Music: It’s Part In My Downfall #university #bristol #1976

In October 1976 I started my law degree at Bristol University. This was the most important phase of my life to date and as such the memories of those early days remain as vivid today as they were then. The story continues as I realise I may have bitten off more that I could chew…

There’s nothing you can say, is there? Oh that hair… 1976 was not a good year for anyone of the Archaeologist me or mum…

It’s difficult, looking back, to big up my room in my hall. There was about ten by ten foot of floor space, a metal framed window looking out on the bike sheds and an avenue of horse chestnut trees of significant vintage. During revision I spent a lot of time staring into those boughs and branches seeking inspiration and rarely finding it. Most people, on seeing those monsters commented on their magnificence, their magisterial standing and their sheer bloody scale. What I remember most is how disgusting their blossom smelt in May and June. I know the exact descriptor but decency prevents me from sharing it with you.

Still, learning that unedifying fact was some eight months away and I had yet to so much as empty my bags and pack away my meagre possessions. There were some drawers for socks etc, a wardrobe for coats and trousers and shoes, a shelf for whatever – most people put their toiletries there, a desk with three drawers, a chair of limited comfort, a singularly narrow bed and bedding and a bedside table on which, eventually my stereo sat.

Perhaps a digression into my musicography might be apposite. For all their many wonderful qualities my parents relationship with music was similar to politicians with truth -occasional and mostly tangential. Dad like Glenn Millar and the big bands and mum Sinatra and Nat King Cole but neither to the extent of having any machinery in the house that might play same. Their listening therefore was confined to the radio and that was to the Home service, now radio four with the occasional retuning to the third programme – radio three – but solely to listen to the test cricket. Of the two music channels, the light programme – radio two now – was avoided ( though once in a while mum might be caught listening to Jimmy Young). And of the new fang led radio one? Every radio in the house was set to melt should anyone – me – tune to that station. It took me until 1972 to afford my own transistor and discovered radio Luxembourg on 208mw. The signal was rubbish – it faded in and out – but I clung to that in an effort to catch up with my peers.

It had to be mid March 1972 because I remember that week Harry Nilsson was no. 1 and the New Seekers no.2. Looking at the chart now it also shows up a little of what was to be my social downfall in those early weeks at university, a gaff so deep and so potentially fatal to anything resembling street cred that I could easily have been shamed into leaving.

My little stereo – a white turntable with the standard 3 speeds back then and two speakers – was accompanied by my limited music collection. I made little money at the gardening job I did and a fair bit went into my passion for cricket – kit for me and a season ticket to watch my beloved Hampshire. What was left went on all sorts and only a little on music. I was happy to listen to the radio, to Luxembourg and Radio 1, John Peel et al. But none of that saved me when my newly met fellow students visited my room. Back then one of the first things that happened was your guest checked your albums, partly to see if you had anything they didn’t so you could listen to it and partly to judge.

Oh boy did they judge. And with good reason for the first album I bought was by Gilbert O’Sullivan and the second by the Carpenters. There was no coming back for the that.

Posted in Bristol, Memoir, miscellany, university | Tagged , , | 57 Comments

Libelled! #writephoto

Jack Daw and Carrie Crow surveyed the scene. A misty hue hugged the landscape. It all looked so normal. Jack cast a beady eye on his boss and pecked nervously at his claws.

‘Oh stop that. You know what happens when you do that? You’ll get crow’s feet.’

Jack pecked the air, nervously. ‘Do you think they’ll come?’

Carrie squinted into the middle distance. ‘Oh they’ll come. The real question is will they agree.’

‘The raptors will, surely.’ Jack hopped and stopped himself. Unfocused hopping wasn’t approved behaviour for a member of the Avian Council.

‘Hmm, some maybe but they’re scared, too.’

‘Surely not.’

‘Oh they’ve been completely sideswiped. Do you have any idea how humiliating it is being filmed in your bedroom all the time? Sure we all have to put up with the intrusion, especially in Spring but the raptors… blimey it’s never ending . Take those Ospreys. They bought the dream… endless food, a purpose built home, adulation. And then gradually humiliation. Same goes for all the groups. First they get driven to the edge of extinction, next they’re feted and ‘saved’ but at the cost of having to accept some little box to live in, all looking the same. Makes them feel like a bunch of complete tits. They’re not about to vote to help us, even though we’re the only ones who’ve really stood up against this philanthropic hegemony. Still,’ Carrie flapped her wings as a party of nervy warblers made an appearance, ‘we have to try. Have you taken the roll? Who isn’t here?’

Jack looked at his notes. ‘The gulls can’t make it. They say they’re happy scavenging chips. The parakeets demanded a translation of the motion before they condescended to send someone and the owls…’

‘Surely the Owls are coming?’

‘Not sure. They sent a message asking for a note of why you called this council, beyond the simple motion. I gave them a summary of the situation and emphasised the humiliation this careless naming is causing us.’

‘Well, we could do with their input. It’s not often we get singled out for such tarring and feathering.’

Carrie hopped onto the top rock and looked down on the assembled life, all representing the aggregate bird world of Britain. ‘My feathered friends,’ she boomed, ‘we have reached a crisis in our relationship with humanity.. For so long we have managed our relationship with our bipedal neighbours, getting by, giving them those special moments they seem to crave. But then their world is turned upside down, a plague has swept through them and they are in peril. In normal times we’d reach out, give them a tarty show of Spring feathers to cheer them up.’

The finches began to strut and were stilled by a flap of an eagle’s wings.’

‘Not this year we don’t. These humans, these so called fleshy friends have libelled us, be smirked my family’s good name. They…’

Carrie looked up. In its swooping, loping way, Batista Barn Owl made swift stately progress across the landscape and settled next to her perch. He coughed up a small ball of bones as he cleared his throat. ‘I think you’re about to make fool of yourself, Carrie.’

She looked at him through her steady black eyes. ‘It’s not you they’re blaming. If you go around parroting such nonsense to a suggestible bunch like this, all you’ll do is create the most enormous flap for no reason.’

‘I have been mandated by the Council to put the motion…’

‘Ok. It’s your beak that’s on the line here. I’ll just make my point before the vote. Off you go.’

Uncertain now, Carrie turned back to her flock. She wasn’t used to an Owl, normally the most sagacious and sensible of birds ruffling her feathers. She coughed, grateful at least that her diet didn’t having her gobbing up some misbegotten rodent. ‘I’d like us to vote on the motion. To remind you all, this is what we intended delivering to the Prime Minister via the usual faecal shoulder drop: We the Birds of Britain abhor the egregious use of our family name in labelling this new virus. Please stop immediately or there will be consequences..’

Carrie stood back. Yes, she thought, that had them stirred up. If she knew her people they’d support her. She became aware of Batista shuffling forward.

‘Before we vote, could I just make one point? I know we all respect Carrie and how clever she is but, well spelling isn’t her strong point. This disease has not, for all Carrie’s worries, been named Corvid 19…’

This was written in response to the latest #writephoto prompt

Posted in #writephoto, creative writing, humour, miscellany | Tagged , , | 18 Comments

History Echoes #dadsprose #covid19 #1939

In 1939 my father was twelve; at the time war was declared he was staying with his uncle and aunt in Linton in Cambridgeshire, helping on the farms and enjoying a lot of freedom. It was, in his mind an idyllic time: of trout tickling and nights with Sid Seeley the poacher; of huge meals courtesy of his Aunt Mabs; of the ribald humour of his Uncle Edgar, the Post master; of playing with his cousins which, as a single child of a smothering mother was both bliss and a nightmare. He knew of the impending horrors, of the fears that leadened the conversations, of the adult infatuation with the radio news bulletins, but still he would have gone back in a heart beat. His life changed that summer, in some ways for the better given that it was wartime circumstance that brought him and my mother together.

Today, as we stay indoors, avoid people, we wonder what things will look like for us when we emerge on the other side of this pandemic, and we talk of a war against an invisible enemy whose defeat we are told is certain though the date of that victory is unknown and unknowable and the cost..? We speak of how things haven’t been like this since those five and something years from 1939.

Years later, in his sixties, my age now, my father cast his mind back to that September day and wrote the piece below. Like then, today in the UK nature is playing her mischievous games: the sun shines, after the deluges of recent months and the gardens and green spaces are bulging with life: a cherry tree throbs with bees; apple blossom explodes with early expectation; wall flowers stand tall and cry ‘look at me’ with no irony; daffs, tulips, forget-me-nots all splash their tarty show. What do they care of our problems, of this species cleansing we face if we fail to take it seriously, if we fail to put all we hold dear on the line? How will we look back? How will our children consider this life changing event? Will they remember the sombre tones of Prime Ministers and Presidents and Mayors and experts galore and our nervousness and twitchy horror and the latest lurch into the future or the glorious spring of 2020?

This how Dad remembered it. Let’s hope our children can do the same and maintain perspective; it’s all we have.

September 1939

A slight breeze stirred the topmost twigs of my uncle Edgar’s Victoria plum. The old tree was laden with fruit, rich and rosy-yellow, hanging like swollen raindrops along a gate bar. Overburdened branches sagged, and wasps, already gorged stupid on sweet juice, sluggishly shouldered their way into soft, ripe flesh.

On my own, in the long grass I gazed upwards, squinting against the flickering sunlight. Leaves rustled, and a plum, half-filled with wasps, thudded quietly into the grass. For a few moments the disturbed occupants stopped eating and murmured crossly.

Now only the sun seemed to move, warming my face as it rose higher above the trees. I daydreamed, in a world all green and golden and fragrant with the perfume of my aunt Mabel’s Sweet Williams.

My eyelids drooped.

I heard the kitchen window being opened and my uncle saying, ‘Turn on the wireless, Mabel.’ There was a peculiar whistling sound. The wireless set was warming up. Atmospherics scratched and crackled, then a tinny voice said ‘__ no such undertaking has been received and consequently this country is at war with Germany.’

I lay still. Down in the orchard a wood pigeon was cooing drowsily. Near my head there was another squashy thump. It was a marvellous year for plums.

Posted in hope, memories | Tagged , , , , , | 37 Comments

A Spring… #garden #colour#selfisolation

This whole living indoors shtick was never going to work for me, given my rather lovely plot so a lot of time has been allocated to making the garden the best it can be. So here are some March images…

Inevitable journeys out – to shops, to provide necessary care to my aged and vulnerable MIL, to walk Dog who still doesn’t see the garden as big enough – have taken up time and while my frustrations with Londoners apparent indifference to the social isolation requests have ameliorated over the last 48 hours somewhat, it feels safer and happier to be at home or if I have to be out, then in the car.

Gardening, sunshine, hard work – these are all solace as are spending time with the Textiliste and Dog, even if the absence of the brood isn’t any fun for any of us.

I’ve even accepted that with the gym and long walks and personal training and spin classes and yoga classes out of the window I need to self motivate myself to exercise. Thank you Joe Wicks and his Body Coach online classes; I’ve tried 15 minute HIIT and 5 minute abs and an active warm down for the last three days. Who knows what I’ll be like at the end of this…

And writing? Well, I’m enjoying spending time unpicking and rebuilding a magical realism romance that is one of two new books that will I hope reach your shelves this year. The Art of Spirit Capture is based on a short story I wrote a few Christmases ago and I’m getting to be rather fond of it. It has meant a bit of a withdrawal from blogging but given the expectations we are in for the long haul and there is only so much earth I can shift around the garden I think I’ll be back here, blasting out nonsense soon enough.

And if any of us want evidence spring has sprung, well Vicky’s first walk and feed of the year is as good a sign as ever.

Take care everyone and lots of love from me and Dog…

Posted in gardening | Tagged , , | 38 Comments

Hoarding…. #limericks

‘It‘s a risk,’ said the serial hoarder,

‘That I may cause civil disorder

By buying up Frosties

And making you crossties

So I’ll probably stick to cornflakes…’

Or

To hoard takes three things: there’s pluck

And a significant dollop of luck

But between me and you

On top of these two

Is you really must not give a fig (other soft fruits are available until some silly sod has bought them all)

Posted in humour, limericks, miscellany, poems, poetry | Tagged , , , , | 16 Comments

Booms And Busts #Harryspittle

I’m delighted to say that the third part of the Harry Spittle Sagas is due out on the 31st March. For anyone who has been following Harry, he is now turning thirty, trying to secure a partnership in the law firm he works for and is about to become a father. Everything, therefore is about to go horribly wrong in his life. Here’s the blurb

Booms and Busts

It’s 1987 and Harry Spittle’s life is going pretty well: the City of London is booming and his legal career is on an upward trajectory. His long-term relationship with girlfriend Penny is back on an even keel – for now – and they are about to become parents; they are also the proud owners of their first home and have finally joined the property-owning class. So of course everything is about to go horribly wrong…

It’s bad enough that he finds a partner’s dead body sprawled across a desk in a compromising condition when he returns to the office late one Friday evening and he goes on to unwisely accepts his senior partner’s offer to ‘sort the problem out’. Life is further complicated when Magda Kleinkopf, an old friend from Harry’s days working in a Hampshire hotel, turns up at his house desperate to have him sort out her UK citizenship to help her save her sister from the East German authorities. This leads him into conflict with his sister Dina, who now works for MI5 in a mysterious capacity.

We follow Harry as he risks losing his friends, his family, his career and possibly his life to an incurable disease. Everything comes to a head as the storm clouds gather. Can there be a happy ending? Set against the booming economy of Thatcherite politics and the imminent bust at the end of October 1987, we see Harry in a new guise. In this, the third in the series of the Harry Spittle Sagas Harry is all grown up but not really sure how to handle the responsibility, and the pressure is on to tie up the loose ends before his child is born.

If you want to secure a copy you can by following this little link.

Amazon

If you do and fancy leaving a review, brilliant. If you’d be happy to have a free copy in return for an honest review, even better! For both of us.

Just let me know.

Posted in book launch | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments

Verbfree Smiles and Old Socks – my University life #bristoluniversity #memoir

In October 1976 I started my law degree at Bristol University. This was the most important phase of my life to date and as such the memories of those early days remain as vivid today as they were then. The story continues as I find my room and wonder if becoming Christian is essential…

Walking through the doors of Churchill Hall feels familiar – rather like school – and unutterably strange – so many people around my age. As will be the case throughout my life, walking into a sea of unfamiliar faces evokes dread and a sense that I am they only one here who hasn’t the first clue what to do. Of course my brother knows the ropes and in the vague way he has that combines a knowledge that our parents expect him to ‘look after me’ and an expectation that that is the last thing either of us wants, he waves me towards some glass panelled double doors.

Beyond I can see milling multitudes – well perhaps forty males of my age – and tall metal framed windows showing glimpses of tall oaks and beeches beyond. This room I learn later is the junior common room, an expression redolent of worthy literature and a mysterious world of well spoken scholars and pipes. Why pipes? Frankly I’ve no idea except in 1976 boffins smoked pipes in the same way goodies wore white hats and spivs sported trilbies.

‘You register in there.’ The hissed frustration brings me back to the moment. I’m dawdling near my anxious-to-get-on brother when he wants nothing so much as to pass the burden with which mum has entrusted him to someone – anyone – else.

And indeed on hand is a rosy cheeked smiling conundrum: on one level it seems likely we are of a similar age; on another, principally in terms of his dress, he isn’t so much older than me but rather from a different century. ‘Hello! Can I help?!’

I can feel my bro begin to slide away. Whoever this Woodhousian throwback is, I’m now his.

‘New? Exciting!’

Everything is irritatingly interrogative.

‘Churchill Hall! Wonderful!’

And what’s happened to verbs?

Still spouting nouns and the odd adjective he leads through the glass doors and into the smokey stuffy common room, expecting me to form a one man wake. I foam along behind having nothing else to do. My bags stay where I’ve dumped them. Surely no one is going to pinch them?

I’m not given the opportunity to ask as he’s already waiting for me, his ludicrously happy cheeks reminding not so much of polished apples as Gates’ arse in the first form after he was canned and insisted on showing us the result. I vowed to avoid the cane after that.

There are several tables, manned by harassed looking, prematurely aged students. They all appear to be wearing tweed and collared shirts, as if someone has corralled a group of trainee bank clerks into this room. Beside me – though given the levels of unrequited onanism that are the only explanation for his effervescent jiggling, my guide is beside himself as well as me – said guide asks my name and leads me to a queue. ‘Later! Chat!’ And I’m alone.

When he’s gone the man in front of me turns. ‘Christ, thank god he’s gone. Is it me or is he unreal?’

And so begins a recurring dilemma. After seven years at school and similar apprenticeships at the Scouts, the rugby club and so on, I’ve learnt the hard way who you can be indiscreet with and who you are wary of sharing anything that might be repeated back to your detriment. Here, I have no clue with whom I can share a less than flattering comment. I smile a little thinly; he shrugs and turns away, muttering ‘bloody Christian’. My guide it appears is part of a strong Christian community here at Churchill and my fellow queuee is not. Ah well time enough to unpick who is who later and decide where my loyalties should lie.

Soon enough I’m at the front, being handed a key, given directions and told there is a briefing after dinner for we newbies and if we want to begin to get to know our fellow undergraduates a pre dinner visit to the bar is recommended.

I collect my bags and with little trouble find my room – number 18 – on the first floor of A block. As I unlock the door and drag my worldly clutter inside, the smell is of dust, disinfectant and, unmistakably old feet. The latter never really goes and garners me a lot of odd looks and some less than complimentary suggestions involving soap, water and, once, amputation.

I lean back on my door to shut it, close my eyes.

I feel

– out of my depth

– Alone

– And wonder what the fuckety fuck I’ve done in coming to this place. If the rest of my life is to start in a ten by twelve box painted puss yellow and scented with second hand verrucas then I need to adjust my expectations.

Of the various options, crying and screaming compete for first place.

Posted in Bristol, Memoir, miscellany | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments