Annuals of history

Every Christmas, during the ‘60s, I would be given, alongside two tangerines; a handful of walnuts and 2-packets of last years’ dates, the mandatory annual.

Which subject would my parents choose?  Had they been listening to me throughout the year to get a feel in what I was interested in?

As, for several years on the trot, I received the Rupert annual, they clearly hadn’t.  Unless they thought I was a secret Daily Express reader, I was always slightly disappointed.  I didn’t possess a matching pair of distasteful yellow scarf and trousers – if I had been posher, I might have had; but this was Balham in the ‘60s, so that was never happening.

I’d have liked to have got the first edition, published in 1936, featuring stories where Rupert trains with Jesse Owens and Hitler invades Nutwood, with the pretence that there were German speakers living there.

After a while of the annuals still being in pristine condition the following December, my parents changed tack.

The Coronation Street annual was never the same after 1964, as it no longer featured pictures of Martha Longhurst.

I was thrilled, in 1967, to get the Man from U.N.C.L.E. annual – I’d always wanted to be Illya Kuryakin and had, as a teenager, an interest in east European female gymnasts.

My parental procurement of my annual annual stopped in 1972.  Aged 15, you really don’t want your mates coming round to your place and seeing The Clangers annual taking pride of place on your bookcase.

There were some great soup recipes inside, though.

A little bit elephant’s

Bank Holiday TV viewing, when I was a kid growing up in south London in the ‘60s, invariably involved a circus.

As a ten-year-old, keen to get some career ideas, the circus was no help at all.

One year, I visited the traveling circus on Clapham Common.  This was like an appointment with a school career officer.

If you had a head for heights; owned a whip and a small stool; liked sharing a Mini with heavily made-up men (and tonnes of fire hydrant foam) or, to paraphrase Robert Duvall, loved the smell of elephant dung in the morning, then there were potential jobs for you.

These ticked none of employment prospect boxes for me.

This was confirmed when I’d watch the circus on TV (and you’d only watch that because there were only two channels and no one could be arsed to get up and physically change the channel as they’d over-eaten the cold turkey and bubble, OD’d on dates or had alcoholic poisoning through consuming too many chocolate liqueurs).

I remember watching Billy Smart’s Circus.  I thought to myself that he couldn’t have been that smart as one of his main tasks was collecting elephant pooh – why else would he need a top hat?

Also, the smell of sawdust reminded me when someone had been sick in class and the long-suffering school caretaker would come in and scatter sawdust onto the problem in question as if it were some form of fairy dust with magical powers to ensure the smell disappeared. 

This New Year Bank Holiday I won’t be watching the circus and I’ll be keeping any fruit buns to myself. 

Halfpenny for your thoughts?

Boxing Day in the ‘60s for me meant an early introduction to gambling and the chance to win my bodyweight in halfpennies.

We would travel from Balham to Wimbledon Chase (which sounded more like a horserace than an actual place) to visit a family who’d previously lived in my block of flats, but had emigrated to SW20 – could have been Borneo, it seemed that far away.

At the end of the four-mile journey south down the A24 would be the largest ever collection of bottled beer, two packs of cards and a pile of halfpennies, which to me looked like Everest (the mountain, not the double glazing).

The game we played was Newmarket; it was simple and easy for a ten-year-old (me) to play.  The games would seemingly go on long into the night (probably about 9.30!) and amidst the continual clinking of light ale bottles, you stood to have a pile in front of you, if you were lucky, adding up to nearly a shilling.  I’d never felt so rich – plus I had already been given a £1 Premium Bond at birth – surely only members of the Royal Family were better off?

The lady who lived there looked very much like Dusty Springfield (this was preferable than looking like Myra Hindley, as my Auntie Vera did), so it was no coincidence her songs were played throughout the evening. 

When the beer had run out, and the halfpennies usually in one person’s sole possession, we began the trip home – back to wonder how easy it was to mend a broken Action Man. 

Who’s got the ten of spades?