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.