Thursday, 8 March 2012

Saturday, the tenth of May 1980

In accordance with the age old convention of “my house my rules”, these are the by-laws as laid down by Alun Jones.

Actually this is a note that he slid under the door to my bedroom while I was out at work today. I got home and there it was, lying on the carpet just inside my room, at first I thought someone cared enough to send me a letter.

1.    Children should be seen but not heard is just plain wrong. You shouldn’t be seen either. Henceforth you will stay in your room unless invited to come down and join civilized people. You have books, a TV, a stereo and more records than you know what to do with, so there’s no excuse not to stay up there.

2.    We have a nice house full of nice things. But somehow you manage to make the place look scruffy (consider as precedent the “blue-denim-stains-from-your-jeans-on-an-expensive-cream-leather-sofa” incident). It’s a talent, I admit it. The only areas in the house you may enter without permission are:

·         Your room

·         The attic bathroom

·         The Kitchen

·         The garage

3.    Your table manners are atrocious, and put others off their food. Because of this the only time you are invited to eat with the rest of the family is Saturday evening and Sunday lunch. It’s nothing personal – except that it is.

4.    I am surprised to find that someone with your lack of personal hygiene and inter-personal skills has made friends of any sort, let alone started a courtship! I congratulate you on finding a member of the opposite sex who, quite obviously has such low standards that even you seem like an attractive proposition. You will not, I repeat NOT, invite her up to your room for a “coffee” (or whatever other euphemism you youngsters use these days). We all know where that will lead to. And frankly, I don’t think you can support yourself, let alone a wife/girlfriend and a baby!

5.    WELL DONE on finding a job. It’s such a pity that it’s only part-time. Still, I suppose there is a recession on. If you want any help, say searching the Evening Echo looking for a bedsit, feel free to let me know.

I took the note to mum. She showed it to Alun. There was a blazing row.

Of course.

In the end Alun explained that it was a joke and that I had no sense of humour. Mum sided with him.

So it’s all my fault coz I can’t take a joke.

I know when I’m not wanted.

Thursday, the eighth of May 1980

A big fat blob of sweat rolled down my nose and landed on the top of the sizzling meat patty of a Whopper. It wasn’t the first time I’d added my essence to a burger, and so long as I work in the fast food industry it won’t be the last.

 I used the big metal tweezers to pick the burger up and slide it onto the bottom half of a toasted bun, and then flipped the top of the bun in place and stuffed it into the steamer draw.

I checked the clock on the wall; six PM. Right! That’s me out of here. I sprinted upstairs and tore my uniform off, stuffing it into a plastic carrier bag from Woolworths, dressed in jeans, a Motorhead t-shirt, Doc Martens boots and a black leather jacket. I had to get home fast – Top of the Pops would be on at seven and I still had to get home and have tea!

Home is a town house, a tall narrow three story building in a horseshoe-shaped terrace. In the middle of the road was a raised bed of meticulously tended shrubs. At the back each house had a pocket handkerchief of perfectly groomed lawn. 

Mum and my step-dad, Alun, seemed to be happy here, and that was what mattered – to them. Nobody asked whether I was happy. Why would they? I’m seventeen, still a kid. If I want to leave home nobody’s stopping me. Hell

Alun would positively encourage it.

If you get the impression that there’s no love lost between me and Alun then let me be the first to congratulate you for spotting the patently bleeding obvious!

I let myself in and went straight to the kitchen on the ground floor at the back. There was a half baguette hollowed out and stuffed with grated cheese mixed with chopped cucumber and salad cream, something that Mum had invented, she called it a Cheese Shoe. I got a can of Coke out of the fridge and ate and drank like my life depended on it.

My room is right at the top of the building in the attic. I’m not allowed to take food up there, and I want to catch tonight’s entire chart countdown on TV. 

I did a half-arsed and hurried job of washing my plate and ran upstairs two at a time. The living room’s on the first floor. I can see Mum and Dad are sitting in reverential silence watching something on BBC 2.

I ran into the big attic room with the skylight, slamming the door behind me. I switched on the small black and white portable TV in time to hear the announcer say in his clipped, precise BBC voice:

“And now it’s time to see what’s Top of the Pops with Kid Jensen and Mike Read.”

Made it.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Episode 3

Monday, the fifth of May 1980

            “Jump in.”

            She was tall, slim, pale, red-haired and beautiful. She gave me a cool look.

“My mum said I shouldn’t take lifts from strangers,” her soft voice thrilled me. “I know you though - you come into Slipped Discs every Saturday.”

“Not just Saturdays, I go in on week days too but you’re not there.”

“I only work on Saturdays.” She wore a baggy black jumper like a dress with leggings, slip-on pumps and an army-surplus bag. 

“So, do you want a lift?” I asked. “Only we’re holding up traffic.”


“You like Blondie,” I told her as we pulled away.

“How do you know?”

“You’ve written their names like ten times on your bag.”

“You a spy?”

“No a DJ.” I said proudly. “Only on hospital radio though…”

My car’s a fourth-hand Triumph Spitfire. Nan and Granddad wanted to give me a big present for my eighteenth – so I asked for a car. It’s got faults, but it’s also got a stereo.

I turned the radio on, the Knack pounded their way through My Sharona. Then Kid Jensen hands over to the newsroom.

            “The siege at the Iranian embassy has ended dramatically with an assault on the building by the Army’s Special Air Service regiment…”

            We paused at traffic lights.

            “This whole thing’s been like an episode of the Professionals that’s escaped into the real world.”

            “Yeah, but why does Radio One have to give it such heavy coverage?” She asked. “They’re a music station, they should just do the headlines and play the hits.”

            “Should I take that as a hint - you want music?”

            “If you like.”

            I opened the glove box and grabbed a cassette. The keyboard intro to Rip Her To Shreds starts and I pump up the volume.   

            “I don’t know your name.” She announced.

            “I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.”

            “OK,” she paused hesitantly. “Suzanne – but my mates call me Suze. Your turn.”

            “Steve but all my mates call me… Steve.” I did a swift eyes left, Suze was grinning. “Do you want to go straight home?”

            “What have you got in mind?” She sounded suspicious.

            “I dunno,” I shrugged. “If you like we can go to the Overcliff, look at the sea, talk…”

            “OK.” She dipped into her bag and pulled out a pair of shades. “I’ve been revising all day, I thought – enough’s enough, get out while the sun’s still shining girl. I’m glad I did now.”

            “Revising – you’re at university?”

            “Hardly – I’m only sixteen.” She giggled. “No, got my O’Levels are coming up.”

            I parked, down below the too-small beach was empty, in the day its standing room only. We talked about music, exams… everything…anything. We talked until it was dark.  When I finally got round to running her home she’d agreed to go ice skating with me on Friday night.

            I drove home doing my own singing along to Roxanne. Even the high bits that Sting has trouble with!

Episode 2

Wednesday, the second of April 1980

            The TV’s on but the sound’s off. I’m wearing headphones and the Clash’s debut album is on the turntable playing loud. I find this the best way to watch the news. It’s all doom and gloom, specially the economy.

            News At Ten is now like one long very depressing set of football results. I’m waiting for the moment when Reginald Bosanquet says:

            “And in unemployment news, British Steel South Wales – 11,000 redundancies; Tyneside Shipbuilding – 8,000 redundancies, British Steel will now go on face ICI in the recession championships.”

            Look away now if you don’t want to know the results.

            The TV screen is red. A line of cops are silhouetted on a city street against a back drop of raging flames. There’s a riot going on. Inner city Bristol is burning.  And at that moment, almost as if it was planned as the soundtrack, the Clash start singing “White riot - I wana riot, white riot – a riot of my own.”

            The song lasts barely two minutes. When it’s over I lift the stylus off the record and take my earphones off. The journalist’s measured tones are clearly intended not to scare the viewers.

            “…While the majority of the rioters are black, it is unclear what the causes of the riot are. However, there are suggestions that it started after a raid on the Black and White Café – a known drugs den.”  

             This isn’t the last riot, and ITN might not want to guess what the causes are, but I know, deep down everyone knows.

In Bristol it might seem to be because of police attitudes to black people. Or at least that might be why the government will claim the coming riots kick off. But the real reason is that young people feel like they’re getting crushed by the recession. There’s no hope, no future, and if we feel like there’s nothing to lose then there’s nothing to stop us.

I know I’m luckier than most. My step-dad’s a barrister, and mum’s a lecturer at the local further education college. We’re not rich, but we’re not exactly skint either.

I studied at school and got O’ and A’ levels like any good middle class kid. The results weren’t brilliant, but they would’ve got me into a polytechnic. But why? What’s the point?

Getting a degree would’ve meant, once, that after graduation I’d have swapped my diploma for a job as a trainee manager in a humongous factory. But the way businesses are closing, if I went off to study now, by the time I graduated there might not be any industry left for me to manage!

Besides, I want something more than just to be a faceless cog in a machine that turns out…I don’t know…widgets. That’s almost as soul destroying as being unemployed.

On the screen a thin line of cops are using dustbin lids to shield themselves from a rain of bricks and petrol bombs, and I put the headphones back on and cue up Police and Thieves.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Episode 1 - The twentieth of March 1980

It’s a little after midnight. Somewhere out there on the North Sea a rusty hulk is sinking.

“Radio Caroline broadcasting on 319 metres, 9-63 kilohertz. Well we’re sorry to tell you that due to the severe weather conditions and also to the fact that we’re shipping quite a lot of water, we’re  closing down and the crew at this stage are leaving the ship…“

Meanwhile I’m underneath the bedclothes with a transistor radio, a torch and a well-thumbed copy of Penthouse. I’ve stopped looking at the glossy breasts; all my attention is focussed on what’s happening on the old rust bucket with a radio station shoehorned into the cargo hold.

“…Obviously we hope to be back with you as soon as possible, but we just want to assure you all on land that there’s nothing to worry about we’re all quite safe, just for the moment we’d like to say goodbye…”

Then there was static. I took the earphones off, switched the torch off and went to sleep.

I live in Bournemouth. God’s waiting room on the south coast, where blue-rinsed OAPs come to die. I don’t want to be here.

I come from Stoke-on-Trent. Someone had to.

If you come from Stoke you can accept the fact without questioning it, settle down with a local girl called Sharron and get a job in a pot bank or down a coal mine, and live there for ever and ever.

Or you spend your time moaning about what a dump Stoke is and how you can’t wait to get out, and then you settle down with a local girl called Sharron and get a job in a pot bank or down a coal mine and live there for ever and ever.

As you join the M6 motorway heading south there’s a big sign that reads: “You’re leaving Stoke now, but you’ll be back. Oh yes!”

There isn’t I made that up. But there OUGHT to be one.

One day last summer my step-dad came home from work and he announced that he’d been promoted, and that meant that the family was going to move down south.

I was eighteen, and I’d just taken my A’ Levels, I was waiting for the results – I wasn’t confident that they’d be good.  I could see that leaving might give me a new start. It also meant saying goodbye to my friends and family. I was torn.

In the end, I reluctantly accepted that I had no say in the matter, and settled down for some quality sulking and moaning that life is SO unfair.

 I’ve got a job now we're down here in Bournemouth, nothing I’d call a career. Let me put it this way; I have a nametag and a baseball cap. And my overwhelming feeling concern is: life, there’s got to be more to it than this!

In the Beginning

The eighties: Margaret Thatcher, the Falklands War, the miners’ strike, U2, modern romantics, the Sinclair C5, Madness, Spandau Ballet, ponytails on men, shoulder pads on women, mullets and big…BIG hair… but above all, it was the decade (just) before the internet. So no blogs, no Facebook and no Twitter, which was a pity really. They'd have been useful back then. 

The closest I ever came to a blog was keeping a diary and I was never much cop at that! But if I had kept a diary, this is what it would have been about:

·         Music

·         Love

·         Fun

·         Radio

·         Sex

Though NOT necessarily in that order!