Tag Archives: Birmingham

lady gaggia

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

Hawkins Wine Bar.

Having spent a good deal of my teens frequenting pubs around West Birmingham during the mid 1970s, it seemed perfectly natural to progress to working in them. My ambitions were to go on the stage but a girl has to make a living, right?

As soon as I left school in 1978, and with no particular place to go, I headed for an interview with a new wine bar that had just opened in the city centre – very upmarket!  Hawkins’s occupied a large corner site opposite Aston University and was near the police station and the Accident and Emergency Hospital, so I figured I’d be safe walking late at night to catch the bus from outside the ‘Back of Rackham’s’.

(Rackham’s was an elegant department store occupying a whole city block on Corporation Street in Birmingham. Rumours abounded that ladies of a certain type frequented the pavements outside the back door and Mom always warned me against hanging around there.   I walked many times around the ‘Back of Rackham’s’ as I grew up and never once saw anything improper going on, much to my dismay.)

With Mom’s advice to ‘look smart and mind my manners’ ringing in my ears, I borrowed her fashionable black and white dog-tooth checked suit (shortening the skirt, obviously); teaming it with my white leather cowgirl boots, white cotton lace gloves and an antique parasol.

With the audacity of youth, I strutted into Hawkins one sunny October afternoon and stopped in my tracks to gaze in wonder at the fabulous fixtures and fittings. The long mahogany bar was backed by a reclaimed church façade and bevelled mirrors, which reflected the light from the enormous curved, windows. I felt very grown up.

(Opposite: Hawkins interior – now Sound Bar.)

Assistant Manager Tristan must have noticed me gawping and bounded over, shook my hand and ushered me to a table. He had a big Zapata moustache and an equally big, bright smile. 

“Hello Darling, you must be Andrea?” 

“Yes thanks, I am.” (Going well so far) 

“So, you’ve come about the position as bar maid and waitress?” 

“Yes thanks, I have.” 

“Have you had any previous experience?” 

“No, but I learn fast!” 

Tristan flashed his brilliant smile at me, touching my arm lightly: 

“I love your outfit darling – especially the parasol! Wonderful!” 

“Thanks!” 

“So, when can you start?” 

“Right now.” (Mom had said I should appear ‘keen’.) 

“OK darling, I’ll just have to introduce you to the manager.

Tristan trotted away to find said manager; a tall man with a weak handshake which worried me slightly as Dad had always warned me of men with a “limp” hand shake.  (“Honey, you know where you stand with a firm grip.”)

“This is Andrea –  isn’t she gorgeous? She can start right away and she’s a fast learner.” 

“I bet she is,” said the manager as he looked me up and down.  My interview was apparently over and I was asked to start work the next morning at 7:30 am  to   serve continental style breakfast and coffee from eight. I was put to work on the food counter, serving cold meats and cheese, croissants and pastries and the infamous Gaggia espresso machine. This great red and chrome beast occupied the whole length of the food bar, with its hot water spouts, coffee grinders and stacks of white cups and saucers. 

Getting to grips with the Beast, as it became known, wasn’t easy – it was all in the wrist action. Customers would stand behind the counter and watch as the other girls and I twisted and twirled the mighty coffee grinders and polished the spouts in time to the music; steam hissing into the steel milk jugs. We could pull quite a crowd. 

Having to start work so early meant I was often the first person there with the cleaners, one of whom was spooked by rumours that Hawkins was haunted. There were stories that the bar stools had been found one morning stacked on top of each other – just like the kitchen chairs in Poltergeist! The lamps behind the bar moved and footsteps could be heard running up from the basement kitchen, where people had died during WW2 as they sheltered from the bombing.  I hoped against hope to see a ghost but never did – but the old building certainly had an odd atmosphere.

Andrea in 1978 … and in standard issue Hawkins beige cords.

Reports of hauntings didn’t put punters off, as solicitors from the Law Courts next door poured into Hawkins for their ‘working lunches’.  I worked the mighty Beast in beige cord jeans so tight I had to lie down and zip them up using a coat hanger.  I was voted ‘Gaggia Girl 1979’ – my claim to fame!

As I worked the bar one evening, Andy Gray, – the Villa footballer – came in and asked the other girls and me if we would like to come over to his new night club? I had to think about that for, oh, maybe two seconds. Imagine, the girl from Virginia who didn’t know what the Villa was, now being asked to come check out a night club owned by a Villa player!  Ha – what would the lads at the God Awful school think now? 

The Holy City Zoo was the most fantastic, exotic place I had ever been! Like a dark cave, it went back and back through a series of rooms beneath the railway arches at Snow Hill station. It became a new romantic club in the early ’80s with live bands such as Roxy Music and Duran Duran, but when it opened in ’79 it pumped out disco. The Hawkins staff became regulars after our shift ended; strutting our stuff fired up on Pernod and coke, great music and youth. I crawled home at 2am to sleep it off, get up at five and do it all over again

Back at Hawkins the buzz was always at fever pitch as we worked to the heady disco beat on a Bose Sound System:  ‘Le Freak’’, ‘Ladies Night’, ‘Instant Replay’, ‘You Make Me Feel, Mighty Real’ beneath the huge mirror balls and innovative laser shows. I loved every minute. 

It was in this heady atmosphere, that I first met George Melly when he was booked to play a gig at Hawkins with John Chiltern and his Feet Warmers. I was asked to go down into the staff room to serve drinks to the band and was introduced to Mr. Melly, who was sitting with his large frame overextending the rather small chair; resplendent in a snappy pinstriped suit with wide lapels and a large snap brimmed fedora hat.     

“So, my dear, how kind of you to bring old George a drink.” 

As the lights in the bar dimmed to a spotlight, Mr. Melly sashed onto the floor with a wicked gleam in his eye and a whisky in his hand as he belted out Bessie Smith’s ‘Kitchen Man’: 

‘I love his cabbage gravy, his hash, 

Crazy ’bout his succotash, 

I can’t do without my kitchen man! 

Wild about his turnip top, 

Like the way he warms my chop, 

I can’t do without my kitchen man!’ 

I became a big fan, following his gigs from London’s Ronnie Scotts to the Malvern Theatre, where he had to stop the show and tell the be-jewelled, staid audience to clap on the off-beat: “This is Jazz!” he growled.

 I saw George Melly several more times, including an appearance he made on BBC Pebble Mill’s ‘Six Fifty-five Special’ – a surreal experience.  I was invited to meet him in the Green Room, where he sat in his trade mark Zoot suit and snap brim Fedora before he went on air.

“Hello my dear, how kind of you to come to see old George.” He still twinkled.

With him was Kenneth Williams, who was staring up the nostrils of  70s actor and singer David Soul, giving him an impromptu lesson on how to speak with an English accent:

“Enunciate, dear boy, e-nun-ciate.”

I had just witnessed a Master Class.

Before I left Hawkins, we had a New Year’s Eve fancy dress party with a ‘Glamorous Hollywood’ theme. All staff were expected to do a ‘turn’ and having recently had my permed hair cut into a short crop, I went along as Liza Minnelli in bowler hat, black waistcoat, fishnets and towering stiletto’s.  Grabbing a bar stool, I did my best to impersonate Liza in Cabaret – although I couldn’t for the life of me bend backwards over that stool! My brother Dale tagged along wearing a full suit of armour. Unable to sit down, he stood all evening with cigarette smoke curling through the grid on his visor. 

Liza Minnelli as Andrea … no, wait …??

The drag acts were outstanding that evening, including ‘Fred and Ginger’ who thrilled us with their rendition of ‘Cheek to Cheek’ and ‘Rita Hayworth’ slinking across the floor to ‘Put the Blame on Mame’. We danced until dawn, seeing in 1979 in considerable style and with heavy hangovers!

Oh to be eighteen again!

(Copyright: Andrea Burn May 1st 2021)

drama queen

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

“Don’t put your daughter on the stage,

 Mrs. Worthington

Don’t put your daughter on the stage.”

(Noel Coward 1935) 

I left school in 1978 with Grade E ‘A’ Levels in English and History. Mom was ecstatic that I had two paper certificates – heedless of the fact that they meant Jack. Career’s Advice suggested I might try my hand in retail: “You could become a Buyer in Ladies’s Wear by the time you’re thirty-five.”

Thirty-five? I’d be an old woman by then!

Having trod the boards at school, I decided to give acting a serious whirl and enrolled at drama evening classes as I began the round of auditions to study drama full time. My teacher said I “should have been a blonde” because I was so “dizzy”. High praise indeed. 

With my new curly perm, a dash of Wild Musk and a lot of bravado, I headed for the ‘Big Smoke’ – London – where my eldest brother David met me at Euston Station and guided me across the city on the underground. I was scared to death!

I auditioned at all of London’s top drama schools as Blanche Dubois from Tennessee Williams’ play, ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’

Her character has a famous monologue, “He was a boy, just a boy. when I was a very young girl…” which I thought I had down pat. Despite an authentic Southern Belle accent, I had the distinction of being turned down by them all. Not before though, witnessing some spectacular feats of self-promotion from other hopefuls – including one guy who auditioned as Hamlet, wearing a gorilla suit. 

He got in.

I gave up in London.

As my dad once said to me, “Honey – I’m proud of you. If you’re going to fail – really fail!”

Closer to home, in March 1979, I received an invitation to audition at a drama school in the midlands. 

Living up to my ‘dizzy’ moniker, I turned up exactly one calendar month late for my audition and let myself into the office of a Miss Meade, who had been principal of the acting school in the year dot.

Her dark, cramped office in the basement was piled floor to ceiling with dusty old play scripts and seemingly hundreds of cats which peered down at me from a great height. Naturally Miss Meade was not expecting me.

I stared at old black and white photos of great Thespians which lined the high walls and suddenly felt very small – the bravado gone. Should I cough to announce I was here? Suddenly the door swung open and in bustled Miss Meade – an elderly lady with grey hair tied back in a bun, carrying a walking stick. We scared each other.

“ARGH!” 

“Good gracious Ducky! Who are you?” 

“I’m Andrea Scarboro. I’ve come to audition.” (I felt like saying, “I’m Dorothy Gale, from Kansas.”)

Miss Meade pored over her diary on her large, cluttered, desk with a lot of tutting.

“Well, well Ducky, wait here and I’ll see what I can do.” 

Miss Meade disappeared through a door, leaving me nervously stroking my Blanche Dubois. She finally reappeared with an elderly gentleman in an elegant, faded suit, marvelous set of whiskers and an old fashioned ear trumpet.

“This young lady has turned up for an AUDITION, one month LATE! Heh! Shall we SEE her?”

“WHAT? AUDITION? MOST IRREGULAR! I suppose so – why NOT?” shouted the bewhiskered gentleman. 

I was led into a small rehearsal room where a rostrum was hastily arranged in a far corner. Miss Meade pulled up two chairs, where she and the elderly gentleman sat side by side. She tapped her cane on the floor to command my attention.

“What are you going to perform for us Ducky?”

“Blanche Dubois…”

“Ahh, Tennessee Williams. Bold choice Ducky. When you’re ready…”

 I got through the piece as Miss Meade and the suited gentleman nodded and whispered to one another.

 “I’d like to look at your deportment, Ducky,” signalling to me to mount the rostrum with her cane. She gave me a book to balance on my head. 

(Not Andrea!)

“Walk around the stage, Ducky, let’s have a good look at you.” She nodded at the old gentleman, who clamped the trumpet tightly of his ear.

“Shall we see her WALK WITH A LIMP?” 

“A LIMP? Why NOT?” Miss Meade handed me her cane and told me to walk around the rostrum with it,.

“…as if you’ve broken your left leg Ducky.” 

I took the cane from her, trying to remember my left from my right. Propped up on the stick, I began to ‘limp’ around the stage. 

 “That’s it Ducky – clockwise.”Miss Meade and the old gentleman exchanged approving looks. 

Concentrating on limping on the correct foot, I failed to notice the edge of the rostrum and launched off the stage, landing spread-eagle on the floor at Miss Meade’s feet. Trying to maintain some semblance of dignity, I gathered myself up to my full height, dusted down my ruffled hem, picked up the cane and book  and hopped back up onto the little stage with the intention of ‘carrying on’. Instead, I got the giggles and turned to Miss Meade and the gentleman. 

“Well, that’s torn it! Now, where was I?” 

I resumed my limp around the rostrum, on the wrong foot now, but with head held high and book perfectly balanced. (“If you’re going to fail, really fail.”).  Miss Meade leaned towards the bewhiskered elderly gent and shouted: 

“I like the SPIRIT of the GEL – shall we TAKE her?” 

“Take WHAT?” shouted the old chap, leaning into his ear trumpet.

“Take the GEL!” Miss Meade banged her cane emphatically on the floor.

 “Do you KNOW – I think we SHALL!” shouted the bewhiskered one, allowing himself a wry smile. 

I bowed, jumped off the little platform and shook their hands.  Miss Meade offered  me a place at her drama school to commence the following September. How thrilling! 

However, a place at drama school didn’t cut any ice as far as the  Education Authority was concerned; I would have to audition for a grant and they only gave two discretionary grants per year. Over the next three years I auditioned for a little grey man in a grey suit in a stuffy office; we were almost on first name terms. Each year I pulled out my Blanche De Bois and the following conversation ensued

“Thank you Miss Scarboro; an interesting interpretation but you don’t have Maths ‘O’ Level, do you? So you can never teach drama, can you?” 

“Oh I’m never going to teach; I’m going to act, so it doesn’t matter, does it?” 

“Well, I’m afraid that you can’t have a grant because you live at home, so you won’t need any living expenses.”

You get the gist. 

After this third rejection, my mother  – now divorced from my dad – took matters into her own hands and arranged an extraordinary meeting with the man in the grey suit, accompanying me to his office.

Andrea and her mother, 1979.

In a scene reminiscent of ‘Gone With The Wind’ – when Scarlett visits Rhett in jail all dressed up in Miss Ellen’s green velvet drapes, to try and wheedle three hundred dollars out of him to pay the taxes on Tara – Mother looked stunning in a large brimmed, black straw hat with black lace veil, long black gloves and  black dress. She leaned seductively across the large desk between her and the little grey man; picking at the fingertips of her gloves with head bowed as she simpered in her languid Southern drawl: 

“Oh kind Sir, have pity! I am but a poor divorcée;” (fluttering her eyelashes with the back of her hand across her furrowed brow.) “I cannot support my daughter, livin’ on my own as I do. I beg you to give her this chayance – she is so talented.”

The man in the suit remained unmoved, so with huge regret I had to give up my place at the drama school. 

Undeterred, I whipped out Blanche Dubois for a final time – along with my two ‘A’ Level Certificates – when I auditioned at Polytechnic; where I was taught the following invaluable life lesson:

“Men lead from the crotch, women lead from the tits.” (Remember, this was the sexist 1970s)

I also managed to get a full grant and gained a BA Honours Degree in Performing Arts.

Mom purred, “You see honey? There’s more than one way to skin a cat!”

Andrea & fellow student Elle, on stage at Polytechnic.

(Copyright: Andrea Burn May 1st 2021)

my 1970s teen-angst diary (Part 1)

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

First crush, unrequited love, friendships, breaking-up, making-up, chicken in the brick, going to the flicks, grey tights, the disco, ponies, clogs, orchestra practice, sexism, a court case and Col’s wooden ‘Andie Block’…it was all going on in 1974!

In those far off pre-digital days of my youth – the 1970s – there were no bloggers, no tweeters, no Instagram or Facebook opportunities to express or comment on whatever thought popped into our heads. And wasn’t it great! The notion that other people might be remotely interested in our inner thoughts was alien; I grew up hearing that old chestnut, “you know what thought did,” even though I had no idea what it meant.

On my ninth birthday in 1969, my mother gave me a five year diary; encouraging me to “keep all my secrets” within this little blue leather book with a lock and key; as she had done in her youth. I kept it sporadically.  It is only in the past two years that I have begun writing a journal once more and it is considerably less entertaining than my teenage diary!

Andrea’s teenage diary.

For context, when I was fourteen in 1974, there was a local boy called Colin (Col) who had a big crush on me me but I only had eyes for Darryl Smith (he of the David Essex eyes and dimple). Col kept a polished piece of wood in his pocket (don’t!!) with my nickname Andie crudely carved into it, which he called his ‘Andie Block.” I would often peer through the net curtains to see him on the corner of our road, fondling the block in his pocket or giving it a quick polish while waiting for me to come out and look his way. I rarely did. His best mate Gaz tried his luck with Shaz but it was a non-starter.

And as for this #Metoo generation; it was a wholly different world we inhabited in the 70s.  Sexism was rampant and objectifying girls and women was par for the course. I had some near scrapes throughout my teens.  If I could have a word with my fourteen year old self, it would be this:

1) Don’t be in a hurry to grow up.

2) Beware of men in cars who curb crawl and don’t speak to them.

3) Don’t walk home at night on your own or with a girl friend – ask for
Dad to pick you up. .

4) Don’t fret over piano exams – you’ll never be that good anyway  

So for those of you who were teenagers in the 70s, here are a few excerpts from May/June/July 1974…  

     May 3rd, 1974

    “Zoo has worms,but I think she’ll be alright.”

     May 7th, 1974

“Tonight Col and Gaz rang me up. They wanted to know whether I was going to pack Col up tonight & to stop beating around the bush. They wanted a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. I said I liked Col very much as a friend & I didn’t want to lose his friendship or hurt his feelings (for they thought I was saying I liked Col so as not to hurt his feelings.)

I said I didn’t want to go out with a boy  till I was 15 so he’d have to wait, he said he would. I said I would forget about Darryl Smith & Kev (I still like Darryl Smith). Gaz wants to take Shaz to the flicks. She doesn’t like him much but I think she might ,so as not to hurt his feelings.  Gaz is paying for her at the disco, Col isn’t paying for me as I’m not his girlfriend any more.”

     May 8th, 1974

“Today I had the day off school because of the Teacher’s Union strike thing. Julie, Shaz & I went to town. At 12 noon, we met Mom at Rackham’s (department store) to look for a dress pattern for me. I was quite fussy with Mom & I’m very sorry I was. We got a very nice pattern. Shaz got a black velvet (well, like velvet) jacket from a boutique called 2007, it cost about £11.30 or so. PHEW!! I got a SPANISH PHRASE BOOK, ruler, rubber, patractor (original spelling), drawing paper, 2 ‘Win a Pony’ Entry Forms (W. H. Smith’s), food (3 macaroons, apple juice, candy & a sausage roll.) I want a halter top which is just over £1. (about £1.50 from Dorothy Perkins). It’s blue.”

2007 Boutique in Birmingham City Centre, 1970s.

      May 11th, 1974

In the Piano Festival, I got 75 marks.  The winner got 86. He said I should have used the left peddle. I can’t read his writing very well to see what else he said.  I went to town with Julie – also I got a white & pink flowered sleeveless top with pink ribbons. It looks great without a bra. I also got some big black beads – 45p from the market, eyelashes that were 12p reduced from 75p, and eyeliner for 15p. The top was £1.25.

Gaz and Col phoned to say they will collect the disco money tomorrow. I have just watched a film about a lady and Charles 2nd (more about the lady). It looked the real Hollywood type, a bit corny, but overall really good.”

PS: The makeup was from Roscoe’s, near Oasis Market.

May 13th, 1974

“Today I got a chain letter from Joyce Pegg.  I’ve got to copy it out 6 times & send to 6 different friends or cousins. Within 20 days I should get 300 postcards from all over the world I hope so!

We also had orchestra after school. We mainly practised Trumpet Vol., Tartan Polka and El Tanquillo. We are going to play them sometime in assembly.”

      May 14th, 1974

“Today at school, Col, Gaz, Jonesy & co. got Shaz’s ball & wouldn’t give it back at break or dinner. Shaz etc. said they won’t pay for disco money if they don’t get the ball back – I think we made Mrs. Calder cry. Head Master came in class.

I went to Col’s to see 2 week old (6 of ’em) rabbits. They are white little balls of fluff. I’d love one, but Mom said NO!!” 

     May, 16th, 1974

“Today I wore the dress Mom made for  me: flowered print, low square neck, puff sleeves, black beads, clogs (blue denim), grey tights.

Tonight, Denise (next door) had a birthday party. I saw several boys go in – they looked nice. I put my ear to the wall to listen.

Saw a Humphrey Bogart film – very good!  Saw M*A*S*H – very funny!

It is now 11:55pm. GOOD NIGHT. (We had a small thunder storm today. Well, small by U.S.A. Standards, fairly large by English standards.)

     May 17th, 1974

“Tonight I had a piano lesson at 8.20pm. I’m not going to play ‘Flood Time’ until I learn the scales concerned, I’m going to play ‘Fur Elise’. In November I have Grade 3 piano. HELP!!”

   May 18th, 1974

“Tonight Shaz & I went to see ‘Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid.’ It was FAB!! We saw another one too with Raquel (Welch), ‘The Virginian and Ryker.’ It was sad at the end.!!

We walked from the A.B.C. to town and then had to get a bus to Shaz’s. The buses only come about every ½ hour or 1 hour or so. A car came up & 2 men said, “Can you tell us the way?” Shaz said “Where to?” He said, “To Quinton for 2 females who want a lift.” Shaz said, “No thank you.” I looked the other way. Another van nearly pulled up. A car with 2 men pulled up & backed up a bit and shouted, “Hay you!” (or something). After a bit it went. There were drunks and all sorts.”

(… to be continued.)

(Copyright: Andrea Burn April 11th 2021) 

the summer of ’76

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

Andrea, aged sixteen in The Summer of ’76

“What yow staring at, ponce?”

 Denise was talking to a lanky boy with a feather cut and zits as we queued on the concrete slope that led from the back of Birmingham’s Bull Ring to the Top Rank Saturday morning disco.

“Piss off slag.”

“Piss off yourself.”

“Alroite – keep yer ‘air on. I wuz only was being noice.”

The lad turned his full charm on me.

“D’yow fancy a snog when we get in?”

“Piss off.”

Wearing American Tan tights, my feet sweated and slid on six-inch rubber wedges. I adjusted my black Wet Look belt; tightening it a notch or two to accentuate my positive assets; not that I had any yet, mind. My mum still made me wear a vest at night to insulate my washboard chest against the perils of life before central heating (perish the thought). At sixteen, I was on the cusp of something tangible that I didn’t yet understand; fired up with the frisson of youth and hormones (or ‘harmones’ as my Southern Belle mother called them) that stirred somewhere deep in my veins.

Edging forward in the queue, Denise and I were eager to dance the rub-up, which we had practiced in her through-lounge (and had at first confused with rubbing-in, during short-crust pastry lessons in cookery) to Judge Dread’s lewd reggae hit, ‘Big Six’. It was supposed to be a sexy bump and grind dance. We did our best – not easy on Bri-Nylon carpet with her mum looking on from the Draylon settee:

“Goo on Bab. That’s it. Yow’ll get the ‘ang of it.”

(Not Andrea, but the BBC vetoed song she and Denise would practice to.)

The queue finally began to shuffle forward and the smell of sweat and fags seeped and beckoned from the door. We finally disappeared into the murky, mirrored, cavernous pit – whereupon I slid off my platform shoes, landing spread-eagle on the dance floor which sparkled with its huge mirror ball and flashing, strobing coloured lights. No one bothered about epilepsy in the ‘70s.

“Yam alroite? Twat – come on, Oi’ll ‘elp yer.”

Denise pulled me back up onto my ankle-breakers to align our hips for the rub-up as Bob Marley wailed “Stir It Up”. The lad with zits drooled from a sweaty corner,

Suddenly, a spotlight threw its circle on us. We had won the Dance Competition! This was 1976 and we were the dog’s bollocks!   

****************

The Summer of ‘76 was the hottest summer anyone could remember (they obviously hadn’t tried a summer in Georgia where the humidity reaches 90+ F in the shade). I lay in the back garden with Denise on my mum’s best towels, in-between patches of fossilised dog shit – which nobody ever considered actually picking up in the ‘70s – and brown, scorched grass as we listened to Radio 1 while slathering on neat olive oil to sunbathe.

Andrea True Connection: ‘More, More, More.’

 We were ostensibly revising for our ‘O’ Levels; books nonchalantly strewn on the ground to give the illusion of academia as we rotated like pigs on a spit. As the sun beat down, Andrea True Connection purred, ‘More, More, More’. The Industrial Revolution, Simultaneous Equations and French verbs didn’t get a look-in. When the brown envelope hit our vestibule door mat with my exam results, Dad looked at my three ‘O’ Levels and Grade 1 CSE:

“Well honey, you can always be a nurse.” (Ever the optimist.)

“No Dad, I can’t.”

“Why, sure you can Kid – why you’d be a great nurse!”

“I didn’t take any Science, Dad.”

“What the hell difference does that make?”

   Dad was cool. I had been smoking Embassy No. 6 out of my bedroom window for some time; cramming mints and wafting through clouds of Coty ‘Wild Musk’ to disguise the smell of nicotine. 

.  Emboldened with the spirit of youth and a new push-up bra, I decided that I would light-up in the lounge to test the waters. At sixteen, I was feeling grown up and ready to take on the world!Sitting on the edge of my mother’s French antique love-seat, I struck a sophisticated pose and edgily lit a cigarette, blowing smoke rings purposefully into the room. Dad – padding around in his BVD’s – looked at me with a wry smile:

“How long you been doin’ that Kid?”

“Oh ages,” I replied; trying to keep my hand from shaking in this game of nerves.

“Well, just don’t overdo it Kid – everything in moderation.”

That was it! No BIG argument! With the skill of a seasoned diplomat, Dad had crushed my teenage rebellion in a single, calm stroke.  I stubbed out my cigarette, sauntered back up to my room and took the padding out of my bra. Downstairs, Dad chuckled softly to himself as he lit his pipe. I forgot that Dad had been in the US Navy during WW2; it took a lot to shock him.

 And then it happened: I woke up one morning to find that I had developed a chest. I wasn’t as well-endowed as Marion Priest who developed way ahead of the rest of us girls – but enough to eschew the padded bra. Marion would surge into the Form Room and declare, “Oi’m gunner be a mounted policewoman!”  – amid much snickering and crude inuendo from the boys.

Driving me to Duncan Prat’s sixteenth birthday party, Dad noticed my cheesecloth blouse was unbuttoned a tad too far.

“Honey, one of your lungs is hangin’ out; better stick it back in before you get into trouble.”

Embarrassed but pleased to finally have ‘lungs’, I buttoned up and duly unbuttoned upon arrival at the party but Duncan didn’t notice – he was busy showing off his medallion. His name suited him well.  As an aside – it was at this party where I met a boy named Virgil who was incontinent. I was once in the back seat of a car wedged between a stunning girl called Tiggs (“with her long blond hair and her eyes of blue”) and Virgil, when I became aware that my denim skirt was warm and wet. When we piled out of the car, Tiggs laughed casually: “Well, we all knew that Virgil is a piss artist!”

Not K-tel, but just as bad! (In a kinda good way. )

I was desperate to have a pair of denim hot pants like the girl on the cover of a K-tel LP my mother bought for one of my parents’ embarrassing ‘hip’ parties; you know the type – it had cover versions of ‘BIG HITS’.  Mum put up quite a fight but I won this particular battle.  Despite the 1970s making fashion victims of all the young dudes, denim remained the must-have item. It was even used to sell aftershave, “Denim – for the man, who doesn’t have to try, too hard.” 

I obsessed over a denim dress in Miss Selfridge – or was it Chelsa Girl – that cost four quid and buttoned through the front with tie backs. I felt sure I would look like the Lamb’s Navy Rum girl in it.  I bought it – and I didn’t.

I thought the Summer of ‘76 would never end but as with all good things it did. As September rolled around I finally left the God Awful School and headed to pastures new; a girl’s grammar school known locally as the Brothel on the Hill to enter the ‘Sick’ Form… now there’s a tale.

(Copyright: Andrea Burn 07.03.2021)

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)