Friday, September 30, 2011

1979: Lying awake intent on tuning in on you

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

1980: And now we've made a rainbow

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

1982: Had to get away

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

1984: Don't it make you smile

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

1987: We were watching TV

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...

Friday, September 2, 2011

1984: They put me in a special hospital

This song was the bane of my life for at least 10 years. It drove me mad. When it was a hit I heard it about a hundred times a day. Even teachers did it.

Occasionally I hear it even now. People still think it's hilarious to say this to me in that barking way that Alexei Sayle employs in the song.

If you meet me, never do this.