Saturday, 25 April 2015

Beauty and the Beast

This is a piece that I wrote for the Jersey Evening Post series entitled "Beauty and the Beast". We were asked to describe two buildings in Jersey - one beauty, one beast. I gave this a lot of thought. I can think of many beasts and many beauties too, but in the end I settled upon a building I've had a relationship to for my entire life, a building that I still have ambivalent feelings about - The Odeon Cinema. 

As this blog is about musical memories then the soundtrack to this blogpost has to be the Pearl and Dean theme tune "Asteroid".

Looking up at the monolithic slab wall of the Odeon cinema in Bath Street from the comfort of my pushchair, in 1971, as my mother pushed me daily to the central market for fresh food (fish on Fridays), I would draw myself in and prepare for the wind to whip around the corner of the Odeon on our way into town. This behemoth-like windowless building, out of scale with its neighbours, frightened me almost as much as the nearby Masonic Temple, a fenestrated but ominously internally shuttered building.

One day in 1977 my mother took me to the hairdressers next to the Royal Hotel for a Purdie cut à la Joanna Lumley in the Avengers. Later that day she heated her curling irons on the gas stove and gave my hair its finishing touch. I was so excited to discover that my Father was going to take me to the Odeon to watch Star Wars. My excitement was not diminished by my public health inspector Father’s warning to “wear some long socks, cinemas are breeding grounds for fleas”. The carapace of the behemoth opened its doors and my eyes were opened to the delights of the huge screen within. Function had trumped form.

Henceforth, every walk into town involved a desirous stare at the film posters advertising the current films. One Monday in the early 1980s I turned up to school to find that everyone was talking about the "The Blue Lagoon". That evening, my parents told me that I would not be seeing the film as it was “unsuitable”. Life seemed so unfair. All I could do was stare at the alluring poster as I paused en route to and from town. The film subsequently became mired in controversy as it transpired that Brooke Shields was only 14 when she acted in it.

In 1982 we read the George Orwell novel “1984” at school and the Odeon’s repelling height and mass took shape in my mind as the “Ministry of Truth”. I have continued since then to be challenged by this building as form and function battle for supremacy in my mind. Beauty or Beast?

Is it a bold example of triumph over adversity, being the first Odeon anywhere in the UK to be constructed after the Second World War? Or is it lacking in architectural, historical and cultural merit, according to the UK advisors of Le Masuriers who wished to knock it down and make way for a £40 million development not so long ago.

A cursory Google search provides a wealth of superior examples, if examining the building on purely architectural merits. It was built in 1952 to a  1930’s Art Deco  design. It has a cement render compared to the better examples which are finished with stone or faced brickwork. The Odeon sign, part of the canopy and the original doors were removed many years ago.

As much as I dislike the forbidding monolithic form of this building, its function, “serving the local community” as stated by its new owners, The Freedom Church and the context of its proximity to the Town Park gives purpose to its continued existence. Once again function trumps form and that’s why this beast is also a beauty.

All creatures Great and Small

Standing in the car park of Super U, Llanvallay near Dinan, we fell into easy conversation with the owner of a rather fine looking 16 year old motorhome. Invited on board, the proud owner, a "Punch & Judy man", explained that he was selling the vehicle as he was 75 and had things to do.

A look around verged on the voyeuristic as we peered inside cupboards, cubby holes and room for ablutions, and made suitably approving noises and appropriate facial expressions. He then pointed to a box of books and said, “I’m getting rid of these, take what you want”. There it was, “It shouldn’t happen to a vet” by James Herriott. As I looked at the cover, the theme tune, composed by Johnny Pearson, rang in my ears,“Daa da da da da da Daa da da Daa”.

Due to the wonders of the internet I can tell you with a hitherto near impossible degree of accuracy that on Christmas Day 1978, after watching Songs of Praise at 6.05pm I watched “All Creatures Great And Small” at 7.15pm.

One thing bothered me more than it should have for a ten year old. Why didn't they use the tune of the hymn, "All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small"? NB 17th Century English melody and not the other one.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Bay City Rollers (1975)

B-A-Y, B-A-Y,

B-A-Y, C-I-T-Y,

With an R-O-double-L, E-R-S,

Bay City Rollers are the best!

Why can't I forget this ditty sung to the tune of "This old man"? I can see myself, age 7, hitting a tennis ball in a sock from side to side against a wall and playing "*elastic" whilst singing this song.

"Remember" (Sha La La La) was OK but it was the cover of the Four Seasons' "Bye bye Baby" that was my favourite.

I didn't have a cassette or LP. I must have learnt the songs from friends and perhaps their TV series in 1975 - Shang-a-Lang or possibly if it was the last song on "Top of the Pops" I might have caught it before "Tomorrow's World" began.

How I longed for a pair of tartan socks so that I could display publicly my adoration. After months of begging, I had failed to wear my parents down (Well done parents!) They simply refused to buy me anything tartan. However, I seized my moment. My Uncle David took me to Woolworth's and purchased for me a pair of the finest white nylon knee socks with a discreet tartan pattern at the top. I put these on, with utter glee and probably a small amount of devilment, knowing my parents would never say anything in front of "guests". Oh how I adored those socks. I wanted to wear them with everything and I did.

Sadly there is no photo, despite an extensive search on the internet. What I have unearthed, is another photo of someone doing the washing up. I am surmising that it was such an unusual event that my Mum wished it noted for posterity.

* Thanks to Jane Creaton for remembering this little ditty "England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Inside, Ouside, Donkey's tails" that we chanted whilst playing "elastic". 

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Concierto de Aranjuez - Rodrigo

My Dad was 5 feet 6 inches tall and my Mum was 5 feet 4 inches tall. I am one inch smaller than my Mum, a height I reached at the age of 12. When I was 13 I invited a male friend around who was just shy of 6 feet 4 inches. It was the visit of this giant that made me realise there was something not quite right about our living room and kitchen. He didn't fit. It transpired that my Dad had built the kitchen so that work surfaces were at the perfect height for my Mum. In the living room he had sawn off a few inches from all the furniture so it was perfect for us. Nothing to see here - all perfectly normal.

Although if you look closely there is a wealth of clues about my parents' life. Perhaps you noticed the T-square on the side board? Or the barometer that was tapped every day? Just in view are some crystal glasses for use when entertaining. My parents never invited anyone into our house ever. No one. Ever.

It was in this downsized living room that I first heard Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez. I bought the Deutsch Grammophon version as my Dad had told me they were good recordings.

I listened on my Philips radio-cassette player. I couldn't believe the quality of the sound. With my eyes shut I was in the middle of the orchestra in my own sitting room. It was miraculous. There was also an instant sadness as I realised that could never replicate that awe and wonder on first hearing of that joyously relentless and vigorous first movement.

Many years later I discovered that second movement was a  response to Rodrigo's devastation at the miscarriage of his wife's first pregnancy. On first hearing, I had no way of knowing this. Did I even ask myself the question? Perhaps I simply related to it by referencing my own angst which was without doubt as pathetic, self-absorbed and utterly typically myopic as any non-problems of the average teenager.

That is why Beethoven's late string quartets remain in my itunes account unplayed. I have over-thought this. In trying to plan the right moment, every moment becomes the wrong one. Should I leave it to chance and set my itunes player to random so the quartets can catch me by surprise in an unplanned moment?  

Sunday, 26 October 2014

DAF 55 - the sound of the variomatic gear box

In 1972 I was 4 years old. During story-time with Miss Janine, my class teacher, I ate my bus money. Not all of it, just the 1/2p. I can't piece together what happened next. I don't remember telling anyone I'd swallowed it. I could feel the painful reminder of my absent-minded stupidity half way down my gullet. I have to surmise what happened next. Perhaps I told the teacher I had lost it and she gave me another ha'penny or perhaps she telephoned my Mum to collect me.

At some point around this time my mum got a car. We were now a two car family. Dad had a Rover 3500 V8 in chocolate brown and Mum had a white DAF 55.

When I came out of school she would say, "Don't distract me!" and grip the steering wheel. I would sit wide-eyed on the back seat, bursting to tell her about all the injustices in my day. The drive down through Grands Vaux, Town Mills and Rouge Bouillon was conducted in total silence whilst she grappled with this not quite tameable beast of a car. Reversing into a space in Midvale Road car park frequently ended with her slamming the car into the granite wall.

Later she would remonstrate with my Dad. "I swear it goes backwards faster than it does forwards." Don't be ridiculous!" said Dad. On this rare occasion, it turns out he was wrong due to the peculiarities of the variomatic gear box. As my Mum once said "I gave up trying to argue about five years into marriage. There was no point. He always won." It was about five years into marriage that she started taking Doctor prescribed pills, including Mummy's little helper - Valium.

Not long after this, the car was sold and I was back on the school bus. 

Saturday morning music school

1976, whilst everyone else was watching Multi-coloured Swap Shop on BBC1 on Saturday mornings, I was taking descant recorder lessons with Mr Pont at Highlands College. We used to talk about which instrument I would like to play and for three years I had my eye on the clarinet.

When I was 11 the time came to move to an orchestral instrument. My Dad came with me to meet Helen Brooks. The man who was never late for anything and a stickler for timing had somehow got it wrong. Miss Brooks cheerfully said "Sorry there's no more room for clarinets but you can learn the flute" and that's how I ended up playing the flute. 

Saturday morning music lessons were wonderful. It was free. You learnt an instrument, took a theory/aural lesson and played in the orchestra in the Great Hall in front of its numinous stained glass window and it was all free. Did I say that before? It was all free!

The first piece I played in the orchestra required two notes A and B all the way through Offenbach's Bacarolle. NB - this is not a recording of the Youth Orchestra. Skip to 30 seconds in to hear the repetitious two notes. I thought we were absolutely marvellous and could not have been more proud to be performing in such an august body.

I made friends that I have kept to this day.

Because I lived about a twenty minute walk away, by the age of 11 I would walk there and back. One Saturday, I was thrilled when my friend's mum offered me a lift in her brown DAF 44.

Isn't it strange, the moments that take meaning in our lives? I never forgot that simple act of kindness from an adult. At that moment, I had not only fallen in love with my friend but also his entire family. I have never deviated from that loyal devotion. 

On arrival home from Highlands, I would be greeted by a plate of steaming home made macaroni cheese with grilled melted cheese on top. Death and loss provide meaning to the strangest of items. I still own that white and blue enamel dish. 

John Peel - Home Truths

Whilst many single people in their thirties would be having a lie-in, from 1998 until 2004 I had a reason to be awake from 9 to 10 every Saturday morning.... “Home Truths” on BBC Radio 4. Can it really be ten years ago today (Saturday October 25th 2014) that the legend John Peel died? 

Home Truths was a wonderful gathering place for us oddballs. It was a virtual family before Facebook existed. It was a place for ordinary people to go to where we could tell our less ordinary tales and feel a sense of community. There was a large correspondence from listeners. I remember writing in, sharing something I would never have shared with my friends but somehow felt this was a safe place.

After my father had died on January 15th 1999, I don’t know why but I kept his false teeth and his glasses. Added to one of his hats, usually a ships captain’s hat I could recreate a facsimile of him. Of course it sounds ridiculous, embarrassing to write this now but at the time I had lost him but I still had his smile.

As a child, on the odd occasion he told me off with his favourite phrase, “You’re a right little stinker” (said in broad Lancastrian) the whole force of this statement was lost when his top set invariably dropped down. His teeth were all removed before I was born so I never saw his natural smile. He was always taking them out and fiddling with them, filing bits off that has started to make his gums sore. I never saw him without a tube of Bonjela.

The above photograph was taken shortly before my Dad died. I love this photograph as it encapsulates the essence of him. The shoes are shined, they were purchased some time in the 1960s and he had worn them for over thirty years, replacing the leather soles when needed.

The photograph evidences the frugality, thriftiness and make-do and mend attitude of those who had been through a war. The chair has seen better days but Dad simply added more pillows the more it sagged.

He built the fireplace in 1952 out of some spare floor tiles he had found and a piece of wood. The carpet was threadbare from years of guests walking through, "It'll see me out".

The bit I love most about this picture is the old television stand that Dad had converted into a table. This was possibly mark IV or V. He loved this utilitarian piece of furniture. The little lip around the edge prevented things falling off. The ice-cream tub contained some small items; Bonjela, sandpaper, tape measure, tide tables, assorted screws and batteries. He had everything he needed at hand.
He is wearing a shirt and tie despite having retired in 1975. He would never be seen without a tie. He even had one to wear when decorating. The only exception was when were on holiday on the River Rance in our boat. In which case he wore a button up Fred Perry style T-shirt.

My dog Fred is sat in pride of place. Throughout my childhood I had begged for a dog and the reply was the same, "No". However, in 1998 I was watching a programme about Battersea dogs home with Dad and asked again. He said "Yes". Before he could change his mind, I had organised for the Jersey Animal Shelter to do a home visit and booked a flight to London to go to Battersea.

There were 700 dogs to choose from. I spotted one I liked but they brought out the wrong one. I didn't say anything. We were put in a room together to see how we got on. Danny Boy, as he was called, came up and cocked his leg on my handbag. At that moment, I decided that he would be my dog.

He had been a "lifer" at Battersea - not to be re-homed with children or other pets (hmmm). As soon as he arrived in Jersey he plonked himself next to Dad and that's where he stayed.

We tried calling him Danny but by then early dementia was setting in and for some reason the only word that came to mind was "Fred" and that's how he got his name.

Shortly after, Dad died. My friend Nancy has always wondered whether Dad said I could have a dog so that I wasn't left alone.