Taping over the cracks

I’ve slung out my old Betamax machine.   I realise Antiques Roadshow is never coming to a town near me.  Arthur Negus clearly allergic to suburbia

I don’t need it now as I have “catch up TV”; “download series link” and various programmes 1-hour later.

As a kid, VHS was something your mum told you’d catch off other people’s toilet seats.  Betamax was the ointment you’d use to get rid of it.

With the Radio Times you planned in advance what your viewing would be. As an adolescent I knew Alexandra Bastedo was on Friday evenings; Andy Pandy was Tuesday – I can’t remember which day Sunday Night at the London Palladium was on.

You had to watch things live.  If I missed any episode of The Persuaders I’d have to wait until playtime at my Balham school before catching up.  The quality of the retelling made it obvious none of my mates would ever become screenplay writers.  However, you could miss a decade of Crossroads, and still get up to speed with plot before the first ad break.

And then came video tapes – almost the size of your lounge – and with a slit for inserting the tape which could be as vicious as a piranha.

But the ever present danger was taping over something precious.

I once recorded the 1989 FA Cup Final over The Sound of Music.  Instead of the Nazis turning up, suddenly you had Ian Rush marauding into the Everton penalty area.  “I am sixteen” was suddenly replaced with “You’ll never walk alone”.  The remote buttons were never allowed in my hand again.

Counting the pennies

This week I tried to pay for something using my Kidney Donor Card.  Another restaurant I won’t be allowed back in.

Years ago “tap in” would have been something your plumber mentioned and “contactless” was when you were removed from someone’s Christmas Card list. 

This system of payment is a far cry from having a plastic-covered National Savings paying-in book.   I miss waiting in the queue of my Balham sub-Post Office and furtively looking at the magazines I’d never have the courage to buy.  I always thought both health and efficiency were very laudable attributes to have.

And the wait was invariably to pay in ten bob, a present from a generous aunt or the results of a money laundering scam during bob-a-job week.

My first experience of “money” was the pretend coins my dad would get from the Co-Op.  Because he bought Senior Service by the vat-load, he’d get plenty of these to save up for his divi.

I’d play with these coins, sharing them among my 38 hand puppets, telling them about Communism and the redistribution of wealth.   Sooty always knew what I was talking about; Willie Wombat less so.

I found my old paying-in book in the loft the other day.  I have £3 17s 6d.   Not even enough for another hand puppet. 

Wonder how much credit I have on my library card?

In at the deep end

I always wanted Jacques Cousteau to visit Balham Baths.

I watched his documentaries with interest and knew there must be something of aquatic attraction lurking in the chlorine of SW17?

I wanted him to transport Calypso all the way from the south of France to the mysterious depths of the deep end of my local swimming baths.

What would Jacques (and Phillippe) expect to find at the bottom of the baths?  A discarded pair of pyjamas?  A coelacanth?  An unreliable set of water-wings?

At secondary school we had to travel a million miles to Latchmere Baths.  It always worried me that the next door building was the Battersea Coroner’s Court.  This didn’t encourage you to want to be the next Johnny Weissmüller; they might as well have named it “The Dr Crippen Swimming Baths”.

Until I discovered that telling the teacher you had a verruca would get you out of swimming, I had visions of my trunks laying on a ceramic slab with giant Victorian lights looking down and the only thing on the wall being a 1969 Mark Spitz calendar.

I’d have made my own version of the TV series and named it “The Undersea World of Mike Richards”, except we were too poor to own a float and I was always worried I’d develop webbed feet.

Joyeuses vacances

Hot under the collar

We rarely wear things our parents wore.

I’ve never had recourse to wear arm bands to keep my shirt sleeves up; I never wore a flat hat to go football; my mother had a different chest size to me, so I never wore any of her bras – well, not since the psychiatrist visit, anyway.

Fashions change.  You don’t see people wearing togas these days or coats made out of mammoths.

As a kid, I’d be dragged, by my mum, into various clothes shops along Balham High Road.  I remember a milliners.  I wasn’t allowed to touch a single hat and realised, at a very early age, I was never going to sport a fascinator, bonnet or boudoir cap.

I’m also neither posh nor old enough to wear braces; I don’t use string to hold my trousers up and luckily never had a de-mob suit. 

However, I did secretly wear my dad’s old football shirt once – although I did think Roy Bentley was a type of car rather than the centre-forward for Chelsea.  Probably best not mention my mum’s thigh-length boots – if only to say how tricky I found walking in such high heels.

Our children are unlikely to go out wearing loons, anything made of velvet and possibly think Biba is a far-way planet.

Time to starch my collar and attach my cuffs.

Partridge in a Pears’ Cyclopaedia

If we were still living in the ‘60s, as we approach Christmas, so we’d be getting ready to welcome Perry Como into our houses.

What did he do the rest of the year?  What happened to all those jumpers?  Did he sell them to Val Doonican? When we watched Val Doonican’s Christmas Specials, was he wearing Perry Como’s hand-me-downs?

Were round-robin letters describing the events of the year a thing in the ‘60s?  Did we read them by the light of our fibre-optic lamps?  (I think I have one of the fibres still stuck in my foot).

My great aunt, who also lived in our Balham flats, owned a Pears’ Cyclopaedia.  I didn’t need a letter telling me about “Melissa and the girls finding a lovely inn in rural Tuscany” to enlighten me as to what had happened in the previous year.

More and more Christmas cards are sent electronically.   It’s not quite the same having a PC dangling overhead on a piece of string.

I wonder if I’ll still be scared of the Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol? In recent years, I’ve found Miss Piggy scarier.

And so, as Tiny Tim (the Dickens character, not the singer) would say, “God bless us, every one” – even those sending round-robin letters.

Brain Freeze

I never felt the cold as a kid.

I had the mandatory duffel-coat, which made me look like a very small protester on the Aldermaston March, but rarely felt I needed it; even in the winter of 1962/3.  Ice Cold in Balham would have made a good film.

But now, with the duffel-coat no longer fitting (I blame chocolate Hob Nobs), I now need several layers.  When I go out now, it looks like I could be assisting Sherpa Tensing, only without the ice-pick.

I had an uncle who had a string vest.  He would eat his tea wearing it.   I often wondered what the point was – there were more holes than things stoppings drafts.  “Don’t forget your vest” was a much-used adage.  Why, if 90% was holes?

Nowadays everything is “thermal” – when I was a kid, the only thing which was thermal was a flask.

Years ago, if you had layers on, you’d look like the Michelin Man.  These days, everything is more streamlined and energy efficient.  If you still look like the Michelin Man, it means you’re not cold, you’re simply eating too many cakes.

I still have elastic attached to my gloves.

I also find myself saying “take your coat off, or you’ll not feel the benefit”  Oscar Wilde once said, “all women turn into their mothers”.  I’ve turned into my Nan 😊

Lavender fields forever

I don’t quite remember when the site of Morden Station was lavender fields; nor do I remember when the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were part of the Battersea Park Festival Gardens in the years before Christ; what I do I realise is the buildings I knew as kid are no longer there.

When I first started work, in 1974, my job was to collect regional newspapers from their London offices in Fleet Street.  Most of these buildings are now law firms.  So, if you need to get a copy of the Hull Daily Mail, Helston Packet or the Isle of Wight County Press, it’ll cost you £1,000 just for someone to fetch it.

Many old banks are now wine bars; old pubs are now wine bars and you can’t find a decent milliners for love nor money.  I now have my own anvil.

The Balham Odeon, where my mum and I watched 50% of Dumbo (we left early as it was too upsetting) and 30% of The Scarecrow (too much set in Dymchurch), turned into Majestic Wine.  I’d moved away, came back, sat in the shop waiting to watch Emil and the Detectives only to be sold a case of Rioja.  Not even close to a Kia-Ora or a tub!

The Mayfair cinema, Tooting, turned into a snooker hall and then a bank.  I assume it’s a wine bar now?  It certainly won’t be a haberdashery shop.

But the most disturbing thing, given that everyone is being told to drink more water, is, where have all the horse troughs gone?  They’re probably very small leisure centres now!

When I’m 65

When you’re a kid, there are various (usually medical) things which you observe that only old people use.

Last week, after sixty-five years, I had to buy corn plasters.  As a child, I was aware of aging relatives using them.  My question is, will I be using medical aids I’d witnessed in my Balham flat in the ‘60s?

Perhaps I’ll start dabbing myself with 4711 Eau de Cologne; I may start protecting my clothes with mothballs or begin sucking cloves for toothache (one of the few things not mentioned by the witches in Macbeth)?

I wonder if the bottles of Kaolin & Morphine; Milk of Magnesia and Friar’s Balsam I currently have in my loft are past their sell-by date?

Obviously, medicine has progressed over the past sixty-years, the doctor no longer visits with a black bag, but can give you a password for a Zoom call.

One thing is for certain, I won’t be creating my own laxatives.  I had a great aunt who lived in our flats.  Once she invited me into her bedroom as she was getting ready to go to work.  Aside from the overriding smell of peroxide, on her bedside table was a cup, full of brown water, in which floated several actual rotting senna pods.  The mere sight of these sent me rushing to her toilet.  I guess they worked.

Pass the smelling salts, please.

Goose feathers are off, love

I’m not so old that I remember writing with a goose feather, but writing implements have changed over the years.

I remember my first day at my Balham primary school; I sat at my new desk, wondering when my afternoon rest was going to start, when I had a lump of slate and chalk thrust into my hand.  Was I expected to start a fire with them?  Was this a type of drum? Was I to write the odds of the 3.30 at Newmarket?

Before this I’d only had crayons.  My nan had a biro to do the Evening News crossword every night. I wasn’t allowed that as, the only time I’d been given one, I bit the end off and got blue ink all over my mouth.  My mother assumed I was part of a royal family.  Biology not one of her stronger suits.

When I was ten, we were introduced to italic pens.  After ten years of mastering writing with crayons and the occasional pencil, suddenly everything had to be slanted – like I was doing my classwork from the other side of the desk.

At secondary school the desks were so old, there were still inkwells in every desk.  With the advent of cartridges, the only use of the redundant inkwell was to place your mid-morning tuck-shop iced bun in.   Although, if you found you suddenly had royal blue icing, the inkwells were clearly still being used.

But if your cartridge had run out, there were always the geese running amok on the rugby field.

What’s it Harry Worth?

The BBC is celebrating 100-years of broadcasting.  Growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, it had a major effect on my life.

As a kid, I would frequently walk down Balham High Road wondering why I couldn’t lift both feet off the ground in shop doorways. 

My mother always wanted me to have elocution lessons; this would have been pointless in south-west London – I’d have been better off copying Bill & Ben.

It was a great vehicle to see what possible lines of career you might take: I couldn’t have been a rag ‘n’ bone man due to my fear of horses; life on the open seas looked attractive except no episode of Captain Pugwash ever mentioned getting scurvy, being attacked by Spaniards or being only ten-years-old on board, having been pressganged into joining the Navy; nor could I have been Bluebottle as I don’t like big bangs.

The Good Life encouraged us to become self-sufficient; having a goat in a fourth-floor flat wasn’t terribly practical, but we did always have nice mohair coats.

The BBC connected people with one another: every Sunday you always wondered where Paderborn was and thinking it must be so awful that the people there were constantly looking forward to coming home for Christmas!  Even in January.

But there was little choice. If you’d been living on Mars and returned and turned the TV on and it was showing The Big Country, Billy Smart’s circus or Val Doonican with a particularly thick jumper on, you’d know it was Christmas.  There was no escape – especially not from Stalag Luft III, which usually preceded Val’s Christmas Jumper fest.

Goodnight children, everywhere.