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When you wishbone upon a star

The best bit about Sunday lunch, when I was growing up as a kid in SW London, was the thought that your future was about to be changed by the successful pulling of a wishbone.
However unprepared you were, if you won, you still had to make a wish.  
My enduring wish was, as my nan subscribed to Titbits and Reveille, that she’d leave the room long enough for me to look through her magazines – or search for the ladies’ underwear section of her Freeman’s catalogue.
I should have known that no wish was ever to be granted as the ominous signs of chicken gravy suddenly splattering over my Sunday best shirt wasn’t that encouraging.
The pulling of the wishbone was an excellent diversion from my parents who would stare like Victorian schoolteachers at my uneaten sprouts.   My parents would watch the wishbone-pulling competition as my nan, with her non-pulling hand, whisked the unwanted sprouts into her many-pocketed housecoat.   Although, always unnerved as to the origins of her next day’s bubble 😊
It was the ancient Romans who invented this tradition and believed it gave them luck.  Sometimes, with my nan’s roast chicken, I think that’s the period in which she’d bought her joint.
We tried pulling a T-bone steak bone one Sunday – I nearly dislocated my little finger.

Iron filing a complaint

The only job I could have done in the Police, should I have chosen that career path, rather than advertising, would have been creating photo-fit pictures.

I’d watched Z-Cars; Police 5 and Softly, Softly as a kid, but owning a kit with a man’s face, a magnetic pen and a pile of iron filings, gave me the feeling, this was the vocation for me.

Living equidistant between Tooting Bec Police Station and Wandsworth Prison, I feel it was fate I should own such a toy, and possibly become the next Albert Pierrepoint (he began life creating photofits, until he won some rope in a raffle).

But, watching Stratford Johns in Softly, Softly, I was always surprised, when a victim was asked about their assailant, that the iron filings toy wasn’t produced!   

If the assailant looked like The Hood from Thunderbirds, they’d be easy to catch; or a pirate with an eye patch or with a moustache so outrageous, it wouldn’t have looked out of place on a WW1 German general.   Although,  I don’t remember anyone in the Great Train Robbery looking quite like any of those?

Sadly, I never really mastered the art of iron filing face painting.  I think the magnetic pen was faulty as my faces wouldn’t have looked out of a place in a Picasso painting.

If I had got that job the Police would constantly looking for a woman with an eye where her ear should be.

Keep ‘em peeled (wherever they are on your body).

Making a right old red rackety

If you buy a comic these days for a grandchild, child or yourself if you’re still thinking you’ll get a decent idea of dress sense from a copy of Bunty, there are always free gifts attached.

If you were brought up in the ‘60s, as I was, then a free gift with a comic was a rarity. You were more likely to see a Penny Black, unicorn or hen’s tooth attached to your Dandy than a set of stickers, pencils, or transfers.

And so, when one of my Beanos arrived sometime in the mid-sixties, and had a “Red Rackety” attached, I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, pooh (I’ve cleaned that up as this is a family blog) or have breakfast, as my old nan would have said, such was my excitement.

However, it was my poor, old nan who got the wrong end of this DC Thompson act of goodwill.

The “Red Rackety” was something you whirled, like some Dervish, above your head; it then created a strange noise. The secondary (unscripted) noise was the smashing of my nan’s ceiling lampshade. This was not in the instructions.

Another week there was a “Whoopee cushion” – a trick to play on old relatives. As you become an old relative yourself, you realise that there is no need for any form artificial stimulus like a “Whoopee Cushion” 😊.

Scampi in a basketcase

People rarely serve food in baskets these days.  Is there a world shortage of baskets?  Is eating from a basket one of the ways to catch consumption?  Were there outcries from the World Scampi & Chicken Protection Society?

Every Friday night, during the ‘70s, after choir practice (this isn’t a joke), we would go to a pub on Wandsworth Common, where I would pad out half a pint of lager and lime for several hours and eat chicken or scampi and chips out of a basket.

During the evening the Salvation Army would enter and flog the customers War Cry; the more drunk were enrolled and would find themselves playing a tambourine the following Sunday.

Friday night was complete: meal in a basket; lukewarm beer and a crossword puzzle to do where most of the answers were Biblical characters.  Having sung about most of them earlier in the evening, I had a distinct advantage.

But the basket gave it its own magical flavour – like hot chocolate after you’ve gone swimming or been rescued after several weeks down a pothole.  

I would often wonder, during Sunday dinner, why the most chipped plates in the world were brought out and the food not served in a basket?  I guess gravy could have proved messy had the weaving not been as tight as it should be.

One day, they stopped serving food in baskets.  I went up to the bar and said, “Basket?”.  I was banned for a month.

Dad, what’s a tumulus?

Are we nearly there yet?  The plaintive cry I’m sure we’ve all heard (and probably said). 

With modern-day sat-navs the answer to this can be given to the precise nano-second; when you had a series of Esso road maps, a compass which was originally in the heel of your shoe and an old London A-Z, those ETA predictions became harder to determine.

We struggled whenever we drove anywhere outside of Balham High Street – our A-Z was so old it only had Watling Street and Offa’s Dyke marked on the pages – if friends or relatives lived in Roman villas we’d get there, otherwise it was very hit and miss.

Travelling abroad was trickier – the countries were physically bigger; so, it seemed, were the road maps.  

It’s tricky enough going round the Paris Périphérique, let alone trying to navigate it with a map larger than the windscreen in front of you flanked by irate Parisians.  It’s no fun playing pub cricket driving through the Loire Valley either.

I thought, having begun to study map-reading preparing for Geography O-level, that I’d could be more useful.  However, driving from Balham to Dawlish (not quite Paris to Dakar), my dad needed to know how to get to the A303; me pointing out, using my school Ordnance Survey map, slag heaps, narrow gauge railways and coppices, added several days to our journey.

Are we nearly there yet?  No, but I think we’re near an area with non-coniferous trees.  Handy for logs, but not if you want a cream tea. 

Benny and the jet wash

In 1970, a mate of mine’s family decided to leave Balham and move to the West Midlands (might as well have been Jupiter, it was so far away in my mind). 

My mate would not have been missed by the usherettes of the Balham Odeon as he was loosely related to St Vitus and couldn’t keep in his faux velvet seat for more than a minute.  During the screening of Zulu, he imagined the cinema to be Rorke’s Drift and fashioned a Zulu spear out of an empty tub carton and threatened to impale the projectionist.

After an absence of a year, we got in our family Ford Poplar and travelled the 100-miles (which took about another year with my learner driver dad) to a village just outside Leamington to visit the Balham emigrees.

We were greeted, on arrival, by my mate’s mum, who, having been brought up in Clapham, oddly now sounded like Amy Turtle – she even had an old housecoat on – I assume this would have been handed out by the estate agent upon arrival?

My mate’s mum had Italian heritage, so, if anything, I was expecting to possibly hear some female version of Mussolini, not something off the set of Crossroads.

Once we’d finished and headed home, I think elements of this change of accent worked by osmosis as my mother called me “Benny” down most of the A1.

“I love you, Miss Diane”, was my only retort to her as we ate our all-day breakfast at 10.00 pm at Newport Pagnell Service Station.

Lovely Jubilee

This week, in the UK, we are celebrating a jubilee.

This is the time when you buy a celebratory tea towel – probably overdue as your existing one still has Edward VII on it. 

I’ve never attended a street party; being brought up on the fourth floor of a Balham flat made it dangerous hanging bunting between windows. One false move and you’d be threatening the livelihood of Albert Pierrepoint. 

I’ve never erected trestle tables either, as they look like they could dismember a finger as if it were a bacon slicer. 

I haven’t got any flags except my giant FC Bayern flag – most people would find this tasteless, although we are celebrating a family who used to be called Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. 

I’m assuming every street will have an old piano pushed out onto the street?

Once you’ve established someone in your road is named Chas and/or Dave, you’ve got the makings of a party.

To get in the mood for 1952, all you need are jam sandwiches or anything which has come out of a container with the name “Shippams” emblazoned in its front. My allergy to beef paste will prevent my attendance. 

No, I shall be waiting for the dessert, which must be a Jubilee Jubbly. A dessert alliteratively fit for a Queen – and hopefully still costing 3d. 

I just hope that Brian May’s not on top of my bloody roof again. 

99 Luftballons – with sprinkles

In the early ‘70s, a 99 ice cream cost 15p.  Last weekend it cost £3.25 – and only had one flake in – so, technically it should have been called 49 and a half.

On the side of the ice cream van this weekend was a poster offering almost 99 varieties; in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the only choice was ‘did you want sprinkles with that?’  Now you can have a wafer; a cone; an oyster (try tapping one of those on the machine at the entrance to the Tube); tub or just put straight into your hands, because that’s where most of it is going to end up if it’s sunny, so you’re missing out the middleman in effect.

From my Balham flat in the ‘60s, I’d hear the metallic tune coming from the ice-cream van; because I was on the 4th floor of my block of flats, by the time I’d got to the ground floor, it would have taken me so long the ice-cream seller would have run of Flakes or worse, retired – the lifts weren’t terribly reliable.

Last Saturday, after I’d re-mortgaged my house to buy my 99, I gave the man my money, to which he replied “Be lucky”; I thought I’d been transported back to the ‘50s.

Mr Whippy always sounded quite innocuous, until Ambleside Avenue became famous.

Flake’s off, love.  Be lucky.

Thick as a…

I was five when I decided I’d leave my Balham flat and head for the high seas.

In the early ‘60s, on Sunday afternoons, I’d watch the ITV series Sir Francis Drake.  I was hooked (no pun intended with the sea-faring Peter Pan character).

I’d only just started school and a chance to explore exotic lands and get into fights with Spanish people, seemed an idyllic life to be had.  I was desperate to be transported back to the late 16th Century.

However, at the SW17 Naval Recruiting School, I was informed of the possible disadvantages outweighing the fact I could earn my own body weight in Doubloons.

Did I like rum?  Well, as a five-year-old, I’d have preferred Ribena; what’s my view on scurvy?  Having had both Scarlet Fever and Chicken Pox, more itching didn’t really appeal; walking the plank if punished?  Well, my singular inability to swim would prove hazardous; how was my Spanish should we have to negotiate?  I could say ‘Do you know the way to the library?’

At the end of the interview, which was tricky as I was still quite small and kept slipping off the cushion I’d been given as a booster seat during the interview, thereby not giving my ability to balance (key on board ship), I had no credibility left at all!

I was encouraged to come back in twelve years’ time, but only after I’d got a certificate from the local Duckling Club.

You say potato

Mr. Potato Head has just turned 70.

I would have hours of endless vegetable-related fun in my Balham flat as a kid. Although potatoes became quite dangerous if the plastic hat and moustache were still impaled while being roasted.

But, 70-years ago, were Mr. and Mrs. Potato (Senior) sitting down with their son asking whether he was going to be a chip; crisp or dauphinoise, only to be disappointed to hear he wanted to be a model?

Also, in 1585, when Sir Walter Raleigh first brought potatoes to the UK, did he think their prime aim would be for children’s entertainment? Perhaps, when looking for El Dorado (the mythical South American city, not the BBC show), he saw someone with a head shaped like a potato with stumpy legs, sporting a small hat and moustache one would normally associate with risqué films in the 60s?

Growing up, when you had the introduction of ‘celebrity’ chefs, you’d never see Fanny Craddock sticking some comedy ears on a potato she was about to show us how to cook.  Perhaps, Johnny did this behind her back?  If so, you’d have thought it would have had a monocle like his?