Thursday, September 19, 2013

1988: All through the night

Don't know about you, but I'm up with the lark these days.

When I say these days, I mean for the past 15 or so years. There was a time when I never saw the dawn unless I was coming home during it. I never knowingly got up to see the sun rise. I don't know how this happened - it's not like I had children to jolt me into early mornings or anything - it just occurred. Over time I got to thinking it was the best part of the day. Now, I like to - not necessarily be dressed and ready for sunrise - get an early start. The day is young, still, quiet and you can make the most of it.

So I have no problem getting out of bed but, like most of us, it wasn't always the case. There was a time when I'd happily wallow in my pit until midday. Needless to say, when the time came to start working it was a living hell. You want to stay up late, but you have to get up in the morning. What kind of awful injustice is that? But at least I was living in central London. It's not like I had a milk round or had to go down a mine or stand at a bus stop in a country lane in the pouring rain at 5am.

But to me it felt no different to that. Worse was to come, however. Finding myself between flats - ostensibly homeless but for friends' spare rooms and sofas for a few months until I got myself together - I briefly lived in Greenhithe, Kent (see post 1988: All We've Got Is This Moment), now home to the gigantic Bluewater shopping centre, but then more or less the back of beyond.

I was working at a central London bookshop, where each night after work we'd descend on the local pub and stay put until closing time. Not adjusting my lifestyle in the slightest, this meant a long train journey from Charing Cross, then picking my way from the station up unlit roads into the back entrance of the house I was temporarily lodging at (thanks go to Tony for getting me out of a hole) and going straight to bed.

It wasn't always so straightforward. There was one night I realised I'd trodden in a rather sickly yellow dog turd which was all up the stairs and through the house, which meant scrubbing for hours until it was gone. Then there was the time I'd left the gas on, the smell of it on opening the door reminding me of that PIF about not turning on the light, so sitting there with all doors and windows open until I thought it was safe to do so.

Usually I was home but about oneish and to make sure I was at work for nine - as we had to clock in and out there was no hiding place - I had to go immediately to bed in order to get up at about 6.30 if there was any hope of getting in on time. What fresh hell was this?

Each morning I was rudely awakened by the radio alarm as the sun struggled to break through the grey autumn clouds, and more often than not, this little gem was what I woke up to. To date, it's the only Kylie song I find bearable.

Whenever I hear it now it makes me want to snuggle back under the duvet and not go anywhere, and I still associate it with dark mornings, utter, killing tiredness coupled with a vague hangover and with a long journey ahead of me. But I never gave myself a break. FOMO meant it was the same again the next day and so it went on until I finally moved back into central London in early December. And there I've stayed ever since.

Though I embrace an early morning if it's in my own time, the thought of doing one of those lengthy commutes - hideously early starts and not getting home til late and having no real downtime - is just horrific.

So come back to bed with me and let's doze to this. Who's feeling all warm inside?

Monday, September 16, 2013

1982: Why I'm alive

Driving to work this morning, taking in the crisp early autumnal landscape and chilly feel of these back to school days, up popped Donna Summer's State Of Independence. 'That reminds me of the time...' I thought.

And then what it actually did was remind me that I still have a blog where I post songs that recall a moment in my life and which I have ignored since April. Time for a revival perhaps?

If you're ready teams, let's play.

Today's subject is school trips. I was always the first to put my name down for a school trip. When I arrived at boarding school I couldn't believe what was on offer. Whereas all previous school trips had been confined to the Tudor House in Southampton, Lulworth Cove and once a regional theatre production of Death Of A Salesman at the Salisbury Playhouse, these outings were to London theatres, galleries and museums. Of course I was going to go. In that first term I was as regular a coachgoer as Brendan Sheerin.

I didn't really want to see Toyah Wilcox as a wrestler in Trafford Tanzi, Dennis Waterman in Windy City or Cats at the Young Vic but I was going anyway. The most fun of it was on the minibus and then wherever we went to dinner or lunch afterwards: A small and very old-fashioned Greek restaurant in Waterloo, Pizza On The Park where we cheeked the waitress until she could take it no more and the cafe at the National Gallery to name but a few. What fun it was to be out in London in 1982 aged 17.

London was much of a mystery to me back then. I'd been up for the odd day but now I was a much more frequent visitor. I knew that it wasn't necessary to get the Tube from Covent Garden to Leicester Square, but there were still some parts of it we'd travel through that were totally new to me and captured my imagination, sometimes because they were so awful but mainly because it was all so exciting and different. Even now, there are still some bits of the city I've never been to and I've lived here since 1987.

So can I remember anything about any of the actual trips themselves? To be honest, not really. But I do remember the feel of the weather and this song always puts me in mind of bright autumnal days, milling about first thing in the morning and waiting to get on the bus. We must have done a lot of trips from September to December.

We had one disaster: breaking down on the A3 headed for Noises Off. Smoke billowed from under the bonnet forcing gnomic economics buffoon Phil (teachers were always called by their first names remember) to pull over just north of Guildford. But no one really cared about missing the show. We had much more fun sitting on the soft verges until we were rescued.

Culture vulture? Me? Not as such. Not then. I can't remember doing any more trips outside of the first two terms. Perhaps I was barred or they stopped doing them or I just got bored. That's me, never sticking at anything for long. It makes me wonder how long this blog revival will last.

But anyway, how is everyone?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

2013: Taking a break

Having returned from holiday with absolutely no enthusiasm whatsoever to update this blog, and wondering finally if I've truly run out of steam, I've decided to give it a rest for a while.

'Come back!' I hear no one cry. Well, it's not dead, it's just on hold until I listen to some more music and remember where I was at the time. I don't want to be scraping the barrel with half-remembered nonsense or one-line triggers (something I've got an endless supply of). I'd rather return refreshed with a basket-load of newly-discovered moments in time that I can dissect fully.

But it's been very enjoyable over the past few years, thanks for all your support and I do hope you've liked reading it as much as I've liked writing it, and that the songs have stirred memories in you too.

In the meantime, here's some music (something you'll never find here as it wasn't a hit so we have no connection. But I just love this singer and I'm especially fond of a pop song with an Indian feel, aren't you):

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

1984: People saying that you're no good for me

I felt really Eighties yesterday. All that Thatcher stuff. I was 14 when she came to power, and I remember arriving home from somewhere quite late at night to find my parents in the kitchen with some neighbours toasting a Tory victory.

Politics didn'tm ean much to me then. To be honest, I'm not the most political person now, but I was aware of who was who in government. All those names you heard on the TV and radio I could put faces to. But I wasn't celebrating like they were.

I first became aware of Thatcher during the 1975 leadership challenge. My uncle wanted Willie Whitelaw, but my parents were backing Thatcher. As you've probably gathered, I grew up in a Conservative household. My parents were and still are Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph readers, and the older they get the more conservative with ever 'c' they become, though there was a brief blip when they voted Lib Dem a few elections ago.

But when I say I felt Eighties yesterday, it's because I was transported back to those student days of going to London for marches against Thatcher (in reality sitting in the pub all day or going shopping), the miners' strike, the Brighton bomb and all that. The entire Eighties, almost all of my teens right up to my mid-twenties were lived under the dreaded Thatch.

Now, I'm not one to ding-dong about the death of an old women, no matter how reviled she was, and you wonder if Twitter had been in operation when Myra Hindley died would she have generated the same amount of bile Thatcher did? Devisive is putting it mildly. I was rather shocked by some people's reactions, but then again, perhaps I'm coming at it from a different angle. Politics didn't really affect me.

So how do I feel? Well, I never voted like my parents did, I was shaped by the events of the Eighties which meant I could never bring myself to vote Conservative, but watching that Thatcher bio doc last night - which was fascinating and moreover, had a wonderful soundtrack (Sleepy Shores! Mouldy Old Dough! Chi Mai!) - I got kind of nostalgic and wistful that I lived through this hugely eventful historical period and felt kind of sad it was all over. Of course, if my father had been a miner or something I'd probably be digging out my tap shoes and uncorking the Pomagne.

But then again, would I? Thatcher is all tied up with Red Wedge and Ben Elton and Wham's Freedom (on the common room jukebox the day of the Brighton bombing), a bit of the past that almost gives me a warm glow.

Is that wrong?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

1983: A home for hatred

Whenever it's this time of year and I think of Easter 1983, I always think bleak.

A dull, overcast holiday period, mum back from Bahrain, not doing very much at all except endless trips to London to this new-build flat they'd bought as an investment. They did well out if it after two years, but I've never been able to track down its whereabouts (and they couldn't remember) except that it was in Fulham.

Finally, after parking in a road with a familiar name on Sunday when we took my mother-in-law to the Ideal Home Exhibition (she was concussed by an electric potato peeler but that's another story [not really]), I finally realised this flat's location, and it's more or less directly behind Earl's Court, just around the corner from West Brompton Tube. At the time I thought it was in the arse-end of nowhere.

So why, sitting in that flat for days on end did we not just jump on the Tube and go record shopping or something, rather than sitting in and getting a headache eating Smith's Salt & Shake (which briefly came in actual flavours at this time) and watching Sons & Daughters before heading back in the car on the long journey home?

No imagination, fear of rough Londoners wanting to mug me, no money and general apathy probably, plus having to get this flat ship-shape. So it was daytrips to London and back to that little house we still had on the go which was rented out when we weren't there. It didn't feel like a home anymore. It was devoid of anything personal due to the rental aspect, just a a small table and some bentwood chairs in the 'breakfast room' and all feeling rather ghastly.

When I hear The House That Jack Built I'm reminded of being bored to sobs.

I had a bit of a thing for Tracie (or should it be Tracie!?), especially when when she released Give It Some Emotion. I thought she was amazing and clearly going to be a huge star. With the backing of Paul Weller and all those Smash Hits covers she was bound to be massive. But she wasn't. I thinks he's a DJ in Brighton now? Any ideas?

I wasn't the biggest fan of this song, but I bought it anyway as I bought into the whole Respond ethos. Then I put it away and didn't listen to it for about 20 years until Tracie's one and only album appeared on itunes. So giving it a virtual spin I still thought it was rather empty on the produciton side, though she does have a lovely voice. Give It Some Emotion has still got in a Sixties Belle & The Devotions pastiche way, but the real corker is I Love You (When You Sleep), a single that wasn't a hit. It's gorgeous.

Anyhoo, Easter could never be as boring as that one. My favourite was when me and Mrs P didn't go anywhere but to films every day. It poured with rain and was the best Easter ever. Must have been '93. We went to see Howard's End.

I should add that I got married on Easter Saturday 1996, but that wasn't Easter as such. It didn't feel like Easter. It felt like a wedding. It was an event, not just days off for a public holiday. It was overcast then too. I'm not sure I've ever known a sunny British Easter.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

1982: The lives we've led for years

I'm quite enjoying that Classic Pop magazine, aimed squarely at the likes of me. It seems to have got over its 'Well it was the Eighties!' wackiness and has stopped apologising for the excesses, over-production, style and general silliness of the decade and is doing what it should be doing: embracing and celebrating the best and worst of the era that only rivals the Sixties as being top for pop. 

I was pleased to see a piece on Japan, pre-Tin Drum, turn-of-the-Eighties Japan, but Japan nonetheless, which stirs up so many memories. I've blogged about Ghosts and All Tomorrow's Parties before, but you can never have enough Japan, right?

By this time in 1982 I'd played Tin Drum to death. On the very day we waved my parents off at what was then Eastleigh Airport, basically a load of sheds with planes only flying to the Channel Islands and near continent, my Aunt and Uncle, with whom I was to live with for the next six months, took me straight into town where I was determined to track down and buy the record that would never be off my turntable for almost the whole year until The Hurting came along.

Not that I was a huge Japan fan up to that point, but I'd found the thumping, fragmented Visions Of China intriguing and the album was getting rave reviews from all my peers, so I had to make it mine. Good choice. And as I've mentioned before, I immediately snapped up their entire back catalogue.

So when Ghosts, surely the oddest single ever to make the Top Ten, was a hit, I was sort of thrilled, but also annoyed in that teenage I-was-there-first-and-therefore-I-own-them way that it was reaching the masses. Even Radio Bahrain had it on heavy rotation when I visited that Easter.  So I was relieved when Cantonese Boy didn't light up the charts and then it was all kind of over except for that re-release of I Second That Emotion. Japan were mine again. But by 1983 I don't think I really listened to that album again until the Noughties came along and I put it on my ipod. I was blown away all over again.

A lot of people think Tin Drum hasn't stood the test of time. I disagree. Lyrically it's pretty daft, and you could say it's sort of samey in places, but it's unique in it's fusion of east meet west and its sparse production gives me chills. It's no folly. It's a classic, but it may be that it's so tied in my memories.

Anyway, as I flick my hair over my eye and put on my bow tie, let's listen to this again and remember just how great it was. (Doesn't seem to be an official video on YouTube).

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

1991: Wouldn't be right

'Don't think we'll be rushing back, do you?' Mrs P and I both said at the same time as we were about to board our plane back to London yesterday.

Twenty-two years ago we thought it was the most romantic place on earth, we loved it and vowed to go back. We never got round to it until this weekend and it was a bitter disappointment: Istanbul is a bit of a dump.

When we first went there as friends back then, we returned as lovers, if that turn of phrase doesn't make toes curl. Perhaps it clouded our judgement, because we both recall hot, balmy nights, dinners on roof terraces, lots of the local brew, haggling with friendly locals, seeing all the sights unbothered by the endless hassle, this song pouring out of every speaker, and more.

But in the driving rain and freezing wind, those ultra-steep streets are an exhausting chore, rather than a leisurely potter, and the glassy, grey Bosphourus casts a deathly pall over a crumbling city.

Our hotel billed itself as a luxury destination in the heart of a hip design district. Turns out it was miles from town, accessible by taxi only, with the number of bars and shops countable on one hand, with the hotel thinking it was far trendier than it was. It may caused a sensation when it opened a few years back, but it's trading on past glories like you wouldn't believe. Customer service was not on its agenda and after the less than warm welcome we received it could only go downhill from there.

However, it wasn't all bad. We took time to relax, bought loads of stuff, had some really nice food - and lots of it - and walked miles. We saw all the thing we wanted to see and at least we had each other. And all those stray cats and sad-faced dogs reduced us to quivering wrecks. But at least they're cared for.

How they think they can even countenance the idea of hosting the Olympic Games in 2020 (they're one of the candidate cities) is anyone's guess. In a city where you can't even flush your arsewipes down the lav in 2023, coping with an influx of millions of visitors would cripple it. The traffic is shocking, the public transport infrastructure is in its infancy, and it's basically a city falling apart.

Anyhoo, it was good to leave London, but I think we'll remember the first time.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

1983: She's bad, I know she's bad

People I have loathed 
The first in an occasional series

No.1: Jackie M

It's rare for me to properly dislike someone. There are plenty of people I have found irritating and a bit less is more over time, and plenty I'd rather not have to see ever again in an ideal world.

Naturally, there are those who haven't liked me, which always irks as you wonder what it is about you they don't care for, and make it your mission to secure their approval. If you care enough in the first place.

Jackie M didn't fall into any of these groups.

A twig in a rah-rah skirt, long legs, flatties, denim jacket, Marlboro Red permanantly in hand and not nearly as attractive as she imagined herself to be, she thought she was the cat's pyjamas, the toast of the town, she queen bee of the sixth form. But she was actually a horrific airhead narcissistic bitch who had people dancing to her evil tune and, despite being called Jackie, was an archetypal Sloane Ranger straight out of the handbook who swept back to school each Sunday night with the latest goss from Foxtrot Oscar and how she had jolly good fun in Redcliffe Gardens. What was she, 16?

She'd been expelled from her previous school. I never knew what for, but you could see why. Her best mate at school seemed to be a part-time teacher in her thirties called Jane, who with her upturned collars and pearls and County vowels once mocked me for referring to 'horse-riding' - they called it just 'riding' - and was clearly what Jackie was destined to become, without the teacher bit. They'd roar off in Jane's white Mini at weekends off to some fancy London party. If it was the Sixties - where Jackie would have been a willowy Marianne Faithfulesque tragedy queen called Penny - it would end in disaster. Who's to know whether it did or not?  Jane was an instant hate figure of course, so her union with the awful Jackie was pre-destined.

Jackie was always being caught with boys in her room in the dead of night, and was well-known for bringing drugs into the school. She was also openly schtupping Mike the mincey dance teacher who tucked his stonewashed jeans into his legwarmers and from whom she caught a series of STDs, which were worn like a badge of honour. When he got sacked and dumped her, she slashed her wrists in a desperate bid for attention. And that wasn't the last time either.

I saw right through her and thought her ghastly from the moment I set eyes on her. In return, she had little time for me. I don't think we had more than two conversations in the whole year. It was hardly like she was my nemesis, but I just never took to her nor she to me.

I often wondered why she was like she was. I think it might have been more than simply teenage rebellion. With a name like Jackie it was unlikely she was landed gentry. I bet mother was a former air hostess or ex-model who married money. I don't think I ever saw her come to the school but I imagine if she had at that time she would have had long blonde hair, a deep tan, a drink problem, worn a short fur coat with her jeans tucked into cowboy boots, if she could break off from her string of affairs for a moment.

Jackie was expelled at the end of that first year after one STD too many, so I was relieved not to have to have her around the next year. Now gone, I realised she was the toxic thread that ran through the community and without her it was a much nicer place to be.

I once met one of her schoolfriends and asked them if they knew her. Oh yes, they knew her alright, but then went strangely silent on the matter. I must Google her at once.

Anyway, toward the end of the year she had a party in a local restaurant and didn't invite me. I was enraged at the time (and this song, though far too jolly, reminds me of that time), but then I remembered that we weren't friends, so why would she? By all accounts it was dull as ditch water. She made a scene and the atmosphere was frosty. I bet she's doing exactly the same today, in some loveless marriage, look pretty but dying inside.

You couldn't make her up, could you?

Next time: David J.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

1971: Far far away

Cul-de-sacs: hotbeds of infidelity, in-fighting, neighbourly politics and behind-closed-doors intrigue. Remember Brookside? Quite.

I grew up in a cul-de-sac, or close, from 1965 to 1975, and believe you me, what didn't go on there is nobody's business. It was apparently famous for its parties, more notably, its wife-swapping parties. And there wasn't a pampas grass in sight. I remember endless parties at all the houses more or less, coming downstairs in the morning and finding underwear hung on car ariels. How we laugh now. I'm not sure if it's all true or not, but they certainly seemed to enjoy themselves.

So we're going down a different route today, and I'm going to talk you through all 18 houses, their inhabitants and some key memories. It's not that everyone in this list was there for the full 10 years, but there was a low turnover of residents and here's who I remember being around most. While we're doing this, we'll listen to Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep by Middle Of The Road, the song that soundtracked my early years by being never off the radio and with a band who looked like the neighbours.

No.1. The Davises.
He worked for Barclays Bank, she grew up round the corner from my mum. They had one child when they arrived, another came in 1970. He put a pink sheet up at the window to announce her arrival. My dad remarked that it was a 'big girl's blouse' thing to do. We went to Majorca together in 1972 then they moved to Jersey in 1973. But our families remained life-long friends. Replaced by those life-changing Americans.

No.2 ?
I cannot for the life of me remember their names - they seemed a bit dull, but they had two children called Jane and Ruth. We weren't friends. I once saw them fall out of their mother's car as she turned a corner and the dad took the neighbourhood kids for rides up and down the Close on his motorbike.

No.3 The Bullises
She did Blue Peter makes and hid them in the shed. Had a mute son called Julian who was friends with my brother. Moved to Redcar.

No.4. The Kellaways
My parents second favourite bete noire, university types with an untidy front-garden, three kids and a red setter called Jane that died after eating a piece of string. They'd lived in Uganda. House smelled of something I could never quite put my finger on. Unkempt hair all round.

No.5 The Barrats
My parents ultimate nightmare: hippies! Bare boards, garden completely plain and flat, lots of kids, awful old Austin 7 sitting in the drive. Funnily enough, like people do, they became leading lights on the local council and mum recently attended her funeral and denies all knowledge now of ever having been irritated by them. Moved in '73 to be replaced by Jill and Bob. He worked for Gillette and had a very noisy nervous breakdown.

No.6 The Yorks
Brummies who came to our street by way of Brighton. He had a shock of red hair. She was in love with Gilbert O'Sullivan. Their loo door was black. Years later, when we'd moved, they moved in across the street from us once again. Had a wet son who we taunted resulting one day in father slapping me round the face in the street and the police being called. When my dad went over to demand to speak to him he turned all the lights out and pretended he wasn't in. NB Was once the last person to see a colleague before she was murdered.

No.7 The Comptons
He looked like a toby jug. She was called Joan. Had two daughters who must have been a few years old than me, as they bought Gary Glitter records and we watched Top Of The Pops at their house and they'd ask me what I thought of Jimmy Osmond. My uncle would take Joan chocolates on Christmas day. I was once in a chip pan fire at their house. I can still smell it. Joan was never the same again after she burnt her hand.

No.8. The Cripps
Three kids, we'd meet at the ice cream van. Anything else I can't recall.

No.9 Christine and Terry
I never did know their surname but they were by far the youngest in the street. She was a glamorpuss with Adrienne Posta hair. He had big sideburns and drove a yellow Ford Cortina. Eventually, he left her for a woman he was having an affair with, leaving her devastated. Years later, my best friend Jonathan Murgatroyd moved into that house with his family.

No. 10
The Wheelers. Three kids, he was an alcoholic estate agent who hid bottles all over the house. I remember one kiddies party there where I called out to the magician that I'd seen him before and this was all old hat. He took me aside afterwards and gave me a major dressing down. I remember the sting of that humiliation. The Wheelers eventually divorced and he disappeared. When she and the kids moved out we watched it from the window. 'No one got divorced in my day,' said my granny, 'And if they did, they were ashamed of themselves.'

No.11 The Huffys
Worked for IBM, always extending their house. Once reputedly put LSD in the punch at someone's party. Daughter who looked like David Bowie and dressed in huge fun fur bomber jackets. One day, while playing with the two boys, I was asked if I'd like to stay for tea. Seduced by the smell of grilled bacon I readily agreed, only to find the bacon was reserved for the daughter who was due back from her paper round and we were all having banana sandwiches. I realised at that moment that life was likely to be full of disappointments. Mother appeared in a documentary in the mid-Eighties about divorce, as apparently the small town I grew up in was the divorce capital of Britain.

No.12 The Peatties
The original owners had moved out after father, whose affair with a younger co-worker resulted in her pregnancy, killed himself on the edge of the A33. So along came this family. Both children slightly older than me but we were great pals. Her mother did hairdressing from home, had married at 19, smoked for Europe and took us to Beaulieu Motor Museum on more than one occasion. Often played host to foreign language students who smelled. We used to take daring peeks at the father's not so carefully hidden knack mags. Always seemed to watching either The Sky's The Limit, David Nixon or And Mother Makes Three.

No.13 The Browns
Had a baby who was strangled in his own highchair while mother's back was turned for a split second. I don't remember this, but I do remember their older daughter who was a teenager and covered her room in flower stickers and humorous teatowels. Had a lovely extension with bare brick walls. Dad was a bank manager and gave us a lift to school, during which he chain-smoked with the windows shut. She worked for NatWest too, and years later helped me open my first bank account.

No.14 That was us.
You know enough about us.

No. 15 The Cleavers
Loved them, still do. Though mum and dad weren’t exactly super friends with them, what with them being academics and Labour voters, they were fond.  Where our mum threw dinner parties, their mum could be found mooning over art books or painting an Airfix model of the Cutty Sark, and they encouraged modern role-play games. They had two boys who we were best pals with.  I was devastated when they moved, but it was only round the corner. Mum might bump into them in the supermarket now and again.

No. 16 The Monaghans
He was an Irish hairdresser whose mother was head housekeeper at the New York Hilton. She was a blonde, northern glamourpuss. They were immensely stylish. It irks my mum when I say we copied them, but we did. They had an extension, we had an extension. They went to Colley's Supper Rooms, so did we, etc. He drove a bronze Jag. They had one daughter then another 16 years later. I was sent a clipping from the local paper featuring him retiring from his salon after 40 years. I remember going there on opening day and finding a secret door into Hepworths' stockroom.

No.17 The Fyalls
We were huge pals with their two boys, and I remember thinking why my trendy mum and dad couldn't be a bit more ordinary, especially when they had invited some other neighbours (who replaced Jill and Bob) to their firework do. The older son collected 2000ADs and was into war. We often watched Sykes at their house.

No.18. The Sears
IBM again, often watched T with their children after school. Mother thought the girl from The Kids From 47A overacted. Years later I'd babysit for their kids and let them watch Hammer House Of Horror because I was too scared to watch it on my own.

And that's that. Memorable, colourful, always something going on, but with a slight dark side.

So who would you be friend with?

Thursday, February 28, 2013

1981: Suddenly it struck me

A bleak half-term in prospect. Dad's away, everything feels very temporary in these pre-Bahrain days. O-levels are looming very large, it's grey and overcast and we're going to Bristol for a few days to stay with Norma and Derek.

Actually, I was fond of Norma and Derek. They'd been friends of my parents for as long as I could remember. Mum met her when she was a Hoover demonstrator in a department store in Bath where they lived in the early Sixties. From then on, we must have seen them about once a year, either at their place or ours.

Theirs was best though. A huge house - or series of huge houses - in the middle of Bristol, with rooms they let out to lodgers. We'd have great fun knocking on doors and hiding, or exploring the numerous empty rooms in the always spooky houses.

Norma and Derek didn't have any children but always seemed happy. He was a hoot, she was too, they both liked a drink, she drove a DAF in which there were cassettes of Shirley Bassey singing Kiss Me, Honey Honey, Kiss Me and she hacked that car like a maniac. They played badminton and went for curries and always seemed on the go. And they always treated me like a grown-up. When I was packed off there at exactly the same time the next year, though I was furious at missing the party of the season, there were worse places I could be.

So it was a shock to discover a few years ago that right since they were first married she'd had a string of affairs, most notably with a TV repairman called Sid, which lasted for years.

Derek was a funny man. Funny ha-ha - he was practically a one-an show - but perhaps funny peculiar too. No one knows what goes on behind closed doors. He was never out of the sweet shop, offering round sherbet-filled flying saucers on our day trip to Ross-On-Wye, Reward by Teardrop Explodes never off the radio. That song always reminds me of those few damp, dark days on the England/Wales border. That urgent brass a portent of doom, reminding me of all the horrible things I've yet to face and making me wonder what I was doing in that car at my age. Shouldn't I have been doing something more exciting?

Oh, those first six months of 1981 were, shall we say, difficult. But that was then. Love this song now, though it kind of makes me shudder a bit in a self-indulgent lucky escape way.

Anyhoo, my parents truly went off Norma and Derek in later years. Not sure why. I think they just didn't have anything in common anymore. We rarely saw them. The last time I saw them was at mum and dad's silver wedding in 1986, where I could have killed Derek who made me do a speech. I'd prepared nothing, it hadn't even crossed my mind, but luckily being on the hoof it was from the heart.

He died last year, she's still around and now goes on cruises. Apparently she's missing Derek dreadfully...

Thursday, February 21, 2013

1982: I'll shop around

Remember all the fuss this cover caused? Even before this single was released Anabella Lwin (where is she now?) was causing a stir, mainly whipped up by Malcolm McLaren of course, master of publicity. It worked.

Bow Wow Wow were on my radar before this was released but I'd never really heard much of their oeuvre. Like the nation I was seduced by the whole sex kitten with tribal drums thing and explored further.

But it was only the other day when I realised I didn't have Sexy Eiffel Towers in my itunes library did I then come across other forgotten gems like the hit that never was Do You Wanna Hold Me and the rather lovely Man Mountain (both hits in the taste-making Netherlands). But there's only so far you can go with such a strong and striking image - just ask Adam Ant - and how soon we fell out of love with them. By the autumn of 1982 it was all over as no one was prepared to take them seriously after I Want Candy.

I'm fond of this novelty though with it's garish high street imagery and talk of bake n' takes (or is it bacon steaks? I've never been sure). But have you ever tried dancing to it? I remember it being played in - say it - discos and it never failed to clear the dancefloor. It reminds me of cycling to sixth form in the morning, stopping off at Sperring's the newsagent and steeling myself to buy fags. Do I look old enough? What will I pick this week? Park Drive? Kent? And look the new Smash Hits is out, and if we're lucky New Sounds, New Styles and that other one that once had a revealing article about masturbation flagged on its cover which I had to hide from my aunt.

All that and Anabella. Oh those salad days.

Monday, February 18, 2013

1985: In you I see all colours

It seemed like a good idea at the time: a yellow tartan bomber jacket teamed with a paisley shirt. Can't remember the trousers but those patent leather shoes were a fashion flash-in-the-pan that were never meant for me. But I wore them anyway. Who did I think I was - Kurt Hummell?

I was bit of an impulse buyer when it came to clothes, and when the band King bought spray-painted DMs and tartan suits to the fore in early '85, I fancied a piece of that. Perhaps if I'd run with an art college crowd this particular ensemble might have been fine, but I was out of step here. I've made similar faux pas since but this is one that always sticks in the mind. And when I saw my shoes featuring in a Cup-a-Soup ad it did little to curb my embarrassment. I had to steel myself as I got off the bus and headed downstairs into Goblets wine bar for my first official night out with a newly minted circle of friends, you know, the ones you make once you've got the first termers out the way.

They were all a bit Sloaney but they seemed to rule the school. Their reach was long. They were always having enormous fun. This greatly appealed to me. But Sloanes didn't do fashion and liked Chris De Burgh. I was prepared to overlook it. There was a girl I was determined to get. I was working my way into the inner circle. No one remarked on the outfit. But I didn't wear it again. Funny what's important to you at the time.

This was an awkward stage all round. Those aforementioned new friends were borne out of someone down the hall from me who I'd hit it off with a couple of months before, mainly because I found myself sitting next to him by chance on a crowded train from London. He was much more fun than my initial pal and we had loads in common, not least the same sense of humour.

The original friend was on my course, a local lad with a non-student girlfriend and as the term went on I found we had little in common apart from music. And now, post-Christmas, I found myself making excuses not to have to see him. I had found what I considered to be a far more exciting crowd that was eager to inveigle my way into who were much more me.

Sadly, he wasn't really getting the message. He kept turning up and I'd have to keep turning him away. Difficult, as we saw each other most days, but eventually he took his mullet and his 'tache and found some new people to go to horrible wine bars with and invite back to his mum's for their tea.

I shouldn't be cruel, the family had been more than welcoming. His Tracey Thorn-alike hairdresser sister even highlighted my hair for free. But it was all a provincial and I had become a frightful snob. I didn't want to go to Boogies wine bar with his frosted-haired girlfriend. I had found bigger fish to fry. Well, after the first term, didn't we all? It's one of those rites of passage, isn't it? Still, my treatment of him is kind of unforgivable.

One of our last outings was a King gig at Bournemouth Academy. I don't remember much about it except Paul King was wild-eyed and arrogant on stage, he was expecting the song to go to No. 1 (it was sitting at No.2). He thew some T-shirts into the audience, which got thrown back. And we saw two people we knew off our course. It was jolly enough.

I bumped into him now and then outside of our course and it was all pleasant enough, but we weren't friends anymore. He could see I moved on and I made that plain. When the second year came around I heard he'd left to do something more practical. Sometimes I wonder what became of him. I was kind of cruel. But I'm not beating myself up about it. That's the way it goes.

By the next autumn term things were starting to move on again. A schoolfriend of mine joined after a year out, didn't much care for my friends and so the seeds were planted for a brand new year of new faces, new places and new experiences. And that's what it's all about, isn't it?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

1993: How she shock

She was a pleasant woman. A qualified lawyer, not unattractive, married to a successful barrister, had popped out four kids by the time she was 29 (which was now) and she was my new boss. And she smelled. Really, really badly.

I'd been working there since 1989, had been shuffled about a bit and finally was being moved to the journals department. Deadly dull of course, but perhaps not quite as deadly as it had been. Plus, it was a fresh start for me within the company - I say fresh - and probably my last chance to wake up and the smell the coffee before I was fired for obvious lack of interest.

I have to say it was better than it had been before, and one of the main pluses was watching my new boss and her super-ambitious deputy at war. They both bitched about each other behind each other's backs and it was a relationship that had been rocky from the start and was now rapidly falling apart.

I liked them both, not hugely, there were sides to both of them. The smelly one was unreliable, flaky and a giver of misinformation. The deputy was sneaky, a major brownose, talked 19 to the dozen (especially over lunch), looked like Jim Carrey in The Mask - 'Smokin!' we'd utter as she walked by, clearly had an eating disorder, was saddled with a neanderthal boyfriend who was properly obsessed with football but made a wonderful lime cake which she never touched. In the end she reigned victorious as the other one, who went slightly AWOL though I can't recall the circumstances, was forced out.

So why did she smell? And what of? Imagine never having washed. It was that. New people would ask what the funny smell was as she wafted down the corridor. Other would be checking the soles of their shoes. Her office was treated like there'd been a toxic spill and no one ever wanted to sit next to her at lunch. She was in an important role, she had to meet authors and go to functions, if not through her work then through her husband's. Perhaps it was in the nose of the beholder because not everyone got it, but the majority certainly did. 

After some subtle investigation, it was concluded that it was because she had all her clothes dry cleaned rather than washing them and, as we all know, dry cleaning doesn't get to the heart of the problem. Then someone said it was because she was having sex in the morning and not showering. Stomachs turned.

One day she announced that she and I were going to visit the printer, and she was driving. The thought of being in a confined space with her made me gag. I prayed for a sunny day.

I got my wish, but she insisted we close the windows on the motorway as she cranked up the radio and I turned a shade of green. On arrival, printers backed away. I hoped they didn't think it was me.

Some months later, just before she left, the smelling stopped. Whether it was a medical condition that had at last been cured, she had started using the washing machine or someone had quite simply had a word I'll never know, but she ended her days smelling, quite literally, of roses. The HR woman breathed a sigh of relief. She'd never quite got round to having that little chat.

When I hear this song I can still smell her.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

1978: Leave it there

Eggs au gratin. Victoria Sponge. Treacle tart. Gooseberry fool. Apple crumble. No, not the lunch menu at a 1950s convalescent home, but just some of the delights I remember making in domestic science lessons in school.

When I say making, I mean not paying any attention, forgetting to take in some of the ingredients and hoping for the best. Basically, it was the ultimate opportunity to piss about, big time.

It was quite new, I think, back then, for boys to cookery and girls to do woodwork, not segregated but all together. It must have been a recent change to the school curriculum. It was on roatation with technical drawing, woodwork and metalwork, and cookery was always in the January term.

I can't remember learning a single useful or practical thing, and I certainly didn't make anything more adventurous than toast until about 1987. But it was the most enormous fun. I spent more time out of the classroom than in it, with Mrs Sharland (the willowy nice one with the alice band and slight cardigan) or Mrs Stewart (the dumpy one with the teal Crimplene elasticated flares, owlish specs and very northern vowels) often at the end of their tether and banishing me from the room until I'd had a long, hard think about my behaviour.

But I wasn't the only one. Preparing anything was always fraught with danger. Beware an incoming spit ball, pen lid, bit of Blu-tack, even a drawing pin. Someone once found a  pencil case in their shortbread mix. Then of course there were those grubby schoolboy hands kneading and fiddling about. I'm suprised environmental health didn't stop us at the door on the way out.

Once pastry was made, it invariably ended up stuck to a window, the ceiling, the clock, in the hood of someone's anorak, in a brief case, anywhere but in the bowl. Flapjacks ended up being used as frisbees and fairy cakes crumbled into girls' hair. It was a riot.

In the You Couldn't Make It Up file, after having been sent out to calm down, Richard Stead ran in as Shaun Corrigan was taking his crumble out of the oven, which he dropped due to the misuse of oven gloves, which was then slipped in by the aforementioned Richard who slammed his hand down on the workbench in order to steady himself thereby sending someone elses millionaire shortbread sky high. If only You've Been Framed was going.

It wasn't all a disaster. I did get a B+ for my Victoria sandwich, something my mum and my granny laughed endlessly about. Not that we ate it. Everything I took home went straight in the bin, unsurruptitiously too. No one wanted to eat the very gelatinous-looking egg dish, which would have been both unappealing and unpalatable had it been prepared by Escoffier himself. I didn't protest; it turned my stomach too.

Cooking wasn't as glamorous as it is today. I don't think BBC1 or ITV had a single cooking show on in prime time, with BBBC2 the only place to see the likes of plain cooks Delia Smith or Zena Skinner in action after 7pm. But we always had Farmhouse Kitchen during the day. Who doesn't hear Fruity Flute and get all nostalgic?

Naturally I'm a super cook now. I can do anything. It's all a question of knowing how to follow and recipe and getting your timings right, and we're drowning under the weight of a million cookery shows. But I wonder how useful school cookery lessons were to anyone?

Still, at least boys were exempt from Parentcraft. That child doll wouldn't have stood a chance. Sewing, on the other hand, was a whole different ballgame.

Anyway, one cookery lesson day it snowed. I'd been out before school to get my Record Mirror which had Abba on the cover in full The Movie mode. This song was all the rage.
But we all know that one, so let's have Fruity Flute instead.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

1988: Trying to get away

Comic Relief is 25 years old. I can hardly believe where the time has gone.

At this time I was living in Shepherd's Bush. BBCland. You'd often see the odd familiar face - and when I say odd, I mean odd: Simon Potter lived in the flat above my flatmate's sister. Remember him? Thought not. But it was the home of TV and I lived there.

Everyday on my way home I'd get off the bus outside the theatre where Wogan was playing (now the Shepherd's Bush Empire), past Lime Grove and up the Uxbridge Road to my flat.

On the day Comic Relief was born, I'd been into work to clear my desk and on my way back through the Bush I saw two policeman being filmed wearing red noses. Of course, it was Comic Relief day! What enormous fun. And there's a TV camera. Wow. I'm right in the thick of it.

If only.

My job was finishing, the office as being shut down. I was glad, as I hated it (see 1987: We were watching TV and 1987: Counting down to judgment day for more info should be interested). What I was going to do now was anyone's guess, but it was the perfect opportunity to watch Open Air and Sons & Daughters and get up late, not answer the phone to my parents who'd inevitably badger me regularly to get another job - had I been round the shops asking for work, or what about that friend of theirs who worked in accounts at American Express?

I had no intention of following any of these up, though I half-heartedly did just to get them off my back. I wanted to do something interesting. I'd have to wait another eight years for that to actually happen, but in the meantime here I was in Shepherd's Bush, the hub of the British TV industry. Surely the job of my dreams is just around the corner. I quite wanted to be on the telly, but I really wanted to work in the proper media. I scoured the media Guardian for TV-related jobs, bought Broadcast magazine, Media Week and other magazines way out of my ambit containing jobs I was totally unqualified for. Look! Thames need a weatherman. And oh, I don't know what that job at the BBC entails but I'll go for it.

Back then, when you applied to the Beeb, there was a very long and complicated series of forms you had to fill in - by hand of course. If you applied a lot, you got your own reference number. I eventually got this and it meant you didn't have to worry about filling in all the personal bits and pieces as they already had them of file. But it was to no avail. I never worked for the BBC. I now know that's a good thing, having had enough dealings with them over the past 18 years. I've satisfied my cravings for the soon to be no more BBC TV Centre and I'm utterly relieved that also realised early on that being on TV was not for me. But that's another story, coming soon.

So Comic Relief day, a chance to be a part of something fun and exciting. At least, that's how I felt in those days. Today, I won't watch. It's all in a good cause of course, but I don't like being browbeaten by celebrities into giving generously. I make my own arrangements that side of life, and I also can't bear the forced fun. Newsreaders doing a routine to Sheila Take A Bow is no longer a novelty. Same goes for mixing up the casts of EastEnders and Corrie and having them do I Don't Know How To Love Him dressed as musical hall cockneys. We expect the unexpected so much it's actually rather predictable. There'll never be another Frank Bough and Eddie Waring doing There's Nothing Like A Dame. Still, you've got to admire all the good work they've done and the sentiment behind it.

So what was playing this day at my flat? Why Tiffany's I Think We're Alone Now, of course. What a corker. This would soundtrack the next month or so when before I actually did get a new job. In a shop. Roll on, 1995.

Monday, February 4, 2013

1990: That's what we wanna do

I never went in for the 12" single. Mainly because I was neither a mobile DJ nor wore white socks and soul slippers (except for a brief time in 1982).

I learnt my lesson after buying my first 12", Bananarama's Really Saying Something. It was a huge mistake I'd not make again. There was no sign of that 'hey-yeah-yeah' intro, the only reason I really liked the song. It was at that moment I realised that 12"s weren't just a longer version of the song you liked but a different version altogether, with often the actual radio edit or 7" version nowhere to be seen.

Honestly, I can count the amount of singles I've got on 12" on the fingers of one hand. I only bought them if they were in a sale or there really was nothing else available (Bauhaus classic Bela Lugosi's Dead, only on 12"). Of course I regret that now as they're worth far more than singles, which I've got hundreds of. I binned of a copy of Queen's It's A Hard Life because I found the single at last. I believe it's quite valuable now. But I was keen to offload it because it wasn't the song I wanted to hear.

Two success stories though:

a) Dead Or Alive's You Spin Me Round (Like A Record), possibly my favourite song of 1985, always meant a Saturday night would start with a swing, and it had Misty Circles on it. This time the 12" version of You Spin Me Round really was the song as I'd envisaged, only a bit longer. I bought it because I was mad about the song and forgetting everything I'd previously learned, bought the bigger version because I wanted to hear more of it. Luckily I wasn't disappointed; and

b) Loaded by Primal Scream. I thought this was unbelievable when I first heard it, hence the breaking with tradition and buying the 12". I still think it's a gem today, but it's very much of its time, a bit of a plodder. I remember requesting it at a wedding and dancing wildly to it. Then I saw my dad on the periphery pointing and laughing at me. He took the piss relentlessly afterwards. I'm breaking out in a cold sweat just thinking about it. I've never danced in front of my parents since. I'd had far too much to drink.

But doesn't Loaded just sum up the summer of '90? It was a hot one, and it reminds me so much of stuff I can't really remember. A summer of fug. Well, it was 1990. Despite having a hateful time at work (see 1990: Bee in your bonnet) and in the flat I shared with my brother (see 1990: Cover me in ecstasy), at least I was having some fun. This helped. I adored their follow up Come Together (7" version), but that sounds dated too. It was 23 years ago after all. Twenty-three years before 1990 was 1967. Yes, it's that long ago. Let's frug to Itchycoo Park!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

1999: Move on up

The new millennium is just 10 months away, and I've got a new job.

It wasn't without some trepidation that I waved goodbye to somewhere I'd got very comfortable over the past three years, but I wasn't sure I could bear it a moment longer. I loved my work colleagues - we had some great times and we're mainly still pals now, those that I'm not still working with, but I realised I'd gone as far as I wanted to go.

Six months earlier, I had a new boss, my third boss in three years. I'd had two amazing women - the editor and her deputy - who'd properly mentored me in my first job in journalism. They were encouraging, complimentary, enthusiastic about my work and really kind. For someone just starting out, I didn't need barking at. Luckily, they had no reason to bark.

After about six months the editor was moved to the parent company in Australia and her deputy became the new boss.

She was a 42-year-old out and proud lesbian with a lot of issues, who got unbelievably drunk when we went out and always spilled all her secrets. Such a far cry from the corporate professionals I'd had in my previous jobs. She was a hoot to go out with. She'd clutch your face and tell you how marvellous you were. But, oh the people she'd hooked up with.

Having been on TV Times in the glory days of the early Eighties, when you'd go on holiday with people for a week to do an interview. She had had plenty of those stories, some of which had got out of hand in hotel rooms in Cyprus, and some which hadn't, like going to Romania to adopt an orphan with the now deceased star of a big cop show, for example. Did she ever tell us about the time she went to Majorca with a Coronation Street star who insisted on going around topless, despite her elderly mother linking her arm at all times, and wouldn't speak to my boss until the last day and only did her interview on certain, er, conditions? You bet she did.

She was hilarious. I envied her career. But being 10 years older than me and starting her career as a journalist aged 17 when her mum dropped her off at the local paper, and with me coming late into the profession, she had the advantage. But she taught me everything she knew. What to ask when doing 'at homes' (My favourite: Are you known locally?), how to write in a chatty, magaziney style, everything the budding TV journalist could ask for. She even thanked me at the end of each day. (Now I'd like to say I based my management style on her, but I'm afraid I'm just not that kind of person. If I don't say anything, rest assured it's fine, as you'll hear about it if it's not. Okay?).

But then the call came for her to go to Australia too. She jumped at it, but where did that leave us? With a new boss. Someone we didn't know from a best-selling magazine. Things were going to get serious.

And they did. We were all in shock. It was a huge wake-up. Where we'd been coasting along gently, it was time to ramp things up a gear. Features were ripped to shreds, news stories must consist of far more than a pap shot of Jerome Flynn changing a car tyre (though having said that if only we knew the whole celeb mag explosion was around the corner). I learnt a lot, but after three years, I was flagging. It was time to move on. But the real reason was familiarity breeding contempt. While I had very enjoyed the soap world, with a bit of normal TV thrown in, on the phone to Claire King for about the 15th time one day, I realised I'd mined this vein.

So when an acquaintance called about a job on a digital TV mag, I thought I'd pop along and see how the land lay. I got that job. And here was something totally different. Another stage was about to begin. They had the internet. And email.

So what was playing in the office as I said my goodbyes that February? It was this. We always had the radio on, Radio 1, which by now was going right over my head. But this was on constant rotation. Another reason to move on.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

1981: Your world is so nice

Mum was making some lamingtons for tomorrow's morning tea, but she wasn't using the oven gloves properly, scorched her fingers and stepped back, only to trip over a Violet Crumble some big galah had left lying about, having been distracted by Denise 'Ding Dong' Drysdale getting her tits out on No.96, or was that Abigail.... and dropped the whole lot on the floor. Anyway we managed to salvage something in time to all sit down for Sons & Daughters. That Patricia, eh?


Of course none of this happened to me, but do you think there's someone in Australia keeping a similar autobiographical blog who it did happen to, with the songs that remind them of stuff that happened to them? I'd like to think so and, if so, I'd love to see it. It's the bizarro me, somewhere out there. And what about my Dutch, French, Russian, Malayasian, Canadian, American counterparts? Must be doing it somewhere.

In the meantime, while I gather my thoughts and move onto the next stage of this blog that will hopefully be moving into the work years (seeing as I've mined my teens and twenties almost to death), here's a wonderful song that frankly was way ahead of its time, seeing as it was released in 1981 - sounds late Eighties to me. It's Mondo Rock, with Cool World. Love this video.

And for good measure, let's throw in the lead singer's wife's solo earworm from 1986 (which had got Nicole Kidman in it, fact fans). Once heard, never forgotten.

Friday, January 25, 2013

1979: I'm only here to please you

Yes, it first hit the charts in 1978, but it was around this time in 1979 that this song was on heavy rotation. I loved it then as I love it now.

I found myself singing it in the shower this morning - I'm word perfect, obviously. It's one of those songs that I inexplicably find quite moving, and I especially like the bits where the controller - who to me will always be Stan Harvey from Crossroads - does the responses. I heard it on the radio recently and was horrified to note the West Midlands accent had been swapped for an American one. Is it Brummie-ist, perhaps?

What strikes me about this song when over-thinking it, is how quick it all happens. Bear with. His 'girl' left him in the middle of a fight 'last night', and made her home pretty rapidly at 83 Royal Gardens. She must have been staying with a friend - flats don't get rented in a matter of hours, not in that neighbourhood anyway. Perhaps she wanted her post forwarding or something, because it's good of her to tell him where she was going. She obviously didn't want him out of her life altogether, hence calling the taxi the next day. She secretly hoped he'd be her driver. Either that or she hoped to flee the country and that taxi was for Birmingham Ringway. I bet she had a pink nylon nightie in her suitcase.

So what was the row about? How he should give up the taxi driving and find a more lucrative career? That she'd asked him time and again to put those shelves up and she'd finally snapped? She encountered resistance when trying to get to grips with his wardrobe? I imagine she was on her way to being a high-flyer and found they were moving in different directions. She needed security and long-term prospects, neither of which he could provide. He clearly loved her more than she loved him, but was clearly far too needy. He should have tried his hand at singing instead. Princess Anne was reportedly a fan, and if it's good enough for Anne, etc.

Anyhoo, what does it remind me of? Nothing much really. Making 'drinking chocolate' in the low-lit kitchen, knowing it would be bedtime in about half an hour (9.30 for me in those days, and sometimes these days too, but this time it's out of choice and necessity). Yes, we were all cupping hands in those days.

My parents came to stay recently and asked if we had any hot chocolate or Horlicks or even Bournvita. My response was no, because we weren't 75 years old. Then I remembered how I made those and others for myself way back when, but mainly I think it was a bedtime delaying tactic. I've not even thought about such beverages since, unless I've in Austria or somewhere chocolate-appropriate. It wouldn't occur to me to make or order them otherwise. I'm too busy tanking down the wine.

Anyway, after perhaps the dullest post this blog has ever seen - and, lets face it, there's some stiff competition, sit back and imagine you're avoiding 83 Royal Gardens too, though I'm going on Google maps shortly in an effort to track it down.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

1971: Well I just wondered

We always had the radio on at home. It would stay on in the kitchen whether anyone was in there or not. So you'd often hear snippets of songs, conversations, DJ chatter and news stories while getting a drink of Quosh or snaffling a Blue Riband.

Sometimes you heard a lot of the same song without ever knowing what it was. It was only in about 1986 that I realised the tune that had popped into my head on a regular basis during that time was in fact Nancy & Lee's Did You Ever.

It's easy to see how it would have been a Radio 2 staple. Semi-easy listening, country-tinged, his n' hers banter pop, just perfect for 1971 afternoons. It was only in recent years that I've discovered a very different side to Lee Hazlewood, his grumbling barritone now a firm favourite. This duet couldn't be further from the pop-sike Some Velvet Morning. He had his lighter moments of course, and this was one of them.

I've always been a Nancy Sinatra fan since mum used to sing These Boots Are Made For Walkin' to us. It is of course a Lee Hazlewood song - his own version's worth checking out. And if you've never seen this video of her doing the song, you've really got to. That's proper Austin Powers-inspiring Sixties frugging. But why didn't she have a longer career? Perhaps she wasn't hungry enough. Classic oeuvre as it stands though.

However, Did You Ever reminds me immediately of walking into an empty kitchen, with a clear view of everyone sitting in the garden outside. It's hot outside but cool inside, it's still, somewhere a fly is buzzing, just the radio for company. Kind of comforting.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

1982: You know it's okay

I was settling in to a routine at last.

I was now living with my aunt and uncle in the neighbouring town to where my new sixth form was and mum and dad were by now firmly ensconced in life in the Middle East. There were already rumblings that I wouldn't be there next term but in the meantime I was trying to make the best of it. And so far, so good.

Though I was close to that side of the family, I didn't know them like I got them once I had moved in with them. My cousin, who was just about to turn 21, worked as a secretary in another town. It was by no means a fun job. I didn't see her as particularly ambitious, and probably would have stayed there forever.

She was a classic early 80s 'Sharon', though without the accent: She went to wine bars called things like Street Level and Boogies, and discos called Raffles and Fridays, was really into funk and had a boyfriend with a tache who liked to tinker with his car on a Saturday afternoon while she  stood with arms folded on the doorstep. They'd not have been out of place in a Mike Leigh film, played by a young Lesley Manville and a young Jon Finch.

My other cousin had moved to London (into a flat above Shoppers' Paradise in Kentish Town where someone had died and not been discovered for six weeks. Well, I wouldn't), but came home most weekends to see his girlfriend. I don't know why he bothered. They never seemed to get on particularly well. She worked, as was said back then, 'with spastics', and encouraged this former teenage prog-rocker into red kickers and drainpipe jeans which, to me in New Romantic 1982, was worse than committing murder.

But I was close to the cousin who still lived at home. She was a hoot. We had bedrooms next to each other and had competing stereos. I disapproved of her Kool & The Gang, she was mystified by my playing Tin Drum to death. But she did have a cupboard full of ace singles from the Seventies, which had absorbed my older cousin's collection too, going right back to 1970. Here I discovered Jethro Tull's Living In The Past, Jigsaw's Sky High, Badginger's Come And Get It, among others, and my total favourite which I appropriated immediately, Let's Stick Together by Bryan Ferry.

Despite the endless fights over my clothes - I wanted Oxfam, they wanted Debenhams - I liked living there. By the time the summer came and I knew I wouldn't be living with them next year but starting again at boarding school, I realised I was really going to miss them all. They were my surrogate parents, my surrogate siblings. We had become very close. For the most part, I adored my aunt and uncle.

He was a ship's pilot who'd take me onto the bridge of these giant tankers that he steered expertly into port. We'd have curry and rice - always 'curry and rice' - beforehand in the mess, everyone greeting cook Brenda like an old friend, then afterwards we'd go out to obscure antique shops on the outskirts of seaside towns looking for medals and coins which he collected. He'd always give me cash whenever the mood took him.

That said, we didn't see much of him in the week. He'd being 'playing snooker at the Conservative Club', code for seeing his fancy piece. My aunt said nothing and sat with a grimace on her face nursing a whisky and water and watching dramas like The Bell on BBC2. At least she kept her sense of humour. So did he. We never stopped laughing, and his Saturday teatime fry-ups were amazing.

They're scattered to the four winds now. My cousin got made redundant that summer so decided to try her luck in Bahrain where my mum and dad were. Within a week she'd got a job and a boyfriend. She now lives in Malaysia. She's never looked back. The uncle is dead, the aunt in her Eighties and my other cousin a hugely successful businessman.

So If I had to pick a song that reminds me of those days, that wasn't from the Seventies and not one of my own, I'd have to go with this Earth, Wind & Fire number, which was never off her record player, especially when she was getting ready to go out on a Friday or Saturday night. Such simple times.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

1981: My life is in your hands

I was about the fourth person he'd asked. Unfortunately in those days I was good at saying no to things when being put on the spot. So I agreed. I agreed to a skiing holiday.

Of course I had to run it past mum, and why I didn't ask her to forbid it, or just not tell her at all and lie that they'd said no. I was so unworldly and therefore in another fix.

It's not that I didn't the classmate who'd asked me, but I recall he went through stages of not being the most popular boy in the class. He was sporty but a bit dim, and there was an odd family set up going on. He wasn't the only one of course, there were lots of odd set-ups, but his I never got to the bottom of, despite going on holiday with them.

There were three children. My classmate, his sister, who seemed a year older but was in the same school year as us, and a much younger sister. They called their parents - or I suppose guardians - Auntie and Uncle, but they were apparently unrelated. The guardians were super posh and lived in this amazing 1960s split-level house. There was no shortage of money, but the children couldn't have been more different.

There was casual talk of a mother somewhere, but never talk of a father. Some whisper that they were unsuitable parents. Perhaps the children had to be rescued. I don't think they were officially adopted. What happened to them later was surprising. He's one of the world's most respected sommeliers, but I was shocked to read in the papers about 17 years ago that the older sister had become a high-class prostitute and was embroiled in a big court case. How does one end up liker that?

Anyhoo, back to more innocent times. So it was agreed. I was going. And I was dreading it. I'd never been skiing but was going with a family who went every year. So I was marched down to the dry ski slope in the nearest city and for about two months had the worst time of my life. It was dark, cold, had to be done after school and I never got used to those heavy boots.

Have you ever been on a dry ski slope? It hurts. My thumb still bends right back due to one of many tumbles. It was impossible to stop and really scary. What's more, it bears little or no resemblance to the real thing, which is even more terrifying and actually a properly dangerous and rather foolhardy thing to do unless you're Bjørn Dæhlie.

But I needn't have worried. In my hired skiwear (thanks Snowtogs of Millbrook!), and after making my tentative and hugely unexciting nursery slope debut at what I suppose must have been early January 1981, all skiing at our very nasty modern norther Italian ski resort was cancelled due to lack of snow. So we spent our time either sliding down empty ski slopes in our slippery salopettes, going for hot chocolated in mountain cafes or swimming. Much less dangerous.

In the evenings, when the 'parents' had retired, we sang along as a pompadoured hairdresser from Cheltenham played Hey Jude on his guitar and flirted with the sister. It was enormous fun, except for the early mornings. Not exactly relaxing. It's notable for being the first time I'd had a brioche, the concept of which was helpfully explained by our tour guide on the way to the resort from Milan airport. Now of course you can buy them at the corner shop.

Back home, our rabbit had had a litter. There was more snow there than in the Dolomites. John Lennon was all over the charts. Every time I hear Woman I think of rabbits and skiiing.

Back at school, we went our separate ways again. We were never to be close pals though we'd had fun. It was a strange holiday, but I can't say I didn't enjoy it. I've more detail in that diary I briefly kept. Apparently I was rather taken by a family from Glyndebourne.

I've never been skiing since. Don't intend to either.