Tag Archives: nostalgia

sing-a-long-a-jackie (volume #1)

(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson of Glasgow – January 2022)

I’ve never really been one for paying much attention to song lyrics. It’s all about the music and beats for me. And let’s be honest, in some cases, especially so in The Seventies, the words were pretty random; nonsensical sentences existing only to enhance the cadence and rhythm of the song – look no further than the brilliant Marc Bolan if you don’t believe me.

So, reflecting some of our life experiences from The ’70s, I thought I’d try my hand at lyric writing. I mean, how hard can it be?

(Pretty damned hard, actually. Maybe Marc had it sussed, right enough.)

I suggest hitting the ‘play’ button on the video and then following the alternative lyrics written below – that way you may just be able to get it all to scan. Maybe.

DRUNKEN NORMAN

(MARMALADE)

Original / Proper version: ‘Cousin Norman.’

Written by; Hughie Nicholson

Performed by: Marmalade

Released: September 1971

Highest UK Chart position: #6

In the village, by the bus stop,

There’s an Off-Sales selling fortified wine,

Carlsberg Special and Breaker Lager

Under eighteens getting served all the time.

So if you’re passin’ close by, please

Don’t tell our dads we’re buying secretly.

In the forest, by the oak tree,

Stash the bevvy in the bushes over there.

We’ll drink it later. Before the disco.

No-one will steal it, they’re not brave enough to dare.

So if you’re passin’ close by, please

Keep on walking, we’re just kicking leaves.

Oh Oh Oh Oh excited for the disco

Sinking cans of beer will stop me being so shy

Oh Oh Oh Oh excited for the disco

The girls are gonna fall for this cool and gallus guy!

Dooya doodn doo doo doo Dooya doodn doo doo doo

Doo doo doo doo doo doo.

Hold a deep breath, get past the teachers

I’m in the disco, ready for a dance.

I’ll be groovy, I’ll be funky,

Play it cool, I’ll be in with a chance.

So if you’re dancin’ close by, please

Watch in wonder as the wee man pulls with ease.

Oh Oh Oh Oh I’m feelin’ nauseous

The hall is spinning round and I think I might be sick 

Oh Oh Oh Oh I’m feelin’ nauseous

“Thank you for the dance.” I stagger to the toilets, quick!

Oh Oh Oh Oh sat in Head Teacher’s office

Puke stains on my shirt and splashes all over my shoes

Oh Oh Oh Oh sat in Head Teacher’s office,

The girls are all disgusted. I’ve no chance now – I lose.

__________________________

CAMPING UP THE HOOPLE

(MOTT THE HOOPLE)

Original / Proper version: ‘All The Young Dudes.’

Written by: David Bowie

Performed by: Mott the Hoople

Released: September 1972

Highest UK Chart position: #3

Billy crapped all night in the countryside,

Scout Camp enteritis in ‘Seventy-five

Latrine jive,

(Best avoid the dive, if you wanna stay alive.)

Henry’s bloody, gashed foot will leave a scar,

Freddy’s badly aimed knife, a throw too far. Or not far enough –

Freddy’s eyesight’s really duff.

Scout Leader man is crazy

Says we’re going on a long, long trek,

Oh Man, I need Imodium, or clean … kecks.

Oh brother, you guessed, I’m in a mood now!

All the young crew

Running into

The Portaloo queue

(What a To-Do.)

(REPEAT)

Jimmy looks a pratt dressed in fluorescent green

(“Mummy says on treks I should ‘stay safe, stay seen’”)

But we just laughed.

Oh yeah, we just laughed!

And our buddies back at home

Would rather die alone,

We’d not be seen dead in that bright luminous stuff.

Such a drag,

It’s not our bag.

 “OK Boy Scouts – form a line, and don’t dare whine!

The Crazy Scout Leader said,

“Oh! It’s only twelve miles all around.”

(Our guts filled with dread.)

Oh brother you guessed, I’ll be crude, now:

All the subdued,

Ignored the taboo

As they puked or they pooed

In the Portaloo queue.

(REPEAT TO FADE)

(I’ve wanted to do this for years.)

_____________________

Girl Of The Rio

By Cat Cook: January 2022, Greece (the place, not the movie!).

I’ve seen quite a few references on this blog and on the Bearsden Academy FB page to the Rio cinema and I guess if you grew up in Bearsden (or nearby) in the 70s, then you’ll probably have a few memories of the old place.

Me?

I virtually lived there.

Not because I loved that old cinema – which I did

Not because I was such a huge movie fan – which I was

I had no choice really, my dad was the manager of the Rio for 15 years, my mum ran the kiosk, my big brother helped out after school and our house overlooked the damn place, it was a real family affair and there was no escape really!

When my dad took over the management of the Rio in 1971 it was already 37 years old, having been built in 1934 during the art-deco period with an original capacity of 1,120 seats, sadly there don’t seem to be any images available of when it was in its prime.

The old girl, pre-demolition

I was only 7 when the Rio came into my life, but I have so many strong memories of the place.

One of the first films I can remember sneaking into see as a 7 year old, was ‘A Clockwork Orange’, I’m not going to pretend that I knew what the hell was going on with the gangs in their white outfits, bowler hats and eye makeup, drinking milk – but it always stayed with me.


I also remember seeing the Exorcist age 9 and realising it wasn’t a Disney movie – “Your mother sucks cocks in hell” was something I learned not to repeat at the dinner table!
Similarly, seeing Carrie as a 9 year old was a bit heavy and brought about a few sleepless nights!
I should also add at this point that I loved Bambi and Mary Poppins too, I was quite normal really!
I just had access to all the cinematic experiences on offer and my Mum & Dad were sooo busy running the cinema 24-7 to worry about me skunking about the place.

Of course, being a ‘cinema brat’ had its benefits, apart from having the privilege of ‘access all areas’ I was spoiled rotten by the staff and my Birthday parties were always extremely popular.

One memory still treasured was the Rio Saturday Club, especially at Christmas when we’d collect donations for Strathblane Children’s Home.
In fact, if I had to choose my favourite Rio perk, it was going to the wholesalers to select the gifts for the kids at the Home before going up there with dad to hand them out.

As you can imagine, I saw so many great movies at the Rio, often multiple times!
I reckon I must have seen Grease about 30 times and Saturday Night Fever wasn’t far behind.

My big brother Graham and his mates (Russ Stewart & Des Marlborough – both of this parish) were regular cinema-goers as well, but I remember they were more interested in the “adult themed’ genres of the day!


Whenever I see a great 70s movie now, like The Godfather, Jaws, Star Wars or Airplane it transports me back to the first time I saw them at the Rio and reminds me of the long queues of expectant movie-goers forming outside the cinema an hour or so before the doors open

Like any business that deals with the public, running a cinema wasn’t always plain sailing, particularly at weekends, and particularly as the Rio was equidistant between Maryhill and Drumchapel.
There were quite a few incidents with rival gangs, mainly in the car park thankfully, and with gangs threatening people in the queue before relieving them of their money.
The local police were usually quick to react to the situation, often handing out their own justice, at the rear of the cinema.

It was funny to see people trying the same old tricks, time and time again, always thinking they were the first to think of them!

Like – the folk who would pay for one person and then try to open the fire-doors for their mates, always believing they were the first to try it and couldn’t understand why they got caught.

Like – the folk who would try and hide in the toilets to see a movie twice. Always believing they were the first to try it and couldn’t understand why they got caught.

Going through the lost property box was always good fun as well and it was amazing to see what people left behind…. everything from umbrellas to frilly knickers.

Everyone mucked in and there was a real kinship behind the scenes, a lot of the staff became like family to us, especially after my brother Graham died.

Me and my big brother

Many folk reading this may even remember some of the Rio team: Mary and Linda the young good-looking girls, Wullie the friendly doorman and Jimmy the projectionist, who would nip out onto the roof for a fly smoke and sometimes miss the changing of the reel, leaving a blank screen and a lot of disgruntled customers….
They were all great people, who always turned up whatever the weather with many of them travelling by foot from Maryhill or Drumchapel daily. 

Of course, there was a lot of ‘back-row’ action back then as the cinema was one of the few places you could go with your boyfriend or girlfriend when you were too young to go to the pub.
In retrospect I should have started a gossip column as I knew everyone who was dating at the cinema on a Friday & Saturday night.

Funnily enough, when I went on a teenage cinema date myself, I still went to the Rio, the perks were too good to ignore.

A friend of the family managed the Odeon in Glasgow so I could always go there if I fancied a change. Basically, I never had to pay to see a movie back then.

My dad managed the Rio from 1971 until it closed in 1985 and was turned into flats.

How it looks today…

By 1985 I guess I had temporarily fallen out of love with the cinema as Nursing, Boys & Holidays came into my life.
I did rekindle my love as the facilities and options improved through the modern multiplexes but for me there will only be one cinema that is truly in my heart.
In the words of Simon Le Bon – Her Name is RIO……

for whom the bell chimes

(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson from Glasgow – January 2022)

“Five more minutes. Pleeeaaase?”

I must have used that plea more than any in my sixty-three years on this planet. It’s become an almost instinctive response when I’m reminded that time is pressing and really should be doing something else, somewhere else.

I no longer even hear myself say it, but my wife is convinced that when the Grim Reaper comes calling, I’ll still be bargaining for “just another five more minutes.” And who wouldn’t, let’s be honest.

She also asserts my habitual tardiness will see me late for my own funeral. I’d hate to disappoint, so it’ll actually be written in my final instructions, that the hearse delay arriving at the church or wherever. Remember this if you plan coming. There’s no need to rush that cup of coffee before leaving your home – especially if it’s a cold or wet day (which it won’t be, by the way.) Just take it easy.

Sorry, I’ve gone really early with the digression on this post.

Anyway, the origins of this now habitual phrase stem, I believe, from the winter months of my early years. It was developed as a counter to that dreaded call from my parents:

“Time for bed!”

It was a stalling ploy – at least, so I hoped.

You see, I’d been promised somebody special was coming, but they had not yet arrived. They’d be here any time now. Five more minutes. Pleeeaaase?

Well – if you don’t ask, you don’t get, right?

So my dad would strike a bargain. If I went to bed ‘right now’ like a good little boy and left him in peace to watch the latest episode of ‘The Saint,’ then he’d buy me a pack of ‘The Man From UNCLE’ bubblegum cards when the ice-cream van came down the street.

And off to bed I’d go, eventually drifting into a blissful sleep dreaming of a packet with no ‘swapsies,’ but containing that elusive # 43 card everyone in class was yearning.

Yes, the Ice-Cream Man, or ‘Icey’ as we knew him played a huge part in our, early lives. In the winter months, he’d generally arrive under cover of mid-evening darkness – probably because he had another daytime job, or simply because there was little custom to be had through the day.

Though I forget it now, we all then knew the ‘Icey’ by his surname. He was a kindly gent as I recall, and always obliged, when having been sent out by Mum, I asked:

“Ten Embassy tipped please. And …. do you have any broken biscuits, please, Mr (Whoever)?’

I’m sure every kid on the route asked the same. Poor guy. I even witnessed him breaking up wafers and cones deliberately for me.

He sold all sorts. From delicious, soft ‘Mr Whippy’ type ice-cream (with raspberry sauce, of course) through bubblegum card packs, cigarettes, to chocolate and all kinds of ha’penny / four to a penny sweets. Of course, there were also the spectacularly coloured ice lollies such as ‘Fab’ and ‘Zoom,’ and on Saturdays, he’d also have a supply of the ‘Pink’ a newspaper with the day’s football results and reports.

During the school summer holidays, though, even making an extra afternoon visit round the local streets, he’d face competition. That came in the form of the ‘branded’ ice cream seller – in our case, Walls.

The Walls man differed in many ways and though our unsophisticated vocabulary of the time couldn’t express it so succinctly, I think all us kids regarded him somewhat an interloper.

His van was smaller, more like a conventional car, but with a raised section at the rear to house the fridges. I always harboured the impression it was based on an American model, with the driver / seller wearing a red and white shirt and sometimes a small white cap. Maybe though the latter detail has been implanted in my memory from watching U.S. based television sitcoms based in 1960s Diners. 

The Walls ice cream differed from that of the other ‘icey,’ in that it came in blocks. Wrapped blocks, if I remember correctly. How many young tears do you think were shed over a treat dropped onto the pavement as it was being unwrapped?

Even more unconventional were the biscuit ‘cones’ used by walls. I was pretty rubbish at maths (actually, make that ‘totally’ rubbish) but I’m fairly certain a ‘cone’ was circular at the top and not rectangular. I suppose once they were committed one of the two, the other had to follow. Whatever, they were a nightmare to eat – the made-up phrase ‘square cone and round mouth’ comes to mind.

Granted, the blocks were a better option than the soft stuff if you were one of these weird folk that preferred your ice cream to be to be sandwiched between two individual wafers.

Then there was also a third means of serving up the frozen dessert, one that was favoured by the ‘icey’ who passed my Gran’s house; scooped. Falling somewhere in consistency between the poured ‘Mr Whippy’ sort, and the rock hard block of Walls, it was reasonably adaptable in its serving. It did though have the unfortunate look of the mashed potato slapped down beside your beef olive by the school dinner lady. Of course that was easy sorted by another liberal addition of raspberry sauce, but the use of gravy coloured chocolate sauce would not have helped ease that initial impression

It was at my Gran’s house too, that I first clapped eyes on an ‘oyster.’ This was a very mysterious delicacy indeed, because only the adults got one. Whenever I asked, I still ended up with a cone. Tight wads, my family!

I was about nineteen before I sampled my first one and true enough, this was too good for kids! Scooped ice cream held between twin oyster shaped biscuits that had been dipped in chocolate, and coconut, with a soft, gooey, sweet mallow filling.

And then there was the ‘double nougat’ – ice cream sandwiched between  two wafers, the edges of which had been coated in chocolate and then injected with a similar mallow fill.

Such decadence.

Of course, an ice cream van wasn’t only identified by the goodies it sold. Neither was it the cartoon characters adorning the bodywork that necessarily distinguished one from another.  No – the idea was to announce the impending arrival on your street by sound, rather than sight. To this end, each ‘icey’ played their own distinguishable tinny, high-end chimes, giving plenty time for kids to pester parents into supplementing that week’s pocket money. One van would use ‘The Teddy Bears’ Picnic,’ as their rallying call; another, ‘Greensleeves,’ others maybe ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’ or ‘You Are My Sunshine.’

Undoubtedly, the peak of my excitement at a visit from an ‘icey’ would have been as a kid, pre-1974. And this is significant, because prior to the ‘Control of Pollution Act, 1974’ there were no restrictions placed on vans playing these tunes.

However, under Section 62 of the act, action could be taken if chimes are ‘sounded after 7pm in the night time, or before 12pm (Midday), or if they are sounded at anytime as to cause an annoyance.’ (I believe the legal maximum volume for this is 80 decibels from 7.5 metres, and they must be played for no longer than 12 seconds – and only while the vehicle is stationary.)

So – lying in my bed, having lost the ‘five more minutes’ argument, I would often hear a van arrive in the neighbouring estate, across the railway line that divided us.

I would wonder who the ‘icey’ was trying to entice to part with their money for the treats he could offer. Would some of my school chums have been allowed to stay up late for his visit? 

I would stress. Would he play his tune down my street? And when?

Of course he did. And my ol’man wold be true to his word and buy me some ‘Man From UNCLE’ bubblegum cards.

Because you know what – to slightly bastardise John Donne’s words that would centuries later inspire the title to one of Hemingway’s masterpieces:

‘…. never send to know for whom the bell chimes; it chimes for thee.’

______________

a punishing exercise.

(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson from Glasgow – January 2022)

I loved my school years. I enjoyed the social and sporting opportunities it offered me.

I suppose I was reasonably well behaved during time at Bearsden Academy. Only on a handful of occasions did I merit punishment by ‘the tawse,’ a two or three tailed leather strap slapped down on a pupil’s palm by the teacher.

No, I’d say I was probably more of a Second Division miscreant compared to some. The penalties though, for the lesser misdemeanours I would be busted for, usually involved tedious ‘punnies’ – punishment exercises.

Oh how I longed for promotion to the Premier League of Naughty on many an evening, stuck in my bedroom writing out six hundred word interpretations of a scene from a Bertolt Brecht play. Or copying the Periodic Table with all those daft wee numbers, letters and I think, colours. Had I been given a couple strokes of the tawse, teacher and I would have been quits. I may not have fancied playing wicket-keeper in a game of cricket up at the pylon, but the warm and sultry summer evening would have been mine.

Those type of punny were given by fair minded teachers with (a) not enough justification to give the belt, but (b) a degree of imagination and hope that the exercise would be an aid to learning.

The majority however were not so creative, and routinely demanded ‘x’ number of lines, repeatedly reminding me of why I was not out in the street playing kerby with my pals.

(‘x’ would ordinarily be anything from one hundred to five hundred, unless being punished by the maths teacher, when you had to work out the value of ‘x’ for yourself – with more lines to follow if you got it wrong!)

‘I must not talk in class.’ 

‘I must remember to bring my homework.’

‘My homework wasn’t eaten by my dog – I don’t have one.’

Mind numbing stuff, that.

I did once attempt the Beano-esque trick of binding several pens together with an elastic band and thereby writing three lines at a time. It’s not as easy as it looks! I think the expression these days would be: ‘hashtag fail.’

Instructed to write the line ‘I must write larger,’ by my English teacher, the little smart-ass in me decided to write them on a piece of paper cut to a shade bigger than a postage stamp. Fifty lines to each side.

It took me ages! Far longer than had I written such a simple line in my normal, or even slightly larger, handwriting. Miss Hunter also made this observation the following morning as she immediately scrunched up my miniscule paper and laughing, tossed it in the bin below her desk.

She’s laughing with me, not at me. She must fancy me!

(All us second year lads were not only overloaded with raging hormones, but also suffered delusional episodes.)

I’d sometimes chance my luck and submit the punny a good few lines short. It didn’t really matter that omitting ten, twenty lines, whatever, would save me only a matter of minutes – it was the challenge of getting one over the teachers. I mean, hadn’t they far more important things to do with their time than count the words / lines?

Looking back, I’m certain I didn’t dupe any of them, but as it happened, everyone was a winner: teacher had asserted authority; cocky and rebellious pupil believed they had made a fool of teacher.

Truth was, teacher just couldn’t be arsed.

I did though, and sometimes still do, wonder at the randomness of the punishment. It would certainly have helped us pupils had we known the exact tariff for certain misdemeanours. Like when did a ‘one hundred lines’ penalty blur into three hundred? Or five?

For instance, had I known I would get three of the belt from the Assistant Head for merely being caught holding a snowball, I’d have made damned sure I quickly offloaded it at the head of the dude who’d just creamed me with one moments earlier. You know – like Pass the Parcel at kids’ parties – just get rid as soon as it’s in your hands.

Yeah, maybe some teachers were a bit quick on the draw with the tawse. And maybe some did abuse it. And yeah, it probably has no place in the society we live in today.

I didn’t mind though. My mum was a teacher in a pretty rough part of Glasgow, and would show me her Lochgelly belt. She claimed not to have used it very often, but I do know she had absolutely no sympathy when I told her I’d been given a short, sharp reminder as to my behaviour in class.

(I think my ol’ man was secretly rather pleased … in the absence of National service like he had to endure, this would instil some discipline, and develop character.)

I suppose I could have just kept my head down during the six years of secondary school and come through it all with an unblemished behavioural reputation. But only five feet four inches at the height of my academic achievements, anything that could further shorten my appearance was a non-starter.

And you know what? If there’s one thing discipline at school taught me, it’s that writing sentences of up to nine words long, one hundred times over, is a dawdle.

This article, for example, amounts to only 952 words. That’s just marginally more than your average ‘punny.’ Granted, it may also be just as entertaining as one – I’ve not had much sleep over this New Year holiday.

So, anyway, it’s over to you, dear reader ….anyone like to write the equivalent of a hundred lines?

Or do I have to get the belt out??!!

_________________

ballad of a refuse disposal officer

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

Oh, my old man’s a dustman
He wears a dustman’s hat
He wears cor blimey trousers
And he lives in a council flat

Unlike Lonnie Donegan’s, my old man was not a dustman, he was a teacher. He used to say to me, if I didn’t study hard for my exams all I would be fit for was emptying other people’s bins. Like most things my father said, I thought that was grossly unjust and unfair.

There were three Johns in my primary school class and John with the cracked national health glasses held together with sellotape – yes that John – his Dad was a dustman. I’m not sure about his head gear and I don’t know what ‘cor blimey’ trousers are.

I have an image in my head of tight leather chaps worn by some colourful gentleman around the Bay area of San Francisco in the 70s that exposed many a firm buttock but that can’t be them surely. It certainly wasn’t de riguer for council workers at the time as far as I can remember. John’s Dad, and the rest of his eight siblings I presume, did live in a council house around the corner from us.

These dustman were the soldiers of the streets hanging off the back of their tank-like lorries. On a certain morning each week they would swoop through your street like an invading army. These waste warriors would jog down your driveway, give you your morning wake up call by throwing down the metallic bin lid and whistling tunelessly. They’d scoop up your carriage of discarded crap in one fluid movement, jog back up your drive bin held aloft over their shoulder, it’s contents waiting to be fed to the hungry growling beast. The midden lorry. These garbage guerillas would then hop on to the running board slap the side of the vehicle and vanish into the misty morn.

What wee boy (or girl) didn’t dream of riding shotgun for a day.

Even in the seventies the metallic trash cans gave way to tall wire baskets with black plastic bin liners. Our heroes, still at a steady jogging pace, would remove the bulging bin bags and deposit refills under the lid like chocolates on your pillow at a fancy hotel. These men were artisans.

Taking it to another extreme, up until the late 70s in Australia where I now live, toilet facilities were rarely contained within the suburban household. The ‘dunny’ was the outside toilet at the back of the yard. There was a lane at the back of the properties where the dunny man wheeled his cart. Most well respected housewives stayed indoors while the dunny man was taking care of business so to speak. One day a concerned housewife heard an all mighty crash and rushed outside to see a fallen dunny man sprawled out with the contents of a weeks worth of family excrement all over him.

“What happened ? Did you fall ?”

“Nah, I’m stocktaking and I’m one shit short !”

I digress.

And where did all this rubbish end up. We didn’t know ! We didn’t care ! It was whisked away to a magical mystical midden world and never seen again. It probably ended up as land fill which a few years later would become the latest new ‘scheme’. The sort of place where they tear down all the trees and then name the streets ‘Oak Parade’ or ‘Willow Grove’. It could have been dumped at sea and now floats like an island the size of France between California and Hawaii.

These days you have to take out your own mystifying multitude of rainbow coloured receptacles to the kerb side, requiring a spread sheet to work out what bin goes out which day. I nearly didn’t hear today’s ‘bin man’ as I think they have a new electric truck.

‘CLEANAWAY – making a sustainable future possible’ it smugly claims on the side of the vehicle. One man operated – no jogging required ! A mechanical arm comes out and lifts the plastic bin to a gaping hole in the side. I think there is also a small camera so the operator can check you’re not depositing severed body parts into his shiny new truck.

I wonder if he’s wearing ‘cor blimey’ trousers?

it’s christmaaaaaaaaasss!

(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson from Glasgow – December 2021)

Remember when it was all sweet and innocent like the above?

Now – it’s more like that below.

Me? I love them both!

Paul and myself would like to wish all our wonderful contributors & readers a very Merry Christmas!

…. and of course, THIS has to be done. Well it’s the law, isn’t it?

a yorkshire christmas

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

(Andrea and Richard as a young couple.)

 Looking at old photos recently, I was reminded of one memorable Christmas more than forty years ago.  As a young twenty-something, I had recently become engaged to ‘our’ Richard and was thus invited to spend Christmas day with his large family in Yorkshire, where they could inspect his latest ‘”live-in job”; as his mother referred to me.  I was nervous about the trip because, being American – and therefore considered to be ‘foreign’ – I had already received a thorough Northern grilling from my future mother-in-law, Irene, who viewed me with great suspicion.

*****

I say ‘invited’ to Yorkshire for Christmas; more like summoned.  Irene and her sister Auntie May took it in turns each Christmas to host the big family Christmas dinner. This year it was held at Auntie May and Uncle Bernie’s big stone house on a steep hill overlooking the town.

Richard and I were greeted on the kerb-side as we parked the car by Irene – hands on hips – pointing to her watch in dramatic fashion,

“What time do you call this? I said be here at one o’clock sharp – it’s ten past! Your Auntie won’t be best pleased.”

We were ushered straight into the back dining room where the family were tightly packed on buffets and chairs around two tables which had been shoved together to make room for fourteen: Auntie and Uncle, Richard’s mum and dad, cousins, old Auntie Annie up the corner on a piano stool and her friend Doris behind the door.

“Come on in! Hello love, give your Auntie a kiss. Squeeze in lass! Ooh, you do have child-bearing hips!”

(This last comment made me blush.)

The feast finally got underway with a great clattering of knives on plate; three types of meat (well, Richard’s dad was a Master Butcher): turkey, pork with crackling and beef; crispy roast potatoes; a great heap of buttery mash; Yorkshire puddings the size of dinner plates to soak up all that delicious, thick onion gravy; sprouts which had been in the pressure cooker since dawn; an abundance of peas and carrots; golden parsnips in honey;  pickles, relishes, bread sauce, apple sauce for the pork.

I had never witnessed such glorious feasting in my life; where I came from in Virginia we had turkey with rice and black eyed peas on Christmas Day.

But that wasn’t all! Auntie May and Irene cleared the decks and later wheeled in a huge oval Pyrex dish of rice pudding; crispy round the edge with a great dollop of Golden Syrup in the middle which had melted into the rice, making it all sticky and moist. My stomach was now at full stretch! I vowed to never eat again!

After the feast, the men all retired to the Best Room at the front of the house for a cigar and whisky (purely medicinal, you know), while ‘us’ women set to clearing away.

The tables had been moved beneath the large sash window and the assorted straight-backed chairs arranged around the perimeter of the room to give the ladies a place to perch with their tea and settle down to the important business of gossip. Old Auntie Annie resumed her position in the corner by the door next to Doris. Irene was balanced elegantly on the piano stool, with her back up against the piano from where she could keep an eye on the comings and goings in the room, lest she should miss out on anything vital.

(NEITHER Annie nor Doris …or even Irene.)

Auntie May sat next to her sister on an unfeasibly tight chair, which seemed to matter little to her as she forever bobbed up and down, in and out of the kitchen ensuring everyone had a cup of tea.

Across the room sat a widowed neighbour of Auntie May’s: one Mrs Stockett, who had just popped in on the off-chance of a cuppa and gossip under the pretext of extending a Christmas greeting.  A stout woman past her prime, her crumpled, dough-like face with more than the hint of a whisker was held taught as she pursed her mouth and raised her bushy eyebrows in expectation of any gleam of tittle-tattle.

I balanced one cheek on a rock-hard chair seat, wedged between the marble fire surround and large over-mantle mirror.

Once all the ladies had taken their positions they loosened their stays. Perhaps I should explain that ladies of a certain age in Yorkshire in those days still wore corsets and girdles in a vain effort to rein it all in.  They sat back as far as gravity would allow; resting their Denby tea cups and saucers on their ample bosoms, which acted as a useful shelf in the absence of incidental tables. Well, Auntie May had tried to squeeze in a nest-of-tables from the Best Room but couldn’t get them past Auntie Annie and Doris without asking them to move – and poor old Auntie Annie had only just got comfortable; “what, with  me  water worksshe mouthed to her companion.

(It’s been a talent for over 100 years – this pic from @1870s)

Mrs Stockett parted her knees to get a purchase on her buffet; threw decorum to one side and cut to the chase in a deep rasp, rough-hewn from a lifetime of smoking untipped cigarettes. One of Auntie Annie’s thick stockings collapsed around her ankle as she braced herself.

“Ooh Irene, you ‘ave lost weight lass! ‘Ow ‘ave you done it luv?”

Irene had always been a large woman (heavy bones in our family”) but had slimmed down to a very trim nine stone, which accentuated her beautiful cheek bones. Taking this as a compliment Irene sat up straight while sucking in her mouth to consider her reply; rolling her tongue around the inside of her mouth and crossing her arms.

“Well, of a mornin’ we ‘ave toast… but no butter.”

There was a moment of disbelief that hung over the hostess trolley.

“What…no butter?” chorused the ladies. 

Auntie Annie’s other stocking rolled  to her knee as she edged forward to hear better.

“No! No butter!”

“Ooh!  ‘Ow d’ya manage?  Fancy – no butter!”

Doris twiddled the row of paste pearls at her throat as she stared into middle space; grappling with the concept of life without butter. She patted Auntie Annie’s arm for comfort.

“What else d’y’ave luv?” asked Mrs Stockett; adjusting a stray bone in her stay that was digging into a rib, nearly causing her teacup to slide off her shelf.

“Don’t ya ‘ave nothin’ else?”

“No butter on yer toast?”

“And for us dinner”… (the suspense was palpable)… “we just ‘ave an apple and an orange,” continued Irene who was enjoying being centre stage.

“What?  No butter?” cried Auntie Annie suddenly from the corner.

No – she don’t ‘ave butter!” shouted Doris, despite sitting next to her friend.

“Ooh Irene! ’Ow d’ya go on luv?” asked a confused Auntie Annie.

“Well…for us tea… (now standing up and working the crowd) …we ‘ave a grilled chop with a grilled tomato.”

Irene left the grilled tomato hanging in the air as she drew in her bottom lip.

“What – you ‘ave a grilled orange?” 

NO! She ‘as a grilled CHOP!”

“No butter on your chop?”

“She don’t ‘ave butter on her chop!”

“Why don’t she ‘ave butter on ‘er toast?”

“Do ya really ‘ave grilled apples?”

“What – no butter?”

As all of this information was being processed, Auntie May bustled in with a large tray teaming with doilies; stacked high with slices of fruit cake, cream horns, custard slices, Belgium buns, rock buns and colourful French Fancies.

“All this dieting alright; it’s all them cakes in-between what do me!” laughed Auntie May as she handed out fresh plates and invited the assembled ladies to help themselves. 

Raucous laughter reverberated around the Back Room.

“Ooh May, you are a caution,” laughed Mrs Stockett. She leaned forward with a conspiratorial whisper,as she threw a challenge into the room:

“Eh – tha’ knows that blonde lass what lives at end o’road…”

The remark began to compute with the ladies as they searched their collective memory of all the people who had ever lived on the street.

“Well – they say she’s got a fancy man.

“Her mother were just t’same,” chipped in Doris, whose pearls were well and truly mangled.

Lowering her voice even further, Mrs. Stockett continued:

“Aye – and ‘er sister’s in family-way with that curly haired lad from yon end o’street.” She drew deeply on her fag, blowing smoke rings above the pyramid of cakes.

“Runs in t’family,” agreed Irene, as she nibbled on the edge of a Viennese Whirl.

The swapping of information and cross-referencing of each name and misdemeanour of every neighbour through several generations kept the ladies happily engaged for a good hour until Uncle Bernie dared to stick his bald head around the door,

“Any chance of a bite to eat?”

“Come on lad – get stuck in!”

Auntie May passed round a tray of mushroom vol-au-vents hot from the oven. I hesitated only momentarily; well, there was no point trying to deny my child-bearing hips, now was there?

(Santa and Mrs Claus – Richard and Andrea @ present day.)

(Copyright: Andrea Burn – 10th December, 2021)

The Host of Christmas Past (Part One)

George Cheyne: Glasgow, December 2021

I’ve had this recurring dream since early December where a ghostly female figure from the 1970s hovers above my bed.

There’s no icy chill in the room, no clanking chains and no spooky noises. This is a friendly ghost.

Looking uncannily like my mum did back in the day, she is wearing a pair of black slacks, a light blue Fair Isle jumper with rolled-up sleeves and a red pinny on top.

The apparition appears most nights and carries out all sorts of tasks connected to the festive season.

It started with baking a cake and then moved on to writing loads of cards, hanging paper chain decorations, making home-made mince pies, sticking up our own advent calendars, marking a tick in the Littlewoods catalogue beside presents we might ask Santa for, mixing all the ingredients for a Christmas pudding and circling the TV programmes we’d like to watch in the festive editions of the Radio Times and TV Times.

As well as all that, the friendly ghost has been putting up a real tree, prepping loads of fresh vegetables, rubbing a mound of butter and herbs into a giant turkey, digging out a well-worn box of Monopoly, putting on Perry Como’s Christmas LP, arranging bottles of Babycham, Cinzano Rosso, Advocaat, Campari and Port on top of an improvised “drinks cabinet” and sending invites out to family and friends to pop round to our house…the Host of Christmas Past, if you will.

I feel it’s my mum’s way of steering me back down the road of having a traditional Crimbo after sensing my resolve has been wavering.

Now, if all this bears more than a passing resemblance to the plot of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, then you’ll be thinking I’m the Ebenezer Scrooge character – but I’m not having that.

It’s my dream, so I see myself more as the Host of Christmas Present and it would make my kids the Host of Christmas Future.

So why the gentle nudge from above to remind me of all those rituals of yesteryear? Well, it’s probably because I’ve let a few traditions slide over the years.

Let’s go through that list above to compare what went on in my parents’ era with the present day.

Baking a Christmas cake: This signalled the start of the festive season in our house and I loved it because, after helping with stirring the mixture with a wooden spoon, I got to lick the bowl. Nowadays I just buy a cake in the supermarket.

Writing Christmas cards: My mum would laboriously write out more than a hundred cards with personal messages inside to send out all over the world whereas I restrict myself to writing as few as possible.

Hanging up decorations: Back then my brothers and I would all get involved in making paper chains out of multi-coloured strips of paper and then hang them up in the hall and living room. These days I just dig out the decorations from the loft.

Making mince pies and Christmas pudding: A lot of hard work went into this and the glorious aroma coming from the kitchen was something to behold but – just like the Christmas cake – it’s a lot easier buying them from the shop. 

Sticking up advent calendars: These could be ones we made at school or a bought one with cute Nativity scenes behind each number. Now, of course, there’s no way an advent calendar finds its way into our house unless there is chocolate involved.

Marking the catalogue: This was a family tradition where we would all flick through the pages of the Littlewoods catalogue and choose a few goodies we’d hope to get for Christmas. Nowadays we’re more likely to buy our own presents for others to wrap up.

Choosing TV favourites: Again, we’d all get involved in this and scour the Radio Times and TV Times armed with a pen to circle the programmes we wanted to watch. The bankers were The Morecambe and Wise Show and Top of the Pops. Never going to happen these days.

Still, I reckon I’m off the naughty list for the other things the friendly ghost brought to my attention.

We have always done the real tree, turkey with all the trimmings, board games, Christmas tunes and festive drinks.

The games, music and drinks may have evolved over the years – let’s face it, who drinks Campari or Advocaat these days – but the sentiment remains the same.

In my dream, the apparition of my mum always has a contented smile on her face when it comes to the bit about hosting family and friends at this time of year.

Now that’s the true spirit of Christmas!

Bad Santa (The 4 Phases of Christmas)

Paul Fitzpatrick: London, December 2021

Phase One: I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day

I couldn’t say for certain when I first became aware of the magic of Christmas, but when I did, it all seemed a bit too good to be true.

Toys, pantomimes, comic annuals and a treat called selection boxes – a seasonal novelty which offered more confection in a day than you were normally allowed to consume in a month….

Roy Wood & Wizzard weren’t wrong!

On reflection, the whole Santa concept was akin to some form of ‘cult-indoctrination’ – ‘If you believe in him you will be rewarded’.

So of course, we believed!

The big fella only popped down our lum once every twelve months but his presence was felt throughout the year, like the Sword of Damocles

“Santa won’t be receiving your letter, if you don’t go to bed”

“Your report card better be good if you’re expecting Santa to visit this year

It was all a bit Machiavellian but we were conditioned to go along with the narrative – to believe… even in the face of logic.

At some point we learned about the Nativity and were informed that Santa was a moniker for Saint Nicholas a fourth-century do-gooder, at this point I realised that Santa and God had a lot in common – they were both omnipresent, they had lots of helpers and they had the power to punish or reward, based on your behaviour or belief system.

This holy connection further endorsed the sentiment that there was absolutely no upside in being Santa-agnostic. Ours was not to reason why, it was simply to keep schtum, play along, and reap the rewards.


Phase Two: What A Fool Believes

But then it happened.

I can’t remember how it happened or exactly what age I was when it happened (probably older than I think, perhaps 9 or 10?), but sure enough the genie escaped from the bottle and all our suspicions were confirmed – The big fella was a hoax!

We kind of saw it coming, but it was still a blow and was exacerbated by the realisation that all the adults we’d trusted in our life had been playing us like fiddles.

For some kids it triggered an existential crisis –
“Is God real”?
“How about the Tooth Fairy? Am I still going to get recompensed by her for all the teeth I’m about to lose due to these damn selection boxes”?

Some folks reading this will think ‘how could you be so old and not know the truth about Santa’? but we’re talking about a much simpler, more sheltered time here – social media and satellite tv hadn’t even featured on ‘Tomorrow’s World’ yet!

On the plus side, once you got over the subterfuge you soon realised that all the upsides of Christmas were still in place and were shortly going to be supplemented with exciting new additions like… the Kelvin Hall Carnival & Circus and Xmas discos.

Also, now that you were in the loop, so to speak, you couldn’t help but feel a bit more grown up, which at the time felt like progress, but perhaps ignorance IS bliss…..


Phase 3: It’s not Christmas until Hans Gruber falls off the Nakatomi Plaza

With Santa out of the picture we faced a different kind of Christmas.

Gone were the cute letters to Santa, and the trips to his grotto… on the plus side we were introduced to the best social lubricant known to teenagers (until tequila came along!) – a miraculous white berried twig with mystical powers that gave us the confidence to snog the girl or boy we’d fancied from afar for the past 6 months but had never spoken to.

As we left school and moved into the workplace the festive season evolved into a malaise of parties, nights out, and social occasions, which for the most part was fun, although you can get too much of a good thing.

The down-side to phase-3, (hangovers apart), was that Xmas day itself changed from being the best day of the year to probably the dullest… as you found yourself stuck indoors with nowhere to go – this was lockdown 70s style, everywhere was closed on Xmas day!

By this point the essence of Xmas as you remembered it, had vanished. There were no surprises anymore – unless someone bought you something other than the customary soap-on-a-rope or Aramis, and the highlight of Xmas day was whatever blockbuster was being premiered on TV that year.

The ultimate phase-3 movie (and some say the ultimate Xmas movie)
Die Hard!


Phase 4: Step (Back) Into Christmas

And then just as you’re getting used to the idea that Xmas is nothing more than a capitalist racket, you have kids, nephews, nieces, god-children of your own, experience Christmas through their eyes, and before you can say Peter Pan, it becomes a magical time of the year again.

From my daughters Nurse Nancy outfit to my boys first pair of football boots or Stone Cold Steve Austin, WWF action figures, the joy in their little faces on Xmas morning was priceless and of course we wanted to make Christmas a special time for them…. everything it was for us, plus more.

Like most families, we have Xmas traditions which we still try to maintain to this day – Watching It’s A Wonderful Life on Xmas eve (which IS the best Xmas movie!); Playing Phil Spector’s Xmas album on Christmas morning; and being a bit too competitive in the annual Xmas-day post-lunch quiz.

Up until last years covid-hit-Christmas the five of us had managed to spend every Xmas day together…. hopefully we’ll be able to get back on track this Christmas, Omicron permitting.

I’m guessing the 4 phases of Christmas are still relevant in some form today, although I’m pretty sure that the digital age and the new licensing laws have progressed the landscape quite a bit from our experiences in the 60s/70s.

What’s always been around however, is Christmas Songs.
My favourite comes from Xmas 73, it’s not the coolest or the most meaningful, lyrically, but it’s a great little Xmas pop song from someone who was at the peak of their powers.

Every time l hear it, it encapsulates the season of goodwill and takes me back to a happy place….

So merry Christmas one and all
There’s no place I’d rather be
Than asking you if you’d oblige
Stepping into Christmas with me



the first christmas (part 2)

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

Imagine our delight at receiving a festive invitation from our new next door neighbours: a working class, colourful family headed up by Bert – ex-army; his earthy wife Noreen and their two children; eleven year old Denise and six year old Albert. We were in for a surprise…

*****

PART 2: Noreen’s Christmas ‘Do’

Noreen’s Christmas Do’s – or ‘shindigs’ as Dad called them – were special. Invited that first Christmas Day to come over in the evening for a ‘bit of a knees-up and do’, Mom donned her mink stole (one of my grandmother’s cast-off’s) over her long crushed-velvet frock and her precious gold evening shoes. “This is just what we need.”   Mom enthused. “At last!  – an evening of social enhancement – perhaps leading to other invitations of the season.” She was stuck in a Southern Belle time warp.

(Andrea’s Mom in the late 1960s.)

Dad didn’t think that deeply about it; he was just glad to finally have a good time after months of hardship. He spruced up his sideburns, dusted down his big lapels and splashed on the Old Spice

(Andrea’s Dad in the ’70s.)

Mom insisted that my brothers wear their school blazers (“Don’t you boys look smart!”) and a hastily home-made Viyella dress for me with a ruffle that made my neck itch.  As we stepped out of the vestibule into the cold smog, Mom’s hopes ran high.

Bert greeted us at the door in his trademark high waisted trousers with braces and white collarless shirt with his sleeves pushed back in a pair of copper garters. Taking my mother in his arms, he Fox-Trotted her the length of the hall into the through-lounge with ram-rod back and tight grip on her waist: “Oh my Bert; you’re so light on your feet! I declare!” She was surprised at Bert’s svelte moves as he deftly dodged the phone table.

 David and Dale found a corner where they sat all evening with long faces; wedged between the flashing, coloured lights of the mirrored, padded ‘bar’, several drooping low-slung paper chains and the bay window; which had been sprayed with fake snow to look “proper old”. 

An artificial tree blazed forth from the opposite corner; its multi-function lights performing dazzling, fit-inducing strobing. Nobody bothered about possible epilepsy in the ’70s. The boys never took their blazers off; remaining static for most of the evening as David drummed his fingers impatiently on the window sill. 

Dad loved a party and threw himself into this one. With more than his usual dash of Southern Charm, he regaled our hosts with stories of the Old South, drank pints from the Watney’s Party Seven barrel and smoked his pipe.

Noreen smoked her “posh”  Sobrani cigarettes with their gold tips, knocked back snowballs crammed with cocktail cherries and laughed loudly as she cranked the music up. She was the life and soul!  Mrs. Mills banged out  ‘Knees Up Mother Brown’ and  ‘Little Brown Jug‘ on the stereo as Noreen twirled Dad around the room; hoicking up her skirt and clacking the plate in her mouth with glee as she sang along.

David’s mouth dropped open as he looked on: his old man was cavorting with that old broad? At the other end of the lounge sat Denise’s Nan, swigging port and lemon like pop. 

“Come on Bab –  just fetch us another one,” she rasped as she stretched out her bony, arthritic hand from under her pink crocheted cardigan. 

Meanwhile Mom – flushed from her Fox-Trot – was now seated at the bar with a giddy schoolgirl blush as Bert poured her a Babycham. It wasn’t exactly what she had expected but  needs must when the devil drives.

Amongst the swirl of excitement and gaudiness, no-one noticed that Noreen had slipped away for a few minutes. She had waited until everyone was tanked-up before her presenting her Party Piece. The door to the through-lounge was suddenly thrown back on cue by Denise, as her mother appeared at the top of the stairs; one leg cocked over the bannister. 

We all gaped wide-eyed to see Noreen in a red feather boa barely draped around her upper back fat; her hefty bosom held aloft by a white corset with stretch panels. She grinned broadly to reveal her gums in all their toothless glory. Noreen’s piece-de-resistance: the mighty Union Jack drawers which she wore over her sturdy corset. 

Mrs Mills gave way to The Stripper as Noreen began to gyrate; shimmying in her feathers while trying to keep her leg hooked over the rail as the music belted out the raunchy, jazz-influenced, suggestive trombone slides: Da da daa, da da d a daa. Her leg slipped and she slid down the bannister, shaking what she’d got (and she’d got a lot).  Da da da daa…

“Ooh er!”

With an almighty heave she swung her leg over the rail, shouting “Merry Christmas Bab!” as she landed bottom-up on the shag pile door mat. 

“Dadgummit!” exclaimed Dad. “What a hell-of-a-shindig!” 

Picture, if you can, the scene in the through-lounge at this point: Mom, slightly tipsy on her second Babycham, tried to conceal Dale’s eyes from the stripper in the hallway by holding her mink stole outstretched. Dad, eyes on stalks and tight as a drum, had sweat dripping from his sideburns as the heat from the two bars on the gas fire and his high blood pressure took a hold.

He swayed forth to try and help Noreen to her feet (ever the Southern Gent) but missed and grabbed the edge of the running buffet table, pulling the doilies and pyramid of sausage rolls to the ground.

 “Dadgummit!” 

Nan still had her hand out for a Port and Lemon; while Bert, to his credit, glided over to his ribald wife and took her hand to help her up from the floor, where she lay snorting and laughing.

David couldn’t conceal his disdain and embarrassment at the whole sordid affair and tapped his foot violently on his chair rung like Thumper. His contempt for our hostess, the tacky decorations and lusty shenanigans was thinly disguised. He sat, arms crossed tightly over his chest, open-mouthed, rolling his eyes skyward: some people. Dale just wanted to try a Port and Lemon. Young Albert threw up from too many sausage rolls and chocolates from the tree.

“Don’t yow show me up,” nudged his mum, “and mind them bits of of sick on me carpet or I’ll give yow somethink to cry about!”

 As for me, I had never witnessed such glorious, glamorous Artistry in all my life and decided at that moment to go on the stage.

Albert retreated to his bedroom where he spent the rest of the evening minding his bits.

___________________________