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A Trill a minute

I’ve developed a fear of birds.

As a child I’d be taken to Trafalgar Square; bought threepennys’ worth of bird seed and put in the middle of Sir Edwin Landseer’s lions to be savaged by more birds than Burt Lancaster.

No fear – just a higher-than-normal dry-cleaning bill.

Years later, I’d cross over roads like the people who’d walked past before the Good Samaritan to avoid any pigeons; such was my avian terror.

In the ‘60s and ‘70s I’d play football on Wandsworth Common and call for a mate en route.  He owned a budgie (he‘d actually owned several, except his myopic dad would invariably tread on them, although he would secretly replace them with ones with totally different colouring).

If my mate wasn’t ready, I’d have to wait and sit in the kitchen, where the family did 99% of their activities – and where the budgie was caged. Because the family’s favourite film was Born Free, the budgie was encouraged to fly around.

Budgies sense pathological fear (and hate).

In my mind’s eye this budgie was as threatening as a pterodactyl and would make a beeline (or budgieline in this case) for me as if I were a giant cuttlefish or had Trill in my hair.

Such is my fear these days that, if I ever visit anyone, I have to ask: “are there any small mirrors with tiny bells in this house?”.   I’ve also stopped watching any TV series involving Adam Faith.

No time to…go to the toilet

I’ve just been to the pictures for the first time since 1970; if I’d have known the film was going to last two and a half hours, I’d have taken a couple of empty Lucozade bottles (if it’s good enough for Sir Alex Ferguson…).

The cinema was much smaller than I remember (although I was much smaller in 1970) – it was like being in my lounge only with more flock wallpaper and fewer abandoned copies of Woman’s Weekly (I get it for the cricket coverage).

The seat wasn’t as sticky as it had been in 1970 in the Tooting Granada watching Tora! Tora! Tora! with two other people and an ice-cream girl, who looked a bit like Admiral Tojo – this was more like being in a DFS commercial!

There was no intermission – I could have murdered a tub halfway through.  The upside was that I was, during the entire film, neither pelted by either a full carton of Kia-Ora nor a Jubbly.

I was disappointed not to have seen Ursula Andress or, before the main film started, a travelogue; a documentary about splitting the atom or an episode of Emil and the Detectives (I’d willingly pay the best part of £10 to see groups of people chasing one another through 1930s Berlin).

In the cinema there were no usherettes – people have torches on their phones these days, I assume?

But I did get out before the National Anthem and Reginald Dixon started up again.

Anthromorphic powder

Growing up in SW London in the ‘60s didn’t offer much guidance on nature and wildlife.

I was, therefore, confused having watched Billy Smart’s circus one wet Bank Holiday as to how Terry Hall got Lenny the Lion to be so docile.  No stool; no whip and, ostensibly, only one arm.  Probably no bad thing I never went on safari as a child – who knows what damage I’d incur with an innocent wandering hand!

Also on TV, accompanying Wally Whyton (how “The wheels on the bus” was never used as a Eurovision entry still amazes me), was Ollie Beak.  Before watching this, I’d assumed owls a. live in trees and not in guitar cases; b. they didn’t speak – “twit” and “twoo” aren’t real words and c. did all owls become Brownie leaders the moment they reached adulthood?

I’d worked out that cartoons were not based on real life (except The Flintstones, obviously, because I studied cave men at primary school – plus I’ve been to Cheddar Gorge).  Mister Ed?  I rest my case.

But, as a child, these creatures were real to me; it wasn’t until I was in my second-year at agricultural college that I realised that Pinky and Perky weren’t actual pigs. I’m not afraid of the big, bad wolf either.

Five ages of slippers

The slipper is an item of clothing, like that of a medieval chastity belt, which can bring pleasure or pain.

One of my favourite shoes, bought at Clark’s in Tooting in the early ‘60s, was a pair of slippers; not only with Noddy’s head on each foot, but also sporting a bell.

As an adolescent, you’d not admit you wore slippers in case a prospective girl friend asked who was on them – answering Willy Wombat didn’t necessarily lead to a successful courtship.

One particular slipper at my secondary school took on a very sadistic form; the geography teacher would employ it should you get signs on an O/S map wrong; failed to draw an acceptably accurate ox-bow lake or forgot a south American capital city.

I played five-a-side once with a Geordie friend of mine, after the invitation to play he asked, “Shall I bring my slippers?”  My instant reaction to this Tyneside approach to football, not knowing he meant his trainers, was, if I wore my slippers, they’d likely slip off; also, the bells would be in danger the moment I made contact with the ball.  Top half Gerd Müller, bottom half, Noddy – not a good look or feel.

I’ve never owned a dog as they savage slippers like they do tins of Winalot and most likely would take half my foot off – fine if you want to be the next Fred Titmus. 

I’m now at that age where slippers are essential footwear.  And, as I sit, wearing them by the fireside, re-reading my Noddy books, I’d have a pipe on, only I’d look like one of the women who hung around the foot of the Guillotine; although many would have had more teeth.

Never a crossword

“Hot beverage” (3-letters)?

You didn’t have to be Alan Turing to be able to complete the Evening News crossword. 

In the ‘60s, the evening paper would be delivered to our south London flats.  I’d be given the page containing all the puzzles – including the children’s picture crossword.  (This was easier as I didn’t drink tea or any hot beverages!)

It was here that I learned how to identify a cat (no pet policy in the flats made that trickier than you’d think) and how to spell it.

I’d have tackled the grown ups’ cryptic crossword, except my knowledge of Greek mythology lets me down.  I think Hermes sell expensive scarves; Apollo took people to the Moon and Athena is where you went to get a picture of a woman scratching her arse.

After solving all the picture clues I’d move onto “spot the ball”.  I never won and assume the players chosen to feature in the competition has dreadful eyesight and simply had a guess where the ball might be before they tried to head, kick or punch it if they were Gordon Banks, Gordon West or Gordon the Big Engine – such was the difficulty of this prediction.

I miss the evening paper as I rarely commute – so I struggle to see where can I get the result of today’s 3.30 at Newmarket or find out the latest County Championship scores?

Hot beverage is off, love. 

Poles apart

FDR once said, “we have nothing to fear but fear itself”; growing up and being pushed in a buggy across Wandsworth Common in the early ‘60s, I developed a pathological and irrational fear for one particular telegraph pole.

I’ve since acquired other fears: birds: it’s why Rod Taylor got the lead in the Hitchcock classic.  And thunder: if God had furniture, because He is God, He’d have someone move it around for Him.  Quietly.

There was a café on Wandsworth Common, in front of which stood this odd-looking (in my mind) telegraph pole; I could not go past it without shouting, screaming and, literally, throwing my toys out of the pram (Sooty never got so dirty than on these trips).  My perambulating relatives never reached the café as I believed I would be sucked into some electrical void, ending up inside an Earl Grey tea bag in the café’s industrial tea urn.

On my way to the café, we’d pass hundreds of other telegraph poles, but this one, in front of the café, had at its top, these two eye-like things – the shape of which could have been modelled by Charles Laughton for his screen test for The Hunchback of Notre Dame or something Picasso would have created on a bad day.

This fear may have been the reason I never applied to be a BT engineer (also I haven’t got a head for heights) and, because the Wandsworth Common tennis courts were behind the café, was another reason why I never became Balham’s answer to Emma Raducanu. 

Paderborn Calling

In the ‘60s and ‘70s I lived in a block of flats in Balham which had radios built into the wall. 

My Nan, whenever she went out, would leave the radio (or wireless as she called it) on – to give the impression (mainly to potential burglars) that someone was at home.  One Yale, two Chubbs and an assortment of chains you’d not find at Fort Knox clearly not enough for peace of mind.

In my view, some background noise works as a far greater deterrent than others.

If you want to discourage burglars, then have “Mother of mine”; “There’s no one quite like grandma” or anything by Reginald Dixon on a continual loop blaring out.  These will work like the thing you put in your garden to ward off foxes. 

Playing anything by Mahler will make the burglar believe you’re about to top yourself and won’t want to engage in conversation. 

At weekends, any burglar hearing Two-Way Family Favourites will assume you have a relative based in West Germany and therefore will seek reprisals when home on leave.  Or you have Judith Chalmers held captive.

Back in the ‘60s the option was the Light, Home Service or Third Programme – so your burglar prevention could include Music while you work; Something involving Dame Isobel Barnett or 16-hours of The Ring Cycle.  It depended on how valuable your cigarette card collection was.

Nowadays you can simply say, “Alexa, play something which’ll frighten burglars

Key Balham

I was brought up in a block of flats in SW London with various relatives.

I lived one floor away from my Nan, but was trusted to go back and forth, on my own, from my flat to hers.

I was also entrusted with a key: three times.  Such was the ease with which I lost each passkey, I was finally never assigned another – three keys and you’re out. 

So, my Nan taught me how to break into the flats.

This was the same woman who’d told me she’d been a waitress at a Lyon’s Corner House, when, clearly, she must have been breaking and entering throughout the fifties. 

All I needed, she instructed, were very thin wrists (easily done as I “didn’t eat enough to keep a fly alive”); a belt (which I owned, despite my daily intake of Virol) and the knowledge of the outer workings of a doorknob.

I was taught to put my wrists and belt through the letterbox, above which was the knob; attach the belt; get some traction and – Open Sesame – I was in.

As Balham’s answer to Raffles of Arsène Lupin, I was able to get into my Nan’s flat.

With this success, literally under my belt, I thought I’d try it out next door – where my aunt lived.

I assumed she’d be counting her trillion Embassy coupons, but, unbeknownst to me, she was getting dressed.  Successfully in her flat, I revealed myself, only to find my aunt peroxiding her hair – dressed only in her industrial bra and panties.

When you’re only ten, there are some things you simply cannot unsee.

It is the sole reason I’ve never became a hairdresser.

The candy floss man can

Carrying on with my holiday theme, and before we all go back to our chimney sweeping jobs in September, I’ve been reminded of the singularly unhealthy foods we’d have all eaten on holiday.

I think, looking back, that the stall holders must have been in league with (in my experience) all south London dentists.  

I’m talking initially about ‘rock’.   

Only a struggling dentist could have thought this confection up.   A mint-flavoured sweet and 99% guaranteed to break a tooth or at least loosen a filling.  The type I would buy, if you cut it two, would have ‘root canal treatment’ running through the middle.

Also, candy floss – more addictive than crack cocaine, but slightly more sticky and certainly enough ingredients to make you even more susceptible to gingivitis.  The best bit for me was watching being made – a bit like seeing how a spider spins its web using a time-lapse camera.  Actually, I lied, the best bit was eating it and still having most of it round your face several hours later.

But the one thing we eat in the open, only during our holidays, is fish and chips.  But if you’d have known the seagulls were going to have such an absence of fear, you’d have bought two portions!

So, tooth decay, diabetes and high cholesterol – highlights from summer holidays gone by – and that’s before you’ve bought the mandatory postcards.  

Are we nearly at the pub which sells Double Diamond yet? 

Pier group pressure

I’ve been lucky and for many years I’ve holidayed abroad, the past few years, however, have been spent in this country.

It was 1968, as an eleven-year-old, when I travelled abroad for the first time, taking that famous 18th European travellers’journey from Balham to the Balearics.  

But since the last time I was in the UK for a holiday, I noticed many of the things were no longer there.

Try as I might, I could not find a single knobbly knee, glamourous grandad or best pub singer competition to enter (I was never going try out in a beauty contest – I haven’t got the legs).

Many of the piers, in existence in the early ‘60s, had either caught fire, hit by the storm in 1987 or had sunk.

There were restrictions should have wanted to see an “end of the pier” show – many of the venues required you to bring either your own snorkel, wind-cheater or extinguisher.  And if you have a full deep-sea diver’s kit on, then it really would be a slow stroll down the promenade.

This year, the only show on offer was “The Little Mermaid”, but you had to produce a swimming certificate to gain entrance. It was worth it, as Jacques Cousteau was playing Ariel. Red Adair was the prompt.

I was quite skint but fruitlessly scoured the beaches with my Daily Mirror looking for Chalky White to claim my £5.

The weather was good, especially if you were either a duck or trying to improve your Gene Kelly impression.