Friday, December 23, 2011
I can't remember much about Christmas 1979. It may have involved my cousing sobbing because he had to wear a suit and have his hair blow dried, but perhaps I'm mixing that up with Christmas 1974, which would be a better fit. It would have involved the much-missed usual suspects and plans of action, and as for what I got as a present that year I couldn't tell you, though I do recall coining in the tips from the kind souls on my paper rounds. Yes, I had three at that time. I was minted.
Other than that, this was the song of the season for me, along with Daytrip To Bangor (a favourite of my aunt and uncle), I Have A Dream, Another Brick In The Wall and Brass In Pocket. I love the video for it, odd and crude as it is. There's a nostalgia there for something I've never known. That pub reminds me of pubs in the country villages around the outskirts of our small town. You didn't have to drive far before you found one. I've never had the sort of wonderful time they're having in a pub like that at Christmas, but I ache to do so. I think it's the lights.
So as it's my last post of the year, a very merry one to you all. Some of you I know, some of you I feel I know, some of you I'll never know, seeing as you're reading and not commenting, but all visitors gratefully received.
See you in 2012!
Thursday, December 22, 2011
We've all done it: made a fool of ourselves at the work Christmas party. We have, haven't we?
I'd been at the law publisher since September, and I'd made my presence felt. I was rather taken with my boss, a salt-and-pepper-haired ex-barrister who was now at the helm of this important publishing company. And she was only 33, 10 years old than me then, but seeming so business-like and sophisticated. I made it my mission to brownnose her at every opportunity and never let the chance to make her laugh and toss back her hair go by. I was firmly on her radar, and I hoped that despite both of us having discovered by this time that this job was more than likely not for me, she'd fast-track me up the ranks and I'd be involved in management-level decisions in a company I cared little for but was happy to progress in just so I could be party to high-level decision making. It was nosiness really. Becoming a journalist was always meant to be, it seems.
The Christmas party was held in a small downstairs of a wine bar in Aldgate. There was little food to be had, and unlike later Christmas parties the firm would lay on, no dancefloor or raffle either. But there was lots of wine.
So a sliver of brie and a skip of red later I was calling her a cheeky mare, talking about her naked and waking up on the floor in a lavatory stall wondering if I might still have a job. I needn't have worried. She thought I was a hoot.
When I got home I was sick in my bin. Whenever I hear this song a wave of nausea comes over me. As you were.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Christmas had come and it was that in-between bit where you're usually forced to accompany your parents to their friends' drinks parties and then co-erced into pretending to be friends with their ghastly children with whom you have nothing in common, not even school.
So it was with relief by the time I was nearly 12 that I didn't have to go with them if I didn't want to. There'd be less whining that way and besides, I could stay home and play with my new chemistry set as that isn't likely to pose any threat of danger whatsoever, is it?
I had been given a fantastic chemistry set for Christmas. Not that I was mad on chemistry but now that we were doing it at school I found it quite interesting, especially the experiments, that involved naked flames and minor explosions. I have a feeling that most boys in the class asked for a chemistry set that year. But did any of them nearly burn down their dad's shed?
Our shed was not a normal shed. It was tacked onto the garage which was in turned tacked onto the house so was kind of an indoor shed if there was such a thing. It was a large, square, flat-roofed affair and provided ample space for Airfix, Shakermaker, painting-by-nubmers and anything else that was banned from the house for being too messy. It also housed all dad's tools and lots of liquids and chemicals that would go up in a moment, like white spirit, meths and oil. So all in all the perfect place to set up a chemistry set unsupervised. Someone call social services.
Though this tinderbox didn't catch fire, it came pretty close. I was as reckless as I could be with the mixing and heating of chemicals, but it didn't stop there. I'd melt stuff over the burner and drip into a test tube containing God knows what just to see hwat happened. If it bubbled and boiled over, all the better. And I still have the scar on my thumb to prove it.
My love affair with my favourite toy of that year lasted until all the chemicals ran out and there nothing left to play with, so about three weeks then. And then music happened, which was just starting to really grab me. I remember hearing this song on the radio a lot while fiddling about in the shed but I didn't know what it was. Just a jolly tune to nearly die to. I've not been near a chemistry set since. Can you still get them?
*Being an instrumental, I have nothing to call this thread from the song, but you'll find Mike making all these noises and more in this brilliant vid
Monday, December 19, 2011
I know I'm not alone when I say this song drove everyone nuts when it stayed at number one for about nine weeks.
But I now have a huge soft spot for it. I'm a sucker for bagpipes in pop - who doesn't love the Band Of The Black Watch's 1975 Top Ten hit Scotch On The Rocks, after all? - and I find it incredibly moving. The bit where he sings about the sweet sweep through heather and deer in the glen, carrying him back to a place he knew then while the bagpipes skirl quietly in teh background... I'm welling up just thinking about it. And though I didn't regret selling on tickets I had to see McCartney in concert at the O2 last year for one minute, there is a part of me that was kicking myself when I heard he'd done the song accompanied by a full band of pipers.
But like I'll Find My Way Home, it's not actually a Christmas song. It just evokes the emotion of the festive season. So I make no apologies. I wasn't able to listen to it for at least 25 years, but when I stumbled across it again and gave it a listen, a huge wave of nostalgia washed over me. Those bygone Christmases spent with the family, 16 people round the table, now either dead, off with their own families or scattered to the the five continents. How I miss them.
What I don't miss is having to wear my 'best' clothes, having to talk to Auntie Maggie and the slight disappointment you felt later in the day that it was all now about to be over. I still think Christmas ends on Christmas night. After that, I don't want to hear a festive song and I'm keen to dejunk the decos and take down that tree. But I still love Christmas.
It's different now of course. It will never be like it was back then, but it can still be fun. I hope yours will bring you what you want.
Has anyone actually ever heard Girls' School?
Friday, December 16, 2011
The doorbell rang., waking me out of my slumber. I glanced at the digital alarm clock. It was before 7am on the eve of Christmas Eve. From downstairs I could hear the lilting, Christmassy sounds of Jon & Vangelis' I'll Find My Home, a big hit and a Radio 2 staple at the time.
Under my duvet I was warm and cosy. It was still dark outside. But I was home with the family for the first time since I'd come back from Bahrain on my own to live with a schoolfriend and his family while everyone else stayed behind forging their new life in the Middle East. I'd had a miserable time and I'd missed them. It was my first long-term separation from the family and it had been hard. There was nothing like being at home and were all together again for Christmas.
At the door it was Hazel, the postwoman on whose route our old house was. She'd kept in touch after we'd moved, and because my dad worked in publishing sought his advice over a novel she proposed to write about the people she'd grown to know on her round and fictionalised accounts of their lives. She sent weekly installments over to Bahrain and we all played let's identify our friends and neighbours, which, despite giving everyone different names wasn't hard. It was total tosh but she had a good heart and dad was gentle.
And here she was, hearing they were back and popping in for a dawn Christmas cuppa to the strains of Jon & Vangelis. Mum and dad were thrilled to see her.
I turned over and drifted back to sleep, lulled by the opening bars of Elkie Brooks' Fool If You Think It's Over.
I don't think I've ever felt so safe in my life.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Some people want to spend Christmas in warmer climes, banishing winter chills and with only sunny blue skies and the feel of the hot sun on your skin.
But not if you're me.
Famous for my preference of slate-grey skies over bright blue ones any day, to have to spend Christmas in Bahrain was never a pleasure, weather-wise.
Those stories you heard about Australians eating Christmas dinner on the beach always sounded like a nightmare to me. At Christmas, nothing was less appealing. I wanted frosted holly trees, the moment when day turns to evening and you're in the car whizzing by Christmassy shops while Roy Wood was on the radio wishing it could be Christmas every day. I wanted to be collecting my grandma while DLT played selections from Phil Spector's Christmas album. Even if it wasn't snowing or that cold, there was nothing cosier than Christmas in England.
Before 1985 I'd only had one middle eastern Christmas, in 1982. We went to another family's place for lunch, and in true expat style drew the curtains and watched last year's Christmas Day TOTP and the most recent episodes that featured tinsel and Kid Creole and the Coconuts doing Annie I'm Not You're Daddy, then switching vids to the Two Ronnies or a costume drama. No one even looked outside.
So why did we do it? Seeing as i was the only on in the UK it was far cheaper to get me out there than it was for the family to decamp home just for my benefit. But we all agreed it just wasn't the same. Christmas had always been a huge family affair, with everyone to ours for lunch then over to theirs in the evening, with Boxing Day always a big party at my aunts, Uncle Tony mixing endless G&Ts in the kitchen and people dancing to Tie A Yellow Ribbon once they'd got a bit squiffy. I still miss those days.
So we were doing every other year. But I really didn't want to go. My uncle came to my student house to collect me and drive me to the airport. As I was packing Walking In The Air was playing. Not my favourite, but when you couple it with footage from The Snowman it's the ultimate in cosy, traditaional festiveness. It was a very dark day, chilly and cold, really Christmassy and I had a new (secondhand) overcoat. There was no point taking it with me. It would be t-shirts once I got there. Oh how I wanted to stay in England.
It was never so bad, and I look back on it as on odditty I'm now rather nostalgic about. Coming down in the morning with Carols From King's on the stereo followed by a Christmas album. Mum and Dad did their best to make it seem like the 'real' thing. It wasn't that Bahrain wasn't Christmassy at all, surprising reallly, it being a muslim country. All the shops were geared up for it and the radio played the usual fare. But there's nothing like Christmas at home, is there?
Monday, November 28, 2011
The whole concept of 'Guilty Pleasures' apalls me. I simply don't believe in them. All that ironic giggling over ELO - what have the Wild West Hero hitmakers go to be ashamed of? Just cos they're not and never were trendy. It's incredibly tiresome and has been hijacked now to mean any golden oldie, especially if it's British.
Perhaps it's an age thing. While I bow to no one in my love of everything from The Carpenters to The Dooleys to Five Star, there was a time when I would rather have died than let anyone know I was flouting the rules of my tribe and not just buying records by Southern Death Cult, Japan or anyone who was languishing in the indie charts.
But every now and then along came a record that you couldn't get out of your head and you just had to have, no matter how naff it was perceived to be. Tight Fit's thumpingly splendid and at times rather moving version of The Lion Sleeps Tonight was just one of those records. Everyone loved this record, and if you didn't you have no soul.
I slipped out a lunchtime on my own, went straight to Woolies and bought it. After lunch it was Human Biology with Mrs Savage. I never paid attention. Just wrote notes to Kate, the queen bee of the common room and an old family friend, whom I sat next to. She was a good musical sounding board and she admitted she too was a fan of the song. We laughed about it how they really were the world's naffest band after Buck's Fizz, and kept it to ourselves. Months later, her supercool boyfriend was sneaking I Don't Wanna Dance into his schoolbag. We've all done it.
I don't care what anyone thinks of my musical tastes anymore, and I revealed my true colours over the next few years. If I liked it, I bought it and to hell with the consequences. Guilty Pleasures? Just pleasures. Enjoy yourself; it's later than you think.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
In my second year at school we found ourselves in a new home room.Tutor group we called it back then, and I have no idea what they call it now, but it's the one bit of the day when you're all together in your form for the taking of the register at the beginning of the day.
This room was a science lab, and we remained in science labs for the duration of secondary school. Our new form teacher was the peculiarly- and unfortunately-named Mr Polkinghorne. He was kind of eccentric and very strict, and there were to be no open jokes about his silly name.
Despite this warning, I coudln't help myself. I was terrible at school, very disruptive, easily bored, as a report after report stated, supercillious, only interested in making the class laugh and an all round bad influence. My parents were furious, but nothing could be done about it. If I wasn't engaged, that was the end of it.
Mr P was also my science teacher, and because I had little interest I was top of his shit list. His threadbare patience finally wore through one afternoon, as I (quietly, I thought) sang the opening acappella bars to the Darts' second superhit Come Back My Love. But I was caught. A board rubber hit my head along with some very harsh and very loud words. It wasn't the first time my navy blue jumper had the chalky imprint of a board rubber on it.
I was the bane of many teachers' lives. I would love to have been a fly on the staffroom wall, though on the times I'd poked my head round the door I neary choked to death in the thick fug of smoke that hung there. No fly would have stood a chance. I had letters home about just about everything, had the slipper and the cane and was known to the highest school authorities. The thing is, I wasn't actually a bad person. I wasn't Gripper Stebson, I was Tucker Jenkins. Wrong place, wrong time, can't rein it in, etc.
But I had to change my ways or there would be no holiday in the south of France that summer (see 1978: Hoping to see her). I spent the remainder of the year doing my best, and difficult as it was not to ask the teacher if she had a boyfriend or throw mud at the head from behind a high wall, I did it. At the end of the summer term, Mr P and I parted as friends.
Was I growing up at last?
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Have you ever been to the Isle of Man? Funny isn't it.
Quiet, rugged, bleak, not a lot there. I had my one and only visit to date in the summer of 1988 for a schoolfriend's wedding. She was only 22 and was the type of person who attached herself limpet like to men and never let go. I once made the mistake of lending an ear and never heard the end of it. I just had to stop returning phone calls in the end.
But by this time she's sorted herself out and was marrying a soldier. Very young to do so even then, but marrying she was. And in the Isle of Man too.
I had no money. I had no chequebook, no chequecard, I worked in a job that paid me in cash - and not much of it. What was I going to do? I know, why don't I get in touch with another old schoofriend and family friend of the bride and see if there was anyway I could cadge a lift, despite not having seen or heard from him in four years? No problem. All I had to do was get myself to Billericay and we'd drive up.
It was going to be fun, made even better by being told on arrival I had Morrissey hair, which was just the ticket. So after a nightout in a rather subdued Billericay we set off for the Isle of Man ferry north of Blackpool. All the way up it was Touchy! by A-ha, every hour it seemed. Lunch at that groovy space-age Forton services on the M6, when you could still eat in the tower, then onto Heysham.
It was only as we were sighting land that I realised I'd left my suit hanging on the back of the door in Billericay. Again, no problem. His parents, who were flying up, had spotted it and packed it for me.
We had a great room, lovely see view and a day to kill before the wedding. We palled up with two sisters who were also invitees and hit the, er, town, which wasn't even Douglas, IIRC. I can't remember what it was but it was tiny. But there was a record shop in which Rush Hour was playing, and which always takes me back to walking along the seafront, ducking into the deserted aquariaum and breathing in air so fresh I've never experienced its like since. A more incongruous song/situation combo there has never been.
That night we went to a club with all the groom's army mates as a kind of stag do. It was a hoot, dancing to Damien's The Time Warp in something like a suburban bungalow with French doors out onto a garden. Everyone was very well-behaved - no squaddie fights here. The only hitch was the decision to throw the groom down a riverbank which involved his spraining his ankle and walking up the aisle on cruthces, much to his mother's absolute fury. And it poured with rain. But it was great fun. I'm dying to return to Man.
Anyway, they're divorced now. And I still owe my mate a tenner. I've not seen him since.
I'm unsure as the point of this story.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Much as I'm rhapsodising about boarding school here - and my memories are for the most part overwhelmingly rosy - it wasn't all beer and skittles.
In fact, sometimes it could be really cruel. At times, it was lonely, cold, miserable, desolate, hurtful, spiteful, childish, wicked, boring, especially and almost exclusively at first.
This song reminds of the very first weekend back after Christmas ready to start my second term there. It was cold but the sky was clear and blue. School was meant ot start on Mondy and I arrived back on the Saturday to find about three people there, three people I wasn't particular friends with. But needs must and we decided to go into town together. I bought this record. I actually really dislike it now.
It makes me think of a quite a lonely time. I can't quite put my finger on it. I may well have fallen out with someone, and the first term had been a rollercoaster of passions, fights, bitchery, gossip, friendships, new discoveries and adjustments. It was perhaps the most turbulent time of my life.
I'd been away from home for a while now, but had only been boarding since the previous September. To be away at school with your parents in another country and any close family far away took a bit of getting used to. Perhaps about half-an-hour. The real test was making and hanging onto new friends. Teenagers are a difficult, fickle bunch and I was no different. You make and break friends at a rate of knots, you have a nemesis and an unattainable apple of your eye and someone you target for friendship. At least you have goals to work towards.
I'd done all this. Some of it had worked out, some of it hadn't. And this was only the first term. So arriving back for term I was expecting more of the same. I wasn't disappointed. And I wouldn't have had it any other way.
Monday, November 21, 2011
I'm amazed this song wasn't about before it was a hit in '75, as it seems to have been the playground insult song of choice for as far back as I can remember, and I was just as guilty of using this as the rest of us, being thin as a pin until I was bout 19. I couldn't do it now of course, that would be a case of glass houses.
Long forgotten now, Fattie Bum-Bum was the tune by which to insult any fat person, child or adult, in a comedy Terry Scott schoolboy way. Today, you'd probably be done for bullying or being sizeist, and I doubt it would even get played on the radio. In fact, I don't ever recall hearing it on the radio at all, but like that other early Seventies novelty Nice One Cyril by the Cockerel Chorus, it was in our collective conciousness.
Listening to it, however, it's actually quite a sweet love song about how size doesn't matter, though I would imagine anyone calling a potential suiter Fattie bum-bum would get short shrift. Still, it's got a lovely lilting melody hasn't it?
Stuff your face and enjoy.
Friday, November 18, 2011
Tracey Ullman: all the rage in '83, perhaps at the peak of her powers. Singing, dancing, acting, comedy - she could do it all. I already loved her on Three Of A Kind, and then her songs struck a chord too, especially this one, which reminds me first and foremost of sitting in a hotel lobby waiting for a taxi to take me and Hels back to school as we'd missed the minibus. Taxi! Well, really. I think she must have paid.
I'm reminded of this because I've recently started watching Ullman's 1985 sitcom Girls On Top, which I have to say kind of passed me by at the time. I'd totally forgotten it also starred the late, great Joan Greenwood, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French and Ruby Wax. Is that Ruby Wax's one and only acting job (apart from her public persona which we all know is very different from her private one)?
Anyhoo, Tracey Ullman not only sings the theme tune, but also steals the show with her very Eighties London girl on the make, with a string of unsuitable boyfriends, fake tan, over-the-top outfits and huge mane of peroxide-blonde hair. She's a hoot. And she's a natural fox. I used to have such a thing for her, especially during and after They Don't Know. That must have made Kirsty Macoll pots of money.
And now she's resident Stateside and we barely see her. I believe she was here recently for something, but you'd never know. It's a shame, as she's a totally gifted comedian, her voices and accents are second to none. I never really took to her US show, with its all-American accents and embryonic Simpsons inserts, I preferred things like Roz the trustafarian hippy from Three Of A Kind or any character on the B-side of They Don't Know. I miss her. Let's remember her in all her glory.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Around this time, perhaps a little earlier, we had our one and only student house party.
There were five of us sharing what was actually a really nice house. It was a terrace in back street (weren't they all), but it had recently been redecorated and we moved into lime green walls, salmon carpets and cheap second hand furniture, though it did have central heating, which after two years living in places that didn't have any sort of heating whatsoever and nearly dying from hypothermia on numerous occasions, was a total godsend.
But now our nice new house was going to be ravaged by a party. My room, downstairs, at the front, fawn shagpile, non-working but rather nice fireplace was to be the dancefloor. I didn't mind a bit. I was in charge of the music after all. This pleased me, as whenever we went to any parties I'd take my own music and insist it was played. I cringe when I think of this now as it's incredibly rude and controlling. If anyone tried this at my house today they'd be shown the door. But I was a different person back then. For me, the louder and more crowded the bar, the pub or the part, the better.
How times change. I can barely hear a thing if there are no soft furnishings, and if the music is above level two I'm reduced to lip-reading and picking up keywords only. And as for crowds - if i don't get a seat you'll see me leaving by the nearest exit if I actually enter the building at all. So usually, once it gets too loud, I make my excuses.
But student parties were another matter. Who didn't go to one where someone - maybe even yourself - took a dump in the fruit cup, or got arrested for dancing on the roofs of parked cars or threw up from a tower block window or woke up in someone's front garden covered in dew with a chronic red wine hangover? That's what it was all about. We'd trek miles to a party, and the feelers would be out in the pub as to where there was one we could crash, if that is we weren't invited.
The thought of a houseparty now is like a nightmare to me. In fact, I can't even remember the last time I went to one. When I moved to London we would go to the ends of the earth - well, Plaistow or Mill Hill or Streatham or Crouch End - to attend parties thrown by old college mates or new work colleagues. And then, suddenly, all that peters out, and if someone does have a do it's in a bar or a pub as they turn 40, or more often these days, 50. I don't mind those.
I can report that the party was a success. Well attended, with even the neighbours popping in. I think I might have gone over the road for more wine with two lesbians whose house reeked of cat pee. It's all a fug.
The music was a hit, and I remember poking my head round the door to see two girls getting the dancing started to this song. My bedroom had become Studio 54 for one night only. I had to almost wring the carpet out the next day and never really did get rid of the smell of beer. The thought of it makes me want to vomit. Never again.
Who's for another Kestrel?
Posted by Jon Peake at 3:09 AM
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Perhaps it's just me, but I used to find things like the ITV Telethon Comic Relief and Children In Need nights quite exciting.
It was the only place and the only time of the year where you'd see people doing things they didn't normally do, a host of stars incongruously coming together and a whole night of fun and laughter. I'd make sure I was in for it and sometimes, like on the day in 1989 I'd actually go round to friends to watch it. I must have been on something...
Now of course, I can't think of anything worse. Forced fun, newsreaders doing the Can-Can and the cast of Waterloo Road doing Bohemian Rhapsody, all presided over by dependable Wogan doing his reverential best and the ghastly Fearne Cotton flailing like a leaf in the wind and the fact that we're all meant to think it's beyond reproach.
Ever since Angela Rippon revealed her dancing skills and those legs on the Morecambe & Wise Christmas show and all those newsreaders dressed up as sailors to do a musical number we're expected to be amazed, more than 30 years later, that these people have these hidden talents and other strings to their bow. Alas, there are no surprised anymore. Ann Widdecombe goes on Strictly, people bare all on I'm A Celeb..., etc. There are no secrets. It's just the norm.
I hate it.
I do love this song, it always reminds me of late autumn, but every time I hear this song I'm reminded of perhaps the last time I properly engaged with Children in Need (and the time we travelled all over south London trying to find someone's party in the days before mobile phones and got stared out of a really rough pub in Streatham). I don't know why it all ended at the dawn of the Nineties, but I pride myself on knowing when the joke's over.
Monday, November 14, 2011
It was meant to be one of those days the world ended. But of course it wasn't, and I never thought it would be. Who in their right mind would?
I was far more preoccupied about a daytrip to London to see my cousin who'd recently moved there. Back then, London did seem awfully far away. Strange, exotic, exciting and scary all at the same time. He was seven years older than me and quite obviously now a grown-up with a job and a flat and a life. How amazing.
The reality was not so glamorous, far more workaday, but still to me, a 16-year-old from teh sticks beyond thrilling. SO on a dark November day in this year my aunt and uncle set off with me and my grandma and a vat of 'curry and rice' as it was always called, not just curry - the rice bit was an add-on - to London. My uncle had a reputation as the slowest driver in Europe, so setting off early meant it took at least four hours to get there. And with this being pre-M3days, it was a big old trek.
I'd been London a handful of times before, but now I was of an age where the big city was an alluring temptress I was taking far more notice. This is where it was at, after all. Sort of. My cousin lived above Shoppers' Paradise in Kentish Town Road, in a tiny flat which was more of a bedsit really. But hey, at least he was there.
The major drawback with that flat (to me), was that the previous tenant had died there and not been discovered for about six weeks. They had to freeze the body to remove it. This didn't faze my cousin at all. It fazed me.
Kentish Town Road, though even more down at heel than it is today, was a treasure trove of London-only delights: Sketchley, Underwoods, a Kickers store that you could rollerskate into. It was a different world.
On the way home in the dark, I gazed out the window, taking it all in and knew that one day, it would all be mine. This Soft Cell song, in the charts at the time, though bleak and forbidding still offered promises of a different kind of life, one only lived in lonely cities where no one would notice if you had died or not.
No, there would be no bedsitter for me.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Ah, autumn '84, and the springing out of bed song for the entire season at our halls of residence was Together In Electric Dreams.
Strangely moving even today, it was the soundtrack to mornings back then as it rocketed up the charts, blaring out of my double tape deck/radio thing at top volume for the whole landing to hear as we all went about our morning ablutions, the view from the windows misty, semi-dark and the lawns covered in a blanket of red, gold and green leaves.
The song was never off the radio and though the theme to a film it, rather than this film which no one has seen, has stood the test of time. But which radio was it never off?, I hear you ask. Well, at this time, where was everyone getting their radio from? Why, Laser 558 of course. It didn't matter that it was longwave - Radio 1 was on AM anway - but it did matter that it was all the hits, all the time, it was a pirate station yapping at the heels of the British radio establishment like an annoying terrier and was a pied piper to the youth mainly because of one thing: no DJ banter.
How suddenly I'd tired of DJ banter by this time. Only about six months earlier me and a group of friends had practically stalked Mike Read. We knew, though I don't know how we knew, that he lived in a lovely Victorian Gothic house just yards down the hill from my boarding school in the heart of the Surrey downs. So we'd often talk a walk down there to see if we could spot him. And we sometimes did: getting in or out of his car, opening the front door in his tennis whites, etc., but we'd never actually you know, gone up and spoken to him.
One day though, me, my mate Jim and two girls took a walk down there with the soul intention of ringing the doorbell. There were no gates or any security to negotiate, you could just walk right up to the house. So we let the girls do it. The door opened and in they went. They were gone for quite some time, and the next day we had a request on the breakfast show, in which Mike explained that these two girls appeared on his doorstep to ask for a request. Then he played Nik Kershaw's Dancing Girls. It was about a quarter to nine, and I had to leave my tape deck running to catch it. I've still got it somewhere.
It makes me think though; which celebrity in their right mind would let two teenage girls into their house today? Oh, the innocent Eighties, it didn't even cross our minds! It cleary didn't cross Mike's either. He was charm itself apprently, and they reported that his house was full of records. I had a pang of envy that I never got to see it.
But how thrilling it was to hear one's name read out by Britain's number one breakfast show host, and how fickle the audience can be that by the end of the year they've tuned you out for a fuzzy no-talk all-music station. But how soon they were back when it was wall-to-wall Jim Diamond and Carless Whisper ever three songs. Novelties always wear off. You always go back to what you know.
I'm still not a major fan of DJ banter - I'd rather hear music. However, I am a fan of DJs who know music. So it all depends doesn't it?
Posted by Jon Peake at 1:27 AM
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Was there ever a phrase invented to chill one to the very core as 'jazz funk'?
It conjures up wine bars, gold-chained lotharios, big-haired 19-year-old dancing round their handbags in peppermint miniskirts, Malibu and Coke, fake palm trees, nightclubs called Raffles or Boogies or Fridays and baggy-trousered floppy-haired trumpet players in white socks and soul slippers.
Which in 1982, was exactly what it entailed. Many a nightclub did I attend where all that and more was going on. And nothing sums up that whole world to me more than a coach trip to Windsor to see a friend's brother's band doing a few numbers in spring of that year.
I remember it mainly because I was so desperate for the loo on the way up that I almost considered going in a carrier bag, but settled for semi-kidney failure instead and had my grey box jacket stolen.
But what of the band? From what I recall, Boys White Teeth, as they were called in the Haircut 100 style of the time, weren't that bad, and came on after an evening of You're The One For Me by D-Train, The Chinese Way by Level 42, endless George Benson and Easier Said Than Done by those doyens of the scene, Shakatak. They wore peg trousers with short-sleeved shirts tucked in and the odd skinny tie, their hair had that flicky soulboy look and they didn't move much on stage.
The dancefloor was filled though, as people put down their Bacardis and Harp lagers and grooved on down to the band. My firend's brother was the saxophonist - was their ever a more Eighties sound than that? - and was very good. I thought we might be seeing the birth of the new Modern Romance.
They never made it. They died with the whole jazz funk movement. The world only ever needed one Light Of The World.
But I did get my jacket back.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
It's rare for me to buy a record on sight alone today, but as explained in the previous post, I used to do it a lot.
But what about those records you'd seen in the shop for years, looked and looked at the cover because for some reason it caught your eye but you'd not read anything about the record, knew next to nothing about the band and had no concept about the music?
One day, on our weekly afternoon outing to Guildford to stock up on fags, Record Mirror and the singles you'd been coveting, I took the plunge.
I'd seen the covers of the four B-52's albums in the shops for a couple of years and their stark Sixties kitschiness rang struck an immediate chord. Doing the whole thing so much better than Mari Wilson there was something about this I knew I was going to like, being totally obsessed with all things from that era. So that day, I bought their first self-titled album. Would I regret it? I'd read about Rock Lobster, but I'd never actually heard it.
Its mix of dangerous exotica mixed with new wave sensibilities was an instant hit, (though Lobster remains one of my least favourite songs) and I applauded myself for making the right decision. Wild Planet, Mesopotamia and Party Mix all swiftly followed, and I was a fan. I thought that was it for them, but suddenly I heard - gasp! - their new single on the Peter Powell show and rushed to buy it. Yet more space age bleepery and daft lyrics all set a frantic beat. An other album followed. But I still knew very little about them.
In those pre-internet days you had to go to the ends of the earth to find out the info you wanted - wasn't that much more fun? I sent off for their fanclub info but it was all too complicated to pay for something via international money order, plus I didn't actually have the money. Now I know all about their tragic history.
Success came pretty late for them, which is a shame, and I think it's a shame that Love Shack is what they're best-known for, though it epitomises the party-loving band that they are. Their last album Funplex was a corker. I never got to see them - booked tickets twice and twice had them cancel the gigs. Never knew the reason why.
Oh well. Perhaps I'll run into them if I ever decide to go and stay here, though I worry that the clientele may be a bit Blue Velvet.
Here's one of their many fine songs, and one of my faves:
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Blue Rondo A La Turk.
Was there ever a more pretentious name for a band. It's SO 1982, isn't it? One of those bands you read endlessly about because they were so cutting edge and cool, never heard their music at all, but eventually caved in and bought the single on a whim, perhaps while it was full-price chartbound or probably more likely when it got discounted into the Woolies record bin.
I did this a lot. Gave in, that is, and bought at full price. I was no stranger to the bargain bin though, and always made time to flip through the ex-jukebox singles on the counter at the newsagent once a week. Some gems to be had there. But at that impressionable age, if I was told something was brilliant again and again I'd believe it and eventually have to have it. This what happened with Blue Rondo A La Turk.
They were held up by countless magazine as the epitome of the new. With their retro look adapted for the New Romantic sensibility of the time that could be found in parts by regular trips to War On Want, and their latin-infused jazz funk pop they were yet another in a long line of Next Big Things. They never were of course, though it must be said this song is a corker, despite the dreadful production. With Blue Rondo, it was a case of fur coat and no knickers, style over substance and we saw through that. Though not immediately; I bought their next two singles as well.
Another of this ilk was Weekend. The amount of times I stood staring at their album cover in the record shop. I never heard their 'hit' The View From Her Room but thought that perhaps I should just buy the album instead, and I wasn't a big album buyer at all in those days. But I did resist and forgot all about them until I came across TVFHR in a junk shop about seven years ago. I couldn't wait to hear it. It was lilty and forgettable with sub-Marine Girls vocals and laden with whimsy. No great shakes then, as I should have known. I'm glad I saved my money. If only I'd done more of that at the time.
That said, if I hadn't been that way inclined, I'd never have discovered what was to become my favourite single of all time, Uncertain Smile by The The (the non-album, non-Jools Holland version). That song was written about my life. Just thinking about it gives me goosebumps. But that's another story.
Monday, October 31, 2011
Never really was about much when we were younger, was it? Today the shops are crammed with ghoulish goodies, but back in the Seventies you had to make your own entertainment. I never remember seeing a pumpkin on sale, not least in Safeway, and as for trick or treating, you could try but you'd be lucky.
But try we did, and people were either jolly and put the door on the latch while they sought out a few hairy Murray Mints, or sent you away with a flea in your ear for bringing commercial American ghastliness to their threshold.
Did anyone ever ask for a trick? Did they dare? I heard tales of a plastic bag with green paint and dogshit in it, with a firework attached that would explode in the face of the person at the door. But I'm convinced it was just a myth. No one I knew would go near dog shit, and fireworks were hard to come by. Knock down Ginger as about as bad as it got. But it was enormous fun, especially when we got the drunk woman who was always laughing or an unsuspecting schoolmate looking around and seeing nothing. Stifling laughter was never one of my strongpoints, though I managed to keep it hidden when the police caught us throwing gravel at a wet kid's bedroom window. And they say kids today are bored.
Playing indoors trying to find each other in the dark while the radio blared the hits of the moment was enormous fun. Every song took on a sinister tone. Even Wild Cherry and Dana. Why not try that tonight?
Monday, October 24, 2011
I don't really know why I did it, but I thought I should do it nonetheless. When I first started being a student my roomate and I decide to get Saturday jobs. Bit of extra cash, nothing too taxing, you know the score.
But for some reason or another, instead of doing something groovy like working in HMV or Top Man, we ended up getting jobs at a new fast food 'restaurant' called Huckleberry's.
The interview process was gruelling. You'd think it was to join MI5. I went in a suit, naturally, and was grilled to death. I only wanted a bit of extra pocket money, not a career in fast food restaurant managment which might have seen me marrying a woman who worked in IT, living in a Barrett home on the outskirts of Reading, taking myself rather seriously and listening to Sade on a loop. The pay was pitiful, but it would only be one morning and two evenings a week. It was all terribly exciting, they said, to be at the forefront of a new food revolution. I couldn't have agreed more.
Beacuse it was yet to open, there was a lot of training involved. It involved getting in a minibus at the crack of dawn with the other trainees, some of whom were students, most of whom were terminally dim, led by a balding man in his late twenties and what I presume now to be his younger partner, but in those days that kind of thing wouldn't have crossed my mind. I remember them both singing along to this tune, never off the radio but never a big hit. Love it though.
Traning was in Watford, far, far away from my south coast base, and we didn't even get there until lunchtime when we would be fed free burgers and Cokes. Then it was on the training. It took place on the shop floor and involved lots of bellowing greetings at self-concious customers and demanding to know if they'd like fries with that, as well as bit of learning to use a clunky early stages electronic till. It was horrific.
When the time came to actually start work I couldn't believe what I'd let myself in for. I wasn't allowed anywhere near the till, and instead found myself under threat of death from a horrible middle manager type on litter duty, bog cleaning, table-wiping and fish cutting. If I was lucky, I might get to assemble a Huckelburger. Once I cut my finger so badly doing fish that it nearly fell off, but there was no time for that. I was just put on toppings, and my blood mingled with the gherkin vinegar while my finger healed itself. I have to say it did the trick.
Food standards were appalling. Today, they've been closed down, and when I've tipped off environmental health about kitchen standards I've seen lacking in places in the past I haven't done it lightly. I know what I'm talking about. Anything that went on the floor got picked up and used again, the grill was a deathtrap and the floors so slippery you could have held an entire series of Dancing On Ice on it.
The worst part of course was the uniform. A royal blue number, with matching cap, that made you look like a cross between a nurse and a simpleton. Caps were never to be removed. Punters took the piss and lacking in any dignity it was hard to stand your ground. When they'd point out that you'd missed a bit while wiping their table and you shot back with 'well why don't you do it yourself', you had to remember that it was actually your job. It was so demeaning I'm still getting over it.
So after about three weeks of Saturdays and the two nights a week, I could bear it no longer. When I took my break, Huckleburger in hand, trying to make small talk with a fellow employee who I had nothing whatsoever in common with and trying to keep one eye on Blankety Blank, I wondered what on earth I was doing there. And when still scraping down the girll at 3am having to be up at 7am, stinking of grease and not being able to get the smell out, I resolved to quit.
The straw that broke the camel's back was the late nights. The really late nights. Trying to get home at that time of the morning when taxis were not an option was a nightmare. One night horrid little younger partner of bald boss offered us a lift, which was nice. But when I asked again he flatly refused, then went and told anyone who might live my way that I might tap them up too. 'Forewarned is fore-armed,' he said in his best dimbulb 'only me' type accent, those words still ringing in my ears 27 years later, like I was going to ask for a pay rise or something.
You didn't have to give any notice. Me and my friend just upped and left. When they called we were both 'out'. No one came to track us down. We put the uniforms on a Guy and burnt them.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Who could even picture 2011 in 198?. By now I thought I'd be wearing a skin-tight silver catsuit and having pills for breakfast. Later I'd be parking my hoverboard outside a floating elipse-shaped office block. The only bit that's come true is the catsuit.
Life's not changed a great deal really, has it. We still listen to the same music we listened to all those years ago. So did you realise it was 30 years ago TODAY that the classic Dare album was released? Hands up who feels old. Again.
What a classic. I'm still wordperfect, and though some of it's dated - and I really couldn't care if I didn't hear Don't You Want Me for about 20 years - it's still amazing, and songs like Sound Of The Crowd or Open Your Heart transport me back to a time when it all seemed so new, exciting and the start of an amazing future. My life was changing at this time, and this was the soundtrack to that. (They milked it for singles though, didn't they? And what was all that 'Blue' and '100' stuff about anyway?).
This track especially reminds of this time in 1981, flirting silently with two girls on the bus that pulled up next to mine one Saturday morning on the way into town. They were the spit of the Human League girls, and my hair was over one eye.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
My brother was sport mad. He was good at it too. It wasn't just confined to school teams though. He had to join a local kiddies football team as well.
Me? Not interested. It didn't help that I was no good at it, and was made to feel useless for being so. So while I resented having to sit on the sidelines (or more often than not, in the car with the radio on) there was one good thing that came out of it: The bingo nights.
In order to raise money for the team and cover its (I'm sure minimal) costs, bingo nights were held in the local village hall. I say village hall - it was a bit more sophisticated than that. I grew up in a small town rather than a village as such, and this hall was just one of a few dotted about. But it was the one I knew best.
It was the one where I watched rehearsals of local am-dram society's produciton of Semi-Detached in 1970, in which mum appeared wearing knee-high white boots and begged Nigel to forgive her, as dad put his arm around my shoulder and told me not worry as it wasn't real. He needn't have worried. I already knew as I'd seen her reading the script in bed. She was rather convincing though. No wonder the local rag thought she was the standout in 1963's The Rape Of The Lock.
It was the place where one woman's job was to walk onto the stage and say 'ready when you are, Eddie' to the lighting man. Later, I knew her better as the mother of the scariest boy in school. It was the place where I got caught trying to melt a plastic tulip on the footlights, and where a nice lady called Frances opened a fresh tin of variety biscuits during breaks. She later fell off a cliff and died after beckoning her husband to come and see something down below.
It was also the place where I went with our neighbours to see a Victorian musical hall night and saw the woman from the chemist sing My Old Man. We had a high old time, that was for sure. So I had a fondness for that hall and that's where the bingo was held.
Every Tuesday me, my brother and my dad would find a good table, buy a book of tickets and hope for the best. It was the first time I'd heard bingo lingo: Doctor's orders: number nine. Five and nine: the Brighton Line. Top of the shop: nine-0. Jim's (then Maggie's) Den: Number 10, and fo course, two little ducks: 22, at which the whole room, led by the bingo caller/team manager's infant daughter would chorus: 'Quack! Quack!', and then collapse with laughter.
I'm not sure we ever won much, but we did win, and we couldn't wait for the next week. We weren't the only ones. Word of mouth saw these evenings mushroom into something much bigger, and by the end of the autumn even my schoolfriends, (including Nigel, hence the song choice which he loved and hated at the same time), were coming along. In 1979 the lure of the bingo was too much for everyone. The room was hushed and tense as the prizes grew more desirable. And then a bombshell: the hall was needed for something else from now on, so bingo would be held at a hall on the other side of town.
We went a few times, but it wasn't the same. Not even the garishly iced homemade cakes, which had once been such a draw, held their allure anymore. The hall was half-empty. The fun had been had.
Was she worth it?*
*76 (7/6, the price of a marriage licence I'm told)
Monday, October 17, 2011
We were quite early adopters in our family. But it was more a case of keeping up with the Joneses than any burning desire for new technology.
Our cul-de-sac was a hotbed of rivalry and competition. I often heard barbed remarks about copycat table lamps or place mats. Number 16 had an extension, everyone had an extension. And all identical too. Someone gets a chest freezer, before you know it's crinkle cut chips with every meal.
But we were one of the first to get a colour TV and, though they'd been around for a while, they weren't widely seen at this time. Some neighbours - the hippies with the bare boards and flowerless garden ("We only like trees," I was told) - didn't even have a TV, which aged six I was mystified by.
So when the day came in 1971 when our colour TV arrived it was a big day indeed. The man came quite early on, I recall, and because it was going to be a major operation installing it, we were sent out to play and told not to come back until we were called. We were on tenterhooks all day long and couldn't wait to see it.
So when the time came we rushed in to find wire everywhere but a working colour TV, my life changed forever. The first thing I saw was the opening titles of The Partridge Family. I didn't realise all the little cartoon partridges were different colours. The scales fell from my eyes and I've never stopped watching it since.
It's not always brilliant being up to the minute though. We got our first video recorder in 1981. Unfortunately, it was Betamax.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
My granny was great for her age. But not that great. While she could scale a ladder to clean windows three stories up without so much as blink, stand atop a step ladder dust down a chandelier and still cook a mean steak and kidney pudding, when it came to the unfamiliar she wasn't so hot.
So it was the lucky 17-year-old me who was picked to escort her to Bahrain for her first visit over Easter, 1982. (This song was never off the radio there, mainly requested by me. Surely one of the oddest songs ever to make the Top 5 after O Superman?)
To be honest, I don't remember a thing about the journey out, excpet everytime a succession of officials marvelled at this game old bird travelling a great distance she announced her age as if expecting a round of applause, Thora Hird-style. 'I'm 73!', she'd crow in her bluff, northern way, followed by much nodding from the crowd about what a trooper she was and a standing ovation. That's my mum's age now, and she's far from an old lady. She looks and lives her life like someone at least 15 years younger, health problems aside.
We'd arrived in one piece, though there'd been a bit of panic getting to the gate on time, etc, but we soldiered on. Lucky for us our neighbour in Bahrain worked on the check-in desk for Gulf Air so we got an upgrade to first class for our return journey.
It was champagne on sitdown, better food (the food on Gulf Air was always really good), and wider seats which facilitated gran's snoring all the way to London. Though it thankfully didn't transpire on this occasion, her false teeth could often be found on the verge of falling out. Hadn't she heard of Fixodent? She'd had false teeth since the age of 13 when a carrier bag got caught in her bike wheel.
When we arrived we had to get the coach to Southampton. For some reason I was expected to know how to make this happen. After a mad dash to the coach stop at Heathrow we'd found our way. But as the coach was leaving I looked behind to see our luggage becoming a dot on the tarmac.
Panic ensued, followed by meltdown, then a rugby players pelt up the front to demand the driver stop in the world's most hysterical voice. I just sat rigid.
We backed up, cases on, then up the stairwell she came, a furious banshee. 'Your father would be ashamed of you!', she bellowed, as every other passenger turned and stared at me like I was the only non-member of their Satanist cult.
We sat in silence the whole way home.
I still hear that sentence ringing in my ears when I'm being hopeless. This song, which I loved as much then as I love now, keeps one's feet on the ground.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Through my flatmate at the time I knew quite a few people, locally. Her old schoolfriends were dotted all over the place, with a bit of a concentration nearby.
One favourite - but for all the wrong reasons, was a girl let's call Marshy. Big, tall, blonde, loud, super-posh, a hoot and a bore by turns, she was a would-be actress who was forever disappointed. She'd often call in floods of tears because the part she was after had gone to someone else and how there was simply no justice in the world. Other times she'd be hysterically happy because she had landed a coveted role.
My mum was there for one of these phonecalls, and thought it was the most exciting thing to have an actress call to tell you she'd got the part, and wasn't it fun living in London, etc., like she was in an episode of Man About The House when mother visits. If only she knew. One tried to be sympathetic when it all went tits up but couldn't help but giggle at the high drama. The highs were as exhausting as the lows. She was born to go on the stage.
Thing is though, her career wasn't really happening. She'd do the odd play upstairs in a pub but Sir Trevor Nunn was nowhere to be seen, Hollywood was not knocking her door down and even The Bill was full-up. As many actresses can be, she was a terrible attention seeker, at any party she'd have to be the centre of attention. I recall cringing until I was nearly dead when she made someone turn off the music so she could sing Roxanne acappella with her eyes shut, really feeling it. She only knew a couple of lines and she made them go a long way.
She started dating my brother, who was my other flatmate, and the two of them were a sight to see. He was smaller and slighter in those days, and they brought to mind Dudley Moore and wife - her towering above him. It didn't last long. She was too high-maintenance. He dreaded answering the phone.
She once had a party at her place, but instead of just being allowed to mingle and chat and enjoy yourself she made everyone sit down on the floor then move two people along to talk to someone they'd not yet talked to. When everyone refused she bolted the front door, stood on a chair and burst into tears about what a disaster it wall was and would everyone just do as they're told! She had to be practically wrestled to the ground so everyone could make a dash for it. I've heard of living theatre, but really...
One day in our kitchen, gazing out the window as the sun set low on a hazy November afternoon, this song playing on the radio, Twin Peaks all the rage, I remarked to her that I just knew she was going to be a huge, huge star.
Monday, October 10, 2011
My dad has never been into music. While he can do a good Adam Faith impression, has a soft spot for Midnight In Moscow and skiffle, and the Fifties certainly didn't pass him by, musically the Sixties were a total blank.
When I think of the waste! I could have been the son of Roger Daltrey or Keith Richards, but he wasn't interested. He was working in Fleet Street at that time, and while the Sixties were busy swinging all around him, Dad wasn't swayed by hippie chicks into growing his hair and wearing powder blue hipsters. No Peter Sellers in I Love You Alice B Toklas here. He kept his Don Draper look well into the Seventies. How often do I wake up and hope against hope that when I pull back the curtain it's 1966 or 1969? Just about every day. He was there. And he missed it.
Mum was the big music fan, but there were no singles in our house, just albums, and the ones we did have from the Sixties included Manotvani, The Sound Of Music and Motown Chartbusters.
Okay, the latter is great, but it wasn't until the Seventies that album-buying really took off in our house. As the decade progressed we were drowning in a sea of Carpenters albums, bits of Elton, Creedence, Dionne Warwick, Seventies Sinatra, Catherine Howe, Demis Roussos, Neil Diamond, Carole King, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye (Grapevine is mum's favourite song of all time), the odd compilation like K-Tel's Feelings (first sighting of Kiki Dee's Amoureuse) Don't Walk! Boogie! and Midnight Hustle, and of course no home was complete without a Top Of The Pops comp or the Hot Hits series, the ones with women in bit of sporting gear and little else.
I became made on music at the tail end of '76 and drank it all in. Dad was indulgent and in '77 my pocket money rose from 50p to 60p as that was the price of a single, so I could buy one a week. The first one I bought: We're All Alone by Rita Coolidge. Dad would patiently wait outside the record shop while I bought Baker Street or Belfast or Hotel California, but he never really commented. He wasn't a fan.
One day he casually remarked that he'd heard Magic by Olivia Newton-John on the radio and thought it was, and I quote, 'fabulous'. But that's kind of where it ended. In Bahrain in the Eighties, were the only radion station was a music station and you couldn't help but get songs stuck in your brain, pluse the hundreds of dirt cheap pirate cassette shops that were everywhere meant we soon had a house full of Barry Manilow, Lionel Richie, Eighties Dionne, the Bee Gees and other parent-friendly combos of the era. If you were lucky, you could squeeze the Marine Girls on during a dinner party and no one would notice.
But was it the song or ONJ dad found fabulous? Hmmm.... Hands off dad, she was my pin-up first.
Friday, October 7, 2011
Wasn't it about this time in 1987 that we had the 'big wind'?
I don't remember it being particularly windy that day, nor do I remember seeing the weather forecast in which Michael Fish referred to 'a woman in Wales' and her prediction that a hurricane was coming. Who was that woman? Does anyone know?
What I do recall, however, is being woken up in the middle of the night because I thought someone was throwing something at my window, and it just being the wind beating against it. I thought nothing of it.
When I got up in the morning and put TV-AM on, Britain had been decimated by a hurricane, Anne Diamond gravely intoned. Well, a few trees were down. When I went out to my car a couple of roof tiles were embedded in the bonnet. Perhaps it was worse than I thought. Amazingly enough, I didn't use it as an excuse not to go to work, and at this time and in that job I would have done anything to get out of going. I even had two weeks off with 'tonsisilitis' just prior to this, and got my flatmate to call in for me, as of course I couldn't speak. They were not amused. I spent the week watching daytime TV and going on day trips into central London with friends. I also bought this record.
As I drove from Twickenham to Paddington I was amazed at the damage done. There was little traffic but lots of carnage. Branches and trees everywhere, things displaced out of context. The roof of the post office next to the Shepherd's Bush (Wogan) Theatre was in the road. The office was stills standing and it was just me and the PA. I cold called small business in Shropshire while she typed up my letters. God it was grim. And it was still rather windy outside.
That lunchtime I went up to Selfridges to buy a birthday present for someone and saw Melvin Hayes in the book dept. He'd braved the adverse conditions to do a bit of light shopping too. Good for him.
I rememeber Jacqueline Du Pre died that day. I'd never heard of her.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Laundrettes, launder-ettes, launderamas, washeterias: no matter what you call them they're depressing aren't they? They're always the same. Banks of yellow machines, the miniature soap dispenser, binbags of abandoned clothes, the warm/cold feeling you get when you walk through the door, the crazy paving/faux marble flooring, magazine racks full of crumpled back issues of Chat, the grizzled old hen behind the counter and if you're really lucky the smell of dry cleaning fluid. Ghastly, aren't they?
When I moved out of the cosy hall of residence and into a cold house with three other friends with no mod cons whatsoever - in fact, we were lucky there was a bathroom - I often found myself sitting in a thick coat in the launderette watching my smalls go round and round and wondering if there was anything more dispiriting than this.
When I was at boarding school we had to do our own laundry, but it just involved shoving it in then go off and do something else, knowing you were only inches away. I took no care over it. My roommate and I would have everything mixed together. All whites were a lovely shade of used chewing gum. Not that there were too many whites. This was the Eighties after all.
The laundry room was a treasure trove of sorts. If you were lucky you could lay claim to items of clothing that had been hanging around just that bit too long then swear blind they were your own. I got a lovely pair of stonewashed jeans off Jason Charnell, and the denim jacket with the cream cord collar that hung there most of the summer was a gift from God. David Hunter's discarded (clean!) underpants came in useful once too. How did I know they were his? It's boarding school Everything's got name tags.
Doing laundry as a student was a different kettle of fish though. It meant you had to physcially be there. It was too far to drop off and go home again, so it required one to sit there for what seemed like hours on end. I think of chilly March skies and hearing this song on my Walkman, which is appropriate because I always think of it as a cold weather song. That and Matt Bianco's More Than I Can Bear both put me in mind of the spin cycle.
It was grim but it had to be done once in while. The people were scary, all sitting there on a Saturday afternoon buried in Titbits and looking like they might slit your throat as soon as glance at you. I think I went once a month.
Of course, by the end of the year I'd discovered the service wash and though a tiny bit more expensive, fluff and fold was the way forward. Life was never the same again.
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Learning to drive was really hard.
It didn't help that I had a driving instructor who did not put me at my ease. He lived next-door-but-one to my grandma. He was all above board, ran his own driving 'school', had the car with the dual controls, etc, but he wasn't very patient. If you recall your first time behind the wheel you'll remember that mix of panic, cluelessness and fear. While millions of people drive around perfectly fine in these metal boxes, it was at first glance more complicated than it looked.
So it wasn't the best start to grab the wheel from me as the car bunny-hopped along a quiet stretch of cul-de-sac, screech the car to a halt and get out of the car and take off your jacket. I knew instantly that this was going to be difficult, and it was unlikely I'd be betting anywhere near a test centre anytime soon. It was a struggle. I hated it. He thought I wasn't trying hard enough and would complain to my grandma on a daily basis. She took no notice.
But we had a limited window in which I had to get profficient, so each day at the beginning of the summer of '83 he'd arrive at my house in the nasty little metallic grey Honda, flirt with my mother, talk about her non-stop as I gradually got to grips with the rudiments of the road.
But my God it took its time. How my left leg ached from having it pushed to the floor on the clutch. Why did I keep cutting corners? Would I ever be able to parallell park and would I ever remember to check the mirrors a million times before any kind of manoeuvre? And will he ever stop calling the accelerator pedal the 'gas'?
Amazingly, we found ourselves at the test centre, and after lots and lots of practice at a disused aerodrome (isn't it always?), and around the streets of the town, I was ready. Kind of. I could even do the emergency stop thing.
Sadly, the examiner was a meanie in a mac who didn't crack a smile as I mounted the pavement while taking a right turn and narrowly missing being crushed between a coach and a bus on the high street. Oh well. There was always next time.
The examiner on attempt two was the model of cheeriness and I was immediately at ease. It helped. So that July I was a fully qualified driver. Mum was so thrilled she practically wrestled me to the ground in her glee. It was a big day, I know that now.
So I've been a driver for almost 30 years. I love it now. I enjoy it a lot. There's nothing I like more than zipping down the motorway singing along to something old, like this tune, all over the radio at this time in '83, and is still as good for shouting out the window as it was back then. But it took a while. I couldn't have the radio on if I was parking (too distracting) and I couldn't possibly smoke at the wheel either. Two hands at all times. I'm over all that now though, and you'll be thrilled know I'm fearless. If you can drive in Bahrain you can drive anywhere. In fact, if you can drive in London you can drive anywhere.
It has been a bumpy history though. The following year I wrote off a car on a test drive (that's another story), and I still only drive automatic - so handy in town! And while I am seasoned now it doesn't make my passengers any less white-knuckled.
Friday, September 30, 2011
Though my grandma was orginally from Wigan, she'd lived down south for decades. We had plenty of family up north but we rarely saw them unless they visited us. We had a lovely time when Auntie Joan - my grandma's younger sister and the youngest of the 13 silblings - and Uncle Derek came to stay while mum and dad were in America in 1976, touring the pubs of the New Forest each evening where it was crisps and Coke at every stop.
But even in 1979 I'd never been further north than Anglesea, and that didn't count as it meant driving through Wales to get there. The real north of course, is the north of England. So we were thrilled when grandma suggested a trip to see the Blackpool illumnations at half-term, something she'd been promising for years.
We'd get an overnight coach that arrived early doors on a Saturday, stay all day with Joan and Derek at their static caravan in the shadow of premium bond picker ERNIE, go to the Pleasure Beach, see the lights then head back home.
But my overriding memory of the whole affair was the coach trip up there. No sooner had we pulled out of Southampton than we'd stop at a pub. Then everyone needed the lavatory so we'd stop again. Then another pub., another piss, and so on until there were rivers of vomit streaming down the middle of the coach. No one on that chara was under 50 and all that booze, no food and the rumble of the old-fashioned Royal Blue bumping it's way northwards was clearly all too much. It smelled like chucking out time in Stevenage town centre.
There was no escape. Like in the scene from Midnight Cowboy, when Joe Buck is on the Greyhound to New York, his head leaning against the chilly window, falling in and out of a fitful sleep looking cold, uncomfortable and wishing he was elsewhere, haunted by voices and occasionally opening an eye to see billboards and truck stops whizzing by, that was our journey. It ended with us bleary-eyed, nauseous and dreading the coach ride home.
But in the meantime, we had things to do. There to meet us on a clear but cool day were Joan, Derek and their son, also called Derek. He must have been about five or six years older than me. He had a late-Seventies bouffant, a green checked shirt tucked into his drainpipe jeans and was super fun. He could have been in the Dooleys, whose The Chosen Few was shooting up the charts at the time.
He rode with us on all the Pleasure Beach rides time would allow, while this song belted out, fairgrround style and Joan and Derek chainsmoked on the sidelines. We had lunch at the static caravan, with a quick pop-in to the on-site social club where it was talent day, and two young twin boys got up and sang. My brother is convince we were seeing the birth of Bros, but I'm not so sure.
Then, as darkness fell, we were off to see the illuminations. I don't remember a single thing about them, I have to say, and perhaps by this time I'd dropped off, not waking up till the next morning.
I've not seen any of those relatives since. Joan and Derek are long gone, with young Derek living in Essex. I liked that side of the family. A warm welcome, nothing too much trouble but too far away in those days to make a lasting connection. Now, going up north is as easy as pie and I'm up there all the time. But I have no idea if any of the other relatives are around or even how I'd get in touch with them. Shame. I love the north.
Anyway, this song always reminds of darkness. In a nice way.
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Just quickly, whenever I hear this it reminds me of sitting downstairs waiting for mum to get ready to take me to the dentist. It was on the radio and I and millions of other had fallen for its charms. It was that strange hour when you were home in the morning and school had already started. It felt guilty and wonderful at the same time. Well it would have done had I not been going where I was going. Outside, it was absolutely pissing down.
I hated the dentist then - fine about it now - and dreaded going to the surgery. But lo, we had lots ot talk about on the way home as the dentist had had his ear pierced. Clearly having a mid-life crisis - he must have been at least 45 - this revelation was the hot topic all the way to school.
Mind you, the day dad arrived back from town in head-to-toe denim was food for thought indeed. And let's not even mention the shark's tooth necklace...
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
So Did you miss me?
I've been doing a two-centre holiday in Las Vegas (enormous though expensive fun, but hey, that's what you're there for) and Orlando. The latter destination was due to Mrs P's work so while Vegas was a 99% indoor holiday where time had no meaning. I tagged along and sat by the pool between tropical thundersorms for a 99% outdoor stint while she slaved.
Orlando really is ghastly isn't it? I've been before and I really don't remember it being as chavvy. It's got to be the holiday destination for the white trash of the world, that and families with kids who are dying to go to the Magic Kingdom.
Though I am one of those kids, there's no way I was going alone, but I did manage to persuade Mrs P to come to Universal's Islands Of Adventure so we could visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. With it's reproduction of Hogwarts and lifesize snow-capped Diagon Alley shopping mall it was quite a sight to behold. Small, very, very crowded and worse for it being 100 degrees in the shade, but we did the rides and they were impressive, on a broomstick through the Quidditch match and every other part of Harry Potter's universe. This being a US theme park no retail opportunity is left unturned, and I fell for the Bertie Bott's Every Flavour jellybeans and I bought a Griffindor jumper which will get lots of use when the weather turns.
Mrs P takes some persuading when it comes to theme parks, but by the end she was the one hotfooting it to the Jurassic Park section and racing to get to the Lost City before it shut. So much so we had to go back the next day and do the other half of the park.
When I first visited the US in 1982 we went theme park mad. In fact a vist to LA was done with the complete intention of taking in as many as we could. So we did Disneyland (over two days), Knot's Berry Farm, the fledgling Universal Studios with its Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and Psycho II sets, Star Wars bridge and amazing at the time Jaws ride. It was also the home of the Munsters Mockingbird Lane (seen recently as Desperate Housewives' Wisteria Lane). We came away with Fast Times At Ridgemount High T-shirts (it was being filmed at the time) and guest of hte day was Kim Fields who played Tootie in The Facts Of Life. I loved every minute of every bit of it, and I bought this record which was all over MTV, which I also couldn't get enough of. Oh, those salad days.
I didn't hear any current music this time, but it's all Eighties all the time. Things were better then, weren't they?
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Uni beckoned and I had a place in a hall. I was dreading it of course, but unlike some people it wasn't as if I hadn't been away from home before. So it wasn't that part of it. In fact, I enjoyed being away from my parents. Which teenager wouldn't? I didn't relish the prospect of meeting a whole load of new people.
Unusually, perhaps even then and especially today, we had to share rooms. It was no mod cons. Bathroom down the hall, communal showers even, a small kitchenette that was constantly setting off fire alarms when toast was neglected, and for me, three to a room.
One of the lads was on my course, the other a rather fey art student who I never really got along with. The one on my course had come down from Yorkshire and being let loose was all new. He started off quietly enough, but by week four he was blind drunk, mistaking the foot of my bed for the lavatory and collapsing in the refectory, giddy with a mixture of vodka and cough medicine. By the end of term he was out of control and having a breakdown, simply not able to self-regulate without mum or dad to do it for him.
But it was fine for me. I was used to this shared living lark. I was the only one to arrive with my own mug. I kept my possessions to a minimum and all that mattered to me was my large double cassette deck. Records had to be taped when I got the chance, but mainly the radio was tuned to Laser 558, the new Radio Luxembourg that while fuzzy, didn't fade in and out, had hardly any chat and played Together In Electric Dreams on a loop.
The hall was a large old Georgian manor house on the edge of town, nowhere near campus but a shortish bus ride away. That autumn was chilly, but the breakfasts were large. A huge choice of everything a growing boy needed, though I avoided the kippers. Those that didn't paid a high price. The food was traditional British fare, mornings and evenings, excellent for lining stomachs. And they did our washing.
I was meeting lots of new people and actually it was fun. They were from all over, whereas I was from but 20 miles yonder. I thought this made me less exciting.
"Where are you from?', asked Rob from Manchester.
"York,' I lied.
"I thought I detected an accent," he replied, inexplicably. Anyone who knows me knows I'm as southern as they come.
But they soon got the measure of me. Stupidly, I moved out with three other people from the hall into a cold house with a black and white telly, bright green walls, where we had to do all our own cooking and washing. No wonder Andrew Collins stayed his entire time in halls. There's something to be said for it. Still, you've got to make your way in the world, and I wouldn't have had nearly as many Cup-a-soups if I'd stayed put.
So when mum dropped me off on that first day this was on the radio. Not a big hit, but a song that for me is the sound of summer melting into autumn. Much like now.
Monday, September 5, 2011
On this day, 24 years ago, I pitched up for my new job.
I was dreading it, naturally, but what choice did I have? My dad had not only made me leave my ridiculous commission-only job but also set me up with a new one. It was kind of him, but I didn't want it, had no interest in it, but while I had no clue what I wanted to do yet I had to do something to bring some money in.
Money. I had none. I was skint, overdrawn, not allowed a cheque card or even a cashpoint card and spent lunchtimes queueing in the bank for them to charge me a fiver to phone my branch and authorise a cash withdrawal, usually of about £30 a week, minus the fiver. For a phonecall! That still makes my blood boil. No wonder I had no money.
So there was money coming in but this job was not going to make me rich. My starting salary was £4000. A year. That worked out roughly about £400 a month, before tax. Never mind. In my new sales job I could make commission and that would bump it up. After all, who wouldn't want to buy ad space in a trade magazine about agriculture in the Middle East? That's right, no one. In four months I sold one classified ad to a shed manufacturer near Birmingham. I don't even think he ever paid.
It was a miserable existence. Me and two blokes, both about 10 years older than me and both suspicious I was a mole for my dad sat in a one-room office. They were as northern as I was southern, hated my smoking and initially were really off with me. I'd met one of them before when he'd called to come ask me to explain mortgages to him. i knew nothing and bluffed it, but I clearly hadn't fooled him. When I arrived to start work with him on September 5th, 1987, he said he hadn't realised I was starting that day.
His main reason for being off with me was that he and the other guy were convinced I was a mole. My dad was the boss, you see. I wasn't, and had no interest in being one, but I could see their point. They had a nice life in the London office, while their boss who they couldn't stand (and neither could I), and their boss's boss (my dad) were all far away in Bahrain. So was I planted to keep and eye and report back? I wasn't, and neither was it ever asked of me.
So there I was, sitting at a bare desk with just a phone. No computers of course, and nowhere to hide. They'd be away a lot so it was just me and the office secretary making small talk while she typed my letters. I had to cold call business that might be potential sales. I'm phobic about phones at the best of times - thank God email was invented - so I hated this. I had a script, but I was tongue-tied, I stumbled, I quite clearly didn't believe in what I was doing and had no interest in it. I was bored to tears.
I'd spend lunchtimes wandering Queensway (pre-Whiteleys), browsing in what shops there were. In the evenings I'd go back to the flat I shared with a uni friend in Twickenham and watch the telly. At least on Friday, when LWT took over from Thames we got things like The Two Of Us and The Six O'Clock Show. When I think of those shows I feel an autumnal, nostalgic pang. It was a mistake to be stuck out in Twickers, but we had no money to do much else than sit in at our house or other friend's houses or have friends over. Was this going to be my life?
So the leaves fell, the evenings drew in. I'd drive home dreading the same few songs that were played to death on Capital Radio's drivetime show with David 'Kid' Jensen: Love In The First Degree by Bananarama, Faith by George Michael, Dinner With Gershwin by Donna Summer and this one. It had a dark feeling, much like me. To think, a year ago I was back at uni for the final year, carefree and with no thought of the future. If only I'd known it would be like this...