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.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

1978: Pays?

I have only ever kept two diaries in my life, one in 1978 and one in 1981, and even then I ran out of steam in about mid-March.

I never had the patience to keep it going. You can see as the entries become less detailed that my heart clearly wasn't in it. But the first diary I kept, a Melody Maker one that my that I had for Christmas 1977 (despite being a Record Mirror reader, but dad obviously got it from work), is packed with some fascinating insights into my then 12-year-old mind.

I forgot how mad I was on Happy Days, how I had a huge thing for the girl three doors up and how each week I'd note the Top Ten singles.Then there were the everyday struggles of early adolescence and schoolday fundays and nightmares, not to mention sweeping insights into the marriages of our neighbours.

But the one thing that was but a short-lived craze though we spent every weekend for ages doing it, was metal detecting. We weren't the only ones of course. Everyone was at it.

Dad had got one of those plasticy black metal detectors for Christmas and we were almost immediately out there looking for buried treasure. We practically dug op the entire garden after a frenzy of beeping, but all we found was a rusty bike frame. Another area showing great promise was the vegetable patch, and after much digging we found a dead cat in a plastic bag, still wearing its collar. Nothing to bother the treasure trove there, then.

So we branched out. Old ruins, neolithic burial sites, beaches. You could go anywhere with a metal detector and a spade in those days, no one said a word. We'd happily excavate around the walls of a castle in the hope of finding a Bronze age helmet, or hover over streams in search of Roman coins. I'm sure it was around this time a schoolboy found a medieval sword in a river and got £1000 for it. We wanted a piece of that action. 

One day on the beach at Bournemouth we struck bounty with a purse full of coins. Modern coins, but money we could spend. It made up for the surfeit of dogshit and condoms (used) we had to negotiate to get there.

But soon enough, like keeping the diary, the novelty wore off. Does anyone go metal detecting anymore? I'd love to give it another go. If no one's been doing it for years it's only a matter of time before I'm handsomely rewarded by the British Museum for finding some lost artefact worth millions.

Anyhoo, this song was all the rage when our passion was at its height, and always reminds me of an afternoon at Merdon Castle just after Christmas, vainly searching for riches. I'm still doing that now of course, but there are no castles involved.

Monday, January 7, 2013

1980: I'm not very clear how it began

Happy New Year! A time for change? Itchy feet? New year, new you?

Growing up with the Peakes, this was always the case. Our feet never touched the ground. I'm exaggerating, slighty, but we moved every five years, which for a family of four is some feat. And when we weren't doing that, we'd spend an awful lot of time viewing houses.

I've moved twice in 23 years, but my parents have moved six times during this period and are always talking about doing it again, despite being in their seventies. While I find it utterly exhausting and something one rarely wants to do, they love it.

So a lot of Sundays were spent traipsing round showhouses on new developments, or early evenings honouring appointments to view more established ones. We must have seen inside almost every house in the town, and I'm pretty sure the idea behind all this was to have a good old nose behind hitherto closed doors.

I never had to be dragged along. In fact, it was a bit of an outing, a change of scene, something I always looked forward too. It was interesting to see inside other properties and how they compared to our own. Plus, there was always might be. I remember going back to see some two or three times, sometimes more. It seems there was always a need to labour under the illusion we were always about to move on even if we weren't.

New houses were the best though. Showhomes always looked great, and so cosy, especially on dull winter days. We'd come away with armfuls of brochures, with their artists' impressions of smart executive drives with mature trees and neat lawns, and their fold-out floor plans which I'd spend time mulling over deciding which bedroom would be mine and where I would put everything, what I'd see from my window and above all how nice it would be to start afresh.

I still remember some of them now: Cuckoo Bushes Lane with its yellow kitchen, Kingsway with its curly kale and dogshit all over the lawn, Merdon Avenue with its indoor swimming pool, Marlborough Road (too close to Fanny Cradock-alike Liz Gay-Pickard from the drama club), Gordon Road (they were emigrating to South Africa but there were flies buzzing around a bare lightbulb in an upstairs bedroom), Chestnut Close with its eyebrow dormas, Winchester Road with its built-in display cabinets, Hook Crescent with it's thicket of silver birches, Thornbury Wood with its sliding patio doors and advert fantasy nets, and almost the entirety of the (now) circa 1979 Miller's Dale development, which grew the town by almost a third when it was finally finished. All unpainted window frames and reddish brick cul-de-sacs. It's mature now of course, but you wouldn't want to live there. It would be like being trapped in Brookside forever. I don't think there's a window frame there that remains Eighties bare today.

Anyhoo, whenever I hear this song, I'm inexplicably reminded of house-hunting and the joy it brought, though there would be plenty of other memory-joggers associated with this particular hobby through the years, but it's always this one and Livin' Thing by ELO that jolt me the most. Must have been chart rundown time or something.

I wouldn't be averse to moving again, but it's so much better to dream, isn't it?