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.
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 😊
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?
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
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.
What bloody day is it?
I’ve not felt this day confusion since my last six-week school holiday and given my last playtime was forty-seven years ago, I’ve lost count which day it is.
Given the lockdown could last for months, I’ve decided I might get a set of seven underpants and, together with my name tag, sew in a label stating which day of the week it is.
The only problem, given the current shortages and delays in deliveries of certain items, you can’t guarantee what you want and end up with a substitution like when the Ocado delivery person gives you spam when you’d ordered sun-dried tomatoes.
Having ordered my daily pants, I notice from the confirmation, that they will all be Disney-themed. Therefore, no need for any sewing-in of any day tags, I shall simply create a mnemonic to remember which day it is: Mickey; Tigger; Woody (insert your own gag here); Tinkerbell; Anyone from Frozen; Simba and Snow White.
The inherent danger here is if it’s Thursday and I have an accident with Tinkerbell pants on.
My favourite Disney character is Pinocchio – sadly there in no day of the week beginning with P, so I won’t be wearing those; no bad thing if I ever started to lie wearing them. Mind you, in this cold weather, that’s largely academic.
Do you want to build a snowman?
I like to think my Man Cave is slightly more sophisticated than Fred Flintstone’s.
While I haven’t got a pet dinosaur (walking it day and night in mid-winter doesn’t appeal) I do have everything I need in my self-appointed self-isolation room.
Because I’m working from home, and with no one to talk to (or at as I’m an only child), I need to have elements of distraction and comfort. I have a desk; an ergonomic chair; a sofa for lounging on, in the style of Noel Coward, when I’m not having to look at Excel spreadsheets, Word documents or participate in Zoom video calls.
But above all, I have BBC Radio 3.
I realise classical music isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (I have plenty of that too) but, as I sang in a church choir (arguably when I looked my most angelic) and also played in the school orchestra – I was third violin (mainly because they didn’t have a fourth, fifth or six – I wasn’t brilliant, but it did get me out of Maths); although if Richard Wagner had ever heard me playing his overture to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, he’d have turned in his Bayreuthian grave.
This exposure, throughout my life, has endeared me to the genre of music they play on Radio 3 (although I do struggle with Jazz Record Requests), especially Essential Classics which is on during weekdays mornings – it offers great, accessible music with some light-hearted banter too – it keeps me sane, plus sometimes I can sing along or pretend I still own a violin.
However, because it is on in the background, I tend to forget it is on and on it remains during my newly-increased habit of video conference calls. While no one in my offices or any of my clients believe I’m training to be one a concert pianist, I was asked the other day, “What is that noise?” (The overture to Fidelio) I now know not everyone likes Beethoven and many people with whom I have these calls think it is a film about a giant dog. I have yet to fully master “mute” during some of these calls – although there is a part of me which believes I’m educating and entertaining my fellow video call participants.
A video conference call in itself is a curious things: several people on my computer screen, in their own contained box, make it like watching an episode of Celebrity Squares. As, at 62, I’m invariably the oldest one on the call and think of myself as Arthur Mullard or Pat Coombs.
I must encourage more of my video callers to listen to Radio 3, who knows, some might come away knowing that Wagner isn’t just some random bloke who appeared in X-Factor.
When people are asked to name their favourite album, no one ever mentions Top of the Pops – Volume 18.
I would play it endlessly in my south London flat, listening to the songs which were in the charts at the time. I’d listen to them under my eiderdown on Radio Luxembourg. But, on these records, none were by the original artists.
I was fourteen in July 1971 and had the lowly weekly income of 50p, these LPs quenched my musical desire cheaply (which was ironic given one of the songs on the record was “Chirpy, Chirpy, Cheap, Cheap”).
During this time there was a proliferation of impersonators on the TV. It was my naive belief that if they could mimic Harold Wilson, they could also do Harold Melvin. I did not appreciate at the time that these covers were done by professional session musicians who were as good at doing Ted Nugent as Mike Yarwood was Ted Heath.
During these times there were rivals to the Top of the Pops LP series: Hot Hits being one. However, you tended to be loyal to one, bit like either preferring Monty Python to The Goodies, Max Factor to Rimmel or Harry Potter to anything by Dostoyevsky.
But, dear reader, I bought these LPs purely for musical pleasure and not because the album covers showing women in provocative poses. I was 14 and still thinking about which new I-Spy book to get. Honest, guv.
When will I get my hair cut (properly) again? As the amount of conference calls grows, so is my consciousness to look professional, but, if my hair isn’t likely to get cut for another three months, there is the danger it will be the length it was in 1970, the only difference being, I’m no longer thirteen and Mungo Jerry not Number One.
I wonder if that’s what will happen with contact only via a phone or computer screen? If this is the route we’re going I might as well get my flares down from the loft now and buy as many different coloured pieces of wool to create the mother of all tank-tops.
I will probably have a fear of girls, as I did when 13. My insistence of wearing tank-tops, which would have made the biblical Joseph look colour blind, didn’t exactly help my cause.
When this is all over and get invited to my first party will I be taking a Party 7, a bottle of Blue Nun together with the Simon & Garfunkel album, Bridge over Troubled Water. And all this smelling of too much Aramis. If the latter is correct that will ensure my own social distancing will continue.
(Although there is a certain irony that the 8th best-selling single in 1970 was the England World Cup squad singing Back Home. I’m surprised this isn’t played during any messages given by Boris Johnson).
I’m at that age when I can remember great details about 1970 but cannot remember much about yesterday (oh yes, I stayed in).
1970 was the first year of Glastonbury, a town previously only famous through King Arthur having rented a flat there. Half a crowns were no longer legal tender and given that these were the coin which were fed to the gas meter I feared my teenage years would be in perpetual darkness (and owning such a selection of tank-tops I’m surprised there weren’t).
Will my return to work show a 1970s-length hair or will everyone have thought themselves an amateur Vidal Sassoon? Or return looking like Yul Brunner, Duncan Goodhew or Uncle Fester?
I shall miss going to my barber. To whom will I be able to tell where I’ve been on my holidays, that I don’t work locally and that I am the person who last cut my hair?
I think I might watch an episode of Desmond’s for some ideas.
Bit like being in the Scrubs, you are now allowed to leave your house once a day for exercise.
Because of the closure of gyms nationally, and therefore the need to find a replacement to my cancelled Zumba classes, I am taking advantage of this allowance from the correctly-advised government-induced curfew.
A few days in and I’m witnessing things near my house I’d driven past previously (probably quite badly as Lewis Hamilton I’m not) but can now stop and think and wonder which aspect of flora and fauna I’m looking at.
However, the disadvantage of having been brought up in urban south London, means my limited knowledge of nature is confined to the ability of being able to identify different dog turds. We did have trees, but they would either be goalpost one, goalpost two or a very thick cricket wicket. No one ever returned home saying “Mother, dearest, my friends and I managed to scale the entire height of a Canadian Redwood earlier.” (Also, because this was Tooting Bec Common and not a park in Vancouver)
Having escaped, like the TV programme to, suburbia, the nature-identification needs are far greater. Aside from identifying a dead mouse (it could have been a vole or a shrew, I’m assuming here) I’m struggling with my lack of knowledge.
Because of this ignorance I’m thinking of taking a series of educational books with me on my daily hike: The Observer Book of Birds; the Observer Book of Trees; the Observer Book of Dead Rodents.
Carrying the contents of a small mobile library could also act as a replacement for the free weights I use at the gym. I could strengthen my biceps courtesy of a book with several pages devoted to pictures of deceased gerbils.
I’m going out early in the morning for my walk. I’m at that age when I wake up early and have invariably done the ironing by half four. Walking around you notice many things about peoples’ houses: the porch lights which come on when you walk past (handy if you’re an aspiring burglar – which I could be as I suit black); as the houses get bigger, so the car number plates become more personalised (my car’s number plate is MDZ, which would work if my surname was Zither) and whose nets need cleaning.
Today, during my hour-long traipse, I passed four people, two running, two walking like me (the two walking probably having a copy of I-Spy in Suburbia tucked inside their newly-bought kagools. The normal British response would be to ignore any passer-by, but these are different times and I’m wondering what the correct protocol might be? Should I have said anything or even doffed my cap (or in today’s case, my Bayern Munich bobble hat)?
As this process continues then I’m sure we’ll all be talking – albeit shouting across various roads to each other, keeping a safe distance, obviously, “Did you see that dead mouse on Banstead Road?” “That was no mouse, that was an aardvark!”
This in turn will prompt me to return home and order the Observer Book of Ant-Eaters.
Time to wash my nets.