(Post by Andrea Grace Burn of East Yorkshire – February 2021)
The Summer of Love in 1967 may have swept America coast to coast, but not in our house. Flower Power didn’t wash with Dad, who got uptight just thinking about the louche morals of “those goddamn hippies”. He held Mick Jagger personally responsible for the breakdown in American society, along with Elvis Presley and his snake hips.
As men landed on the moon, Vietnam raged and the assassination of Martin Luther King rocked the nation, Mum and Dad decided to up-sticks from our all-American life and seek a better one in Jolly Olde England. Without so much as a by-your-leave they boarded a plane with me, aged ten, and my two teenage brothers. We touched down in Birmingham, West Midlands in the autumn of 1970, for our new life as Brummies.
1970s Birmingham was an exciting place to be a teenager, especially having lived in rural Virginia, where the most exciting thing that happened was the time a bull escaped from a farmer’s field and charged up State Street.
I discovered Glam Rock and boys at the local church Youth Club disco in 1974, wearing a tank top with flares and strawberry flavoured lip gloss. The lads sported Oxford Bags and feather cuts as they hovered in nervous groups around the edge of the hall, before summoning the courage to sidle up to me and my group of friends: Becky, Shaz and Julie.
Teetering on our rubber wedged platforms, we giggled wildly and closed rank in a tightly formed pack around our suede tasselled handbags; dancing in unison to ‘Tiger Feet’ and ‘Jean Jeanie’ as we feigned indifference to these “spotty oiks” and the invitation to have a shag – whatever that was. Arm-in-arm, we stomped across the dancefloor together to the serving hatch, where the vicar was on hand to serve us with four packets of cheese and onion and bottles of Vimto. We went en mass to the toilets to apply more lippy and talk about the boys, “He never!” “He DID!” The music stopped abruptly at 9pm when the cleaning lights beamed down like search lights (as indeed they were); but not before the lads tried their luck once more with a last dance (I say this loosely) which involved various lewd moves to the chorus of ‘Hi-ho, Silver Lining’. Good job the vicar didn’t notice.
David Cassidy stole my teenybopper heart when he was in the Partridge Family – but he wasn’t quite disco, was he? When Marc Bolan burst onto Top of the Pops in 1971 – all tight satin trousers, glitter and black eyeliner singing ‘Bang A Gong’ – Becky and I became ‘children of the revolution’ overnight and ditched David Cassidy like a brick outhouse. So fickle is Youth.
The dark church hall helped hide our blushes and the boy’s thin facial hair. Sweat dripped from the walls and trickled down the back of our Lurex jumpers, especially after getting ‘Down, Down’ to the Quo. One of the lads finally asked Shaz for a dance:
“No ta – yam aroight Bab; yow betta dance with me mayte. I’m a bit sweatay.” He never recovered his poise – or his ‘Coo-ca-choo’
My crush on Darryl Smith, with his David Essex bedroom eyes and dimple, went unrequited. I watched him from afar at the disco, with girls hanging on his every word and lipstick on his big lapels.
While space-hopping nonchalantly one afternoon along the central reservation of the dual carriage-way near my house, I spotted Darryl across the road, hanging upside down from the metal railings outside his parent’s newsagent shop. This was my big chance! I bounced across the road, fell off the space hopper and took a spectacular nose dive. Darryl fell off his railing, helpless with laughter,
With tears welling, I gathered the shreds of my dignity along with my space hopper and trudged home, vowing to hate boys for ever. Becky came round and we played our precious handful of 45’s on the stereogram, chomping aniseed balls and plotting our revenge: “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet.”
Make-up in the ‘70s was gloriously garish. I smeared on half-moons of iridescent green cream eye shadow and a slick of Mum’s ‘Burnt Sienna’ lipstick before offering to nip to the shops on the off-chance of running into Darryl Smith. Becky sat on the bath and watched with disdain:
“Moi mum says that if we were meant to wear moike-up, we’d be born with it on!”
“That’s rubbish,” I retorted; squeezing a blackhead in the mirror, “My mum doesn’t make a move until she’d plucked and tweezed and slapped half-a-ton of pan-cake foundation on her face – and two coats of lippy.”
My mother once remarked to me after recoiling at Becky’s bushy eyebrows;
“All that girl needs is a good pluck!”
As my fifteenth birthday approached, I cajoled Mum and Dad into letting me have a teenage party. At the church disco, Becky and I got up the nerve to invite some of the lads. They turned up with a handful of warm beers shoved in their socks. Dad was on patrol – even sprucing up for the occasion with a clean undershirt and a dab of Brylcreem. My Southern Belle mother retired upstairs in her blue quilted dressing gown, taking the small black and white rented TV and the dog with her. Setting up a couple of Watney’s party barrels in the kitchen to make lemonade shandies, Dad took charge of the bar for the night; shrewdly frisking the boys at the door in his usual, friendly American manner.
“Hey boys – what-cha got there? I’ll just take those and put ’em on the bar. Better take it easy.”
Becky and I compiled a playlist of singles with a mix of fast records for dancing and slow ones for snogging: ‘Kung-Foo Fighting’ by Carol Douglas; ‘The Bump’ by Kenny and Minnie Ripperton’s ‘Lovin’ You’. One record really pissed Dad off: 10cc’s ‘Wall Street Shuffle’. I played it one morning at breakfast, sparking an almighty row as I sang along glibly through my cornflakes … to the part where they mention screwing.
“Andrea – turn that Dadgum trash off!”
“Oh Dad – you’re so square!”
As the party got underway one of the boys turned the overhead light off in the back room, where several teenaged kids groped and snogged on Mum’s precious velvet sofa, behind the door and in the dark recess of the alcove behind the cheese plant. Dad – sensing ‘trouble’ – stepped lively and flipped the light switch on in a haze of Old Spice.
“Hey kids – kind-a dark in here – can’t see what we’re doin’… puttin’ the lite bub on.”
There were tuts and groans as the lads filed back into the kitchen for one last flat pint before leaving; nobody would ‘pull’ tonight. I was mortified, yet quietly relieved to have reached my fifteenth in-tacto.
Mum came down after it was all over; gliding into the living room in her blue quilted robe. There was no evidence that the ‘lite bub’ had been switched off or that her velvet sofa had been debauched.
(Copyright: Andrea Burn , February 2021)
Andrea Grace Burn is an Anglo / American writer, comic, storyteller & broadcaster.