I’d do anything


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!


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)


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.



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.

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.

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.


Generation (Dure)X


The day you felt you’d become a man (certainly in the rituals in place in south London in the ‘60s) would be the time you no longer need the bench to sit on at the barbers. In effect, you’d only started to enter adolescence and the well-thumbed copies of Parade, Reveille and Health & Efficiency, almost overnight, became more interesting than the Beano or Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly.
The time you did, at least in the barber’s eyes, become a man, was when your mum no longer took you. Although in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, with so many people opting for longer hair (I blame Chicory Tip), I’m surprised anyone went to the barbers, unless they needed something for the weekend and knew too many people working in their local Boot’s.
I can remember sitting for ages in my Balham barber’s knowing, when accompanied by my mum, that the magazines could have been housed in Fort Knox, such was the chance of me touching one, let alone opening one.
You would wait patiently looking around the shop at photos of hairstyles you could have (although many of the photos were quite old, so if you wanted to look like Clement Attlee, this was the place to go). There were also many displays of , some magic stick which stopped you bleeding after shaving and combs. Things for the weekend were not in sight. When you hadn’t yet entered puberty (some days I think I’m still waiting) things for the weekend were footballs, Jimmy Clitheroe and roast beef; this might explain why I have fourteen children.

Lavez-vous maintenant les mains

Handwashing illustration

The NHS has suggested singing “Happy Birthday” twice as the recommended duration for hand washing. Alternatives are the national anthem or La Marseillaise.

While every good Cub would have learned the national anthem (if you were a good sixer you’d learn the verse about “knavish tricks”), but few, being brought up in south London, would have had La Marseillaise high on their musical repertoire, unless your dad had been Charles de Gaulle, Charles Aznavour or Asterix.

Or, of course, if you had a French teacher at your school who decided to introduce a “Continental Evening” (as if the recent introduction of Scandinavian quilts wasn’t abhorrent enough).

At my Tooting school in 1970 we had just that.

Our class was to sing La Marseillaise.

It has fifteen verses.  Fifteen!!! (If you washed your hands singing that you’d end up with fingers like ET).

In 1970 we’d not even joined the European Community let alone left it; many of us were still smarting after the 1967 NON! rebuke by the aforementioned Charles de Gaulle (who, after retiring from being President of France, became an airport).

We simply learned the French words. This was to protect us knowing that the last line translated into English is: “To cut the throats of your sons, your women!”. In Tooting, in the early ‘70s, the only person who was likely to cut your throat was your barber if you’d tried to hide a copy of that week’s Parade up your jumper.

We duly learned the song and performed it in front of our parents. However, this foreign lark didn’t catch on in my house and after a week of being served escargots, mum reverted back to egg ‘n’ chips.

Vive la Révolution? bugger that, thought my mum.

Alphabet soup


I was eleven when I properly mastered the alphabet.
At secondary school we’d be seated in alphabetical order for every lesson. Thereby, that’s how I learned my A-W (we didn’t have anyone in our class named Xylophone, Yacht or Zither – it stopped at Williams).
At primary school we could sit wherever we liked. I avoided the girl who wanted to be a golden retriever when she grew up (she’d be 434 now).
The other difference was being called by your surname. No teacher called me Mick at secondary school. Nor did they call me Michael, a name which meant I’d not cleaned my room, I was late for my tea or both, so Richards was preferable.
Rather than learning more complex times tables, obscure African cities or historical events before Christ, we would, in a very regimented way, learn the procession of the alphabet because, for every lesson we’d be sitting, in order: Atkinson, Bates, Bird, Bower until Williams.
Although we all sat in the same order for academic year after academic year, from this group of ordered individuals, came an alpha male. He was Mark Finch – or Finno, as he deemed Mark to be far too effeminate for the classroom role he portrayed.
Finno was self-elected leader of the form for three reasons: he wore Cherry Red Dr Marten’s; he was the tallest and he was the first to develop pubic hair. By default, he became a Demi-god.
We were at a grammar school, but in our class, you didn’t need to go past the letter F.
And as we all know, there is no F in haddock.

Making an impression


In my Tooting secondary school, during the early ‘70s, I discovered that, as well as bringing in sweets, being able to mimic helped you not being bundled – the medieval secondary school event which involved thirty boys piling on top of one another preventing the entrance of the divinity teacher (and this was a bloody grammar school – no wonder Mrs Thatcher made no effort to keeps ours going).
Mimicking of teachers was the greatest and most revered talent to have, second only to being able to imitate a Trimphone (very popular in the ‘70s) – a great asset to have to confuse people in the silence within Balham Library.
I couldn’t imitate a single teacher, or phone apparatus, but could mimic an assortment of other people: including most of the Goons; Jake Thackeray and Dudley Moore. However, my piece de la resistance was my impression of Fyfe Robertson. Fyfe Robertson was a roving TV reporter in the ‘60s and 70s and would be sent to report from obscure places, invariably surrounded by sheep. He’d start every report with “Hello there, I’m Fyfe Robertson” and would confirm the obscure place where he was standing. I could sound like him and announce to my classmates “Hello there, I’m Fyfe Robertson and I’m standing on a traffic island in the middle of Balham High Road”.
I could also imitate the actions of Reg from the greengrocers opposite my flats, as this greengrocers wasn’t terribly well-known, my likelihood of auditioning on Opportunity Knocks was never on the cards.
I often toy with entering Britain’s Got Talent, but sounding like Bluebootle, Minnie Bannister and Eccles is never going to be as powerful as a song by Susan Boyle.

Cream crackered

Cream Cracker Biscuit

I never read as a kid (The Beano and  don’t really count) but one book which I would absorb, lying on the shag-pile carpet in the lounge of my Balham flat, would be the Guinness Book of Records.
I wondered if I’d ever be in it.
I was quite tall as a kid and pondered whether I’d ever reach 8’ 11” – diet being key in height development. However, I can attest that egg ‘n’ chips consumed daily only gets you to six-foot, slightly smaller than marginally under nine-foot.
I deliberated if I could balance fifty spoons on my body? The fact that we didn’t have five, let alone fifty, spoons in our flat meant I’d have to attempt this world record in the ABC café on Balham High Road. Assuming you’d have to be partially naked, this would have only been practical in the warm weather. Either way, it’d have got me banned and I did so like the iced buns and cups of tea with more head than tea you got at the café.
What we did have in our flat were cream crackers. Could I eat three of these in under 49.15 seconds? Did you know it only takes ten seconds to become totally dehydrated? I found this out aged ten.
At 62 some records are now beyond reach. Sitting in baked beans for over 100-hours would never work – at my age I’d be needing a wee after half an hour.