Business Studies was the future, the way forward and the subject I chose to take at school during my final two years, in the mistaken belief that I would have a secure job for life, when I finally set foot in the big wide World. Of course nothing ever pans out the way it should, and the path I followed took many twists and turns as I tried to navigate my rite of passage, after compulsory education. Business Studies in 1985 was rather different to the technology lessons of today. I was proud to be studying a subject that was new, untried and untested in the curriculum, but its very nature would be alien to most youngsters today. My appreciation of 1980s contemporary education wouldn’t last for long.
The school bell rang out, signalling the final lesson of the week. It was Friday afternoon, as I begrudgingly meandered towards class, dragging my brown Adidas bag behind me. Scraping it along the floor, I knocked everyone and everything in my path, I just didn't care. Apathetic, unconcerned, with hunched back, looking downwards, I reluctantly moved into last position, in the queue outside room 18. Business and information studies wasn’t the most agreeable option I had chosen, and it seemed as though I was just going through the motions, turning up to a session, I didn’t enjoy.
‘Form a line, keep your chatter down and make your way into class; quickly, don’t dawdle,’ directed Mrs White. Her monotone voice used to grate on me, always the harbinger of migraines and an overbearing sense of gloom. She wasn’t a teacher I liked in any sense at all, there was no bond or respect and our disdain for one another clear as day. However, I had leant to live with her oppressive nature and her dulcet tones, just wafted past me; I didn’t even listen any more.
The scraping of chairs, banging of equipment on desks, jostling and high jinx, always took up the first five minutes of any lesson, this one no different. I slouched down in my chair, sighing under my breath, eyes rolling at the thought of yet another hour of languor and lassitude. Immediately I switched off, thinking about what I was going to do on the weekend. Escaping reality was invariably a big part of my day; I was a daydreamer, always looking for stories to tell.
‘Attention, all of you, settle down and put the covers on your typewriters, fingers on home keys, and we will begin!’ signalled Mrs white, as she stood hands on hips, looking over the top of her tortoiseshell half moon spectacles.
‘All of you need to get your words per minute ratio up, if you are going to pass your Pitman Certificates; you are not doing well, far from it!
Business studies in the mid 1980s consisted of an old typewriter, keys covered with a wooden platform and an expectation of typing as fast as you could. In all but name, I was training to be a secretary, there was no business acumen involved. Occasionally, once a week, we would make our way to the information suite, in the upper level of H block. Huddled around a single BBC B Computer, we created databases, printed out on reams and reams of perforated paper, spewed loudly from an old dot matrix printer. That was the only redeeming feature, of a lesson I hated more and more. Losing interest through lack of motivation and inspiration, I longed for the day, I would never have to see Mrs Whites face again, it couldn't come soon enough.
The wooden cover was great for resting ones head on, through an hour-long episode of clicking keys, headache inducing fluorescent lights and the booming voice of a frustrated old spinster, who gave up her position in the civil service, to dedicate her life to the torment of children like me. My only saving grace – getting caught having a brief snooze at the back of class and being sent outside for the duration. Oddly, when the results were in, I passed my certificate with flying colours, to the indignation of my school time nemesis. The look on her face was priceless, the expression on mine was amazement; relief, it was finally, all over!
The 1970s was the happiest time to be alive; I had a large extended family, who all lived locally; I even attended the same school as my Uncle, who was about six months older than me. We were very close growing up and had a relationship akin to Brothers, even placed in the same class, during our first term at school. Family were a lot more important back then and as I reflect on the past, the older I get, I realise the importance of times that made me who I am; the last generation to survive without the rigours of modernity.
It was a decidedly chilly autumnal day, perfect for running around, keeping warm and enjoying the fresh air outside. The family were in my Grandmothers breakfast room, all sat around the central aisle, chatting about the weeks events. There was always something to talk about; people who had sadly passed, Mrs so in so who was pregnant again or the neighbour down the street who hadn’t been seen for several weeks. Curtain twitching, knowing each other's business and passing judgement on someone else, was common place in a close-knit community like ours and part of the lifeblood of families everywhere!
Outside my Uncle Paul and I were amusing ourselves in the garden, as all lads do. Grandad had bought us a pair of toy pistols from the Taxi shop in Highlands Road and dressed as a Cowboy and Indian we played a game of skulduggery and subterfuge– fighting, tripping one another up and pushing each other over. Mum, forever protective shouted from the conservatory door, ‘it will all end in tears if you aren’t careful, play nicely or come inside!’ Well boys do what they are preprogrammed to do and our games became ever more boisterous, part of the course in a health and safety free, 1970s Britain. Disregarding Mothers plea for a truce, we hid in the garage, away from prying eyes.
Uncompromising and focused, I was determined to get the upper hand, throwing a piece of wood towards my Uncle, who lowered his head just in time. Shocked that the object missed, I hid back in the corner by the garage door, waiting for the onslaught that would surely follow. Five minutes, must have passed, and I couldn’t hear a sound. From the protection of the darkness, I gradually stood up, unaware that my Uncle was standing, just a few feet away, holding a hammer in his hand. As I lifted my gaze, there was a thud; I was struck across the forehead, throwing me backwards into the recess. At first, I was too shocked to cry, but as the blood started trickling from my brow and the pain began to smart the tears also came to pass.
Sobbing uncontrollably, Mum came running in, opening the garage door and lifting me up towards her chest. ‘ I told you it would all end like this, you kids never listen!’ The tears were cascading down my blood stained cheek; taking a tissue from inside her sleeve, Mother tried to wipe the blood away, all the while, rubbing my arm, to make me feel better. After a few minutes, she carried me inside, followed gingerly by my Uncle Paul. Placing me on the draining board, next to the sink, she finally cleaned the wound and placed a butterfly plaster or two over the cut. Within a couple of minutes we were outside once again finishing our game of Cowboys and Indians, ignoring Mums plea for calm and wreaking havoc in our wake!
The rough and tumble of childhood was a large part of growing up, unlike today. Of course parents looked out for their children, but they did so without over protecting and stifling their sense of adventure. Kids will be kids, they will play, fight, kick and scream, throw each other around and generally let off steam. This is what young life should be about, as we take our first tentative steps into the World outside.
Nanny’s breakfast bar was full to bursting with food as we walked through the door. Hard-boiled eggs, sandwiches, Smiths Crisps (The one’s with the little bag of salt in,) cakes and plenty of bottles of Corona, fresh from the morning delivery. It was 1979 and my Brother and I, Mother and Father, Nan and Grandad and Uncle Paul and Aunty Helen, were heading to The New Forest for a picnic. Childhood summers seemed longer and hotter than they are today and the sun shone brightly as we all piled into the back of Grandad’s racing green Land Rover.
Mother sat in the front along with Nan and Grandad drove. These were the days when no one wore seatbelts. As kids, we sat on the metal benches in the rear cabin, we were thrown around, from side to side, holding on to leather straps at the top of the windows. Together with Nan and Grandad's dogs we happily bumped along, singing songs, counting cars or playing eye spy. Days like this were happy, fun filled and full of joy, free from pressure, not a care in the World and hope for the future. The seventies may well have been a lost decade in many respects, but they were the best of times to grow up!
Everyone grabbed something; bright orange Tupperware boxes, a garishly coloured cool box adorned with the obligatory seventies flower motives, bottles, cans, jars of pickles and toys for us kids. Grandad headed for a place he knew well, a beautiful clearing, sheltered by tall, imposing trees, room to play or sleep, just enjoying the day with the birds and bees. As everyone went their separate ways, I stayed with Mum and Nan, helping to lay out lunch under an old evergreen, free from the afternoon sun. Gently arranging paper plates, cups and flasks of piping hot coffee we unpacked tubs of coleslaw, potato salad and cups for tea. Nanny popped into the back of the Land Rover and brought out some multi-coloured deck chairs, finally beckoning everyone over for some much-needed sustenance; it was finally time to eat, a truly seventies affair!
I sat down next to Paul who certainly was my Uncle, but we were of the same age, even attending school together. Like all boys, we began to nudge each other, tickling, pinching, play fighting in the heat. Occasionally a stare from Nan, would make us sit up straight and behave for a moment or two, before our game of one-upmanship took hold once again. The adults sat in a group, gossiping about neighbours and family stuff, things that didn’t concern us as we dived into the picnic with gusto, ignoring shouts of ‘leave some for everyone else!’
I must have drifted off, for what seemed like a minute or two, but as I awoke, the sun was going down below the horizon. A breeze could be felt across the meadow and everyone was packing up the debris from the day, mindful of the ‘Keep Britain Tidy’ campaign and leaving the forest, just as we had found it. Before I had time to fall asleep again, I was scooped up by Dad, who sat me on his lap in the back of the Land Rover, as we made our way home.
A day out with Grandparents at a time when life was tough. We didn’t have a lot as children, but we did have a loving, caring family, close and there for one another. As the years have passed by, people have died and I no longer experience the joy a picnic can bring, preferring a meal in a restaurant or a glass of wine in a bar. The memories however stay firmly with me; an innocent and forgiving time remembered more frequently as I grow older, more emotional and in touch with recollections that are more important now, than they ever were!
Just a paper bag, brown, crumpled, ripped in places, tired and well used, scrunched tightly together at the top, creating a neck in which to hold the seemingly innocuous sac. Placed carefully on the bedside table, a breeze from the window behind brushed past; a brief rustling of wrapping awoke me from a light afternoon nap. Suddenly I looked up, making sure the bag was still in-situ, moving my hand, touching, tapping, stroking it; a sigh of relief, it was safe, unmoved, untouched, safely by my side!
A red glow filtered calmly through the window, dancing majestically off the wardrobe doors, illuminating the newly installed Star Wars wallpaper on the left hand side of the room. My eyes slowly opened, focusing on C3PO, whose golden glow shone flamboyant red, the room illuminated with colour. Eyes averted, the paper bag lit up, like a fire burning bright, slowly awaking me from my slumber. It was time to rise, and get ready to go to Nanny’s house, a short walk away. I stretched upwards, firmly above my head, unceremoniously dropping my left arm, crashing down onto the bed below, accidentally knocking the bag to the floor. Panic ensued as I feverishly, frantically tried to find it; finally located lodged between the bed and the bedside table, trapped upside down, contents spilling over the floor!
I jumped down onto the carpet, running my hand under the divan, urgently determined to find my most ‘precious things.’ Heirlooms, treasures that meant everything, items I took with me wherever I went, stored safely in my brown paper bag, were now tumbling all over the floor! My cheek pressed firmly against the felt base of the bed, I tried to push my arm further, deeper into the dark, moving it, right to left, flicking out whatever was inside. A half eaten packet of Opal Fruits, an unopened tube of spangles, some Black Jacks I had been saving for later and my tiny orange cat, no bigger than my thumb, part of my farmyard, usually stored in the airing cupboard in the hall.
Mum shouted upstairs .’What’s all the noise? What are you doing? We are going out in a minute, hurry up and come downstairs!’
‘I’ll be their, stop going on, I’m just getting my things!’ I replied, still searching furiously for the contents of the bag.
Finally, out popped a Parker Pen, that Aunt Susan had given me for Christmas and a Wade Whimsie Giraffe, that I always had with me, despite falling over in the street with it a few weeks before, cutting open my finger as I fell. Earless, chipped and scuffed the little china animal was a special friend, someone to talk to when there was no one and my first purchase from the Post Office, with some Birthday money from Nan.
Some string, old shiny Quality Street wrappers, a handful of marbles, two conkers and a pair of blue woollen mittens held together with string, completed the collection. Quickly I put them back into the carrier and cautiously made my way downstairs, holding tightly onto the banister, not wanting a repeat performance.
I held onto the bag even more tightly than usual, as we walked into Nan’s, pressing it hard into my hip. Even when Mum took off my duffle coat, I wouldn’t let go, the pouch passing up my sleeve, following my arm. As Mum pulled the coat over my head, I spied Nan from the corner of my eye, chuckling ever so slightly - ‘A handbag, he always has a handbag, that’s our boy, the boy with the bag!’
Nan always said she knew I was gay, because of the 'minaudière' I carried, it was a kind of family joke. Of course it has nothing to do with my sexuality, but it is a memory of a childhood I would relive again tomorrow. My Nan is no longer here, the bag and contents long since gone, but the memories are still burning strong, recollections important, special, so clear! Cherished moments stored tightly, the real reason all of us belong!
Children’s television in the late 1970s, early 80s was hit and miss. During the school holidays there was an eclectic mix of children’s shows to watch, to suit every taste, my favourite ‘Why Don't You Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go Out and Do Something Less Boring Instead.’ In the early evening during term time, there were other exciting programmes, forever linked with my childhood - ‘Grange Hill,’ ‘Emu’s World’ and ‘Think of a Number,’ with the unforgettable Johnny Ball. There were of course many other productions too numerous to mention; at the time they were a link to the outside World, that a small boy like me could only dream of. I became interested in television, the celebrities, their lives and always dreamed of being an actor, in a World far removed from my own.
Children’s TV was an escape from the difficulties at school. As a child I was brought up on ‘Blue Peter,’ ‘Playschool’ and my favourite ‘Chorlton and the wheelies,’ a rather psychedelic, at times disturbing, typical of the time, animated children’s television show. They were a big part of my childhood and hold many happy memories for me, sat with Mum, happily involved with the saga on the screen. After watching similar, modern performances today, I can safely say the shows are a poor relation of those produced in the 1970s.
The school bell sounded twelve fifteen, it was time for lunch, my brown Adidas bag was already packed, as I sneakily put my school work into the holdall ten minutes before we were due to leave. It was the early 1980s and I was walking home for lunch each day. Our house was situated a short distance away and I no longer wanted to stay at school, eating the by now unpalatable school dinners. Getting home as quickly as possible was important, not only was I hungry, but my favourite television show was only fifteen minutes away, ‘The Sullivans,’ a period Australian drama, following the exploits of a middle class family in Melbourne, living through the stress of World War II. This show was popular with all my peers in the time before ‘Neighbours,’ that other famous Ozzy show, took to the air. The Sullivan’s was a stepping stone into adult television, leaving the early years behind.
Running down the side of the house, I could hear the opening credits playing on the box. I threw my bag and coat down on the kitchen floor, shouting ‘Hi Mum,’ as I turned right into the lounge, laying flat on the floor in front of the set, just in time for today’s episode. ‘Remove your shoes!’ I heard Mum shout, just before I began to kick off my scuffed pair of shiny black Clark’s that I had forgotten to take off. Excited, I laid fixated on the screen, not wanting to miss a moment, oblivious to everything else that was going on around me.
Mum called through the kitchen hatch. ‘Come and get your dinner, eat it while it’s hot.’ Still glued to the television, I walked over to the dining room and took the plate from Mum – Beans on toast, with a sprinkling of strong cheddar cheese, followed by a hot cup of tea and a chocolate Swiss roll! As I sat there eating, watching the television I was conscious of the time, constantly watching the clock.
Seconds after ‘The Sullivans’ ended, I ran into the hall, replaced my shoes, laces left undone and grabbed my discarded satchel and jacket, that had by now been neatly placed on the hooks in the porch. ‘I’ve got to go, I’ll be late!’ I exclaimed, jumping up, kissing Mum on the cheek. ‘Don’t run, you’ve just eaten, you’ll get indigestion!’ she shouted, as I scooted out of the back door, heading towards my friends house in Fareham Park Road, picking him up on the way to School. We both began to short walk back to Henry Cort, talking about the drama on the screen, what would happen tomorrow, and what we had for lunch? Falling through the gates, we headed towards the gym for an afternoon of PE, my least favourite subject; it was time to work off our tea!
I had eventually fallen asleep at midnight, too excited about the morning ahead. It was Christmas Day and I could feel a chill in the air. As I laid in bed, my cold breath flowed freely into the room, steaming up the window behind the bed. The first yawn of the day and I was awake, stretching my arms up as far as I could; clasping my hands tightly I cracked my fingers together, finally bursting into life. After laying there for a few moments, I looked up towards the chink in the curtains above, it was still dark, the moon high in the sky. I turned over, kneeled up and peered through the glass, making a peep hole with my hand so I could see outside. I observed the red flashing lights on the Power station in the distance and looked on with anticipation as the neighbourhood also stirred into action, welcoming in Christmas Day!
My brother was still asleep in the bed next to mine, not even my loud banging could arouse his slumber. Like me, he had been awake long into the night and fell asleep well after I finally shut my eyes. The light turned on in the upstairs hall, Mum and Dad were awake, it was time to get up. I slipped my feet into my burgundy and black checked slippers and grabbed my dressing gown from the hook at the back of the door, quickly throwing it around my shoulders as I made a mad dash for the toilet. All the excitement and the cold crisp morning had brought on an immediate urge to pee. As I put my hand on the latch of the door, pushing it down, I realised someone was inside. “Hurry up, I dying to go,” I shouted, just as Dad came out the door.
Rushing eagerly down stairs, I could see the Christmas lights glistening on the half open sitting room door, inviting me inside. Looking around I saw pillowcases of presents, stockings full of sweets and a bike in the corner, the bike I had wanted and pleaded with Mum and Dad to get me for Christmas, not a Chopper like my friends, but a bright orange/yellow Budgie bike. It was beautiful, sparkling under the lights of the tree, reflecting the bright 70s colour into the room; specs of luminosity flickered around the walls; it was magical and all mine to keep!
With my little Brother finally downstairs, and the turkey cooking in the oven, presents opened and chocolates consumed, we all sat down as a family watching ‘Top Of The Pops’ on television. Mum walked back and forth checking on the dinner, basting, steaming, boiling and stirring the gravy. Dad made his way to the kitchen opening a bottle of sparkling wine, laying crackers neatly above the plates, polishing the best silver cutlery with a cloth. With the table set, Mum called us inside and we sat down to a feast set for a king. Roast potatoes, three roast meats, stuffing, five different types of veg, pigs in blankets and lashing of hot gravy. After a hearty dinner, hot Christmas pudding with thick whipped cream, we finally finished our meal, just in time for the Queen!
Running out of the kitchen, around the door to the lounge I jumped on the sofa, just managing to hear the National Anthem play. This music always sent shivers down my spine, stirring emotions inside, even as a young boy. Watching Her Majesty, before the Christmas Day film was somewhat of a tradition for me and Mother at least, sitting quietly listening to the Queens every word. She never said anything controversial or particularly memorable, but just hearing her voice at three o clock made Christmas day complete.
For the next few hours we played with our Christmas booty before getting ready for an evening at Nan’s. Precious memories of a childhood spent with a loving family; a time of innocence, without a care in the World, enjoying the festive season that seems so long ago today. These times we can never repeat but can look back on with fondness, important events that defined my life, that cut through this World, so bitter, so angry, so full of strife!
Laying on the bed face down, my legs were bent at the knees, kicking the air, excitedly, as I flicked through the pages of Mum’s catalogue. As far back as I can remember Mother had always bought all our Christmas and Birthday presents from the thousand page book that sat in the corner of the sitting room. Mum had asked me what I wanted for Christmas; immediately I headed for ‘Freemans’ to satisfy my curiosity. At eight years old, the book felt as heavy as me, as I grabbed the corner of the binding, dragging it from its home under an occasional table next to the settee. Puffing and panting, sweat pouring from my brow, I managed to get the catalogue up to my bedroom, crawling on my knees, throwing it loudly on the staircase, one step at a time. ‘Do it quietly!’ I heard Mum shout from the kitchen ‘….and don’t fall down the stairs!’
Mail order or home shopping was all the rage at the time. In the late 1970s, families didn’t have an endless supply of credit and money to buy presents or luxury items. Mum and Dad were typical of most; the only debt they had was the installments owed to the catalogue company each month, spreading the cost of Christmas and other family occasions over the course of the year. Growing up as a child this ‘book of wondrous things,’ was a big part of my life. Rather like the internet of today, it was packed with gifts and clothes I couldn’t afford and provided an escape into a materialistic World of inanimate objects and frivolous spending!
I became aware of my sexuality, thanks to the ‘big book,’ always turning first to the men’s underwear section towards the back. While Mum and Dad slept soundly at night, I would gingerly walk down stairs, not making a sound, procuring the catalogue. Sitting away from the door, hiding from anyone who could perchance walk by, I crouched down at the side of Dads favourite chair, knees up to my chin, shivering from the chill of the night. Barely able to see, just the street lamp outside illuminating the glossy pages, I licked my thumb and forefinger, quickly flicking through, constantly alert, looking around, hoping no one was stood behind. Men standing tall in various masculine poses, legs wide apart, sporting 1970s Y fronts and occasional briefs, their bodies on display triggering emotions and feelings normally kept in check. As a young lad this was my first taste of the male physique and despite my lack of real understanding, I was aware that I was different from my peers!
‘Freemans’ offered a glimpse into decadence; designer clothes nestled perfectly with plush furniture and objects that had no use, apart from their ability to look gorgeous placed on a shelf. Even at eight years old, I was making a home, pretending to live in a large sprawling mansion, country cottage or London town house; luxury fixtures and fittings and everything in its place. At the end of each season, I would take Mothers catalogue and spend hours sat upstairs, cutting out my 'favourite things,' sticking them down on paper, creating a montage of my ideal archetypal dwelling. I was a home maker then as I am today and always had a love of delineation, expressing the flamboyant side of my personality, creating a dream to aspire too.
1970s Britain was indeed a colourful place. As a child I discovered much about me, my personality and changing tastes. Through the pages of Mum's shopping directory, reading between the lines, there were links to my future, firmly illustrated at a momentous time; self exploration and an understanding of ones self all part of my childhood agenda, encompassed in a book. ‘Freemans’ offered a sense of belonging and discovery, precipitating my journey into adulthood. A catalogue was just a shop without a high street, but it was more than that: a snapshot in time, an era that no longer exists, a blueprint for the modern age and the commencement of a new chapter. Society in 1979 was a far cry from 2018, seen so vividly in colour, consumerism on display. A little bit of escapism during a period of economic stagnation at the end of a difficult childhood, culminated in the eventual sense of achievement, I finally feel today. Sat here remembering the trading Bible that firmly punctuated my life, has once again manifested memories, that in reality have no price!
Grandad pulled up outside our Maisonette in Nashe Way. I was playing in the back garden, digging holes in the flower beds, burying my most prized possessions. I was a squirrel then, as I still am today, always hiding things, forgetting where I put them, unable to find them again. I was covered from head to toe in mud, my hair matted, large clumps of wet soil dangling from my brow; new burgundy Clark’s sandals scuffed, knees dirty and red after crouching on the wet grubby grass. I could see my Grandparents through the decorative viewing holes, in the brick wall at the rear of the property. It was windy, Nan was having trouble keeping her purple silk head scarf around her newly set hair. She held on tightly to the bow around her neck, her other hand tenaciously grasping hold of her brown leather handbag. Grandad Eric escorted Nan to the front of the flat, his hand gently holding her elbow, as she lowered her head towards the floor, trying to avoid the inclement weather swirling around her!
Mother shouted from the back door, beckoning me to come in and get ready; Nan and Grandad were heading to Portsmouth, for an afternoon of shopping at Portsmouth’s Tricorn Centre. I turned around sheepishly, Mum clocked my filthy appearance; her mouth dropped; a scowl illuminated her aggravated face. Mum lifted her hand up, pointed it towards me, gesticulating her displeasure. ‘Get here now, get inside and clean yourself up, just look at the state of you!’ she protested as I gingerly walked passed her maddened stare!
After a quick clean up, rough brushing of hair, vigorously polished shoes with socks pulled up to my knees, I was suitably attired once more and ready for the afternoon ahead. Mum took my grey duffel coat from the hat peg in the hall, buttoned it tightly towards my chin, lifted my hood up and put a long knitted mantilla around my neck. As Grandad opened the door, a gust of wind nearly blew me off my feet, my hand gripped tightly by Nan, who stopped my fall.
The Tricorn Centre was a striking piece of 1960s architecture, built five years before I was born. There were flats, pubs, restaurants and shops, all served by a large concrete car park above, The brutalist structure wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but as a small child I loved it. The imposing building in the heart of the city was a hive of activity, aromas and sounds like I had never experienced before.
We walked down the stairs towards the shops at the bottom; I could smell seafood as we trod the last step. I lifted my head upwards, taking a deep breath; cod, haddock, crabs and cockles, scents piercing the senses. Market traders, shouting in their familiar Pompey tones, inviting customers to try their wares. Clothes, jewellery, freshly baked bread, displayed neatly on bakers shelves. Fresh cream cakes for Nan and Grandad and a macaroon for me. My eyes focused upwards, towards the stark austerity of the atrium above, the wind still howling around the pillars, as I pulled my coat closer around my shoulders.
After a warm cup of tea and hot sausage roll, a few hours of shopping and a large packet of sweets it was time to leave. I stood at the top of the stair case waving goodbye to the ‘little people’ down below; tired, full to bursting, clutching Nanny’s hand, I gently stepped into Grandad’s new brown Cortina, parked well away from everyone else on the top floor. Curled up on the beige velour upholstery with Nan, I drifted in and out of sleep, opening my eyes occasionally, glimpsing the World rushing by. Nan and Grandad chatted to each other, the car radio on low, the journey went on forever, just the lights dimmed glow. A final peep upwards, the city passing by, homeward bound together, contentment with a sigh!
As I sat in the lounge on a decidedly chilly afternoon, I began drifting off to sleep once again; I had only been up an hour, but after the shenanigans of the night before, staying awake was just too much. Gently I closed my left eye, gradually flickering under the light pouring in through the window. I rubbed my right eye with the back of my hand, took a large yawn and closed both lids. Head falling to the side, I nodded off; just forty winks before Sunday lunch.
Ten minutes passed and a was awoken suddenly, my slumber rudely interrupted; hissing and spitting from the kitchen and a plume of smoke filtered through the serving hatch, as Mother put the par boiled potatoes in steaming hot lard on the stove. Mum’s taters were the best, well second best to my Grandmothers anyway; cooked to perfection, basted frequently, vigorously shaken in the roasting pan and customary seasoned with salt pepper and occasionally a few well chosen herbs, picked fresh from the garden; but never garlic! In the good old days, the dreaded bulb rarely featured in the British diet. These were the years when you could only buy a bottle of olive oil from the chemist and purchasing a container of vegetable oil was considered terribly posh; Vesta curry’s were all the rage and Blue Nun was the wine of choice. I used to think, looking back, that Mum cooked everything in lard, I’m sure she didn’t, but it was the late 1970s and times were very different; austerity was the order of the day!
I always enjoyed school dinners; whenever I feel in need of cheering up or am just having a bad day, I look bad at these lunches with fondness. Cooking a similar meal at home, when it’s pouring with rain outside and the wind is howling down the chimney stack is a memory that makes me feel secure and content with the World. Roast potatoes were very much on the menu then as they are now; my love affair with the humble roastie, began way back when; a love affair that continues today.
I was first in the queue, I could smell the scorching spuds, as the Dinner Ladies brought them out to the front of the canteen. There was something about roast potatoes at School that were so different from any I have ever tasted. To be honest, they were rather soggy, not crisp like Mum used to cook, but the taste was great and I always had second helpings, thirds if I could, which is probably why I was and still am a little on the larger size. I am a product of the seventies and all that decade threw my way. Political correctness didn’t exist and it was OK to be normal, eat humble and not have delusions of grandeur. The lunch menu was a reflection of the values and aspirations of the time; nothing over the top, hearty, filling and basic, ideals we should adopt once again today!
At home, sat at the dining table, the dinner plate was piled high; thick slices of sirloin, three or four different vegetables, pigs in blankets, home made Yorkshire puddings and piping hot gravy made with the meat juices from the joint slowly cooked in the oven. To the side, each of us had a plate of bread and butter; proper butter, not that margarine stuff; natural wholesome unprocessed. Eating with gusto, I would always make a roast dinner sandwich, filled to bursting with goodies from my plate; always left to last, washed down with a cheeky glass of wine, only allowed on a Sunday afternoon!
Today my love affair with the humble roast potato still exists, cooking them as often as I can. Today I will cook them with garlic, balsamic vinegar and even Marmite. Unlike the past I will only use olive oil or beef dripping at Christmas, as a one off treat; with high blood pressure and cholesterol, lard is most certainly a no no. Suddenly the World became more health conscious and my spuds adapted to mark the times in which we now live. The basic recipe remains the same, the taste as good as ever and the memories persist, always transporting me back to family occasions, laughter around the table and stories of decades gone by!
Assembly and prayers seemed to drag that day, our headmistress had more to say than usual. Sitting in rows along the length of the hall we sang the Lords Prayer, finally filing outside towards our classes and the beginning of the school day. It was nearly Christmas; always a time for celebration; as part of the schools annual festivities, our class had an appointment with God. We were due to go on a school trip to our local church, St Columba; a chat with the vicar and religious instruction was on the cards and I for one was looking forward to the journey ahead. In the 1970s, religion and church attendances were on the decline; an excursion to a Christian house of worship, would most certainly not be on the cards today. As a child I had always felt spiritual in some way, eulogising Christmas and Easter with gusto, even saying prayers before I went to bed, it was yet another difference between my peers and I; something that made me different and a part of my personality I still haven’t lost today.
Walking hand in hand we left the school, travelling along Hillson Drive towards the Church at the end of the road. Compared to children today, we were well behaved, listened eagerly to our teachers and never spoke until we were spoken to; a testament to the times we grew up in, a mark of respect unheard of in 2018. St Columba was large and imposing, a modern building built during the housing boom of the 1960s, The structure was surrounded by a large Council estate, well maintained with residents taking great pride in their homes, very different to the extensive developments we are used to in the 21st century. This is where I was Christened, celebrated Weddings, harvest festivals and sang Christmas Carols; it was an edifice I was very familiar with; friends and family living in and around the grounds in which it sat.
Walking inside the Church, I was amazed by the sheer size of the hall, eagerly looking around in every conceivable direction, trying to take in everything before me. Standing, still grabbing on to the back of the last row of pews, holding on for dear life, out of fear or incredulity, I contemplated this vast space, gazing straight ahead towards the alter; the letters IHS stood out, a monogram for Jesus Christ. The large white candles, the font, Bibles, stacked neatly on each chair and as I moved my head upwards, the open, monumental dark wooden ceiling, illuminated by spotlights on either side of the auditorium. This was a wondrous site for a young lad, unable to contain his excitement at this oar inspiring vision; wide eyed I continued to walk up the isle behind my class mates, turning towards the vestry beyond, briefly looking back towards the large wooden doors; it was a magical site, just as it was intended to be.
We all stood huddled in a group, facing the vicar as he gave a talk about the Church and St Columba. It was then he pointed to me, and asked if I would come to a large cupboard at the back of the small room. Not knowing what to say or do, I did as I was told, everyone turning their heads, following me as I walked across the parquet floor. He opened the door, revealing a row of vestments inside; robes, religious attire and cassocks, all neatly pressed, covered in plastic. Some were brightly coloured, embellished in gold, beautifully embroidered ruffs for the choir and a musty smelling cloak, looking as though it had seen better days. The vicar asked if I wouldn’t mind putting on one of the outfits to show the rest of the class, which I duty did; turning red in the face, looking down towards the floor, I stood, rather embarrassed as our mentor described the clothes I was wearing. I was a person who liked to blend into the background not wanting to stand on show; for me this was tantamount to hell, hardly religious.
Approaching school, after our religious outing, I was philosophical about my excursion to the Church. Back then I believed in God and for the brief stroll back to class I even thought about becoming a priest. My life took a very different path, one could hardly call me a saint, but I will always remember that day with fondness, when we went to meet God in his house, in the church at the end of the street.
47 year old Author, Columnist and Blogger.