Wolf in sheepskin clothing

A sheepskin coat is not just for Christmas – unless your paternal grandmother has given you one.

Each year I would receive a big present, bought off my Nan’s Grattan catalogue.

Fashion ideas, however, differ when there’s a sixty-year age gap. 

I’d travelled on Boxing Day 1970 from our flat in Balham to my Nan’s flat in Marylebone, filled with great expectation as to what the ‘big’ gift might be?  The year before I’d been given an identity bracelet with ‘Michael’ engraved on it (my full name, which meant you’re late for your tea, your room needs tidying and/or you’re never going to get any O-levels reading The Beano).  The bracelet was so heavy my arm would hang like an Orangutan.

Would this year be different?

Once settled, I was presented with a package half the size of my torso (not another bracelet, then?).  Upon removing The Clangers wrapping paper I discovered a sheepskin coat which, if you were fifty, a football manger, selling an old Cortina or all three, it was the ideal present; if you were fourteen, you almost wished for another bracelet (at least both shoulders would droop).

But there was always a second, smaller present. More unwrapping, this paper time adorned with Atom Ant, it became evident my Nan had succumbed to the sales skills of the local Avon lady; as I unravelled, I found a bottle of Windjammer; a fragrance which sounded like it should be a cure for flatulence and certainly smelled like it.

In years to come I had visions of sitting in a football dugout, 1600E log-book at the ready, knowing no insect would come within 100-yards of me!

The Hoss has bolted

During lockdown many people have been lucky, once they’ve had enough of Lorraine on This Morning, to have a subscription to Netflix, Amazon Prime or have a reel of an 8mm cinefilm they found in the loft, to watch to while away the times they’ve been stuck indoors.

Imagine if this had happened in the 60s, assuming we’d had the technology?   Would we have binge-watched all 431 episodes of Bonanza? Had Zoom calls talking about ‘have you got to the episode when Hoss goes to the dentist yet?’

Today we have a plethora of Scandinavian murders to watch.  In the 60s, in my Balham flat where I’d be hoping perhaps this week I might see Alexandra Bastedo naked, I’d not even heard of Scandinavia, (these were the times when Iceland was still Bejam) let alone know what noir meant (I thought he played for Paris St-Germain).

The problem with many of these series is that eventually they have to insert a dream sequence.  You never got that with Tales of the Riverbank – suddenly Hammy wakes up and Southfork has been sold!

On far too late for a youngster like me, the daily eight-minutes of The Epilogue would have made a good box-set.  Although would it have been worth waiting for the big fight scene at the end between the Devil and St Michael?

But there were always circuses to fall back on.  60 years ago, to this day, on the BBC, there was Chipperfield’s Circus starring Mr Pastry – remembering how annoying he was, I’m hoping it was the episode when he gets eaten by a lion.  Too soon?



My nan used to let me play with her mangle (this is not a euphemism).

In her south London flat kitchen she had a table, underneath which, magically lived a mangle which not only helped removed excess damp from clothes, it also ensured you had one bicep big than the other – think of my nan was a precursor to Raphael Nadal.

She owned a mangle because she did not possess a washer/drier. Neither did my parents.  When I was a child in the early sixties washing machine brands were unknown: a Whirlpool was something they had at posh swimming baths; Indesit was something you got if you ate too quickly and Bosch was fifteenth-century Flemish artist obsessed with fish, torture or people being tortured by fish.

A consequence lack of family ownership of a washing machine meant we used the launderette opposite our flats on Balham High Road.

This week I discovered a shop where I get my shoes re-heeled, doubles as a launderette. Whilst queuing to collect my good-as-new shoes I was reminded of the launderette on Balham High Road where my mum would take me and convince me the drying machines were actual TVs.  I spent hours watching an entire drying cycle wondering why I never saw anyone from Emergency, Ward 10!

The shop was identical and almost in some time-wrap, the only difference being that packets of Tide now costs more than two-bob now (or would do if Tide still existed) and the actual machines, old-fashioned though they looked, probably don’t take a couple of half-a-crowns to get the washing started any more.

If you needed your washing moved from washer to drier and then subsequently folded, you could give the woman running the shop a few extra shillings. This was quite ironic as my mum would offer “additional services” to most shop-keepers along Balham High Road for nothing.