the dreadful prose - and me, a writer by trade - I'm now so damn glad I started.

I lost my mum just a month ago, and it's here I'm finding a ton of memories and thereby some crumbs of much-needed comfort.

It wasn't totally unexpected; she'd been ill on and off for a few years, but it still came far, far sooner than anyone thought and by rights she should have lived to a ripe old age. In the scheme of things, 76 is not a ripe old age. And life without her is hard. Really hard.

I'm discovering that this is what life is like without a parent. I know hundreds of people who've been through a similar thing, but only when it happens to you can you even begin to understand what people go through.

A light has gone out, a spark has been extinguished and will never shine again. I feel quite lost without her, a crushing grief that I fear will never end. Thankfully I have a wife who is an utter brick. I couldn't do this without her. My father and my brother are equally devastated. Dad has lost his devoted partner of 55 years. But it's brought us even closer together. Still, it's completely knocked me for six.

How does one move on from something like this? I know they mean well, but if one more person tells me time is a great healer I shall punch them in the nose. However, it wouldn't be a cliche if it wasn't true so there's clearly something in that. Others have said memories are a great comfort, and they're right. I'm smiling more than I'm crying, and in this blog lies a rich vein, full of anecdotes and songs that take me right back to the warm arms of childhood. Thank God I didn't delete it.

This is what we chose as her wicker coffin, strewn with daffodils was carried into the church. It was fitting. We had I Heard It Through The Grapevine on the way out. Neither of those songs will I ever hear in the same way again.

This has helped. Goodbye mum.

Friday, January 31, 2014

1979: There are no reasons

Watching those 1979 Top of The Pops repeats - and if you're not watching we can never be true friends - makes me realise just how young I was back then. TV time travelling can really put you in the moment.

At this moment in '79 I was 13, due to turn 14 in June and feeling as insecure and lost as every other new teenager whose world was turning hormonally upside down.

Rewatching the TOTPs, which of course I watched religiously back then, I realise that while I look back through rose-coloured glasses today, my life was quite complicated. I Don't Like Mondays probably summed up how the nation's youth felt about school, and of course there was much speculation about whether this story was true or not. It was almost impossible to find out in those days.

Personally, I didn't mind school per se, but it was a bit of a minefield. There were people I was scared of and wanted to avoid, people I wanted to make my friends, current friends who were leaving me behind and making new friends of their own. I was sorting out what I liked and didn't like at school - I knew I loathed Latin for a start. I could never get on with that. There were horrid teachers, pressure from parents, things I simply could not apply myself to and of course the dreaded PE with the hateful Mr Jones, whom I shall never forgive. Yes, that was me, picked after the boy on crutches for any sports team.

Then there were girls. But who'd look at me, with my Prince Valiant haircut, artfully constructed each Sunday night by dad, armed with a blow-dryer and brush. Why I never asked for anything different God only knows, but I could have cried each time. And it lasted the week. I was growing, but growing out of my hair which, if nothing else was as thick and lustrous as Frank Finlay's.

While out riding my bike one day I came across two girls from our class, Angela Harris (parents divorced, lived in a bungalow, loved Child) and Nicole Woodhouse (Donna Summer hair, don't know anything else about her at all). They looked at me and Nicole said, 'You're quite looking really'. It was the first time anyone ever said that to me, bar old ladies or people who worked in newsagents.

I was thrilled, but still no girl would look at me. I pursued Emma Trewick for months, but she didn't want to know. I didn't want to go out with Claire Potter just because my two friends were going out with her two friends, and she didn't want to go out with me. It wasn't going to happen in 1979, that's for sure.

Some of my friends were already so confident. Trendy, girls liked them, outwardly without a single hang-up about their body. I was riddled with them. I found the whole growing up thing mortifying, and couldn't even say the word 'adolescent'. I was happy to pretned none of this was happening to me. Even having my greasy hair pointed out by mum as a sign of growing up made me shrivel with horror.

Those body insecurities never go away, but we get over it and move on when we finally do grow up. Perhaps those friends weren't that confident at all and it was all a front. I never did fronts. Embarrassingly, I was always just me. Eventually, that seemed to work, and that's where the confidence starts. Needless to say, I'm hunk of the month now.

So I can recall those Thursday TOTP nights. Paper round, kids TV, tea, dad's arrival home, homework, Tomorrow's World, TOTP, Blankety Blank, possible Dallas, then something like Not The Nine O'Clock News then probably bed and listening to Radio Luxembourg.

Uncomplicated on the outside, not so on the inside. I was but a child. Sigh. But I really don't mind Mondays at all.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

1988: All through the night

Don't know about you, but I'm up with the lark these days.

When I say these days, I mean for the past 15 or so years. There was a time when I never saw the dawn unless I was coming home during it. I never knowingly got up to see the sun rise. I don't know how this happened - it's not like I had children to jolt me into early mornings or anything - it just occurred. Over time I got to thinking it was the best part of the day. Now, I like to - not necessarily be dressed and ready for sunrise - get an early start. The day is young, still, quiet and you can make the most of it.

So I have no problem getting out of bed but, like most of us, it wasn't always the case. There was a time when I'd happily wallow in my pit until midday. Needless to say, when the time came to start working it was a living hell. You want to stay up late, but you have to get up in the morning. What kind of awful injustice is that? But at least I was living in central London. It's not like I had a milk round or had to go down a mine or stand at a bus stop in a country lane in the pouring rain at 5am.

But to me it felt no different to that. Worse was to come, however. Finding myself between flats - ostensibly homeless but for friends' spare rooms and sofas for a few months until I got myself together - I briefly lived in Greenhithe, Kent (see post 1988: All We've Got Is This Moment), now home to the gigantic Bluewater shopping centre, but then more or less the back of beyond.

I was working at a central London bookshop, where each night after work we'd descend on the local pub and stay put until closing time. Not adjusting my lifestyle in the slightest, this meant a long train journey from Charing Cross, then picking my way from the station up unlit roads into the back entrance of the house I was temporarily lodging at (thanks go to Tony for getting me out of a hole) and going straight to bed.

It wasn't always so straightforward. There was one night I realised I'd trodden in a rather sickly yellow dog turd which was all up the stairs and through the house, which meant scrubbing for hours until it was gone. Then there was the time I'd left the gas on, the smell of it on opening the door reminding me of that PIF about not turning on the light, so sitting there with all doors and windows open until I thought it was safe to do so.

Usually I was home but about oneish and to make sure I was at work for nine - as we had to clock in and out there was no hiding place - I had to go immediately to bed in order to get up at about 6.30 if there was any hope of getting in on time. What fresh hell was this?

Each morning I was rudely awakened by the radio alarm as the sun struggled to break through the grey autumn clouds, and more often than not, this little gem was what I woke up to. To date, it's the only Kylie song I find bearable.

Whenever I hear it now it makes me want to snuggle back under the duvet and not go anywhere, and I still associate it with dark mornings, utter, killing tiredness coupled with a vague hangover and with a long journey ahead of me. But I never gave myself a break. FOMO meant it was the same again the next day and so it went on until I finally moved back into central London in early December. And there I've stayed ever since.

Though I embrace an early morning if it's in my own time, the thought of doing one of those lengthy commutes - hideously early starts and not getting home til late and having no real downtime - is just horrific.

So come back to bed with me and let's doze to this. Who's feeling all warm inside?

Monday, September 16, 2013

1982: Why I'm alive

Driving to work this morning, taking in the crisp early autumnal landscape and chilly feel of these back to school days, up popped Donna Summer's State Of Independence. 'That reminds me of the time...' I thought.

And then what it actually did was remind me that I still have a blog where I post songs that recall a moment in my life and which I have ignored since April. Time for a revival perhaps?

If you're ready teams, let's play.

Today's subject is school trips. I was always the first to put my name down for a school trip. When I arrived at boarding school I couldn't believe what was on offer. Whereas all previous school trips had been confined to the Tudor House in Southampton, Lulworth Cove and once a regional theatre production of Death Of A Salesman at the Salisbury Playhouse, these outings were to London theatres, galleries and museums. Of course I was going to go. In that first term I was as regular a coachgoer as Brendan Sheerin.

I didn't really want to see Toyah Wilcox as a wrestler in Trafford Tanzi, Dennis Waterman in Windy City or Cats at the Young Vic but I was going anyway. The most fun of it was on the minibus and then wherever we went to dinner or lunch afterwards: A small and very old-fashioned Greek restaurant in Waterloo, Pizza On The Park where we cheeked the waitress until she could take it no more and the cafe at the National Gallery to name but a few. What fun it was to be out in London in 1982 aged 17.

London was much of a mystery to me back then. I'd been up for the odd day but now I was a much more frequent visitor. I knew that it wasn't necessary to get the Tube from Covent Garden to Leicester Square, but there were still some parts of it we'd travel through that were totally new to me and captured my imagination, sometimes because they were so awful but mainly because it was all so exciting and different. Even now, there are still some bits of the city I've never been to and I've lived here since 1987.

So can I remember anything about any of the actual trips themselves? To be honest, not really. But I do remember the feel of the weather and this song always puts me in mind of bright autumnal days, milling about first thing in the morning and waiting to get on the bus. We must have done a lot of trips from September to December.

We had one disaster: breaking down on the A3 headed for Noises Off. Smoke billowed from under the bonnet forcing gnomic economics buffoon Phil (teachers were always called by their first names remember) to pull over just north of Guildford. But no one really cared about missing the show. We had much more fun sitting on the soft verges until we were rescued.

Culture vulture? Me? Not as such. Not then. I can't remember doing any more trips outside of the first two terms. Perhaps I was barred or they stopped doing them or I just got bored. That's me, never sticking at anything for long. It makes me wonder how long this blog revival will last.

But anyway, how is everyone?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

2013: Taking a break

Having returned from holiday with absolutely no enthusiasm whatsoever to update this blog, and wondering finally if I've truly run out of steam, I've decided to give it a rest for a while.

'Come back!' I hear no one cry. Well, it's not dead, it's just on hold until I listen to some more music and remember where I was at the time. I don't want to be scraping the barrel with half-remembered nonsense or one-line triggers (something I've got an endless supply of). I'd rather return refreshed with a basket-load of newly-discovered moments in time that I can dissect fully.

But it's been very enjoyable over the past few years, thanks for all your support and I do hope you've liked reading it as much as I've liked writing it, and that the songs have stirred memories in you too.

In the meantime, here's some music (something you'll never find here as it wasn't a hit so we have no connection. But I just love this singer and I'm especially fond of a pop song with an Indian feel, aren't you):

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

1984: People saying that you're no good for me

I felt really Eighties yesterday. All that Thatcher stuff. I was 14 when she came to power, and I remember arriving home from somewhere quite late at night to find my parents in the kitchen with some neighbours toasting a Tory victory.

Politics didn'tm ean much to me then. To be honest, I'm not the most political person now, but I was aware of who was who in government. All those names you heard on the TV and radio I could put faces to. But I wasn't celebrating like they were.

I first became aware of Thatcher during the 1975 leadership challenge. My uncle wanted Willie Whitelaw, but my parents were backing Thatcher. As you've probably gathered, I grew up in a Conservative household. My parents were and still are Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph readers, and the older they get the more conservative with ever 'c' they become, though there was a brief blip when they voted Lib Dem a few elections ago.

But when I say I felt Eighties yesterday, it's because I was transported back to those student days of going to London for marches against Thatcher (in reality sitting in the pub all day or going shopping), the miners' strike, the Brighton bomb and all that. The entire Eighties, almost all of my teens right up to my mid-twenties were lived under the dreaded Thatch.

Now, I'm not one to ding-dong about the death of an old women, no matter how reviled she was, and you wonder if Twitter had been in operation when Myra Hindley died would she have generated the same amount of bile Thatcher did? Devisive is putting it mildly. I was rather shocked by some people's reactions, but then again, perhaps I'm coming at it from a different angle. Politics didn't really affect me.

So how do I feel? Well, I never voted like my parents did, I was shaped by the events of the Eighties which meant I could never bring myself to vote Conservative, but watching that Thatcher bio doc last night - which was fascinating and moreover, had a wonderful soundtrack (Sleepy Shores! Mouldy Old Dough! Chi Mai!) - I got kind of nostalgic and wistful that I lived through this hugely eventful historical period and felt kind of sad it was all over. Of course, if my father had been a miner or something I'd probably be digging out my tap shoes and uncorking the Pomagne.

But then again, would I? Thatcher is all tied up with Red Wedge and Ben Elton and Wham's Freedom (on the common room jukebox the day of the Brighton bombing), a bit of the past that almost gives me a warm glow.

Is that wrong?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

1983: A home for hatred

Whenever it's this time of year and I think of Easter 1983, I always think bleak.

A dull, overcast holiday period, mum back from Bahrain, not doing very much at all except endless trips to London to this new-build flat they'd bought as an investment. They did well out if it after two years, but I've never been able to track down its whereabouts (and they couldn't remember) except that it was in Fulham.

Finally, after parking in a road with a familiar name on Sunday when we took my mother-in-law to the Ideal Home Exhibition (she was concussed by an electric potato peeler but that's another story [not really]), I finally realised this flat's location, and it's more or less directly behind Earl's Court, just around the corner from West Brompton Tube. At the time I thought it was in the arse-end of nowhere.

So why, sitting in that flat for days on end did we not just jump on the Tube and go record shopping or something, rather than sitting in and getting a headache eating Smith's Salt & Shake (which briefly came in actual flavours at this time) and watching Sons & Daughters before heading back in the car on the long journey home?

No imagination, fear of rough Londoners wanting to mug me, no money and general apathy probably, plus having to get this flat ship-shape. So it was daytrips to London and back to that little house we still had on the go which was rented out when we weren't there. It didn't feel like a home anymore. It was devoid of anything personal due to the rental aspect, just a a small table and some bentwood chairs in the 'breakfast room' and all feeling rather ghastly.

When I hear The House That Jack Built I'm reminded of being bored to sobs.

I had a bit of a thing for Tracie (or should it be Tracie!?), especially when when she released Give It Some Emotion. I thought she was amazing and clearly going to be a huge star. With the backing of Paul Weller and all those Smash Hits covers she was bound to be massive. But she wasn't. I thinks he's a DJ in Brighton now? Any ideas?

I wasn't the biggest fan of this song, but I bought it anyway as I bought into the whole Respond ethos. Then I put it away and didn't listen to it for about 20 years until Tracie's one and only album appeared on itunes. So giving it a virtual spin I still thought it was rather empty on the produciton side, though she does have a lovely voice. Give It Some Emotion has still got in a Sixties Belle & The Devotions pastiche way, but the real corker is I Love You (When You Sleep), a single that wasn't a hit. It's gorgeous.

Anyhoo, Easter could never be as boring as that one. My favourite was when me and Mrs P didn't go anywhere but to films every day. It poured with rain and was the best Easter ever. Must have been '93. We went to see Howard's End.

I should add that I got married on Easter Saturday 1996, but that wasn't Easter as such. It didn't feel like Easter. It felt like a wedding. It was an event, not just days off for a public holiday. It was overcast then too. I'm not sure I've ever known a sunny British Easter.