Category Archives: Family life

hound-dawgs

(Post by Andrea Grace Burn of East Yorkshire – April 2021)

Alfie and Millie (2010)

The 1960s and ’70s were a great time to be a dog – and a child. My brothers and I were pretty much free-range kids; growing up on a rural college campus in Virginia where Dad lectured in History and Mom was at home for us. We were totally unencumbered by the pressures of an adult world. There were only two grown-up rules: don’t talk to strangers and be home in time for supper. Running barefoot through endless summers with our dog Shiloh, we were pack animals; our friends and their dogs ran with us – always at our side as we navigated our way through childhood. 

Nobody that we knew ever walked their dogs on a lead – what an absurd notion!4We simply opened the back door and let Shiloh out into our back yard and the wider campus. Shiloh would sit at the back door as Dad said, “Out? Out to bark?” whereupon she would race along the back porch and bark three times!

Attitudes towards dogs were different then  – nobody ever picked up dog shit. Our yard was full of it and in the long hot summers we would find chalky white deposits in the clumps of grass. We called it fossilised shit. Nobody cared or worried that we might get some terrible eye disease from it – we just ignored it – unless you were unlucky enough to step in it but that was your fault – you knew it was there!

Shiloh had her neighbourhood pack, including a Golden Retriever called Lanny and Old Jack, the black Labrador who would sleep in the middle of the road, forcing traffic to go around him – and they did! Even Joe the bus driver knew Old Jack and would give him a wide berth,  You can set your watch by him – -yes-siree-bob!”

Andrea & friends with Dale, in the back yard in Virginia – with Lanny the Golden Retriever and Shiloh (1970)

But Shiloh only had eyes for Nicky the Wolfhound; a well-known local bounder who had already sowed his wild oats with Doris the Dachshund in a secret tryst in her garage, producing unlikely looking puppies.

In the American South, a dog is a ‘dawg’ – even Elvis sang about it.  Troublesome ‘dawgs’ are ‘hound-dawgs’; not to be confused with ‘huntin’ dogs’ which are bred to run with the pack.  Shiloh was typical of the ‘hound-dawg’: a German Shepherd who chased small critters – rabbits, squirrels and the occasional rat – frequently puking them up on Mom’s orange velvet sofa.  Rumour had it that she killed a neighbour’s pet rabbit, but Mom refused to believe it. In a legendary show-down on the front porch with the afflicted rabbit’s owner – who had threatened to call the Sheriff – Mom rebuked the accusation and told the woman to get off her property or she would be the one calling the Sheriff!

Then there was the time that Shiloh chased the Dean of Faculty up one of our apple trees. He had the audacity to come to help himself to our apples with a ladder and buckets. Shiloh decided she was having none of his sass; keeping him up that tree for some time, snapping at his heels long enough to teach him a lesson – or until Dad called her off.  (Mom said “it served him right, as the apples were rotten and full of wasps anyway!”)  When still a young puppy, Shiloh nipped our neighbour, Mrs. Wyatt, on the calf, as she strolled past our house when we were playing in the front yard. “She was just defending her family,” said Mom. As I say, attitudes were different then. Oh sure, you had to have a dog licence but if your dog bit someone it was rarely reported. The Sheriff might mosey over to your house and give your parents a caution – then enjoy a cup of coffee with them on the front porch.

 My brother Dale once stepped out of the bathtub when he was a young boy, as Shiloh lay on the bathmat.  The young pup watched for a moment then pounced; nipping the poor boy where the sun doesn’t shine! Dale yelled and Dad could probably be heard clear across the campus:

 “GODDAMN SON-OF-A-BITCH DAWG! SON, GET ME THE MERCUROCHROME!”

The ‘hound-dawg’ pup slunk off and lay low until suppertime.

(NB/ Mercurochrome was a mercury based antiseptic, popular with mothers of the baby boom generation. It stained your skin pink and had a mighty sting on open cuts and grazes. It was finally. considered as unsafe and banned in 1998.)

Shiloh was finally caught red-handed one Christmas Day as she lay nonchalantly across the dining room table gorging on the turkey, which Mom had put their to ‘rest’ before carving. We had hamburgers that year.

Young Andrea with Shiloh, in Virginia – 1970

***

When we made the difficult move to the UK in 1970, we had to leave Shiloh behind with a neighbouring farmer, as quarantine laws were so strict then. We were heartbroken. To make us feel at home in Birmingham, Mom and Dad surprised us with a young rescue German Shepherd called Cleo. 

She was a gentle, beautiful dog who filled a great void in our lives. When my cat Brandy had her litter of kittens in an old packing crate in the garage, Cleo was on hand to help; perhaps sensing that this little cat wasn’t very strong. Cleo watched the birth, helped lick the kittens clean and carried them very tenderly in her mouth out onto the lawn to play with them. Sadly, Cleo became ill with a twisted bowel after only a few months and we had to have her put to sleep. My mother cried for a week. She had invested a lot of love and hope into Cleo, to help turn our dark days into bright ones.  Sadly, little Brandy died from a heart attack when she was being spayed but we kept one of her kittens, Frisky.

Frisky – 1975

After a campaign that lasted some weeks, Mom came home on the bus one dark winter evening with a bundle of fur under her coat. My brothers named her Zoo. She was another German Shepherd rescue puppy with huge ears that met in the middle and big paws which soon bounded their way into our hearts.  Her party piece was standing on her hind legs at the dining room window, farting as she watched life go by behind the net curtains – usually when Mom and Dad had company. Dad would just quietly strike a match – always worked.   Zoo took an instant dislike to Frisky, forcing the cat to live on the veranda roof.  Every now and then they would have a spectacular fight, with the cat holding her own. She lived up there for years.

Zoo in our back garden with scorched grass and remains of the Pampas grass – 1975

Our small, inordinately neat back garden in Birmingham, quickly became decimated.  Mom’s refusal to acknowledge dog shit meant that the grass turned yellow and Zoo shredded the flowers; tearing them by the roots from the borders and strewing them widely across the lawn. She was particularly fond of shredding the Pampas Grass. I can see Dad now – rake in hand – trying to put the Pampas grass back together so Mom wouldn’t notice.  Zoo used our small ornamental pond as a toilet, so Dad decided to fill it in. What Dad didn’t do was drain the pond first; he simply filled it with top soil – right on top of the pond weeds and tadpoles, which turned it into a quagmire. The neighbourhood cats loved it and we had frogs for ever more.

It was Zoo who found her way into the under-stairs cupboard  on Christmas Eve morning in 1970 and chewed up  the presents which our parents had carefully scrimped and saved for; leaving a pair of fluffy mule slippers missing a heel,  the Beatles’ ‘Let it Be’ album with a teeth marks on the corner, the ‘Fall of the Roman Empire’ with a shredded spine and a bald Tressy doll. Mom was distraught and trudged back into Rackham’s on the Number Nine bus on Christmas Eve afternoon with the little money she had to replace what she could. Zoo was indeed a hound-dawg.  The ‘Long and Winding Road’  spun on the turn table after dinner as Mom cried silent tears over the dishes. 

***

And finally, my brother Dale and I still refer to the following incident in which a teenage friend of ours – I’ll call him Mike – was watching TV at our house one afternoon in 1977. He suddenly jumped up from the sofa to pop to the loo, startling Zoo who had been asleep at his feet. She jumped up and  nipped poor Mike in the nuts, causing him to leap higher and emit a piercing yell which reverberated down our road as he ran upstairs clutching his crotch. Dale said,

“She just nipped him in the bud.”

History repeating itself. We’ve always wondered whether he’s OK.

***

Our children grew up with two dogs: Alfie our beloved black Lab and Millie, our Springer Spaniel; each one a ‘hound-dawg’ in their own right with their own idiosyncrasies and characters. We have recently had to say one last ‘goodnight’ to Mille (aka ‘Mills’, ‘Mrs. Mills’, ‘Cruella Da Mills’ and ‘Miss Havisham’) after twelve years of crazy antics, unquestioning devotion and fierce loyalty. Letting go is the hardest part; Mills had my heart and the upper hand (or should I say upper-paw) until the end of her long and happy life.

We still have our four year old chocolate Labrador, Humphrey, who is proving to be a ‘hound-dawg’ and a half!

Dogs teach us compassion, help us laugh at ourselves and make us better humans – especially ‘hound-dawgs’.

Mills.

Done To A Turn

Pauline Allan: Bridgetown, Western Australia, April 2021

Nana O’Rourke was a formidable wee woman.

Tiny, tenacious and terrifying.
Mother of Joe, Jean, Charlie, Sheila, my dad Vincent and Francis.

A seamstress by trade, the house was adorned with evidence of her skills on the old treadle Singer sewing machine.


The 3 piece suite in the lounge with it’s floral printed covers and covers over the covers to protect the covers, particularly the arm rests and the backs of the furniture where there were antimacassars to guard against the mens Brylcreem. 

The area around the “big” light switch on the papered wall also had it’s protection, some sort of industrial heavy duty plastic to ward off sticky fingers. 

There were display cabinets for the good china and glasses and ornaments adorned the open fireplace, ivory elephant bookends among them.

The convex porthole mirror with brass trim made the whole room look twice as big as it was. 

I was only 6 and a half when Nana died but my grandfather Michael and family gathered for Christmas dinner every year, a tradition that was carried on into the early 1970’s by my equally formidable Aunt Jean.

Everyone has an Aunt Jean.
My Aunt Jean was a spinster who looked after Papa, bachelor Uncle Charlie and Uncle Francis, a priest, when he came to visit.

“No one ever dances in this house” she would say…..Hardly surprising.

She would pounce on my dad, leading in a waltz whenever we dropped in.


But she was an incredible cook, baker and more than ably took on the challenge of catering for the Christmas collective.

Nana’s décor in the living room had hardly changed.

The open fire may have been replaced by an even less efficient two bar electric one, complete with false coal.

There was the mirror and a sunburst clock but everything else remained the same, with that familiar aroma of freshly baked bread, jam, cakes and “infusing” tea.

With no formal dining room in the house, the living room was the venue for the sumptuous Christmas banquet.


Trestle tables, card tables and picnic tables were quickly disguised with Nana’s embroidered cloths and napkins and somehow miraculously places were set for 20.

From the small kitchen with it’s original Formica cabinet and clothes pulley came platters of turkey with stuffing, glazed ham dotted with cloves, Ruskoline crumbed potato croquettes, roast potatoes and gravy with brussel sprouts, none of which could be served without Sharwoods Green Mango Chutney. 

Home made trifle and cakes to finish.
The flies’ graveyard (a currant slice) and buttercream sponge were my favourites.
Warninks Advocaat and Harveys Bristol Cream sherry for the adults and non alcoholic ginger wine for us teenagers.
This was made weeks in advance by members of the family who had dutifully bought the essence from the local Co-Op turning it into a sweet concoction with sugar and water.
Potcheen without the punch! 

Advocaat, Eggnog, Snowball – a Xmas favourite

After our meal we retired to uncle Uncle Charlie’s bedroom waiting to do our turn.
Sounds pretty ominous I admit but it was a completely innocent get-together where everyone had to perform.
That also sounds rather risqué!

What followed was a well kent tradition, where various musical renditions were performed by family members.

Uncle Charlie’s room was chosen because that was where the piano was.
Uncle Francis ( Father Frank or uncle Father Frank when I was young then uncle Father Frank-in-law from John’s speech at our wedding reception) played Fur Elise and accompanied anyone who wanted to play Chopsticks, he was also the reel to reel tape recorder operator.

Uncle Charlie sang The Ink Spots Whispering Grass (later made famous by the dynamic Don Estelle & Windsor Davies) and uncle John, aunt Shelia’s husband recited his version of De Profundis.
“Out of the Depths – of my bronchial tubes” … and so it went on.

Mum had a beautiful singing voice which could have lent itself to any of the classics but she was never comfortable in front of the critcal family audience. Instead she chose to sing “Halfway Up A Wall”.

As I was Minstrelling one night, 

Upon a castle drear

Halfway up a wall, a plaque I saw

“Duke Frederick was born here”

I’ve travelled far, I’ve travelled wide

But never can recall

That I have heard about a Duke

Born halfway up a wall 

Tra la la la la la

Tra la la fiddle dee

Halfway up a wall.

And of course everyone joined in with the last Halfway up a wall.

As the Advocatt flowed, so did the confidence of others.

Cousin Barbara took centre carpet and before we had time to rush into the kitchen to help Aunt Jean with the washing up, were surrounded by a cacophony of cringeworthy crescendos.
Matchmaker, Matchmaker make me a match. Find me a fi……Too late, she was off.

We managed to gather up precious crystal glasses from the floor as Cousin Barbara spun like a tipsy Whirling Dervish, changing key with every line.
Would she sing Sunrise Sunset from Fiddler on the Roof as well?
I hope not. 

To our great relief Aunt Jean announced coffee was being served back in the living room and we all made a swift exit. 

Christmas is a far simpler affair these days. Most of the assembled are sadly no longer with us, cousins are spread to all corners of the globe and a “turn” is more likely to be a Netflix, YouTube or Spotify selection.

But perhaps locked down in a small flat in the outskirts of Glasgow, two cats and a budgie are being entertained with a selection of show tunes by a 70+ spinster.

Wan singer, wan song.

Don’t worry Babs, the sun will come out tomorrow.  

ye canny shove yer grannie …

Colin Jackson: Glasgow, April 2021

Ye canny shove yer grannie aff a bus

Naw ye canny shove yer grannie aff a bus

Naw ye canny shove yer grannie

Cause she’s yer mammie’s mammie

Ye canny shove yer grannie aff a bus

Ye can shove yer other grannie aff a bus PUSH PUSH

Ye can shove yer other grannie aff a bus PUSH PUSH

Ye can shove yer other grannie

Cause she’s just yer daddie’s mammie

Shove yer other grannie aff a bus PUSH PUSH

**********

CLAP! CLAP!

Can I have your attention, boys and girls!

Ok – so who remembers singing this little ditty when they were young?

Scandalous, isn’t it?

We can certainly do without that kind of criminal incitement in today’s society. 😉

Yeah, ok, so it’s kind of catchy – but even so, in these post music hall and woke days, I’m surprised The Singing Kettle and nursery schools all over the land are allowed to get away with it.

I suppose the first question to be asked, is did anyone actually take the lyrics literally, and second, did your Granny ever again share her Werthers Originals with you?

On the basis that the answer to question number one was a resounding ‘no,’ then my next question would be: who would even consider such a thing? Not me, for sure – I knew when I was onto a good thing, me.

I do wonder though, what effect this song may have had on one side of the Granny equation.

My two Grans were Gran Mary (my mum’s mother) and Gran Jackson (my dad’s mother.) They were both pretty similar characters, although being more sporty and having married a champion professional boxer, the former had more of an active and competitive nature.

My sister and I genuinely had no favourite and loved going to visit both as each would each spoil us with the decadent treats not on offer at home. I’m talking Creamola Foam, Tunnocks Tea Cakes and Oddfellows sweets. (Did you like me, break off the chocolate from the mallow dome before devouring the biscuit, flattening the foil wrapper and then folding it into as small a square as possible?)

As I grew older though, I did begin to notice one difference between the two Grans: Gran Mary would take me places. It was her and my Grandpa that took me to my first ever football match. The number fifteen Corporation bus took us directly from their home in Knightswood, Glasgow to Ibrox Stadium, for a League match between Rangers and Hibs.

They took me to many more matches before my Dad managed to get out of working on Saturdays and could take me himself. Each time, we travelled by bus.

My Gran was always so happy on the way across town. I had thought it was excitement at going to the match. On reflection though, there was a certain smugness about her contentment.

She was my ‘mammie’s mammie’ after all.

“In your face, Mrs J! Travelling with my darling grandson … on a bus! I’m even sitting on the seat that looks out onto the open platform. Look! I’m going to stand up. No hands! Woo hoo! Yep – still here!

My Gran Jackson, on the other hand …. well.

Occasionally, my parents would go to one of those ‘classy’ dinner dances at The Albany Hotel. Rather than ask a babysitter wait into the wee small hours for their return, we would be dropped at Gran Jackson’s for the bulk of the weekend.

We went through the same ritual each time:

“What shall we do this afternoon?” Gran Jackson would ask.
“Can we get the bus to go watch the football, please?”

My Gran was like:

Casanrdra on being awakened by young Damien, in ‘Only Fools & Horses

Wiping beads of sweat from her forehead with a shaking hand, she would suggest:

“Why don’t we stay home and watch the Wrestling on TV. I’ve got you some Creamola Foam and a Tunnocks tea Cake? And a packet of Oddfellows.”

Five miles away, in Knightswood and from behind a satisfied smile, the hushed words ‘one nil to the Mammie’s Mammie’ escaped into the ether.

Oh yeah – and so who was it taught me this song as a nipper? Why, of course, it was Gran Mary!

Aye – as those darned kids said, ‘There’s No One Quite Like Grandma.’

Especially a competitive one.

(Don’t fret, I’ve subjected you to enough – anyway St Winifred’s School Choir’s big hit was in 1980 and therefore disqualified from this blog.)

the holiday

(Post by Andrea Grace Burn of East Yorkshire – April 2021)

As the nation crawls steadily towards a brighter horizon with the roll-out of the Covid vaccination programme, we can’t be blamed for turning our collective thoughts towards a much-needed holiday. My family have twice postponed our long-awaited week in Cornwall to celebrate several BIG birthdays but that’s OK; Cornwall isn’t going anywhere.

The term ‘staycation’ hadn’t been invented in the 70s. And since when did the British use the term ‘vacation’ anyway? That’s what it’s called in the USA but surely, the British say ‘holiday’? We didn’t know anyone in Birmingham who had vacations, apart from one or two academic types in kagouls who forced their poor families to ’embrace the great outdoors’ and went camping in muddy fields in damp tents. Their kids were called Rufus and Martha.  My parents didn’t go in for camping. In fact, any vacation – especially a ‘foreign’ one – never occurred to Mom and Dad. Having emigrated here from the States in 1970, Dad always said,

 “We live in a foreign country, for Pete’s Sake!” 

Cambrian Mountains – Wales.

However in October 1970, a twist of fate set us on a legendary road trip into deepest Wales when a teaching colleague of Dad’s invited us to spend half term at his ruin of an old, rustic shepherd’s cottage in the Cambrian Mountains. We’d only been in England for a month. Mom envisaged a cosy cottage with mullion windows.

The reality was a dilapidated pile of stones which stood atop a steep hillside overlooking a deep valley. The ‘ruin’ boasted no heat or running water, an outside ‘toilet’ (hole in a lean-to with a hook of squares of Izal) and a well in the garden. Dad was full of the American spirit of adventure:

“Why, kids – we’ll have FUN! Hell – we’ll make our own fun!

Mom was less enthusiastic about the prospect of a holiday without a bathroom.

Ahead of the one hundred or so mile drive from Brum, we had to sedate our German Shepherd, Zoo, who suffered greatly with travel sickness. Concealing a pill in a Mars Bar (we obviously had no idea that chocolate was bad for dogs), she swallowed it whole and soon became drowsy as we loaded up the little bright red Citroen 2CV with half a ton of luggage. Once on the road, Zoo slept scrunched up on the small back seat between me and my two older brothers as Mom drove west from Stourbridge, through the beautiful old town of Bridgenorth and on to Much Wenlock, before heading into Wales.

Dad, who was a terrible driver, took advantage of his role as passenger in the front to point out places of historical interest to us as we tootled along. 

“See those caves? Why – they’re where Charles the First’s army hid their gunpowder when they were under siege from Cromwell.”

“The Cliff Railway is the steepest in England, kids… now we’re on Watling Street, the old Roman Road.” 

In his element as storyteller and history teacher, Dad revelled in being able to see some of the places he had only read of in his youth in Atlanta, Georgia.

 After an hour in the car Zoo roused from her drug induced slumber and began retching. Sensing what was to come, Dad shouted ,

 “GODDAMN IT HONEY – THE DAWG’S GOING TO VOMIT!! STOP THE CAR!” He stood up and peeled back the roof canvas.

“I can’t stop honey – we’re on a steep hill!”

Zoo stood on the back seat with her head sticking out of the roof, drooling and panting in the breeze as her slobber whipped back onto our faces. Mom began the ascent at the front of a long line of cars. Being only two horse power, the Citroen struggled to advance up the incline with our added weight.

Suddenly a car tried to overtake the on-coming traffic down the hill, heading straight for us at speed. Mom screamed and Dad, red faced and apoplectic, stood up again and  shook his fist out of the roof with the dog as he shouted a string of obscenities at the driver which are probably still hanging in the ether,

“GODDAMN SON-OF-A-BITCH! WE’RE GOING TO CRASH! DADGUMMIT! GET OVER – YOU DAD-BLAST-IT STUIPD ROAD HAWG!” 

Zoo suddenly puked a ball of mucus and Mars Bar which splatted the sun roof and Dad. 

“GODAMMIT!” 

 Somehow Mom kept her cool and control of the car, which swayed and rocked like a pram as we veered sideways onto the hard shoulder; bobbing up and down like nine pins.

**********

In Brummy speak, to ‘Go Round the Wrekin’ means to go the long way around on a journey. The Wrekin is a huge hill in Shropshire which can be seen for miles – but not by us. We ‘stumbled’ upon it on our epic journey, prompting Dad to explain about the Wrekin’s ancient volcanic origin. I still laugh to think that we literally drove ‘around the Wrekin’.

 The approach to the cottage took us along a winding unmade lane that gradually became barely one car wide. We bumped along with Zoo’s head lurching in and out of the roof as she gagged, until we reached the final stretch. Zoo was by now fully awake and becoming boisterous on the back seat. She spotted the sheep grazing nearby and began to salivate.  Mom struggled to get the little car up the hill; prompting Dad to jump out:

“Come on everyone – PUSH! Goddammit – why is this car so heavy? Honey, what on earth have you packed? PUSH! At-a-girl Kid! Mother, keep her in first and give her some throttle!”

If we could have seen Mom’s face at this point, I’m sure we would have recognised one of her ‘looks’, although her serene demeanour gave nothing away.   We finally arrived and piled out into a field full of sheep.

“Andrea – get that dawg back here! Dadgummit!”

Grabbing armfuls of luggage, we teetered along a narrow, ancient footpath forged by millennia of sheep, where we found the ‘ruin’ perched on the precipice of a sheer drop to a ravine. 

“Well, this is it!” said Mom, breezily.  “Have you got the key honey?” 

“The key? Sure – why of course I’ve got the key – it’s here in my pocket somewhere. Must be in my jacket – hold on, Dadgummit!”  

Fumbling in his pockets, Dad realised to his horror that he had left the key on the dressing table in their bedroom. 

“Well for Pete’s Sake, I’ll just go back and get it!” 

Dad rolled up his shirt sleeves and strode purposefully back to the car and drove the two hundred miles round trip to get the key. We all stood outside the ‘ruin’ on the precipice with Zoo for the next five hours.  No mobile phones in those days. No nothing except sheep and bracken. What is staggering is that none of us had the presence of mind to try the back door or see if a window was open. We accepted our fate without question. Eventually Dad reappeared: 

“I have it now! It’s OK - here’s the key honey! Don’t worry kids – your old man’s here! Yes-Siree-Bob!”

Mom asked: “Honey – did I unplug the iron?”

**********

That first night as Dad lit the log fire with great ceremony we huddled around to hear his glorious rendition of the ‘Hound of the Baskerville’s’ as Zoo drooled on the rug. Within seconds, great clouds of smoke billowed into the room, until we were all choking and rubbing our eyes.  Mother calmly opened the front door. 

“DON’T LET THE DAWG OUT HONEY! DADGUMMIT – SHE’LL CHASE THE SHEEP AND GET SHOT!” Dad lit his pipe.     

I shivered in bed that night as I lay listening to the wind howling through the chinks of daylight in the old stone walls – or was it the Hound? 

**********


My childhood diary entry reads: 

October 30th, 1970

“We went to our friend’s little cottage in Wales It was a very beautiful drive all the way. The cottage doesn’t have a toilet. They have a out house (clean).  They drink purified (spelt: ‘purofied’) water from a well. You wash up with rain water. Today we are coming home. I am glad to be back!” 

With no TV or radio, we made our own entertainment, which I groaned about at the time.  Now at a distance of fifty years, I miss those simpler times and I miss my parents.   Zoo lived a long and happy life but never got over her travel sickness.  

Dad.
Andrea – aged ten.
Mom.


(Copyright: Andrea Burn March 27th 2021) 

shop ’til you drop

(Post by John Allan, from Bridgetown, Western Australia – March 2021)

Every Friday evening between 5 and 6 pm for the last year a small truck emblazoned with the name of one of Australia’s fresh food duopolies trundles past our door to neighbours Simon and Kylie a quarter of a mile down to the cul-de-sac. Presumably that’s the weekly shop ordered on some phone app as they are a young busy couple with a toddler. As well as a time saver it means they are also not in contact with others in these times of pandemic.

I hear after a year of lock down, the UK is going to slowly lift it’s restrictions and hopefully get back to some degree of normality, i.e. shopping.

In the late 60s and early 70s, shopping was the domain of my mother and I.

Hilton Park Golf Club.

On Saturday mornings my father would thanklessly take the family car to Hilton Park Golf Club to spend the best part of the day begrudgingly traipsing over 18 holes in pursuit of an elusive small white ball, then forced to down two large gin and tonics with fellow weekend warriors in a warm club house. His afternoon would be spent snoozing to the soporific TV murmurings of Grandstand’s Frank Bough. We never really thanked him enough for his sacrifice.

This meant a bus trip into the big smoke for Mama et moi. My brothers, being teenagers, had outgrown their roles as bag carriers and sounding posts so that honour was bestowed on the third born.

When I say shopping, it wasn’t like a leisurely stroll around a vast and impersonal shopping centre, it was proper walking up and down streets dodging traffic and other pedestrians and proletariat.

There were good shiny tiled butchers with chatty, plump red faced men. One didn’t flinch at the sight of carcasses of dead cow, sheep or pig hanging in full view or poultry and game still with heads and feathers. It wasn’t a good butcher if it didn’t have such a macabre display.

“A pound of best mince ? No trouble love.”

A hand like a scarred bunch of bananas would scoop up the required amount and slam it down on a piece of greaseproof paper on the scales. Hands would be wiped on the front of the blooded apron. Mother would receive the perfectly folded paper parcel with elastic band snapped in position and I would then be given the coin change along with a small globule of gristle. This might have been some sort of test of my approaching manhood which I probably failed as I flicked my finger trying to remove the foreign object like a soggy nose pick.

Ironmonger’s shop

On to the ironmongers – does the word ‘monger’ even exist these days? And don’t get me started on haberdashery ! The ironmongers or hardware store always had a creaky wooden floor usually with duct tape holding down various electrical cables to make your route that little bit more perilous. It was staffed by obsequious people with neatly buttoned up brown coats. Human sat navs who could pinpoint half a dozen ‘1 Inch Hot Dipped Galvanised Cup Head Bolt And Nuts’ without even scratching their chin and looking skyward. Then expertly wrap said article in brown paper and string and fashioning a macrame carrying handle.

On some days the shops came to us. I have vague memories of a fruit and veg van but I certainly can remember the fish van probably for it’s Zen minimalism decor. Sloping shelves of trays of white filleted fish nestled on astro turf, a plastic lemon and a box of Ruskoline. Not a mollusc, crustacean or cephalopod to be seen. Not even a fish head or obvious bones just anaemic strips of fish flesh.

Then there were the ‘Onion Johnnies’, supposedly French men on bikes festooned with plaids of onions draped across their handlebars. They might have had berets and striped shirts, been smoking Gauloise and singing ‘Thank Heaven For Little Girls’ but the memory is a bit hazy on that.

To get that ‘Ye Olde Shoppe’ experience you have to visit theme parks or living museums these days – or do you. In a certain heritage listed West Australian rural town (see main image of Bridgetown, W.A.) the high street boasts many a shop from yesteryear.  It is rumoured in one boutique, ladies come from miles around to be accosted by a certain assistant (my dear wife) who in her best Kelvinside accent tells customers.

“Yes, you’re arse does look big in that !”

You just can’t get customer service like that these days.

the dating game

(Post by Andrea Grace Burn of East Yorkshire – February 2021)

Prologue…

Bewitched.

As a kid in 1960s America, I grew up on a diet of  TV sitcoms and game shows that portrayed wholesome American family values: My Three Sons, Leave it to Beaver, Bewitched, The Dick Van Dyke Show, I love Lucy, The Dating Game and even the Addams Family,  My mother stayed at home to raise me and my brothers and  my teacher Dad would come through the front door at the end of the day in his trade mark trilby and trench coat with his pipe in hand:  “Hi Honey, I’m home!” Think ‘Pleasantville’.

 I never questioned that I would one day date a handsome, wholesome boy. We’d go for a soda-pop and a hot dog after a baseball game, get engaged and get married.  That’s how it worked, right? The first I heard of  Women’s Lib was in the summer of ’69 when my older cousin ventured outside her house without wearing a bra; causing our grandmother to have a conniption fit and haul her back inside for a lecture.  That was the end of THAT! Where we grew up, women weren’t decent unless they wore at very least a full Playtex Cross-Your-Heart bra, under-slip, pantihose and a girdle. I had a training bra at the age of ten, which amounted to no more than two triangles of cotton fabric on an elastic band. But I still had one. My best friend Catherine even had a training girdle but Mom put her foot down:

“That will squish your ovaries honey.”

I didn’t know what or where my ovaries were at ten years old!

**********
A Match Made, not in Heaven…but in Edgbaston

After we had moved to Birmingham, West Midlands in 1970, my mother – being a Southern Belle of ‘good stock’ – wasted no time in seeking out the ‘right sort of people’ in her eagerness to make ‘good connections.’ Not easy on the border of the Black Country. After seeing the skulking lads from the church hall disco at my fifteenth birthday party, she took matters into her own hands to get me on the right track to finding a suitably wholesome date – preferably a rich one.

My parents met a couple called the Handcocks from Edgbaston (“good area honey”) at a dinner party. Dad was impressed:

“Mr. Handcock works in Engineering. He’s a ‘self-made’ man – yesiree-bob.” (Parents seems to put great store by this.) 

The Handcocks had a son called Douglas who was shorter than me. Great. Douglas was no oil painting either and I know, I know – beauty lies within – but when you have raging hormones and your bedroom walls are festooned with pull-out posters of your favourite heartthrobs from Jackie Magazine: David Cassidy, Marc Bolan and David Essex –  I hoped at least for a dazzling smile and dimple. Jeeze – even the lads at the church hall disco had an element of cheeky charm tucked up their Ben Sherman shirts sleeves. Worst still, Douglas wanted to become an accountant.  I mean, who actually wanted to be an accountant? I thought he was deadly dull. I hoped for a boyfriend with a tad of charisma.

Mrs. Handcock and my mother were in cahoots and arranged a date between me and Douglas. I  was apoplectic. He was awful – so B – O – RING! Mom came back swiftly at me with, 

“Just stick with him Honey; he might have nice friends.” 

That’s how her mind worked. Never mind that I couldn’t stand him; he was rich and lived in a detached house: STICK WITH HIM! 

I had three dates with Douglas – way beyond the line of duty. On our first date, he took me to a party  in a splendid, gothic house complete with sweeping staircase, stained glass windows  and grand, marble fireplaces.

Mom would have loved it and would have probably have tried to marry me off to the boy whose party we were attending. Mr. Handcock picked me up in his Bentley which went down well with my mother.

“Class will always out, honey.”

As soon as we stepped through the Minton tiled entrance hall, I ditched Douglas and made a bee- line for a tall, lanky, captivating boy who sported a navy capped-sleeve t-shirt, Levi’s and a fetching string of shell love beads around his Adam’s apple.  His floppy fringe hid brooding dark brown eyes. I hung around his neck as we slow danced to 10.C.C.’s ‘I’m Not in Love’. Poor Douglas didn’t stand a chance. In fact, I ignored him until his dad picked us up. We sat on the back seat of the Bentley in silence all the way to my front door.

“Goodnight, Mr. Handcock and thank you, Douglas – for a lovely evening!” 

God, I was cruel – but then, kids can be.

Despite my complete indifference towards Douglas he invited me – or rather, his mother invited me – to their house for dinner and to stay the night, so that she and Mr. Handcock could become better acquainted with me (in other words, ‘size me up’ as a suitable girlfriend for their only, darling son).My mother made me a new long flowery ‘frock’ like those in Laura Ashley, with a ruffle at the hem and big sleeves with a sash, which I hated. I looked like a Holly Hobby doll.

Impressing Mom with their obvious ‘good breeding’, Douglas and his father picked me up at seven-thirty sharp, one Saturday evening in 1975.  Douglas awkwardly thrust a bouquet of pink carnations in my hands.

“Here. These are for you.” I handed them to Mom who gushed like she was the schoolgirl:

 “Oh my, why Douglas you’re so thoughtful. Andrea  – what do you say? I’ll find a vase.”

I rolled my eyes and climbed into the back seat of the Bentley.

At dinner, I was seated between Douglas and his mother as I tackled the typical 1970s fare;  Honeydew melon with a cherry on top, Steak Diane followed by Black Forest Gateau and a cheese board.

The Handcocks enjoyed a bottle of Chianti in raffia.  Despite my acute embarrassment, I managed to mind my p’s and q’s and even to use the correct cutlery (well, I was born to be a Southern Belle) as I fielded questions from Mr and Mrs Handcock

 “Andrea , your mother tell us that you play the piano. You must play something for us after dinner.” (Oh shit! My hands would sweat and slide on the keys.)

“And where do you got to school Andrea? The God Awful School? I don’t believe we know that  one.”

As I flopped into bed in their luxurious guest room (Who had those? When my grandmother visited us from the States, she had to be farmed out to a family down the road because my brothers shared a room and I had the box room.) the thought fleetingly crossed my mind that if my mother’s hunch was right – I too could one day own a house with two bathrooms and four-ply towels.

For our third and final date, Douglas took me to see ‘Airport ’75’ at the movies, where I coughed throughout the entire film. A man seated behind me tapped my shoulder and offered me two Polo mints.

“Shur-up for fuck’s sake!”

 I gagged and coughed all the way up the gangway. Douglas did the decent thing and followed me, called his dad on a public payphone and never saw me again.

This didn’t stop our parents from meeting socially from time to time, but the penny had finally dropped.

My mother was right of course; I did meet some nice friends through Douglas… and I didn’t become an accountant’s wife!

(Copyright: Andrea Burn March 20th, 2021)

                                           


nightmare on spey road

By Paul Fitzpatrick: March 2021

We’re all creatures of habit and I think it starts at an early age.

I remember my after-school routine at Primary School, it consisted of having a snack and watching a bit of tv before attempting to do any homework and waiting for my Dad to get home from work to have my tea.

This was well before my Crossroads days mind, so Miss Diane was just a twinkle in my eye back then.

The after school viewing options were all targeted at primary school children although by this stage (Primary 3) I remember thinking Andy Pandy and The Flowerpot Men were getting a bit stale and hankering for Tom & Jerry which was shown a bit later.

The post-school programmes I remember watching from this era were….

 Watch with Mother – Andy Pandy and The Flowerpot Men, entry level stuff that was starting to get a bit tiresome.

Animal Magic – good old Johnny Morris and his hilarious talking animals

Vision On – Tony Hart and his art, we all thought he was a dull version of Rolf Harris, little did we know!

Crackerjack – on every Friday, my favourite! what you wouldn’t do for a Crackerjack pencil back then

This particular day didn’t seem much different to any other, we were learning our times-tables, I’d gagged on the lukewarm school milk as usual, I’d walked home from school with my pals as normal looking for anything we could use as a football.
On getting home I’d given my Mum a hug as she served my daily aperitif and snack, orange Creamola Foam and a Lyons chocolate cup cake, and I was ready for some well deserved R & R after another hard day at the coal face.

As I settled down to watch my daily helping of kids tv I didn’t recognise the title on our black & white DER television screen – ‘Tales from Europe’…. maybe Johnny Morris had gone to a zoo in Bavaria or perhaps Tony Hart was going to sketch Caravaggio’s gruesome – ‘Salome with the head of John the Baptist’?

Actually, what followed was a lot more traumatising than the Caravaggio masterpiece.

This is my summary of the anguish that followed, so for any of you that forget the actual storyline of this gruesome fairy-tale, here it is, in all its macabre glory….

It all started off well enough with a fanfare and a handsome Prince on a horse.

He was on his way to a big castle to sweep a beautiful Princess off her feet and to ask for her hand in marriage – a classic start, this looked promising.

The Princess wasn’t for sweeping though, and it turned out she was a bit of a brat, cascading the pearls he had gifted her to the floor she demanded a grand gesture, not expensive trinkets – “The Singing Ringing Tree – Bring it to me!”

The Kings court thought this was hilarious, she was sending the poor guy on a wild goose chase, but undeterred and in true fairy-tale fashion the Prince was determined to win her hand and off he went to fairyland to find the novelty tree.

So far so good, but then 10 minutes in, a dwarf appears, scuttling around, stalking the Prince and looking a bit menacing.

Now you have to remember, any experiences of small people in my young life up till now have been pretty positive, the fun-filled dwarves in Snow White, the playful munchkins in The Wizard of Oz, the vertically challenged Tom Thumb and all the fairytale Elves and Pixies.
And not forgetting of course my favourite little fella – Jimmy Clitheroe, a 4ft 2in comic genius.

Charming little guys, the lot of them – so nothing to be scared of here.

But there was something instantly menacing about this little guy, he didn’t appear very friendly, plus he had magical powers which was a bit disconcerting.
Jimmy Clitheroe was cool, but he couldn’t turn a horse into a concrete statue by waving his hands.

The Prince being a bit giddy makes a deal with the dwarf – if the dwarf gives him the tree he will ensure the Princess falls in love with him by sunset, enabling the tree to truly sing and ring.
If he doesn’t achieve this, he will gladly let the dwarf turn him into a bear, yes you read it correctly – A Bear!

And he actually volunteered this forfeit himself!
Not the brightest Prince – too much in-breeding obviously…

Off the Prince trots, back to the castle, tree in hand to present it to his betrothed, only she’s not very impressed, with either the tree (it’s not very special for a magic tree to be fair) or the fact that it’s not singing or ringing.
When Princey says it’s up to her to make the tree perform by showing the love, she goes full-blown Mariah Carey on his ass and kicks him out of the castle for a second time, in a tumultuous diva meltdown.

Being the fickle sort however she decides a few hours later she does want the tree after all and manipulates her father the King to go in search of it. (daughters twisting Dad’s round their little fingers – who’d have thought!)

By this point the handsome Prince has been turned into Yogi Bear and the dwarf is now openly mocking the Prince, suggesting he should try courting the Princess as a bear.

Not best pleased ‘The Bear formerly known as Prince’ confronts the King who’s come to Fairyland to claim the tree for his disgrace of a daughter and makes a deal with him.

The King can take the tree back to the castle as long as the bear takes ownership of the first person the King meets when he gets there (oh I wonder who that will be???).
The King agrees.

The impatient Princess waiting for his return sees her father coming back to the castle in the distance, shoves the footmen down the stairs, trips up her maid, kicks the dog out the way and guess what – is first there to greet her father in order to get her tree.

To say she’s not best pleased to hear the deal Daddy made to get the tree is an understatement and she persuades him to send the Captain of the guard instead of her, to kill the bear.

Great plan except this bear is indeed smarter than the average bear, and now he’s really pissed off, so he kidnaps the princess, avec tree, and takes her back to Fairyland (which if you’re wondering is quite close to Anniesland).

Then for no reason other than to demonstrate Eastern Bloc special effects in 1957 a giant goldfish appears in a lake and the Princess true to form acts all diva-like, enabling the dwarf to change her appearance to match her distasteful personality.
Bizarrely he gives her green hair, and she now looks like Billie Eilish.

Distraught at her appearance the Bear tells her she’ll need to change her ways to regain her beauty, so, stripped of her privileges and looks, she starts to become a nicer, more gracious person – she’s kind to animals, particularly the goldfish and a random giant reindeer who appears in a snowstorm and she’s even nice to Yogi now.

Through being charitable and thoughtful, the Princess magically regains her beauty and comes back looking a bit like Holly Willoughby.

But just when things are looking up, she encounters the dwarf for the first time who’s a bit pissed off that kindness and compassion are alive and well in his kingdom.
He tries to poison her mind against the bear, but to no avail, she professes her love for the bear.

Cue the singing ringing tree which is now singing and ringing to its little hearts content.

The dwarf ain’t having any of this though and duly creates a ring of fire around the tree, (sadly, without the accompanying Johnny Cash soundtrack).
Undeterred the Princess channels her inner Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains and walks through the tinfoil, ahem flames, to embrace the tree, and by doing so, expels the Dwarves powers, which sends him plummeting underground (we’re assuming to the big fire).

All smiley and in love she duly jumps onto the back of the horse with the Prince who’s cast aside his bearish charms and now looks like Phillip Schofield and they ride off into the sunset together to host This Morning (except for Fridays).

Now as crazy as this all sounds, unless Mum sneakily infused some magic mushrooms into my cupcake (and I wouldn’t rule it out, I used to be given whisky for toothache!) then that’s what went down, I know this to be true, because I have YouTube and Google.

It all sounds very silly so why did it traumatise so many of us?

Well like I said we were used to little people being charming and friendly so the fact that this little imp was so nasty, and evil was kind of a game changer.

Also, he had no ulterior motives, he was just f*cking with everyone for the sake of it and the irrationality of this was bemusing to an 8-year-old in a world where everything kind of happened for a reason.

The show lasted for 72 minutes but was serialised in 3 episodes to ensure that children everywhere had three sleepless weeks instead of just the one.

I can vividly remember being freaked out by the little guy, had he really been killed off like the Wicked Witch of the West, who had evaporated into a kale smoothie at the touch of water, or could he come back to torment us?


That’s what kept me awake, that’s what made me continually check my cupboards and under the bed, and up in the loft – that’s what gave me the frickin’ heebie-jeebies!  

Like most of us I’ve watched thousands of hours of tv (the average in a lifetime is 78,000 hours apparently) and there are certain things you never forget –

Bowie’s first appearance on TOTP

The ending in The Sopranos

Basil thrashing the car in Fawlty Towers

Archie Gemmill’s goal v Holland in 1978

And I would have to add this show and the evil dwarf to the list as it’s been burned into my psyche since I saw it. 55 years ago.

As Rita Cruikshank rightly says – “you never forget trauma”

school daze

(Post by Andrea Grace Burn of East Yorkshire – February 2021)

Andrea, aged ten, in Virginia.

Born and raised in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the early 1960s, I was on course to to live an all-American, Appalchian, apple-pie life with high school, hot dogs and homecoming queens; catching lightening bugs and eating watermellon on the back porch steps on humid, languid summer evenings and dodging icicles under the eaves that could take your eye out in winter. At the age of ten I knew that I would become a cheerleader with the high school football team, the Virginia Bearcats, and that one day my prom date would ‘look sharp’ in a plaid jacket, tan slacks with a crease, Brylcreem-ed hair and be called Brad.

My older brothers and I had idyllic, secure, happy childhoods with Mom and Dad, Friends, Good Neighbours, School, Church and the Great Outdoors; where we played with our ‘dawg’, climbed trees, skinned our knees and didn’t come home until Mother called, “Suppertime!” Life was good.

A bizarre twist of fate catapulted us into a grey 1930s semi in a cul-de-sac on the edge of the Black Country in Birmingham – Britian’s industrial heartland – in the autumn of 1970; just in time for three-day weeks, a national bread shortage and homework by candlelight. Like Dorothy Gale, I knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore.

On the Trail of The Lonesome Pine: from this, The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia …
… to this – The Bull Ring Shopping Centre, Birmingham in the Seventies.

I failed the Eleven Plus as soon as we landed and was thus despatched to the God Awful School. Where I came from, money was in decimal units of ten, which made perfect ‘cents’. I sat at my wooden school desk in Maths at the ‘thick’ table faced with counting apparatus in units of twelve; pounds, shillings and pence. It was completely alien – what on earth a Threepenny-Bit? Halfpenny? Farthing? Half-a-crown? Ten-Bob? Two-and-six?

I was an alien in every sense – culturally and linguistically. I also had an exaggerated squint, which didn’t help the kids take to me straight away.

“Oi! What ch’ow lookin’ at Scarbra – me or the f***ing wall? (A regular playground chant as my surname was Scarboro.)

The Brummy accent and local idyioms were confounding, as exemplified by a large boy who farted a lot and sat with one foot under his backside on his classroom chair:

‘Sir! Sir! Can I goo? Can I goo to the toylit? Sir! Oi’m des –p – rit!”’

My mother would have said he was ‘vulgar’, for back in Virginia I was only allowed to use toilet words in the bathroom. If caught short in public, it was referred to in hushed tones as the restroom.

A group of boys with short trousers would regularly form a circle around me in the playground:

“Speak American.”

“I am.”

“Naw yam not – not loike on the tele. Goo on – I dare yer.”

“Who d’yow support?”

“Say what?”

“Who d’yow support?”

“What d’ya mean? My dad supports me.”

“Am yow yampee Bab? Yow know, loike the  Villa”?

“Villa? What’s a Villa?”

 “The Villa football tame!  Villa! Villa! Villa!”

I wondered whether the Villa had cheerleaders?

********

I was an instant hit with the gang of girls who terrorised the Lower School playground and corridors, led by Lisa Wentworth and Cheryl Cross:

“Yam dead, Scarbra!”

“Yea, dead! Yam gunna get it afta school!”

“Why d’ yow sit with yam knees apart? Slag.”

(I’m sure I kept my knees together at all times like my Southern Mama had taught me – and what was that word again?)

“Oi! Teacher’s Pet! Yam a scrubber, yam am!” I ran the gauntlet between lessons, ducking in and out of classroom doorways.

********

Miss Fanshaw, my French teacher, had a terrible time with Form 3B. The kids couldn’t care less about learning French (always useful on the cusp between Halesowen and Dudley). They would stand on their desks throwing rulers, shouting and swearing. Miss Fanshaw had no control over the class and no hope of ever achieving any. Sometimes she refused to enter the classroom at all, as missiles were launched towards the black board.  It became sport to goad her until we could see the veins in her neck bulge in the (vain) hope that one might actually pop. We watched her run along the corridor in tears to fetch the Head Master, who would come down to our form room with his cane. The same boys and girls were hauled out and thrashed daily but it had no effect. These were tough kids, from tough backgrounds who didn’t expect to finish school anyway. To be fair, all I remember of Science was singing the ‘Monster Mash’ around  the Bunsen burner with Caz and Julie,

“I was working in the lab, late one night.”

Andrea, aged 14, at school in Birmingham.

I witnessed a school fight once between Rachel and Jack on our way to Geography in the Fourth Year. They were flirting and playfully pushing each other until Rachel got accidentally pushed down a flight of concrete steps and broke her front tooth; whereupon her mother filed a complaint with the police against Jack and it ended up in the Juvenile Court. I had witnessed the whole thing and was prepared to say that it was not entirely Jack’s fault; they were as bad as each other.

 My statement at the Juvenile Court prevented Jack from being sent to Borstal. His parents held my hand with tears streaming down their faces.  Rachel’s mother sent me to Coventry.  While Dad and I were at the Court House we were evacuated by an IRA bomb threat. Dad was proud of me for “standing up for the truth, justice and the American way”.

“But Dad  – we’re in the West Midlands.”

“What the hell difference does that matter, kid?”

Sitting on the upper deck of the Number Nine bus on the way home, as we swung past the Bull Ring Market and the Rotunda, Dad wiped away tears of pride mingled with relief that we hadn’t been blown up.

Most of the kids at school left at fifteen to work because they could. Jobs were plentiful in Birmingham’s car factories so most of the boys walked straight into apprenticeships, where they donned ovealls over their flares and traded platform shoes for steel-cap boots. Caz and Julie traipsed into typing pools with Farrah Fawcette flicks perfected on their mum’s Carmen Rollers and a hint of Charlie.  I wanted an education and had the audacity to think that I could get one.  I got three O’Levels: two in English and one in History. Well, Dad was a History teacher!

The most impressive thing I learnt at school was that my Spanish teacher was friends with Ralph McTell. And I will never again wear big brown knickers after years of torment from the boys on the hockey pitch:

“Oi Scarbra! Did yow fall in a cow pat or ‘ave yam shat yamself?”

A few years ago I saw a headline splashed across a tabloid newspaper about my old God Awful School; its reputation had finally hit the headlines:

‘SEX, DRUGS AND ALCHOHOL’

… the only thing missing was Rock n’ Roll.

********

Ironically, thirty years later when I was teaching Primary School, I became the Sex Education and Drug Awareness Co-Ordinator. 

Oh yeah – here’s one for the boys in the playground: a few years later, when I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar, I met Villa football player Andy Gray.

Villa! Villa! Villa!

(Copyright: Andrea Burn 27/02.21)

frankie & johnny.

(Post by John Allan, from Bridgetown, Western Australia – February 2021)

Frankie and Johnny were sweethearts

Oh, what a couple in love

Frankie was loyal to Johnny

Just as true as the stars above

I’m sure my mother’s taunting of this verse was not meant as a homophobic slur. We hadn’t invented homophobes back then. I think she just thought the pairing of names of her third born and the wee boy across the road was cute and had an air of innocence about it.

I was 2 when we moved into our newly built semi detached house in the quiet suburbs of Bearsden although I have no recollection of that. My first memories were of sitting staring out at the new builds across the road – a carbon copy of ours and the 6 houses at our end of the street.

My second memory was going, with my Mum, to visit the new occupants from across the road. The elderly Mrs. P and her next door neighbour the younger Mrs. A with her 2 offspring were in attendance. Mrs. P ushered Frankie, his sister Susan and myself into the kitchen and perched us on high chairs in the kitchen at various work surfaces, plastic mugs of cordial in hand. We nervously looked  at each other, the floor, the ceiling, the kettle until little Susie burst into tears and rushed into her mothers arms in the living room. A few more minutes passed, more nervous glances then Frankie cracked and retreated next door. “That went well” I said to the kettle before giving it a few more minutes before joining the throng.

Frankie was one month older than me and we became best friends and rivals firstly at Bearsden Primary, a miles walk away (who let’s 5 year olds walk alone or even in pairs these days) then at Castlehill Primary virtually on our doorstep.

I went on holiday to Arran with his family and slept 3 in a bed head to toe with little Susie making up the trio.

I witnessed the births of his 2 younger siblings when they returned home (I didn’t actually see them popping out obviously) though I did witness their breast feeding with feelings of wonder mixed with ‘should I be watching this’. We’re talking the 60s here !

The woods at the back of Frankie’s house was our playground and tree climbing with our boy dollies (I had Action Man, Frankie the inferior GI Joe) was the game, or dare. We were always competitive. Frankie always had the bottle to reach the higher branches until GI Joe slipped from his grasp and plummeted to the ground. The sight of Joe’s head and arms spring into his chest like a frightened turtle was quite harrowing for 7 year old boys. Action Man lived on. We were always competitive

One summer a group of us somehow acquired boxing gloves. Stripped to the waste sparring on the front lawn led to an all out slog-fest and Frankie got me a good one (below the belt I might add). I of course burst into tears and retaliated with a similar blow to the solar plexus only to discover with my head down and eyes full of tears and snot I’d punched Knut an innocent Swede and bystander. I have to say I have never laid a hand on any Scandinavian since ! We were always competitive.

We were a curious couple with an interest in how things worked. Our houses had light switches both down and up for the stair lights. I wondered what would happen if both switches were engaged simultaneously. I also convinced Frankie that his place should be the venue for our experiment.

Before I continue, I learnt early on that you should always get on the good side of your friend’s mothers. Always polite and servile even obsequious – the cute kid from across the road. It’s served me well in later life with dinner ladies, cleaners, tea ladies and the like. I’ve greatly benefited from these woman and have seen the wrath of these people if crossed.

So with Frankie upstairs and me down, “1.2.3” click click. “1.2.3.” click click “1.2.3.” click BOOM !

“I think it’s time for you to go home John, love”

“FRANKLIN !!”

The 50s and 60s brought many new products including melamine cups –  a hard unbreakable plastic material (or was it ?) Keen to show off his mothers new tableware, Frankie dropped a cup from shoulder height onto the linoleum kitchen floor were it bounced a few times before resting on the floor intact. He repeated the action with arm stretched above his head and exerting a bit of force. Same result. Further experimentation was needed. We headed upstairs to his parents bedroom, opened the window and let the tumbler drop to the crazy paving below. Still intact.

One more go. Frankie leaned out the window, I held his legs and with all his strength he hurled the cup 2 floors below. SMASH ! Hurried footsteps clattered up the stairs.

“I think it’s time for you to go home John, love”

“FRANKLIN !!”

The family A had just returned from holidaying in the Channel Isles and Frankie was keen to show me his acquisition from the return flight. A sealed sachet of English mustard. Not a common sight in those days especially in Snoresville. “If I put it in my palm and smashed it with my fist it will squeeze out everywhere” said Frankie. “Yes……or we could tell you’re wee brother it’s ice cream……….” says I.

Thump ! Splat! Aaaah  !!

“I think it’s time for you to go home John, love”

“FRANKLIN !!”

Frankie finally won our growth spurt challenge by 1st year towering over my 6 feet. We walked to school at Bearsden Academy about a mile away (who let’s 13 year olds walk alone or even in pairs these days) but our interests were taking us down different roads. Frankie joined up with the fitba’ gang were I tried my hand at basketball. In 2nd year the family moved away only about a mile down the road. We would nod in the playground if our paths crossed then school was over and they never did again.

We’re friends on social media now some 50 years on but we don’t chat. He goes by Frank, me John.

Maybe one more prank experience.

“I think it’s time for you to go home John”

“FRANKLIN !!”

teenybopper.

(Post by Andrea Grace Burn of East Yorkshire – February 2021)

 The Summer of Love in 1967 may have swept America coast to coast, but not in our house. Flower Power didn’t wash with Dad, who got uptight just thinking about the louche morals of “those goddamn hippies”. He held Mick Jagger personally responsible for the breakdown in American society, along with Elvis Presley and his snake hips.

As men landed on the moon, Vietnam raged and the assassination of Martin Luther King rocked the nation, Mum and Dad decided to up-sticks from our all-American life and seek a better one in Jolly Olde England. Without so much as a by-your-leave they boarded a plane with me, aged ten, and my two teenage brothers.  We touched down in Birmingham, West Midlands in the autumn of 1970, for our new life as Brummies.

1970s Birmingham was an exciting place to be a teenager, especially having lived in rural Virginia, where the most exciting thing that happened was the time a bull escaped from a farmer’s field and charged up State Street.

       I discovered Glam Rock and boys at the local church Youth Club disco in 1974, wearing a tank top with flares and strawberry flavoured lip gloss.  The lads sported Oxford Bags and feather cuts as they hovered in nervous groups around the edge of the hall, before summoning the courage to sidle up to me and my group of friends: Becky, Shaz and Julie.

 Teetering on our rubber wedged platforms, we giggled wildly and closed rank in a tightly formed pack around our suede tasselled handbags; dancing in unison to ‘Tiger Feet’ and ‘Jean Jeanie’ as we feigned indifference to these “spotty oiks” and the invitation to have a shag – whatever that was.   Arm-in-arm, we stomped across the dancefloor together to the serving hatch, where the vicar was on hand to serve us with four packets of cheese and onion and bottles of Vimto. We went en mass to the toilets to apply more lippy and talk about the boys, “He never!” “He DID!” The music stopped abruptly at 9pm when the cleaning lights beamed down like search lights (as indeed they were); but not before the lads tried their luck once more with a last dance (I say this loosely) which involved various lewd moves to the chorus of ‘Hi-ho, Silver Lining’. Good job the vicar didn’t notice.

      David Cassidy stole my teenybopper heart when he was in the Partridge Family – but he wasn’t quite disco, was he? When Marc Bolan burst onto Top of the Pops in 1971 – all tight satin trousers, glitter and black eyeliner singing ‘Bang A Gong’ – Becky and I became ‘children of the revolution’ overnight and ditched David Cassidy like a brick outhouse. So fickle is Youth.

The dark church hall helped hide our blushes and the boy’s thin facial hair. Sweat dripped from the walls and trickled down the back of our Lurex jumpers, especially after getting ‘Down, Down’ to the Quo.  One of the lads finally asked Shaz for a dance:

“No ta – yam aroight Bab; yow betta dance with me mayte. I’m a bit sweatay.” He never recovered his poise – or his ‘Coo-ca-choo’

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My crush on Darryl Smith, with his David Essex bedroom eyes and dimple, went unrequited.  I watched him from afar at the disco, with girls hanging on his every word and lipstick on his big lapels.

Disclaimer! NOT Andrea.

 While space-hopping nonchalantly one afternoon along the central reservation of the dual carriage-way near my house, I spotted Darryl across the road, hanging upside down from the metal railings outside his parent’s newsagent shop.  This was my big chance! I bounced across the road, fell off the space hopper and took a spectacular nose dive. Darryl fell off his railing, helpless with laughter,
“Barmy slag!”

With tears welling, I gathered the shreds of my dignity along with my space hopper and trudged home, vowing to hate boys for ever. Becky came round and we played our precious handful of 45’s on the stereogram, chomping aniseed balls and plotting our revenge: “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet.” 


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Make-up in the ‘70s was gloriously garish.  I smeared on half-moons of iridescent green cream eye shadow and a slick of Mum’s ‘Burnt Sienna’ lipstick before offering to nip to the shops on the off-chance of running into Darryl Smith. Becky sat on the bath and watched with disdain:

“Moi mum says that if we were meant to wear moike-up, we’d be born with it on!”

“That’s rubbish,” I retorted; squeezing a blackhead in the mirror, “My mum doesn’t make a move until she’d plucked and tweezed and slapped half-a-ton of pan-cake foundation on her face – and two coats of lippy.”

My mother once remarked to me after recoiling at Becky’s bushy eyebrows;

“All that girl needs is a good pluck!”

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As my fifteenth birthday approached, I cajoled Mum and Dad into letting me have a teenage party. At the church disco, Becky and I got up the nerve to invite some of the lads. They turned up with a handful of warm beers shoved in their socks. Dad was on patrol – even sprucing up for the occasion with a clean undershirt and a dab of Brylcreem. My Southern Belle mother retired upstairs in her blue quilted dressing gown, taking the small black and white rented TV and the dog with her. Setting up a couple of Watney’s party barrels in the kitchen to make lemonade shandies, Dad took charge of the bar for the night; shrewdly frisking the boys at the door in his usual, friendly American manner.

“Hey boys – what-cha got there? I’ll just take those and put ’em on the bar. Better take it easy.”

Andrea in 15th Birthday party gear.


Becky and I compiled a playlist of singles with a mix of fast records for dancing and slow ones for snogging: ‘Kung-Foo Fighting’ by Carol Douglas; ‘The Bump’ by Kenny and Minnie Ripperton’s ‘Lovin’ You’.  One record really pissed Dad off: 10cc’s ‘Wall Street Shuffle’. I played it one morning at breakfast, sparking an almighty row as I sang along glibly through my cornflakes … to the part where they mention screwing.

“Andrea – turn that Dadgum trash off!”

“Oh Dad – you’re so square!”

As the party got underway one of the boys turned the overhead light off in the back room, where several teenaged kids groped and snogged on Mum’s precious velvet sofa, behind the door and in the dark recess of the alcove behind the cheese plant.  Dad – sensing ‘trouble’ – stepped lively and flipped the light switch on in a haze of Old Spice.

“Hey kids – kind-a dark in here – can’t see what we’re doin’… puttin’ the lite bub on.”

There were tuts and groans as the lads filed back into the kitchen for one last flat pint before leaving; nobody would ‘pull’ tonight. I was mortified, yet quietly relieved to have reached my fifteenth in-tacto.

Mum came down after it was all over; gliding into the living room in her blue quilted robe. There was no evidence that the ‘lite bub’ had been switched off or that her velvet sofa had been debauched.

(Copyright: Andrea Burn , February 2021)

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Andrea Grace Burn is an Anglo / American writer, comic, storyteller & broadcaster.

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