Friday, February 24, 2012

1982: Sit and listen

I thought this record was beyond amazing when it first came out in the chilly autumn of '82.

I can't remember where I first heard it, but it must have been on the Mike Read Radio 1 breakfast show. Then I saw the ludicrous video and I rushed to buy it at once. Back in my room, I gathered who ever was around the house and gave it an airing. Everyone stood around and agreed that it was a corker, especially that instrumental break.

It was a big hit in the common room too. This was a large space which had a couple of pool tables, a TV, a Pac Man machine that was impossible to get onto and best of all, you could smoke. I knew of no other school where smoking was allowed and of course most people took full advantage, including me.

The TV was drowned out by music more often than not, unless Razamatazz was on or The Tube, but if you wanted to watch TV where you could actually here it then you had to go to the upstairs common room which had comfier chairs, carpet and was smoke-free. I don't think I watched any TV for two years, apart from those shows, TOTP and The Young Ones, the latter I had to sneak out of 7-10pm prep for. I wasn't the only one and unbelievably we were never caught.

Mainly, I was music-mad. With the school's international flavour with a heavy Nigerian presence the music that dominated the smoking room was the soul hits of the moment: Kool & The Gang, Evelyn King's Love Come Down, Zoom by Fat Larry's Band, but occasionally there was a song we could all agree on and for some bizarre reason this was it.

I'll never forget New Romantic wannabe Simon unself-conciously acting out the daft hands-only dance routine from the video over by the window. I cringed. We all did. But it didn't diminish my love for this song, which still sends a shiver down my spine when the 'children waiting for the day they feel good' verse kicks in.

That video no longer seems to exist, but come on, let's do it together:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

1984: A man in my shoes

I received an out of the blue postcard from my old school yesterday, asking me for both mine and my parents' email addresses.

I've not heard a peep from them in nearly 30 years. I don't think I was one of their favourite students, being a bit troublesome and everything, but I was made welcome when a friend and I went back to visit in '87. I'd put on a bit of weight by then, and on arrival we ran into two old teachers who were shocked at my appearance. Gone was the skinny kid, and here was this blimp. We caught up, said our goodbyes and as they turned the corner they both burst into laughter. I've not felt so humiliated since someone on a train asked me if I was Lady Sarah Armstrong Jones.

So why now, I wonder. Chances are they'll be after donations. Now, I loved that school, had a wonderful time, made some really good friends, have about a millions songs that remind me of every single day and have nothing but fond memories. But I'm not going to donate to their theatre project or anything, though I would go to a reunion.

Hearing this song, however, takes me back to more or less my last day there. I've always found it rather sad for some reason - and I was certainly sad to be leaving the school. The Ghost In You is one of many songs I find strangely moving that leave others cold, like Sister Christian by Night Ranger or Spirit Of Radio by Rush. Must be to with the key their in.

Tough this song was never a hit and merely grazed the lower reaches of the Top 75, I loved the Furs and bought everything they did at the time. I still love this now. But hearing it then it made me think of how far I'd come in a few short years. From a semi-shy and rather awkward teenager I was a totally changed man. I'd almost reinvented myself and now the work was complete. I was ready to face the future with confidence and knowledge. I knew I wouldn't be lost.

In retrospect I have a lot to thank that school for. It totally changed my life. I'm not sure I knew how lucky I was. I do now. I shudder to think where I'd be today if my life hadn't taken this path. I might be working out insurance quotes or in the back office at Iceland. Or under a bus.

Where did I put my wallet?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

1973: And close the door

After turning the upstairs of her house into a self-contained flat, my grandma took in lodgers. Now she was on her own she didn't need the space particularly, being happy downstairs with a living room, kitchen and bedroom, with lean-to conservatory for warm days. She didn't seem to think that not having a bathroom was a drawback.

When we'd stay with her we'd use her pink tooth powder and clean our teeth over the sink. This didn't seem strange at all, as as far back as I can remember we always did this. I imagined mum did this too, though of course the house wasn't always two flats as I later discovered.

She was a proper old lady grandma, from the north, with a poodle called Andy which barked all the time, a teasmaid, false teeth she'd push out for us if we asked, with a prediliction for ITV light entertainment, a saucy comedy and a drink. She hated Les Dawson and Cilla Black though. Too much like her siblings. We loved staying the night with her, especially if it was at the Arms (see entries passim), but equally didn't mind staying at her flat.

She had a big garden, and often she'd let us mow the lawn (crafty one there) and she always had a bonfire smouldering away. The garden backed onto the grounds of a convent and you could slip through the fence and play in the orchards seeing how long it would take until a mean nun (is there any other kind? Call The Midwife is a myth) appeared from nowhere and shouted at us.

She was a legendary cook, too, and would start the day with bacon sandwiches, then one snack after another - pink penny wafers, giant-sized chocolate-covered coconut biscuits from the Co-Op, home made steak and kidney puddings and Cornish pasties and brilliant fluffy omelettes, drenched roasts, etc. Whenever I have runner beans she crosses my mind. She cooked fresh garden veg to perfection and her cream horns were the talk of Taunton Drive.

She was amazing at days out, and we'd always get the bus somewhere far flung: Hamble, the New Forest, the Tudor House, lunch at The Bugle or in Beaulieu, or trips to the cinema to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Railway Children or The Amazing Mr Blunden, sometimes with our two cousins. She'd get tumblers and orangeade out of her handbag. She wouldn't pay those prices for a Kia-Ora.

Her lodgers all loved her. They didn't seem to mind one bit that she'd use the bathroom once (!) a week. That was deal. When they left they all kept in touch, even the cross-dresser from Reigate. Her favourite had been a woman who went by the brilliant-yet-strange name of Miss Kneebone. I don't think I ever knew her first name. Gran was floored when a Christmas present she'd sent her was returned by her brother with a note to say she'd been knocked off her moped in Torquay and killed. The next one was a librarian called Cywyn or something unpronoucably Welsh, who hoovered up all meringue-topped lemon and apple tarts left for her at the bottom of the stairs.

She's been dead 10 years, but I think of her nearly every day. Her humour and her warmth, and when I hear this song, it reminds me of those long days out, long walks, stopping in at the newsagent where we laughed at the giant-sized posters of David Cassidy and Donny Osmond, gritted teeth for visits to Auntie Maggie, a resident of a nearby old people's complex and not that moblile since she'd fallen off a bus in 1972 and broken her hip. A replacement just saw her sit in a chair, watch Emmerdale Farm and swear at her budgie.

So then as the afternoon drew on and it started to get colder and darker, it was back to hers for a high tea. She'd make a fire and we'd watch Opportunity Knocks or Crossroads. What could be more relaxing to an eight-year old? This song always reminds me of that era, Atora suet ads, etc. You know all the things that make me think: cosy. Somone once told me this song reminded them of an afternoon cleaning out a stables where their horse was, and it was one of the happiest times of their life. I get that.

Monday, February 13, 2012

1975: The perfume that they wear

From as far back as I can remember up until about 1980, Saturday mornings were always the same.

We'd drop mum off in town, then dad would take us to our grandmother's house. She'd have our comics waiting for us on her hall chair (Whizzer & Chips for me, something football related for my brother), crack open the Corona Cherryade and the Chipsticks and then shoo us away to watch Saturday morning telly so she could talk at my dad for a few hours. He'd sit tensely chainsmoking on a kitchen stool while being talked at by his mother about how ghastly his sister was being to her.

That was the norm. Sometimes, however, he'd dump us and go off to town too, and mum didn't really ever come as there was always friction, going right back to the days when she wasn't considered good enough for my father because a) she was a Catholic; and b) she'd been engaged before. The horror! The tension never really left us.

So more often than not it was the three of us. When the Banana Splits finished it was time to go and collect mum. She'd always be found in the same place: her friend Pam's boutique.

Well, she didn't own it, but she worked there. Tucked away down a concrete corridor behind Tyrell & Green (a branch of the John Lewis partnership and no longer there) was Location. A groovy name for a groovy store, tiny, rather dark, highly-fragranced, choc-full of stock and run by a curly-haired Starsky look-a-like called Paul, who wore tight beige flares and open necked-shirts and flirted with all the ladies who came in. Mum was no exception. But on Saturdays it was Pam who ruled the roost.

Slim, perma-tanned, shoehorned into salmon flares and silk blouses, with lots of gold jewellery and a Purdey haircut, Pam would bring a succession of garish outfits for mum to try on, and usually buy. This process took forever. Not being of an age where we had any money to go and spend, we just had to be patient. We'd be there for what seemed like hours, while Pam puffed away interjecting with encouraging noises re: the garments as Moments & Whatnauts or the Stylistics belted out a funk-soul number in the background.

I loved Pam though. She and her car dealer husband Peter, equally tanned but with a head of distinguished grey hair, were old friends of my parents. They'd all known each other since they were teenagers. She was a major part of the school run, and she'd offer fags to us over her shoulder, knowing we wouldn't take them. She was also really kind to me when mum and dad moved abroad, and for that I'll never forget her.

I'm glad to say they're still friends now, and Pam's still smoking for Britian on their poker nights, is steeped in gin and is darker than a chesnut which contrasts jarringly with her prawn-pink lipstick choice.

In my mind, they're the ultimate Seventies couple. They always had the latest in home furnishings, moved house a lot just to get a load of new stuff and holidayed glamorously at beach clubs in the south of France long before anyone else had even thought of it. And naturally, they always had really smart cars too. When it was Pam's turn to the do the school run she'd have to phone the school to say what car she'd be in. It was something different every day, and there was nothing like roaring home in a maroon Jag.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

1975: knick-knock feelin' fine

We all stopped taking sugar in our tea and coffee on a family holiday to Angelsey in 1973. I'm not sure why it was decided to do that, but none of us have ever done it since.

Well, I tell a lie. At school the only drink available with lunch was pre-sweetened tea. Served in glass cups too. There's nothing right about hot drinks in glass cups is there. It's just wrong. Anyway, I just had to go with it. It was so vile it didn't make me want to start again, but it was something to wash down these evil meals with.

I wasn't too bothered about school dinner on the whole. I could stomach the mince meat pie that was practically white because of all the fat in it. I didn't mind the sickly, semi-burnt taste of the cheese flan if you could combine it with a mouthful of something else, and the puddings were always edible if horrific, leading more often than not to small puddles of pink sick in the playground (not mine), but I'm afraid I drew the line at the fish.

Being a Catholic school, every Friday was a fish day. Bony, over-fried, greasy, silver-skinned nastiness. But there was no escape from it. It was one poor teacher's duty to stand guard at the place into which you tipped all you weren't going to eat, and if it was thought you'd not eaten enough you'd be sent back to finish it up. I dreaded this.

Mrs Byrne was chief martinet where this was concerned, and she always seemed to be on this duty on Fridays. I pleaded time and again that I had a problem with fish. I blame my mother of course, boiling it in milk and trying to force-feed it me as a baby. It put me off for life. But I was never the hide food in your pockets type, so would either deposit it under table or hover until she was otherwise occupied then tip it. I can still taste the fat from those extra crispy bits everyone used to go mad for.

I can't really do fish now. I never think, 'ooh good fish!' when I see it on a menu, and have a hard time understanding those who do. I'll eat a fish finger or a fishcake, but I'm really not mad on proper cuts of fish at all. At the chip shop I'll plump for the sausage, with or without batter.

I got my revenge though, in the fourth year I became a prefect, and along with two other boys, our sole job was to carry the teachers' lunches from the main school down to our litlte primary outpost. Now, I don't know about you, but I'd rather get my own rather than entrust a 10-year-old with it.

Of course we licked it, spat in it, shook it up, so much so, that when they lifted the lid off at the staff room door to see what was on offer it often looked like the contents of a litter tray. But no one ever said a word. We used to sing The Bump while we did it. Whenever I hear that song I think of an egg salad you'd not feed to your dog.

It was enormous fun. And we got ot walk by the house of the woman with the husky voice off Houseparty.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

1981: Not a chance

When you're about to turn 16 and Kim Wilde suddenly appears on the telly it's like a gift from God.

Wasn't she a smasher? With her tight jeanes, stripey top, dirty blonde hair, attitude and sexy nasal voice and those lips, we became fast friends. She was the girlfriend I wanted but was highly unlikely to get at that age. I adored from afar.

I loved Kids In America. At the time, it was quite something. A bit of rocky electronica in tune with the times, poppy enough not to scare anyone away and with a singer guaranteed to gather an instant fan base. The song tapped into everyone's obsession the cool Americana. That place was still quite far away in those days, though I'd take my first trip in '82 it's not like it is now. It was an adventure. They did things differently there and we all dreamed of being a part of it, irritating as I found America-obsessed people to be, even then.

It reminds me of looking out of dirty old windows, frankly. Overcast Marchlike weather, trawling the local big town for American comics, walking miles and visiting every newsagent I could find, striking lucky more often than not, trying not think of impending O levels and - gulp - the future. Oh to be a kid in America.

I remember one day seeing someone from school on travels. He ignored me, naturally, as we'd never been friends. And to think, just two years later he'd die of a tropical disease he picked up while unpacking furit on the night shift at Safeway.

Poor Kim though. She wasn't on-trend for long. Water On Glass, Chequered Love, then Cambodia were in a similar rocking vein, and then it was kind of all over for her. Not sure why she fell from grace. 1983 was a fallow year. The hits got smaller until her late Eighties comeback, by which time she wasn't doing it for me anymore. I'd moved on.

Still, Child Come Away's a corker. No one does a story song like Kim.

Friday, February 3, 2012

1978: Standing on the outside

If you were to sit down and test me, I could still name you all 32 people in my class - or tutor group as it was known back. Well, you don't do five years with these people day in, day out and not have them imprinted on your memory for ever, for better or worse.

Luckily, we were all quite pally really. Well, I say all. There was one poor girl who for some reason, no one liked. Is there a child like that in every class in every year in every school, or is it more rare than we think?

Thinking back on it now, this poor girl was totally harmless. She was small and thin, with curly hair and didn't say a lot. But she didn't smell, she wasn't rude and there was nothing outwardly wrong with except she was a bit thick. This didn't seem to sit well with the girls. Perhaps they were worried it might rub off. The boys couldn't really have cared less, not mixing as such in those early years. But the girls were cruel.

When one girl, a plump and plain do-gooder who lived in a bungalow off the main road and who is now a cookery teacher in Essex was spotted walking to and from school with the class pariah, and was swiftly and passive-agressively asked why she was doing this, the message being: this should stop. Now.

Our form teacher Mrs Murray, who - let's be honest - smelt vaguely of wee and didn't do her make-up properly, closed the classroom door one day while this girl was off sick and told us all we had to be nice to her. Her mother had been to the school and said her daughter felt isolated. A pang of guilt ping-ponged around the room, and the following weeks saw a thaw of sorts, but nothing really changed.

Ths girl kept bright and busy. When the third year came along and everyone was put into groups with others from the same year we'd hitherto not had much contact with, she at last made a friend called Karen.

I last bumped into her in 1983 when on a visit to the pub in my hometown she was there with that friend, and she smiled and waved at me. I was confident I'd not done anything awful to her, but as a member of the class who more or less sent her to Coventry for five years, I was complicit in what really amounted to bullying. Or was it that I was simply busy with my own life? We all had our crosses to bear back then after all.

Children can be terribly crue, and there's not one of us out there who can honestly say they've never felt utterly wretched at some stage during our schooldays. I know I have. But it was never on such a scale. I'd like to think this girl is doing fine now, and hasn't let those awful years blight her life.

This song always makes think of her. This is for you, Kelly, wherever you are.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

1976: We'll share a dream

My dad was never into music. He couldn't understand why my brother and I were so into it as teenagers and can't really understand it now. While mum was the record buyer and had the radio on, dad spent from the Sixties onwards listening to speech radio. So the entire amazingness of those decades more or less completely passed him by.

Yes, he'd say the latest by Olivian Newton John was 'smashing', and he'd hear the odd pop song that would strike some kind of chord but other than that it was all down to us. But that wasn't to say he was averse to popping a record on, mostly when it was his cards night.

This mid-Seventies men-only midweek mingle was rotated around about five of his friends each month. So once every five or six weeks it was our turn to host. Our recently extended dining room was a model of Seventies chic. Orange shagpile carpet, huge lamps, large table and sideboard combo that would have made the cast of Abigail's Party green with envy. The dining room table would be temporarily covered in a green baize and the little poker chip lazy Susan would be dusted off. Peanuts were put in bowls and those little biscuit things in the shape of fish, the drinks trolley refreshed and that ruddy Demis Roussos album put on the stereogram. At last, some music he liked.

So Mum's out, dad's hovering in a cheescloth shirt with a plunging neckline, shark's tooth on a thong if you were really unlucky, and of course the requisite brown flares, waiting for hairdresser Aubrey, bank manager Adrian, Malcolm who ran a string of lucrative hardware shops, Glynn, who looked like he should be in the brothers and perhaps Scot Bill or American Don, whose idea this whole card night thing had been. But he was soon to return to the US never to be seen again, but that's another blog entry.

It was a heavy smoking event, it being 1976, and though we were discouraged from entering the gaming den, we were allowed to hoover up the snacks. I'm not sure how much money changed hands at these events, but it certainly wasn't for matchsticks.

Nights out at the Silhouette Club could only end in tears. Far better to be at home.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

1968: Oh me, oh my

I don't remember a whole lot about 1968. Well, nothing at all really apart from I know it was the year my brother was born and remember going to stay with my aunt and uncle until he'd popped out.

According to legend she took me with her on a shopping trip to Winchester where I inevitably sang Winchester Cathedral at the top of my voice down the high street, then asked a fat woman if she was having a baby like my mummy was. How we laugh about it now.

When my brother arrived I was taken into see him and I do remember on the cot was a present for me which turned out to be Captain Scarlet's car. I was mad on Captain Scarlet. When asked what I'd like to call the new arrival, well, you can guess the rest.

Funny what you remember though, isn't it? I didn't even know that I Can't Let Maggie Go was a song in its own right for years. I thought it was just the Nimble bread jingle, which I'm sure must have played out for years and years it's so ingrained in my head.
Who from that era doesn't recall the superslim popsy floating off in a hot air ballooon?

Now I know this song to be a folky thing of great beauty by the curiously-named and now forgotten baroque pop purveyors Honeybus. It may well be one of the only songs I remember from the Sixties at the time, though it may not have been used until the dawn of the Seventies and even then I don't think this is actually Honeybus singing. Maggie: is there a more Seventies woman for a hip young woman about town who's busy watching her weight by day and go-go dancing in hotpants by night?

I'm sure you know this ad and this song. If not: