I Was Born

These postcard views ( care of http://www.retrowow.co.uk/ ) show Plymouth during the period 1962 to 1966 - the world I was born into.

In this blog I'm going to just throw in everything I can remember - and some things I can't remember - and gradually work it together into some sort of coherent whole. What you read here is a work in progress and, at the moment, still taking shape. Eventually I hope it might become something of wider interest than just for me - a glimpse of a time and place and a state of mind.

I have only strange half memories - or even, memories of memories of my very early life. The earliest memory being my mum reading me a story I was two, maybe three – the book was a picture book and there was on page that fascinated me – I think it was a snow-scape, and showed a town and a hill with people skiing, sledging, etc. Mum tucked me in for sleep. I lay for a short while and then picked the book up and started looking at this picture – I enjoyed losing myself within it. But this time I felt instantly guilty, as if I betrayed my mother’s loving act of the bedtime ritual. It took years to shake off these feelings of guilt, and I'm not even a Catholic!
We had a tortoise and a cat. And a dog which I don’t remember at all. The tortoise got out once and we thought we’d lost it for good. Turned out the neighbour had it and it came back with a little fleck of paint on it’s shell. We had a yard out back, my mum used to keep lots of potted plants there. I used to eat from a mint plant that grew in a pot in the yard. I remember a kitten getting stuck on our wall and my Dad had to rescue it.I played with the boy next door who was called Steven too. He had a sister, like I did, also called Lisa like mine. I had a bad argument with the boy one day and I ran indoors upset because we weren’t friends any more.
We lived above a shop and I used to get my sweets in there. The man had big jars of sweets. He let me try a lozenge once and I hated it, it was the worst thing I'd ever tasted. Years later I tried a Fisherman’s Friend and realised what it was that I had been given. A railway ran down one end of our street and I remember a big green grit box at the corner; at the other end was the dockyard gate. We lived halfway up a hill amongst rows and rows of terraced houses. There was a park nearby. We had to walk across it to get to my nursery school. Mum gave me a plastic vintage car in a perspex box which I had till adulthood, but which fell apart gradually over the years.

The Flat:
we were living in Keyham then, quite a rundown part of Devonport, bordering with a huge estate known as Swilly.
I remember being scared of going into the living room, at the front of the house. There was a big old tv in the room and large sofa near the door. I had to get into the room without seeing my own reflection in the tv. It was a genuine fear as well. I ran in quickly and got behind the sofa, then crawled along until I got near whatever it was I was going in there for.
I liked riding my bike in circles round the big kitchen. I was at home all day and went shopping with my mum on the red London buses: Routemasters or something similar. Conductors would give me rolls of tickets. I thought that buses parked too close to each other.
We lost our dog (Sally) off a bus, but I don’t remember that. She ran off and we never saw her again.

I remember an annual event thrown by, I assume, the Royal Dockyard, called “Navy Days”. The earliest one I remember, which must have been 1970, my parents bought me a little plastic diver and a tiny ship in a bottle. I kept the diver in a big basket filled mostly with Lego. The diver fell apart within a few years, and I felt guilty about the destruction of this gift from my parents. I still have the little ship in a bottle today, my oldest possession. A sort of Rosebud, except I still have mine.I remember walking across the bridge at Camelford. I could see trains – which interest all small boys.

Devonport was dominated by the docks in those days. Lots of men in work clothes, lots of windowless pubs and betting shops with grey looking men walking in and out. Very adult and very male places that fascinated and frightened me. Adult's places, especially men's places felt like a very forbidden zone to a kid back then, compared to my own daughter, growing up 25 years later, who felt confident about joing in with the adult world from a very young age.I still dream about Devonport. The landscape changes but the things that remain constant are the major landmarks, the Tamar Bridge, the railways line's, the Dockyard, red buses, grey buildings.Devonport was full intimidating granite buildings. A lot of the granite buildings were dockyard buildings or the dockyard wall.Chemists still had those big coloured jars in the window...there was one I would see regularly. It was near where we lived and somehow wormed it's way into my deepest earliest memories, and even dreams, so much so that when I see these jars today - very rare - it triggers something inside of me and in some way takes me back to when I was just a baby.

My Sister And Other Relatives:
In 1968 I was provided with a sister. I have absolutely no memory of her arrival or her being around at all.
I had quite a few older rellies at that time, now long gone. My Great Grandparents were still mostly around - my Dad's Grandfather on his Dad's side, both Gt Gparents on my mum's father's side. My Mum's mother's parents had died when she was still quite young.

The Beatles and The Stones
An aside into influence of music. Beyond the Beatles.
My Dad was 25, my mum was 21, this picture was taken around 1964 / 65:

You can see they were reasonably hip young people at the time, but the hipness did not last long. My Dad's record collection consisted of Beatles records up until 1965, then no more. I guess my arrival blew it out of his system. 1966 saw the Beatles cement themselves into music history by surpassing all others, at least in the mainstream, both in song-writing skills, and experimentation. They were recording Sgt Pepper as I arrived into the world. The psychedelic revolution was nearly upon us. I was content, it seems, with baby food, plastic toys and nursery rhymes, at least through the rest of the sixties. I remember little, but as they say, if you can remember the sixties, then you weren't there.
My mum was a Stones fan; she also dug Dylan. She went to gigs – including the Looney Party guy. My Dad was a rocker, but he was more a Beatles fan. Also into country music, like me, oddly though I hated it as a child, when having to put up with Plymouth Sound’s Country Music Show which was on after the south west singles chart.
And so the records my Dad bought after my arrival were Johnny Cash, Charlie Pride, Rod McKuen, Neil Diamond, etc. By the early 70s I had discovered my Dad's records, and for a short time, it was my musical world. so I cemented in a love for country music, which from 1978 to the late 80s I denied to myself, only to return in the 90s, gradually, and wholeheartedly in the new century after alt country, and a return to the core values: Steve Earle, Johnny Cash, ----- etc.
I'm getting ahead of myself though. The sixties peaked while I was a baby and began to turn into the 70s as the 60s bands split or died. The guitar became a weapon. I think this left my parents behind - who certainly never went beyond the changes in 67 - when the Stones went dark, The Beatles went heavy and transcendental, dylan went electric, Hendrix - well, just Hendrix, and bands like Led Zep. It all happened so quickly - those involved had no control - many were left behind. The Kinks career ended there more or less.
The number One record on the day of my birth was "Green Green Grass Of Home" - a song that has cursed me to this day. Why couldn;t it be "Yellow submarine" or something by the Kinks?
In fact the world shook harder than it had ever done before - it was the year of political strife; anti Vietnam protests, centred in "swinging" London. Now we belittle this period as the period of flower-power, drugs and hippy protests. this doesn't even begin to describe what was really happening. Working classes stood side by side with students and demanded a better life. the better life they were promised a generation earlier when tehir parents had returned from war to a "world fit for heroes". They were still waiting. Their children wouldn;t wait any longer.
Both sides of the atlantic had shifted to the left. The world had been run by former war heroes for too long. Out went Eisenhower, and in came Kennedy. Out went Churchill, and now, in was Harold Wilson, a forward thinking socialist. In France, the last gasp of General DeGaul's regime, ousted by some pesky kids. Even Uncle Joe Stalin bit the dust and was replaced by an outward looking Soviet leader.
I never quite saw the old world. I was among the first born into the new world.

Suddenly the conservative 70s came and MOR country acts abounded, old 60s acts reinvented themselves as either hard rock or back to nature hippy dropouts with money, children and family values.
There was no easy pop scene for me to latch onto in 1971. 1972. it was all long hair, sweat, loud guitars, or worse, strummy accoustic guitars, and idiot violent drummers, or folksy girl groups.
My early influences were, I guess whatever they played on the radio station my parents listened to, which would later be Radio 2. I remember Junior Choice, David Bowie's Space Odditty and eary favourite of mine, and Laughing Gnome which wasn't a particular fave at the time. "Puff the Magic Dragon"; Berbard Cribbins. Presented by Ed Stewart. He was a dickhead of the first order, but we listened to his programme religiously - I associate it with getting ready to go out to the beach or countryside. We'd start with it on in the kitchen, then in the car.


shame about the lorry, but this was my school in the very early 70s
the Park
Can’t remember nursery school, but I remember the walk home through the park. School was a bit of a trauma. Before I started at big school - I remember being taken into an office and sat at a desk, a man told me to write my name, mum wasn't there, and the man walked out and left me alone. I cried because I did't know how to write my name, though i had better luck with the differently shaped wooden pegs and holes for them to be pushed into. I've always assumed this memory was in some way school related. I've no idea if this was standard procedure for entry into school or not.I started school at 5. It was Autumn 1971. I made friends, had a crush on one dark looking boy, which is uncharacteristically homo-erotic of me, something I eventually grew out of. My party trick was that I ate ants. I wasn’t allowed to swim in the pool, didn’t pay attention to class and got to sit in the corner quite a lot. I day-dreamed about the swimming pool that I wasn’t allowed to swim in. Before dinner we all spat on our hands and rubbed them before the dinner ladies told us to wash them. Somehow this was better than being sent to the washroom to soap and water! They inspected our hands to make sure they were clean. Can’t remember the food. I had a friend in big school (everytime I went to big school there was a bigger school that took the name...it was to be a long time before I got to the ultimate big school and even then we all had to look up to the higher education institutes, until work where there's always going to be the "big job" and none of will ever get there...) who I used to see sometimes. Remember an argument about whether you could eat orange peel. Someone said it had wax on it. I probably ate some to prove you could.

· L – and N, Roy and Laura lived in a new-build – near Elverton. Roy had a home bar, ran his own business. Roy and my Dad once talked of starting a business together. Laura was very friendly with my mum. We would visit them lots, and I played with the girls upstairs. Got shouted at once for playing with a forbidden toy, only I didn't know it was forbidden. I think it was some strange bubble blowing contraption and got soapy stuff onto the carpets which is why it was forbidden. 
Butlins at Minehead

I remember we all went on holiday together, there were four kids, me and three girls. 

The thing I remember about Butlins are the bright colours, geometric shapes, great clown faces everywhere made out of plastic, and free fairground rides. There was also a monorail. Futuristic stuff!

One year I made one of the other girls very angry by taking the number card out of the chalet door and ripping it up. She was probably only a bit older than me, maybe a year, maybe not even that much. We took the cushions, orange cushions, out of both of our chalets and built them into structures to play in. Another  time me and my sister found another couple of kids to play with, brother & sister like us, and I had these funny feelings which I could not understand. Chasing the girl got me absurdly excited, more than playing chase normally did. Now bearing in mind I was only about 5 at the time, I believe it was the first time I felt anything vaguely sexual in nature. It was a new feeling at the time, but was to become possibly the dominant force in my life within 10 more years. 

Early Telly
As well as kids tv - I remember watching stuff with my parents. Most of it must have gone right over my head.
The_Liver_Birds which had started in 1969; my Dad watched Monty Python, which I never really cottoned onto until the last series aired in 1974. From 1972 Are_You_Being_Served - ad my first confusing exposure to a gay/ camp character on tv - it was like pantomime - and I never thought Mrs Sloacombe's pussy was anything other than a cat, but still found it funny.
Dick Emery - Mike Yarwood - Generation Game -In 1973 Some Mothers Do Ave Em started - there were enough slapstick moments to keep me amused - i used to really enjoy this programmeIn '73 - Whatever_Happened_to_the_Likely_Lads and 74 - and I still have stirrings from the theme tune - don't know what i saw in it - but it sums up the world i came into and what was my parents generation had left behind, and where they hoped to go. Also in 1973 - Man_About_the_House.
On The buses –
Remember watching Star Trek for first ever time – with my Dad’s sister in the room. Wondered what the hell was going on – I was about 6. She told me that there was an invisible alien on the ship. Oh! I remember becoming hooked on Star Trek though a couple of years later.

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