Two pints of lager and…

Although introduced into the UK in 1957, flavoured crisps only became popular a decade later.

I remember when, to paraphrase Henry Ford, “you can have any flavour you like as long as it’s ready salted”. 

Unscrewing the tiny blue bag of salt was often painful if you’d a paper cut you weren’t aware of and suddenly had what felt like a cat o’ nine tails over your hand.

Golden Wonder introduced smokey bacon, which was quickly rivalled by Smith’s gammon flavoured crisps.  When I first saw this, I assumed that, rather than a small bag of salt inside, there’d be a slice of pineapple or a fried egg instead.

Very soon the world’s food ingredients would be found inside one solitary crisp packet:

I could be inside my Balham flat and allow Chipitos to culinarily transport me to Mexico; Monster Munch to Transylvania and anything containing prawn cocktail to a sophisticated restaurant in the West End.  Well, this was the seventies 😊

But having prawn cocktail and steak & onion crisps was almost like having a proper meal; I’m surprised they’ve never introduced Black Forest Gateau flavour to literally cater for all three courses.

But, for me, the worst thing was Tudor Crisps’ pickled onion flavour.  They’d blow your head off – ironically, something not uncommon in Tudor times.

Knock me down with a feather…

It’s 100-years since the first public telephone kiosk was introduced in the UK.

If any of the original booths had one of those sheets on the wall stating when they were last cleaned, they’d probably say “1922”.

In my Balham block of flats, we had the use of two public phone booths; I have nothing but bad memories of them.

The phones were just outside the dairy which operated within our flats. I remember once, summoning up the courage to ring a girl, walking up and down for nearly an hour besides the two phones, going, via the dairy and unnecessarily buying a pint of milk, carton of yoghurt and three rashers of bacon, only to be told she thought my friend Trevor was funnier.

There were also phone booths in Balham High Road.

I would often go in them hoping to find some odd coins previous callers had forgotten to collect; I’d also look up my number in the L-R directory (and to find Trevor’s number to get some better gags) and, as a teenager, wondering why so many women had left their business cards – most of them promoting French lessons – futile for me as I was learning Latin. Plus, they all seemed to be called Delores – which was quite exotic for 1970s SW17.

Once, when looking for coins, the phone actually rang. I answered and was asked if I worked for MI5, I replied that I didn’t and wasn’t a fan of pre-pack furniture.

And, as Trevor’s girlfriend said, don’t ring us…

Horsing around

I knew I was destined never to become a professional actor when, after my first audition for the local Am Dram society, I was offered the part of the front end of a pantomime horse. On reflection, I realise that this wasn’t (actually) starting at the very bottom.

The disadvantages of this are that you have no lines (just the odd whinny and comedic shake of your mane); there’s no chance of being spotted by talent scouts and it’s tricky signing autographs as hooves aren’t renowned for gripping writing implements.

I was determined to make the most of it and introduced method acting into my theatrical learning.

I’d spend a lot of time watching episodes of Mr Ed, eating hay and trotting, like Arkle, up and down Balham High Road; I’d have popped into the local Sainsbury’s, but they had a no horse allowed policy. Ironic, really, given that Princess Anne had actually opened the store – and if any member of the Royal family is half-horse, half-princess, it’s her.

Due to work commitments, allergy to stage make-up and metaphorically being sent to the acting glue factory, my “career” was short-lived.

If I hadn’t given this up, we would never have witnessed the greatest acting talent to come out of Tooting, Neil Pearson, treading the boards. There was only room for one thespian in SW17 in the mid-seventies.

Windmills of my mind

Half-term activities are different now to what they were like in the ‘60s and ‘70s when I was at school. 

Growing up, I’d often be seen running up and down Balham High Road with my hoop and a stick.

But the activity which has stood the test of time is Crazy Golf.  During school holidays mere mortals and their children and grandchildren mentally turn into Tiger Woods – without the lack of driving skills or sex addiction, one would hope.

As a young teenager I honed my golf skills at Morden Pitch ‘n’ Putt and have played regularly since.

However long you’ve been playing, these skills become academic on a crazy golf circuit. 

Even if the putter they give you (and skanky old ball) had a grip and was the right size, your putting ability (and any innate golfing talent you may possess) goes out the window.  However, if people know you play, there is added pressure.  But why should this be?  At my course, south of south London, the opening hole is 551-yards – you need more than an antique putter to get you close if you’re to get the required par five.  Plus, the ball would probably disintegrate before you’ve even got close to the green.

The other fundamental difference between crazy golf and my local golf course?  There’s no massive clown’s mouth ready to gobble up your Pro V1 golf ball; there is no giant windmill in the middle of the fairway and although you can hear the A217, there is the complete absence of dinosaurs roaring. 

A Trill a minute

I’ve developed a fear of birds.

As a child I’d be taken to Trafalgar Square; bought threepennys’ worth of bird seed and put in the middle of Sir Edwin Landseer’s lions to be savaged by more birds than Burt Lancaster.

No fear – just a higher-than-normal dry-cleaning bill.

Years later, I’d cross over roads like the people who’d walked past before the Good Samaritan to avoid any pigeons; such was my avian terror.

In the ‘60s and ‘70s I’d play football on Wandsworth Common and call for a mate en route.  He owned a budgie (he‘d actually owned several, except his myopic dad would invariably tread on them, although he would secretly replace them with ones with totally different colouring).

If my mate wasn’t ready, I’d have to wait and sit in the kitchen, where the family did 99% of their activities – and where the budgie was caged. Because the family’s favourite film was Born Free, the budgie was encouraged to fly around.

Budgies sense pathological fear (and hate).

In my mind’s eye this budgie was as threatening as a pterodactyl and would make a beeline (or budgieline in this case) for me as if I were a giant cuttlefish or had Trill in my hair.

Such is my fear these days that, if I ever visit anyone, I have to ask: “are there any small mirrors with tiny bells in this house?”.   I’ve also stopped watching any TV series involving Adam Faith.

No time to…go to the toilet

I’ve just been to the pictures for the first time since 1970; if I’d have known the film was going to last two and a half hours, I’d have taken a couple of empty Lucozade bottles (if it’s good enough for Sir Alex Ferguson…).

The cinema was much smaller than I remember (although I was much smaller in 1970) – it was like being in my lounge only with more flock wallpaper and fewer abandoned copies of Woman’s Weekly (I get it for the cricket coverage).

The seat wasn’t as sticky as it had been in 1970 in the Tooting Granada watching Tora! Tora! Tora! with two other people and an ice-cream girl, who looked a bit like Admiral Tojo – this was more like being in a DFS commercial!

There was no intermission – I could have murdered a tub halfway through.  The upside was that I was, during the entire film, neither pelted by either a full carton of Kia-Ora nor a Jubbly.

I was disappointed not to have seen Ursula Andress or, before the main film started, a travelogue; a documentary about splitting the atom or an episode of Emil and the Detectives (I’d willingly pay the best part of £10 to see groups of people chasing one another through 1930s Berlin).

In the cinema there were no usherettes – people have torches on their phones these days, I assume?

But I did get out before the National Anthem and Reginald Dixon started up again.

Anthromorphic powder

Growing up in SW London in the ‘60s didn’t offer much guidance on nature and wildlife.

I was, therefore, confused having watched Billy Smart’s circus one wet Bank Holiday as to how Terry Hall got Lenny the Lion to be so docile.  No stool; no whip and, ostensibly, only one arm.  Probably no bad thing I never went on safari as a child – who knows what damage I’d incur with an innocent wandering hand!

Also on TV, accompanying Wally Whyton (how “The wheels on the bus” was never used as a Eurovision entry still amazes me), was Ollie Beak.  Before watching this, I’d assumed owls a. live in trees and not in guitar cases; b. they didn’t speak – “twit” and “twoo” aren’t real words and c. did all owls become Brownie leaders the moment they reached adulthood?

I’d worked out that cartoons were not based on real life (except The Flintstones, obviously, because I studied cave men at primary school – plus I’ve been to Cheddar Gorge).  Mister Ed?  I rest my case.

But, as a child, these creatures were real to me; it wasn’t until I was in my second-year at agricultural college that I realised that Pinky and Perky weren’t actual pigs. I’m not afraid of the big, bad wolf either.

Five ages of slippers

The slipper is an item of clothing, like that of a medieval chastity belt, which can bring pleasure or pain.

One of my favourite shoes, bought at Clark’s in Tooting in the early ‘60s, was a pair of slippers; not only with Noddy’s head on each foot, but also sporting a bell.

As an adolescent, you’d not admit you wore slippers in case a prospective girl friend asked who was on them – answering Willy Wombat didn’t necessarily lead to a successful courtship.

One particular slipper at my secondary school took on a very sadistic form; the geography teacher would employ it should you get signs on an O/S map wrong; failed to draw an acceptably accurate ox-bow lake or forgot a south American capital city.

I played five-a-side once with a Geordie friend of mine, after the invitation to play he asked, “Shall I bring my slippers?”  My instant reaction to this Tyneside approach to football, not knowing he meant his trainers, was, if I wore my slippers, they’d likely slip off; also, the bells would be in danger the moment I made contact with the ball.  Top half Gerd Müller, bottom half, Noddy – not a good look or feel.

I’ve never owned a dog as they savage slippers like they do tins of Winalot and most likely would take half my foot off – fine if you want to be the next Fred Titmus. 

I’m now at that age where slippers are essential footwear.  And, as I sit, wearing them by the fireside, re-reading my Noddy books, I’d have a pipe on, only I’d look like one of the women who hung around the foot of the Guillotine; although many would have had more teeth.

Never a crossword

“Hot beverage” (3-letters)?

You didn’t have to be Alan Turing to be able to complete the Evening News crossword. 

In the ‘60s, the evening paper would be delivered to our south London flats.  I’d be given the page containing all the puzzles – including the children’s picture crossword.  (This was easier as I didn’t drink tea or any hot beverages!)

It was here that I learned how to identify a cat (no pet policy in the flats made that trickier than you’d think) and how to spell it.

I’d have tackled the grown ups’ cryptic crossword, except my knowledge of Greek mythology lets me down.  I think Hermes sell expensive scarves; Apollo took people to the Moon and Athena is where you went to get a picture of a woman scratching her arse.

After solving all the picture clues I’d move onto “spot the ball”.  I never won and assume the players chosen to feature in the competition has dreadful eyesight and simply had a guess where the ball might be before they tried to head, kick or punch it if they were Gordon Banks, Gordon West or Gordon the Big Engine – such was the difficulty of this prediction.

I miss the evening paper as I rarely commute – so I struggle to see where can I get the result of today’s 3.30 at Newmarket or find out the latest County Championship scores?

Hot beverage is off, love. 

Poles apart

FDR once said, “we have nothing to fear but fear itself”; growing up and being pushed in a buggy across Wandsworth Common in the early ‘60s, I developed a pathological and irrational fear for one particular telegraph pole.

I’ve since acquired other fears: birds: it’s why Rod Taylor got the lead in the Hitchcock classic.  And thunder: if God had furniture, because He is God, He’d have someone move it around for Him.  Quietly.

There was a café on Wandsworth Common, in front of which stood this odd-looking (in my mind) telegraph pole; I could not go past it without shouting, screaming and, literally, throwing my toys out of the pram (Sooty never got so dirty than on these trips).  My perambulating relatives never reached the café as I believed I would be sucked into some electrical void, ending up inside an Earl Grey tea bag in the café’s industrial tea urn.

On my way to the café, we’d pass hundreds of other telegraph poles, but this one, in front of the café, had at its top, these two eye-like things – the shape of which could have been modelled by Charles Laughton for his screen test for The Hunchback of Notre Dame or something Picasso would have created on a bad day.

This fear may have been the reason I never applied to be a BT engineer (also I haven’t got a head for heights) and, because the Wandsworth Common tennis courts were behind the café, was another reason why I never became Balham’s answer to Emma Raducanu.