(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson of Glasgow – February 2022)
Arguably the most popular attraction in the park playground, the slide (or chute as it was more often referred to in Glasgow) would at peak times have queues of the following waiting their ‘shot:’
THE GALLUS EXTROVERT: sliding on their knees or even backwards was their forté. Their propensity to show off was often curtailed when they hit a sticky patch on the slide, the sudden stop at best grazing their knees, at worst hurtling them over the side.
THE MENTALIST: no fear from this one – head first, arms by the side. Those who had previously slid right off the end could be distinguished by their chipped teeth and black eyes. Experience would eventually lead to them at least extend their arms above their head on future descents.
THE HOGGER: this selfish little git would slide to the bottom and instead of joining the end of the queue back up the steps, would try to clamber back up the slide itself, thus preventing the next in line taking their turn.
THE TANDEM SLIDERS: it would seem like a wizard weez at the time, but invariably the kid at the back, legs placed either side of their pal in front, would receive painful friction burns from the narrow sides of the slide.
THE EVIL EXPERIMENTALIST: consumed by the quest for speed, this nutter would smear Fairy Liquid on the chute, resulting in some poor, unsuspecting child ending up in the sand pit, some ten yards away.
THE DOG: there was always a dog! Usually a collie. They even had the audacity to skip the queue. No manners, these canines.
(Post by Paul Fitzpatrick, of London – February 2021)
I’ve always had a strange relationship with Billy Connolly.
Not that we’ve ever met.
I call it Christopher Columbus syndrome – You find an artist, hear a song or read a book that hardly anyone else knows about, you become an early adopter and spread the word, and before you know it everyone loves them – with people even asking you if you’ve heard of them!
It drives you mad because you feel like you’re the one that DISCOVERED THEM, and if it wasn’t for you unearthing their great talent and spreading the word, they’d be nowhere.
You even begin to resent their newfound fame – they’re being greedy or they’re overreaching or they’re forgetting where they come from, or some other daft notion.
Welcome to my relationship with Billy Connolly.
I’m pretty sure the first time I heard Connolly utter a word was on the Pavilion stage in February 1974.
There was a buzz as the relative unknown had sold out several nights at the Pavilion Theatre in Glasgow, something only Sydney Devine (Scotland’s answer to Elvis) could do back then.
My pal Barry suggested we get tickets to see him on a Friday night as we had no school the next day, we were both 15 at the time and part of the plan was to find a pub and go for the full Friday night Glasgow experience.
We duly found a wee working mans pub round the corner from the venue, and foraged for a seat out of view, it was tea-time on a Friday, so the pub was busy with artisans in their work clothes finishing their shifts for the weekend.
We must have stood out like sore thumbs.
I think Barry braved the first approach to the bar and I was amazed but delighted when he came back with 2 halves of lager and 2 vodka and oranges’ (non-diluted orange squash of course).
A half and a half back then was the working mans preferred tipple, so who were we to challenge the established order of things.
The drinks were downed pretty quickly, and we enjoyed a few more bevvy’s before floating off down the road to the Pavilion in good spirits.
Stand-up comedy in the 70’s was dominated by middle aged men who wore suits and bow ties and told corny jokes about their mother in laws or minorities or Germans bombing their chip shops.
This guy Connolly was different though he was younger, he looked like a welder on acid and he spoke our language.
A bit like listening to the opening 4 tracks of Led Zeppelin IV for the first time, Connolly literally took our breath away. I had never laughed so long or so hard before, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t since, although Jerry Sadowitz has come close a couple of times.
He was loud, gallus, hilarious and the audience loved him, his stories were relatable, and he was one of us.
I remember hearing the Crucifixion sketch for the first time that night, it was the funniest thing I’d ever heard, he was irreverent and didn’t give two hoots about poking fun at religion or sectarian taboos or bodily functions or the establishment, no topic was off limits to the Big Yin.
It was a memorable evening; from the nervous bus-journey into town wondering if we’d get served or huckled for being underage, to the journey home, fish supper in hand, trying to recount all the jokes and patter and remembering we had football for the school the following morning.
We were so smitten by Connolly that we spent the next couple of weeks spreading the gospel, telling everyone we knew how great he was, mostly to blank faces however, as no one had heard of him.
His career really took off after a live album of the Pavilion material was released in May 1974, and the following year he finally came into the general public’s consciousness.
In 1975 Connolly sold out an unprecedented 12 nights at the Glasgow Apollo, as well as appearing on Parkinson for the first of his record breaking 15 appearances.
That year he also showed off his acting chops by appearing in a powerful Peter McDougall TV play called ‘Just Another Saturday’ which was about West of Scotland culture, beliefs, innocence and sectarianism.
If that wasn’t enough, he also headlined a London gig for the first time and even had a number one single, appearing on TOTP with a parody of Tammy Wynette’s Divorce. It was the archetypal rags to riches story; the guy had gone from zero to hero in the space of 18 months.
There’s a picture that was taken in 1975 by Ronnie Anderson, a newspaper colleague of one of our contributors George Cheyne, that is my favourite Connolly portrait.
The occasion was an after-party in The Dorchester for the first of Billy’s sell out shows at the London Palladium in 1975, and it features – Billy, Alex Harvey, Jimmy Reid the shop steward, Hamish Stuart from AWB, Frankie Miller and Jimmy Dewar (a musician from Stone the Crows and Robin Trower Band).
A motley crew of 6 Glaswegians toasting their mate’s success in a foreign land.
If I’m being completely honest, the parody single was the point when I started to think the Big Yin was overreaching.
A parody single? That was for Benny Hill and Rolf Harris but not for the Big Yin!
I’d also noticed that his accent had started to soften a bit and he was definitely losing some of his tough Glasgow brogue.
Of course, I look back now and understand he was just reaching out to a wider audience, the guy was a welder turned folk singer turned comedian, he had no idea how long this gravy train was going to run for.
He was simply making the most of his opportunities
As Connolly got bigger so did his global reach, hanging out with Hollywood celebs and Royalty and appearing in big budget movies and hosting TV specials.
There was a point where he seemed to be everyone’s favourite comedian, but he probably wasn’t mine anymore.
I had discovered American stand-up, guys like Richard Pryor, Steve Martin and Bill Hicks, and I liked the cut of their jib.
I still liked Billy and I would go the odd gig, but for me comparing his newer, more mainstream material to his earlier stuff was like comparing Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called to Say I Love You to Superstition or Living for the City.
And I guess I’ve just addressed some of my issues right there!
If Stevie can’t maintain unrealistic artistic excellence, who can??
On a subconscious level I also think that for some absurd reason I thought he’d forsaken his Scottish roots, which is illogical, particularly as I moved away from Scotland myself in 1984.
There’s no doubt that Connolly has had a fantastic career, he’s adored by millions and he is and always has been a wonderful ambassador for Scotland.
As he’s got older, I think he’s got back to being a bit more irreverent and a bit more outspoken, and that’s the Billy I adore.
I’ve loved stand-up comedy since I was 15 thanks to the Big Yin, he was my first and he was one of the best.
When all’s said and done, I’m glad I got to discover the Big Yin in February 1974 and share him with the rest of the world.
It came to my mind recently that lunch tends to get overlooked these days. Brunches & Suppers are regularly championed by Nigella and Jamie, we’re constantly bombarded with dinner ideas on MasterChef and up until intermittent fasting came along we were hoodwinked into thinking that ‘Breakfast is the most important meal of the day’.
By the way, do you know who’s credited with that oft-repeated and very famous quote? None other than John Harvey Kellogg…. yeah THAT Kellogg!
Subsequently, lunch has dropped down the ‘square meal’ league table into the relegation zone which is a bit of a comedown. Once upon a time it used to run away with the title but that was before Gordon Gekko’s “lunch is for wimps” claim in the movie Wall Street.
In its glory years lunch was called dinner, it was the main meal of the day and was eaten any time between late morning and mid afternoon. Then the industrial revolution came along at which point sustenance was required between morning and afternoon shifts to enable workers to sustain maximum effort throughout the day, hence the regimented one hour lunch break, we know now.
Cut forward to today and lunch for many consists of a quick sandwich in front of a computer screen, checking out social media and looking at Nigella’s recipes for supper, or if you’re male, and of a certain age, just checking out Nigella!
Back in the 70s however, when we were at school or newbies in the workplace, lunch WAS the most important meal of the day… by a long chalk.
Maybe it was by default… after all breakfast was relatively basic, a plate of cereal or a slice of toast before you ran out the door to catch the school bus. Dinner, on the other hand, was a bit more formal in most households, the table would be set but you had to wait till your faither got home.
To be honest dinner was a bit hit or miss in our house.
You see, my dad was an offal man for his offal – kidney, Tongue, liver, tripe, all the stuff that was popular in its day and made fancy window dressing at the butchers…. but offers good reason to turn vegetarian now.
It got worse though, if the raw materials my mum had to work with weren’t great, then her cooking skills only compounded things.
I love my Mum to bits, but she was no Fanny Craddock and trying to mask the stench of charred liver from my favourite Fred Perry polo shirt, (by splashing on copious amounts of Brut) before heading out to impress, was not a pleasant experience.
So, whilst breakfast was on the hoof and dinner could easily have consisted of hoof…. lunch was always to be savoured for a few reasons…..
Firstly, although we may not have been enduring the same hardships as our distant relatives from the 1800’s, lunch still broke up the day perfectly – and if like me you were stuck in a dull lesson pre-lunch, then you could start counting down to the lunchtime bell before meeting up with your pals to eat, blether, and release some of that pent up energy.
Secondly, free-will, which was in scant supply back then, came to the fore as we were able to take ownership of our daily lunching choices.
You could go to the canteen for school dinners if you were seduced by the day’s menu offering, (beef olives was always a favourite), or if you fancied a wee donner (the walk not the kebab) then you could take your lunch money and saunter down to Bearsden Cross to the bakers for a sausage roll or a sandwich…. always accompanied by a carton of ski yoghurt for pudding. It was probably the best hour of most school days!
School holidays meant lunch at home, and after a bit of trial and error, home lunches became a slick operation, i.e. straight out of a can – Campbell’s chicken soup and cold Ambrosia Devon Custard…. tasty, low-maintenance stuff that even I could prepare without the need to splash any Brut on afterwards.
It’s strange but I can’t remember much about school lunches at primary school, I lived about 15-20 min’s walk from school so I doubt that I lunched at home every day. I do remember a few kids having packed lunches though and thinking that themed lunchboxes were cool, but I don’t think soup and custard would have travelled that well.
Another weekly treat during school holidays was going to Drumchapel swimming baths, not so much for the eye-stinging chlorine or the daredevil belly flops off the dale, but rather for the delicious pie & beans in the adjoining canteen afterwards.
As we moved into the workplace, lunchtimes were a saviour, it broke the day up and gave you time to regroup and recharge your batteries.
I worked in a small office in central Glasgow when I left school. There was just 5 of us and I was the youngest by some 20 years, so come lunchtime I was a lone-wolf – until my good mate Billy Smith started working in Frasers in Buchanan St a few months later. This was a tremendous turn of events as I used to go with Smiddy to their excellent staff canteen where we’d fill our faces and gawk at all the elegant cosmetic girls, before meandering about town to wile-away the rest of the golden-hour.
It was a splendid arrangement and when Smiddy told me he was thinking of quitting his job for a more lucrative one, I did what every good mate would do in the same situation….. and tried my darnedest to convince him to stay.
“what about the great staff discounts” “what about all the pretty girls in the cosmetics dept” “what about the opportunities for promotion” “what about the fact you’re working in an iconic building” “what about – the subsidised staff canteen for Christ’s sake!!“
Of course, Billy very selfishly took up the life changing opportunity, leaving me to lope around as a lone-wolf once more, although I used to regularly meet my mate Joe Hunter on a Friday and we’d head to Paddy’s Market to get our outfits for the weekend. If ever clothes required a splash of aftershave, it was those ones!
As enjoyable as all those lunch times were back then, you knew the pleasure was temporary, you always had an enemy – the clock!
As you get older and escape the constraints of the clock, lunch offers a great social opportunity to catch up with friends and family and the lunches I look forward to the most now are the leisurely ones you have on holiday. Looking out at a sun-splattered, turquoise ocean, with a cold beer or a chilled glass of wine accompanied with never-ending portions of seafood or salty tapas… living in the moment with nothing to rush back for.
Many years back, towards the end of the Tang dynasty in fact, a court dancer named Yao Niang bound her feet into the shape of a new moon (whatever that would have looked like) and danced on her toes before China’s Emperor Li Yu.
The practice grew in popularity, and for best part of a thousand years, Chinese women, mainly with peasant upbringings, would similarly bind, and basically deform their feet. It was not always a voluntary action, and mothers would bandage their daughters’ feet this way because tiny, ‘lotus’ feet were considered very alluring and enhanced the poor girls’ ‘marriageability.’
Here in the West, we were of course horrified to hear such tales. We could never inflict such pain and discomfort upon our own children. Oh no, no, no!
And yet we did. At least our parents did. Yes, that’s your parents, dear reader. And mine. They tortured us not through some misplaced social belief or controlling instincts. They did so for reasons of thrift; because they were tight!
They bought us, and forced us to wear ….. plastic sandals!
Most likely sourced in Woolworths, our gullible parents fell for the claim that products from the store’s own Winfield brand were ‘the mark of quality.’
They did leave a mark though, I’ll give them that. Both physical and mental.
First up, even if you were an uncool ten-year-old and made to wear wee ankle socks, the tops of your feet would still be left with a lattice shaped impression when you removed the sandals. The shape of the buckle strap could remain for hours!
On returning indoors to watch Hector’s House, you’d change into your cozy little Thunderbirds or Sindy slippers. The bliss was not long lasting however – you’d experience a sharp, burning sensation as you padded about the house and the skin around your ankle creased into the indentation left by the collar of the sandal.
This was because, and it’s not exactly rocket science, sandals being summer wear, were worn when the weather was generally warm. Feet swell in the heat, and at a damned sight faster rate than plastic does. Duh!
Somebody, not least our parents, should have realised that perspiration and a plastic inner sole are not a clever mix: that little feet would randomly slide around the albeit restricted confines of the sandal while the ankle was already set in following another, more conventional and safe direction.
Remember the excruciating pain of your toes sliding up into the sandal’s toe cap as you stopped walking at pace? It was times like that you regretted locking yourself in the bedroom when your mum said she was going to cut your toenails with the kitchen scissors. Lesser of two evils and all that.
I say ‘walking at pace’ because the external sole of this footwear offered possibly even less traction, rendering attempts to run almost impossible – certainly foolhardy.
You know that Jon Bon Jovi chap? The rock star. Well, his band’s best-selling album was written and recorded based on the true-life trauma of being forced to wear plastic sandals as a kid.*
Too chuffin’ right these things were slippery when wet. We were suburban kids. We played in burns and streams. Possibly, our parents had too, but plastic sandals weren’t a ‘thing’ when they were young.
They had never experienced the excruciating pain of scraping the skin from your shin bone as you slipped, trying to make the jump onto the big sharp stepping stone in the middle of the of the stream. Neither had they been subjected to the ridicule of friends as you played out the rest of the afternoon with a bloody lower leg and a wet back side!
I should also add that I grew up in the West of Scotland. It rains frequently, even in summer. Pavements and paths are never dry for very long. And our parents wondered why we’d go through a box of Elastoplast every week?
Here’s another thing: perhaps you were lucky enough to go on a family holiday in the summer. Perhaps though, you were unfortunate enough to end up in a place with a pebble / shingle beach. Rustington in Sussex springs to mind – about two miles east of Littlehampton. On the face of it, the idea of plastic sandals is actually quite sound, when your folks would dig in the windbreaker and set up ‘camp’ for the day at the point on the beach furthest from the sea.
“In case the tide comes in, dear. It’s ok though, you can walk to the water in your plastic sandals. Heck! You can even wear them in the water. That’s the beauty of plastic – you can’t do them any damage. Aren’t Winfield such clever people? Aren’t you so lucky to have your own natty brown pair? Off you go, dear. Have fun.”
‘Have fun?!’ I think it was about this age that I developed a cynical sense of irony.
Neither was it true that plastic sandals couldn’t be damaged – the strap would always be the first bit to go. So now, instead of just tentatively tottering across the beach like somebody seventy years older, you’d walk with a pronounced limp, trying your best to keep the now flapping sandal on your foot.
After endless minutes of playing in the cold sea, you’d opt for the surely more pleasant option of something to eat (the ‘chittery bite,’ we called it.) Further anguish would inevitably follow when it was discovered to your horror that the day’s ‘chittery bite,’ was actually just a pilchard sandwich. With lettuce.
On exiting the sea though, the weight of water in your little size five sandals was extraordinary, though this soon dissipated as you watched water gush from the sandal slats like that produced by the bilge pump on the QE2.
And so began the quest of traversing the pebbles back to ‘camp,’ your feet slip sliding inside the sandals, one of which would be just hanging together in no more, while the sandals themselves would be slithering in every direction on the stones.
You’ve seen the films of newly hatched turtles heading for the sea? This was it in reverse.
Neither were these abominations that passed as appropriate footwear of any earthly use in the unlikely event of prolonged dry weather. Each grain of sand, dry soil, dust, whatever, reacted like a mini ball-bearing when stuck to the soles of plastic sandals.
It meant relying on a speedy getaway from any situation, like, just say, stealing apples, which some bad boys and girls did, was somewhat injudicious. Precious seconds could be lost as your feet sought solid grip with the ground in kind of Wile E. Coyote style.
What the Chinese did to millions of young girls was dreadful; abhorrent. But even though it took almost a millennium, they did officially ban the practice in 1912.
However, although Woolworths and their ‘quality brand’ Winfield disappeared from our High Streets back in 2015, others have stepped (limped) up and now produce, market and sell this dangerous footwear, camouflaging the discomfort and pain by calling them ‘jelly shoes.’
And that, my friend, is nothing short of a plastic scandal.
(* This may not be completely accurate. Or at all.)
I reckon most people can remember who they shared their first romantic kiss with… although perhaps we’re reaching an age now where some of us are struggling to remember who we shared the last one with!
That first kiss can be a defining moment, a conclusion to months and in some cases years of anxiety…. they don’t call it teenage angst for nothing.
For our troop of wannabe Romeos, any thoughts of engaging with the opposite sex didn’t emerge until the lead up to the Qualifying (Quali) Dance in primary 7. Up until then we had more important things to focus our blossoming brains on, like Football, Subbuteo & Airfix models.
Whilst the Quali Dance appeared to be the tipping point for this seismic shift in interests, the real catalyst I think was the onset of puberty which was having its impact on the fairer sex as well…. why else would they show any interest in a monosyllabic boy sporting a matching shirt & tie abomination hand-picked by a mum who thought Peter Wyngarde was a style guru?
The Quali Dance of course was a school ritual and part of said ritual was to ‘escort someone to the dance’… except it never really worked out that way. There were no limousines, corsages, bowls of punch or live bands like the feted American high-school proms…. just teuchter music, unbranded fizzy-pop, dollops of awkwardness and an evening that seemed to go by in a flash.
Despite all the talk and bravado I don’t remember anyone from our year popping their ‘kissing-cherry’ at the Westerton Primary School, Quali Dance of 1970. Not even our resident man-boy…. a lad with a voice like Barry White and a full thicket of short & curlies at age 11, who’s hormones were obviously running amok whilst the rest of us were popping champagne corks if we located a single strand in the nether regions with a magnifying glass.
I didn’t think about it at the time but looking back I imagine the dynamics in the girls changing rooms were pretty similar.
Our transition to the ‘big school’ several months later presented fresh opportunities and challenges. There were lots of new people on the scene now and more social events…. however, this just seemed to ramp up the pressure as you sought to avoid being the last in your peer-group to land that first smooch.
There was also some anxiety around the question of technique – kissing wasn’t something you could practice by yourself (or with a mate!) like football, so how could you tell if you were doing it properly?
What if you banged her teeth or bit her lip or she swallowed your chewing gum? The word would surely get out and no one would ever want to kiss you again.
You’d be kiss-shamed and canceled!
There were one or two awkward near misses before the big event took place, notably a spin the bottle session with an older crowd, resulting in a couple of consolatory pecks to the cheek and forehead… which wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t been sitting eyes closed, lips pursed, in anticipation.
As it turned out, my first kiss was with a girl I’d known since primary 3 and although it wasn’t articulated, I think we were both motivated by a shared need to get this kissing monkey off our respective backs. In that respect I suppose it was more a kiss of convenience than an explosion of passion.
Don’t get me wrong, it was nice, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t chip her teeth or block any airways with my Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit, but I don’t remember there being any fireworks…. just a joint sense of relief before we went our separate ways to share our news.
I think we appreciated we were in the same boat…. it was a rite of passage for both of us.
Fast forward a couple of years and the kissing floodgates were well and truly open now – I remember this bizarre ritual at local disco’s where revellers would just start snogging mid-song and I’m not talking about the slow songs at the end of the evening, as that was par for the course. There was no verbal interaction, no please or thank you’s, no “you’re looking ravishing tonight”…. just a tap on the shoulder, two and a half minutes of shuffling around to 10cc or Cockney Rebel followed by a 30 second snog and then you’d be on your merry way before the DJ played the next song…. I’ve often wondered if it still happens today?
This was an era when you would go to the cinema ostensibly to ‘winch’ your way through whatever blockbuster was showing that week. Bearing in mind that double bills were the norm in the 70s, that was a lot of smooching, particularly as you only came up for air when the lights came on for the obligatory half-time refreshments… Kia-ora and choc-ice.
I think it’s fair to say that the back rows of the local cinemas were always chock-a-block on a Friday and Saturday night and it wasn’t to get a panoramic view of the screen
This was also the period when ‘love-bites’ came into prominence (as did polo-necks, funnily enough) with girls applying makeup (and toothpaste?) to conceal their perceived marks of shame whilst boys strutted around like Mick Jagger, parading their vampiric contusions as a badge of honour.
There was plenty of anxiety around this practice too – what if I suck a bit too hard and draw blood, will I turn into a bat?
It was a curious phenomenon.
Some people even practised the art on themselves (well, I’m guessing the love bites on their arms didn’t get there any other way!) whilst others used the suction from a coke bottle or similar to make it look like they’d been party to an amorous encounter… when really they’d been in their bedrooms alone, listening to Gilbert O’Sullivan and waiting for the ice-cream van.
Looking back, love-bites were horrendous things but like tartan scarves, Gloverall duffel coats and first kisses, at a certain point, we all had to have one!
(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.
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.’
April 1967. Just another day spent in the drudgery of the Primary 7 class in Westerton School. My eyes drifted to the classroom window as I gazed longingly towards the football pitch at the bottom of the hill, wishing I was out there instead of listening to Mrs Smith’s dreary drone and then…bang!
The headmaster, J. Jeffrey Thomson as he liked to present himself, Tommy Gun as he was known to the pupils, came barging through the classroom door.
Tommy Gun never walked. He just barged like a thundering elephant everywhere he went and after a brief consultation with Mrs Smith he announced to the class that one of the school’s pupils, Alan Fairley (i.e., me), had come third in the National ‘Learn to Swim’ poster competition.
A few weeks earlier, I and the other six members of the school’s special art group had been informed that the Scottish Health Authority were promoting a Learn to Swim campaign and that all schools in the country were to submit entries for the poster design. We were each handed poster sized sheets of paper, given access to all sorts of artistic materials, and told to get drawing.
My design featured a girl standing at a zebra crossing (remember them) with the swimming baths at the other side of the road. My caption was ‘Don’t just stand there, go over and Learn to Swim.’
The announcement that I had come third in the whole of Scotland made me something a of a mini celebrity among my classmates, especially when it was revealed that the prize would be presented by Jimmy Logan, a renowned comedian, actor, and impresario (whatever that is).
Logan’s main claim to fame was that he appeared in a couple of the legendary, if politically questionable, Carry-On films and any child of that era who had ever attended a pantomime at Glasgow’s Pavilion Theatre would have encountered him in some capacity.
The admiration of my classmates paled into insignificance however when the prettiest girl in the class (if the not the entire school), Alison McDougall, gave me her autograph book and asked me to get Jimmy Logan to sign it for her. Even at that pre-pubescent stage of my life, I was acutely aware of the brownie points which could be gained with a girl like Alison by acceding to her request.
The prize for third place was a ten-pound record token (sorry, this Taiwanese keyboard doesn’t have a pound sign) which doesn’t sound like much but back then it would have bought you 30 singles or 6 albums. Interestingly that ten pound is valued at 154 quid in today’s money so it was a tidy sum for a 12 year old.
The prize giving was to be held in the function room on the top floor of Lewis’s department store in Argyle Street, so off I trotted with my proud parents in tow and as we stood in the assembled gathering the announcement was made that Jimmy Logan had been called away and wouldn’t be attending. But not to worry folks, we’ve lined up a replacement -international singing star Eve Boswell – at which stage virtually everyone in the hall turned to each other and said ‘Eve who?’
Everyone except me that was. I was more concerned about having to break the news to the lovely Alison that I hadn’t been able to come up with the goods.
Anyway, I was called forward to receive my prize and the mysterious Ms Boswell shook my hand and said ‘well done’ in an east European accent as she handed me the envelope.
The problem was, I just wasn’t into music at the time so giving me a record token was akin to giving a McDonalds voucher to a vegan. All I cared about at 12 was football and a pair of Gola Speedsters would have been a far more amenable reward for my creative efforts.
My music loving elder sister, Jean, had been uncharacteristically nice to me in the run up to the presentation as she eyed a share of the prize and I was happy enough to let her have her pick from the top twenty as the two of us later wandered about the record department in Woolworths, Drumchapel.
Meanwhile I came away with one of my favourite novelty songs – Three Wheels on my Wagon by the New Christy Minstrels along with a couple of football related records I’d managed to excavate from the bulging album racks.
So what, I hear you say, became of Eve Boswell? To be honest, I never gave her a second thought after our brief encounter but amazingly, about eight years ago I was enjoying a relaxing pint on a Saturday afternoon in the Sheep’s Heid Pub in Edinburgh when, among the plethora of retro pop music memorabilia on the wall, I noticed a poster announcing the release of Eve Boswell’s new single ‘Pickin’ a Chicken.’
It was the first time I’d heard her name mentioned for 46 years and a quick glance at Wikipedia told me that, in 1955, she had reached number 9 in the UK charts with the said single.
I left the pub content in the knowledge that I had once shaken hands with a Top Ten artist.
I did get her autograph that day back in 67 but, perhaps predictably, Alison McDougall was suitably underwhelmed at the absence of Jimmy Logan’s signature in her book and, even more predictably, my brownie point score came in at a resounding zero.
(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson of Glasgow – October 2021)
As I navigate my seventh decade on this planet, I’ve reluctantly come to accept most things must change with Time. Generally speaking, that change is for the good: advances in medical science for example; touch-screen access to all the information in the world and of course you can now have pizza delivered to your front door.
There is one change however, I just cannot accept.
With due deference to our readers from USA, I’m not a fan of the Halloween we limeys seem to have adopted from your fair land.
“Trick or Treat?”
Is that it?
Oh no – I forgot the bit where you suddenly and most unexpectedly give my house the appearance of a runny omelette.
You see, this whole premise of ‘Trick or Treat’ is grossly misleading to an ageing traditionalist. I was first presented with this dilemma a few years back. I took a few moments to consider the options carefully and replied ‘Trick.’ I presumed the young whippersnapper before me, rather amateurishly dressed as Super Mario, would produce a magic wand, mumble some words of a memorised spell and produce a line of knotted handkerchiefs from sleeves of his red pullover.
Well – that was a lesson well learned, I can tell you!
The upshot is I now don’t entertain the wee scamps at all. Come the night itself, my house is enveloped in darkness from 6pm, and an intricate series of hidden trip wires and bear pits do the ‘trick.’
Of course, I’ve not always been a grumpy old git. As a nipper I looked forward to Halloween immensely.
The build-up began in earnest when the local village shops took stock of the traditional masks. This would be mid-October at earliest and not the week after Easter, by the way.
In the early to mid-Sixties, the masks I had, were made of cardboard imbued with the same dusty aroma as egg cartons. Traditionally, they depicted mildly spooky or mystical presences like the faces of ghosts or gypsy women, for example. Nothing sinister. But with an old bed sheet or grannie’s colourful woollen shawl draped over your shoulders, you really did feel you could walk through walls or cast a hex. Until you tried.
Another lesson well learned.
In the latter half of the decade, there was a move to plastic shell masks. By now, Superhero guises were all the rage. Batman was my favourite (still is) and I vividly remember not so much the smell of these guises, but the slightly rough texture to the matt blue colouring of the head and eye section.
(Oh – just me, then?)
The Halloween parties hosted by local Cub Scouts / Brownie packs were eagerly awaited. The normal routine of knot tying / dancing badge work was put aside. Instead, for Cubs at least, games such as ‘dookin’ for apples’ or ‘treacle bun eating’ offered different challenges. With sharp, metallic forks held in our mouths, we’d attempt to spear apples bobbing in a basin of water, before partially stripping off to take bites from a dangling bun covered in gooey, dripping treacle.
Hmmnn! Akela may have some explaining to do these days.
‘Guising’ on the evening of 31st October was the highlight. With friends, also in full disguise, we’d walk excitedly from house to house along the street. In one hand we’d swing a candle-wax-dripping, hand-carved turnip lantern (yes – turnip) and in the other, our mum’s shopping bag. We’d hope the latter would be filled with masses of delicious, treats by the evening’s end.
We had to be good, though. The neighbours were brutal judges, and kids would be rewarded in accordance with their standard of performance. Whether it be a poem, song, jokes or a magic trick, our ‘piece’ required days, possibly even weeks of fastidious rehearsal.
So here’s my message to kids today: if apples, monkey nuts, Parma Violets and assorted toffees are to bulge your trendy little tote bag (nobody would be seen dead, even at Halloween, with their mum’s shopping bag nowadays) then you must learn that THE TRICK IS IN TREATING your neighbours.
Not bloody terrorizing them.
(What was your first, or favourite, Halloween outfit? Do you remember any of your guising ‘performances? Let us know in the Comments section below.)
(Post by John Allan, from Bridgetown, Western Australia –May 2021)
On the 6th of November 1999, I, along with 5,273,023 fellow citizens, voted for Australia to become a Republic in a National referendum. Unfortunately 54.87% of the population disagreed and the status quo remained. It was also verified that any further talk of a Republic would not be entertained whilst the current monarch remained.
A world away and 3 decades before, little me was being prepared for a special day.
A Royal visit.
I’m not sure if 5 year old me grasped the importance of the event but it did mean the afternoon away from the classroom. Hair brylcreemed into submission, freshly ironed grey shirt, blazer brushed and of course clean underpants in case I was involved in an accident…
“Base. Do you copy ? RTA involving 5 year old male. Vital signs show 1st degree skid marks and multiple pee stains. Poor kid. He never stood a chance. I blame the parents !”
So there I was with my classmates, spruced up to the nines, waiving my Union Jack, standing at the side of the road on a fresh spring day, waiting and waiting and waiting. Finally, the crowd seemed unsettled. Murmurs became shouts of elation. Two police motorbikes with flashing blue lights sped by shortly followed by a shiny black limousine with a small pink clad figure waving from the back seat and blink, they were gone. That was Princess Alexandra, the Queen’s cousin apparently. I’m not in any way questioning her lineage but I did wait patiently for several hours just for a pink handed drive by. It could have been anyone. I didn’t expect her entourage to screech to a halt and for her to jump out and high 5 me ( mainly because 5 year old white boys – and presumably Princesses – didn’t do that sort of thing in 1963) but I would have settled for a patronising pat on the head or a scuff up of the hair.
I had gone to a lot of effort.
I learned a valuable lesson that day. Royal visit = day off school.
Similarly the Queen high tailed it on the way to naming a boat after her self in Clydebank in 1967. It could have been anyone really in a duck green coat, hat and gloves as she sped by.
I gave up on royal roadside vigils soon after that.
I think we got the day off for Prince Charles’ Investiture at Caernarfon Castle in 1969 because I remember watching some of it on TV. All that pomp and ceremony is as dull as dishwater in my opinion. You only watch it in the hope someone trips on their robes or drops their crown and swears.
I went to that castle on a scout trip a few years later and remember sitting on a bench on the ramparts when a seagull deposited a large shit into my open packet of crisps and all over my hand. I was offered a piece of tissue paper but I said the seagull will be miles away by now ! Now that would have certainly brightened up Charlie boy’s investiture for me !
Princess Anne marrying a toy soldier was another day off school in 1973 slumped in front of the telly wondering when she was going to stamp her foot on the ground until someone gave her a lump of sugar.
Celebrations for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 for my friend Russ and myself started early with toasts to her Majesty at Kilmardinny Loch. In fact the loch kept our 4 litre cask of Chateau Cardboard quite cool for the endless “God save the queer old Deans !” Such a pity we forgot the canapes. The next few hours were a blank to me but I ‘came to’ with pint in hand at the Amphora in the city. Russ assured me I didn’t desecrate any Union Jacks or threaten any Royalists with ‘up against the wall, comrade’.
I have nothing against the whole monarchy circus. It’s a good tourist attraction, but I know which box I’ll be ticking next referendum.
(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson, of Glasgow – May 2021)
A look now at this week’s Smells of the Seventies Top Twelve.
Coming straight in at number 12, we have:
MILK MONITOR HANDS:
The primary school position of ‘milk monitor’ was one of honour. Only the trusted and well behaved were granted the privilege of carting the perpetually cold, heavy, milk bottle laden, metal crates around the numerous classrooms.
Being conferred this position of prestige effectively gave permission to skip class for a while each day. Result!
There was a downside though – there always is. When you returned to your classroom, milk round duties completed, and rested your weary head in your hands …..
Boak! Blech! Eeeuuuww!
The smell of sour milk is one that lingers. It would seep into the fabric of your clothing and you’d notice the kid in the next seat inching towards the edge of their desk. And retching.
Playtime couldn’t come fast enough and you’d rush to the toilets and wash your hands clean. But a state of freshness is only a state of utopia.
The combined scent of sour milk and carbolic soap is not the most attractive.
Jumping three places from last week’s number 14, is:
FRESHLY CUT GRASS:
Not only back in the day, but even now, this is the smell of freedom.
On hot summer days at primary school, we’d often be taken outside for lessons. No matter the subject, the grassy aroma would relax the mind and even a half hour discussion on Oliver Cromwell became bearable.
At secondary school, balmy summer breezes would waft the fragrant scent into the science labs through the opened fanlight windows. Accompanied by the muffled sound of a tractor pulling the grass cutter, it hinted towards the end of term.
It was a time of change: the football pitch was being shorn, soon to be lined as a six lane athletics track; national grade exams beckoned; summer holidays were around the corner.
The smell of freshly cut grass meant exciting times ahead.
Falling from a peak position of 8, this week’s number 10 is:
I still have no idea why these sweets were so popular. Perhaps because they were cheap?
From Swizzel, the makers of Fizzers (which were decent sweets) Parma violets were / are hard sweets based on some aniseed based confectionery in India which are used to freshen the mouth after a spicy meal.
The smell of violets may be a half decent base for perfume, or toilet cleaner, but surely not for human breath?
I mean, I love the smell of garlic, but I’m not so sure it should be used as a mouth-wash.
Making a bit splash this week we have a joint number 9:
CHARLIE / BRUT 33:
In 1973, Faberge launched their ‘33’ everyday cologne. In the same year, Revlon launched their ‘sharp flowery’ fragrance, ‘Charlie.’
I know both are now regarded with a little bit disdain; as ’cheap.’ And certainly the Brut 33 splash-on gave that impression, coming as it did in a plastic bottle no less.
However, for naïve young schoolkids, living on paper round and baby-sitting incomes, these fragrances met our budgets while making us feel sophisticated; classy.
I very much doubt there were any dates between school pupils that didn’t involve a dab or two of either these scents.
Henry Cooper / Barry Sheene and Shelley Hack can feel well pleased with their influence on the match-making process.
Coming from nowhere, at 8 with a bullet, we have:
No – not the little peaked efforts we sometimes wore to primary school – these caps.
Principally for using in toy guns, we would stamp on them to ignite the tiny dots of what we always believed to be gunpowder. However, I think I’m right in saying old fashioned gunpowder is not shock sensitive and has to be ignited. So it may be a mercury based compound that actually forms the black dot on the roll of paper. (Who says I didn’t pay attention in Chemistry class?) Anyway – who gives a tu’upenny one for the science? We’d place lines of these on the inner ledge of our school desk and brusquely bring down the lid to create an almighty (as we heard it) bang.
The residual smell of spent gunpowder or whatever, and burnt paper was just tops! It was also exciting as we felt we were doing something just that wee bit naughty.
Making its annual assault on the charts and debuting this week at number 7, it’s, erm, comic annuals.
ANNUALS AT CHRISTMAS:
Every Christmas night, I’d head to bed with several new ‘annuals’ as reading material. Excited as I was to read the exploits of Alf Tupper (Tough of the Track) or Desperate Dan, my abiding memory of childhood Christmases, is the smell of these books.
I have to confess, that even at the age of sixty-two, I attract some weird looks from shoppers in Asda through the month of December, as with the books close to my face, I fan through the pages of the Beano / Dandy annuals.
With a ‘tree-mendous’ jump of fourteen places to number 6 this week, we have:
Back in the day before plastic was invented (well, almost) we always had real Christmas trees.
There is nothing in this world, I’m quite certain, can evoke such sense of sheer excitement in a young kid than the smell that permeates home when a real Christmas tree is placed in the corner of the living room.
Falling two places to number 5 after an amazing thirty-three weeks in the charts, is:
‘WET’ SCHOOL LUNCHES:
Every day, by playtime, (or was it ‘break’ when we were at secondary school?) you could tell what would be on the menu for lunch.
My heart would sink when I could detect the putrid odour of a ‘wet’ lunch. Invariably, these would be ‘wet’ days weather wise as well; days when the dining room windows would run rivers of condensation.
A ‘wet’ lunch could be expected when the stench of stewed cabbage would mingle with the cheap, Bisto substitute gravy used to smother the rather odious looking beef olives.
There would be no silver lining either, as in general, the Head of Kitchen would dictate it be better to get all the crap out in one go, and subject us to pink custard (Devil’s Spew) and prunes for desert.
Where there’s a Ying, there’s a Yang, and making a comeback at this week’s number 4, is:
‘DRY’ SCHOOL LUNCHES:
Ah! Now you’re talking. There was something so comforting when from the sanctuary of the bike shed opposite the kitchen, you could smell the roast of breadcrumbs on chicken or fish fingers, and chips deep fried in blocks of melted lard.
You could also bet your treasured Lynyrd Skynyrd album on there being rhubarb crumble and custard on offer for second course.
Matching Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ album for continuous weeks on the chart and remaining this week at number 3, comes:
DOG POO ON YOUR SHOE:
Maybe, as a society, we are better educated these days. Or maybe dogs are genetically just constipated now. But there’s thankfully not as much dog dirt lying in the streets these days.
There was nothing worse than the smell that followed you home when you’d stepped in a pile of poo hidden in a tuft of grass. I’m sure we’ve all been there.
Or worse, if you’d perfected a slide tackle while playing football, only to ….. well, you know. Yeuch!
Having it ingrained in the tread of you bike tyre was no fun either. More so if it were the front one. Think.
Going around and around in the chart is this week’s number 2, climbing again after a steady fall in recent times:
GOLDFISH BOWL / TADPOLE JAR:
How many of us pestered our parents for a goldfish when we were young? Or ‘won’ a sad little specimen in a poly bag when the carnival came to town?
Our parents, realising how lucky they were we’d not asked for a pony, or even a dog, jumped right on their good fortune and readily agreed … on the condition you looked after it.
“It’ll teach junior about life and death and responsibility” they stupidly thought.
Yeah – that went well … for all of about a week, until the magnitude off the task took its toll. What? Clean out its bowl as well as feed it? Every four days? Why is that water cloudy/ Where is Goldie? What are these wee stringy bits of stuff suspended mid bowl? What’s that Goddamned smell for crying out loud?!
The same, though worse, would happen with the tadpole jar.
You’d plead to be allowed to keep the frog spawn you’d shovelled into an outsize and cleaned out malt jar.
“It’ll teach junior about life and evolution and transformation and responsibility” your parents stupidly thought.
Wow! Did that jar severely honk! Worse still – when the spawn had released tadpoles, and the tadpoles grew wee legs, they had to be transferred into a basin of sorts. With rocks, and weeds and stuff.
After that, you couldn’t really change the water. So while the little frogs developed, the water became stagnant. And stank to high heaven.
And nobody would come play with you unless their name combined the words David and Attenborough.
We have new Number One this week … and it’s getting personal, not ‘arf! PERNOD & LEMONADE:
Summer 1976. I’d just left school and had a job lined up in Banking. It was time to celebrate – time to get away and let my hair down. (I did have some, back then.)
It had been decided I wasn’t clever enough at Maths and Physics to go to University, so this would be my ‘gap week.’ Off I headed for a caravan in St Andrews with several pals.
You know, I casually say, ‘several pals,’ because in truth, the week is a total haze and I can recall only my mates Derek, Graham and Kenny being there. Jack may also have been. But I honestly can’t remember much at all, which is quite scary.
(I do recall coming back from the pub one night and throwing bits of bread onto the roof of a neighbouring caravan so the occupants would be awakened the following morning by hungry seagulls pecking the crusts above them.)
The only other recollection I have is of a night on Pernod and lemonade. Or rather, I recollect the next morning! And afternoon! And evening! And the next morning again!
I don’t think I’ve ever been so ill.
To this day, I cannot stand the smell of Pernod. If somebody close by drinks it, I have to move away.
*** It’s Smells of the Seventies … It’s Number One … It’s Pernod & Lemonade.