St. Bartholomew’s Day 2018.
Hello! I hope that this finds you well. I enclose a mixtape & some accompanying words to read…
Pinky & Perky.
I was, one morning recently, walking from the new exit/entrance for East Croydon toward the WC (that is to say, Whitgift Centre, though, these days the abbreviation seems apt). This area, long a dead zone, has lately, with some paving laid and introduction of a weekend ‘street food’ bazaar scenario, seen something of a rebirth as Ruskin Square. To these senses though, no amount of broiling sausage, lukewarm coffee or collapsing bean wrap vending can disguise the fact that one is in the middle of a muddy building site. It is, to be fair, the early days of the redevelopment to this part of the town. I squint, but there is no other way around it. On Landsdowne, two grey skinned youth in soggy joggies approach on the pavement. One scoots along, bow-legged, as Victorian children were often depicted in 1970s Christmas cards, astride a blue bicycle – that is to say, in a fashion that suggests the non-comprehension of the purpose of pedals. The cycle is, to be fair, far too small for him. The other trots alongside, knave-like. Their hoods shield them from the pale and paltry day.
Funny, how some folk, spotted on the street, even from some hundred of yards, can elicit an immediate defensive response: a raising of the drawbridge, a dropping of the portcullis, a call to the battlements; arms drawn. As we pass, one says to the other – the runner to the rider – the words, “Pinky and Perky.” The tone is one of warning rather than, as I suspect, derision (for some unknown, but suspected reason) toward me. We three continue on our trajectories. Some distance later I look over my shoulder. I am half- expecting to be met with their stares or, worse, their about turn. I am wrong. All I notice really are two police officers, on the other side of the street, walking the same direction as me. I realise suddenly that the strange (obscure and disturbing) reference to those dim and distant rubberised porcine characters of my early childhood was directed at said law enforcement officers, and not me. It strikes me, that in 35 years of sub/urban living, and half a century of existence, I have never heard this term, in reference to the police, before – despite its meaning being immediately obvious to me.
The first music I recall hearing was that of the pork rock duo, Pinky & Perky. This would have been at the height of their career, 1966/ 7 (?) – and probably, to Porcine-teens of the day, this was way, way, after the best material. Their music probably tickled me (pink, et cetera) but, even then, as a 3 year old, I feel that I knew that it was rubbish. I remember preferring, “How Much Is That Doggie…?”, “Does Your Chewing Gum..?” and “Right, Said Fred”.
Christ & The Mum.
1970: Moved from Catford, south-east London, to Charmouth, west Dorset. My parents have since hinted that this move from London to the countryside was a preparatory move against the anticipated, forthcoming/ overdue nuclear holocaust emanating from the Soviet Union. I remember little about the 1960s (Nan no.1’s three-bar fire sizzling, Nan no.2’s chrysanthemums & crazy paving, flicking marbles over drains at primary school, moon landing) but this reasoning of my parents, here and now, in the 21st century, seems feasible; why not? They would have been in their late twenties and, though too old (and straight) to be hippies, were certainly of the ‘teen – age.’ We bought one dozen doughnuts from the village bakery on arrival and when we reached the new house there were only 11. It was a cold war.
The new house was called Cliff House. A timber framed, rambling 1910 build that perched and, winter days and nights, pitched, at the very lip of the cliff. It was the last, lonely house at the top of Old Lyme Road. The road had once been the main route between Charmouth and Lyme and rose steeply out of the village, up along the cliff edge. In 1927 the vast swathe of the road slipped 100 feet down toward the sea and the road was closed off. The area of the slip stretched some half mile from the end of the house, west towards Lyme Regis. It was known locally as Black Venn. The garden was wild and at the cliff edge the grass was waist high. To stand in it, facing down the fear, choking on the wind, staring over it and into the tumble down dinosaur yard of Black Venn below and the ever changing tones of the Channel stretched beyond filled me with awe and the need to piss. The cliffs were soft and claggy blue lias clay and liable, we were told, to slip away again at any time. However, since the last major slide had been over 40 years ago, my parents felt that the odds were fair and bought the place. It was a cash deal. And a steal at £1500.
A simple barrier erected by the council long ago and a sign, hidden by foliage that declared ‘KEEP OUT’ blocked the road, just a few feet up from our house. Beyond it a mass of gorse and bramble had sprouted and allowed to grow wild: it acted as a deterrent to trespassers. This was enough to put any adult off, but to a boy with a Bowie knife (brought back from Tunisia by Uncle Jack and presented to me as a gift for my sixth birthday – which, I have to admit, seems ludicrous now!) it was merely jungle to cut through. Once through, it was just a case of clambering down the cliff and you were suddenly in a world untouched for 43 years. Some of it for 43 million years. Remnants of the old road could still be found underfoot, but nature had won out. All semblance of control disappeared. The old trees twisted wildly at strange angles and adders slept in nests among the coiled roots. Rabbit pellets, rabbits, hoof prints, deer. Every so often the ground became expanses of hard sand, quite alien, then jungle again. Here and there you could find yourself suddenly at the edges of bogs of deep, wet blue lias. I stuck a stick deep into one such pool, reaching out as far as I could, and capped it with a glove. It acted as a real warning to any trespasser and remained there until the end of the decade.
Dead Fox in mid Seventies.
At some point the old Victorian municipal dump, or evidence of it, could be found down on Black Venn. Old bottles and clay pots and rusted iron cannon balls were common place and became decoration to the camps that we built down there. The cannon balls, I later learned, were actually just that – practice shot from warships out in Lyme Bay from the early 1800s. At the time I thought nothing of them. I think of them often as an adult. We dug bunkers and made bivouacs. We sharpened sticks and made catapults. Once, I found an old fox, face busy with larvae. It was just lying there next to some gorse. It was hard to the touch. I cut off its tail with my knife and took it home. I safety pinned it to a woolly granny hat. I was, I suppose, a proto punk Davy Crockett. Or a dotty Ena Sharples with a dead fox’s brush snagged onto a jumble sale hat. It was 1975.
1971. SW, LW, MW.
We discovered a secret, hidden room in the attic. Inside was a stash of empty gin and whisky bottles that were stacked neatly from the back wall and came out into the middle of the room; a collection of some hundred. There was also a radiogram*. A stereogram, as it is sometimes called. This huge, coffin-like piece of furniture hummed and glowed and crackled when it was turned on. The lid was hinged and when lifted revealed a SW, LW, MW radio and a record deck. There were six or so records. The radio, however, enchanted me. The dial floated along the mysterious lines of words and numbers by turning the huge dial left or right. The stations drifted in and out. The wood and tweed frontage housed the speaker. It was my introduction to the magic. We disposed of the bottles and the room became mine. The room was bare boards and the ceiling was angled and beamed. There was a skylight that framed the sky. In the winter, with the wind coming in off of the Channel, it seemed as if I was at sea or up in the sky. In the summer the roof creaked and moaned beneath the sun. After some time I discovered that if I put my bed at the far end of the room and over to one side then, at night, I could watch the light of the lighthouse flashing over on Portland some twenty miles away across the bay. The light, blink-blink, every 23 seconds, was to become the pulse of my childhood. I did not get to visit the lighthouse until I was in my late twenties for some reason. However, when I did, I climbed the steps, round and round, up into the glass room at the top and was mesmerised by the turn of the light on its mercury bed. Out to the west, Chesil beach, Golden Cap, Charmouth and Lyme Regis. Out to the east, Purbeck. South was open water. The light was off but as it rode round on its endless cycle I found myself counting off the seconds 23 to 1 and it struck me that I hadn’t thought of this in so many years.
* There were only a handful of pieces of vinyl within. I remember them all; more so than my NI number or any other officialdom since: My introduction to the magic…
Simon & Garfunkel: Bridge Over Troubled Water.
Helen Reddy: I Am Woman.
Stan Getz & Astrid Gilberto. Girl From Ipanema.
Beatles: Sgt. Pepper.
Rod Stewart…An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down.
The Right Banke: Walk Away, Renee.
Anyway, I hope this clears a few things up for you. No doubt we’ll catch up at the Bishops’ shindig before the year is out.
Much love, as always,