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)
And now there is avocado milk to go with the trillions of other dairy products you can get.
Growing up in the sixties we had three types: red, silver and, if you’d come into a few bob, gold-top; avocado was the colour of your bathroom.
Can you imagine the chaos in the sixties at school milk time with thirty different alternatives? Hancock advocated, during the Blood Donor episode, to: “Drinka Pinta Milka day” – poor spelling, but strong message. Mrs Thatcher clearly not a Hancock fan.
My first departure from straight milk was when my mum once bought a tin of Nesquik. It did involve a lot of stirring; if you drank a lot of it, one arm would become much larger than the other.
Such was the desire to have a more varied dairy diet, I once asked for the popular sixties dessert: Raspberry Ripple. At the time it was quite expensive, and we didn’t have much money, so my mum created it serving a block of vanilla ice cream you’d normally have in a wafer, covered with Ribena.
And I wondered why she never made it as a Michelin Star chef?
Humphrey is currently in HMP Wandsworth serving time for armed robbery.
Blue whale, magic door or lump of rock? This isn’t a playground game, but the alternatives, during my summer holidays in the late sixties, offered by the Natural History, Science and Geological Museums respectively in South Kensington – a 49 bus ride from the stop outside Tooting Bec Station.
However many visits we made as kids there, I don’t think I was ever destined to become a scientist.
I liked the idea of a door which opened the moment you walked near it and the ball you could never touch, but this indicated to me that I was unlikely to be called on to walk on the Moon, split an atom or discover fire.
Similarly, I marvelled at the blue whale and the dodo in the Natural History Museum, but with the extinction of one and not enough maggots in my mum’s fridge to capture the other, I was never going to make it as the next David Attenborough or Jacques Cousteau.
This left the Geological Museum, which we went in to escape the rain. You can only look at a few pieces of sedimentary rock when the risk of pneumonia becomes very attractive. Now closed (I rest my case) , but part of the Natural History Museum, if you don’t fancy it, its memory lives on through The Flintstones. Or take an umbrella.
The rock museum gets the last laugh as there is no Museum for Paper & Scissors.
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.
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.
On January 22nd 1966, These boots were made for walking entered the charts; to celebrate this fact, I erected a life-size poster of Nancy Sinatra, sporting (there is no other word) a pair of pink boots, across my bedroom wall.
This was, in my nine-year-old opinion, arguably the most artistic thing hanging in SW17 that year; next year Nancy was usurped by a picture of Julie Andrews confronting the Gestapo.
A nine-year-old interested in thigh-length boots, I hear you say? Not what you’re thinking. At nine I was still recovering from seeing Action Man naked (my parents had taken the cheaper option and not ordered any uniform) and was quite content playing with my Hot Wheels (this is not a euphemism) to worry about leather-clad women. No, the real reason is that I wanted to work in a shoe-shop.
Clark’s in Tooting High Street had a pneumatic money carrier, which, as a nine-year-old, I assumed launched you into space. The woman who worked in there also looked a bit like John Glenn, so my assumption seemed valid. Although, given the sandals my mum forced me to wear, defying gravity was going to be tricky, there were more holes than shoe. There was also this secret desire to be able to say (without being smacked) “Uranus”, should anyone ask me where I was heading.
As I got older, nude Action Men and Hot Wheels took a back seat and thigh-length boots came to the fore. As did increasingly more frequent trips to the opticians.
I never worked in the shoe-shop, but, ironically, throughout my career in advertising, I have talked a load of old cobblers.
In October 1966, Chi-Chi the giant panda hadn’t been as lucky as the England football team a few months earlier, as her introduction to An-An in Moscow Zoo was deemed a complete failure – even with extra time.
What people learned from this abortive attempt to increase the world’s declining panda population was: pandas clearly don’t all look the same.
It was halfway through the swinging sixties that the idea of Tinder was first thought up.
With the first series of Mr and Mrs being aired eighteen-months prior to the most public of unsuccessful dates, the respective Russian and English zoo-keepers might have learned the importance of being like-minded helps in searching for your BFF.
I watched the affable Derek Batey avidly as a nine-year-old in my Balham flat and cannot recall any successful panda (let alone two) being on the show, nor questions about your partner’s favourite bamboo flavour.
The average October temperature in Moscow is around two-degrees. So, An-An may not have been at his best, and female giant pandas are very shallow and are not attracted to pandas with a sense of humour.
I can imagine the scene at the introduction of the two animals at Moscow Zoo:
“Well, you don’t look much like your photo, do you?”
“Never mind that, have a suck on this bamboo.”
“Thanks, I might wait ‘til it’s warmer.”
Taxi for Miss Chi-Chi.
Women have always frightened me. It stems from a concert I was part of when I was ten in 1967.
In a ruse to get off maths at my Balham primary school, violin lessons were offered. The consequences of this was me failing maths O-Level three times, the irony being I’m not first violin at the Royal Opera House.
I have a musical ear: I can sing, and, as a ten-year-old, adapted to playing the violin so proficiently I was invited to attend rehearsals for a concert to be given at an all-girls’ secondary school in Tooting: Garratt Green.
In my formative period of ten-years, I’d been mainly shielded from girls – apart from looking curiously at the covers of magazines (we never had in our house) at the barbers and my mum, twenty-four years my senior (girls in my class didn’t count, I’d known them since I was four, and they were all soppy anyway).
What I’d not encountered were ‘big’ girls – those taller and older than me and, especially the other violinists, more threatening.
However, and for an only child, most of the girls in the string section were like older sisters to me and I was put at ease – I think sharing my rosin helped.
I look back and amaze myself none of them put me inside my violin case. I like to think, being a bit nerdy, they felt sorry for me. Whenever our cross country runs from Bec took us near the school, I look back fondly at those girls, to whom I’m grateful, for preparing me for adolescence, something I’m probably still going through.
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.
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.