Cheese is off, love

Sooty

These days everyone can pretend to be David Bailey. Most people have phones, in which are built-in cameras which would put Lord Snowden to shame.
I am conscious, when growing up in south London in the ‘60s, that these photo opportunities for me were rare. The one I use on social media was taken when I was four in 1961.
I remember the preparation and actual taking of the photographs took an age, plus there was the added resentment that my bedroom had become the make-shift studio. I did not want my photo taken (an attitude I still have, fifty-nine years later) and I think it shows as poor Sooty, with whom I am posing, gets strangled making me look like I’ve been brought up in Boston rather than Balham.
The desire to play with Sooty and my thirty-odd other hand puppets, rather than looking angelic, never faded. With the exception of the mandatory primary school photograph (without Sooty), there remain few photos of me. Neither parent owning a camera didn’t aid matters. Although my mum did borrow an aging relative’s Box Brownie during one summer holiday; she held no ambition to become the next Annie Leibovitz (although she did like her posh biscuits).
Other families usually had one relative adept at taking still and/or moving pictures of their offspring and you’d dread the invite round to someone’s house to witness their holiday that year with a blurry, shaky, grainy silent memory of that summer in Bognor courtesy of their cine-camera.
I wonder if I’d had a puppet of Sweep things might have been better?

And, smile 😊

Speaking Mandarin segments

cherry

With panic buying now a way of life, like watching Corrie or turning the gas off before you leave the house. And, as it becomes so, will our diets change or perhaps we might revert to things you’d forgotten about since childhood, but now remains the only things left on the shelves?
Over the decades, with the introduction of increasingly exotic foods, there must have been a point when you told yourself: these are the last tinned peaches I’m eating.
I think many of us of a certain age can remember refusing to eat corned beef because of its connotations with typhoid – not a good marketing gimmick. (This was before the Falklands War and blaming the Argentinians came naturally even in the early ‘60s).
It used to be perceived as a treat – opening up a tin of fruit in syrup – especially if it involved a glacé cherry – although an inevitable family fight would ensue over whose cherry this was as there was usually only one half in each tin. The scuffling being good practice for shopping these days?
There does, though, seem to be a surfeit of hundreds & thousands – always a treat to top off a tinned pear, less so corned beef.
Along from the pear halves, mandarin segments and peach slices are tins of prunes; given the paucity of toilet roll, this is far too much of a risk. And, as such, my collection, in the loft, of Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly magazines, are now beginning to look highly endangered.  Spam’s off, love

I’d do anything

marty

As a football fan, I’ve been lucky to have watched the beautiful game at the Bernabéu; the San Siro and both German Olympic stadia in Berlin and Munich; but the zenith of my footballing viewing has got to be Sandy Lane, former home of Tooting & Mitcham FC.
Here I watched a charity game between Tooting & Mitcham and a team of celebrities – think Robbie Williams’ games only in 1968 – and in Mitcham.
I went because my comedy hero, Marty Feldman was playing. Great writer and actor, no Charlie Cooke.
The game, like most charity games, had an unexpected celebrity kick it off. In this case it was Mark Lester, who played the title role in the film Oliver. Like Diana Ross at the 1994 World Cup only with more begging.
I am one-year older than Mark Lester, but even at that tender age, although you dreamed of playing with grown-ups, when reality kicked in (literally) you wanted to hurriedly produce a note from your mum excusing you from the first half.
Mark Lester kicked off and immediately trotted back to the safety of the dug-out, changing rooms or Nancy.
But, imagine if he’d stayed on and discovered that Tooting & Mitcham had Oliver Reed in their starting XI? He’d have terrorized the poor urchin for ninety-minutes.
Picture the scene: Young Mark gets the ball from the comedy equivalent of Jimmy Greaves, dribbles inside several Tooting & Mitcham defenders, is about to shoot, balances, raises his leg and then suddenly hears the death-cry behind him of ‘Bullesye!’
This was 1968; you couldn’t do that now, FIFA have introduced a rule which says you can’t have a pit-bull terrier playing at centre-half.

 

It’s Wagner!

wagner

I like to think my Man Cave is slightly more sophisticated than Fred Flintstone’s.
While I haven’t got a pet dinosaur (walking it day and night in mid-winter doesn’t appeal) I do have everything I need in my self-appointed self-isolation room.
Because I’m working from home, and with no one to talk to (or at as I’m an only child), I need to have elements of distraction and comfort. I have a desk; an ergonomic chair; a sofa for lounging on, in the style of Noel Coward, when I’m not having to look at Excel spreadsheets, Word documents or participate in Zoom video calls.
But above all, I have BBC Radio 3.
I realise classical music isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (I have plenty of that too) but, as I sang in a church choir (arguably when I looked my most angelic) and also played in the school orchestra – I was third violin (mainly because they didn’t have a fourth, fifth or six – I wasn’t brilliant, but it did get me out of Maths); although if Richard Wagner had ever heard me playing his overture to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, he’d have turned in his Bayreuthian grave.
This exposure, throughout my life, has endeared me to the genre of music they play on Radio 3 (although I do struggle with Jazz Record Requests), especially Essential Classics which is on during weekdays mornings – it offers great, accessible music with some light-hearted banter too – it keeps me sane, plus sometimes I can sing along or pretend I still own a violin.
However, because it is on in the background, I tend to forget it is on and on it remains during my newly-increased habit of video conference calls. While no one in my offices or any of my clients believe I’m training to be one a concert pianist, I was asked the other day, “What is that noise?” (The overture to Fidelio) I now know not everyone likes Beethoven and many people with whom I have these calls think it is a film about a giant dog. I have yet to fully master “mute” during some of these calls – although there is a part of me which believes I’m educating and entertaining my fellow video call participants.
A video conference call in itself is a curious things: several people on my computer screen, in their own contained box, make it like watching an episode of Celebrity Squares. As, at 62, I’m invariably the oldest one on the call and think of myself as Arthur Mullard or Pat Coombs.
I must encourage more of my video callers to listen to Radio 3, who knows, some might come away knowing that Wagner isn’t just some random bloke who appeared in X-Factor.

Cheap, cheap

top of the pops

When people are asked to name their favourite album, no one ever mentions Top of the Pops – Volume 18.

I would play it endlessly in my south London flat, listening to the songs which were in the charts at the time. I’d listen to them under my eiderdown on Radio Luxembourg. But, on these records, none were by the original artists.

I was fourteen in July 1971 and had the lowly weekly income of 50p, these LPs quenched my musical desire cheaply (which was ironic given one of the songs on the record was “Chirpy, Chirpy, Cheap, Cheap”).

During this time there was a proliferation of impersonators on the TV. It was my naive belief that if they could mimic Harold Wilson, they could also do Harold Melvin. I did not appreciate at the time that these covers were done by professional session musicians who were as good at doing Ted Nugent as Mike Yarwood was Ted Heath.

During these times there were rivals to the Top of the Pops LP series: Hot Hits being one. However, you tended to be loyal to one, bit like either preferring Monty Python to The Goodies, Max Factor to Rimmel or Harry Potter to anything by Dostoyevsky.

But, dear reader, I bought these LPs purely for musical pleasure and not because the album covers showing women in provocative poses. I was 14 and still thinking about which new I-Spy book to get. Honest, guv.

Haircut 100 (days in solitude)

haircut

When will I get my hair cut (properly) again? As the amount of conference calls grows, so is my consciousness to look professional, but, if my hair isn’t likely to get cut for another three months, there is the danger it will be the length it was in 1970, the only difference being, I’m no longer thirteen and Mungo Jerry not Number One.
I wonder if that’s what will happen with contact only via a phone or computer screen? If this is the route we’re going I might as well get my flares down from the loft now and buy as many different coloured pieces of wool to create the mother of all tank-tops.
I will probably have a fear of girls, as I did when 13. My insistence of wearing tank-tops, which would have made the biblical Joseph look colour blind, didn’t exactly help my cause.
When this is all over and get invited to my first party will I be taking a Party 7, a bottle of Blue Nun together with the Simon & Garfunkel album, Bridge over Troubled Water. And all this smelling of too much Aramis. If the latter is correct that will ensure my own social distancing will continue.
(Although there is a certain irony that the 8th best-selling single in 1970 was the England World Cup squad singing Back Home. I’m surprised this isn’t played during any messages given by Boris Johnson).
I’m at that age when I can remember great details about 1970 but cannot remember much about yesterday (oh yes, I stayed in).
1970 was the first year of Glastonbury, a town previously only famous through King Arthur having rented a flat there. Half a crowns were no longer legal tender and given that these were the coin which were fed to the gas meter I feared my teenage years would be in perpetual darkness (and owning such a selection of tank-tops I’m surprised there weren’t).
Will my return to work show a 1970s-length hair or will everyone have thought themselves an amateur Vidal Sassoon? Or return looking like Yul Brunner, Duncan Goodhew or Uncle Fester?
I shall miss going to my barber. To whom will I be able to tell where I’ve been on my holidays, that I don’t work locally and that I am the person who last cut my hair?
I think I might watch an episode of Desmond’s for some ideas.

Generation (Dure)X

parade

The day you felt you’d become a man (certainly in the rituals in place in south London in the ‘60s) would be the time you no longer need the bench to sit on at the barbers. In effect, you’d only started to enter adolescence and the well-thumbed copies of Parade, Reveille and Health & Efficiency, almost overnight, became more interesting than the Beano or Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly.
The time you did, at least in the barber’s eyes, become a man, was when your mum no longer took you. Although in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, with so many people opting for longer hair (I blame Chicory Tip), I’m surprised anyone went to the barbers, unless they needed something for the weekend and knew too many people working in their local Boot’s.
I can remember sitting for ages in my Balham barber’s knowing, when accompanied by my mum, that the magazines could have been housed in Fort Knox, such was the chance of me touching one, let alone opening one.
You would wait patiently looking around the shop at photos of hairstyles you could have (although many of the photos were quite old, so if you wanted to look like Clement Attlee, this was the place to go). There were also many displays of , some magic stick which stopped you bleeding after shaving and combs. Things for the weekend were not in sight. When you hadn’t yet entered puberty (some days I think I’m still waiting) things for the weekend were footballs, Jimmy Clitheroe and roast beef; this might explain why I have fourteen children.

Under the Moon

new moon

The closest I ever got to witnessing any form of diabolistic activities growing up in Balham in the ‘60s was during a full moon.
My nan and my great aunt would take me (I always feared I was about to be offered as a sacrifice up to some pagan god who lived in the River Wandle) into the gardens of our block of flats, with their purses, and “turn their money over” (or in my great aunt’s case, rearrange her collection of Embassy cigarette coupons).
Animals weren’t allowed in our flats, so there was little chance of having your path crossed by a black cat and because the flats reached the height of eight storeys, you rarely saw any ladders to inadvertently walk under. So, my chances of become superstitious (like my aged relatives) were limited; we were too poor to have mirrors.
There were receptacles for putting in eyes of newts, toes of frogs and wools of bats, but these were meant to be for rubbish – people tended to use them for discarding old copies of the TV Times and Reveille rather than dismembered reptiles. Again, little evidence of witches.
Every November there would be a big fire in the garages where we lived. After the release of the 1973 film, The Wicker Man, came out, and after all the coin-churning, I’d half expected Edward Woodward to suddenly appear round the back of a Ford Cortina.
I’m not allowed matches, so it wasn’t me.

Lavez-vous maintenant les mains

Handwashing illustration

The NHS has suggested singing “Happy Birthday” twice as the recommended duration for hand washing. Alternatives are the national anthem or La Marseillaise.

While every good Cub would have learned the national anthem (if you were a good sixer you’d learn the verse about “knavish tricks”), but few, being brought up in south London, would have had La Marseillaise high on their musical repertoire, unless your dad had been Charles de Gaulle, Charles Aznavour or Asterix.

Or, of course, if you had a French teacher at your school who decided to introduce a “Continental Evening” (as if the recent introduction of Scandinavian quilts wasn’t abhorrent enough).

At my Tooting school in 1970 we had just that.

Our class was to sing La Marseillaise.

It has fifteen verses.  Fifteen!!! (If you washed your hands singing that you’d end up with fingers like ET).

In 1970 we’d not even joined the European Community let alone left it; many of us were still smarting after the 1967 NON! rebuke by the aforementioned Charles de Gaulle (who, after retiring from being President of France, became an airport).

We simply learned the French words. This was to protect us knowing that the last line translated into English is: “To cut the throats of your sons, your women!”. In Tooting, in the early ‘70s, the only person who was likely to cut your throat was your barber if you’d tried to hide a copy of that week’s Parade up your jumper.

We duly learned the song and performed it in front of our parents. However, this foreign lark didn’t catch on in my house and after a week of being served escargots, mum reverted back to egg ‘n’ chips.

Vive la Révolution? bugger that, thought my mum.

Foiled again

foil

In the ‘60s, growing up, one obsession I had was collecting silver foil to send off to Blue Peter to help provide guide dogs.
I was an avid viewer of the programme and keen to do my bit.
I had two sources of silver foil (aside from nicking my mum’s Bacofoil so we didn’t eat a roast for several months): the tops of milk bottles and the insides of some cigarette packets.
Within our Balham flats there was a grocer on site. I was insistent my family visited every day to “drink a pint a milk”. I’m sure there will have been dairy farms serving the SW17 area on high alert to produce more milk because of my calcium-intake keenness.
(As the only child and grandchild I was always treated to the “top of the milk” to put on my tinned fruit cocktail).
My dad smoked Senior Service. Once unwrapped and the top of the packet opened, covering the fags was a strip of silver foil. During the Blue Peter campaign, I’d got my dad smoking sixty-a-day.
While I never understood, how they turned my offerings of silver foil into Labradors and Golden Retrievers, I innocently assumed John Noakes must have been an alchemist?
Get down, Shep.