In the summer of 1975, I was a football-loving, music-loving, teenager, staying at home with my parents in Westerton spending my weekends either playing football, following Partick Thistle or browsing through the album sleeves in Glasgow city centre record shops.
Armed with the wages I had garnered from my post-school job in banking I’d habitually visit Listen, Bruces or 23rd Precinct, searching for the missing link in my burgeoning record collection…. the Holy Grail like recording of Eric Clapton on Tour with Delaney, Bonnie and friends.
Fast forward 12 months and I am a 20 year old married man living in Edinburgh with a wife, a house, a mortgage, a washing machine, a tumble dryer and a baby on the way.
My weekends were no longer spent kicking a ball, watching an under-achieving football team doing the same nor spending hours in darkened record stores looking for an album that no-one seemed to have heard of. This was the quantum leap to beat them all as my weekend routine now revolved around trips to the supermarket, the untold joys of assembling MFI flat-pack furniture and exciting new experiences such as paying electricity bills, wiring plugs to electrical appliances and arguing with neighbours as to whose turn it was to clean the common stair that week.
‘How did this happen?’ I hear you ask. A question I’ve asked myself many times over the past 46 years.
As Bob Dylan once described in song, major life changes can often occur due to a simple twist of fate. My twist of fate happened during a lunchtime respite from the humdrum life of a bank clerk. One of my colleagues had noticed in the daily circulars that the company was offering an ‘exciting opportunity’ to work at a newly formed department in Edinburgh. It was a temporary post…… twelve months in the unknown waters of the capital then back to civilisation which began at the Baillieston lights. “It’ll be great” he said, “we’ll get a flat” he said, “get pissed every night and pull loads of birds“, he said. This rather fanciful notion of Utopia tipped the scales for me and we both duly applied for the advertised role, got accepted and began to prepare for life in the far east…. well, the east, any rate.
A few days before we were due to head along the M8 however, he phoned to tell me he was pulling out (oo-er matron). He’d met a girl. He was crazy about her and didn’t want to risk the relationship by moving 50 miles away. Fair enough, I thought, but by this time I was hell bent on this new adventure even if it did mean flying solo.
Initially my time in Edinburgh was a life of grubby bedsits, takeaway meals and the odd snog-and-grope short term relationship, a million miles from the Utopian dream which I had bought into…then came the ‘Thunderbolt’.
Im sure most readers of this blog will have seen The Godfather and be aware of the effect the Thunderbolt had on Michael Corleone when he first met his wife -to-be, Apollonia whilst hiding from American justice in Sicily. In Sicilian folklore, the Thunderbolt is described as ‘a powerful, almost dangerous longing in a man for a particular woman’. I was hit by the Thunderbolt on my first day in Edinburgh when I saw Pamela walk across the office floor. For the next nine months I was tormented by a desire to ask her out but a lack of confidence held me back.
When I did eventually mumble an invitation to suggest meeting for a drink outside work, she responded… ‘I thought you’d never ask!‘ Three short months later we were married and fortunately Pamela didn’t suffer the same fate as Apollonia who died shortly after her wedding to Michael in an exploding car following a revenge attack by enemies of the Corleone family.
We had been together for over 30 years when she sadly passed away, with a son, daughter and two lovely grand-daughters left behind.
Me? As a result of that simple twist of fate, Im still in Edinburgh. I did eventually kick-start my footballing career (see what I did there?) and played until I was 61. I still occasionally find my way to Firhill like a homing pigeon. I still listen to the same music I listened to in the mid-70s but…I still haven’t managed to get a copy of Eric Clapton on Tour with Delaney and Bonnie and Friends.
No matter what you achieve in life, there’s always something else to aim for. Can anyone sell me a copy?
One of my early memories is of being in a cool motel room with my parents and two older brothers, David and Dale, when I was very little – perhaps four or five years old in 1964 or ’65 – padding across the tiled floor in bare feet drinking an ice cold glass bottle of cola from a vending machine through a straw. We were in America’s Deep South, in Savannah, GA en-route to visit my grandparents, who lived on a semi-tropical island off the coast of Georgia.
Dad drove the near five hundred mile trip from our home in Virginia to Jekyll Island through the night to avoid the midday sultry, humid 100+ degrees Fahrenheit heat which made the back of my bare legs stick to the vinyl seats. The boys and I would ask to stop for a cold drink before we’d even left the end of our street – “are we there yet?” The seven or eight hour drive was still ahead. As night wore on, we’d settle to sleep on the back seat of the Oldsmobile in our cotton pyjamas, leaning against the side of the car doors on pillows; our heads wet with sweat as Mom and Dad talked quietly and listened to the radio. On and on through the night, through the high passes of the Smokey Mountains of North and South Carolina: Johnson City, Asheville before dropping down along the Eastern seaboard past Hilton Head to Savannah.
By nine o’clock the following morning as the searing heat was already beginning to climb, Mom and Dad would check us all into a motel room near Savannah, so Dad could sleep through the day. Mom took me and my brothers swimming in the motel pool before we too had a nap in the air-conditioned room. Later that afternoon after lunch – and probably an ice-cream – we’d pile back into the old Oldsmobile and continue the last hundred miles or so of the trip until we could see the famous and terrifying Sidney Lanier vertical lift bridge across the Brunswick River
We reached our grandparent’s beach-front house during the early evening. I can remember stepping from the intense humidity and sound of crickets into their air-conditioned home which felt like stepping into a fridge.
In the autumn of 1970, my parents upped-sticks from rural Virginia and moved our family to the UK, alighting a train at New Street Station in Birmingham, West Midlands on a cold, wet , grey September morning to follow their romantic dream of English life.
As an historian with a special interest in English history, Dad looked forward to walking in the footsteps of his boyhood hero’s: Robin Hood, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table or Elizabethan explorer, statesman and poet Sir Walter Raleigh.
Mom had notions of finding adventure like the heroines of the romantic novels of her youth: Daphne Du Maurier’s protagonist and narrator Mrs. De Winter in ‘Rebecca’, Emily Bronte’s gothic and ethereal Cathy Earnshaw in ‘Wuthering Heights’ or Jane Austen’s bright, intelligent Elizabeth Bennett in ‘Pride and Prejudice.’
The fact that they had three children in tow didn’t seem to cross their minds.
With no home to go to and twelve pieces of good luggage (Mom had insisted on “quality luggage for international travel”- and one suitcase was just for my dolls), our first port of call as aliens was an Edwardian house B & B in Birmingham city centre. The handsome Victorian pile was now faded – its halcyon days long gone. Mom was hoping for the charm of an English country hotel, but the reality was cold and sparse; more Jamaica Inn than Brown’s Hotel.
David and Dale shared a bedroom on the landing and I shared another with Mom and Dad further along the corridor. My parents imagined we would quickly find a house to rent, but being so alien to this new metropolis, they didn’t know how or where to start. So here we found ourselves, embarking on this madcap adventure with no home on the horizon.
Dad embraced our plight with good humour and his pipe as the B&B became our home for the next nine weeks; Mom was less enthusiastic. The boys and I started school and Dad began his new teaching post as Head of History in a grammar school, all in opposite ends of the city. I quote now from my diary, which I kept during that fateful year:
SEPTEMBER 24TH, 1970
“Seven months ago today Daddy rezined from the college in Bristol, VA. Now we are in a bread and breakfast waiting for a house.”
Let me explain about B&B’s in the 1970s. Unlike American motels which boasted air conditioning, a TV in every room, king sized beds, en-suite bathrooms, vending machines and a pool; they offered somewhat more spartan accommodation.
Typical of their ilk, this one only had one toilet on the landing with a wooden seat that scratched your arse. In fact my brother’s named it ‘Scratch’ (father to several ‘Sons of Scratch.’) The chain was so high I couldn’t reach it and believe me – having to shout for help down the landing at ten years old was so just too embarrassing! Whoever heard of a chain to flush the toilet? We had handles where I came from.
Our rooms had an old fashioned washstand and bowl in the corner where we carried out our daily toilette; despite there being an old, stained, communal cast iron bathtub in a small room off the landing. Mom was worried about us taking a bath in it, fearing for our health,
“You never know what you might catch in there!”
I thought that toilet seats had paper already on them because Mom would always get in there ahead of me and wrap carefully lain sheets of Izal over the seat – especially if we were caught short anywhere in public. The only exception to this was in the large department store Ladies Cloak Room on the Sixth Floor, where – according to Mom “attendants clean the sanitary ware after each flush.” (How do mothers know this kind of thing?)
The waxed Izal toilet paper was an anathema to us because a) it was so slippery it would slide straight off the toilet seat and b), it was so thin, you had to use a wadge of it. We were used to four-ply in the States.
The toilet door had a sign on it which said, W.C. What on earth was this? The Manager explained to Dad that it meant Water Closet.
“Water Closet? What the hell is a Goddamn Water Closet?” Dad laughed, “A closet where you keep water? Son-of-a-gun! Did ya ever hear of such a thing kids?” Dad laughed so hard he had to stoop and grab his knees. The Manager put his shoulders back and stiffened his upper lip.
We soon became aware that people here spoke in another, strange tongue called Brummie:
“Can Oi cum in? Can Oi cum in?” asked the chambermaid, as she tapped on my brothers’ door to make the beds. I’m sure she heard the strains of stifled mirth and peals of laughter from under the blankets on the other side of the door. And of course the staff couldn’t understand our Virginia accents either which led to some funny exchanges.
Our first encounter with 1970s English fast food had disastrous results. Remember – we had come from the home of the hamburger: coke with crushed ice, side-orders of coleslaw and great fries – and great service, “Have a nice day!”
Our hopes ran high when we discovered a burger joint in the city centre near our B&B but were soon dashed when we became acquainted with the lukewarm beef burgers, room temperature flat cola and slow service. It was just our luck that a well-known burger chain didn’t open its doors in the UK for another four years in 1974. Our position in the UK as aliens was assured.
Well, of course my brother got sick with a terrible bout of diarrhoea, blocking the toilet; which Mom blamed on the ‘germs’ in the meat. (To be fair, our family had a history of blocking toilets; Dad always said he was ‘a-roll-time-man’.)
Finding that it just wouldn’t shift, Dad resorted to his time-honoured solution: he rolled up his shirt sleeves, flexed his hand, crouched down on all fours to get a purchase on the bowl and, with a quick flourish of his fingers just plunged his arm in there! After pulling out wads of paper, Dad shouted down the public hallway:
“Someone get me a wire coat hanger, would ya?”
“Shh! Someone might hear you!” whispered Mom, as she looked nervously up and down the hallway.
“I don’t give a Goddamn who hears me – I’ve got this honey – just get me the hanger please.”
Mom trotted away furtively down the hall and returned; miraculously producing said hanger, at which Dad deftly unwound the hook and began scraping the bottom of the toilet bowl (he had done this before),
“Dadggumit! Son-of-a-bitch, cheap toilet paper! How much did ya use Son? Honey – can you get me a bucket? Whhaat? There isn’t one? Goddammit!” Sweat was trickling down his sideburns.
“Shhh!” Mom suppressed a giggle.
Dad then did something which has long remained a family secret. Looking around for a suitable receptacle, but finding none, he put all the waste material – handfuls of it – into a little wastepaper bin and put it out on a window ledge outside the boy’s bedroom window. Mom was now giggling hysterically.
(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson of Glasgow – June 2021
Our parents would often demand it, but soon as they got it, they became suspicious. Worried, maybe.
And so it would be. I’d be playing quietly and thoughtfully in my bedroom on a wet and miserable day, and Mum would poke her around the door:
“You’re awful quiet,” she’d say, the distrust in her tone strikingly obvious even to a ten year old. “What are you doing?”
“Building a fort,” I’d reply in all innocence, draping a bedsheet over the two stools I’d earlier hauled up from the kitchen. Another blanket would be hanging over a couple of empty boxes, retrieved from the garage. “So’s I can repel the hordes of marauding raiders who are trying to steal my pots of gold.”
My vocabulary and imagination were infinitely better than my construction skills.
“That sounds like fun, dear.”
And it was.
For that’s how we rolled in the late Sixties and Seventies. It was the era of making our own fun.
It was the era for making everything.
From a very early age, my sister and I were encouraged by our parents to become involved with tending the garden.’ Modern day slavery,’ is how I think it’s now referred to.
We’d each be allocated a little plot to tend. We’d have to plant seeds, grow flowers and vegetables and learn the ethos and rewards of hard work.
I hated it! Rona’s plot always looked way tidier than mine. ‘Outside’ was for playing in, not working, was how I looked at it. I was rubbish.
Our garden wasn’t all that big, but my dad had it organised to maximise the space, and so we had a few rows of redcurrant bushes. These produced loads of fruit every year and of course my sister and I would be roped into the ‘harvest.’
With the berries collected, mum would then boil them and add ‘stuff’ then pour the mix into what looked like an old sock hung from the washing pulley in the kitchen. The smell was so sickly sweet, I wanted to barf for days on end. Gradually though, over the next day or so, the liquid would drip into a bowl, then scooped into jars onto which a handwritten sticker was adhered.
‘Redcurrent jelly’ it said – as if we needed reminding.
To get away from the smell, I’d try to spend as much time as possible in the living room. But that wasn’t easy either. I’d have to tip toe through acres of tracing paper spread over the floor. And listening to the television was well nigh impossible. The volume controls back then barely went to ‘five’ never mind ‘eleven’ and so offered no competition to the constant ‘takka takka takka’ of the Singer sewing machine as mum rattled out another bloody home-made trouser suit for wearing to the neighbour’s Pot Luck / fondue party that coming weekend.
Crimplene was the favoured material, I believe.
I think I’m right in saying that girls at my school were offered sewing, if not dress making as part of their Home Economics course. Us blokes weren’t given the option – just as at that time, girls were not thought to be interested in woodwork and metalwork.
My four year old cousin, Karen, certainly wasn’t interested in my woodwork, that’s for sure. I made her a boat, all lovingly painted and everything. It sank in her bath. Sank! It was made of balsa wood for goodness sake!
It takes a special type of cretin to make a balsa wood boat that sinks.
And metalwork! Whose whizz-bang idea was it to have several classes of fourteen year old boys make metal hammers to take home at the end of term? The playground crowds quickly scattered that afternoon, I can tell you.
My effort was dismal.
“Thanks very much,” said my dad, in a voice just a little too condescending for my liking as I presented it to him. But that was okay. We both knew I was total pants at making things.
Having evidenced my cack-handed attempts at simply gluing together several pieces of labelled and numbered bits of plastic to form the shape of a Lancaster Bomber, his expectations were naturally low.
I know – how hard can it be to assemble an Airfix model? To be honest, while I enjoyed looking at those my dad made on my behalf, I had more fun from letting the glue harden on my fingers and then spend ages peeling it back off to examine my fingerprints.
Yup – THAT’S how much I enjoyed making things.
It came as no surprise then, that Santa never brought me a Meccano set. By the age of ten, it had become obvious spanners and me would never get along – no need for me to screw the nut.
For a while, I did consider there was something wrong with me. Every other kid I knew was into making stuff. It was The Seventies – it’s what children did; it’s what they (I’d say ‘we’ but I’d be lying) were actively encouraged to do.
The top children’s television programmes told us (you) so. They even showed how make stuff.
The top children’s television programmes told us (you) so. They even showed how make stuff.
I tried that once. A Christmas decoration it was. A decoration to hang over the Christmas table; made from coat-hangers; and candles. And you’d light the candles. It would be joyous.
“Hark!” The herald angels would sing.
“FIRE!” The herald angels actually screamed.
I know NOW I should have used fire-proof tinsel. I’m almost sixty-three. I’m not stupid. But then I was ten. And impatient. Ten year old boys cut corners. And anyway, how was I supposed to make a surprise for the family if I was to give the game away by asking my folks if they had / could get some fire retardant tinsel?
At least they still got a surprise of sorts.
Valerie Singleton, John Noakes and Peter Purves had a lot to answer for.
Other than pyrotechnic Christmas decorations, they encouraged us to make models with Lego; less structured and more wobbly ones with plasticine; scrap books; hammocks for dolls; cakes for birds; puppets from old socks; pencil cases from washing up liquid bottles and even cat beds from washing-up bowls.
I did try, truly I did. But I was hopeless. A lost cause. Never has anyone said to me,
“Wow! That’s awesome!” when I’ve showcased my handiwork.
Just the other day, I prepared a meal. I threw some leftover corned beef, potatoes and onions into a pan and fried them through. I didn’t think it was burnt as such, but my wife screwed up her face and stared at it rather disapprovingly.
Without even the merest hint of irony she looked up and said …. well, I think you probably know what she said!
(Post by Andrea Grace Burn of East Yorkshire – June 2021)
I was lucky to grow up in 1960s America during the space age where technology was developing fast and some household gadgets embodied futuristic designs.
Take the humble telephone, for instance. One of my early childhood memories was being in my next door neighbour’s kitchen, where my friend’s mum had a white wall-mounted telephone, with a curly flex. I wasn’t yet tall enough to reach the phone (nor would have been allowed to use it) but I remember clearly thinking that this was the very by-word in modernity. Better still, I had a friend whose older sister had a telephone in her bedroom!
Of course Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise had ‘communicators’ which looked just like modern flip phones. My first mobile phone was a pink Motorola flip phone in the mid 2000s which made me feel uber futuristic. It got nicked at a party and I mourned its loss for weeks.
When I was nine years old in 1969, I heard about a swanky space-age phone that also had a screen where you could actually see the person you were talking to – just like they had in the Jetsons! Dad thought it was merely science fiction but I fantasised about having one so that I could see and talk to my cousin who lived three hundred miles away near Atlanta, GA.
It only took another thirty years before Skype technology was invented. (Dad never got to grips with technology.)
As an aside – I walked into our study one evening back in about 2003, where our son was listening to iTunes (or so I thought.). Harry looked up at me and said,
“Mum, you know my friend can see you in your dressing gown.”
I was horrified and dropped to the floor, thinking he must have a friend secreted under the desk! Harry laughed and said,
“No mum, he’s not in the room – he’s on the Skype camera on the PC!”
I didn’t even know we had a camera on the computer – never mind one which allowed my son’s friends to see me in my own home.
By 1970, my neighbour’s mum had a cream Ericsson Ericofon ‘Cobra’ phone that was ultra cool: it had one plastic handpiece which stood upright with the dial on the bottom. I longed for my parents to get one but they were ‘old school’ and had a standard black shiny phone with a rotary dial.
Other than hand written letters, the phone was central to sharing family information during my childhood. It is where my twelve year old brother sat for two agonising hours in the hallway one Saturday afternoon in 1969, trying to pluck up the courage to ask Loretta Hart on a date. Each time he reached for the phone, he would practice what he would say, then hang up. I got into trouble with Mom for spying on him from behind the bathroom door at the end of the hall and teasing him,
“Ooh Loretta, I love you,” followed by peals of laughter and sniggering.
He finally asked her on a date, where they sat in the living room on the sofa together listening to records and holding hands. Loretta’s kid sister Stella and I hid behind the sofa and kept up a running commentary before being found out.
After we moved to the UK in 1970, my parents had an old Bakelite phone in the narrow hallway of our semi. It sat on a small Half Moon ‘telephone’ table which only had three legs. The telephone book and Yellow Pages were placed reverentially next to it, with well-worn pages and thumb marks on the cover from the countless times my dad had to find the number for an electrician or plumber.
Remember, there was no internet and as far back as 1962 in America you were encouraged to “Let Your Fingers Do the Walking.” These days we still do via swiping and scrolling. Phone books had other useful functions, such as propping up wobbly tables or balancing the ‘rabbit ear’ antennae on top of the TV.
Mom and Dad would only allow us to make phone calls after six o’clock in the evening when the call rate was cheaper. I used to ring the Speaking Clock just for the fun of hearing the person say, “At the first stroke, it will be eleven fifty- four and thirty seconds…” but even more fun was listening-in on the shared party line. I would regularly hear a neighbourhood woman chatting with a friend:
“And I said to ‘im, I said, I won’t ‘ave ‘is mother telling me ‘ow to roast a joint of pork. I’ve been married twenty-six years so I think I know sommat about it. “
“Goo on Bab – what did she say?”
“Well, she said she didn’t mean no offence so I said none taken.”
If I really wanted to have a laugh, I’d interject into their conversation:
“Goo on – clear off!”
One of the happy side effects of the move between Virginia and Birmingham, West Midlands were the often hilarious long distance phone calls we would occasionally receive from my grandfather, Papa. Remember, this was before the digital age, so a long distance call had to be put through an operator. Papa never did get used to the time difference of some five or six hours between Georgia and the UK, so he would phone us at two or three in the morning, which would have been between eight or nine o’clock in the evening for him – probably after he and my grandmother had just finished their dinner.
Dad would jump out of bed, startled by the “ring, ring” from the hall downstairs. Standing in his BVDs in the cold hallway, I would hear him shouting down the receiver:
“Who? Yes, I am Dewey Scarboro. SCARBORO – B.O.R.O. No – not Scraberry!”
The operator would ask for a Mr D.D. Scraberry, Scarburgh, Scarry-Dewborough – anyone but Scarboro. Once Dad had established who he was and to whom he was speaking, the conversation would commence, complete with time-lag. Both Papa and Dad shouted (well, it was long distance) which made it all the more enthralling as a listener.
“Hey there Dewey!”
“Son. is that you?”
“Yes Dad, it’s me, Dewey.”
“Hey there Son!”
“How are you Dad?”
“Dewey, I want you to know that I love you Son.”
“I love you too Dad; how’s Mother?”
“Your Mother? Hello? Dewey? I’ve lost you Son!”
“Dad? Hello, Dad? I say, how’s Mother?”
At this point, the operator might say:
“You have one minute remaining Mr Scarberry.”
“I know it! Dadgummit! Dad? Give Mother my love!”
“I love you too Son. How’s the family?”
“Dad – you’re breaking up!”
By now Dad had woken the whole house.
“Click, click, click”.
The one occasion when Papa telephoned me was on my eighteenth birthday in 1978.
“Hey there, Honey!”
“You’ll be getting married soon Sugar!”
“No, Papa, I won’t be getting married soon!”
“Sure you will Honey! Why, your grandmother married me when she was just nineteen!”
“Well, I won’t.”
“He he he , sure you will Honey, he he. You precious thing. You know I love you Andrea.”
Time lag pause…
“I love you too Papa.”
“Click, click, click.”
Amongst the plethora of ’60s and ’70s songs which featured telephones – Wilson Pickett’ s “634-5789”, City Boy‘s “5-7-0-5” and E.L.O’s ‘Telephone Line’ to name but three – Meri Wilson‘s 1978 hit ‘Telephone Man’, which reached Number 6 in the UK charts, sent me and my school friends into paroxysms of laughter with its double entendre. Naturally we would burst into the chorus every time we walked past a person in a public phone box: You can show me where to put it…”
It took the dream team of composer Jimmy Webb and singer-guitarist Glen Campbell to produce two of the era’s greatest, most beautifully crafted songs (in my humble opinion) which used phones to convey the drama of their poignant love stories: ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’ in 1967 and ‘Wichita Lineman’ in 1968. Webb’s lyrics still make me cry when I think of my grandparents who we left behind in America; I didn’t see them for eight years and when I did – aged eighteen – they didn’t recognise me and walked straight past me at the airport.
Albuquerque may as well have been Atlanta, GA.
One evening as I was doing my homework, Dad was watching the Western movie ‘Shane’ on TV. ‘Shane’ happened to be Papa’s favourite movie and Dad was reminiscing;
“Boy, I sure wish I could watch ‘Shane’ with Papa, honey. You know it’s his favourite movie.”
Suddenly, the phone rang, but as it was at a normal time during the evening, neither of us suspected that it could be Papa. The operator told me that she had a “person to person long distance call for a Mr. D.D.Scraberry.” Dad was dumbstruck. He and Papa shared tears down the wire.
Dad never forgot that ‘uncanny’ occurrence; or the time when he was listening to Ray Charles’ ‘Georgia On My Mind’ on the radio; one of his favourite songs. Once again, Papa phoned in the middle of the song which sent Dad reaching for the Kleenex. Maybe there was more to it than coincidence?
Today I’m surrounded by technology: smart phones that do everything and AI technology smart assistant in the kitchen which can tell me recipes, weather forecasts, the news, play music and provide me with a shopping list – all the futuristic features I never dreamed I could realise – and yet nothing can replace the anticipation and thrill of that sudden long distance phone call from Papa.
(Post by John Allan, from Bridgetown, Western Australia –May 2021)
There was a time Angry Birds was the squabble for peanuts in the feeder hanging from the washing line and Super Mario was the compliment you gave the waiter as he waltzed from table to table with his oversized pepper grinder at your favourite Italian restaurant.
Every camping holiday the Allan family had in the late 60s and early 70s was accompanied by that Scottish summer dependable – rain and lots of it. As the constant drumming of water on canvas lulled you into a near stupor, Mum would bring out the entertainment.
A pack of cards.
Rummy, Vingt-et-un, Trump (long before any insurrectionist US president) and if no-one would play with you Patience. I don’t know if these names were genuine or if we made them up but Solitaire, the game lurking behind the main screen of many an office worker’s computer, is the same deal (pun intended).
Another family outing to a cottage on the bleak east coast, where the rain off the sea was horizontal, the only saving grace was a copy of The Beatles white album and a well thumbed box of Scrabble. While George’s guitar was gently weeping we were holding back tears of desperation as my Dad, openly scoffing at our 3 and 4 word attempts, would place his 7 letter blockbuster utilising both J and X on a triple word score. He always won. He was a former English teacher, we had no dictionary and he was the self appointed adjudicator. I didn’t know there was a specific word for a Moroccan goat herder’s assistant.
Joint holidays with my cousins brought out the more mathematical puzzles like Yahtzee. 5 dice and a scorecard basically. The more cerebral Mastermind tested the code breaking skills of the potential Turing’s among us (Enigma at Bletchley Park where my Mum worked during the war and couldn’t talk about until the 90s !)
Various school chums had convoluted puzzles like Mousetrap where you built up the contraption as you went along or Operation where removing tiny objects from an electrically charged cadaver with tiny tweezers was the macabre objective.
My brother, who was in his school’s chess team, tried to introduce me to the noble game. I figured out how all the pieces moved but struggled beyond that. Bro, much to my annoyance, could stare at the board for minutes on end before making a move. A skill he perfected a decade later playing Trivial Pursuit. As fellow participants we sighed and shuffled in our seats at big brother’s slowness. He eventually picked up a card and proclaimed,
“Just to be different I’m going to tell you the answer and you have to give me the question. OK, the answer is ‘cock robin’ ”
We of course were stumped. After another lengthy delay,
“What’s that up my arse Batman ?” You had to be there !
My uncle claimed that when he took the bus to work he sat next to a gentleman and they would exchange instructions like ‘bishop to queen 4’ to which my uncle would reply ‘knight to kings 3’. On arriving at his office, he would set up a small chess set and periodically phone up his opponent, who presumably had a similar arrangement, with his next move. This was how he spent his day as a professor at one of Scotland’s most prestigious universities. That’s were your hard earned taxes went if you are to believe him !
There were always dominoes to hand in their custom made wooden box courtesy of No.2 brother’s woodwork project. In later years I never plucked up the courage to gate crash the old regulars playing at my local with all their secretive masonic tapping of tables going on.
I obtained travelling sets of both cribbage and backgammon in my later teens. One late evening in a Parisian hotel room I was playing backgammon with my girlfriend (well, what else would you be doing at that time in the city of love ?) who in her excitement mistook her rum and coke glass for the dice tumbler. Luckily she stopped herself casting the contents over the board.
Then there was the game that launched a thousand capitalists Monopoly. My game plan was to get the motor car or the Scottie dog and not suffer the indignity of the iron or the thimble before passing go and collecting ₤200.
A sailing weekend in Lochgilphead turned into a game of Risk in the boat shed as conditions outside were not navigable. This is a game of world domination which brings out the megalomaniac in anyone. I’m sure Hitler gave this the thumbs up before invading Poland.
The only domination now is from the onslaught of mindless adverts while flicking through the myriad of games apps on your mobile.
I remember the evening like it was 50 years ago…. an evening that would change my life….
My Dad had just brought home a film projector…. A slice of Hollywood was coming to our humble suburban abode and life, surely, would never be the same again.
I had visions of Mum serving up choc ices and Kia-ora as I sat on the family sofa with my chums watching all the new releases… Planet of the Apes, The Graduate, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid…. there would be a blockbuster every week.
Deveron Road was about to turn into Hollywood Boulevard… all we needed was a red carpet and a popcorn machine.
Setting the contraption up, my Dad explained that he’d got it from a friend who had kindly included a couple of reels of film to get us started.
The first reel was a home movie featuring the family who’d previously owned the projector, frolicking in the Clyde at Wemyss Bay where they lived. Not exactly The Poseiden Adventure but we had to start somewhere and at least it helped us to get all the settings aligned.
We sat in eager anticipation as he set up the next reel and to give us a clue he mentioned that the upcoming feature was a ‘classic black & white movie’.
“Laurel & Hardy?” I suggested…. “It’s a Wonderful Life?” my Mum volunteered….
I’m sure I spotted a wee smirk on his face as he turned the lights off and pressed start.
The room and the screen were in complete darkness before the title appeared, accompanied by the eeriest church organ music known to man……
There were to be no kind-hearted Angels earning their wings in this horrendous feature…. Nosferatu, was a terrifying German-Expressionist horror movie, made in 1922….. the first film ever in fact, to be based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel.
The protagonist, Count Orlok wasn’t your run of the mill, tall-dark & handsome gigolo of a vampire with slicked back hair either…. ala Christopher Lee or Vincent Price… he was the spookiest, creepiest, most chilling looking dude I’d ever laid eyes on in my young life.
I was transfixed with fear…. I didn’t want to watch it, but I wasn’t going upstairs to bed on my own either… lying there in the dark, listening to that horrific organ music, allowing my vivid imagination to run amok!
I always thought of myself as a pretty robust kid…. True, the Singing Ringing Tree (SRT) had given me a few sleepless nights when I was 7 or 8 but this was a whole new ball game…. the SRT was like Andy Pandy compared to this carnage!
I don’t recall getting much sleep that night.
In fact for what seemed like the next couple of years, I had a pathological and (admittedly) illogical fear of vampires.
Vampires were supposed to be a myth, but not to me… and I went to extreme lengths to protect myself from them… I wasn’t taking any chances.
I kept a bible on my bedside table. I ‘borrowed’ a silver Cross from my Mum’s jewellery box, that I wore at night. I ‘borrowed’ a little vassal of holy water from an Aunt which I kept under my pillow. And the piece d’resistance……. A wooden stake (carved then ‘borrowed’ from the school woodwork lab) kept under my bed, in case I had to go full Van Helsing on the Count’s ass.
I should also add that I tried my best to acquire some garlic but every time I added it to the weekly shopping list, I got the strangest looks.
I know it sounds ridiculous, but I dreaded night time… daybreak just couldn’t come fast enough.
Looking back, I fully related to George Clooney’s character in the excellent From Dusk till Dawn when he said….
“And I don’t want to hear anything about not believing in vampires. Because I don’t f***ing believe in vampires! But I believe in my own two eyes! And what I saw is f***ing vampires!“
(it’s funnier when he says it, watch clip below)
If there was a Hammer House of Horror movie on, (and there seemed to be one every Friday night) I’d creep downstairs and covertly sit on the bottom step of the landing, to listen to it. I knew I was tormenting myself, but at least I wasn’t upstairs on my own, thinking the worst.
My Dad, (a non-believer!) thought this was all a big joke so one Friday night when I’d been chased from the bottom step back up to my room, he thought that it would be a jolly jape to throw pebbles up at my bedroom window from the back garden.
Thinking, quite reasonably, that it was a Vampire (in the form of a bat) trying to get into my room I jumped out of bed, ran downstairs quicker than you could say “I have crossed oceans of time to find you“, only to find my Dad pissing himself laughing and my Mum chastising him… “you’ll give the poor lad a heart attack Joe!“
Reflecting on my ‘wimpish past’… apart from the Singing Ringing Tree the only other thing that had given me the heebie- jeebies prior to this monstrosity of a movie was an episode of the ‘Alfred Hitchcock Hour’ called Final Escape, about John, a convicted bank robber.
Determined to escape his sentence, John befriends an inmate named Doc, who’s in charge of the prison infirmary.
They hatch a plan to hide John inside the coffin of the next inmate who dies.
The coffin will then be buried and dug up by Doc after the gravediggers and guards leave.
It all goes according to plan, until Doc fails to dig John up. A terrified John learns why, when the shroud slips off the face of the corpse sharing the coffin with him: It’s Doc, who died of a heart attack the night before….Ahhhh!
I’m not sure when I ‘grew out’ of my Vampire phobia, I think it probably just got ‘trumped’ by The Exorcist which was much scarier and even more realistic.
I remember at the time you couldn’t pick up a newspaper without reading about some poor sod being possessed…. ‘an exorcism being performed in a town near you’…. or some other form of paranormal activity.
Fast forward a couple of years when the movie Jaws was breaking box office records and guess what? From nowhere, shark attacks started to be tabloid front page news with shocking regularity. “Great White seen at Helensburgh pier“
Life imitating art or just a way to sell more papers?
Of course Vampires are uber cool now so no one’s stocking up on bibles, or wooden stakes anymore… instead, windows are left wide open and saucer’s of blood are left on the ledge to beckon the undead….
Yesterdays persona non grata has become today’s big poster boy.
Anyway, give me the old-school ghouls any day of the week, at least Count Orlok was a scary looking mo-fo… not like these pretty boys below!
Post by John Allan, from Bridgetown, Western Australia –May 2021)
If you look at a map of Great Britain there is a narrow bit about half way up where it’s as if you’ve sucked your stomach in for a family photo. In AD 122, Emperor Hadrian of Rome decided to build a 73 mile wall from east to west (or west to east if you prefer metric) to separate Roman Britannia from Caledonia.
If you go about a hundred miles north to an even narrower bit (the belt buckle must have been really straining at this point) there is another lesser known wall built by Hadrian’s successor, Emperor Antonine in AD 142 .
It is 39 miles long and runs from Old Kilpatrick in West Dunbartonshire to Carriden on the Firth of Forth. It took 12 years to build which is not surprising as my Dad had to wait months to get permission from the East Dunbartonshire Council just to build a small porch over the back steps.
By my calculations the house I lived in in the 60s and 70s was bang on top of the wall. Not that our house was precariously balanced on a solid structure, the wall was pretty much flattened long before we got there.
Across the road from us was a wooded area known locally as “The Woods” where sometime in the late 60s Tony Robinson and the Time Team excavated a section of Antonine’s wall. (Not 100% sure it was TT but some archaeologist unearthed it)
To a young kid it was just a heap of stones and a ditch but there was an iron railing fence around it that made it an ideal football goal. There were also concrete markers about a goal’s width dotted along the length of the large grassed area, ideal for numerous games of the national sport. Inevitably the football would sail over the railings and one of us smaller kids would squeeze through the widened gap to retrieve the ball. Never did it occur to me that I was traipsing on the same ground some Roman centurion’s sandal might have tread some 1,800 years ago – although I doubt he would be looking for a Mitre Mouldmaster.
Many Roman coins were dug up in the rhubarb patch and I would compare them with my mates haul. They must have ended up in museums at some point. We lived in Castlehill but I could never figure what hill it referred to never mind find any trace of a castle.
History was fun at primary school as it seemed to involve making things and dressing up, usually as a Roman soldier looking like a right Biggus Dickus no doubt.
I won a prize for a history project about the Romans. I got W.E. Johns’ Biggles Flies Undone for my efforts. We also studied ancient Egypt I seem to remember as Tutankhamun was all the rage then. My Dad thought it was driving etiquette ‘Toot and come on ‘.
Secondary school history was a different experience. Certainly no colouring in and no fancy dress apart from the teacher Mr Brodie. He wore a kilt and a dishevelled jacket. He looked like a homeless gillie. His sporran was some indiscriminate dog like mammal with mange whose plastic beady eyes followed you around the room. All we ever got was Scottish history and tales of battles won against ‘those bastard English’. Truth be told I think there were far more massacres than victories but Brodie seemed to gloss over those bits. It was just endless essay writing and the subject quickly lost it’s appeal.
In 3rd year I had to choose between History and Geography and the latter won hands down. Our teacher Mr McCoach was previously a bus driver believe it or not and was quite ‘cool’ for a teacher in the 70s. He introduced me to TheBand which remains one of my favourites to this day. One day he handed out photocopied sheets on the geological feature of ‘CLINTS’. Unfortunately the gap between the ‘L’ and the ‘I’ was indistinguishable. He couldn’t work out why the class of pubescent teenagers were giggling. History was never this much fun.
In the land that is now my home, 70s school kids were still being taught that Australia’s history started in 1788 with the arrival of the first fleet from Great Britain. That the land was terra nullius (nobody’s land) totally disregarding and disrespecting the first nation peoples’ continuous 60,000 year occupancy. They have been and continue to be guardians of this country.
‘History is the distillation of rumour’ …… Thomas Carlyle.
The day my son waltzed into the house after passing his driving test goes down as one of the proudest of proud dad moments.
Well, when I say waltzed…it was more of a slow shuffle as he went all Bob de Niro-style method actor on me with a fairly-convincing performance that he’d failed.
It took far too many angst-ridden seconds before his poker face finally folded to reveal a beaming smile.
Cue some manly hugging and back-slapping along with some girlie whooping and hollering thrown in for good measure.
And why not? It had been, literally and metaphorically, an amazing journey for him ever since he’d first slapped the L plates on the car and sat in the driver’s seat.
The feeling of pride didn’t come from any sense of reflected glory on my part. I’d helped him – or at least I think I did – steer his way through all the trials and tribulations of being a learner driver.
I’d sat alongside him for hours on end and felt his pain and pent-up frustration during all those “kangaroo petrol” moments, the crunching gear changes, the stalling at traffic lights with a queue of cars behind us and the teenage tantrums. Oh, yes, the tantrums.
So, yeah, I was proud he’d come out the other side.
And in keeping with the ways of the 21st Century, there was a picture to be taken with his pass certificate so it could be circulated to the immediate family.
It turned out to be his second photo shoot of the day as the driving instructor had snaffled him at the test centre straight after he’d passed to take a picture of him and the car.
First-time pass, nice cheesy smile and the driving school logo front and central…that’s your ringing endorsement right there.
It was probably up on the driving school website before my son had the chance to rehearse his Bob de Niro act.
If you ever needed a snapshot of how things have changed since the 1970s then this was it.
As my son’s phone started pinging with several messages responding to the news that he’d passed his test, I took a moment to think back to when I’d passed mine.
This was in 1976, so I sat the test, came home, told my mum, dad and brothers the news and, err, that was it.
No photo shoots, no ringing endorsements, no phone calls, faxes, telegrams or whatever sent out to a waiting world. It took weeks before all my family and friends found out.
Just because there was no big song and dance about passing your test back then, it doesn’t lessen the achievement.
It was still teenager versus machine, a nerve-shredding World Cup final of a contest which often went to extra time and penalties.
Like a lot of Seventies kids coming up to their 17th birthday, I’d asked my mum and dad for driving lessons as a present.
And presumably because they were looking for a chauffeur in the future, I was handed an L plate birthday card with a note inside.
No bells and whistles, no gold-embossed business card, this was a hand-written blue biro message scribbled on a page torn out a lined notebook.
It read: “The bearer of this note shall be entitled to 7 x 1hour driving lessons. Graham GYSOM”
The tone seemed a bit pompous given it was scrawled on a bit of torn-out paper and I figured Graham must have had a background in banking or something.
No matter, the important part of this scrawl was “7 x 1hr driving lessons” and I was entitled to them. Why 7? Turns out Graham had an introductory offer of buy-six-get-one-free.
It also turned out that the Graham Young School of Motoring – the GYSOM at the foot of the note – was more of a solitary classroom than a school.
And the domino effect of him being a one-man band, his introductory offer taking off in a big way and so many teenagers clamouring to drive meant my seven lessons were spread over 14 weeks.
A fortnight was too long in between and progress was pretty slow as I spent the first 20 minutes of each lesson going over what we’d done in the previous one.
I tried to persuade my mum and dad to put me on their insurance for the family car so I could get some extra hours in, but the exorbitant cost of adding a 17-year-old male to the policy made that a non-starter.
So I diverted most of my hard-earned wages – originally earmarked for such necessities as alcohol and music – to invest in more lessons with Graham.
I managed to swing the introductory offer again – which was probably a reflection on how little progress I’d made – and got back behind the wheel of his Morris Marina 1.3 saloon.
We traipsed up and down the streets near the Anniesland test centre in Glasgow trying to keep the car straight and avoid crashing into my fellow learner drivers.
And after four lessons of this second batch something finally clicked. The gear changes were smoother, the driving got easier, the traffic awareness heightened and the confidence flowed.
No-one was more surprised than me. Well, apart from my instructor, that is.
Graham, a man in his early thirties who wore a shirt and tie like he meant it, sat across from me after that lesson ended looking slightly incredulous.
“When did you learn to drive like that?”, he asked.
The question seemed to suggest that he didn’t have much faith in (a) my driving ability or (b) his instructing skills. But I let that slide as he began talking about sending away for a test date.
Now it was my turn to be incredulous as I realised there was to be no turning back. Well, not unless I was carrying out a textbook three-point turn, of course.
John Allan from Bridgetown, Western Australia, May 2021
There is an elephant in the room and it is ginormous. This blog has touched on just about every experience we all went through in the 1970s. I myself have written on such diverse topics as flute playing to green-keeping. There is one topic that I haven’t broached yet however….
This is not going to be a critique on peoples beliefs and faiths. A ‘my god is better than your god’ type of tussle, far from it.
Whatever floats your boat is my motto, just don’t try and pull me aboard yours. I’m quite happy bobbing about here in my life jacket among the shark infested waters that I’ve just created.
Continuing the nautical theme let me nail my colours to the mast. I’m a card carrying atheist – a born again heathen. My bookshelves groan with the weight of Dawkins, Hitchins, Harris and Grayling. This is more to do with my experiences of religion around the late 60s and 70s.
My first recollection was the family getting all spruced up in their Sunday Best. Dad in his good suit, Mum in hat and gloves and we three boys in matching McDonald of Clan Ranald tartan kilts and ties being paraded in front of the Bearsden South Church. Competition was fierce.
The service from memory was a lot of standing up and sitting down, a bit of singing and some speeches. Mercifully, after a while us children would form an orderly line and walk past the pulpit to a door that accessed the Sunday School. I thought, as a jolly jape, it would be fun to give Elaine Currie a playful kick in the bum in front of the whole congregation as we exited the kirk.
The slipper came out later that day and I was severely punished for besmirching the Allan family name in front of the whole parish.
The snooty Wright family (neighbours but not friends) were even more pompous and supercilious than usual, looking down their noses at us – which was hard as not one of them was over 5 foot. I wonder how sanctimonious and judgemental they were when their son Gay Gordon came out a decade later!
Sunday school was all play, colouring in and listening to stories that featured a long haired Scandinavian looking bloke called Jesus a lot. When asked what God looked like, my mate Frankie described him as a big jolly old man with a beard who wore dungarees and sat on a cloud. As a 5 year old it worked for me. He could be right but I can’t remember a reference in the Old Testament to denim.
I went on a summer camp a few years later with the Scripture Union thinking it would be all play and outdoor adventure, which it was during the day, but evenings were all Bible readings and discussions. (I guess the hint is in in the name) It was really intense, what I would now call indoctrination, so much so that on my return, I boldly announced to my parents I was now a Christian. “We’ll see how long that lasts” grumbled my father.
We were given diaries with specific Bible passages to read each night before we said our bedtime prayers. I was devoted – for almost a week. I lasted until the Friday after our ‘conversion’. Frankie had given up on Thursday when interrogated.
The next couple of years the Sunday family charade would shed numbers until it was just me and Mum. One morning enjoying a lie in my mum shouted up to me
“Get up. It’s time to go to church “
“No ! I’m not going !”
That was a lot easier than I had thought. I was expecting major conflict.
Looking back my parents participation in the church, and hence mine, was more social than spiritual, with a hint of ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ and the times.
Church services there after and to this day have been for marriages and funerals or musical events I’ve performed in. I was part of a flute trio that Mrs Mac the music teacher would ‘hire’ out our services to in various houses of God. I didn’t object too much as the acoustics were generally inspiring even when the services weren’t.
Religious Education at school was from a likeable chap called Josh. I don’t remember if he was an ordained minister or not. When I attended his classes it wasn’t as dull and boring as I had anticipated. He gave a broad glimpse of other religions and history without the fire and brimstone I had expected. Unfortunately 5th year double RE on a Friday afternoon clashed with our pub time. The brewers communion won that battle easily.
In my mid teens I skimmed through my brother’s books on Zen Buddhism but after Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance things got a bit heavy.
“You, the bow, the arrow and the target are one”…. Yeah, right. I’ll stick with my weekly TV dose of Kung Fu, Grasshopper.
I used to admire those gaudy colourful posters in Indian restaurants of all the Hindu gods and deities and thought of maybe researching it more. It may be Pavlovian but every time I pass a statue or picture of Ganesha or Krishna my mouth waters and I have an unhealthy craving for pakora and spicy onions.
To complicate matters at the end of the decade I was going out with a Catholic which in certain quarters of the West of Scotland was not looked upon favourably. Not always considered, by a small minded few, to be a marriage made in heaven. They were wrong and it was and still is.
I’ve met a few priests in my time, mostly to do with the schools my wife worked in, and I’ve found them to be amiable company. I remember being told a tale of the novice priest and the older priest in full regalia, traversing the nave, the novice swaying incense back and forth and the old priest whispers to him.
“Love the frock but do you know your hand bag’s on fire ?”
In the words of the late great comedian Dave Allen (my near namesake)
John Allan: Bridgetown, Western Australia, April 2021
It must be over 20 years since I came to the realisation that it’s function over fashion, comfort over couture.
There are basically two seasons in this part of the world. Summer… where I adorn fabulous floral Hawaiian shirts and shorts. Winter…. when I rug up in sweatshirts and trackie dacks (tracksuit trousers).
My major dilemma is whether to have the elasticated waist below or above the beer gut. Shitty nappy look versus camel toe look.
Thong (flip flop), Croc, Ugg, Blundies (Blundstone or it’s competitor Rossi elastic sided boot) and you’ve covered all known Australian footwear.
I haven’t laced up a shoe for over 5 years.
Our early ‘look’ was of course solely in the hands of our parents.
Any baby photos I’ve seen of myself, I seem to be wearing a dress. More than that, there are layers upon layers of petticoats underneath. Now there could be various reasons for this….
It could have been a christening or some other type of formal ceremony. Or, perhaps after two boys, my Mum had prepared for a daughter.
Or lastly…. my parents were just taking the piss.
I can’t ever remember my parents holidaying in the Black Forest or being visited by any Tyrolean travellers but for some reason at an early and vulnerable age I was presented with a pair of lederhosen.
I was paraded in front of many a coffee morning to the oohs and aahs of neighbouring mothers. Certainly they were hard wearing and tough and with the bib removed and a long t-shirt, nearly inconspicuous until one of your mates clocked them. “What are you wearing ?”
Was this a continuation of the parental piss take ?
Ahead of their time, my parents would bundle 3 boys and assorted camping equipment into the family Cortina and head abroad. The check list must have read like :- tent, ground sheet, sleeping bags, lilos, calor gas stove, 3 kilts and brylcreem.
There are numerous photographs of my two brothers and I standing in front of the famous buildings and monuments of Copenhagen with shirt, tie, matching v-neck jerseys, slicked back hair and kilts.
Even complete strangers queued up to take pictures of us.
We were pimped out like Caledonian Kardashians. In fact as I write this there may be some demented Dane ogling at us on his mantelpiece as we pose in front of the Little Mermaid….
Photo opportunity or piss take ?
It wasn’t until the 70s that you were allowed to take charge of your own wardrobe…..No more man at C & A’s for me!
The groovy mauve (rounded collared) shirt, with the red, yellow and black tank top. Think Fair Isle Partick Thistle.
Loon pants so tight around the crutch that it lowered your sperm count. Indeed, most of the material was utilised around your ankles billowing atop of baseball boots.
For a jacket I had my Dad’s old RAF tunic sans original buttons (disrespectful otherwise).
Mum would give me a good look up and down.
“Are you taking the piss ?”
Most of my working life I was spared the noose of shirt and tie and wore uniform. As a student nurse I had to endure the itchy starchy collars of the dentist shirt…. a straitjacket like garment that buttoned up over you right shoulder.
One day I had to accompany a District Nurse into the community, so adorned jumper and jacket. I noticed one client being very reverential to me and calling me Father. I of course absolved her of her sins, told her to recite five Hail Marys and promised to christen her grandchild.
As a ‘Nurse Educator’ I had to supervise male medical students on several ‘work experience’ days. First lesson was to secure their ties, although it was always amusing to watch some gormless would be Doctor with his tie traipsing in a full bedpan like a thirsty puppy. A literal piss take.
Thankfully, common sense prevailed and nurses went about their business in scrubs. Like wearing pyjamas in the daytime………………….which I’m doing now.
Call the fashion police. It’s an emergency !
Fashion! Turn to the left Fashion! Turn to the right Oooh, fashion! We are the goon squad And we’re coming to town Beep-beep Beep-beep