Thursday, 7 January 2010

1961 Barnsbury Secondary Girls School, Bay of Pigs, TV, hols

The school sent a message home to all parents with the news that it would now be possible to have music lessons. Essentially this meant violin and my mother asked if I would like to do this. I was beginning to think she was trying to get rid of me, first the exciting possibility that I might go to grammar school, now the keenness for me to be seen leaving the flat carrying a violin case, was the woman trying to get me killed? Unless the case contained a concealed weapon - no to the violin.

I was a smart little cookie and could handle the academic stuff without too much effort, but had a complete loathing of any organised physical activity, except for hockey which I loved, possibly because it came with a big stick. Hockey games were held at the Muswell Hill playing fields on Colney Hatch Lane near the North Circular and required a coach trip, often a St. Trinians affair, school girls, hockey sticks, pushing, shouting, screaming... The fields themselves were hardly plural and were on a hill, hard work whichever goal you were facing. Either the tiny ball would run away from you at a speed that left you face down in the mud, or fighting a losing battle if you were hitting it up the slope. Why I enjoyed this I can't imagine. Surely not the outfits, short dark green pleated gym skirts, white aertex shirts and the voluminous green knickers with a pocket. What was that pocket for?

April of this year was a scary time, Bay of Pigs and Nuclear War hovered around us, doom was on the horizon. We truly thought we were all going to die. I don't remember any adults, family or school teachers discussing it with us. There were some rather lurid descriptions of the effects of radiation poisoning from older kids, who terrified us with their dark prophesies. Desolation was in the air and confidence in those in power was supremely lacking. Although as everyone now knows this particular conflict was avoided, the Cold War was in the West's consciousness. Communism, spies, 4 minute warnings, the Berlin Wall and suspicion in general, were a part of our lives.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was up and running, I wore the little black and white badge with defiance, but never went on any marches - an 11 year old arm chair anarchist. Looking the part was easy, I already had long hair, knee length black jumper and the jeans, but I decided to keep it in the family where the 'debates' with my Father were many and endless.

Many families by now owned or had on the dreaded H.P. (Hire Purchase - seen as common, as in common as muck, not ubiquitous) a massive black and white TV, which received, if you were lucky, a transmission of grey pictures from Alexandra Palace, or the all too often vision of snow coupled with white noise when the tuner moved off the station. Much of my TV watching was spent crouching below it, holding the dial in place. Other makeshift ideas were tried, like wedging it with an elastic band, but these were never strong enough and would inevitably snap or ping off and fly across the room.

When we had a picture, I liked the two music programmes, '6.5 Special' named after its broadcast time of five past six on a Saturday evening on BBC and 'Oh Boy' which was on the 'other side', not the dead zone, but ATV the only other channel. Both of these programmes at separate times had been produced by the infamous Jack Good. They showed acts like Lonnie Donegan, Petula Clark, Johnny Dankworth, Billy Fury, Marty Wilde and Cliff Richard. 'Oh Boy' was filmed round the back of the shops on Canonbury Road, sometimes you'd see groups of girls in their macs and headscarves, waiting in the street to talk to Cliff, the new flavour of the month. One of them must have scored, because he regularly used to visit a girl in our flats. Celebrity was not what it is now, it did not impress the residents one little bit or her dreadfully embarrassed mother, whose daughter was now regarded as a bit of a tart.

TV closed down after the epilogue and finished with the National Anthem, if she was still up watching, my Nan would stand to attention in her parlour, partly because it was a natural reaction and partly because she thought she could be seen by the TV broadcasters and no amount of explanation could convince her otherwise.

The playing of the National Anthem was a regular occurrence in cinemas, theatres etc. much of the audience would attempt to leave before it started, rather than have to stand and wait till it finished. There was a bit of an undignified rush for the doors, but for the most part people would not move once it had begun.

Quite a few 45s made it on to our record player this year - John Leyton's 'Johnny Remember Me' - when the mists a-rising and the rain is falling and the wind is blowing cold across the moor - wow what an opening lyric! (Written by Geoff Goddard and produced by Joe Meek). 'Runaway' by Del Shannon, The Brook Brothers' 'War Paint', 'Are You Sure' The Allisons, Helen Shapiro's 'Walking Back to Happiness', The Everly's 'Temptation', Billy Fury with 'Jealousy'. My Dad bought The Temperance Seven's 'You're Driving Me Crazy' and Kenny Ball's 'Midnight in Moscow'.My Mum liked 'A Theme from a Summer Place' by Percy Faith.  Charlie Drake was still at it this time with 'My Boomerang Won't Come Back', but we didn't go for it.

Few families had telephones and children were rarely if ever allowed to touch it, let alone use it. We had to have one for my Dad's work, in case of a newspaper delivery emergency! It was one of those big black heavy ones, with a dial that made a lovely whirring noise on its return. Telephone lines were not easily come by and to begin with we had to have a party line, meaning we shared it with another family in the block. This would drive my Dad crazy, because either family could pick up their receiver and listen into the other other person's phone call if they happened to be talking. He thought the woman upstairs was doing this all the time, how interesting his phone calls were I'm not sure, but it certainly got his goat and couldn't wait till we got our own line.

If memory serves, our number was CANonbury 2660, London phones all had names identifying the area. Some like FLAxman, SLOane and REGent held a promise of sophistication with a hint of glamour, others sounded a bit more down market like SYDenham or NORth. If you were dialling a number you only used the first three letters followed by the four numbers, but when you answered you'd say the whole in thing in your best phone voice. Often followed by an irritated 'oh it's you.'

We were still lucky enough to be having family holidays, not everyone could afford to go away. This is my favourite photo, taken in about 1961 in Woolacombe, north Devon, featuring family friends Jack and Sheila, my four year old brother and my Dad wearing a pac-a-mac and my Mum's headscarf. It is a true representation of holidaying in England. My memories of these outings is always accompanied by a soundtrack of hard hitting rain. We would go out whether it was tipping it down or not, to stay in was not an option anyone relished, we were like caged animals desperate for freedom.

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