One week back in Covent Garden, after nearly four decades away, I have discovered they’ve moved the London Transport Museum from Clapham.
As kids in the 60s we would walk the along the A24 (probably a Roman Road which linked Watling Street to Offa’s Dyke via Gaul) from my flat in Balham to the huge hangar which housed more trams than you can shake a stick at just past Clapham Common Station. We walked, as this saved on the bus fare, plus we wanted to feel like Centurions.
No one was especially interested in 19th Century Tube trains, but it made a change from going to South Ken to see a blue whale, a dodo and a couple of coelacanths.
Also, in Covent Garden, there seem to be nicer shops than when I was last here. Indeed, the office where I was is now a Gap store. When I’d worked there previously the only gap was in the window next to where I sat giving me the impression of feeling like Bert Trautmann for my eighteen months tenure in WC2.
One thing I have seen is a lot of men in black jackets carrying square-shaped brief cases – presumably they are carrying portable chess boards – there are a few who look like Bobby Fischer, although with handshakes that they’re giving out, would struggle to move any chess pieces!
Because of the theatres round here I’ve already seen various celebrities – yesterday I saw Mark Thatcher – I assume he’s in The Lion King? I guess it’s just a matter of time before I see Eliza Doolittle?
Last Monday I moved offices and pondered how the contents of my desk differed to that of my first desk, which was situated just off the Strand in 1974 (in an office building, obviously, not me sat, on the Strand, at a desk outside the Stanley Gibbons shop).
The fundamental change on my desk being there is a PC now and no sign of a Newton’s Cradle (certainly no drinking bird with its nodding head slowly filling up with (in my case) Civil Service tea) – a must for any executive desk (not that I was anything like an executive in 1974).
I did have a typewriter – for younger readers this was like a PC, only with slightly more dexterity needed to type, although it did come with a selection (red and black) of typewriter ribbons; sadly, it didn’t have Tetris.
As well as the example of conserving momentum and energy (who said physics was useless at school?), aside from Newton’s Cradles being on desks, during the 70s, there would always be some form of calendar involving wooden blocks; and if you really were an executive, an angle-poised lamp.
The most senior person in the room would possess the pencil sharpener – scarily not dissimilar to ones you’d have had at primary school, so talking to your boss always left with you the feeling that you’d hope you’d not be tested on your four times table.
But no executive desk was complete without having some form of balancing toy. The trick was to tap the toy and set off the perpetual motion without being too cack-handed and knock it off. It would be the nearest any of us got to doing gymnastics.
Tomorrow I’m off round the shops in Covent Garden to seek out a 70s executive toy. I wonder if the drinking bird likes Irn Bru?
One of the most dangerous things in a London school playground in the 60s and 70s wasn’t the chance of getting cholera from the school fountain, it was clackers.
How did this get past any research group and actually make it into production?: “You get two, heavy when moving at 100 mph, plastic balls and bang them together”. The noise was one thing, the potential wrist breaking a mildly bigger problem.
But these “toys” life didn’t last long within playgrounds, although during its reign of terror made the Eton Wall Game look like a cream tea with an elderly aunt. They were soon banned; not by schools directly, the local hospitals were running out of supplies of plaster of paris.
During these times clackers were not the only life-threatening injury one could get in a playground: a hoop and a stick could, if out of control, crash into ankles and if not treated in time could easily turn to gangrene; I was a connoisseur of cards inside bubble gum packets and here a paper cut courtesy of Alan Tracy coming out of the Roundhouse was always lurking when flicking said card up against the playground wall; conkers was always potentially dangerous if your opponent had a violent allergy to acetic acid.
I’ve not been in a primary school playground since 1968 but I’m assuming hop scotch is now played on an app; one potato, two potato is deemed offensive in case any participant in the playground’s relatives lived during the 1845 Irish famine and marbles are things you tend to lose now rather than play.
Three and in, anyone?
I miss “Take Your Pick” not being on on a Friday evening. I would sit with my nan in her Balham flat urging everyone to fail at every opportunity.
The first hurdle for the contestants was the yes/no interlude, when questions would be asked where the obvious Pavlovian response would have been yes or no. “Is the Pope Catholic?” being one of Michael Miles’ trickier questions. If, after the longest minute of their life to date, the contestant had successfully avoided saying neither yes nor no, they’d be given five bob (25p in new money). Five bob was double my pocket money in the sixties when Take Your Pick was aired and I believed that five bob could probably have bought the universe – certainly could have bought Rediffusion, the programme’s producers.
If the contestant failed, their ignominy was doubled by having former Pathé News newsreader, Bob Danvers-Walker, banging a gong next to them to make their ears bleed.
I especially enjoyed the climax of the show when the contestants could potentially win a booby prize. The use of the word booby on TV before 9.00 pm amused me. I was only 11, I hasten to add.
During the show the contestants would have accumulated money and were faced with the ultimate choice of betting against their current winnings (take your pick – geddit?) – on offer by selecting “Box 13” – this could have been a holiday in Totnes, or something equally exotic or an aforementioned booby prize, like a mousetrap. It was when the word stress was first invented.
My nan and I would hope people would select “Box 13”; very few people did; no bad thing as some weeks inside was a three-headed dog who guarded the gates of Hell. Marginally worse than going to Totnes.
There must be a massive market for old telephone seats?
With the advent of modern phones there are several pieces of unwanted furniture no longer needed; the old-fashioned telephone seat, much loved in the 50s, 60s and 70s, is sadly one – along with locks on the phone, wires and telephone directories.
In London there were the four monster books; when they’d arrive you’d always check your own entry and then see if there were any rude names to ring. I was always disappointed to find there was no Mr Knob living within the London postal district. They were great door-stops, but not very good if your telephone seat was bit wobbly at one end.
I was never encouraged to sit too long on the telephone seat as my mother told me this was how you got piles. Piles of what I always thought to myself not having been professionally trained in rectology?
But there was something even more dangerous than falling off an unbalanced seat or haemorrhoids: that was the address book – not a simple one you’d add people whom you’d met on holiday and would swap Christmas cards with for a respectable period of time until you realised that Hayling Island was a long way from London and did you really liked them? – the device with the letters down the side, which, when pressed, opened up at a speed like that of a hunting cheetah. If you had bad eye-sight, like me, you’d need to be close to check the number you were about to ring – consequently there was always the danger of just prior to making a call, you’d re-enacted the most famous bit of the Battle of Hastings.
I often dreamed of being able to rip a London telephone directory in two. I clearly never followed the instruction manual which came with my Bullworker that accurately.