Go on, my son et Lumiere

shadow puppet

In the bedroom of my Balham flat, growing up in the 60s, I’d always have a night-light on. I’d have one on now, but at 63 I’m 99% certain the Bogeyman doesn’t exist. I would, with the light’s reflection, enact shadow dramas onto my bedroom wall.
My dramas would involve a rabbit’s ears, Dennis the Menace and a pre-historic bird with a beak which could open and close.
In my teenage years I travelled one night with my mum to Hampton Court to watch a son et lumière (with Balham’s café society being like Paris in the 70s, it was the natural thing to do).
The drama employed actors whose silhouette were the only thing you’d see; they depicted some violent scene from the life of Henry VIII.
After this, I decided my career lay in film direction, using only silhouette. I felt I could create anything – except The Invisible Man.
Returning, excited, to my bedroom that night, I hurried to bed early, turned on my Flopsy Bunny night-light and felt like Balham’s answer to Sergio Leone.
In my bedroom, in total darkness save for a forty-watt bulb, I thought Shakespeare would be the best place to start. I’d started to study him at school and felt my wall would do him justice. It was at this point when I realised that there are no rabbits, birds or Dennis the Menaces in any Shakespeare play – except the opening scene of Macbeth when all three are ingredients in the witches’ cauldron.
But, as we say in Balham, je regrette rein (looks like rain)

Kerb your enthusiasm

tufty

After leaving the Communist Party in 1961, I joined the Tufty Club – I felt Stalin was no longer in a position to help me cross Balham High Road safely.
I was four and my membership provided me with a badge and a Tufty Club handkerchief – this also acted as a tourniquet in case you didn’t properly observe your Kerb Drill.
Imagine my horror when, in 1975, a TV advert saw Tufty replaced by a six-foot-seven body builder called the Green Cross Man. How could this be real and taken seriously? Surely no one was that tall – not even Tufty’s road-crossing weasel buddy. The giant’s premise was ‘stop, look, listen, think’ – you can now add ‘hope (‘it’s not a Prius’)’ onto the end of that.
Because I lived next to my primary school, I never needed the use of a lollypop man or woman. I did see them at a distance, though, and assumed that a). you had to be over 100; b). hated kids and c). probably have been very proficient with a Kendo fighting stick in a previous occupation. They would stop speeding traffic on the A24 with one step into the road with their ‘lollypop’ as if being on the set of ‘Enter the Dragon’ – this was in itself quite dangerous, and we often nearly witnessed ‘Enter the Cortina’ – lollypop first.
Tufty Fluffytail was first created in 1953, he will now be 67 and is probably now a grumpy old lollypop squirrel somewhere or living in your loft. Wherever he is, he’ll be moaning the music’s too loud.
Mind the roads.

Three-day weak

three day week

Because I’m not having to commute to work, I’ve replaced the time I would normally be on a train playing i-Spy with unsuspecting passengers, by walking.
Aside from taking photos of various flora and fauna and keeping them in a folder ready to show anyone out dogging (regardless of whether it’s a Doberman, Chihuahua or Ford Cortina), I’m listening to documentaries on my radio.
These past few weeks I’ve been listening to the BBC’s 25-years of rock. This week, I listened to 1973. It is, as the show title suggests, mainly songs, but interspersed with clips of news items. Really good if you were a fan of Ted Heath or Richard Nixon!
One of the songs, ‘You’re so vain’, I thought particularly apt, as I like to keep my hair in place in my local park, even when going through particularly dense undergrowth – David Bellamy I’m not.
1973 saw us enter Europe, work three-day weeks, wish we’d bought shares in Wandsworth’s Price’s Candles and sit in cars for hours, queuing for petrol, when the question: ‘are we nearly there yet?’ had the consequence of having your Green Shield Stamp allocation being taken away by an equally-bored parent.
It was also the year of the release of ‘Tubular Bells’ – bought mainly for the B-side, which, played backwards, got you a small part in ‘The Exorcist’.
For me it was the year I managed to obtain one-seventh of the O-levels I took; my excuse being I was trying to learn the words to ‘Tubular Bells’; sadly, I only got as far as ‘two slightly distorted guitars’.
Although, I did learn that a mandolin wasn’t a small French cake.

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.

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.

 

It’s Wagner!

wagner

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.

Cheap, cheap

top of the pops

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.

Haircut 100 (days in solitude)

haircut

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.

WFH; WTF; VPL

cabin

I’m one week in into working from home or WFH to give it its abbreviated title. It would seem these are the words used by WFH novices; veterans of WFH call it: “working remotely”.
However, with the closure of anywhere where you can sit for hours on end tending an increasingly cold cardboard cup of something which originally housed a large latte, these “remote” people will be restricted to WFH and therefore, be on the same level as us WFH newbies.
This could go on for three-months – or, if you’re a gynaecologist, a trimester. I am not a gynaecologist and the nearest I will be to being one is that I own several pairs of gloves, most of which have remnants of begonias on them, none, as I’m 62, have a giant loop of elastic attached.

What are the essentials to a three-month imprisonment? There could be a lot of downtime, so read everything by PG Wodehouse, this is essential to keep your spirits up and also books by John Buchan to read about the derring-dos you’ll be re-enacting once you’re released from your confinement.

john macnab
It is also important to have one DVD – the BBC version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy being my DVD of choice and have my own competition with myself before I say “dead, mate!” to the TV screen.

tinker
You must still take on liquid – you don’t want to be the person who doesn’t return to work because they’ve dehydrated. Drink Benecol drinks if you have high cholesterol, Irn Bru, if you don’t. Don’t start eating more cake as your gym has been closed, time to get that Bullworker down from the loft if you’re tempted by a Victoria sponge.

Bullworker_in_1960s
Learn another language. Esperanto will probably be the favourite as we’re all in the same boat and we all need one thing which will bind us together. If you can’t get hold of a copy of Teach Yourself Esperanto then buy John Buchan’s John Macnab and learn how to capture salmon off posh Scottish people.
Knitting, crochet and cross-stitch will become less important as most people tend to only create toilet roll covers and soon we’ll be out of that – if you have a garden, build a pine forest – suddenly you’ll start to get on with your neighbour (wouldn’t that be nice, to quote the Small Faces).
But worth occupying your heavily-washed hands (opticians will soon be closed, so you don’t want to be doing too much self-isolating) so, building the Bismarck out of discarded matches might help pass the time – unless you’re a convicted pyromaniac, in which case carrying on sniffing glue while constructing an Airfix ME1019.

me 109
And if you’re looking for live sport, badminton is still on, but I bet you’ve not watched it longer than five minutes before you’re saying: “Stone me, they hit that hard, don’t they?”
Stay safe and remember, it’s just a matter of time before they are re-showing Mind your language.

shuttlecock