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!