Post Of The Week.

In lieu of the annual “Troubled Diva has been going for x years today” post (four years yesterday, as it happens), I thought I’d commemorate the happy occasion by, um, shamelessly ripping off another idea from someone’s else’s blog.

This time, I’m going to revive the much missed “Post Of The Month” feature, which used to run on Uborka (now sadly in stasis). Except that, in what may prove to be an act of reckless over-optimism, I’m going to re-title it Post Of The Week.

Here’s how it’s going to work.

1. If you come across a great post which you’d like to big up to the Troubled Diva massive, then please supply details in the comments box below. The deadline for submission will be Saturday morning.

2. You can nominate any post from any weblog, providing that it’s recent, ie. no more than a couple of weeks old. (There’s no restriction on subject matter, so if you really think that a 5000 word deconstruction of the “Scooter” Libby scandal will interest the readers of TD, then be my guest).

3. Please feel free to nominate more than one post during the course of the week. (But don’t be greedy.)

4. You are not permitted to nominate one of your own posts.

5. Voting will take place over the weekend, and the winner will be announced on Sunday.

6. The winning post will be linked at the top of this page (and at the top of all the archive pages) for the following seven days.

7. Once the week’s winner is announced, nominations will start all over again in a brand new comments box.

8. Voting will take place in a secret sealed chamber, using a judging panel of myself and two guests. The guests will change every week.

9. If you’d like to be a guest judge, then drop me an e-mail at mikejla @ btinternet dot com. Your duties will involve a) reading all the nominated posts and b) e-mailing me with your choices some time on Saturday or Sunday.

This might all flop horribly. On the other hand, it might be an entertaining and worthwhile exercise in “online community building”, or some such pompous piffle. Up to you!

I’ll be listing the nominated posts as we get them, along with short excerpts from each, in a series of little boxes… like so.

1. Musings from Middle England: My First Trip
(nominated by mike)

“I had been shown how to turn the ribs of beef in the huge ovens and I was to replenish the three sauce boats for serving with the grouse. The larder chef had carved from ice an aeroplane with the caviar in the cockpit for the table of a famous airman. Assistants were arranging garnishes and supplementary sauces. The soup chef was exercising his large vocabulary of obscenities – his consommé had not clarified.”

2. Blogadoon: Parallels between the Cinderella myth and my regular Sunday jaunts to Horse Meat Disco.
(nominated by mike)

“After a very pleasant evening involving, amongst other things, friends’ revelations pitched at a degree of surreality so extreme that I propose to wipe them from my mind plus a live demonstration of traditional Japanese men’s underwear (no, really), I willed myself off the premises at 11.30 sharp.”

3. little.red.boat: Captain Crisps and FagEndBoy
(nominated by guyana-gyal)

“How am I supposed to take you seriously?” Said the litterbug. “You’re a crisp packet”
“I’m a crisp packet who’s about to fine you £50”, said the crisp packet.

4. JonnyB’s private secret diary: There is a knock on the door!!!
(nominated by anna)

“It is important to avoid a scene. Much as I like the foxy Vegetable Delivery Lady, we must both keep a stiff upper lip about our parting. I hope that she does not do anything foolish that we will both regret later.”

5. Vegetable Delivery Lady: I knock on the door!!!
(nominated by anna)

“It is important to avoid a scene. Much as I loathe delivering vegetables to this pervert and would love to tell him what I really think of him on my last day, I just want to get out of here alive and not end up locked behind a bookcase or something.”

6. Symbolic Forest: The creature
(nominated by Clair)

“You should watch out for them, and be particularly wary if you hear their distinctive hunting cry: ‘Arrg kxrrt!'”

7. little.red.boat (yes, her again): cometh the hour, cometh the confusion.
(nominated by Clare)

“I now realise why the summer is short. It is short because some bastard has been rifling through my hour-drawer and has made off with what, let’s face it, could have turned out to be the most important, most pleasant and summarily most summerlicious hour of the whole summer.”

8. Ramblings of a Yidchick: Warning: adult themes.
(nominated by JonnyB)

“Usually I have the luxury of showering before my appointment, but today I am too busy rushing to doctors to manage it. So I do what wise streetwalkers have been doing for generations. I spurt a bit of perfume on my knickers so that my hoo-ha doesn’t hum when the waxer is doing her thing down there.”

9. Mimi In New York: Queen of the Night.
(nominated by Tokyo Girl)

“There’s one in every club. You know – the patently shit stripper, the girl who can’t talk English, gets on stage and goes red, covers her breasts, mutters Hail Marys under her breath, prays Daddy can’t see her now.”

10. GUYANA: The holy grail.
(nominated by mike)

“Abroad got glittering malls. Abroad got streets that sparkling clean, and Abroad got bright, bright street lights. Abroad got jobs that put shiney money in you pockets, and you can buy all kind o’ fancy things that don’t cost you house and land, arm and leg.”

11. what’s new, pussycat?: fright night.
(nominated by asta)

“Just when you think you ken everything there is to ken about living in Scotland, you get a rude awakening.”

12. RudderPosts: Accessibility.
(nominated by asta)

“Now I protect myself from contributing a “running plug” to some yahoo by making sure there is a good bit of tumblehome in the stern of my little skiffs. Most chopper gun artists don’t want to have to fool with a split mold so they pass up my boats for something a little cheaper to “produce.” From the examples I see all over the place, it doesn’t make any difference how plug ugly the plug is.”

13. Diamond Geezer: Single life.
(nominated by Girl)

“If it’s quarter past seven on the morning of the first Wednesday in November then I’ve been single for exactly six years. (Yes, I know I posted this particular post last year, the year before and the year before that, but I have updated it a bit, and I intend to keep posting it every year on this date until my situation changes. Not that I care if it doesn’t, you understand.)”

14. Gay Nazi Sex Vicar In Schoolgirl Vice Knickers Disco Lawnmower Shock!: Friday 28th October 2005. (scroll down a bit)
(nominated by stressqueen)

“I like Kendal. Lots of reasonable people talking in RP to their little girls, who wear moss green tights and have those old-fashioned metal grips in their hair. I had four halves (that’s meant to indicate how restrained I’ve been, by the way), and two massive doorsteps of that grey “artisan” bread, with some Stilton. It was old people and oddbods mainly, so I fitted in well.”

15. little.red.boat. (you know, I’m beginning to suspect some payola scandal here): I make a birthday tea!!!
(nominated by Clare and Karen)

“A lot of cooking happens in this flat, but not much of it is done by me.

This is not because our household subscribes to outmoded gender role stereotypes dating back to the second-wave new man movement of the late 1990s, oh no.

It is instead because I am bad at cooking. I might go as far as to say “very” bad.”

16. Trouser Browser: Should I stay or should I go?
(nominated by ian – WARNING: this one’s quite rude)

“We all breathed out, stretched, sighed and eventually giggled. Guys shift from absolutely deadly seriousness to silly hysteria so quickly. We introduced ourselves”

17. greenfairydotcom: Tube tips for women.
(nominated by annie and anna)

“London Underground have published a new guide for women on using the tube. I am sure you, like I, have been simply yearning for someone to explain to us how the fundamentally different way we use the underground from men can be best coped with. And this leaflet has been produced ‘by women for women’, so it is sure to be packed full of useful ‘tips’ on how us girls can ‘get the best out of the tube’.”

18. this too: When last we met.
(nominated by Karen)

“I am angry with myself for agreeing to this. I shut myself in the bathroom with a bottle of whisky. Keep warm by staying under water. Get very drunk, then very sick. Alarmed by this – I don’t usually drink a lot – my wife tries to be pleasant, but cannot. She opens her mouth and the frogs and serpents of a lifetime’s bitterness rush out. Her sister, who looks depressed and clearly wishes we hadn’t come, cooks an inedible Christmas dinner. When not snowing, it rains. I walk on the long grey beach. It is a nightmare.”

OK, your turn. Share the love! And don’t be backwards in coming forwards!

Update: This week’s guest judges are asta and Karen. Next week’s judges have also been appointed.

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Rev-chron diary, bashed out until I get fed up or forgetful.

Thursday 27th.

Installed our super-duper new cordless digital phone (Panasonic, John Lewis), which we bought to replace the crap so-called “digital” phone with the constant buzzing noise and the hopeless sound quality (BT, Dixons, half an hour of wrangling to get a refund).

(Hmm, maybe we don’t need to go to quite this level of detail. Otherwise we’ll be here all week. They’ve got all my mother’s stuff to wade through as well, remember?)

Met an old friend for a meal at the Kean’s Head pub in the Lace Market. Catering to a polite, well-heeled older crowd (as evidenced by the music: The Stranglers’ greatest hits at a discreet volume level, oh how times change), the Kean’s Head was Nottingham’s first ever non-smoking pub.

For the benefit of certain establishments on St James’ Street who are currently making grandiose claims to the contrary (blackboards on the street, the full works), I’ll repeat that: the Kean’s Head was Nottingham’s first ever non-smoking pub. (And just round the corner on High Pavement, the Cock & Hoop was the second.)

Until last night, we hadn’t seen our old friend for nearly two years. We’re seeing her again this evening (early evening pint at The Gate in Brassington), and again on Sunday (picturesque autumnal hike twixt the mellowing and ripening hues of the Peak District National Language, hem-hem descriptive language that should go down well at the la-di-da “writers’ conference” next Thursday I’ll have that book deal now please). With us, it’s famine or feast. ‘Twas ever thus.

Wednesday 26th.

Woo, political comedy! To the Nottingham Playhouse, to see Rob Newman and Mark Thomas.

Now, I’m OK with political comedy so long as a) it reflects my own particular prejudices back at me and b) it actually remembers to be, you know, funny. The first is easily achieved, as there are in fact no successful right wing (or even Blair-ite) comedians that I can think of this side of Jim Davidson (or even Ben Elton), thus PROVING that MY LOT ARE BETTER CHEERS CHEERS HOORAY THE ANGELS ARE ON OUR SIDE. The second can be more of a hurdle, as evidenced by the dreary box-ticking orthodoxy of your Mark Steels and (sorry to say this) your Jeremy Hardys.

(We saw Hardy perform a particularly hang-dog, lugubrious set last year, which mostly consisted of him moping on about how depressed he was about the war in Iraq. Fine, but YOU’RE A COMEDIAN, that’s what it SAYS ON THE TIN, and we’ve come out to HAVE A GOOD LAUGH AND CHEER OURSELVES UP, blinkered dupes of the system that we are.)

Thomas and Newman succeeded on both scores, with Thomas (despite his best efforts) only managing to offend me twice: by making a cheap crack about the size of Charlotte Church’s arse, and by DARING to slag off, for NO VALID REASON WHATSOEVER, the daytime television GODDESS that is Auntie Lorraine “Hooray for Eurovision! I love The Gays!” Kelly. Scratch his right-on surface, and you’ll find that he’s really quite the unreconstructed Geezah underneath.

(My much-valued readers from overseas, are you following all of this OK? I’d provide explanatory links, but time is tight.)

Newman, on the other hand, was impeccable. Having chosen a diametrically opposite career path from his erstwhile comedy partner David Baddiel, he has turned his back on stadium-filling mega-stardom, and is now to be found delivering eloquent, erudite, well researched, factually rich salvos of brain-spinning polemic, as filtered through an arch, dandified, deceptively insouciant persona which charms as it impresses as it provokes. (Precis: European foreign policy towards the Middle East has consistently been all about controlling the oil supply, ever since the start of the First World War; but when the oil runs out, we’re all going to be seriously f**ked. Boom! Boom!)

Tuesday 25th.

Our fifth anniversary of moving into the cottage (and thus also of my last ever wild night down at Trade). Five years ago, I could never have predicted that what was intended merely as a weekend bolt-hole would eventually come to feel more like home than our place in central Nottingham. This is a massively welcome development, and all credit to the village itself for facilitating it; for there’s no doubt that we live in a special place. If this is middle age, then God knows what I was worrying about, as I careered recklessly (and frequently shirtlessly) through the extended mid-life crisis that chewed up most of my thirties.

To the cinema, to watch Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit. Wholly delightful, but you don’t need me to tell you that. So disarmingly charming and inventive, that not even the distinctly ragged, under-developed plot denouement could shift the big grins off our faces.

Monday 24th.

Absolutely sod all of interest happened on Monday. Work, telly, bed. Yes, let’s stop there.

(Oh, but I did call up my mother, in order to read her all of your lovely kind comments, which both stunned and delighted her. So thank you for that.)

God hates fags.  But New Labour are a little more equivocal.

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has defended the plans for a partial ban on smoking in public places in England.

Critics and health experts have said plans to exempt private clubs and non-food pubs from the ban are bad for health and will prove “unworkable”.

OK, full disclosure. As mentioned in a recent comments box, I am a living (still!) breathing (just!) example of that great oxymoron, the “social smoker”.

On average – and obviously this varies considerably, in both directions – I get through about 20 cigarettes a week. Most days, I don’t smoke at all. Roughly once a week, on a Wednesday or a Thursday evening, I’ll meet up with my going-out buddies in a city centre pub. As almost all of them are smokers (funny how we all stick together), and as K almost never joins us (we’ve always maintained slightly separate social lives, even if there is a large overlap), I will invariably join in and light up.

During these evenings, I will generally chuff my way through about one fag every 20-25 minutes. The later I stay out, the more frequent this gets. So we’re talking around 10-12 fags in a single night. I think of this as getting in touch with my inner laboratory beagle.

Other than that, I usually smoke three or four in the cottage on Friday nights: late on, after K has gone to bed, and before I’ve started to feel tired. It’s my little weekly treat. The cottage is well ventilated, so there’s virtually no residual stink on Saturday mornings.

I also smoke at gigs; we’re talking maybe four or five in the course of the evening. Well, one has to maintain one’s Rock and Roll credibility somehow. Goes with the territory, doesn’t it?

I never smoke during the daytime, and never feel the slightest urge; the thought of having to carry the residual taste in my mouth for the rest of the day is enough to put me right off the idea.

I never smoke without alcohol in front of me, except for a single cig when I’m walking down to the pub on my own.

If the majority of people I’m with are non-smokers, then I won’t smoke (unless I’m very drunk). I don’t smoke inside people’s houses, or in restaurants.

In summary, I bend with the wind. If the opportunity presents itself, and if there’s no-one around to express disapproval, then I’ll succumb to temptation. If I’m going to piss people off, then I’ll refrain.

Am I addicted? The word feels too extreme.

Do I have a habit? Yes, I do.

Do I enjoy smoking? Yes and no. There are conflicting feelings.

I like reaching into the packet, putting the fag in my mouth, lighting it, and taking the first drag. That’s the best bit.

I hate the effect that the first fag of the day has on my body: dizzy head, fractured brain, heartbeat up, clenched butt, sweaty feet. That’s the worst bit. But it goes away if you smoke a couple more.

I enjoy the feeling of participating in a shared ritual with other happy, smiling, carefree smokers. That’s when I like smoking most of all.

I also like the “private late night treat” feeling which I get on Fridays; but this is invariably accompanied by a little shudder of guilt and shame, which I can’t quite shrug off.

I hate climbing into bed next to K, and knowing that I haven’t got rid of the smell (even if I’ve just taken a shower), and having to turn away from him so as not to envelop him with my fumes. That’s when I feel the most ashamed.

I hate the stink on my fingers and clothes, and the taste in my mouth the next day.

Would I like to stop? I have stopped, several times. But as I’ve never been a daily smoker, I’ve never felt a particular danger in starting again. I always like to feel that I can take them or leave them. After all, I’m not a Smoker with a Capital S. Am I?

I’m avoiding the question. Would I like to stop? Yes, eventually. But it never feels like a matter of urgency. I only started smoking ten years ago, and there have been extended periods during that time when I’ve smoked less, or none at all. I’ve certainly never smoked more. Therefore, when considering the health risks, I like to think that I’m still inside the safety zone. If there’s a fixed lifetime quota for the number of fags that one can ingest without incurring any significant danger, then surely I’m well within it. Aren’t I?

So, what is this mystical lifetime quota? I have no idea.

Has anyone close to me ever suffered through a smoking-related disease? Not so far as I am aware.

Besides, I’m invincible.

OK, I’d like to stop. But, you see, I was rather counting on the government to force my hand for me. By removing the opportunity, they would have removed the temptation. They’ve done it in Ireland. They’re doing it in Scotland. I simply assumed that England and Wales wouldn’t be far behind. After all, this hasn’t exactly been the most liberal of governments in recent years, has it? Nanny state? Bring it on!

And so, even though I’m a “social smoker”, I feel thoroughly let down and proper pissed off. My Tony, my Tony, why hast thou forsaken me?

As to the reasons for the fudge, my inner conspiracy theorist is juggling three possibilities.

1. New Labour is still in hock to the tobacco industry. Unlikely, in this day and age – Big Tobacco must surely have accepted its pariah status by now. Besides, it still has other, larger, less informed markets to conquer.

2. New Labour are scared of losing the tax revenue. Quite plausible. How else will they be able to balance the books, without the billions pouring in from the nation’s chuffers? When the Naional Lottery was introduced, lofty metropolitan commentators were quick to deem it a “tax on stupidity”. Wrong target, fellows.

3. New Labour are scared of alienating its lower income constituency. Christ, they’ve got to do something popular with the working classes, right? Plausible but silly, as the vast majority of middle class floating voters would appear to be passionately in favour of an outright ban in all enclosed public spaces.

And that’s the other bit that rankles with me. Have you noticed the sheer venom with which smokers are being denounced nowadays? Sure, they (OK OK, we) don’t have an even halfway plausible argument to call our own. Sure, we’re selfish, and we stink, and we make your clothes smell awful in the morning. But nevertheless, there’s a creeping edge to a lot of the recent debate which disturbs me. Self-righteousness is never a good look – and don’t give me that “it’s for your own good” claptrap, either. Society likes its easy scapegoats. Thin end of the wedge. There are worse crimes: alcohol-related violence, exhaust fumes… oh, but I’m not even going to go down that route.

Somewhere in the last decade – maybe even in the last five years – we’ve reached a tipping point. Thirty or forty years ago, the whole country smelt of cigarette smoke – so much so, that we barely even noticed it. (Besides, with the comparative levels of polluted air and questionable personal hygiene, perhaps the fag fug smokescreen was doing us all a favour, shielding us from even nastier smells.) Now, the air is clearing. As we lift our noses to the fresher, cleaner atmosphere, those few lingering traces of fag smoke suddenly strike us anew. What we barely used to notice, we now find intolerable.

And so, the hour has come.

But not just yet, it would seem.

Bugger. That only leaves me with will power and personal responsibility.

Basically, I’m f**ked, aren’t I?

My therapist says I should write thoughts down as they occur to me.

I don’t think he meant it quite like this, though.

Mmm, cuddle. Doh, he’s getting up. Shit, it’s late. Erm, have I already brushed my teeth? Oo-er, going senile. Groan, last weekend’s suitcase needs emptying before the cleaner gets here. Bah, why do we always leave this till Wednesdays? Bollocks, he’s left the wet laundry to hang up. Grr, that’s the next ten minutes gone. OK OK, fair division of labour. Yeah, but it still feels good to whinge. Ho hum, can’t be arsed with the paper. Well, just a look at the cartoons then. Christ, I’m shallow. Eyup, cleaner’s at the door. Harumph, that was a cheeky remark. What, does she think we’re alcoholics? Yikes, it’s late. Ugh, can’t be bothered to take the stairs. Boo, lift’s full. Sigh, how many more floors? Yeesh, getting on at Floor 9 to travel to Floor 10? Wow, lazy or what? Oops, there might be something wrong with his legs. Ouch, I feel a bit guilty. Now, quick surf before I log on? No, stop! Ah, go on then. Eek, someone coming. Quick, alt tab! Right, workity workity work. Woo, personal e-mail! Hooray, remembered my dental appointment. (God, remember last time? Oh, the embarrassment.) Good, there’s the taxi. Poo, stinks a bit in here. Blimey, that was a quick journey. Um, should I tip? Nah, what is this, London? Hee hee, what a squeaky voice that receptionist has. Goodness, they’re actually running to schedule. Hah, that must be a first. Yay, clean bill of health! Whoops, bus ahead of me. Aargh, I’d better run. Damn, he’s shut the doors. Erm, if I flash him a watery smile? Yes, result! Right, better send that nagging text to K. Huh, what does he mean by that? Phew, Pret A Manger haven’t run out of sushi. Hey, I was here first! Mmm, great John Peel feature in Word magazine. F**k, it’s really late. Look, I always take the stairs after lunch. So, I deserve to take the lift for once. Boy, this is a tedious piece of work. Ooh,new Scott Adams blog! Ta, BW! Eureka, just thought of something to blog about. Bugger, that took longer than expected. Aaaaaand, hit Publish.

Moral: beware of assigning “automatic writing” exercises to online diarists.
What’s that new buzzword? Tumblelog?

Fun Friday Music Quiz!

What do the following tunes have in common?

Arctic Monkeys – I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor
The Jacksons – Can You Feel It?
Del Amitri – Nothing Ever Happens
Reef – Place Your Hands
Salt ‘N Pepa – Push It
Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
Madonna – Causing A Commotion
Betty Everett – Getting Mighty Crowded
Sly & The Family Stone – There’s A Riot Goin’ On
Talking Heads – Making Flippy Floppy
Gang Of Four – At Home He’s a Tourist
Joy Division – She’s Lost Control
Kim Wilde – You Came
Sugababes – Push The Button
The Smiths – I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish
Jimmy Ruffin – Farewell Is A Lonely Sound
Reynolds Girls – I’d Rather Jack
Kelis – Milkshake
Garbage – Only Happy When It Rains
The Beatles – I Want To Hold Your Hand
KWS – Please Don’t Go
Neil Diamond – Beautiful Noise
The Stranglers – Golden Brown
Marvin Gaye – Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)
Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers – Islands In The Stream
Coldplay – Yellow
Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Welcome To The Pleasuredome
Squeeze – Up The Junction
Les Rythmes Digitales – (Hey You) What’s That Sound?
Elvis Costello – Accidents Will Happen
Britney Spears – Oops I Did It Again

I apologise for the answer in advance. Look, it’s FRIDAY!

Blogging my mother’s early memories.

EAMS wearing the dress made by her mother, worn when presenting red roses to The Queen, Inner Temple Hall, November 13th 1952.
EAMS wearing the dress made by her mother, worn when presenting
red roses to The Queen, Inner Temple Hall, November 13th 1952.

The last time I visited my mother in Cambridge, she showed me the completed project which she had been working on for the previous several months: a detailed account of her early life, from her birth in 1940 to her marriage in 1960. Drafted in longhand and then written up on an electric typewriter (no new-fangled technology for this old girl), the binder – complete with numerous pictorial inserts – runs to around 120 pages. Completed to a painstaking level of detail and accuracy, the whole enterprise must have taken her many, many hours.

Immediately, I found myself engrossed in her story: her childhood split between the Inner Temple in London and a Georgian Palladian villa on the outskirts of Weymouth, her appearance as an extra in Dirk Bogarde and Jack Warner’s The Blue Lamp, the sudden death of her mother (and the equally sudden appearance of her stepmother), her six months of study in Paris, and her fateful courtship with my father.

Although this was written merely as a family chronicle, to be passed on to myself and my sister, and although its level of detail will probably render it of interest only to a very select audience, it seems far too worthy an endeavour to waste on the two of us alone. Also, I feel rather anxious about the lack of any electronic backup copy of what is clearly such a unique and irreplacable labour of love. I’m therefore going to release my mother’s memoir in blog form, typing up maybe two or three pages a week, and illustrating it with her collection of family photos, illustrations and other sundry archive material.

Here it is, then: EAMS: Early Memories, complete with its introductory quote from T.S. Eliot.

By way of an appetite-whetter, here’s my mother’s account of the time she found herself modelling for Vogue, aged nine.


In October that year [1949] I did my first photographic work for Vogue. This was to appear in the December number to promote children’s party clothes. For me it was almost as good as going to a real party!

There was a small group of us, of whom I was the eldest. It all took place in a rather nice house somewhere in the Kensington area. I was dressed in a splendid frilly, I think pink, organdie party dress – probably smocked, as most of them were then. Over this I wore a smart outdoor coat, and a beret for the outside shot of us all arriving at the front door for the “party”, complete with a nanny carrying the youngest child in her arms.

This took several shots because one little girl, aged about three, kept turning her back on the camera. Eventually she was tricked into turning round by the offer of a cracker which she quickly snatched and turned away again. Another cracker was waved and her name called, and in the split second as she half turned back, looking over her shoulder, the photographer got his shot.

eams-31at
There followed some discussion as to whether it was appropriate that she should be arriving at a party holding a cracker, but it was quickly decided that enough was enough.

Once inside the house, coats were taken off and we went into a room where a cine camera and screen had been set up. We all sat down to enjoy a Charlie Chaplin film. and barely noticed that photographs were being taken of us. After this, £2. 7.3. was added to my Post Office account.

eams-31bt

Format firsts. (3)

First vinyl album:
1967-70 – The Beatles (1973)

beatles6770A few months earlier, my father had changed his old Fiat (registration WWW 187 G) for a new Fiat (come on, do you take me for some kind of FREAK). Out went the old in-car 8-track cartridge player, which we listened to on the school run in the mornings: Andy Williams, Simon & Garfunkel, The Carpenters, The Sound Of Music, Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, and the REALLY BORING one: Mario Lanza in The Student Prince. Instead, the new car came equipped with a radio/cassette player, for which new music had to be purchased. Easily my favourite of the new cassettes was the recently issued Beatles retrospective 1962-66, also known as the “double red” album. I had grown up with most of these songs, and so – even at the age of 11 – was experiencing my first kick of nostalgia.

As for its companion volume 1967-70 (the “double blue”), nothing would persuade my father to buy it – his reason being that 1967 was when the Beatles “went funny”. Long hair, weird music, dodgy Indian gurus, that awful Yoko Ono woman who RUINED John Lennon… and, of course, DRUGS. (My grandmother was firmly of the same opinion: “It’s such a pity, and they used to be such NICE boys.”) Attempting to catch him in a weak moment at a petrol station, I had almost succeeded in getting him to buy Sergeant Pepper. Only when scrutinising the cassette case did he suddenly remember that this dated from their “funny period”, and was therefore Not Suitable.

Of course, all of this only served to heighten my curiosity. As a boy, I was very much drawn to the aesthetic of the weird, the wacky, the surreal, the fantastic. I liked anything which broke the boundaries, pushing things further, stimulating my already highly active imagination. Thus the detailed, multi-coloured cover of Sergeant Pepper interested me enormously. This was one step further than The Sweet, Slade, T.Rex or David Bowie. It suggested a forbidden fantasy world of unimaginably rich possibilities.

So what could be better than a complete double album’s worth of The Beatles after they went weird? I was just beginning to understand the concept of an “album” as opposed to a mere “LP”, having heard a piece about the subject on Radio One. Albums existed on a more elevated, adult plane, as complete artworks in their own right. They were still a little bit advanced for me – but nevertheless, I thought it was about time I owned one.

At that time, I had just become aware of the albums chart. Top of the pile in the summer of 1973 was the soundtrack of That’ll Be The Day, starring David Essex and Ringo Starr: another double album, heavily advertised on TV, featuring many rock and roll classics from the 1950s. With late 1950s nostalgia starting to feature heavily in the chart pop of the time, I was interested in finding out more. Also, I did rather fancy buying the Number One album in the charts, merely for the sake of owning the Number One album in the charts. Once again, there was a little more at stake than mere access to a bunch of songs.

Back in the music department of Boots The Chemist, at the start of the long summer holiday, I dithered. Perhaps I should listen to That’ll Be The Day in one of the booths? My sister and I stood beneath the speakers, listening out for the songs which had been featured on the TV advert. As Jonny Tillotson’s Poetry In Motion blasted out (we knew that one), one of the shop porters paused in front of us, in his long brown coat, and did a little “rock and roll” comedy jig for our benefit. We giggled.

However, there was something a little dowdy about the album. It didn’t quite come to life, in the same way that all my favourite glam-rockers did. Black and white, not glorious Technicolor. Beatles it was, then.

And so it came to pass that Side One, Track One of my entire album collection was Strawberry Fields Forever, a song which I had never heard before. I can still picture myself placing the record on my little Bush player with the smoked perspex lid, and perching myself on my bed, lyrics in hand. Golly, was it ever weird! Creepy weird, sinister weird, nightmare weird – with a freaky coda that faded back in, startling and unsettling me. It sounded like how I imagined an LSD trip would be, and confirmed in my mind that I would never, ever try anything like that for myself. It was a blessed relief when Penny Lane came on next; I remembered Peter Glaze and the gang singing it on BBC1’s Friday afternoon kids’ show Crackerjack, and felt a strange shudder of longing for my own early childhood, and for the comforting security of the 1960s.

(Perhaps it’s worth mentioning that I bought this album only a couple of weeks after my parents told me they were divorcing, and my mother moved out of the family home. Interesting timing.)

Equally weird stuff was to come: I Am The Walrus, which embarrassed me by using words like “bloody”, “knickers” and “pornographic”, and disgusted me with images of semolina pilchards climbing up the Eiffel Tower, Lennon’s oddly pitched voice twisting with mockery and menace. But worst of all was A Day In The Life, whose two discordant orchestral crescendos I could scarcely bear to hear, filling me with an overpowering sense of dread. Again, something very dark and very wrong seemed to be taking place.

However, all of this was counterbalanced by sweet, playful, wistful songs such as Hello GoodbyeFool On The Hill, Hey Jude and many more: a clear majority for the light over the dark. By the end of the fourth side, the group’s collective journey through the madness was demonstrably over, as more conventional arrangements took over, and a sense of mellow, valedictory maturity came to the fore. It was scarcely possible to believe that this was the same group who had recorded She Loves You and I Want To Hold Your Hand, and I presumed that such naive juvenalia must have embarassed them by its existence. That short reprise of She Loves You at the end of All You Need Is Love: they were obviously laughing at their pre-enlightened selves, jumping around for the Grannys and the screaming little girls, in their boring matching suits. Aged 11, on the cusp of being a teenager and longing to get there as soon as possible, I felt much the same about my own early childhood: silly Enid Blyton books, silly Play School and Andy Pandy on the telly.

Nostalgia for a lost idyll; impatience to attain maturity and win freedom; fear of the dark mistakes that adults might make; delight at the breadth and scope of the human imagination; curiosity for whatever might happen next. Not a bad way to start an album collection, all told.

What was your first album?

title unknown – Abba (guyana-gyal)
Thriller – Michael Jackson (Buni)
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John (d)
Inflammable Material – Stiff Little Fingers (Chav Gav)
Captain Fantastic & The Brown Dirt Cowboy – Elton John (“bob”)
Songs In The Key Of Life – Stevie Wonder (joe.my.god.)
Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles (patita)
Parallel Lines – Blondie (annie)
Tapestry – Carole King (asta)
EITHER Safe As Milk – Captain Beefheart OR The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter -Incredible String Band (Tina)
Clodagh Rodgers – Clodagh Rodgers (Nigel)
Rio – Duran Duran (vit)
Transformer – Lou Reed (Debster)
Mud Rock – Mud (NiC)
Human Racing – Nik Kershaw (Adrian)
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap – AC/DC (bytheseashore)
Thriller – Michael Jackson (eric bogs)
Can’t Stand The Rezillos – The Rezillos (andy)
Sweet Baby James – James Taylor (Dymbel)
Love At The Greek – Neil Diamond (Alan)
Choke – The Beautiful South (Will)
Greatest Hits – Helen Reddy (looby)