Category Archives: Life

Write Enough

John Allan: May 2023

I was going into town the other day and Mrs A asked me if I could pick up a few things from the supermarket. She reeled off a few items. I quickly wrote them down on a list and headed off on my merry way.

When in the shop I retrieved my list and thought why has a drunken spider crawled across this piece of paper. I never was much of a calligrapher but even Robert Langdon from The Da Vinci Code couldn’t decipher these illegible scribbles.

It made the Rosetta Stone read like The Very Hungry Caterpillar !

To think of the hours spent in primary school trying to obtain the perfect shape and size of your consonants and vowels. Trying not to go above or below the lined paper Aa, Bb, Cc. The concentration intense as you gripped your HB pencil as your tongue protruded from the corner of your mouth. Sometimes glancing at the top corner of your desk wondering if the ink well will indeed be full of ink one day.
No those days had gone.

Did you know HB stood for hard black ?
No, me neither.

A little aside.
Some decades later I found myself nurse in charge of the Urology ward at the Royal Perth Hospital one morning awaiting the Doctor’s round. There had been an emergency admission overnight straight from theatres.
A gentlemen had decided to insert a foreign body into his urethra. One pencil HB underlined as per the theatre notes. With all the consultants, registrars and resident doctors assembled we were about to enter the patient’s room when I quietly announced Let’s see how Mr Squiggle is this morning. The whole entourage hastily retreated from the room barely able to conceal the giggles.

For those of you unfamiliar with Australian children’s TV characters of the fifties, sixties and seventies, Mr Squiggle was a well loved puppet with a pencil for a nose.
Cruel perhaps but don’t stick things up your penis !

I digress.

At some point in my young academic life I was presented with a boxed pen and pencil set from some generous aunt. Not a wooden pencil with a chewed end or a plastic BIC. A proper fountain pen and retractable pencil which you pushed the end of only for the graphite centre to come flying out and splinter into pieces on the floor.

This of course merited a thank you letter written with that very pen. Out came the best Basildon Bond with the lined paper guide placed behind the flimsy sheet and the blotting paper to hand. What inevitably resulted was a mix of hieroglyphics by a startled octopus and a Rorschach test.

Writing with a fountain isn’t easy. I still do occasionally and still come out looking like I’ve been finger printed and released on bail.

I used to dread writing the obligatory postcards to my parents. On my return from whatever sojourn, after the had a good trip ? my own postcard would be handed back to me with corrections to spelling and grammar highlighted in red from my English teacher father. I eventually replied ‘Weather here, wish you were beautiful‘ to any further correspondence.

Airmail was also a hassle. You’d start the story of your adventures thus far and soon realise you still had a lot to say and had used about half the allotted space. You would then, in microscopic font, continue along the sides and along the top.
The trouble was if the recipient was a bit gung-ho in letter opening and had not used a fresh razor blade they may have missed an important part of your message such as Kidnapped by the rebels. Please send ransom !

You could always relate your tales from your pocket sized diary with the small pencil concealed in the spine. Good to pull out in restaurants pretending you are a food critic and hoping for a reduction in the bill. Well that’s in a life before every one whipped out their mobiles to take selfies of their food.

To think that all these once vital tools were once locked away in a special vault called the stationary cupboard in offices throughout the land. That you were at the mercy of the one and only key holder who you had to promise to donate a major organ to to cross that hallowed entrance. Such power.

I wonder if hand writing experts or graphologists will become a dying trade ?

Will the English language give way to communication in emojis only ?

Mean while, I will continue typing away with my two index fingers deleting and backspacing as I go pondering the thought of the human hand evolving into fused flipper like fingers and extended thumbs.

I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in’

–Robert Louis Stevenson

(Post by John Allan from Bridgetown, Western Australia, May 2023)

Watch Me Now!

Growing up in The ‘70s, the lives of us blokes, to a great extent, were defined by likes of: friends; school; sport; fashion; hair-styles; music, girlfriends and dancing – the latter two often being inter-related.

From the day in First Year of Secondary school when we learned our PE class had been cancelled but we still had to report to the gym for ‘Social Dancing Practice,’ to the day we strutted our Funky Stuff at the city centre disco seven years later, dancing formed an integral part of our lives and impressing the opposite sex.

In our early teens, when it came to ‘popular’ dancing as our teachers called it, it was the girls who undoubtably displayed a more natural sense of rhythm. Most of us lads had only a very conservative and reluctant shuffle in our locker. Fearing ridicule from our pals should we display anything considered even slightly flamboyant, it’s fair to say the handbags of our suitably unimpressed partners probably moved more on the dancefloor than we did .

Help was at hand though.

1974: the year my peers and I turned sixteen. We were still self-conscious and awkward (oh … so just me then?) but the raging hormones that now coursed through our bodies over-rode the fear factor, and, supplemented by two or three cans of Carlsberg Special Brew, we were ready to dazzle!

Thumbs in belt loops ? Ready with those high kicks? All right fellas, let’s go!

Check this out, girls!

Yeah – Glam Rock was our, okay – my dancing saviour. No longer need I worry about creating some spectacular, personalised choreography. The pressure was off – Mud had given me a routine, which would /was / still is adapted for pretty much every chart record played at any future disco. Later, towards the end of that year, Kenny would kindly gave us (me) a second ‘add alcohol and serve’ instant, no-thought-required dance with which to woo my intended.

‘Hashtag fail,’ I believe is the expression used these days! Oh well.

Of course, set dance moves to popular music were nothing new. Throughout the Sixties, there had been a plethora, The Twist; The Madison and The Locomotion amongst them. And then in 1972, just in time for my first family holiday abroad, came the ‘Mums’ Favourite’ that was played to death across the Costa Dorada and latterly the UK.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only fourteen-year-old boy to be dragged up onto the dancefloor at every wedding / party / holiday disco attended with their parents over the next few years.

I realised very quickly though, this was definitely not the route to attracting a girl of my age, and so ‘Tiger Feet,’ (which could easily be adapted for any Status Quo song) became my go-to routine, pretty much until the time I left school in August 1976.

I was by then eighteen years of age– old enough to gain entry to the discotheques of Glasgow. The White Elephant was the preferred choice of my pals and I.

Sadly, the music on offer in the latter half of 1976, was pretty dire. I mean, you go to a disco and are expected to dance to Chicago’s ‘If You Leave Me Now.’ Or ‘Love and Affection,’ by Joan Armatrading?  Even Mud had slowed things down by December, their hit then being a cover of Bill Withers’Lean on Me.

Who has ‘moves’ for those type of songs, I ask you?

Thank goodness for Showaddywaddy and ‘Under The Moon Of Love.’ I could just about get away with an adaptation of the ‘thumb in belt loop’ and circular walk routine. Just about …

In December of that year though, I found my dancing niche. Punk had arrived; pogo dancing was the future! Even I couldn’t go wrong. I may have looked more stupid than awkward now, but I didn’t caaaaaare.

Damn, I was good! But ultimately unimpressive – seems Glasgow girls are less won over by a wee short-arse jumping high in the air than are the Kenyan women from the Maasai tribe.

Buoyed by my new found proficiency,  I would spend many a Sunday afternoon over the next few years at my pal’s house, blasting some old Rockabilly tunes on his huge Pioneer sound system and perfecting my Bopping moves.

Wow! Were the girls gonna love this?!

Errr … no was the answer. Again. I guess there’s a reason why blokes always dance The Bop alone.

Not to worry. As with trends in music, so another dance fad would be along shortly. And just before the turn of the decade, the 2Tone and Stiff Record labels introduced me to the sounds of Madness, The Specials, The Selecter and The Beat. There were new dances to learn; dances that would have the girls falling at my happy feet.

I taught myself to skank; I taught myself The Nutty Boys Dance.

Nope – that didn’t work either. Sheesh! This was hard work.

In 1980 though, on the lekking display ground of a French disco, I met Diane, my wife of now over forty years. I’d definitely had a good few too many bottles of Kronenbourg, my inhibitions still trying unsuccessfully to find their way home.

Diane too had undoubtedly partaken of several Cointreau and lemonades, because she was apparently taken with my dancing to this – a French hit of the time, now used by Apple to help advertise the latest iPhone 14.  

Somewhat ironically, our relationship was further strengthened over the next twelve months by my obvious prowess at ‘sit on yer arse dancing’ to The Gap Band (abs of steel, me) and the inane Birdie Song.

I’d cracked it! – which just proves you don’t have to be cool to be cool!

Sometimes a boy can try too hard, you know.

(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson from Glasgow – April 2023)

THE WAITING GAME.

“What are you doing, dear?” my Mum asked upon seeing me sat on the living room floor while my pals played out on the street.

“I’m going to watch Thunderbirds.”

“You’re a bit early – it’s not on for another ten minutes.”

“I know – but I’m waiting for the television to warm up.”

This would have been the mid to late Sixties, and our temperamental  14” black and white TV set behaved like a reluctant old dog being forced out for a walk on a windy and wet winter’s day. Grudgingly, it would eventually do what was asked of it, but not without putting up an obstinate fight.

At nine or ten years old, I just went with it. This was the way things were. ‘Instant’ was a word only just creeping into my vocabulary – mainly because my Mum persisted in serving up the disgusting, powdered, butterscotch or strawberry ‘Instant Whip’ for our evening meal dessert.

Butterscotch Instrant Whip

That television experience, though, taught me the virtue of patience at a very early age. You know: ‘good things come to those that wait,’ and all that. It stood me in good stead for my early teen years in the Seventies.

For instance, when I first started going to gigs (1973) I‘d turn up at the venue, usually The Apollo, a few weeks before the show and queue up for tickets. Concerts by the popular bands of the day, invariably meant queues for tickets would form well before the Box Office opened. Like hundreds of other kids, I’d happily wait in the rain (it was always raining in Glasgow in the Seventies) my loons becoming progressively more saturated from the top of my platform shoes up to my crotch. But the shared anticipation of seeing our heroes perform and the communal spirit that engendered made the waiting worthwhile. The wait heightened anticipation.

Overnight queue at The Apollo, Glasgow.

Not like today when any prospective gig-goer logs in to some online Ticket Agency from the comfort of their home and then makes a contactless card payment for some inordinate amount of money for a show in perhaps eleven months’ time.

Letters. We were quite happy to wait a couple of weeks for replies. Maybe, as an alternative to queuing up at The Apollo, we’d send a postal order and S.A.E. to the Ticket Office and hope upon hope we were successful in our application. Again, the wait heightened the anticipation.

Airmail envelopes for our pen pals.

Remember ‘pen-friends?’ Cub Scout and Brownie packs readily promoted the concept; comics and magazines also carried adverts from kids living in what were to us, strange and exotic places the world over. They would ask we write to them, and if Kenji from Tokyo hadn’t outgrown the notion of having a ‘pen friend’ from the UK by the time your letter arrived, then you might receive a reply some many weeks down the line.

On the other hand with no reply forthcoming, you eventually realised Kenji was just a timewaster. At least though, you’d had twelve weeks of excitedly greeting the postman at your door in the hope he brought news from the Far East. If nothing else, at least the wait heightened anticipation for a while.

We’d also happily wait till the following Saturday teatime for the latest episode of Batman – same Bat time ; same Bat channel. Not like today, when we can binge on series Box Sets streamed instantaneously into our homes or mobile device.

Best tv show of The Sixties / Seventies

We’d wait keenly on the sound of the ice cream van chimes – mentally salivating at the thought of a couple Bazooka Joes, a bag of Salt ’n ’Vinegar crisps and if the ‘icey’ was in benevolent mood, some free broken biscuits.

In those days, Time was not pressing; the wait was expected and accepted.

Now, everything is pretty much instant – or close to. We want something? It’s available at the flick of a switch or press of a button.

There are though, some instances where the trend is completely skewed; instances where what used to be quick and efficient are now unnecessarily burdened by delay. Rather than the wait building anticipation, it has now become a source of angst.

In The Seventies, getting an appointment with your doctor was pretty quick. Now …?

In The Seventies, if your favourite top division football team scored a peach of a goal, you could celebrate instantly as the ball crossed the line. Now …?

Aaaargh! VAR check!

In The Seventies, if you were stood at a bar behind some bloke ordering five pints of ‘Heavy’ for his mates, you knew, with confidence, you’d be served within the next few minutes. Now …?

Now, you’re stood behind some geezer ordering five Porn Star Cocktails for his mates. Comprising vanilla-flavoured vodka, Passoã, passion fruit juice, and lime juice, they each take five minutes to prepare and must be mixed by bar-staff with a degree in Chemical Engineering and an eye for artistic detail.

Now, that particular wait heightens agitation!

Porn Star cocktail

Maybe though, the technological advancements of the past five decades have spoilt us somewhat? Perhaps our expectations of ‘instant’ are unreasonable? Will Future’s youth appreciate the concept of patience?

You know, I have many things for which to be thankful about my life. Who’d have considered though, that for instilling an acceptance of The Wait all those years ago, a small, battered, old black and white tv set would be one of them?

(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson from Glasgow – March 2023)

(Only three songs beginning with either the word ‘Wait,’ or ‘Waiting’ entered the UK charts in the 1970s. Here’s two of them – the third, ‘Wait Until Midnight’ by Yellow Dog, is pretty crap, I’m sad to say.)


Knock! Knock! Who’s there …?

Door-to-door salesman. Photo credit: ClassicStock

I think I can say, without fear of contradiction, everyone reading this post detests the intrusion on their privacy by the various unsolicited phone-calls received each day from any number of spurious sources.

Grants for cavity wall insulation or loft insulation; claim for damage to your car in an accident that you’re totally unaware of; claim against car manufacturers for selling you a diesel model many years ago; claim against a Bank for incorrectly selling you Payment Protection Insurance in the dim and distant past – all that kind of malarky.

It does my head in, really!

It’s a regrettable consequence of progress in the field of Communication, I fear, but it was never like this back in the day.

Or was it?

Certainly, any attempt at tele-sales would have been pretty futile. Not every household had access to a telephone for a start, and those that did were interminably engaged while Mrs Jones from #10 chatted about her Bert’s lumbago to her sister on the ‘party line.’

No – in those days, the best chance of maximising sales was to get in front of the intended victim prospective customer.

‘Knock! Knock! Knock!

Oh, give me peace – who the heck is it now?

The most common, persistent and determined visitor would have been the Door-to-Door Salesman. Unlike the tele-sales staff of today, these guys were not always quite so easy to get rid of. They were not easily discouraged by a simple, “Not today, thank you,” and had a reputation for preventing the door being shut on them by sticking their foot in the way.

They would arrive, bringing all manner of items for sale, from the expensive, but miraculous, new vacuum cleaner to shoe-brushes and polish!

Vacuum cleaner salesman.

Perhaps unfairly, and possibly influenced by the image portrayed in ‘70s TV sitcoms, I recall them as sort of ‘spiv’ type characters, full of themselves … as well as an inordinate amount of BS!

In a similar vein, there was also the Insurance Salesman. He’d offer life and household insurance and would collect policy money which would be recorded in a small receipt book. A forerunner of today’s Financial Planning Consultant, his products would not be so regulated, but they were certainly a lot less complicated and confusing.

Insurance Salesman – (photo credit ClassicStock)

At the opposite end of the ‘hard sell’ scale was a visitor more eagerly welcomed by women around the country – The Avon Lady. Though it was dropped some time in The Seventies, Avon is to this day still associated with the tagline of its 1960s TV advert – ‘Ding Dong! Avon calling.’

Similarly greeted with enthusiasm and eternal hope, was the Pools Agent.

My dad and I would sit by the dining table each week, agonising whether Arbroath were likely to get an away win at Stranraer that following weekend; would Stockport County manage a draw with Workington? Get these and a few other results right, and we’d be off to sunny Spain on a family holiday next week!

Copes Pools Coupon

This was way before the days of The National Lottery and contactless card payments and the agents would walk door to door, even through the dark winter evenings, collecting cash from numerous households. In isolation, the stake monies weren’t vast, but by the end of the evening, the collectors would be weighed down with decent sums, and I’m sure presented easy targets for the neighbourhood’s ne’er-do-wells.

‘Knock! Knock! Knock!’

“What now? It’s dinner time, for goodness sake!”

I could have put my pocket money on it – an interruption at meal times invariably meant a visit by a Jehovah’s Witness or The Salvation Army. This was often a tricky one to handle for my parents. They wouldn’t want to cause any offence by sharply telling the visitors to sling their hook, but at the same time, their corned beef hash was getting cold. Sometimes, it was worth a few coppers donation just to get rid of them.

It wasn’t just hawkers and scroungers that sought our attention though. There were also those providing a service. Remember the Knife Sharpener? Here in Glasgow, the late ‘60s and early ‘70s saw a rise in knife crime, with ‘razor gangs’ terrorizing many areas of the city. Business must have been booming!

I do recall the Knife Sharpener coming down our sedate, suburban street. He always attracted a crowd of us kids watching on, fascinated.

“Look how sharp this is Mum,” we’d say after gleefully running back home with the now sparkling and shiny breadknife in our sweaty and slippery grip.

Knife sharpener

Chimney sweeps were anther essential service provider, at least in the early Sixties, but with cities in the UK moving to smokeless fuel towards the end of the decade, their visits became less and less frequent.

Others touting for business wouldn’t necessarily knock on residents’ doors. Instead, their presence would be announced by the heavy ‘clip clop’ sound of a horse’s hooves, accompanied by  the blowing  of whistles, the crashing noise of pots and pans being banged together, and the clarion call of:

“ANY OLD I-I-I-I-R-R-O-O-O-N?!”

Those were the days! The days of ‘The Scrappy.’ No need to complete an online form and pay the council fifty quid or whatever to come and take away your scrap metal some two or three weeks in the future. Just keep it by the house and every week or so, some bloke would come round and take it off your hands for free. Sometimes, he’d even pay you.

Then there was also the good old ‘Rag and Bone Man.’ He too would be assisted on his rounds by an old working horse, and would take away any old tat you had not previously foisted off on the local Boy Scouts Jumble Sale.

Add weekly / daily visits from the fish van; the baker van; the general supplies van; the ‘pop’ van; the ice cream van and the mobile library, and I have to wonder how Jeff Bezos ever managed to get his Amazon business off the ground.

So yes, it was different back in the day, but maybe not as different as we really consider. We were still bombarded by others seeking to make a living.

Certainly, it’s easier to abruptly end any unwanted discourse with those intrusive tele-sales teams of today.

But given the choice of talking to some geezer purporting to be called ‘Andrew’ from a call centre in Mumbai about extending my mobile phone contract, or feeding a sugar lump to a tired looking, flea bitten, poor old nag as its owner loads more weight to the cart it’s expected to pull, and … well I know which I prefer.

(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson from Glasgow – March 2023.)

______________

What’s In a Nickname?

Image minimised for obvious reasons – read on!

I guess it’s fair to say I’ve been called many things over my time – probably more so behind my back than to my face.

Jackie; Beaky; Ceejay; Wee Man, A few people have also referred to me as ‘Jacko,’ but their bodies lie in shallow graves in my parents’ garden.

Jackie,’ is the easiest to justify, given my surname is Jackson. This is how I was known at school, from Primary right through Secondary. Some of my teachers would even refer to me as such.

At the age of fourteen, I joined my Athletics Club – Garscube Harriers. Here, for the first time, I was mixing with lads from outwith my school and immediate locale. Here, for the first time, I was ‘re-christened.’ Two slightly older lads, started referring to me as ‘Beaky.’ The reason is plain as the nose on my face.

A bit harsh, I thought, but boy’s will be boys, I suppose.

Perhaps surprisingly, Davie and Stevie remain amongst my closest friends, fifty years down the line.

By 1977, and still within the athletics community, I was representing Bank of Scotland on the track / cross country / roads in a small team comprising runners from different clubs across the country. As the new boy, when we first met up, nobody knew me as Colin, Jackie or even Beaky. Another ‘re-branding’ was required.

The TV series ‘The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin’ first aired the previous year and had become immensely popular. The boss of main character Reggie Perrin, Charles Jefferson, was known by his initials and so, rather predicably, I (Colin Jackson) was also given this ‘Ceejay’ moniker. No matter what I did, it invariably prompted cries of:

“I didn’t get where I am today by .. not training hard / not finishing my beer / eating my breakfast“ etc, etc..

C.J. from ‘The Fall & Rise of Reginald Perrin.’

Any wishful thoughts of ‘Beaky’ being completely replaced by ‘Ceejay’ were quickly dashed, however. Although it didn’t become a chart hit until January 1980 when it reached #5, THIS was initially released as a vinyl single in 1977, and as I recall, played most days by the Noel Edmonds Breakfast Show on Radio 1.

Captain Beaky.

This, of course, was manna from heaven to Davie and Stevie (the bastards!)

Ah well – as Primal Scream would sing many years later ‘Don’t Fight It – Feel It.’  I now answered to: Colin to my family; Jackie to my old, school friends; Beaky to my athletics club and Ceejay to most anybody else.

The latter two remain the most used today.

Anyway, all this got me thinking how generally DULL and lazy we were with regard to nicknames at school.

In most cases, a Christian or surname would simply be elongated by adding a ‘y.’ ‘Burnsy,’ for instance. ‘Smithy.’ ‘Jonesy.

Obviously, this method can’t be deployed in all instances, and there were occasions when a surname required shortening before the ‘dropped letters’ could be replaced with the ‘y.’

Cruickshank would become ‘Cruiky’; Gilmour, ‘Gilly.’ Your blog co-host Paul Fitzpatrick became ‘Fitzy,’ and of course I became known as ‘Jackie.’

(Yeah, I know … obstreperous and cantankerous little sod, I was. Punk before ‘Punk.’ I insisted in ‘ie’ being added rather than ‘y’ because I didn’t want to carry a girl’s name like the singer of the 1968 chart hit and theme tune to the children’s TV programme, ‘White Horses.’ It was only a few years ago that I learned ‘Jacky’ as she was known on that song, was actually named Jackie Lee. I wasn’t quite the smart-ass little punk I thought I was, as it turned out.)

(Any excuse … I still love this song, soppy old git that I am!)

Some nicknames were inevitably attributed to appearance. I can’t remember any being too unkind – and I’d have to say that in the vast majority of cases, a kid was given a nickname only because they were liked. That said, although we had a ‘Speedy’ who was a very fast and very good football player, we also had a ‘Tubby’ and ‘Jumbo,’ both of whom would play either as goalkeeper or formidable centre half.

There was also a ‘Teeny’ – slightly smaller than myself and, bordering on the cruel side, a ‘Lugsy.’ And a ‘Mouse.

Then there was another lad called Colin who was deemed to look like a Mexican and carried the name ‘Mex’ at least until the day he left school. It was all pretty much straight forward and sadly lacking invention.

When I was a kid I loved reading the ‘Jennings and Darbyshire’ series of books. These boarding school kids knew how to contrive a decent nickname. Sharing Dorm 4 with them was a boy named Charles A Temple. Using schoolboy logic, they took his initials to form CAT. This they changed by association, to DOG. That somehow became DOGSBODY which was then abbreviated to BOD.

And this was how he became known. Simple, really!

The only boy I recall having a manufactured nickname as such, was my pal Derek.

 When playing football in the Primary School playground in the late Sixties, we’d all pick teams we’d imagine playing for. While most kids would go for Rangers / Celtic / Partick Thistle etc, Derek and I opted for Blackpool! Not so much for the fact they’d had some world class players over the years (Matthews, Mortensen and Armfield to name a few) but because we believed Blackpool was a town associated with attractive, scantily clad showgirls … snigger, snigger! (Hey, we were nine / ten years old – cut us some slack, eh?)

I could see myself as the next Tony Green and Derek was Henry Mowbray.

Derek to Henry. In the mind of a child, it all made perfect sense For the remaining  seven years of his school life and beyond, he would be known as Henry. Which kind of puzzled and freaked-out his parents in equal measure.

BLACKPOOL FC – 1968 / 69
Henry Mowbray, far right, middle row

Now, maybe I’m wrong with this, and I’m happy to be corrected, but the giving of nicknames was mainly a boy thing. I’m aware of only one girl in our school being afforded one … and that wasn’t until Sixth Year, when we were all about seventeen / eighteen years old.

Marian joined our school from one we believed, a bit more exclusive than ours, when her parents moved into a very affluent area of the town. To preserve relative anonymity, I’ll not divulge too much. It’s sufficient to say she was of an ‘arty’ nature, very talented in that field, and also very attractive. She had a, let’s say, ‘zany’ demeanour. In the Sixties she’d have been described as a ‘free spirit.’ Nowadays, she’d be ‘extrovert.’

This was the Seventies though, and we just regarded her as a loveable hippie ‘loony!’ An amalgam of Seventies Kate Bush and Eighties Bjork, perhaps.

She was known as ‘Mad Marian.’ It was badge she accepted with pride, I think.

The only other girl I know to be given a nickname is Kate Pye. You may actually know her -she was, still is, in Class 2B – of Bash Street School. For some reason, she’s known as ‘Toots.’ Her twin Sidney is just plain old young Sidney.)

Toots from The Bash Street Kids

Of the seven kids featured as being in this ‘gang’ only Toots and two others were called by nicknames. And Toots is the only one to retain her moniker. It seems writers and publishers alike feared a backlash from the Woke Brigade (were they a rival school gang?) and in 2021 re-named ‘Fatty’ as Freddie, and ‘Spotty’ as Scotty.

(Plug, was given this name, not as I’d always considered, because of his unattractive, OK, ugly, looks. Apparently, when he was briefly awarded the recognition of a whole comic in his own name in 1977, it was revealed that his full name was Percival Proudfoot Plugsey.)

Believe that if you will … I sense some very early back-pedaling here.

Fatty
Spotty
Plug

Teachers, of course, were fair game.

We had two brothers who taught at our school. Both had prominent noses, so shared the endearing name of ‘Pin.’ And rather appropriately, as a means of distinguishing between them, the Art teacher was referred to as ‘Drawing Pin.’

We also had a ‘Pancho ‘(what was it with the Mexican look in our wee town?); a ‘Horsey’ (girls’ Sports teacher); ‘Boot’ (boys’ Sports teacher); Numph – I have no idea where that came from, but boy, could he dish out the belt! There was also an elderly English teacher called Mr Lyle, who was affectionately known as ‘Papa’ Lyle.

_____

It’s been a pleasant surprise to recall just how generally kind and inoffensive most nicknames have been, in my experience.

A nickname is fun, and while it may emanate from and focus upon a physical or personality trait, it’s often simply a kind and gentle representation of someone’s character. It changes nothing. Not normally.

Credit to Papa Lyle, in Sixth Year English class, for highlighting the following idea from that Shakespeare dude’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’:

“What’s in a (nick)name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.”

___________________

(Post by Colin ‘Jackie Beaky Ceejay’ Jackson from Glasgow – December 2022)

Career Expectations in 60s & 70s

Russ Stewart: London, December 2022

To date I have had four different careers, none of which featured in my childhood expectations. 

Aged about seven I was keen on being a bus conductor. 
The manual ticket machine, strapped to the conductor, looked like fun and would have kept me amused for at least forty years.  Who would guess that technology would crush that dream?

I quite liked the peaked cap look too.

Then, when I was about ten years old I was captivated by the Apollo space programme (and the preceding Mercury and Gemini programmes). 
I could recall the crews of every US space mission in the same manner that school pals recounted football line ups from Scottish Cup finals.

Astronaut was my next career aspiration. 

I was reasonably good at, and interested in, maths and science-oriented subjects and was confident that I would remember the names of my space crew.
However, the British Interplanetary Association was short on spacecraft (seemed limited to Patrick Moore and some other dodgy quiffed astronomers).  

Around fourteen I started playing guitar and taking double bass lessons at school. 
Thankfully “Skunk” Baxter quashed any idea of a musical career. 
Hearing him play on Steely Dan’s debut album, “Cant Buy a Thrill” brought me down to earth. 

However, I am getting 100 quid and free drinks playing a pub, with a band, in Twickenham this new year’s eve (7th year in a row).

Graduated in 1979. 

Missed my graduation ceremony as I skipped off to travel the summer, with John Allan, around western Canada and USA. 
To placate my parents I did some job hunting before travelling.   I got into the last four, from about one hundred applicants, for a trainee manager job with J&B Whisky. 

Did not get job.

November 1979, sitting in pub off Charing Cross in Glasgow, avoiding the rain, I read the appointment page in the Guardian. 
Colour newspaper printing was a recent innovation. 

Quarter page ad for recruitment of trainee police inspectors in Hong Kong. Featured an upright chap in khaki uniform and peaked cap (box ticked). However, it was the bright blue sky in the background that convinced me to apply.
Three months later I left 10 degree London for 5 degree Hong Kong.

POSTSCRIPT

Early 1982 I attend a briefing at Seung Kwai Cheung police station. 
It was just before night shift so just me and duty officer involved.  Scottish chap (lots of us were in RHKP). 

Turns out he got the job I failed to get at J&B Whisky.

He quit after six months and joined the Royal Hong Kong Police.

The rigours of the RHKP training….

dib dib dob – we’ll do our best

(Post by Mark Arbuckle of Glasgow – July 2022)

Woggle

Let me offer (my first) full disclosure….

I loved being in the Cubs! 

I loved the uniform, the cap and badge covered sweater. I even liked ironing my neckerchief every week and hunting for my woggle (Ooer Matron!

Wolf Cubs Badge

I was part of The 7th Clydebank Wolf Cub Scout Pack who met each week in the local school hall.

(Be Prepared!…I obviously didn’t get the 
‘Wear dark shorts’ memo)

I enjoyed the singing and the games and all the rough and tumble. It wasn’t all harmless fun though as I saw one cub accidently crash his hand through the swing glass door of the hall….and pull it back out causing horrendous lacerations and a lot of blood!

I also really enjoyed the annual sports day and playing football against the other local Cub Packs. The only time we went ‘camping’ we slept in wooden huts with real beds!….Result!

Boy Scouts badge

However,  I certainly didn’t enjoy waiting in the rain with hundreds of fellow cubs, scouts and girl guides to ‘see’ the Queen at Glasgow Green! After two hours of sitting on the wet grass a large black limo sped past and we saw a tiny gloved hand wave briefly from the window! WTF!

But I digress…..

I also mostly enjoyed the annual Bob-A-Job week. Every year we visited local houses and offered to do household jobs for them for payment of a Bob…One Shilling….Five Shiny New Pence!

One bob – a shilling.

Myself and my pal Michael had been knocking on doors for about 4 hours and had been pretty successful. Most of my neighbours were friendly and happily gave their Bob and sometimes more,  and maybe even a biscuit, then gave us an easy to perform.
In return they got a ‘Job Done’ sticker for their front window.

We decided we’d try the ‘big house’ at the top of the street. It had a large gate and grounds leading to an imposing dwelling.

Our confidence was high so we marched up to the front door and rang the bell.

Our chirpy ‘Bob-A-Job!’ stuck in our throats as a very tall, Rees Mogg like, figure opened the door and glowered at us!…….’Bob-A-Job’ I squeaked……

‘Aaah Yesssss. Verree well then’ the tall man said and led us through the porch into a dark square hall. 

Michael and I exchanged an ‘Anaw whit huv we dun!?’ look as the tall man pointed to the open door of a very large living room and said ‘Clean out the fire ashes and then fetch coal and wood to build a fresh one. Then I’ll see what else can be done!’

Eager to escape his looming presence we half ran towards the fire place. ‘The quicker we do this the quicker we can get away’ whispered Michael.

We didn’t have a clue what to do, then I spotted an old metal bucket and decided that’s where the ashes should go. 

We made a hell of a mess which of course we had to clean up then we were shown outside to collect the coal and wood.
We worked there for well over an hour and at the end we were tired, sweaty and very dirty!


Rees Mogg finally dipped into his leather purse and gave us a shilling each and I gave him a sticker for his front window. 

To ensure no other unsuspecting Cubs would approach this slave driver’s house I stuck a few more on the outer storm door as we left!

Full disclosure Number Two….

When I was 10/11 I had a massive crush on our Akela, the leader of the Wolf Cub pack. She was probably in her early thirties and worshipped her from afar!

When I was promoted to a Sixer (there were 6 Sixers in the pack of 36) and then to flag bearer I was overjoyed as it meant I was ‘closer’ to her.

My older brother Paul was the flag bearer the previous year.

One Cubs’ night, just as we were finishing, Akela asked me if I could come to her house on the following Saturday!

WHAAAT??? 

I was to cook breakfast for Akela and her Mum as part of my Home Proficiency Badge or something……I wasn’t really listening after she said ‘Come to my house!’

I couldn’t sleep for three nights and I badgered my Mum into a crash course on how to fry eggs, bacon and sausage! And how to make tea! I’d never even boiled a kettle!

Saturday morning arrived and wearing my Cub uniform, I nervously walked the half mile to her house.

Akela and her Mum were very nice to me and I kinda overcame my fear and nervousness. They didn’t even complain that I burst the fried eggs’ yolks, undercooked the bacon and ‘stewed’ the tea.

After I’d washed the breakfast dishes Akela told me I had attained my merit badge and I was ecstatic as I
floated home on cloud nine. Or…..

‘Riding Along On The Crest Of A Wave’ 

if you prefer.

I left the Cubs a few months later but the wonderful memories remain with me even after 50+ years

_____________

look who’s talking.

(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.

Laundry

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.

Radio

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.

Talk Box

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.

Singer Sewing Machine

framed

(Post by John Allan from Bridgetown, Western Australia – June 2022.)

When I was young my mother would knit various items of clothing for me. Mainly jumpers, beanies (woollen hats) gloves and scarfs. Unfortunately many of the items on completion would be a bit on the small side as Mummy hadn’t anticipated my growth spurts nor the time taken to create the garments. The lack of a comprehensive time, motion and cost analysis greatly impeded productivity – but mothers didn’t talk like that in the 60s as they weren’t pretentious middle manager wankers in competitive industry.

In my middle primary school years she got it just right. She produced a perfectly fitted royal blue sweater with a tiny silvery white speck through it. Most kids moped about in grey jumpers or navy blue cardigans. This was a thing of beauty. Leave that technicolour coat back on the peg Joseph. There I was in my shimmering azure outfit looking absolutely gorgeous. It was the bees knees. The dogs bollocks (as they say in these parts). I was pleased as punch. Happy as Larry (where do we get these phrases from ?) Mum had really come up with the goods this time. How was I to know it would lead to my downfall.

One day I was taken aside by Mrs. Cullen who was not my classroom teacher at the time. She (wrongfully) claimed that I had been observed (by a cleaner I think) rifling through the desks of another classroom after school hours. The culprit had a distinctive blue jumper. She accused and berated me for some time and dismissed my pleas of innocence through trembling bottom lip. “It wasn’t me, Miss !”

When I got home I burst into inconsolable sobbing at the injustice of it all. I knew there was a lad a few years my senior that had a similar styled and coloured jumper (not as fabulous as mine of course) who was a bit shifty. My mother comforted me as mothers do but she didn’t storm down to the school and demand an apology for the wrongful accusation. Was there a seed of doubt that her youngest and dearest could be a petty thief ? This was too much for an 8 year old to bare. I stripped off the bespoke jumper and threw it into the bottom drawer with all the other discarded woollens never to see the light of day again.

I will wear grey from this day forth. I will not stand out from the crowd.

(Fast forward five years and I’m wearing a mauve floppy collared shirt and a multi-coloured tank top !)

Did you know that they call a jersey a ‘Guernsey’ in Australia ? No, I don’t know why either !

I don’t know if this incident shaped my views of fighting for the underdog. Righting the wrongs. Standing up for the dispossessed.

When I was a student nurse in the 80s doing my placement at Drumchapel Hospital I was stopped by a solitary picket at the gates. Most people walked straight by him but I heard him out. He was an Orderly striking for a reasonable wage. He was from the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) as was I so I didn’t cross his line. I was summoned by my lecturers and told I was the first ever student to go on strike. ‘AND ?’ I replied. Stony silence. Chalk that one up for the little guy.

I became a job representative for the Australian Nurses Federation and took industrial action for over a week along with thousands of others for better pay and conditions in the early nineties.

I have led a relatively blameless existence in the eyes of the law bar a few traffic infringements including a fine for not having lights on my bicycle in which an aggressive young officer screamed in my face. “Where’s your f**king drivers licence ?” His colleague had to restrain him when I pointed out you don’t need a licence for a bike. The bastard still gave me a $200 fine.

A few late library books and that’s it. My wrongful primary school accusation has not led me into a life of spiraling crime – YET !

I do miss that jumper though !

free-range kids.

(Post by Andrea Grace Burn of East Yorkshire – June 2022)

(Header image from ‘Stuff Dutch People Like’ website.)

(Image from the Global Influences website.)

Growing up throughout the 1960s and ’70s my brothers and I were free-range children, 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 tea.

Running barefoot through seemingly endless hot Virginia summers, climbing trees with skinned knees, riding our bikes and make-believe, we played-out our childhoods in the limitless landscape of our imaginations. We were free to negotiate and establish our own play rules with our friends. Through the liberty of play we took risks, established our own boundaries, solved problems and developed social, emotional and physical skills: life skills. We didn’t know it at the time but we were the lucky ones. 

(Andrea doing a handstand in her Virginia back yard, 1970)

On rainy days, Mom would tell me to ‘go play’ which opened up countless possibilities: making paper dolls from old magazines; dressing-up; playing make-believe as I flew into space inside an upturned kitchen stool (this was, after-all, the Space Age of  Apollo 11). After school clubs and activities didn’t exist and the notion of ‘quality time’ hadn’t been invented yet:  my brothers and I were rich in our parents love and our family life. We ate dinner together and talked to each other.

My parents read, told stories and sang to us but pretty much left us alone to play.  If I said, “I’m bored!” Mom would say, “Good! Children should be bored at least once a day. Use your imagination.”  Without a PC, tablet, mobile phone or social media, I had to look inside myself for adventures.

(Mmnnn! Mud pies for dolly!)

I made mud pies for my dolls; sat on the driveway and burst tar bubbles in the searing heat with a stick and watched the tar ooze; made a jewellery box for my mother with matchsticks; sailed the high seas from a sail boat in the dining-room with two chairs and an old sheet. I did cart-wheels, handstands and backflips; played ‘tag’ with my friends; looked for fairies in the pine glades and inhabited the Magic Faraway Tree.  I was Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, clicking my heels together three times before rolling down a grass bank to go ‘home’ to Kansas.

My bed served as a covered wagon where I’d sit with my feet hitched on the footboard and “gee-up” my team of horses as I headed west across the great prairies in search of gold. Wearing an imaginary calico dress and bonnet, I fought off wild critters including howling coyotes and Grizzly ‘bahrs’ with my bare hands and sang songs beneath the stars around a campfire in the middle of my bedroom floor. Why – there wasn’t a more feared hunter in all the west!

(Pioneer wagon.)

In 1970 when I was ten, my family left behind my small-town American childhood idyll and moved to Birmingham, West Midlands where I encountered not only a strange new dialogue called Brummie but a wholly new culture to draw from in my playground games: ‘tag’ became ‘tig’; ‘British Bulldog’ replaced ‘King of the Hill’; ‘Red-Light, Green-Light’ became ‘What’s the Time Mr Wolf’ and ‘Conkers’ became a playground favourite. Suddenly I was thrust into a Betjeman-esque land of 1930s suburban streets, cul-de-sacs, alleyways and gulleys to explore with my new best friends Denise and Becky.

(What’s the time, Mr Woolf?)

Mom used to say that ‘if a child isn’t filthy by teatime, they haven’t had a good day’ and we didn’t disappoint; revelling in street games,  making dens, clapping rhymes, ‘Dolly Bobbin’, ‘Cat’s Cradle’, ‘French Skipping’ and  rhymes:

‘George, Paul, Ringo, John

Next-door neighbour follow on…’

as we skipped in and out of a large rope.

‘Mother’s in the kitchen, doing a bit of stitching

In comes a burglar and out she runs

(Girls skipping – pic from British Library)

 We quickly established ‘The Gang’ with neighbourhood kids whose overriding mission was to own our own ponies. I asked my beleaguered dad every day if I could have a pony and scoured the livestock ads of Pony Magazine. I entered the annual WH Smith ‘Win a Pony Competition’ regardless of the fact that we lived in a semi with a small back garden. (I did once win a runner-up mention when I designed a sew-on badge in a competition. It said, “An apple a day keeps the vet away” with a picture of a horse’s head. )  Becky and I both kept grooming kits under our beds “just in case.”

When one of the girls in The Gang, Sam, really did get a pony, we became obsessed with trying to get a free ride. An hour’s riding lesson was £1.50 in 1972 and my pocket money was 25 new pence per week. Sam finally allowed us to sit on her pony Jet – “Just sit, mind!” – and we were thrilled.

(Andrea almost gets her wish, 1972)

Becky and I made horse jumps in my back garden out of old orange crates and bits of wood and held gymkhanas on our space hoppers, which took on the names and personalities of our favourite ponies.

(Space Hopper)

Mine was ‘Fred’ (in real life a bony old grey pony who took a shine to nibbling my jumper) and Becky rode ‘Firefly’ – a strawberry roan mare with a shaggy mane. Becky’s mum made us ribbon rosettes and as we flew over our jumps against the clock, we imagined we heard the roar of the crowd at the Horse of the Year Show. We cantered around the ring for a victory lap before our glory faded as mum hauled me indoors to do my homework and Becky had to go home. I watched through the net curtains as she bounced away down the grass verge, before tackling my History project on Neanderthal Man.

At weekends The Gang would take to the Clent Hills on our bikes; our saddlebags stuffed with cheese spread sandwiches and beakers of orange squash which leaked. We were gone all day without phones (imagine), safety helmets or a care in the world. Our parents had no idea where we were but trusted us to be home in time for tea.

(Clent Hills)

I played with dolls until I was at least twelve or thirteen (imagine kids today taking time out from their devices to play with dolls).  I had a doll house my dad made me which absorbed my imagination for hours-on-end; baby dolls, ‘Barbie’ dolls and a ‘Tressy’ doll whose hair grew out of the top of her head and could be pulled back in a chord on her back. Our dog chewed her hair off on Christmas Eve.

(Tressy)

I even had a go at making a ‘Sindy’ doll settee from a cereal box and sticky-back plastic as seen on Blue Peter; along with an Advent candle holder from two wire coat hangers and a bit of tinsel; neither of which were successful but kept me occupied on those long boring wet weekends.

(I bet there’s not ONE reader whose attempt looked ANYTHING like this!)

Young people today wouldn’t believe it; attached to their virtual worlds and virtual friends, where gratification is instant and the pressure is on to grow up too quickly. I told you we were the lucky ones.

(Copyright Andrea Burn – June 2022)