(Post by Andrea Grace Burn of East Yorkshire – February 2021)
“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?”
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.”
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.
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!”
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)