Tuesday, December 18, 2012

1973: All that we've been through

From as far back as I can remember until 1981, this is how it went at Christmas:

Either one or both grannies over on Christmas Eve.

Pick Auntie Maggie up in the morning.

Mum's sister, her husband, their kids (my cousins) to us for lunch.

They go home about 3pm.

All over to theirs for the evening.

All over to theirs the following day for their traditional Boxing day drinks party.

On paper, that sounds dull as ditchwater, doesn't it? But I loved it. I still love the memory of it. We're all scattered to the four winds now, if we're still with us, and those memories get more treasured as the years go by.

So let's take 1973.

Christmas Eve was cosy. By day it's exciting festive morning kids' TV, a light lunch, an afternoon of fetching grandma while DLT plays Marshmallow World. At home, it's low lights, gran having had her hair done, baked ham, tree lights sparkling, that present pile growing, something Christmassy on the telly.

Picking up Auntie Maggie (see 1974:  Your arms around me are tender and warm) involved a trip to the neighbouring bigger town to her warden-assisted flatlet which was plonked in the middle of a quiet yet monstrously ugly council estate, where every other bedroom window had a tartan scarf hanging across it with Woody, Les or Eric emblazoned on it. And it was always bright yet cold.

Christmas day proper started with Dad having to be restrained from waking everyone up. Clearly even more excited than we were, he was like a puppy. We'd be up about 6.30, always do openings in my room and as soon as the paper was off it would be spirited into a binbag immediately. There was no question of luxuriating in festive garbage for a while, just to enjoy the moment. And this was at Dad's behest too.

It would be bacon sandwiches for breakfast, then Leslie Crowther going round the children's ward in the living room (I couldn't really watch), something festive on Radio 2 in the kitchen, perhaps Two-Way Family Favourites, as lunch was prepared. Mum was (still is) a wonderful cook, as was her mother, and the two of them would have it all sorted and on the table by one o'clock.

This timing was always an issue for some of us, because it clashed with Top Of The Pops. This was especially an annoyance for my cousins, aged 13 and 16 in 1973, though the older one would never admit to liking anything so uncool. He liked Yes and Jethro Tull, had long hair, acne and sulked because he was made to wear a suit. We watched over our shoulders. Who could forget Gary Glitter being wheeled in in a giant silver heart?

We always had to be supersmart on Christmas Day. Perhaps, now like dressing up to go to the pub, it's a tradition that's died out.

The other side of the family usually arrived about 11, co-inciding with whoever was bringing 'The Maggie', as gran non-affectionately called her. Then it was sherries all round, Cheeslets, Twiglets, but no filling up before lunchtime.

There was a lot of a laughter, often at Auntie Maggie's expense, mainly because she could be an utter misery, then lots of falling asleep with paper hats on in front of the Bond film.

That quiet time while adults slept and dusk crept in, was the time to be upstairs reviewing that year's gifts. I remember 1973 being a bumper year: Mousetrap, a brilliant magic set and Haunted House, as well as one of those Top Of The Pops LPs.

I shan't go on. You get the picture.

I'm signing off for Christmas now, so may yours be as wonderful as mine were, and hopefully will be again. Thanks for your loyal support, it's much appreciated, wherever you are and - in some cases - whoever you are.

See you on the other side.

Friday, December 14, 2012

1988: Peace of mind

I loved working in a shop. Of all the jobs I've had, I think it's right up there with the best of them.

Take the bookshop job: no real responsibility, on your feet all day, surrounded by books, everyone the same age and just using it as as stopgap until something else comes along to really start your career, a great social life, regular money (not a lot of it) and finally feeling you were living the life you imagined yourself living in London, albeit without the piles of cash and high-flying career in the City and amazing loft apartment. Mainly, it was about having fun.

And nothing can make you feel more Christmassy than working in a busy shop, a destination for gift-buyers in the heart of the West End. When I think back I recall a warm glow emanating from the shop, busy as Hell, bustling shoppers; it's Christmas time in the city. Is that Jim Reeves' Silver Bells I hear? Yes, but we're also hearing this song, and we're at the very height of Neighbours mania. Not that I ever saw it these days, though I did always be sure to catch on my day off, and I do remember seeing the wedding. Songs kind of crept up on me in those days.

So I didn't mind one bit having to work on Christmas Eve. I can't remember what day it was but I think it may have been a Saturday. I had to take my chances with trains from Waterloo, but we could squeeze in a Christmas drink beforehand. I don't think I arrived before midnight. But it was worth it.

That would be my one and only store-bought Christmas. The following year I was in a proper job. The stopgap thing was indeed just that.

Enjoy your carefree golden days while you can. You'll regret it if you don't.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

1987: Counting down to judgement day

It's coming up to Christmas and it's clear this job can't go on much longer.

I'd finally settled into the routine of working, though it had been a long and difficult adjustment. Two bouts of extended and largely fictional tonisilitis had satisfied my craving for time off, sitting at home watching 15-to-1 as dusk fell, followed by Grange Hill and Thames Report but the job really wasn't going anywhere and therefore neither was I.

I loathed it. I was bored to sobs. I had a desk and a phone. No surfing the internet and disguising it as work in those days. I had to get on the phone and cold call anyone vaguely agricultural and try and hard sell them advertsing space in a Middle East-aimed agribusiness magazine. Needless to say I was hopeless at it. My highlight of the week was going round to the local newsagent and buying Farmers' Weekly. It didn't occur to me why it should be on sale in a small corner shop in Bayswater, but at least it was something to do.

There were only three of us in the office (see previous entry 1987: We were watching TV), but at least we were all friendly at last, despite my dad being our immediate boss, but far away in Bahrain. They'd stopped eyeing me suspiciously and by this time the banter flowed. However there were always those back-of-the-mind concerns that I hadn't sold a thing.

The big boss came over the previous month and took us all out individually. I had to go round and meet him in White's Hotel in Lancaster Gate, his hotel of choice. He was a rich Arab but he wasn't in the least bit flashy. I recall we discussed his travels. His favourite place was New Zealand.

I was due to fly out to Bahrain for Christmas anyway, and the office was going to close on December 17th. This did not go down well with my workmates, though why anyone should complain about an office closing down for the whole of the Christmas period is anyone's guess.

People were uneasy though. We clearly weren't doing the numbers. We had a jolly Christmas lunch in Smollensky's Balloon then we said our goodbyes. Everyone wondered if we'd be here this time next year.

A couple of days later Satellite by The Hooters was playing as the taxi pulled into Heathrow in the early evening, lights twinkling all around. It's a song that will forever remind me of Christmas, and also the fact that when I arrived in Bahrain dad would break the news that the London office was to shut.

I'd never felt such unbridled joy. But there were still a few months of misery to get through first.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

1981: I guess it's just what I must do

I was very pleased with my new pixie boots. Bear with me.

They'd been all the rage in the autumn of '81, a proper New Romantic look. I was into all this but while I liked the tunes I was wary of the clothes.

Just before Christmas mum came home and could see new clothes were long overdue.  So she took me shopping. Well, she didn't as such. She dumped me at the entrance to Top Man and for the first time ever I was allowed to go in and choose my own clothes. A miracle had occurred.

Previously, if I'd wanted or needed clothes she'd always come too. They were heavily vetted and obviously because I had no money of my own except for my paper round small change I was reliant on her and, despite my protestations, she always had the last word.

But I'd been away from the family for a whole term, was now over 16 and while I still didn't have any money of own, my interest in fashion had been properly sparked. Though I had flirted with the whole Mod revival thing I was never really full-fledged, much as I'd wanted to be. I had the odd thing, but never went the whole hog. Really, unless one had the freedom to choose, the money available, or rich parents willing to lavish their young with every trendy garment their heart desired, it simply wasn't an option.

But that had all changed. So I picked out a pile of clothes and then mum arrived to pay for them. A Haircut 100-inspired ski jumper, some burgundy trousers, a multi-coloured cardigan that Mike Smith would have baulked at were among the treasures I recall. The embarrassment factor was minimal, and I had a whole new wardrobe. Now I just needed the shoes.

Those Duran Duran-style pixie boots were a brave step for a teenage boy. I've seen a picture of me wearing them and I looked like Bernie Nolan as a gay Peter Pan. Not a good look, but at the time I thought it was ace.

So it was with some unsurprising curiosity that Uncle Bob, who we called in to see on the way home at his new house, eyed them.

A confirmed bachelor, and by that time over 80, he lived a life of genteel luxury, surrounded by Chinese rugs, grand pianos, works of art and fresh flowers, with diminutive and incredibly plain housekeeper Barbara hovering in the kitchen on hand with the coffee.

My granny, Uncle Bob's sister, didn't like Barbara. She didn't like it that when she stayed with them Barbara was allowed to sit and watch television of an evening rather than be banished to her box room with a Jean Plaidy. After Uncle Bob died, she didn't acknowledge her letters. She retired to a flatlet in on the edge of the New Forest. I don't know what became of her, but I always imagined she lived a life of utter isolation and crippling loneliness. I think my granny's main problem was that a) she had a moustache; and b) she was probably a lesbian, something granny was in a whirl with.

So we never did know what she made of that telltale picture of Uncle Bob's late 'friend' Steve which hung to the side of his bed.

'Is that Uncle Bob's boyfriend?' my brother asked loudly, as he was showing us around this new house. Pinched by dad he shut up as we nervously shuffled out to see the smoked mirror bathroom tiles and new bidet.

Uncle Bob was clearly gay, though this was never confirmed, and though mum and dad alluded to it was rarely spoken about. My granny was devoted to him but she never, ever mentioned anything remotely approaching the thorny subject of his sexuality. She would go for fun weekends with him and Steve when he lived in Brighton in the Forties and Fifties at which Steve would drag up and do a few numbers. They all went for family holidays when my dad was a lad and had a high old time. But even then I don't think the conversation got around to anything that might be considered a bit unsuitable in polite company.

She might have known they were perhaps more than friends, but she honestly had no idea about what homosexuality actually entailed until my other granny explained it to her, which only arose because they watched The Naked Civil Servant while babysitting us one evening and she wanted to know why John Hurt was asked to bend over by the sergeant major. 

He was a kind sort, jolly, quite amusing, a huge Call My Bluff fan and very fond of my dad and vice versa, and when he died in 1989 he left my brother and I a little bit of money which we were able to buy our flat with. And we had the pick of his wonderful, tasteful home furnishings. 

The pixie boots were swiftly ditched after Christmas, but the same can't be said of Uncle Bob's homewares. His Swedish fondue set, though practically a collector's item, is still in use today, and though the Chinese rug did have an unfortunate moth infestation and smelt of his dog Prince (sidebar: he always had a dog, either a black or a golden labrador. The golden ones were always called Prince, the black ones always called after the dog in The Dambusters. Thankfully no black dogs were seen in my lifetime), it's beautiful quality.

We thank him almost daily for the useful things we got - everything from a long-handled brass boothorn to a miniature viking cruet set. I tell you, he had it all. And a lot of it.

Sometimes when I glance at something I wonder what the story is behind it. Where did it come from? A lot of stuff was from Sweden as he worked for years for a Swedish company in the City. But what of his personal life? What would his life have been like in the Twenties, in the war or when he was in business in the Fifties? Was it like The Hour? I doubt his Sixties swung. He would have been 60 in 1960, I think Steve was dead and he was living in Worthing with housekeeper number one Miss Browning, who I met just once. She was the jolliest of jolly hockey sticks and was approved of by my granny as 'she knew her place'. And may not have been a lesbian.

I guess we'll never know how it was for him. 

So whenever I hear Don't You Want Me, the number one of the time, I remember that day for all these reasons. I bought Dare in town that day too. Dare: quite appropriate really.

Monday, December 3, 2012

1991: A miracle has happend tonight*

Once upon a time, the office Christmas party was the highlight of my working year. Now it's way down the list as probably the lowest of lowlights, somewhere after announcing news of redundancies or going to focus groups.

But back in 1993, before my work took a far more exciting and glamourous turn, where functions and dos are so prolific as to be turned down more often than accepted, the work Xmas party was the zenith of fun.

They were usually well done. This particular year we found ourselves in a bar with a view of the ice rink in the (then) swanky Bishopsgate development near Liverpool Street. There would be food and a raffle and of course dancing, and back then once i got on the dancefloor I didn't get off. I wasn't one of those swinging their sweaty shirt around their head come 9.45, or dirty dancing with Jean from accounts, but I did go for it.

This year though, the festivities would be rudely interrupted by something I hadn't banked on at all, the result of which, though not the worst thing in the world, still makes me cringe even now.

Things had started off well. We all got drunk and took to the floor as the first song of the evening, Michael Jackson's Black Or White, took hold. Suddenly this rather difficult girl from marketing who had - at least, as rumour had it - escaped an arranged marriage, dragged me up to the DJ booth and before I knew it we were on the microphone singing Summer Nights together over the actual record, like a mixed race Arthur Mullard and Hilda Baker.

Of course, this was pre-karaoke, so there were no words. It was all from memory, and I didn't really know the words. But as I looked out onto the dancefloor and the whole company was formation dancing and doing the backing vocals to this universally loved and ingrained hit from their youth, and I realised it didn't really matter. In fact, I thought it was rather fun.

So how do you follow that? By staying on the microphone solo, and asking to do It's Not Unusual. With the Tom Jones moves. 

I tanked almost immediately. I only knew the first few lines and trying to sing over a record on a microphone and fluffing my words saw the room turn their back on me and more or less exit the dancefloor. Someone put another record on, quick! The magic had died.

At least I won a beauty voucher in the raffle. And the next day everyone still liked me.

Note to self: Never, ever do that again. Until karaoke is properly invented of course.

*I finally realised I was a twat

Thursday, November 29, 2012

1983: A dream to cling to

The end of term Christmas party was hotly anticipated. For many reasons.

The year before was my first one, and this one would be my last, however after last year I was kind of dreading it. Teachers did skits - is there anything worse? - but these weren't just any old skits, they were personal, about pupils and often rather close to the bone. Rumour had it, I was to be mentioned. In one way, good: you'd arrived. In another way, bad: it would haunt you for the rest of your school career.

Being an insecure teenager with plenty of hang-ups, I was beside myself. I had been working on my confidence and I was getting to a place where I was beginning to feel much more comfortable with myself, blah, blah, blah and this would surely undo it all.

I bugged my room mate about it so much he just told me not to bother going as then I wouldn't know, would I? But there was also the case of L, someone I'd been semi-pursuing for the latter half of the term, mainly because she was about the only one available, despite the fact that she wasn't. She was one of those who went home every weekend to see her boyfriend who was older and had a car. She clearly wasn't really that into him and the nearer we got to the Christmas party the closer we got. Could this be the moment at last?

The day dawned. Excitement was in the air. Everyone went back to their rooms to change. The smell of Pagan Man, Kouros and Old Spice was thick in the air. I wore my new dark green OMD shirt with a skinny black tie tucked in and black trousers. I thought I looked great, but in retrospect I was perhaps the Craig Logan figure from a Duran Duran tribute band. At least I was thin, but so thin, with a size 28 inch waist, that I'd lie in bed willing myself to put on weight. Let me just say this: be careful what you wish for. By 1999 I was 17st.

So there was L, on the fringes of the dancefloor. But I was still too nervous to think about anything other than what would the teachers say about me. Time was running out. They were taking the stage.

I needn't have worried. In fact, I don't really recall much about it only that I was rather relieved and it could have been much, much worse. Something about an outbreak of hugging. I was just glad I wasn't half-French danger magnet Anne-Sophie, otherwise known as Sam, and that plump little American bitch Katie, both of whom were singled out as school sluts and who both fled in tears. You make your bed...

So that dispensed with, I whisked L onto the floor. I remember All Night Long, Union Of The Snake, Hold Me Now, Dear Prudence and Love Of The Common People, to which we... almost kissed. She broke away. It wasn't right. She couldn't do it to that bloody boyfriend.

Oh well. Another missed opportunity. But not to worry. There were more exciting fish just around the corner.

(Love Of The Common People remains a favourite of mine, and always reminds me of that disco and L. It's also a fine example of a cover version which is better than the original. I love the backing singers' actions and it's got a very Christmassy feel to it, with those sleigh bells, etc. Cold and dark, but warm at the same time).

Thursday, November 15, 2012

1981: Splits a family in two

"Paris is my favourite city, second only to London,' I exclaimed grandly, parrotting a phrase I'd heard on a TV show or in a film and applying it to my own situation.

Yes, the sixth formers were off to Paris and we were really excited. But in a matter of a few weeks from us hearing about the trip and putting our names down to us actually going, me and the friend whose family I was lodging with for this one (eventually abortive) year had drifted totally apart.

So when the time came to atually go to Paris I'm not sure we even spoke to each other. We certainly didn't go round together. I can't put my finger on why we suddenly fell out. It's a bit like that, 'you don't really know people until you live with them' thing, and basically I think we thought we had nothing in common. Which wasn't strictly true. I think I was the odd one.

So off to Paris we went. Different ends of the coach, with different friends. It was a strange trip though. After a long seasicky ferry ride and a pelt though France in the dead of night, it seemed we were staying in a Clockwork Orange-themed Novotel on what seemed like the very fringes of Paris. Frankly it could have been anywhere, only people spoke French. We were bussed into the centre for the next two days and basically left to our own devices.

All I remember doing is palling up with some people I half-knew, buying fondants* ostensibly as a Christmas present for my brother and it being cold and dark. I certainly don't remember 'doing' the sites, and as I had little money there was no other shopping to be done. Plus, worrying about how trendy I wasn't looking was engulfing me, and all in the all the trip was a bit of a damp squib, though I'm sure we laughed a lot.

Back home it was a different matter and my time lodging was shortly to come to an end. I wasn't fitting in with the family, and they clearly were finding me a handful - perhaps because one day I put green colouring in my hair. I was just experimenting. I was driving to do it, get it out of my system. I've never done it since. But it didn't go down very well. And of course there was the smoking and an incident in the bathroom we shan't go into.

Mainly though, it was a case of money being too tight to mention. Though my parents paid for my keep, it was plain to see cash was in short supply. There was a big house to heat, six mouths to feed and one wage coming in. The weekly shop was exactly the same to the last Rich Tea each week, it was a cold and joyless household with a pompous Captain Mainwaring of a father and a clearly rather frustrated and depressed mother. They had sex once a week, on a Tuesday. I know because my bedroom backed on to theirs. (I don't know for sure but I believe they are no longer together and consequently careers were reignited and things got a lot better for both of them).

One day my mum called and read me out the letter she'd received saying they couldn't have me living with them anymore as money was too tight, and despite my parents' contribution it wasn't going to work.

I was relieved. But what was I going to do now?

I moved out a few weeks later and I never spoke to my friend again. But we'll always have Paris, and this song which always, always makes me thing of this strange trip.

*I ate most of those fondants in the run up to Christmas resulting in my brother getting a tie-bag with about four sweets in it.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

1982: Turns me sideways

Ever had one of those awful weekends away where things have actually turned into a bit of a nightmare and you worry that if things continue to spiral out of control you may as well be living in a two-part ITV drama starring Rupert Penry-Jones, Hermione Norris and Douglas Hodge as teenagers who share some awful secret that surfaces again 30 years later and leads to all sorts of complications in their now perfect lives? 

Then you'll know what I'm talking about.

Seven of us went to the house of a schoolfriend for the weekend. Bear in mind we didn't know each other that well yet, all being new to the school, and in fact a couple of them I didn't know at all, but always felt slightly unnerved by them. The bottom line is, we shouldn't have gone. I did think twice about it, but went anyway. I knew it was a bad idea.

I'm being dramatic; it wasn't quite that bad, but I sometimes wonder if it could have been. I'm not going to go into details, mainly cos I can't be arsed, but let's just say no one died. Amazing but true.

Instead, let me list you a lot of snatched moments from that weekend and you can put the jigsaw puzzle together as you see fit. And perhaps write your own ITV1 drama. Imagine you're having a feverish dream, as that's how I remember it. And whenever I hear this dark and chilly song, I shudder somewhat.

Thank You For The Party/The Dukes
'What are you doing here?'
A spotty Austrian
My big fawn suitcase
'Let me out.'
Peep show
'Where is everyone?'
Waiting for the train
First time for everything
The Virgin Megastore
Hazel O'Connor's coat
'Can we borrow some money'
Oxford Street crowds
Broken windows
*disembodied laughter*
Locked in a room
Du Maurier
'Let's see if he's in. Please be in.'
Middle of bloody nowhere
Don't Worry, Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow) (actually this is nothing to do with it, I just like the title and had to write it down)
David Jameson
'Can you hear that? They're all at it.'
Shaun from Trinidad
'Can I help you?'
Malibu, Bacardi and lots of it
Misty taxi ride
'I shouldn't. But I want it back.'
Just What I Always Wanted/Mari Wilson
'What am I doing here, anyway?'
Kentucky Fried Chicken, to take away
Just me and you
Coffee table hell
I don't like you very much either
Kate Harris
So Sixties
Glad it's all over

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

1980: He finds it hard existing

It had been a tough couple of years, but at last there seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel.

Having been made redundant in early '79, Dad - in a John's with me, Ian's with me, and we've got the backing sort of way, only solo - had decided to go it alone. He doesn't even like it to be mentioned now, but he did his best. However, it wasn't easy, it was a lot of work for one man and despite us all leafleting the whole town and surrounding towns, work wasn't exactly flooding in. And when it did come everything else had to be put on hold.

Our holiday to the Isle of Wight in the summer of '79 (see - oh, I've not written that yet, but it'll be Money by the Flying Lizards when it comes), saw just me, my brother and my mum renting Nob and Bob's cottage for a week and dad back on the mainland working.

So he'd given it his best shot. But now it was time to go back to doing what he did best. He landed a job on a magazine with Middle Eastern connections, but it wasn't to last and redundancy was beckoning again.

Meeting up with some friends one evening who worked in Abu Dhabi, and hearing about their very different and exotic lifestyle, the seed was sown. And soon enough a job was landed in Bahrain.

So by the autumn of 1980 it was all systems go. We moved house to a nasty turn of the Eighties new build that could be easily let out, with its bare wood window frames and split level garage. Dad would go out there in December, then mum would stay here with me while I finished off my last year at school and did my O levels and then would follow the next year.

The day he left I caught my granny lifting up her glasses and wiping tears from her eyes. Though it was but a seven-hour flight, at her age it was unlikely she'd see very much of him in the future. (Though they came home often she only ever visited once, at Christmas '82). And what about us? Though he travelled for work and was away quite a bit, it had only ever been for a few days at a time.

He came home for Christmas that year and then I didn't see him again for four months. When we met him at the airport I suddenly felt rather shy of him, and I could see by the look on his face he was horrified. In the interim he called a lot, but there was that awful delay thing, and we wrote him lots of letters. It was exciting and distressing at the same time. This was my first big life change.

Anyway, this song startled me. It was so avant garde, I'd never seen or heard anything like it before. I remember early into our tenure at this new house a piece on Newsnight about the Blitz kids (yes, you). The whole word was changing. Music was changing. My world was changing.

In retrospect, not before time. Well, give it a few years maybe.

Monday, November 5, 2012

1983: A new sensation

Home alone on a recent Saturday and wondering what on earth I should do with my day, inspiration struck when this song came on the ipod. I decided I'd take a trip back to revisit my old haunts.

Guildford is only 40 minutes from London but my school was a bit out of town. Would I be able to find my way there?

Armed with a home-burned CD of the hits of the autumns of '82 and '83, I fired up the Golf and set sail.

Getting to Guildford was a breeze. Remembering which way out of town to go quite another matter. When I finally did get on the right road I couldn't believe how deep into the countryside it was. Dark, narrow, wet lanes alive with 4x4s coming to kill you. One road that looked much like another, few road signs, fewer people - right in the middle of nowhere in fact. And it was getting dark.

On the way from Guildford to the school is a small town that was home to the nearest leisure centre. On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons a minibus would take the jocks to squash, and anyone who wanted to cadge a lift and just mooch round the shops was welcome aboard.

Eschewing anything sporty for the tiny record shop in the town, I often took advantage. It was there I bought Je T'Aime (Moi Non Plus) without ever having heard it (yes, Jane Birkin was nude on the sleeve), and a couple of those reissued Bowie singles, specifically Rock n Roll Suicide and Sorrow.

But everytime I hear this tinny urban homage to B-boys, breakers and boogaloos, I'm reminded of a chilly darkness falling on this small town - more of a big village really - and it takes me right back. That town is actually miles from Guildford. I'm sure it used to take about 20 minutes to get there. My memory has been playing tricks. Too busy chatting, probably.

I thought I was a bit cutting edge back then, but there I was ensconced in the heart of the country miles from civilisation, as far away from urban massives as it was possible to be. Frankly I was a bumpkin, a yokel, a country hoyden. It really is in the sticks and quite hard to get to. But it was fun to see it all again, even if I only hovered at the edge of the driveway. It's barely changed round there, in fact there's probably even less going on than ever.

A lovely place to be though, and my brain was abuzz with millions of memories at every turn. So peaceful. I'd kill to be there now.

Monday, October 29, 2012

1974: Your arms around me are tender and warm

Around this time in 1974 I was just about to go into hospital. It was for a minor but necessary operation, and at that tender age it meant time off school. That bit I was looking forward to, the hospital bit I wasn't.

The only time I'd ever set foot in a hospital up to that point was to visit Auntie Maggie two years earlier after she'd had a hip replacement which was quite revolutionary back then. Since she fell off a bus in 1971 things had never been right, so here was some pioneering surgery to get her back on track. Well it should have been. Except she spent the last 16 years of her life in sheltered housing sitting in an armchair with a Catherine Cookson and only a budgie called Sweetie Pie for company. It shat on my shoulder once when we popped in to see her on the way to a poetry competition. I came last. So much for that being good luck.

So I already knew I didn't like hospitals. Everything a shade of custard yellow and pale blue, with nasty cream coloured metal furniture that was all chipped and those red blankets. And the smells. Brrrr. The saving grace was this hospital was brand new. In fact, it was weeks away from being opened by Princess Anne.

It was dark when they took me in. We'd heard the Stylistics in the car. Mum's favourite. It made me not want to go in more than ever.

It seemed we waited ages in some sort of holding pen, with other kids all as nervous as me. I made a friend in an Asian boy called Joad or something similar, encourage by my granny who thought she was doing her bit for local race relations. But he was in a different ward to me. I don't remember them leaving me, but perhaps it was just as well. My granny, who lived nearby, stayed longer and said she wave from the ground. But with the light reflecting off the windows I couldn't see anything. I know she did it though.

I'm unsure as to how many days I was in there pre-op, but it seemed like a lot. Mum had a friend called Evelyn Glass who I'd never seen before but she seemd to work there and she'd come and see if I was okay. She wasn't a nurse or anything. After I was discharged mum told me one of the spookist stories I'd ever heard, concerning the husky-voiced Evelyn Glass.

One day, a man knocked on her door and told she should come quickly, as her husband had dropped dead on the cricket pitch. In a spin, she went to get her coat and when she got back to the door the man was nowhere to be seen. She hurried up to the cricket ptich where her husband was in bat - and then saw him collapse and die before her very eyes.

Creepy eh? The nurses were lovely though, and I had lots of visitors bringing comics and black grapes in a brown paper bag. I think Lucozade might have been involved too.

When it was time to get me ready for the op, I remember being given anasthetic and the large needle hurting a lot. But it didn't knock me out at once. Only when I was in the operating theatre anteroom on a trolley, chit-chatting about Princess Anne with an orderly, did I finally succumb.

The next day I awoke and was immediately sick. Mum had been to see me but I was out cold. She'd bought me a crust of bread in her handbag, knowing it was one of my favourite things, the end bit from a loaf.

I couldn't actually eat a thing. There were too many things turning my stomach. I still can't eat Heinz chicken soup to this day. I can still smell it. It just conjures up harsh flourescent lighting and bags of piss. Sorry.

Convalescing at home I got a pile of letters from my schoolfriends (I think the whole class was made to write to me) and a neighbour bought me a book: Little House On The Prairie. Masculine. I romped through it though.

Thankfully I've not had cause to be admitted to hospital since. I've had the odd procedure but nothing major. I've visited a lot obviously, and I don't like doing it. The hot air, the sealed-in feeling. But most of all, the smell of the food.

Boiled fish and mash potato anyone?

Friday, October 26, 2012

1980: At the time it seemed so bad

At one stage, probably this stage, I had three paper rounds.

Mornings, evenings and Sunday mornings, I'd drag myself round to the newsagent and wait for my bag to be filled before heading out in the (usually) cold night air and try and complete it in record time so I could rush back for the last five minutes of Grange Hill or any other favourite of the moment.

A couple of years earlier I had been 'encouraged' to go out and earn my own pocket money. A boy up the road was a paper boy so he put in a good word with the local newsagent who always had a fleet of willing yet temporary minimum wage slaves.

I hated it really, especially in winter. It meant the moment I got home from school I was off out again. I had a really long route with a huge hi-viz orange bag full of Southern Evening Echos. On certain days it was heavier due to the Radio or TV Times being out that day, and other hot days like when Woman or Woman's Own were on sale.

I'd try and save time by cycling right up onto the doorstep. I got to know all the various letterbox configurations and with much corner-cutting I could do it in about an hour. I now know that what I s hould have done was start at the end and work backwards, which would have taken me all the way to my doorstep, but my brain didn't think that way in those days.

I had various schoolfriends' houses on my route, and sometimes I'd stop for a brief chat or a cup of tea, but usually I just wanted to get it done. I recall a girl who it was later revealed suffered from anorexia, gave me a try of a brand new chocolate bar, as she'd promised. Not just a bite but a whole one. Clearly she didn't want to eat it herself.

Mornings I remember being much brighter. Quiet and warm, with a bag full of Daily Mails and Daily Telegraphs, the odd express and only one Daily Mirror. Some of the magazines were intriguing: Fur & Feather, Cosmopolitan (for racy Sue at No.2), Farmer's Weekly (and the nearest farm was...), Motor (the house with the Cortina on bricks). Sundays were even quieter, but my God the bag was heavy. And this was in the days before the trillions of supplements you get today.

The newsagent himself was a small, rather camp man my Dad likened to a Dick Emery character. He liked a chat and we'd all be sitting in the back waiting for the papers to come while he'd bang on about buying his daughter a training bra while chain smoking a king-size Regal. His main helper was Joan, a Sixtyish woman with dyed red-hair, who wore one of those blue nylon housecoat things and had a nice line in customer chit-chat (example: 'They said she'd be gone by Christmas but of course she's still here and she'll probably still be here next Christmas').

I liked the atmopshere and it was quite good money. Three quid a week plus Christmas tips. That was the time of year you'd hover longer on the doorstep so the householder would realise you were there and rush out with a small envelope of cash, often a £1 note, more likely 50p. But I wasn't complaining, even though at weekends it cut right into my day.

In the autumn of 1980 I was thrilled to be able to give it all up as we were moving to the other side of town and besides, I 'needed to concentrate on my O levels'). Just weeks later, reading the evening paper I notice that the newsagent had been arrested for cottaging in a neighbouring village. He'd said it was a case of 'idle hands'. I bet it was. It was a local scandal and the shop shut immediately. In fact, it never reopened. It's a solicitor's now. The newsagent's marriage ended but I hear he apparently married an old flame years later. Curious indeed. 

When I think back to those paper round years I must have been incredibly fit. I cycled miles. No wonder I was so thin. My trousers were indeed baggy.

This song reminds me of the all the kids milling round outside the newsagent, usually on the wane by the time I got back round there. Someone once slashed my bike seat and there was an awful lot of shoplifting going on. Bloody kids.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

1989: You're such a...

We need to talk about Joe.

Well, we needed to back then. You never really know someone until you live with them. I've had worse flatmates, but at the time when things got really bad, this was hell.

He worked in the neighbouring department at the bookshop. He was a few years old than me, funny, clever, friendly, popular and the cleaner at work always used to tell him he looked like a young Englebert Humperdinck, which he did. But what was he doing still working in a bookshop at 26, I marvelled. Surely he'd be well on the career ladder by now. This was just temporary after all.

When he and I and another colleague found were all due to be homeless at the same time in the autumn of '88, we joined forces and found a flat together. While I was firm friends with both of them, Joe and the girl were poles apart. And as each day passed the more startling his revelations became.

He was half-Peruvian. His mum once went out with Andy Williams. He played wonderful guitar and was a great cook. He had one day renounced all material possessions and lived in a squat in King's Cross. When he moved in, he had a carrier bag and his guitar. But though hugely secretive, he was a hoot and we all got on famously, despite the controlling nature of the girl, but that's another entry entirely.

All girls fancied him, and he started vaguely seeing a friend of a friend who ran a hairdressing salon in the King's Road. In the summer of '89, when this song was saturating the airwaves and soundtrack to every party, and about six months after we moved in, he went to a summer rave with her, took an E and was never the same again.

It seems he had been hugely affected by this. No stranger to drugs, this was something else. He became obsessed with the film Midnight Cowboy, which I'd introduced him to. He borrowed a VHS off his brother and we thought it was the best thing ever, with a great soundtrack. We watched it again and again. That party scene is classic. It's still one of my favourite films of all time. I wonder if he feels the same way?

He became moody, withdrawn and left his job temping at a literary agency (we were all ex-bookshop by this point). He started to stay up all night and sleep all day. He'd do washing at 3am, watch Midnight Cowboy nightly and disappear for days on end. We'd often double take at the Crimewatch photofits. Those local crimes? It couldn't be, could it? What was he up to? Where was he going? Who was he seeing? Who was he?

By this time things had got so distant between him and us that we barely spoke. In fact, we barely saw him at all and if we did speak he was impossible to get through to. Everything he did was an irritation. We were no longer friends. We were just about to ask him to move out when he announced he was going to New York and just upped and left right there and then. 

I've never seen him since. I have no idea if he stayed in New York. Perhaps he became a hustler. Perhaps he wrote a novel. He always had pretensions, but he was one of those stick-it-to-the-man types. It was far too conformist.

Wherever he is, I hope he's happy. And out of jail. Or even still alive.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

1989: Later

Cheam, Stratford, Mill Hill, Gravesend, East Putney, Southgate, Dunmow, Wapping, Neasden, Holloway, Canonbury, Bloomsbury, Barnsbury, Hackney, Clapham, Walthamstow, Queens Park, Richmond... You name it we went to a party there. We'd go anywhere for a party.

But why?

We were still in student mode reallly, with everyone you knew flat or housesharing and throwing parties pell mell because, well, that's what you did to enjoy yourself. And you didn't want to miss out, did you?

I was always a fan of the house party though in London I only ever had one of my own. It proved to be too stressful. No one ever turned up to these things before pub closing time so me and my flatmates sat nervously twiddling our thumbs waiting for the arrivals. We needn't have worried. It turned out to be a roaring success, much to the chagrin of our neighbours.

In our rather staid, smart block they were going to bed as everyone was loudly arriving, already drunk and in the mood to drink some more. Naturally, I'd made tapes. We danced to Need You Tonight and The Only Way Is Up (always a floor-filler at the time). Things died down at about 2.30 only to have someone pop on a record half an hour later. The building manager led a pitchfork wielding mob of angry residents, who were unceremoniously told to fuck off. We nearly got chucked out for that. We were the scourge of Albany Mansions for quite some time. At least the police weren't called or we'd definitely been out on our ear.

But never again. I'd rather go to other people's parties. 1989, my second year in London, and I'd made an awful lot of friends so far, which was nice. But things were moving on a bit. The houseparty was becoming as scarce as hens' teeth as people bought their own places - still possible to do in centralish London back then - or shacked up with partners. The party season was coming to an end.

Nonetheless, we'd travel miles to go to parties. We'd take buses, trains, walk, arrange to meet people in the oddest places and if you didn't find each other, so be it. No mobile phones back then. If you didn't turn up, you didn't turn up and it would be unlikely you'd find out the reason why until the next day.

So we were going to a workmate's party in Brixton. I'd only been there a couple of months but already it was party central. But I'd never been to Brixton before. I knew about it: riots, muggings, scary people. As it turned out it wasn't even down in Brixton itself, but that Acre Lane bit between Clapham and Streatham, but the girl who was throwing it thought she was terribly trendy and rather adventurous so to her it was Brixton. I think she's a solicitor in Hertfordshire now.

Lots of workmates were going, but all coming from different directions. So forcing ourselves to turn out into the cold night air after a relaxing early evening comfort TV fest which included Blind Date and Noel's Houseparty, the future Mrs P and I set off for a pub in Streatham we'd arranged to meet them in. We'd never been in it before. We'd never go in it again either. It was busy, but full of middle-aged locals. We clearly were not the demographic, and a request for a couple of pints was met with a sneer and a mimicking of my voice. But we got them and necked them as a shellsuit army mustered. I'm not sure I'd ever felt so uncomfortable in my life up to that point.

Making a swift exit we gave up on our pals and jumped on a convoluted bus to 'Brixton', finally finding this basement flat. It wasn't very busy knew no one. Oh, we knew one person. The office dullard and her ghastly trainee insurance broker husband who was publicly cruel to her. I got his point. She only wore make-up at weekends and drove a minibus of young offenders.

The first thing she did was point out a damp patch on the ceiling and remark that Liz should watch out for that or it could turn nasty. I reached for my mixtape.

Still doing the awfully rude thing of enforcing my music on people whether they liked it or not I popped it on and we danced to Voodoo Ray. Just the two of us. I saw a couple snigger on the sidelines (I still get embarrassed when I think of this. Who the hell did I think I was? A major tit, that's who). We went and sat on the stairs. 

More people arrived, but no one we really knew except a couple of girls from work I knew to say hello too. What were we doing? Why were we travelling so far to go to things that we didn't really want to go to in the first place but thought it rude not to? Wouldn't it have been nicer staying in tonight? We wouldn't have to hide our cans in the oven and drink everyone else's and we wouldn't have to shiver at the night bus stop. We were getting too old for all this. We were having a St Elmo's Fire moment. It was a turning point. It was time to be a bit more selective. Ruislip? Forget it. Yeading? Walk on by. Burnt Oak? See ya!

It has served us well ever since.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

1982: You left your mark

I can't even think of The Jam without being reminded of my schoolfriend Paul.

He was mad on them, properly mad. I wasn't a fan at all really. In fact up until this point they'd not been on my radar very much at all. A Town Called Malice, their most recent hit was good, but I never bought it.

So when Paul and I became fast friends on the second day of the first term at boarding school, I was subjected to them. At the time of starting boarding, I was mad on anything indie or what I considered to be trendy, with the odd bit of cheese thrown in. The Jam was serious music. But their songs went into my brain whether they liked it or not. And they have never left.

Like me, Paul was from ordinary stock, and like me his parents were ex-pats, but working in Nigeria for Shell. We had a lot of Shell brats at school, mostly those whose parents were in Africa, but some from further afield. He was from Essex, sounded like he was from Essex and dressed like a Jam fan from Essex. He was the first person ever to shorten my first name to what it is and has remained ever since. Both smokers, he was the one who boldly marched us into the common room (where you could smoke). Without him, I'd probably have dithered on the edge for a few more days and missed my window.

We were in the same school house, though he was in this poky, nasty low level new-build with the thinnest walls ever called The Annexe. It was but a minute's walk from the main house but over there more liberties could be taken, especially with loud music. All those musics going at once: Lionel Richie v Tears For Fears v Kid Creole & The Coconuts  v Evelyn King v Kool & The Gang v Eddy Grant v The Human League, etc. It was like being hermetically sealed in Tupperware that was having a provincial disco.

And then there was The Jam of course. Their album The Gift was released around this time, and we listened to it a lot. Tracks like Ghosts, Just Who Is The 5 O'Clock Hero, their No.1 Beat Surrender and of course this song, The Bitterest Pill, whose intro is the sound of autumn leaves falling from trees in the land of post-punk rock.

I've never loved a band so much I've been consumed by them. I have three friends who are Springsteen crazy, and Paul was not the first friend I had who was Jam-mad, though this other fan was also bonkers over Level 42, which was nice. The closest I've come was discovering Fairport Convention, but it was more a case of plundering their back catalogue rather than waiting for the new single to come out.

Paul remained a Jam fan, then a Style Council fan. I preferred the Style Council much more and bought the awkwardly phrased Speak Like A Child. Then they got a bit jazz funk until Long Hot Summer when I was back on board. Then jumped ship again forever, though I still think they've got a lot to offer.

Like most Weller devotees, I'd put money on Paul having followed his career since. I have no idea, not having seen him since 1988 (see 1988: Slowing down, and yes, I still owe him a tenner).

I have grown to really love The Jam over the years. I think they're far superior to anything Weller did after that, with an oeuvre of the most amazing songs. Yes, I've got all their albums, yes I'm a fan. Paul would be proud.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

1986: You are the magic

Who remembers when Next was all the rage? I was around this time, and before it over-stretched itself and got truly ghastly, it was considered quite innovative and stylish at the time, with every other shop trying to have a piece of the chain's huge success. I was far from alone in adding the odd piece from there if I could afford it, and in my provincial university town it soon became our clothes shopping destination of choice.

There was this fantastic emerald green cardigan I owned, and a very nice white shirt with with red diamonds on it, though when teamed together it did look like someone had over-dealt at bridge. All sorts of Next garments passed through my hands over the years after that, but my favourite of all at time were a pair of dark purple - perhaps we'll call it aubergine - suede loafers which I'd coveted for a while. I think they may have been about £17, a smallish fortune back then, especially on student money. They were out of my reach.

But I didn't have to wait long. One day they were presented to me after my housemates rather touchingly clubbed together and bought them. I can't recall why they decided to do this - it was autumn and my birthday was in June - but whatever it was it was one of the kindest surprises anyone has ever sprung. 

Naturally I wore them to death, so much so that I had to replace them myself eventually. I finally went off them when my brother got a pair. Three years younger than me, that wouldn't do at all. (In later years I felt much better if he came shopping with me, him being the gorgeous one, the one shop assistants didn't ignore, the one who did manage to attract the attention of the aloof shop assistants in Red Or Dead who were always far too busy frugging to the background music to catch the eye of this lumpy old pongo).

I've often looked out for a similar shoe over years but never found one. They were subtle, autumnal, comfortable, stylish. Things like that never - or should never - go out of fashion. Unlike Next itself, which ranks one up from BHS in the style stakes these days.  Oh whither Foster Menswear, Woodhouse (another one with snotty assitants), Jigsaw Menswear and Chelsea Man, all littering the high street in the Eighties?

Though I like clothes, I hate clothes shopping. The key is being super-confident, and if I'm in the mood, then you notice how assistants dance around you. But there's nothing worse than feeling overweight and every inch of your 47 years and having the boy in Ted Baker addressing you with 'Alright geez?'. That's guaranteed to have me making for the internet where you can shop inappropriately for your age and no one judges you.

Anyhoo, this song, with it's highly wintry feel from a film on one's ever seen, really reminds of marching down the high street at 21, liking the way I looked and looking the way I liked, getting into that autumn/winter wardrobe and enjoying every minute of it. 

Golden days indeed.

Monday, October 15, 2012

1978: And you've been caught!

It sounds like one of those I remember the Seventies cliches, but it happens to be true. You really did go out on your bike at weekends and holiday with your mates and only reappear at mealtimes.

Mum was happy to have us out of the house, but perhaps she'd have thought twice if she knew what we'd been up to all day.

I was reminded of the risks one takes as a child when someone posted a link to this film Robbie on YouTube (end of part two). We were never shown this at at school, but perhaps we should. I don't actually recall seeing any safety films at school. It horrifies me now and it would certainly have horrified me then. It might have stopped me playing on the railway line. Or it might not.

Not that it was Intercity, just local freight trains, but it's dangerous nonetheless. And as for putting coins on the line or bits of wood - did we want to cause a train crash? Quite possibly. And what about seeing how far out onto the icy lake we could go as it cracked underfoot, or riding your bike down a hill really fast straight out onto the main road as cars sped round a bend? Not to mention playing on the bridge over the A33 and wondering whether it might be a good idea to drop stones onto the cars beneath. You can go to prison for that now. In fact, I know someone in a nearby town dropped a breeze block off a footbridge and killed someone, so that was the end of that little experiment for us all. I once tossed a bunch of bluebells over. Make love not war.

But then there were the poor cyclists who got stuff thrown at them as they cycled by, the knock down gingers to poor old women, the pretending to collect for charity then spending the money on sweets (I actually felt guilt at this one and posted the money back through the letter box, unseen), as well as the creeping through gardens after dark to see how far up the road you could get before it became impossible. And what about swimming in a disused quarry, and having to cross the motorway to get there. Oh the thrill of it all. That said, I wasn't the only one doing it and I never heard of anyone who came to any harm, amazingly enough.

This song makes me think of the evenings turning dark, and going apple scrumping or climbing into gardens or smoking or anything else I shouldn't have been doing all those years ago. It makes my blood run cold. It's not only a wonder I'm still here but that I avoided a young offenders institute.

No amount of public information films seemed to make much difference. In fact, it just made it all the more forbidden. I think it was the heavy-handed accusation of shop-lifting that brought it all home to me (see 1979: It might be a sin). After that I reigned it in, had other interests, etc. But back then, the more daring it was the more exciting it was. We've all been there haven't we? Perhaps I wasn't as bad as I thought I was - I was never in trouble with the law - but it certainly felt bad. So bad it was good.

For some of us the bad felt so good it spiralled out of control. I'm happy to say I followed a righteous path. Sort of.

Friday, October 12, 2012

1984: I ain't missing you at all

It's more than halfway through the autumn term, 1984, and it's all going swimmingly well at university. I was now in the process of ditching most of the friends I'd made in the early days and moving onto a new group who were much more fun. It wasn't proving to be too tricky as everyone was doing it, but there was one sticking point: that girlfriend 'back home'.

To be honest I was never that into her. She was a friend of my old boarding school room mate from his home town, about 18 months younger than me. She was cute, amusing and we were both really into music. But I didn't actually consider her a romantic prospect. We'd kind of been thrown together in the early summer during our disco days, when I was staying with a friend in London pre-Bahrain, and she was coming up a lot and we were going out in the West End and having a lot of fun. We fell into each other and kind of carried it on, despite me being off the scene for a few months. Was there something in this after all? No.

I'd started the term off going back there every weekend, ostensibly to see her but in reality much more looking forward to meeting up with my old school friends and other hangers on at this room mate's mum's place, a sprawling farm in the Sussex countryside. We'd use it as a base and take it from there. With girlfriend being around she was more often than not an irritation. She wasn't childlike as such, but she seemed unworldy, rather prudish and frankly a bit square. I realised I had no real feelings for her at all. I'm ashamed to say I didn't think twice about cheating on her when I got to university. I felt no pangs of guilt whatsoever.

She wrote me letter after letter, we spoke at least twice a week if not more and I saw her most weekends. We went to her friends' parties, and one engagement party (I know, at that age) we attended Missing You was the song of the night. I sang the 'I ain't missing you at all' line to her face. Unfortunately I wasn't joking. She laughed it off. But it said it all.

October saw her 18th birthday arrive and she was having a black tie dinner party - at 18! I had no idea this meant tuxedos. I thought it just meant you had to wear a black tie. The look on her face when I turned up in a check shirt and black tie was a picture. Who was this oik? I'd also not bought her a present. It hadn't even occurred to me to do so. What sort of boyfriend was I? A bad one, that's what sort.

As the term went on and those weekends became one in two then about one a month, things were changing. I wanted my life and my weekends with my student mates, not spending dull days and nights with a schoolgirl in a ski jumper and pearls. But I didn't have the heart to dump her. I found anything like that far too heavy and laced with huge amounts of guilt, so to save myself I usually ended up being the one who was dumped. It was far less painful. So on it dragged.

The night before I was flying out to Bahrain for Christmas we stayed at a friends house in London. I had to be up at the crack of dawn to catch my plane. As I crept out in the still dark morning to get into my taxi I saw her vintage (or second-hand, as we called it back then) tweedy old man's overcoat hanging on the end of the banister. I took of my jacket and swapped it with hers. I left for hot climes wearing something that was not only completely inappropriate, but not mine.

A week or so later a letter arrived, furious. How could I have done such a thing? What did I need an overcoat for in the Middle East, etc., etc. We needed to talk.

On my return we met up for this talk, and to my relief, she dumped me. Saved me a job. I never saw her again.

I know now that I was incredibly emotionally immature and selfish, toying with a young girl's heart like that. It was kind of cruel. I should have had the courage to not let things spiral just because I couldn't face confrontation. But that was me back then. Lessons have been learned.

I don't miss that at all.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

1979: The light that burned so brightly

I never asked for a rabbit. Mum came home from work one day in 1976 and said that someone had some baby rabbits that she needed to get rid of, and did we want to go and see them? They were only round the corner.

Of course, we came home with one. A little grey one we called Bugsy, partly after Bugs Bunny and partly after Bugsy Malone. And I loved him with all my heart.

He lived freely in the shed at the end of the garden, hopping around among piles of hay and straw. He was a delight, quite a character, who'd sit in the window of the shed before meal times as an indication that he was hungry and where were we?

My friends loved him, and he grew into a huge big bunny, larger than normal, bigger than a hare. We also got a kitten during this time and while it tried to antagonise him, Bugsy was the bigger fish, even attempting rape at one point. The kitten soon knew who was boss.

Our menagerie was growing. Next door brought two guinea pigs home from the Southampton show, and within two years had mulitplied to over 100. Their whole garden was given over to them and the squeaking was unbelievable. They also had a couple of lambs at one point, brought home from the father's agricultural college job. If Bugsy escaped he'd be found following them round usually until one day they disappeared, only to be brought home again as Sunday joints.

I was animal mad, and I'd just bring guinea pigs home from next door and they'd live in the shed with the rabbit. If you surprised them on cold nights you'd find them huddled round him, sleeping across his back, behind his ears, all keeping each other warm.

But he could be vicious. He bit the girl next door, and chomped someone's knee through their trousers. Demands to have him put down were met with deaf ears. He'd often escape and if not with lambs, he'd be found in the jaws of the Doberman five doors up, but he'd be delivered back to us safely. He was indestructible. Or so I thought.

One Friday night in July, 1979, someone in my class was having a birthday treat, which involved five of us going to see the new Superman film. We were over-excited on the way there, flicking V-signs at pedestrian's from his mother's Renault, giggling like maniacs. We were no better behaved in the cinema either, and badgered the presenter of local kids' show Hey Look! That's Me! until he threatened to have us chucked out. What fun it was. 

When I went up to feed Bugsy the next morning he was lying out in his attentive but relaxed position - but stiff as a board. I was heartbroken. I called for Dad who came running up the garden to see what all the fuss was about. Bugsy was dead.

We were all devastated. The next day we went to a local agricultural show and bought a new one, a Silver Fox which we called Roscoe. Well, Wimbledon was in full swing. But it was never the same.

We still talk about Bugsy to this day. He was such a character, and remains in the top three of the myriad of Peake pets through the decades.

I often dream of him, but it's usually that I've not fed him for 20 years and he's all emaciated. It's a classic guilt dream. Sometimes I used to have to be physically made to feed him and clean him out, and if I could get away with not doing it I would. It was such an effort to go 30 feet up the garden. But that's kids and animals. Parents end up doing all the work. You do all the loving. 

Anyway, whenever I hear this song, I think shed, overcast skies, quiet Saturday afternoons, the smell of earth, bonfire smoke, the sound of fresh straw, wet grass and soft fur. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

1983: While everyone sleeps

The alarm would go off about 6.45am. I'd drag myself over to the stereo, pop the button and slink back into bed. Then I'd doze fitfully as the songs of the day entered my brain by osmosis. My room mate was very good about it. Not as much of a music fan as me he was happy to be steered, and though there was initial resistance to the Radio 1 Breakfast Show going on at the crack of dawn, I wore him down.

There was nothing I liked more, drfiting back into a snooze but never missing a thing, knowing that I didn't have to get up for a least half an hour. The songs and chit chat would wash over me, enveloping me in a cosy comfort blanket of hits until it was time to face the day proper.

Every so often, however, a song that was new to me would come on and I'd have to shake myself awake to cry and catch what it was before the opportunity was gone. No looking at playlists on the internet back then. Today, the song that was perhaps the oddest, most amazing thing I'd heard to date was The Lovecats by The Cure.

Hold on a second. The Cure? Are you sure? Aren't they all gothy and moody? Could they really be behind this upbeat slice of Parisian, images of Disney's The Aristocats-conjuring, jazzy, surrealist, hysterical pop with the catchiest chorus of year? Indeed they were. Gosh.

It embedded itself in my brain at once and stayed there. Forever. There are only a handful of songs they have ever done this to me, though only three immediately spring to mind: A Winter's Tale by David Essex (not so keen nowadays), Ramblin' Man by Lemon Jelly (drink in the unconfined joy) and I Feel Like Buddy Holly by Alvin Stardust (I'm welling up just thinking about it).

I went off The Lovecats after about 10 years, mainly because I'd listened to it endlessly, and though it's been knocking about a bit since I've not paid it much attention. The other day it came on in the car and it sounded great. Funny how different songs from that era sound now everything's on FM. You missed so much on medium wave.

Still, this song reminds me of one the greatest periods of my life, when I was having an awful lot of fun and music was all that mattered. I must never forget. This song is back.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

1986: I never will forget

Thailand was quite an exotic place to go back then.

When asked by my parents if I wanted to go on holiday with them earlier in the year, my immediate response was no. But when they said they were going to Thailand I rapidly changed my mind.

I was going out to Bahrain for part of the summer anyway, but was staying down in my uni town for a month or so. This in the end proved to be a mistake, as there was hardly anyone around and I was paying rent on a place that just had me rattling around in it. A far cry from the summer before when I'd had a high old time sticking around for the entire summer with a houseful of friends.

So it was better that I save my money and head out east. Thailand was a bit of an unknown quantity to me and most people I knew. It was beginning to turn up on people's travels but wasn't the everyday holiday destination it is today. So I was excited.

First stop was Bangkok, then onto Phuket, which was but a beach with a couple of hotels on it, unspoilt, quiet, idyllic and a million miles form the Benidorm it would later become.

We were staying in wonderful hotel in Bangkok right on the river. It was the first time I'd ever had Thai food and we saw some amazing sights. But none more amazing than the live sex show we saw - en famille.

We had gone to Thailand with another family with similar aged children, and the two dads had asked the hotel concierge if they could recommend an interesting evening out. Not to worry, sir, he was told, we'll sort everything. We clearly hadn't tipped enough as when we took our seats in a rather shabby-looking club, something was clearly amiss.

And when a half-naked girl with a bag full of dodgy looking pills and grass sat on my 17-year-old brother's knee and shook everything in his face, she was quickly shooed off by mum. But things really took a turn for the worse when the girls took to the stage and shot miniature bananas out of their, er, well you know, opened bottles of beer and fired ping pong balls into the air. And then the men entered and hence began the most embarrassing moment of my life to date: watching people having sex for real in front of one's parents.

We made our excuses and left.

Back in our hotel room my brother and I half laughing, mostly dying, dissected the events of the evening. The inter-connecting door between our our room and our parents' room suddently burst open, and in skipped mum with a bunch of baby bananas. "Hello boys!', she trilled.

I'm going cold thinking about it. At least we can laugh about it now. It's not the sort of experience shared by most people.

I thought I was so grown up back then, and didn't even really want to be seen with my parents, let alone go on holiday with them. So on the nights we did shake them off and hit the hotel bar putting drink after drink on their tab, to have the singer point at you and say, 'this is for the people who've just walked in', and start singing 'I believe the children are our future..', just piled on the humiliation. As if we hadn't been through enough already.

I remember seeing the marriage of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson as a minor item on the Thai news and on our return to the UK Lady In Red was number one. Though it's a song I despise, it will be inextricably linked with this whole affair.

Man With Red Face was at the top of my chart though.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

1977: If you feel that this is you

I'd have liked a career in radio. Well, up until I was 12.

Since I'd gone mad on music and was glued to the radio, it was a place I wanted to be. I really wanted to visit a radio station, and sooner than expected, here was my big chance.

Okay, it was hospital radio, but it was a start!

Mum and Dad had a friend who was a DJ on hospital radio. Desperate to fill hours of airtime he'd taken to interviewing his friends, a sort of 'in conversation' half-hour chit-chat with someone non-famous but local.

I remember each of them going to to record it, and coming home with a tape of the show. One of the subjects my dad brought to the table about how he'd recently been introduced to barbecuing by our new American neighbours. We all know how that ended.

But I badgered to visit this radio station, far away from the hospital, almost on the other side of town, until a favour was called in. So one evening we took the trip.

I don't recall much about the visit, except I had to read out a dedication to some woman who was in hospital and who 'resides in Guernsey'. I didn't know what that word meant and I stumbled over it. I was allowed to choose the record for her though, and while it was No.1 for just one week and so was at the front of the record box with all the discs arranged in chronological chart order was... Float On by the Floaters (on ABC Records with that yellow and pink centre, IIRC). That's probably most soothing if you're nil by mouth. No I Feel Love or Pretty Vacant here.

It all looked a bit complicated, a bit dark and a bit quiet, a bit like Clint Eastwood's studio in Play Misty For Me, but there were people watching you through glass. It didn't live up to expectations at all. So I went off the idea. For a while, at least. This wasn't exactly the big league. Give it five years and I be fascinated by it all over again. At one time my dream job would have been sorting out the records for radio shows. I still fantasize about what I'd play on my own slot, should I be allowed to create my own playlist. I never achieved that ambition. I just play DJ at home.

So those of you actually working in radio today - especially you Matt - you are the lucky ones. But just be thankful you're not Jimmy Savile, Mike Read, DLT ...*list of washed-up, scandal-dogged, disgraced, daft DJs goes on forever*

Friday, September 28, 2012

1979: A lovely time

It must have been hard for them. Once with a grand house first in the poshest bit in town, then in the Midlands but now downsized to a tiny Barrett home on a small development alongside the new M27, just like that bungalow Rita Tushingham wins in Smashing Time. Motorway Mansions the postman called it, but to my aunt and uncle and my two older cousins, this was home.

Now living in reduced circumstances due to a court case that ended up not going their way they were making the best of it. And here we were, Christmas 1979, sense of humour still intact and Daytrip To Bangor never off the stereo and around the top of the charts thanks to a push by middle-class musical tastemaker Terry Wogan, surrounded by the old trappings of their previous life. Big clocks, chunky old furniture, chandeliers, the legendary (to us) Rolls Royce with gold-painted Spirit of Ecstasy on the bonnet, all so incongruous behind and in front of the net curtains.

But they vowed to get it all back. That house they lived in from 1969 to 1977, the favourite one in the plush part of the outskirts of the city where they'd always been so happy? They'd live there again, they were sure of it.

As ghastly and as showy and as flashy and vulgar and tactless and ridiculed as they were capable of being, they seat about picking themselves up, with held their heads held high among their snickering friends who'd been dying to see them fall, and started all over again. And lo and behold but within five years they were back in that house, (by way of a short stint in Hamble on the Solent, which is why we were not in the least bit surprised to open the Sunday paper one day to see a full article about my aunt and how she claimed she'd created Howard's Way and the BBC had stolen her idea).

So in that favourite house they stayed. Children moved on, dogs remained. It never went wrong for them again, really. They sold their business in the late Nineties and didn't have to work again. Their pleasures were early morning G&Ts in bed, rather than a cup of tea like normal folk, though mum and dad, not huge fans despite being related were irritated by them. Those photos of Uncle shaking hands with the Queen and Maggie Thatcher, along with the shooting, hushing up of backgrounds and beyond Daily Mail views, plus the ring of steel around their own family secrets (more court cases, death of a motorcyclist, hair loss, helicopter crash, what DID older cousin actually do for a living?) didn't endear them to anyone. 

They remained secretive to the end. Well, she's still alive but he's long gone. We're not as close as perhaps we should be. They were alawys good to me and I was fond of them in my own way. They could be silly and laughable but they could care less. Champagne was opened at every possibility.

However, whenever I hear this song I am reminded that anything is possible. Doesn't matter who you are or what you do, if you have the drive, you can do it.

I'm going into life coaching.