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Complete and utter…

pneumatic tube

On January 22nd 1966, These boots were made for walking entered the charts; to celebrate this fact, I erected a life-size poster of Nancy Sinatra, sporting (there is no other word) a pair of pink boots, across my bedroom wall.
This was, in my nine-year-old opinion, arguably the most artistic thing hanging in SW17 that year; next year Nancy was usurped by a picture of Julie Andrews confronting the Gestapo.
A nine-year-old interested in thigh-length boots, I hear you say? Not what you’re thinking. At nine I was still recovering from seeing Action Man naked (my parents had taken the cheaper option and not ordered any uniform) and was quite content playing with my Hot Wheels (this is not a euphemism) to worry about leather-clad women. No, the real reason is that I wanted to work in a shoe-shop.
Clark’s in Tooting High Street had a pneumatic money carrier, which, as a nine-year-old, I assumed launched you into space. The woman who worked in there also looked a bit like John Glenn, so my assumption seemed valid. Although, given the sandals my mum forced me to wear, defying gravity was going to be tricky, there were more holes than shoe. There was also this secret desire to be able to say (without being smacked) “Uranus”, should anyone ask me where I was heading.
As I got older, nude Action Men and Hot Wheels took a back seat and thigh-length boots came to the fore. As did increasingly more frequent trips to the opticians.
I never worked in the shoe-shop, but, ironically, throughout my career in advertising, I have talked a load of old cobblers.

Pandering for attention

Chi Chi the Panda

In October 1966, Chi-Chi the giant panda hadn’t been as lucky as the England football team a few months earlier, as her introduction to An-An in Moscow Zoo was deemed a complete failure – even with extra time.
What people learned from this abortive attempt to increase the world’s declining panda population was: pandas clearly don’t all look the same.
It was halfway through the swinging sixties that the idea of Tinder was first thought up.
With the first series of Mr and Mrs being aired eighteen-months prior to the most public of unsuccessful dates, the respective Russian and English zoo-keepers might have learned the importance of being like-minded helps in searching for your BFF.
I watched the affable Derek Batey avidly as a nine-year-old in my Balham flat and cannot recall any successful panda (let alone two) being on the show, nor questions about your partner’s favourite bamboo flavour.
The average October temperature in Moscow is around two-degrees. So, An-An may not have been at his best, and female giant pandas are very shallow and are not attracted to pandas with a sense of humour.
I can imagine the scene at the introduction of the two animals at Moscow Zoo:
“Well, you don’t look much like your photo, do you?”
“Never mind that, have a suck on this bamboo.”
“Thanks, I might wait ‘til it’s warmer.”
Taxi for Miss Chi-Chi.

Highly strung

violin

Women have always frightened me. It stems from a concert I was part of when I was ten in 1967.
In a ruse to get off maths at my Balham primary school, violin lessons were offered. The consequences of this was me failing maths O-Level three times, the irony being I’m not first violin at the Royal Opera House.
I have a musical ear: I can sing, and, as a ten-year-old, adapted to playing the violin so proficiently I was invited to attend rehearsals for a concert to be given at an all-girls’ secondary school in Tooting: Garratt Green.
In my formative period of ten-years, I’d been mainly shielded from girls – apart from looking curiously at the covers of magazines (we never had in our house) at the barbers and my mum, twenty-four years my senior (girls in my class didn’t count, I’d known them since I was four, and they were all soppy anyway).
What I’d not encountered were ‘big’ girls – those taller and older than me and, especially the other violinists, more threatening.
However, and for an only child, most of the girls in the string section were like older sisters to me and I was put at ease – I think sharing my rosin helped.
I look back and amaze myself none of them put me inside my violin case. I like to think, being a bit nerdy, they felt sorry for me. Whenever our cross country runs from Bec took us near the school, I look back fondly at those girls, to whom I’m grateful, for preparing me for adolescence, something I’m probably still going through.

Fête worse than death

A view of a golden fish in a bag isolated on white background

It’s that time of year when normally we’d be attending our local village/school/church/diabolist commune fairs.
Sadly, none of us, this year, will be winning anything you wouldn’t dream of buying on a Tom-bola stall.
Discarded bottles, costing no more than 67p, from day trips to Calais in the late ‘80s, will still be remaining in the loft for another year.
I’m reminded of the only success at my Balham school fair.
Having previously won goldfish with shorter lifespans than the average housefly, one year I won a goldfish – it lived for eighteen years.
If it hadn’t had such a dreadful memory it would have been old enough to drive – remembering stopping distances would have proved a problem as it was constantly smashing into the side of its bowl.
During these eighteen years I tried to make its life as pleasant as possible: added a plastic diver for company; green foliage modelled on Tooting Bec Common (I assume it had been caught in one of the ponds, so this was a glimpse of “home”) and a signed copy of Moby Dick.
When it died, I wanted to give it a decent burial.  They weren’t too keen at the South London Crematorium (my suggestion of playing “For those in peril on the sea” as the curtain closed, being the nail in the coffin) so I packed him into his own coffin – a tin of daphnia – and threw him in the Wandle.
So, next time you’re watching Tooting & Mitcham, and you hear splashing from the nearby river, please remember Flipper.

Mrs Mills solves a problem like Maria

mrs mills

Not that I went to the theatre before the lockdown, but now, thespians around the world are bringing their offerings, using live streaming, into your front room.
To make this experience even more intimate I believe you should take part in the actual screening: if it’s Les Misérables then sling all your cushions onto the carpet and build a barricade; if it’s Lloyd-Webber’s Joseph and his technicolour dream coat, get that crochet kit down from the loft and help the Family Jacob out – it doesn’t have to be any special material – any wool will do (see what I did there?) and, if you’re watching Macbeth, and you have lodgers, try not to murder them in their sleep and watch what’s being put into that evening’s stew.
It’s also your chance to be the next Vanessa Redgrave or Neil Pearson (good Tooting boy) and say the lines as your favourite character. Take the TV remote, hover your finger over the “mute” button and when it’s your turn say: “To be or not to be”; sing: “I dreamed a dream” or re-enact the fight scene from Women in Love – although mind that fire.
Give it everything – no one will see you (if you’ve got nets); no one will hear you (unless you’ve not got double-glazing) and no one will say anything unless the nets are in the wash, the windows are wide open and you’ve left the living room light on.
And if all that fails, get that nun’s costume out and pretend to be Julie Andrews singing about a goatherd with no mates and potential altitude sickness.
Plus, who needs an excuse to put on an excessive amount of make-up? Oh dear, time for the lockdown to end.
Ready for you now, Mrs Mills.

SOS

flag-semaphore

Given the current lockdown, 1967 was a very important year for me.
As a ten-year-old living in south London, this was the year I attained my Cub’s Signallers’ Badge.
As I still work, my communications these days involve Zoom (not the lolly, nor the 1982 Fat Larry’s Band hit); Webex (like Zoom, only with more spiders) or Teams (not ideal if you’re an only child). House Party isn’t perceived as professional, plus I’m at an age when most things are too loud anyway, so this method won’t ever feature with my client calls.
The novelty of video calls has worn off; so I’ve ordered a set of giant semaphore signalling flags, as my future communication will be waving these frantically from the roof of my house.
My training, back in 1967, involved several wintry weeknights going to a house in Tooting to be taught semaphore by a man so old he could have been Samuel Morse. There was no bell on the front door, just a selection of tom-tom drums in the porch with which to send messages saying you were outside the house (oh, and please either open the door or pop an umbrella through the letterbox).
With my work cap on, as opposed to my Cub cap (and matching woggle), I will be starting business meetings with no introductory pleasantries, but with messages I learned during my 1967 communications course: “My boat is sinking”; “Can anyone erect a tent?” and “I think I’ve burned my sausages”.
In case the latter is construed as a euphemism, I’ve also ordered a set of Aldis lamps.

Cheese is off, love

Sooty

These days everyone can pretend to be David Bailey. Most people have phones, in which are built-in cameras which would put Lord Snowden to shame.
I am conscious, when growing up in south London in the ‘60s, that these photo opportunities for me were rare. The one I use on social media was taken when I was four in 1961.
I remember the preparation and actual taking of the photographs took an age, plus there was the added resentment that my bedroom had become the make-shift studio. I did not want my photo taken (an attitude I still have, fifty-nine years later) and I think it shows as poor Sooty, with whom I am posing, gets strangled making me look like I’ve been brought up in Boston rather than Balham.
The desire to play with Sooty and my thirty-odd other hand puppets, rather than looking angelic, never faded. With the exception of the mandatory primary school photograph (without Sooty), there remain few photos of me. Neither parent owning a camera didn’t aid matters. Although my mum did borrow an aging relative’s Box Brownie during one summer holiday; she held no ambition to become the next Annie Leibovitz (although she did like her posh biscuits).
Other families usually had one relative adept at taking still and/or moving pictures of their offspring and you’d dread the invite round to someone’s house to witness their holiday that year with a blurry, shaky, grainy silent memory of that summer in Bognor courtesy of their cine-camera.
I wonder if I’d had a puppet of Sweep things might have been better?

And, smile 😊

You’ll be lucky

fence

I had to look up what two-metres was in old money. Turns out it’s six-foot, six and a half. I am six and a half inches smaller than that so, if I’m social distancing, I have to lie down and visualise I’ve grown another head.
Apart from very small basketball players, what else is two-metres, so I can mentally imagine this distance in shops?
There is a chart for children which depicts how tall things are, enabling them to see where they fit: Queen Victoria (very short at 152cm); a baby giraffe (183cm) or a female ostrich (194cm). This is as high as the chart goes, the assumption being that, once your child has grown to six- foot-three, they probably aren’t that interested in marking how tall they are with a pencil.
We are now a nation where, if you want to talk to anyone not in your household, you’re going to have to learn how to project your voice (sales of Betamax videos of John Gielgud Acting for Beginners Masterclasses have gone through the roof). People are keeping a safe distance and talking to your neighbour across a fence is (after an absence of about fifty-years) making a coming back.
Up and down the country people are re-enacting Al Read sketches.
And the safe distance either side of a fence will be one-metre of bedding plant. If you’re shouting across the fence, make sure you pronounce the word begonia correctly or Neighbourhood Watch will be on your case.
So, if you see people walking down the street dressed like Bernie Clifton, don’t worry, they’re only going to have a gossip with their neighbour.
Anyone got a cup of sugar?

Speaking Mandarin segments

cherry

With panic buying now a way of life, like watching Corrie or turning the gas off before you leave the house. And, as it becomes so, will our diets change or perhaps we might revert to things you’d forgotten about since childhood, but now remains the only things left on the shelves?
Over the decades, with the introduction of increasingly exotic foods, there must have been a point when you told yourself: these are the last tinned peaches I’m eating.
I think many of us of a certain age can remember refusing to eat corned beef because of its connotations with typhoid – not a good marketing gimmick. (This was before the Falklands War and blaming the Argentinians came naturally even in the early ‘60s).
It used to be perceived as a treat – opening up a tin of fruit in syrup – especially if it involved a glacé cherry – although an inevitable family fight would ensue over whose cherry this was as there was usually only one half in each tin. The scuffling being good practice for shopping these days?
There does, though, seem to be a surfeit of hundreds & thousands – always a treat to top off a tinned pear, less so corned beef.
Along from the pear halves, mandarin segments and peach slices are tins of prunes; given the paucity of toilet roll, this is far too much of a risk. And, as such, my collection, in the loft, of Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly magazines, are now beginning to look highly endangered.  Spam’s off, love

I’d do anything

marty

As a football fan, I’ve been lucky to have watched the beautiful game at the Bernabéu; the San Siro and both German Olympic stadia in Berlin and Munich; but the zenith of my footballing viewing has got to be Sandy Lane, former home of Tooting & Mitcham FC.
Here I watched a charity game between Tooting & Mitcham and a team of celebrities – think Robbie Williams’ games only in 1968 – and in Mitcham.
I went because my comedy hero, Marty Feldman was playing. Great writer and actor, no Charlie Cooke.
The game, like most charity games, had an unexpected celebrity kick it off. In this case it was Mark Lester, who played the title role in the film Oliver. Like Diana Ross at the 1994 World Cup only with more begging.
I am one-year older than Mark Lester, but even at that tender age, although you dreamed of playing with grown-ups, when reality kicked in (literally) you wanted to hurriedly produce a note from your mum excusing you from the first half.
Mark Lester kicked off and immediately trotted back to the safety of the dug-out, changing rooms or Nancy.
But, imagine if he’d stayed on and discovered that Tooting & Mitcham had Oliver Reed in their starting XI? He’d have terrorized the poor urchin for ninety-minutes.
Picture the scene: Young Mark gets the ball from the comedy equivalent of Jimmy Greaves, dribbles inside several Tooting & Mitcham defenders, is about to shoot, balances, raises his leg and then suddenly hears the death-cry behind him of ‘Bullesye!’
This was 1968; you couldn’t do that now, FIFA have introduced a rule which says you can’t have a pit-bull terrier playing at centre-half.