(Post by John Allan from Bridgetown, Western Australia – June 2022.)
On many a suburban sixties afternoon mother and I would retire to the dining room. Let’s face it, the library was too stuffy, the conservatory too draughty and the billiards room reeked of cigar smoke and brandy. Well maybe not quite. The dining room was where mother could set up her sewing machine or the ironing board.
While Papa toiled away tirelessly on the golf course, Mama would spend her time on such frivolous activities as clothes alterations and laundry. The dining room was also where the wireless lived. Not one of those newfangled transistor thingummies it was a proper hard plastic lime green radio with a circular dial and glowing valves at the back. Sometimes we would listen to plays which were a bit boring and would put me off my colouring in, other times it would be just music.
One such afternoon mother stopped her ironing/sewing and turned up the radio.
“You’ll enjoy this”. On came the tale of Sparky’s Magic Piano, the story of a reluctant piano student and his magical piano. After a couple of minutes of annoyingly whining child’s dialogue the piano spoke.
WHAT WAS THAT ?
It was the freakiest thing I’d ever heard in my entire 6 years ! I thought Mum had slipped some hallucinogenics into my cordial or I’d accidentally supped on her early afternoon gin and orange (Mummy’s little secret !) I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was quite a wonderful sonic surprise but a bit disconcerting. Mickey Mouse on acid !
Sparky’s Magic Piano was first released back in October, 1947. The effect used for the talking piano was a Sonovox invented by Gilbert Wright in 1939. It was a microphone attached to the throat probably similar to the devices used by people who have undergone laryngectomies.
It was a precursor to the talk box highlighted in Peter Frampton’s Show Me The Way back in 1975. I remember we had one in the music shop where I worked and had hours of fun with it. It’s basically a gizmo that channels the sound of your guitar/keyboard back into your mouth via plastic tubing. I think we ran out of tubing as everyone and their dog was chewing on that thing and we had to continuously chop bits off it.
Some people said your teeth would fall out but Frampton still seems to have all his pearly whites.
A better example of the magic piano sound is ELO’s 1978 hit Mr Blue Sky. In among the Bee Gees like vocals and the Beatlesque arrangement you’ll hear the title through a vocoder – a category of speech coding that analyses and synthesises the human voice signal for audio data compression, multiplexing, voice encryption or voice transformation – but you knew all that !
My personal favourite though is Herbie Hancock’s I Thought It Was You released in late 1978 reaching number 15 and spending 9 weeks in the charts. He ‘sings’ using a Sennheiser VSM-201 (what else) vocoder.
Great tune from a highly innovative performer from his very underrated album Sunlight. The only problem is, I have these Pavlovian sensations of the whirring of the Singer and the fragrance of freshly ironed laundry.
After a bit of prompting from one of my kids I visited an Everyman Cinema recently, and it was quite the experience.
On entering the cinema I was greeted warmly by staff who explained the set up and asked if I wanted anything from the bar (beer, cocktails, wine, soft drinks), or from the kitchen (tapas, burgers, pizza, snacks) which they could serve to my seat in the cinema, (there are trays attached to the armrests).
The cinema itself is a lesson in tasteful opulence where luxurious armchairs, and sofas that are dangerously comfortable, replace the standard cinema layout, the screen is the perfect size and the sound system is impressive.
Before the film starts, a member of staff introduces the movie and reminds the audience that the team are available to serve any further refreshments to your seat during the film.
As it turned out, the movie I went to see (Everything, Everywhere All At Once) was a bit weird, as most movies about the multiverse tend to be, however the overall experience was such that I can’t wait to go back.
The level of service, the comfort factor and the food and drink were all ten out of ten, and it was probably the best cinema experience since my first trip to the ABC minors as a 10 year old.
I did ponder afterwards though…. ‘was this a glimpse of the future, or a nod to the past?‘
Have we been so conditioned to accept mediocre service now, that it’s a shock to the system when we actually receive some decent service?
Do we realise just how much we’ve been trained into doing things ourselves these days, even basic tasks that used to be part of the service?
I guess a classic example of this is self-service Petrol Stations. It used to be the norm to get your petrol served, your oil checked, your windscreen wiped and your tyres looked over without leaving your car. Nowadays you’re expected to do it all yourself then stand in line to pay whilst being subjected to the temptation of a ‘Ginster Pasty‘ or ‘three Mars bars for the price of two‘.
I often wonder if there’s still a place today for those old style petrol stations. I completely get that it would be a niche operation, in the same way that Everyman Cinemas aren’t going to take over from multiplexes, but I’m sure some people would happily pay for that extra level of service (my missus for one!).
This self-service mentality also extends to shopping now, especially supermarkets where we’re herded to unmanned, self-checkouts, even though in most cases we know we’re probably going to require the support of shop staff who are now thin on the ground as they’ve been replaced by machines….. It happens all the time – something won’t scan, or the till doesn’t recognise something in your basket, or you’ve bought something which requires proof of age, or you’ve used your own plastic bag, or you’ve purchased something with an electronic tag that requires removing.
Any number of reasons can trigger that wee red light that pings above your self-checkout station to alert staff that you need assistance, except when you look around there’s no staff to be found, or if you’re lucky, there’s one poor person dashing from checkout to checkout like a blue-arsed fly.
It’s a perfect example of a purported time-saving initiative actually adding time (and stress) to what should be a pretty mundane task.
Perhaps Don Henley had Sainsbury’s in mind when he sang… “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”
Similarly, in department stores, you can now find yourself wandering about like a zombie looking for assistance, unlike the old days when you were swatting them away like flies.
The irony of this, is that compared to the 70s a lot of electrical items and household goods are now so complex that you require a degree in quantum mechanics to switch them on. So, in an era where we really, really need access to knowledgeable staff who know their stuff, they’re scarce.
The whole self-service philosophy is based on spartan virtue: You make do with less, pay less and settle for adequacy rather than true satisfaction, but the frustration for most of us is, that the reduction in retail overheads and the stated improvement in efficiencies haven’t reduced retail prices.
Air travel is another example… we’re now conditioned to make our own bookings, action our own check-ins and print or download our own tickets, all for the privilege of getting to the airport 2 hours before take-off, so we can pay £5 to get dropped off, £6 for a pint and join numerous queues before boarding.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for technology and for anything that saves time, but in lots of cases there’s no benefit, instead, it just feels like manipulation, and a sneaky transfer in responsibilities has resulted in the customer taking on all the heavy lifting.
I’m also reminded of the services that used to come to our doorsteps in the 60s and 70s, the Ascot or Bilsland Bakery vans that would navigate their way around the various West of Scotland housing schemes, offering cakes, bread, biscuits, milk and soft drinks. Similarly, local farms would load up weekly and take their vans round the estates offering fresh produce, and of course there were the popular Garvies or Alpine vans that offered multiple flavours of fizzy pop direct to your door.
Retailing used to be based on convenience and service, but I guess it all got a bit Americanised, which meant we traded in ‘small and local‘ for ‘big and out of the way’, ‘two-for-one‘ offers, ‘meal deals’ and a free packet of Percy Pigs every once in a while.
So perhaps this Everyman Cinema model isn’t new or revolutionary after all, it’s simply a return to the halcyon days of being customer focused.
It certainly seems to be working for those guys. Despite the multiplexes, despite the fact that it’s not the cheap option, Everyman now have 35 cinemas and are growing rapidly.
(Post by Andrea Grace Burn of East Yorkshire – April 2022)
It’s funny how hair styles can define an era and popular culture.
The war-time 1940s were synonymous with austerity: pin-curls, victory rolls and snoods for women which kept their hair out of harm’s way when they worked in munitions factories.
The 1950s saw a younger, more rebellious generation sweep away utilitarian styles in favour of more glamour: from bouffant to the poodle-cut made popular by film stars such as Lucille Ball. Men kept their hair short throughout the post-war era until the 1950s, when rock and roll introduced more textured styles such as the quiff and pompadour.
Then came the ’60s with its Flower Power, anything-goes zeitgeist; but not at my house.
My parents were far more conventional when I was growing up in America’s Deep South in the ’60s. Not one to “let it all hang out” my mother kept her long, black hair scraped up in a large bun rolled over a foam doughnut-shaped hair form; held aloft by hundreds of hair pins and a cloud of Elnet hairspray which seemed to follow her around; like the cloud of dust around Pig-Pen in the Peanuts cartoon.
I can still smell it. As for that hair form – it had a life of its own and seemed to crop up in unexpected places. I was scared of it.
Dad was old-school and favoured short back and sides, slicked down with a dab of Brylcreem, which gave it a high glossy sheen and controlled his unruly, curly forelock. He looked like Frank Sinatra (his musical hero), or one of those guys in Madmen.
Dad and I would sing along to the Brylcreem ad on TV, “A Little Dab’ll Do Ya,” which became our special song for the rest of his life.
My grandmother kept her beautiful white hair in a permanent wave during her weekly trips to the beauty parlour and sometimes her hair changed colour from white to mauve, which kept us all on our toes.
When my brother was about twelve and hitting new pubescent strides, he did something radical and grew out his crew-cut which my dad had insisted on, into a longer style inspired by the Beatles. My grandmother gave him five dollars to “get a decent hair cut” which he spent on records and came home with his mop intact. Having survived our grandmother’s scorn, he had a narrow escape outside the local ice-cream parlour when some kid threatened to cut his hair off with a knife! Life in Appalachia could be tough.
If we were going to church, Mom would slick our hair down with a dash of spit on the palm of her hand; she was even known to wheel out the Elnet for that perfect, sleek finish. I can see my brother now, ducking and diving with a mischievous grin as he tried to dodge the spit.
As a very young child, my mother kept my hair short with a fringe but as I grew, Mom let my hair grow and had fun styling it. I had low bunches, high bunches, ponytails, pigtails, plaits across my head or rolled in coils above my ears like Heidi – and buns for ballet! And don’t get me started on French Braids! They HAD to be just like Dorothy Gale’s in The Wizard of Oz (MGM 1939).
When Mom washed my hair she would twist it – stiff with shampoo – into ‘sheep horns’, ‘dog ears’, ‘rabbit ears’, ‘kitten ears’ and ‘unicorn horns,’ which I thought was funny but I’m sure was a ploy to get me to sit still long enough to have my hair washed.
My grandpa used to say, “Why sugar – you look just like Minnie Pearl with your hair in pigtails.” Minnie Pearl was a comedienne and star of the Grand Ol’ Opry; who to my knowledge did not wear her hair in plaits. Mom insisted that I looked nothing like Minnie Pearl, despite the fact that we were vaguely related to her. Minnie Pearl (real name Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon) was my mother’s father’s brother’s wife’s niece. Work that one out!
By the time I was nine, my hair was waist length and to my mother’s despair, “tangled at the drop of a hat.” She called them “rat’s tails.” Exasperated with my fine, knotted hair, she once took me to her hairdresser, where he held the crown of my head with one hand (getting a purchase on my scalp) and raked a fine comb through the wet tangles, at which point I screamed and Mom marched me out, telling him that he had “absolutely no understanding whatever of how to tackle tangles – or children!”
The point was, my hair was in my mother’s hands, quite literally. The length and style were her choice. She even rinsed my hair in warm vinegar to make it squeaky clean, but boy did it stink! The only hair conditioner you could buy then was Creme Rinse which Mom considered an extravagance.
One of the first records I bought was ‘Hair’ by The Cowsills (1969), written by Galt MacDermot with lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni; a cover of the original song from the musical ‘Hair’. I thought it was really “groovy” and “far out man”, as I sang along swinging my “shining, gleaming, flaxen, waxen” locks. It was the dawning of the age Aquarius and my first and only foray into psychedelia. Cool.
As the ’60s gave way to the ’70s and my family moved to Birmingham, West Midlands, I became aware, for the first time, of how hair could get you noticed. Watching Top of the Pops one Thursday evening in 1971, I was mesmerised by Rod Stewart’s feather-cut as he strutted around on stage singing Maggie May. Dad said Rod’s hair looked like a cockerel: well, that was the whole point! And we all knew that David Essex’s trademark dark, shaggy curls were going to make him a star.
I begged Mom to let me have a feather cut – or a Lion Cut, like Jayne Bolton’s at school – but I was met with near hysteria from my mother who said these “fancy hair-dos were just plain ugly.” Good job she had a set of Carmen rollers; I spent hours in front of the bathroom mirror trying to perfect the Farrah Fawcett flick a la Charlie’s Angels – and half a canister of Elnet. My flick was nothing compared to Rachel Sadler’s, whose blonde tresses were sprayed into magnificent, solid waves.
One day, aged fifteen, I decided to take matters into my own hands and get my hair cut – only shoulder-length mind – but it was a significant moment. My dad greeted me in the hallway and burst into tears, “My little girl has cut off her beautiful hair! She’s all grown up!” Embarrassed beyond belief, I marched through the house swinging my new shiny bob tied back with a cotton bandana.
“Oh Dad, of course I’m grown up! Duh!”
A trip to the cinema in 1976 to see ‘A Star is Born’ starring Barbra Streisand changed my hairstyle for the next decade. In the film, she wore her blonde tresses in a soft curly-perm which I thought was the most exciting, sexy looking hair I’d ever seen. Luckily for me, Steiner hair salon in Birmingham city centre were advertising for perm models, so I took a seat, lit a cigarette and strutted out four hours later with a halo of tight curls and an afro comb. I looked perfectly ridiculous and nothing like beautiful Barbra.
On a trip back to the States with my dad to visit my grandparents in the summer of ’78, I stepped from the plane in my high-heeled sandals and perm, which immediately caught the attention of my conservative, Southern grandmother.
“Your shoes are just tacky and your hair – well, there’s nothin’ I can do about your hair!”
She had a point.
As disco stirred-up a veritable Night Fever on dance floors in the late ’70s, my curly-perm took on even greater, pretentious proportions; it even had its own routine! Beneath the mirror balls and strobing lights of Birmingham’s clubs and wine bars, my hair held centre stage, glistening with gold spray. As I sashayed along Corporation Street one afternoon to the bus stop – my perm radiating sophistication – I was approached by a sleazy photographer offering me work as a model for ladies underwear. My perm bubble was burst.
The ’70s gave way to the ’80s, heralding my Liza Minelli era with a short crop which went to my head and announced my arrival at university to study Performance Arts, where I felt emboldened to take to the stage as a jazz singer with a new, sassy confidence.
By the mid 1980s trends were changing as the age of BIG hair arrived, influenced by TV shows such as Dynasty and executed with a tonne of mousse and attitude. With hair as wide as my huge shoulder pads, I strutted around the office in power suits and towering heels that Alexis Carrington Colby would have been proud of; until my hair caught fire as I lit a cigarette.
A pixie crop followed – it was a lot safer.
These days, I keep my fine, grey hair short and think of my mother as it still tangles at the drop of a hat.
This is a work of fiction. Unless otherwise indicated, all the names, characters, places, events and incidents in this work are either the product of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
A typical 1930s semi at the end of a cul-de-sac in Birmingham West Midlands, where a gauche American family from the Deep South have recently moved in their pursuit of Merry England.
Meet the Family
Dougie Puckett – early 40s: all-American Dad, husband and teacher. Hapless DIY enthusiast with a propensity for profanity,which he tries in vain to disguise from the kids.
Martha Puckett – 38: genteel Southern Belle, wife and mother with expectations beyond her means.
Melvin – 17: ‘A’ Level Maths student; into classical music.
Randy – 15:typical teenager; into The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, basketball and teasing his sister.
Phoebe – 12: teenybopper and annoying kid sister.
Piddle – Randy’s German Shepherd dog
Frisky – Phoebe’s cat.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
5pm one weekday afternoon. Dougie is painting the old, dark upright piano in the dining room with magnolia gloss. There is paint splattered everywhere – especially on Dougie. Randy has just come home from school. He throws back the dining room door and chucks his satchel on the floor. Incredulous, he gapes at Dougie.
“Dad – you’ve painted the piano white.” “That’s not white boy – that’s cream. Now it won’t stick out in the room so far.” “ Yeah right – you’ll never notice it.”
Martha glides into the room. She looks thoughtfully at Dougie holding the paintbrush.
“Shame you can’t paint the vomit coloured tiles on that old fireplace. I feel nauseous just looking at them.”
“Good one, Mom! Vomit coloured tiles!” “I’m going to put my mother’s sliver candelabra on top of that piano.” “The silver candelabra! Well, bust my buttons! Soon we’ll be livin’ high-on-the-hawg! I’ll just dust down my dinner tux.”
Dougie dances a little jig in the doorway.Phoebe interrupts as she stomps into the room, teetering on platform shoes.
“Dad – what have you done to my piano? You can’t just paint it! Mom – tell him! If the wood can’t breathe, it will drop its tone and then I can’t practise and then I’ll fail my Grade 3 piano exam!” “Mom, tell him! It’ll drop its tone.” Randy mimics his kid sister with great delight. “Shut up Randy!” “Make me!” Randy creases up laughing. “Mom!”
Martha intervenes with one of her ‘looks’ at Randy, who in turn smirks at Phoebe and makes a swipe at her.
“Alright you two, cut it out. Scoot and do your homework before dinner.” “I don’t have any; Mr. Chopra said.” Phoebe shoots a smug look at her brother. “Sure – like the time Mr. Chopra told you that the Hagley Road has a tidal wave that ripples under the tarmac twice a day from Five Ways to the Holly Bush. And you believed him.” Randy laughs and taunts Phoebe. “I did not so believe him!” “Did.” “Did not too.” “Did so. You LOVE Mr. Chopra!”“Do not! Dad – tell Randy to stop it! He’s being gross.”
Dougie is admiring his paintwork. He hasn’t been listening.
“I’m going to start in the hallway. Son, go into the garage and get me the can of magnolia emulsion. It’s in there somewhere.”
“What are you gonna paint now Dad?”
“I’m gonna paint over that ugly son-of-a-gun wallpaper. Who in their right mind would put purple wallpaper with brown and orange triangles on it on the dog-gone walls?”
Randy goes in search of the paint. Martha is now gawping at the hallway wallpaper as she smooths her apron.
“That sure is THE ugliest wallpaper I ever saw in my life. I declare, it’s just tacky. My mother would have a conniption fit if she could see it.” “Your mother? What in tarnation has she got to do with the wallpaper?”
Martha pulls a frown.
“Well – you would never see anything so tasteless in a real Southern home.” “Honey, I can’t turn this crock-of-bull, 1930s semi into a Southern home with a dad-gum front porch and chandelier; but I’m doin’ my level best to put a hell-ova tonne of gloss on it.”
Randy returns with the can of paint and gives it to Dougie, who opens it and gets straight down to work; splashing paint straight over the wallpaper – no preparation. Martha looks on.
“Don’t you need to take the old wallpaper off first honey?” “Nah – just painting straight over the top; a couple of coats ought-a do it.”
Piddle trots past; getting dog hair stuck in the fresh paint.
“Son-of-a-gun! I swear – that hound…” “Now Dougie – not in front of the children.” “Well, dad-blasted! One day that dawg will listen to me!”
Phoebe stomps upstairs and slams her bedroom door. Soon strains ofDavid Cassidy can be heard seeping from her room on her transistor radio. Randy puts Led Zeppelin 11: Whole Lotta Love on the record player in the dining room. He takes school books out of his satchel and sits at the table. Dougie whistles in the hallway while he continues smotheringthe wall with paint as Melvin descends half-way downstairs with a pained expression.
“Dad – can you get Randy to turn that crappy music down? I’m trying to describe Newton’s method for obtaining successive approximations to the root of an equation!”
Melvin troops back upstairs and pounds his fist on Phoebe’s bedroom door.
“Hey Phoebe – turn that crap off! I’m trying to study!” “Son – we’ll have less of that goddam language.”
Melvin rolls his eyes as he slams his bedroom door. The can of paint is nearly knocked over by Piddle, who tears through the hallway as she chases Frisky upstairs.
“Cheesus Randy! Come get your son-of-a-gun dawg and put her outside! And turn that dad-gum wah-wah music off! Melvin’s right – a man can’t have any peace around here.” “It helps me concentrate, Dad.”
Dougie sticks his head into the dining room, jabbing the air with his dripping paintbrush.
“In my day, we had REAL music – the greats: Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington.”
Randy sings under his breath.
“Doo-be-doo-be-doo.” “I’ll give you doo-be-doo-be-doo if you don’t get that S.O.B dawg outta here.”
Martha calls from the kitchen.
Piddle thunders downstairs, skids past the freshly painted wall and lands at Martha’s feet. She pats the dog’s head,
She puts a bowl of food down for the dog, washes her hands and calmly wipes them on her apron as Dougie shakes his dripping paintbrush at the dog. Martha wags her finger at Dougie,
“Don’t say it! I declare – what a mess. Go and get cleaned up. And DON’T come down in your under-shirt for supper!” “Yes Ma’am!”
Dougie kisses Martha playfully on her cheek and winks at Randy. He whistles as he trots upstairs to get changed for dinner.
Martha is in the kitchen, serving plates of spaghetti bolognaise to each family member in turn.
“Here Phoebe – use both hands honey. Don’t spill it.” “Oh Mom, I can do it.”
Phoebe snatches her dinner plate, turns swiftly into the hallway and watches with horror as the spaghetti slides off. As if in slow motion, the spaghetti is suspended in mid-air for a moment before splatting on the white carpet. Dougie, who has come downstairs in a clean shirt, dances an exaggerated jig in the hallway as he chants,
“It’s one step forward and two steps back for this family. One step forward and two steps back!”
Martha looks on in horror at the splattered spaghetti.
“Not my white carpet!” “Sorry Mom.” “Dadgummit Phoebe, hand me the Ajax.”
Dougie rolls back his sleeves and begins scrubbing on his hands andknees. Piddle barges between him and the stairs and begins ravenously eating the spaghetti on the carpet.
“Randy! How many times have I gotta tell ya to come get your filthy dawg outta here before I send her dad-gum butt to kingdom come!”
Randy sneaks a string of spaghetti to Piddle before dragging her by the collar into the dining room.
“Not near the goddam piano son! Cheesus H!”
Melvin takes his plate of dinner with a look of disdain and turns to his sister.
“Phoebe, you’re such a child.” “Am not! I’m nearly thirteen!” “Yea, Pheeb; such a dweeb.” Randy grins.
Phoebe sulks as Martha gives her another plate of food.
“I know, I know. Don’t spill it! As if…” “Don’t speak to me like that young lady, or I’ll…”
“Or I’ll wash your mouth out with soap. That’s what your grandfather used to do to me and by God it worked.”
Phoebe stomps off into the dining room, sits at the table and sulks; her chin cupped in her hands.
“Why does everyone in this family hate me?”
Melvin leans across his plate.
“Because you’re a brat.”
The family sit down to dinner when the cat saunters backwards down the hallway, retching as it goes. It passes the dining room door, slowly vomiting up an entire large bird. Dougie recoils in disgust.
“Cheesus H! Son-of-a-bitch cat! I’ve just washed my hands!”
Martha is distraught.
“Not on my white carpet!” “Phoebe – come get your goddam cat and put it outside! Son-of-a-gun, lousy, good-for-nothing… someone get me the rubber gloves and some newspaper, would ya? Dadgummit! – is it too much to ask to eat dinner without one of these sons-of-bitches ruining it?”
Dougie’s face is starting to turn red.
“Now honey, I know you’re upset but please watch your language in front of the children. I declare!”
Dougie ignores the remark and rolls his sleeves back again, ready for action. He stands up from the table, throws down his napkin and walks purposefully into the hallway where he kneels to begin cleaning up the regurgitated bird. The kids leave the dinner table too and stand around gawping as Dougie mutters.
(Post by John Allan from Bridgetown, Western Australia – February 2022.)
I realise that in many of the articles I have produced for this fine blog Once upon a time in the 70s, I have been quite disparaging about my father. You could say ours was a fractious adult relationship. Even though I left the family home in my early 20s and the country 7 years later, the friction was always palpable.
A 6 week visit by my parents to Australia in the 90s was, to say the least, traumatic. My poor wife Pauline was almost driven to the point of breakdown and my mother the reluctant peacekeeper between her belligerent son and husband. Lets just say it didn’t end well and leave it at that.
Bare with me if you will while I give you a brief run down of my family.
I’m the third of three sons – heir, spare and ……………..mistake or surprise as my dear old mum quickly corrected herself.
I’m named after my two grandfathers. John on my father’s side and Alwyn (pronounced Ol-win) on my mother’s. His full title was Walter Alwyn Cole-Adams. It was fashionable in the early 1900s to hyphenate names in England. My mother’s maiden name was Bernard-Smith, her father being Bernard Alphege Bernard-Smith. What a pretentious bunch of ass………ancestors !
My brothers got Michael and Murray and I was lumped with Alwyn !
I suppose it could have been worse. I could have been named Walter ! ‘Johnny Wally Allan’ – sounds like a rag doll.
I’m a bit of an amateur genealogist and nowhere can I find the name Alwyn in my family tree except Grandpa and I. My G-Gs must have picked it up on a holiday in Wales that lovely time the day they went to Bangor!
I don’t know why but as a schoolboy I was really embarrassed and ashamed by that name and kids being kids tormented me when they found out.
Although I’ve portrayed Pater in a fairly negative light, one thing I will say is he was a good father to me as a small child. Funny although embarrassing as he would recite great stanzas of poetry in a melodramatic, if not camp, way “The boy stood on the burning deck…” to much eye rolling. He was an English teacher after all!
Seeing my irrational stress at the taunting of my middle name, he would sit on the side of my bed and relate ‘The Adventures of Alwyn Alterplatz’. Completely unscripted he would launch into these wondrous tales until, totally relaxed, I would drift in to a peaceful slumber.
I don’t actually remember any of the story lines more the sense of warmth and security lulling me to sleep.
Many years later in a moment of truce he recalled these times and wondered what life would have been like if he had jotted down the stories with a view to it being published as children’s literature.
You probably would have been a lot more chilled out, wealthy perhaps and a hell of a lot easier to live with I thought to myself !
Time moves on, people pass and we all get that bit older, wiser and more comfortable with one’s moniker. The kindest thing to say about people is that they were a product of their time. I haven’t fathered children (that I’m aware of) so can’t speak of the parent/child relationship from that perspective.
I have often thought what it would be like to try and resurrect ‘Alwyn Alterplatz’ and whether I could do it justice. I’m not sure what young kids connect with these days. We’ve had wizard schoolboys, chocolate factories and the like or have i-phones and i-pads usurped the story telling role? I hope not.
So, dear reader, sit down with your grandchild (or even great grandchild) and start from the beginning.
(Post by Andrea Grace Burn of East Yorkshire – February 2022 )
My dad always told me that we make our own luck in life by keeping an open mind and a positive attitude. His notion that people could roughly be divided into ‘radiators’ and ‘drains’ still makes me laugh. There are people who always see the best in everything and everyone, and those who see the worst. Dad would then remind me that these ‘drains’ were in fact sad, unfortunate souls who had perhaps never received a kind word or a hug as a child, or never witnessed a beautiful rainbow. Their lot was to be pitied, not vilified.
“Kid, you’re like your old man…,” I knew where this was going…”you see the glass half-full, not half-empty.” He would tell me that often. I used to think Dad was funny but as I get older, I realise he had a point.
Take the person walking their dog with their eyes downcast (no – not looking for dog mess), hunched shoulders and never a cheery ‘hello’ for their fellow human beings. I had such an encounter recently as I was walking my pooch up the steps from the beach and met a gentleman walking his dog down the steps. He grunted at me, which I presumed meant ‘move over’.
I quipped, “shall we dance?” with a light laugh, only to be met with another grunt. No eye contact. Refusing to step to one side so that we could pass each other, I wanted to say, “I’ll move then, shall I?” but remembering my dad’s words, I acquiesced politely and went back down the steps to wait; allowing the chap and his dog to continue to the beach. Without as much as a by-your-leave, he swept past me. I could hear Dad saying, “Now Andrea, remember: this poor guy may have received some bad news, or woken up on the wrong side of bed. He can’t help it.”
Some people have the ability to put on a smile whatever the weather, while some wear their heart on their sleeve – or their big chip on their shoulder.
I believe it is true to say that the British, on the whole, are a self-deprecating bunch; apologising for everything from the weather to queueing in a shop.
“Sorry about the rain lass; maybe it’ll fair up by dinner, ”as if the weather is their fault. “Ooh, sorry but I was in the queue first.”
Americans, on the whole, take life in their stride and meet it head on; not apologising for it.
“Say son, you’ll need your umbrella today; we’re going to get that much needed rain, yes-siree, Bob.” Or, “Excuse me Ma’am, the line for the check-out starts back there.
”More direct but always polite.
My husband’s grandmother – a true Yorkshire woman – always looked down as she was walking; not to be downcast but rather in the hope of finding something useful. When she passed away and the family were clearing her house, they found dozens and dozens of odd, ladies’ leather gloves, which she had collected over her lifetime in the hope of finding a matching pair. (She never did). Ever optimistic: one of life’s ‘radiators’.
When it came to winning and losing, my Dad was equally sage:
“Kid – life is full of setbacks, but it’s how ya deal with them that counts. Keep your eye on the horizon, look trouble straight in the eye, learn from your mistakes and move on. No point cryin’ over spilt milk.” A can-do attitude.
When I was about fourteen or so, I was asked by my music teacher, Mr. Carter, to play a piano solo in an ‘Evening of Music’ at school. I had been taking piano lessons for a couple of years but still couldn’t sight-read musical notation. Having a ‘good ear’ like my dad, who was a very fine musician and pianist, I had learnt the piece of classical music by heart with a lot of practice.
The ‘Evening of Music’ arrived in due course and there, in the school hall in the front row, sat my dad – my proud dad – alongside Mr Carter, the head teacher and chair of governors. Behind them sat rows of parents and students. My name was announced, I took my seat at the piano and waited for the rustle of programmes to cease. The lights dimmed and a spotlight hit the stage. Someone coughed at the back of the hall before the final hush.
I started the piece well, confident that I would perform Chopin’s Nocturne in E Flat Major like a virtuoso. I got about half-way through the music and realised – to my horror – that I had forgotten what comes next. I looked at the sheet music: the music notes were a jumble of crotchets and quavers and my hands began to sweat. I felt sick. As I tried again to pick-up where I had left off, my hands slid across the keys and – as if in an out-of-body experience – I heard myself playing random notes. Sweat trickled down my neck and prickly heat erupted at my chest. The spotlight seemed to shine on my ineptitude. I could feel Dad and the school dignitaries boring a hole in the back of my head.
That was it! Standing to face the stunned audience, I took a bow and screwed the sheet music up into a tight ball.
“I’m sorry folks – I can’t do this any more.”
With that, I held my head up high and flounced off the stage, through the doors of the school hall and out into the foyer, where I collapsed into tears. Dad followed, hot on my heels. He put his arm around my shoulders and hugged me warmly.
“Honey, I’m proud of you. If you’re going to fail – really fail.” I suddenly didn’t feel like a failure any more.
Dad shook hands with Mr. Carter, the head teacher and chair of governors during the interval in his direct, American way.
“My girl’s got some gumption! Boy, I tell ya – she really took the bull by the horns back in there, didn’t she!”
He was met with bemused looks.
“Yes, by gosh– she just walked right off the stage! That takes guts.”
I have never forgotten my proud dad that evening, nor the lesson he taught me. It’s how you deal with life’s setbacks that counts. My father had grown up in the 1920s and ’30s in America during the Great Depression and served his country in WW2 with the US Navy. He knew about life’s hard knocks and about hard work but most of all he knew about resilience, perseverance and human nature.
After a long, tiring day at school, where Dad endeavoured to share his passion for History with his pupils, he would often settle back in his rocking chair by the fire and play his favourite Frank Sinatra record, That’s Life. I can see him there now with his pipe and slippers and hear him singing along to ‘Old Blue Eyes’.
When the going gets tough, I still listen to it. The message in the lyrics has, and continues, to inspire me and serve me well.
My dad was a wonderful father and teacher. He taught me well.
Getting a laugh out of TV audiences has always been a serious business for comedians.
But some of them were taking the Mick in the Seventies with their stereotypical gags about the brainless Irish, the tight-wad Scots and the sheep-loving Welsh.
Back then, a comic could even throw in a close-to-the-bone racist joke if they were looking for a cheap laugh.
Sometimes they got one. But more often than not the stand-up routines on TV shows like The Comedians and The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club were rank.
We’re talking comedy mould here rather than comedy gold.
I say this without the benefit of hindsight or nigh-on 50 years of enlightenment because I remember not finding these shows funny at the time.
God knows I wanted to. I’d suffered through sitcoms like Till Death Us Do Part, On The Buses, Love Thy Neighbour and Bless This House and could have done with some cheering up.
But The Comedians and Wheeltappers didn’t do it for me.
Maybe it was the crushed velvet suits, frilly shirts and big ties of the former and the annoying fire bell used for announcements by host Colin Crompton in the fake social club of the latter.
Whatever it was, there was no danger of me forming any laughter lines on my face.
There seemed to be a pool of comedians who put in a stint on both shows including such, ahem, luminaries as Bernard Manning, Frank Carson, Mike Reid, Russ Abbot, Charlie Williams, Jim Bowen, Duggie Brown, Ken Goodwin and Crompton himself.
The format was to stand up there in front of the TV cameras, rattle off as many quickfire gags as possible and then giggle inanely in case the audience didn’t get the punchline.
The jokes leaned heavily towards the sexist, racist and downright offensive variety – and if you were a black, Irish mother-in-law you’d have been well advised to duck behind the sofa.
I came across a trailer for The Best of the Comedians on You Tube recently which goes a long way to proving my point about the programme being well short of quality humour.
It lasts just one minute 19 seconds yet manages to squeeze in four Irish jokes along with a Red Indian reference.
Now before I give you some examples from the trailer for the “Best Of” – their words, not mine – I think it’s only fair to warn you to hang on tight to your sides in case they split.
“The Irish have just invented a new parachute…opens on impact!” …. Badum tish!
“This fella goes to a palmist in Blackpool and says, ‘I want my hands read’…so she hit him with a hammer!” …. Badum tish!
“Two Irish fellas walking along and Mick says, ‘Me feet are killing me, I just bought a new pair of wellies’…so leave them off till you get used to them!” …. Badum tish!
“Kids are funny, aren’t they? My little girl said to me, ‘Dad, what would you get if you crossed Larry Grayson with a Red Indian and Tommy Cooper?’ and I said I don’t know. She said, ‘You get somebody who says Shut that door…How?…Just like that!’ ” …. Badum tish!
“There’s this Irish fella goes into a hospital A&E department with blisters all over his feet and his legs and the doctor asked, ‘How did you do that?’ and he says it was opening a tin of soup…it says stand in boiling water for 10 minutes!” …. Badum tish!
Now, I totally get that this sort of guff was of its time, a reminder of a bygone era.
But to get some perspective, you only need to recall what else was happening on the comedy scene back then.
At the same time The Comedians and Wheeltappers were churning out their dodgy gags, there was a certain Mr Billy Connolly making a name for himself.
He’d brought out his Live album in 1972 – a mixture of songs and funny stories – and followed it up two years later with the hilarious Cop Yer Whack For This.
Here was a comedian who could give you a proper belly-laugh with observational and physical comedy – and no need to bang out questionable gags one after the other.
Timing, they say, is everything in comedy and the Big Yin proved to be a master of his craft by taking his time to get it right.
While the established Seventies TV comics were firing out their 15-second jokes, he would happily take 15 minutes to showcase his talent with something like the legendary Crucifixion sketch.
You can just imagine that work of genius in the hands of someone like Bernard Manning…
“This Jewish fella walks into a bar in the Gallowgate and tells the barman to get everyone a drink. Two old guys sitting in the corner turn to each other and Jimmy says, ‘That’s amazing, I’ve never bought a drink for anyone in my life because I’m Scottish, yet that Jesus guy’s getting a round in. What do you make of that?’…It’s a miracle!” …. Badum tish!
Some of the establishment comics had the temerity to have a go at Connolly’s routine but he had the last laugh as he left them eating dust on his way to the top.
He was propelled on that journey, of course, after his ground-breaking 1975 appearance on the Michael Parkinson show…and that joke. You know the one…
“How’s the wife? Oh, she’s deid..oot the game. I murdered her. I’ll show you if you want. So he went away up to his tenement building, through the close – that’s the entrance to the tenement. And sure enough there’s a big mound of earth…but there’s a bum sticking out of it. He says, ‘Is that her?’ Aye, I says. ‘Why did you leave her bum sticking out?’ Well, I needed somewhere tae park my bike!”
Irreverent? Probably. Risky? Undoubtedly. Funny? You bet your ass!
I’d have been new to the ranks of teenager in 1971 when my parents came up with the whizz-bang idea of buying a caravan.
“… we’ll now be able to take weekend breaks throughout the year, whenever we fancy. Won’t this be splendid?”
‘Splendid?!’ Are you mental? Weekends? What happens to my athletics / cross country races? What about my football? My school parties? Saturday morning cartoons on the telly? What possesses people to forsake their nice spacious homes to go live in a claustrophobic, formica lined box on wheels?
I was already counting the days till I could be legally left at home to fend for myself. I’d even willingly do household / garden chores while the family were away. Maybe we could broker some kind of deal? Creosote the fence or something?
Resistance was futile though, at least for a couple of years.
“Do you fancy going for a golfing trip to Pittenweem this weekend?”
If I’m going to stay in a five, or even four / three star hotel, then maybe.
“It’ll be fun,” they lied.
And so it was … frequent weekends were spent collecting the caravan from the storage facility in the neighbouring town; bringing it to the house; uncoupling it overnight and loading it with clothes and provisions for the weekend; reconnecting the car and driving to Fife, usually arriving just in time for lunch.
Reverse that procedure on the Sunday afternoon, ensuring we arrived back before the storage facility closed, and we had just enough time to squeeze in a round of golf and fish supper on the Saturday, and a walk along the windswept and bitingly cold beach on the Sunday morning.
Oh yeah – this was fun, alright!
Then, horror of horrors! Emboldened by admittance into the Caravan Club of Great Britain, my excited parents announced we’d now be taking an additional summer holiday. An additional week. In Dornoch. In the caravan!
Heavens above! Dornoch, even in 2021, is a good four and a half hours drive away. Fifty years ago, and towing a bleedin’ caravan …. a letter with a second class stamp would get there quicker.
“It’s a lovely caravan site – right by the golf course. And there’s a toilet and shower block too.”
And that’s the best selling point you can come up with?
I suppose having a site toilet block is better than the family sharing the chemical filled potty that stank out the wee cubby-hole that passed as a toilet in most caravans. Oh, perish the thought! (We actually used that space for storing the golf clubs.) But really, is it such a privileged luxury to waken in the dead of night, scratch around for a torch, pull on a pair of wellies / sandals / golf spikes, and trudge a hundred and fifty yards to a damp, smelly and cold toilet? I think not.
We’d play golf in the morning and weather permitting, another round in late afternoon / early evening. This was summer in Scotland, though. Weather has a habit of messing with your plans. So we’d then be dragged off on some Godforsaken sight-seeing trip.
John o’ Groats? Nothing to see. Still wet there. Dunnet Head? Naff all there either. And just as wet. Thurso did have a chip shop, though.
Back at the caravan, my mum, not renowned for her culinary skills, bless her, would prepare a hearty evening meal. Something along the lines of tinned Heinz macaroni on toast, followed by Birds Eye instant custard and jam. Yes. Jam.
Meals would be served up in instalments because the ineffectual cooker, fired by a suspicious and sinister looking gas canister, had the power of a Christmas candle. While we waited in not-so-eager anticipation, the combination of body-heat times four, damp clothing and smoke from the burnt toast (told you, didn’t I?) would cause the windows to steam up. A decision then had to be made: open the windows to clear them and die from hypothermia, or risk asphyxiation from the steam, smoke and ever-present hint of leaking calor gas.
Thankfully, I managed eventually to extricate myself from these tortuous events, playing the ‘I best stay behind to study for my exams,” card.
A couple of years later, freed from the shackles of holidaying with parents, a few pals who like me were leaving school in the summer of 1976, decided to go away together. Benidorm? Majorca? Blackpool?
Nope. We had all recently bought our first motorbikes – one had a car, a Morris 1100, I think.
Why don’t we drive over to St Andrews and rent (no! please, no! I can sense what’s coming ….) a caravan for the week? It’ll be a right laugh.
I’d love to tell you it was a right laugh. I’d love to tell you it was a right nightmare. I’d love to tell you it was a right anything. Truth is, I can tell you next to nothing! It’s all a bit of a haze.
I do recall we upset someone in a neighbouring caravan who was always on our case. So we did what any self-respecting gallus teenagers would do, and threw a pan-loaf worth of bread chunks onto the roof of his caravan in the dead of night.
Yeah, you’re there – come first light, his caravan was besieged by a flock of noisy, ravenous seagulls pecking the bread and stomping around on the roof.
Have some of that!
Other than that, my only other recollection is suffering my worst ever hangover after a night on Pernod and lemonade. That took care of one of the seven days.
The hangover from Hell – and in a caravan.
I’d said it before, but this time I meant it. To this day, I’ve never even sipped a Pernod.
And to this day, I’ve never again set foot in a caravan.
(Post by Paul Fitzpatrick, of London – February 2021)
I’ve always had a strange relationship with Billy Connolly.
Not that we’ve ever met.
I call it Christopher Columbus syndrome – You find an artist, hear a song or read a book that hardly anyone else knows about, you become an early adopter and spread the word, and before you know it everyone loves them – with people even asking you if you’ve heard of them!
It drives you mad because you feel like you’re the one that DISCOVERED THEM, and if it wasn’t for you unearthing their great talent and spreading the word, they’d be nowhere.
You even begin to resent their newfound fame – they’re being greedy or they’re overreaching or they’re forgetting where they come from, or some other daft notion.
Welcome to my relationship with Billy Connolly.
I’m pretty sure the first time I heard Connolly utter a word was on the Pavilion stage in February 1974.
There was a buzz as the relative unknown had sold out several nights at the Pavilion Theatre in Glasgow, something only Sydney Devine (Scotland’s answer to Elvis) could do back then.
My pal Barry suggested we get tickets to see him on a Friday night as we had no school the next day, we were both 15 at the time and part of the plan was to find a pub and go for the full Friday night Glasgow experience.
We duly found a wee working mans pub round the corner from the venue, and foraged for a seat out of view, it was tea-time on a Friday, so the pub was busy with artisans in their work clothes finishing their shifts for the weekend.
We must have stood out like sore thumbs.
I think Barry braved the first approach to the bar and I was amazed but delighted when he came back with 2 halves of lager and 2 vodka and oranges’ (non-diluted orange squash of course).
A half and a half back then was the working mans preferred tipple, so who were we to challenge the established order of things.
The drinks were downed pretty quickly, and we enjoyed a few more bevvy’s before floating off down the road to the Pavilion in good spirits.
Stand-up comedy in the 70’s was dominated by middle aged men who wore suits and bow ties and told corny jokes about their mother in laws or minorities or Germans bombing their chip shops.
This guy Connolly was different though he was younger, he looked like a welder on acid and he spoke our language.
A bit like listening to the opening 4 tracks of Led Zeppelin IV for the first time, Connolly literally took our breath away. I had never laughed so long or so hard before, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t since, although Jerry Sadowitz has come close a couple of times.
He was loud, gallus, hilarious and the audience loved him, his stories were relatable, and he was one of us.
I remember hearing the Crucifixion sketch for the first time that night, it was the funniest thing I’d ever heard, he was irreverent and didn’t give two hoots about poking fun at religion or sectarian taboos or bodily functions or the establishment, no topic was off limits to the Big Yin.
It was a memorable evening; from the nervous bus-journey into town wondering if we’d get served or huckled for being underage, to the journey home, fish supper in hand, trying to recount all the jokes and patter and remembering we had football for the school the following morning.
We were so smitten by Connolly that we spent the next couple of weeks spreading the gospel, telling everyone we knew how great he was, mostly to blank faces however, as no one had heard of him.
His career really took off after a live album of the Pavilion material was released in May 1974, and the following year he finally came into the general public’s consciousness.
In 1975 Connolly sold out an unprecedented 12 nights at the Glasgow Apollo, as well as appearing on Parkinson for the first of his record breaking 15 appearances.
That year he also showed off his acting chops by appearing in a powerful Peter McDougall TV play called ‘Just Another Saturday’ which was about West of Scotland culture, beliefs, innocence and sectarianism.
If that wasn’t enough, he also headlined a London gig for the first time and even had a number one single, appearing on TOTP with a parody of Tammy Wynette’s Divorce. It was the archetypal rags to riches story; the guy had gone from zero to hero in the space of 18 months.
There’s a picture that was taken in 1975 by Ronnie Anderson, a newspaper colleague of one of our contributors George Cheyne, that is my favourite Connolly portrait.
The occasion was an after-party in The Dorchester for the first of Billy’s sell out shows at the London Palladium in 1975, and it features – Billy, Alex Harvey, Jimmy Reid the shop steward, Hamish Stuart from AWB, Frankie Miller and Jimmy Dewar (a musician from Stone the Crows and Robin Trower Band).
A motley crew of 6 Glaswegians toasting their mate’s success in a foreign land.
If I’m being completely honest, the parody single was the point when I started to think the Big Yin was overreaching.
A parody single? That was for Benny Hill and Rolf Harris but not for the Big Yin!
I’d also noticed that his accent had started to soften a bit and he was definitely losing some of his tough Glasgow brogue.
Of course, I look back now and understand he was just reaching out to a wider audience, the guy was a welder turned folk singer turned comedian, he had no idea how long this gravy train was going to run for.
He was simply making the most of his opportunities
As Connolly got bigger so did his global reach, hanging out with Hollywood celebs and Royalty and appearing in big budget movies and hosting TV specials.
There was a point where he seemed to be everyone’s favourite comedian, but he probably wasn’t mine anymore.
I had discovered American stand-up, guys like Richard Pryor, Steve Martin and Bill Hicks, and I liked the cut of their jib.
I still liked Billy and I would go the odd gig, but for me comparing his newer, more mainstream material to his earlier stuff was like comparing Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called to Say I Love You to Superstition or Living for the City.
And I guess I’ve just addressed some of my issues right there!
If Stevie can’t maintain unrealistic artistic excellence, who can??
On a subconscious level I also think that for some absurd reason I thought he’d forsaken his Scottish roots, which is illogical, particularly as I moved away from Scotland myself in 1984.
There’s no doubt that Connolly has had a fantastic career, he’s adored by millions and he is and always has been a wonderful ambassador for Scotland.
As he’s got older, I think he’s got back to being a bit more irreverent and a bit more outspoken, and that’s the Billy I adore.
I’ve loved stand-up comedy since I was 15 thanks to the Big Yin, he was my first and he was one of the best.
When all’s said and done, I’m glad I got to discover the Big Yin in February 1974 and share him with the rest of the world.
It came to my mind recently that lunch tends to get overlooked these days. Brunches & Suppers are regularly championed by Nigella and Jamie, we’re constantly bombarded with dinner ideas on MasterChef and up until intermittent fasting came along we were hoodwinked into thinking that ‘Breakfast is the most important meal of the day’.
By the way, do you know who’s credited with that oft-repeated and very famous quote? None other than John Harvey Kellogg…. yeah THAT Kellogg!
Subsequently, lunch has dropped down the ‘square meal’ league table into the relegation zone which is a bit of a comedown. Once upon a time it used to run away with the title but that was before Gordon Gekko’s “lunch is for wimps” claim in the movie Wall Street.
In its glory years lunch was called dinner, it was the main meal of the day and was eaten any time between late morning and mid afternoon. Then the industrial revolution came along at which point sustenance was required between morning and afternoon shifts to enable workers to sustain maximum effort throughout the day, hence the regimented one hour lunch break, we know now.
Cut forward to today and lunch for many consists of a quick sandwich in front of a computer screen, checking out social media and looking at Nigella’s recipes for supper, or if you’re male, and of a certain age, just checking out Nigella!
Back in the 70s however, when we were at school or newbies in the workplace, lunch WAS the most important meal of the day… by a long chalk.
Maybe it was by default… after all breakfast was relatively basic, a plate of cereal or a slice of toast before you ran out the door to catch the school bus. Dinner, on the other hand, was a bit more formal in most households, the table would be set but you had to wait till your faither got home.
To be honest dinner was a bit hit or miss in our house.
You see, my dad was an offal man for his offal – kidney, Tongue, liver, tripe, all the stuff that was popular in its day and made fancy window dressing at the butchers…. but offers good reason to turn vegetarian now.
It got worse though, if the raw materials my mum had to work with weren’t great, then her cooking skills only compounded things.
I love my Mum to bits, but she was no Fanny Craddock and trying to mask the stench of charred liver from my favourite Fred Perry polo shirt, (by splashing on copious amounts of Brut) before heading out to impress, was not a pleasant experience.
So, whilst breakfast was on the hoof and dinner could easily have consisted of hoof…. lunch was always to be savoured for a few reasons…..
Firstly, although we may not have been enduring the same hardships as our distant relatives from the 1800’s, lunch still broke up the day perfectly – and if like me you were stuck in a dull lesson pre-lunch, then you could start counting down to the lunchtime bell before meeting up with your pals to eat, blether, and release some of that pent up energy.
Secondly, free-will, which was in scant supply back then, came to the fore as we were able to take ownership of our daily lunching choices.
You could go to the canteen for school dinners if you were seduced by the day’s menu offering, (beef olives was always a favourite), or if you fancied a wee donner (the walk not the kebab) then you could take your lunch money and saunter down to Bearsden Cross to the bakers for a sausage roll or a sandwich…. always accompanied by a carton of ski yoghurt for pudding. It was probably the best hour of most school days!
School holidays meant lunch at home, and after a bit of trial and error, home lunches became a slick operation, i.e. straight out of a can – Campbell’s chicken soup and cold Ambrosia Devon Custard…. tasty, low-maintenance stuff that even I could prepare without the need to splash any Brut on afterwards.
It’s strange but I can’t remember much about school lunches at primary school, I lived about 15-20 min’s walk from school so I doubt that I lunched at home every day. I do remember a few kids having packed lunches though and thinking that themed lunchboxes were cool, but I don’t think soup and custard would have travelled that well.
Another weekly treat during school holidays was going to Drumchapel swimming baths, not so much for the eye-stinging chlorine or the daredevil belly flops off the dale, but rather for the delicious pie & beans in the adjoining canteen afterwards.
As we moved into the workplace, lunchtimes were a saviour, it broke the day up and gave you time to regroup and recharge your batteries.
I worked in a small office in central Glasgow when I left school. There was just 5 of us and I was the youngest by some 20 years, so come lunchtime I was a lone-wolf – until my good mate Billy Smith started working in Frasers in Buchanan St a few months later. This was a tremendous turn of events as I used to go with Smiddy to their excellent staff canteen where we’d fill our faces and gawk at all the elegant cosmetic girls, before meandering about town to wile-away the rest of the golden-hour.
It was a splendid arrangement and when Smiddy told me he was thinking of quitting his job for a more lucrative one, I did what every good mate would do in the same situation….. and tried my darnedest to convince him to stay.
“what about the great staff discounts” “what about all the pretty girls in the cosmetics dept” “what about the opportunities for promotion” “what about the fact you’re working in an iconic building” “what about – the subsidised staff canteen for Christ’s sake!!“
Of course, Billy very selfishly took up the life changing opportunity, leaving me to lope around as a lone-wolf once more, although I used to regularly meet my mate Joe Hunter on a Friday and we’d head to Paddy’s Market to get our outfits for the weekend. If ever clothes required a splash of aftershave, it was those ones!
As enjoyable as all those lunch times were back then, you knew the pleasure was temporary, you always had an enemy – the clock!
As you get older and escape the constraints of the clock, lunch offers a great social opportunity to catch up with friends and family and the lunches I look forward to the most now are the leisurely ones you have on holiday. Looking out at a sun-splattered, turquoise ocean, with a cold beer or a chilled glass of wine accompanied with never-ending portions of seafood or salty tapas… living in the moment with nothing to rush back for.