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My Memory Lane






















Driving through the suburban ordinariness of Trent Vale, where I spent the first 18 years of my life, firstly in the innocence of childhood and then superseded in puberty by alternating states of tedium, frustration, rage and unhappiness, the landscape seemed to look very much as I remembered it from over 50 years ago.

The main road from Oakhill is still bordered on either side by terraced houses and shops, some of whose buildings have undergone a number of changes in use; the former supermarket, which may have been a Victor Value in the 60’s, but was definitely a small branch of Tesco by the 70’s, is now a motorcycle dealership, whose gleaming high-powered machines cover the frontage. Next to it are a row of takeaway food outlets, where once stood the chemist, a grocers and a greengrocers, at least as far as I remember. Above one of the shops there was a ladies’ hairdresser, where I would periodically be taken as a child, to see the adult world of choking fumes of hair lacquer and the mysterious rites that seemed to be intrinsic to maintaining a suitably feminine coiffure, with sharp metal hairpins, stinging lotions and an awful lot of painful hair pulling. I was glad that a quick trim required none of this cruelty, especially not the evil drying machines that looked like robotic torture devices.

The windows that were once etched with fashionable 60’s style hairstyles are gone now too.

Just around the corner from our house was the emporium

known as Massey’s, the likes of which have probably all but disappeared from High Streets, but which were once commonplace. Encompassing multiple roles as hardware shop, ironmongers, toyshop, home décor shop, garden centre, builders merchant and general store, it sold just about everything that wasn’t a foodstuff. The scent of paraffin and firelighters hung in the air, and it was run by a business -like couple in matching Arkwright-style brown overall coats, to whom the modern retail approach of being overly pleasant to customers would have been quite alien. As a customer, you would state your business, be served and leave – browsing was not encouraged, and “I’m just looking” would be met with suspicion, even though the pegboard walls were covered with displays of all kind of objects, from clocks to washing up bowls, seed packets, samples of wallpaper, airfix kits, paintbrushes, clothes pegs and so on.

Mrs.Massey was the slightly kinder of the couple, and didn’t mind so much if you wanted to spend time looking at the rotating rack of pocket money toys in an alcove by the window, as long as you didn’t get in the way of “real” customers. Occasionally I would be sent to buy paraffin, carrying a rusty metal jerrycan, with which Mrs. Massey would descend mysteriously to the cellar, via steps which were magically accessed by upending a section of the counter. Curiously neither she nor my parents questioned the safety of a young child being in charge of several litres of highly toxic and flammable liquid.

The rear of the shop was Mr. Massey’s domain, with large glass fronted counters whose wooden shelves held all manner of hardware; nails, screws and other ironmongery, packets of rat poison, firelighters, mothballs, weedkillers and so on. Children were not usually welcome in this very male enclave, unless with parents, but each November we would be accompanied to choose fireworks for our back yard on Bonfire Night. Sparklers were our favourite, and although we would be tempted by the alluring promises of Silver Showers, Chrysanthemum Falls and Golden Fountains, somehow they would all turn out to be remarkably and disappointingly similar in effect. And no display was complete without a perennially non-performing Catherine Wheel, which, when my Dad would approach to investigate, would prompt ear-splitting screams of “No Roy! No!” from Mum. They would then have “words”, which usually meant the end of the night’s feeble illuminations and an early bedtime. Her fears were understandable, for in the run up to November the 5th, there would be gruesome adverts of warning on the TV each evening, showing maimed and mutilated children who had failed to follow the Firework Safety Code.

However, it was rumoured that Mr. Massey had a more sensitive side to his gruff exterior, as a cultivator of rare and exotic orchids, which in the days before they could be bought for less than £10 in most supermarkets, was a highly specialised area of horticulture.

Once Bonfire Night had been and gone, there was the excitement of the Christmas Toy Display in the main window, which seemed quite fantastical in its sheer number of desirable items, from dolls and bears, jigsaws and board games, toys of all descriptions, all decorated with cotton wool snow and strands of sparkling tinsel. We would spend much time discussing and evaluating the items on sale, appraising the likelihood of any of them turning up on Christmas morning, and trying to work out ways of staying secretly awake on Christmas Eve to see if Father Christmas actually existed. Reality reappeared after the festive season, when the glorious display would be replaced by the latest in wallpaper designs, new Ali Baba laundry baskets, coconut matting and household bits and bobs that held no interest for us whatsoever.

For the rest of the year I turned my attention to the small middle window, the home of what might be called gift ware, which has now been turned into a door. Its centrepiece was a wedding-cake shaped revolving stand, covered in glittering mirror tiles, which showed the costume jewellery arranged on its tiers to best advantage; showy rhinestone brooches, diamante necklaces and earrings fit for a showgirl, charm bracelets, all impossibly glamorous beyond my wildest dreams. Also present were various watches, purses and wallets, and manicure sets, even though I had no idea what the pearly handled tools like miniature surgical instruments could possibly be for. Lording it over all this bounty there stood a handsome wooden cuckoo-clock, or it may have been one of those Swiss affairs where a tiny wooden couple skate across the frontage on the hour, an exciting symbol of an inexactly-defined overseas country known as “the continent”.

On the lucky occasions when we had a little spending money, we would head for the stand of pocket money toys, usually from Hong Kong, which were regarded by parents as a complete waste of money, but whose affordability and novelty we found very appealing. Plastic watches were always a good choice, some of which had prismatic faces, giving you a choice of any time of day, or a miniature housekeeping set of broom, brush and washing up bowl, so you could be “just like Mummy”. Gender divisions were strictly adhered to, as no boy would ever have bought such a thing, any more than I would have been interested in toy soldiers. Continuing with my apparent interest in domesticity, I also bought miniature frying pans containing realistic bacon and eggs, and  tiny cups and saucers of translucent brittle plastic with the faces of the Fab Four in the bases, though as they were here moptops rather than their then current almost hippie phase, the stock must have been around for some time. Not that it mattered to me.

Equally popular with girls and boys were pens that were alleged to write in invisible ink, allowing you to send secret messages, and pretend money that amused us greatly, even though it bore no resemblance whatsoever to the real thing.

Massey’s is now a dry cleaners and launderette, while what used to be the fish and chip shop next to it is now a private house.

More on the Trent Vale of the 60’s and 70’s to come.

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Glitter In The Dusk


It’s a cold and miserable Thursday evening in November 1972, the 23rd to be exact, and outside the Victorian edifice of the Victoria Hall in Hanley, two teenage girls are waiting impatiently. Owing to a combination of their enthusiasm and lack of forward planning, they have arrived, via bus, far too early for their concert, and excited as they are, they are still unsure of what to do to fill in the time. After all, they are only fifteen, much too young to go into a pub, and wouldn’t know what to order, even if they managed to evade the landlord’s eagle eye, so wait they must, stamping their feet in the gathering gloom and wondering what thrills the evening before them has to offer. They have no point of reference apart from what they’ve read in the Melody Maker or the New Musical Express, and the cheesy fakery,

albeit ever so sparkly, of Top of the Pops.

The streetlamps’ glow illuminates their homemade finery :one girl is wearing a maxi skirt made from a patchwork quilt, the other more on-trend in her shiny boots, and both are plastered in more than enough makeup, lavishly applied in a not altogether successful attempt to appear both worldly wise and older than they are. Luckily it’s the era of glam rock, so excess in these matters is more or less de rigueur, and the band they have come to see are equally no strangers to eyeliner and lip gloss. The girls’ green nail polish and dusting of glitter on the browbone will look positively reserved by the end of the evening.

They both watch with fresh interest as more concert goers arrive, scanning the jostling crowds eager to catch the eye of some appealing young man, with the hope of engineering some awkward conversation and the possibility of a date. It’s all in their heads though, as  the prospect of such a thing happening would be just too embarrassing to contemplate ; adolescent shyness and a paralysing selfconsciousness make any such developments very unlikely. But the idea is still there, tantalising in its unattainability, and the very thought adds a heady golden fizz to the waiting minutes.

After all, no-one who had come to see Roxy Music could be anything but desirable, could they? Being a fan of such a band had cachet, an appeal hard to define with their oblique pop-culture references, uncategorisable music which sounded simultaneously futuristic and 1950s, and an exotic appearance bordering on the bizarre. They had art-school chic, and a touch of the decadent which appealed to the girls, even if they couldn’t have explained why. It just did.

Equally mystifying to them are the lyrics to the hit single “Virginia Plain”, after all Studebakers are pretty thin on the ground in the streets of the Potteries, and the Top Rank on a Saturday morning is as close as either of them has ever got to dancing the cha-cha on a midnight blue casino floor. So much unknown, yet somehow all the more desirable for that. Roxy Music radiate cool in a world of teeny-boppers and sugar-coated pop, not least their singer, a handsome bequiffed man with eyeshadow and an array of glittering 1950’s style jackets, who sings as if he’s sleepwalking.

The doors open, and the crowds flood inside : having missed their chance in the scrum for a place at the front, they run upstairs to secure a corner of a balcony overlooking the stage, from where they can look down on their heroes. It’s a full and noisy house, which falls respectfully silent when the house lights go down, and the stage is pitch black. All that can be seen are the immense towers of speakers either side, from which issues a sudden barrage of unidentifiable sound, unearthly and disorienting. It’s only later that it’s revealed to be Pachabel’s canon, the choice of classical music proving a shock to an audience’s expectations. Dry ice flows and swirls in the shadows as blue and green lights come up to reveal the members of the band standing there immobile as statues while the thundering chords reverberate around the hall, catching the audience on the backstep before the lights come up and they throw themselves into the first number.

There’s Bryan Ferry, in lurex tigerskin biker jacket, looking amazing as ever, while to one side, Brian Eno hovers by his synthesiser. He’s wearing a giant fluffy-looking oversized jacket made up of strands of tinsel, and has applied his makeup with rather more skill than the girls. There’s an air of impassivity and fragility about him, which is both alluring and faintly sinister.

It’s an amazing evening in every possible way, a first contact with the world of live music, the sound, the energy, the colour and performance colliding together with an intensity that could only ever previously have been guessed at. All that the girls had previously dreamt of no longer had a foothold in their imaginations, as if the monochrome one dimensional world had been transformed into a new spectrum of colour and a new reality. Music had never been so loud, so all encompassing, such a whole body experience, sensual and transformational. The evening is an awakening after which nothing will ever really seem the same again.

Afterwards they run down the street, giddy with euphoria, unable to contain everything that has been set free, fizzing like shaken pop bottles, and almost on the verge of hysteria.

The red tail lights of the bus disappear into the night as it carries the girls homewards ; in the morning Christine and Yvonne will be back at school and finding it surprisingly hard to concentrate ; Roxy Music will be winding up their UK tour before heading to the US, and in a fortnight, Madison Square Gardens.

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