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1953

September 14, 2016 6 comments

I mentioned in my previous post that this week sees the third anniversary of my retirement, and that I would be looking back to that. My actual retirement date was 16 September, my 60th birthday, and on that date I posted this piece. It wasn’t a narrative in the usual sense, but I wanted to do something to reflect the year in which I was born. 1953 was, in many ways, a momentous year, and the clips I included in this post give you a sense of that. There are also several links to the wonderful Pathe News website, which is a real goldmine of video history. As I said at the time, I didn’t expect you to read this as a regular post, but it was one which I hoped you’d come back to, to sample some of the visual treats. To anyone who manages to read the whole piece and watch every clip in its entirety, I can only offer my admiration! Most of you reading this now will not have seen this post before, and I hope you’ll enjoy at least a few of the reminders of a bygone age, and marvel at the lists of events and the famous births and deaths of 1953. And that doesn’t even include my own birth!

One small editing point: remarkably, three years on all but one of the links and video embeds still worked when I tested this. The only one which had disappeared was the original trailer for the Disney movie, Peter Pan. I couldn’t find another version of this but didn’t want to lose it, so I have included a later trailer for the film’s DVD release. Have fun!

Take It Easy

This is something of a departure from what I normally do. Today is my 60th birthday, and is also officially the day I retire from work. I wanted to mark my important day in a suitable manner, and this is what I came up with. This isn’t a standard narrative article – what I’m doing is giving you a flavour of the year in which I was born. The piece contains some clickable links, some videos you can watch straight from here, some pictures, a couple of lists and some more words. I’ve had loads of fun researching this, and I hope you will enjoy it too. There is a lot here and it is probably far too much to take in at one go, so do feel free to revisit if you are exhausted before the end!

I was talking about this a couple of weeks ago with a…

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Categories: Memories

Born To Be Wild(ish)

August 26, 2016 25 comments

Do you ever find yourself looking back at earlier versions of yourself, and wondering about how different life was? As we get older, we have a lot more to look back on and while some might contend that we should always look ahead, and never look back, I think we can learn from our past. As I said in my post Summer of ’69 that was a momentous year for me. It was also the year that the movie Easy Rider first graced the screen – in June in the US, a little later in the UK – and it opened up the eyes of impressionable teenagers around the world to a way of life that was very different from our normal, humdrum existences.

If you haven’t seen the movie I’ll try to avoid spoilers, suffice it to say that it doesn’t end well! But for most of us at the time, that wasn’t the point. What we saw in the film was a lifestyle based on doing what you want to do, free from the constraints of regular life. Sure, it was fuelled by an illegal drug deal at the very beginning, but did we care? I know I didn’t! The concept of road movies hadn’t really been explored much until then, and the idea of watching 95 minutes of two guys riding motorbikes around was very strange to my parents: “what’s it about?” “that sounds boring” and “you aren’t old enough to see it” being just some of what they said. It was rated ‘X’ in the UK, which meant that you had to be 18 to be allowed into the cinema, but I somehow managed to raise my short, just-turned-16 frame enough to get past the prison cinema guards. Or maybe they were just glad to take anyone’s cash that they could!

I have the movie on DVD and occasionally dust it off for a viewing. Mostly, it now looks incredibly dated, a real period piece. But there is still much to enjoy in it, especially the scene accompanied by the Byrds’ song I Wasn’t Born To Follow, which is such a joyous expression of youthful freedom.

At 16, we all have dreams of what we want our lives to become, and a release from a late 1960s Britain, with economic troubles putting a real dampener on all the Swinging 60s stuff that had gone before, was incredibly appealing. We all wanted to do it! If you have read my Summer of ’69 you’ll know that I spent that school holiday working to earn the cash to buy my first motorised transport. This was where one of life’s major lessons first hit home: I was never going to be able to earn enough to buy a bike like Peter Fonda’s! So, with reality dawning rapidly, I adjusted my ambitions – another early life lesson – and bought myself a secondhand scooter, a Lambretta Ld to be precise. It wasn’t even the most recent model made by Lambretta, but it was mine! In case you’ve never heard of it – and you can be forgiven for that – this is what it looked like:

The same colour as mine!

The same colour as mine!

Suddenly, a whole new world opened up for me. I could go anywhere I wanted, without the need to consult copious bus timetables, and I really took advantage of this new freedom. I joined the local scooter club, called the ‘Saints’ for reasons no one actually knew, and as well as club nights we went on group outings. We often went to a place called Camber Sands, which was pretty desolate, although it did afford a lovely view of the nuclear power plant under construction at nearby Dungeness. But that didn’t matter to us – we enjoyed the camaraderie of the ride, the wind (and rain, lots of rain) in our hair, and as long as someone had remembered to bring a ball we had a game of football on the sands when we got there. I have been thinking about this post for some time, and it feels very poignant to be looking back at my own youth, and happy times, when the sea has just claimed the lives of five young men who had gone to the very same place to have a good day out. As I said, we can learn from our past: that could have been us. There was never any sign of a lifeguard there, and apparently there still isn’t, 47 years on. It always takes a tragedy for something necessary to be enacted, sadly. In our innocent youth, we don’t really think about potential dangers, do we? Life is for living, we’re young and it is all stretching out in front of us. Why worry?

The ultimate fashion item, c.1969!

The ultimate fashion item, c.1969!

Going back to buying the scooter and becoming part of the local ‘scene’, where the cool kids hung out – as if, in my dreams, etc. – it amuses me that despite the fact that what we thought we were looking for was a freedom from normality, we rapidly adopted a style that became our new normal. If you had a scooter but didn’t wear one of these (look left), you were nobody!

I didn’t quite manage to copy Peter Fonda’s crash helmet either. Although it wasn’t at that time illegal to ride a bike without wearing one, we prided ourselves on being a responsible scooter club, so I bought myself another fashion accessory, just like this one:

Stylish, or what!

Stylish, or what!

But we were happy, that was the most important thing to us. We may not have been like Wyatt and Billy in the movie, but we had a sense of freedom, and I felt that every single time I got on the scooter, even if I was only using it to go shopping or to go to school. In those moments, the world was all mine, and I felt a kind of invincibility. Admittedly, I didn’t feel quite the same way the day I came off it and embedded a stone in my arm, but that was just another life lesson: don’t be a prat! Looking back, through what are probably very rose-tinted spectacles, I do feel a sense of loss, the loss of the innocence of youth. I hope my 16 year old self would have approved of the way my life has developed: I may not be riding the breeze on the open road, but I’ve learnt to recognise how to find the best in life, and to enjoy it.

And finally, for anyone feeling short changed by the edited version of the song in the opening video, I leave you with a full version of what is still the best driving song I know:

The Listening Booth

May 26, 2016 29 comments

Looking back over how our lives have altered since the long gone days of youth, one of the things that has changed a huge amount is how we consume music. I’ll admit to having a subscription to Apple Music, as it is just so easy and convenient, but I do miss the joy of a proper record shop.

I first started getting into music in the early 1960s, just before the Beatles rewrote everything. I can remember the days of listening at lunchtime to the old BBC Light Programme, I think it was called Workers Playtime. My sister and I used to keep our fingers crossed that the one pop song in an hour long show was one that we liked. Then came Radio Luxembourg and the pirate stations, which I used to listen to on a little transistor radio – remember them? – until the then Labour Government closed down the pirates and the BBC restructured to cater for a mass audience, with the new Radio 1 and the Light Programme becoming Radio 2. Over the years I’ve gone away from Radio 1 to Radio 2, which caters for old duffers like me! But there is only so much that radio can give you. It’s much better to have your own collection of music, that you can dip into whenever you want, and find something to suit every mood.

Music from prehistory!

Music from prehistory!

That is where the humble record player came in. My parents were a little late coming to that party, but they eventually did get one and my lifelong love of building my record collection began. Like most of us, I guess, I can still remember the first record I ever bought: Eve Of Destruction, by Barry McGuire. I must have had rebel tendencies back then! But, to be fair, the song was a massive number one hit. Not bad for a guy who started in the New Christy Minstrels, singing about the wheels coming off his wagon! ‘Buying a record’ is a phrase largely unknown to modern day youth, who are far more in tune with downloads and streaming, and are as a result missing out on the sheer joy of owning the physical product. I used to buy my records either from a secondhand stall in the local covered market, which had a vast selection of ex-jukebox 7 inch singles, or in a specialist record shop. You could actually go into a shop, browse through the racks, and then take your choice to the assistant and ask ‘can I listen to this please?’ Remember the listening booths? If I mention these to my daughters – who are 30 and 24 – they look at me very strangely. But that is how we decided whether to buy. I spent many happy hours – not all at the same time! – sitting in a little booth, wearing headphones and listening to new records for the first time. The ubiquity of streaming services which enable you to listen to anything you want just didn’t exist back then. And the beauty of it was that it had a social aspect to it. Being in a record shop with your friends and taking it in turn to choose was so much fun. And there was always the chance of meeting someone new and bonding over a shared musical taste. Sitting at home with the computer just doesn’t do that for you! Once you had made your choice, you left the shop with a piece of vinyl in a cardboard sleeve, and rushed home to play it. Well, I did, anyway! Singles didn’t really have much packaging, but the sleeves for long players became ever more creative, depending on the promotional budget that the record company allocated to its artists. And once the idea of the gatefold sleeve was invented, there was even more space for the creative geniuses to work with. I always liked having the words to sing along to, and sometimes these came on an insert Sgt Pepperso as not to take up cover space. Many of these are now held to be design classics. The Beatles sleeve for the Sgt Pepper album, for example. Or the Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers – yes, the zipper really works! One of the best, for me, was the sleeve for Jethro Tull’s concept album Thick As A Brick, which opened out into the format of a local newspaper, complete with ridiculously silly parody news and horoscopes. That just didn’t work in CD format!

Real music!

Real music!

But vinyl records had their drawbacks. They were very easy to damage, either by scratching them with the stylus when you were trying to find a particular track on an album, or by leaving them around to gather dust, warp in the sunshine or be chewed by the dog (guilty on all counts!). They were heavy to move around in any volume – they became an extra piece of luggage to take to university! – and they took up so much room. So gradually they fell out of favour. After vinyl there was the cassette tape. It was small, light and the player was more robust than the old record player. But unless you had a digital counter on your cassette player it was a nightmare to find a particular track on an album. And if you’ve ever had one come unspooled whilst in the player you’ll know their major drawback – remember the days of carefully extracting them so as not to break the tape, and then rewinding it with a pencil? Happy days, or maybe not! The cassette did, however, give rise to the first real attempt at taking your music with you to listen anywhere, with the Sony Walkman and all the various competitors. A bit like an iPod, as long as you had a box to carry all your cassettes with you. Then they invented the CD, the Compact Disc. Remember when these first started? All those promises that they were indestructible, that you could smear them with jam and they would still play? Really? I still have no idea why anyone would want to do that, and have never tried it. A waste of jam, if you ask me.

Not my collection, but I had quite few of these.

Not my collection, but I had quite few of these.

Over 50 years I’ve amassed a huge collection in all three formats. The vinyls and cassettes are still at my ex-wife’s home, and we’re talking about ways to sell them off. It feels a bit like destroying my past but, sadly, I don’t have enough space for them, and don’t own anything to play them on anyway. I’m not a hi-fi buff – one of those who swears that music sounds best on vinyl – and I’ve been seduced by the ease of digital music. I know, I’m a philistine and a hypocrite, but hey – what else can I do! Even if I had the room for a large vinyl collection and owned a record player, it has become very much a niche market these days, and those albums which are released on vinyl are often gimmicky – coloured vinyl, anyone? – and cost twice as much as the equivalent CD. When you compare that with the streaming services, these are just so cheap that actually buying a physical product can’t really compete any more. As I said, I use Apple Music, which costs the equivalent of one CD per month. For that, I now have a library of over 4,000 albums available at the tap of a screen, via my computer or even through my TV, to which I’ve attached a rather good sound-box! The industry is trying to recreate the market for vinyls, with such initiatives as the annual Record Store Day – which my good blogging friend Michael wrote so well about recently in this post. Like me, he remembers the joys of the record shop – however, unlike me, he can at least go to one: there isn’t anywhere selling proper records for miles around here!

As I write this, I’m listening to the new Oysterband album, released today – and I haven’t had to go anywhere to get it. They are one of my favourite bands and it’s great to be able to hear the new album straightaway. But I do feel I’m missing something. And I don’t think I’m alone:Listening Booth

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