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.


  1. What a lovely heartwarming piece. And how fantastic to have had a ship's pilot for your uncle. He sounds perfect (less so as a husband, but hey.).

    That song was such a floor-filler out Essex way back then. I just associate it with looking down on stacks of dancing hair, from a balcony at some club in Southend I'd ended up in by mistake.

  2. Jazz Funk is forever fused with the phrase XR3, as all the chaps who were Jazz Funk fans lusted after these new Ford Escorts. It's become a forgetten genre, and being only heard in clubs, select tunes nattered about in hushed tones, dedicated collectors and being chart-interest free generally - it was, in a way, as alternative as anything you'd hear in indie clubs (before they were called indie/alt clubs that is)

  3. Forgive me for picking on the only typo in the post, but I do rather like the idea of a band called Badginger...

  4. Trust you, TT. However, it's a great name for a band.

    True, Mondo, that the jazz funkers were a tribe in themselves. I had a friend who was well into Level 42 way before they became the band we all remember. In fact, Chinese Way is a great song, as are things like Garden Party by Mezzoforte and selected bits from Light Of The World. In fact, see my post on that very thing somewhere here.