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!
47 year old Author, Columnist and Blogger.