Don’t forget your gym kit!

New year; new calendar.  Will it have kittens on?  A favourite football team?  12 pictures of Claudia Cardinale (I’m buying a calendar for a friend)?  One thing is certain, mine won’t have the new moon turning up on the 15th of every month.

We never had a calendar as my Mum rarely attended school and so it never mattered what date it was as she couldn’t count further than 31.  My Nan, however, in her Balham flat, had a very simple one showing the phases of the Moon.  She’d have been an astronaut had she not had a fear of heights – and Martians.

More men would have had Pirelli calendars, only there was a general fear of foreign food in the ‘60s. 

These days most shopping centres have pop-up stalls (seemingly all year round, thus catering for anyone who has just come out of a coma) serving every hobby and interest (unless you’re a budding astronomer).  But you only really need one with several columns making sure no one forgets their gym kit so it’s academic what the pictures are.  I created one one year for my household with a different Nazi each month; we’d got to October (Hermann Göring in a swimsuit) before anyone noticed.

Because I’m still working from home, I’ve erected a bird table outside my study window, a consequence of which is that my calendar for 2021 features Garden Birds.  I’m looking forward to August – the index has promised “Great Tits”.

63 and only now going through adolescence 🙂 

Yes, we do have some bananas

This year, 2021, will be the year for injections – my question is, will the syringe be as big as it seemed when I was a six-year-old in my Tooting doctor’s surgery awaiting my booster jab?  And will I get a Mr Bump sticker saying: “I’ve been a good boy at the doctor’s”?

I remember my doctor’s in the early ‘60s and the abiding smell of ether – I was always surprised none of the staff were comatose by mid-afternoon.  

And there was, if you were only six, nothing to read – unless you wanted to learn forms of needlework, in which case you were lucky as there were always decades-old copies of Woman’s Weekly (famed for its knitting) strewn across a table which would have been deemed too old for Going for a Song.  The magazines were so old in one there was a pattern on how to crochet a gasmask.

I’d often be taken to the doctor’s as my mum was a hypochondriac and clearly fancied the doctor; this attraction was mutual.  My mum would have a paper cut and the doctor would gladly do a house-call.

The best thing I remember about visits to the doctor’s was banana-flavoured Penicillin.  I had a connection with Alexander Fleming having been born in St Mary’s, Paddington, where he’d discovered how to make antibiotic from an old Hovis – I’d have my own plaque erected there if it wasn’t for him. 

Such was my love for this medicine I’d make up illnesses just to get some – mum wasn’t to know typhoid wasn’t that rampant in SW17 in the sixties.

So, is there a doctor in the house?  No, because he’s round my mum’s flat.

And cough.

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. 

End of the tier show

As we approach the end of a rather bizarre year, there are words in 2020 which meant slightly different to when I was growing up in my Balham flat in the ‘60s.  

Corona: this was the brand of cream soda and cherryade I’d buy from my school tuck shop.

Quarantine: if you travelled back from a foreign land, this is what Rover or Tiddles had to do for the best part of a decade.

Mask: unless your occupation was a surgeon, highwayman or the Lone Ranger, the only time you wore a mask was playing Blind Man’s Buff or Pin the Tail on the Donkey.

Lockdown: when you’ve lost your door keys. Or someone’s escaped. 

Social distancing: what you did if you wanted to avoid certain people at your local whist drive.

Trump: a word used during a whist drive either pertaining to a suit of cards or flatulence. Or both.

Tier 1: what you give guests at a wedding

Tier 3: what you give guests at a Christening 

Tier 2: what people who really don’t need to eat more cake tuck into during a wedding

Tier 4: opening words of Ken Dodd’s signature tune

Bubble: a thing you blew, and in the process, got washing-up liquid all over your hands; now you need to douse your hands in Fairy while singing “Happy Birthday”.

R: used to be a letter, now it’s a number.

Zoom: was a lolly until 1982 when Fat Larry bought Lyon’s Maid. 

COVID: what Glamorgan is now called.

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?

Postcards from the Devonian age

The last time I got a postcard the price of the stamp was 3d.

No one sends them anymore – not even the ones featuring very small men with wives with enormous, Pamela Anderson-like chests, looking at marrows or any odd-shaped vegetable mentioning its size etc.

As a kid, during the summer, I had two great aunts who, upon their arrival in Ilfracombe (might have been Pluto for all I knew, it sounded so far away from Balham), would write to me using every conceivable space on the card.  There would always be a picture of the beach – not a sniff of a giant marrow 😊

It was lovely to receive, but the quid pro quo was that you had to send them back and would be forced by elder relatives – seemingly for the entire duration of the holiday – to write them.

“Wish you were here” being the obvious inclusion: but, however large you wrote it, it wasn’t covering the entire message area.   So I would lie and write about the remains of a pterodactyl I’d found on Dungeness beach and wouldn’t be able to write a second card due to having been abducted by Ellen Terry (we were forced to visit her house in Kent one year).  So, when I returned, having been released by the leading 19th theatre actress, some aging relatives were quite surprised.

And the weather; you’d be in the same country and the weather probably similar, but you were, because you were British, obliged to mention it.  You said it was hot, but then you’d never travelled to the Sahara Desert, the Grand Canyon or Mars.

I’d send more postcards, except they cost more than 3d to post and my marrows aren’t at their best in this cold weather. �

Not so floppy Flopsy

Before discovering Radio Luxembourg, I was more than capable, as an only child, of entertaining myself at bedtime in my Balham flat.

As soon as it was lights out in HMP Mick, the wall of my bedroom would become a giant control panel, which would transport me to wherever I wanted to go – I rarely thought past Morden, though.

I’d pretend, where there was actually Flopsy Bunny wallpaper (neither parent were regular decorators), there were buttons to push, enabling me, in my ten-year-old brain, to travel, out of SW17, into a parallel universe (Morden).

During the day this same wall had been a goal into which I would head one of my dad’s nicked squash balls.   By night I was Neil Armstrong, by day I’d be Gerd Müller.

To re-enact some of Müller’s many goals, I’d throw myself across my bed, oblivious to the fact there was invariably either a violin bow or pair of glasses lying there.

I gave the violin up as soon as I could; but, as I got older and found the spaceship wall less and less appealing, so my need for stronger and stronger glasses became increasingly necessary and visits to the opticians seemed almost weekly.  I couldn’t work out the correlation.  Seems my Nan had been right all along 😊

To infinity and beyond (well, the southern end of the Northern Line).

Lightweight and bitter

I’ve not drunk alcohol since 1976; I blame David Vine.

Before then, albeit for one legal year, I’d have the odd half in pubs near where I grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s Balham.  I wasn’t cut out for drinking, but I’d tag along.  On Friday nights, when the Salvation Army sellers of War Cry would come into The Hope on Wandsworth Common, I’d be one of the few in our group capable of finishing the picture crossword in their weekly newspaper.

On 5th April 1976 (my 19th birthday) I went with my mates to the Surrey Tavern.  We’d play pool there and put millions of pounds into the juke box to listen to Save your kisses for me; Fernando and Music by John Miles.  These were the top 3 singles on my birthday.  You really got your money’s worth with Music as it went on for about a week.

As I was singing along “Music was my first love” etc. etc., my mates thought it’d be hysterically funny to empty that month’s Smirnoff factory output into my half a pint of lager and lime. 

Later that evening, when the world was spinning faster than anything they’d ever had at Battersea Funfair, I decided alcohol wasn’t for me.

The next month I went on holiday to Austria with my dad.  He tempted me with what he called ‘innocuous’ light ale.  What I didn’t realise, despite him being very well-read, was that this was one big word he didn’t fully know the meaning off.   The words from the Tony Newley hit, ‘Stop the world I want to get off’ rang round my head again.

Travelling on a coach around Innsbruck the next day, I’ve never felt so ill; I still can’t listen to the theme tune to Ski Sunday without feeling nauseous!

Not so little fishy

During the early ‘60s I associated the Dick van Dyke Show with smoked haddock. 

Every Saturday evening, as the activities of everybody’s favourite Cockney would be played out on our TV screens, my mum would serve up smoked haddock.  Having flirted with the fishmongers in Balham Market to get their finest fish, I still, to this day, cannot stomach the taste and whenever you go to a restaurant (remember those?) the fish of the day is invariably haddock.  There clearly is no God – which is more than can be said of the omnipresent haddock.

The opposite effect on me is with roast beef: my brain conjures up images of Ted Moult.  He’d by on the radio (wireless for older listeners) every Sunday (he’d alternate with Jimmy Clitheroe on the Brain’s Trust) and there is still this association.  Whenever I’d see an Everest Double Glazing ad on the telly, I’d start salivating – I do that now, but that may be an age thing.

However, I do blame Lucille Ball for my allergy to prawns.   My mum’s divi must have come in one week as she decided to buy prawns instead of the haddock.  Fine by me.  Shortly after another slapstick episode of US situation comedy I decided that I didn’t love Lucy that much and her show should have been sponsored by Kaolin & Morphine.

But the worst taste and smell for me: boiled fish in parsley sauce.  My nan would make it and was the worse smell ever and am reminded of it whenever I read Dante’s Inferno; the recipe had come from the tenth circle of Hell – so awful, it wasn’t even in the book.

Seven deadly syns

Whenever I go on holiday I like to read about the place I’m visiting: Jamaica Inn in Cornwall; Mayor of Casterbridge in Dorset; the Clangers annual if ever I make it to the Moon.

As a teenager I’d spend many summer holidays on the Kent coast; my reading there was the Dr Syn novels. Dr Syn was a clergyman by day and head of a Romney Marsh smuggling gang at night.

The 7 novels were written between 1915-1944 and two films came out of the writing. I only saw part of the 1963 adaption.  I was so traumatised by Dr Syn, terrifyingly dressed as a scarecrow, my mum had to take me out of the Balham Odeon, probably before the usherette called the local health visitor or hit me with a Kia Ora to shut me up.

Dr Syn was ultimately hanged in the final book, but in the current times he’d have escaped that fate as he’d not been able to carry anything out if he was working from home.  You cannot offload stolen barrels of French rum from a boat via a Zoom call.

I’d have made a dreadful smuggler: fear of water (worse than that of hanging); don’t like rum (even in a bar of Old Jamaica) and don’t look good in a scarecrow outfit.

Also, at my age, I’m quite susceptible to marsh ague.  Rum Baba anyone?