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?