My 1960s Memories has proved popular, so here is another: Shopping.
There is a permanent page for Memories of the 1960s here.
Shopping was confusing in the 1960s, even if you only had pocket money of one shilling to spend, as I did.
The old system of currency could be traced back to the Roman Empire and was based on the penny, symbolised by the letter ‘d’ for denari. Under this system, there were 12 pence in a shilling and 20 shillings, or 240 pence, in a pound. Needless to say, for a kid whose mathematical skills were still developing, I needed one of my parents with me to shop for anything at all!
There is a permanent page for Memories of the 1960s here.
In many ways this is the hardest post I have made about the 1960s and it has taken me a long time to decide to make it. Many writers have tried and failed to capture the magic and disillusionment of 60s music and I most surely must fail too. But that won’t stop me ‘taking a shot’ at it, as Americans like to say, or ‘having a ago’ as Brits like to say.
I am not just talking about something in remote history when I talk about music from that era; I actually remember music of the 1960s. The first song I remember is Puppet on a String, which of course won the 1967 Eurovision Song Contest (yes, we had it then too!) for Sandie Shaw. I would have been 5 but I well remember the catchy tune blasting out of BBC Radio 1 on our little, blue radio set in the kitchen, or in my bedroom when I was sick, which was often. Continue reading “Memories of the 1960s: Issue V – Music”→
This week: Profits from eBooks! and: Memories of the 1960s: Issue V – School
Memories of the 1960s: Issue V – School
Prepare to have all the myths of how school was Heaven in the 60s blasted away and for myths that it was Hell to be destroyed. This is what it was like for me.
I spent my school years, until the age of fourteen, in Buckinghamshire. Now, I am not saying the true-blue ultra-conservative Buckinghhamshire is backward but the last time I looked at the council’s website it had chains running down each side! That was back in the 90s. In the 60s, they were just about as blue as you can get and they certainly believed in giving every child’s sanity a run for its money.
The Bucks model of education was simple: your kid had to pass their eleven-plus exam to get a proper education. Anything else was failure and rewarded with being sent to a ‘secondary-modern,’ which in Bucks meant a school for dunces. There you would never get the chance to do O’Levels or A’Levels and you would certainly never go to University. So every day of your school life, you were having the message ‘Success is everything’ rammed down your throat. Unfortunately, the flip-side of this philosophy was the message that ‘humanity is nothing.’ It was only many years later that we would all discover Hans Eysenick’s IQ based formula for the eleven-plus exam was all based on fake research.
My first memory is of the first day. I was five. I somehow managed to annoy the teachers, Mrs Barnes and Mrs Farrow, and was made to stand in the corner. My reputation as a trouble-maker seemed to grow from there. But in general, being made to sit next to girls and getting to play in the sun for hours couldn’t have seemed too bad in 1967. I actually remember many of us dancing to Yellow Submarine in the playground, a year later. We thought the song was a traditional song!
The School Day
Our day would begin with assembly, basically a church meeting complete with prayers and hymns, followed by our first lesson, a break of 15 minutes and another lesson until lunch at 12 noon. At 1 pm, later extended to 1.15 pm, we would have another lesson, then another break at 2 pm, followed by the last lesson and then home at 3 pm.
Once or twice per week, a whole morning or afternoon would be give over to sports. We had to play in any weather and in fact, we had to spend every break-time outside, even in the direst thunderstorm or the worst snow. Nobody questioned this. Undoubtedly the weirdest ‘sports’ experience I had was when we were split into pairs of a boy and girl and told to slap each other’s legs as hard as we could. I was lucky enough to be paired with Shirley, who was to become the love of my life after this! She had dark, curly hair, darting, intelligent eyes and the looks of a Thomas Hardy heroine although she said she had gypsy blood. I learned that she had strong legs too after slapping them for ten minutes. Why the Bucks education system considered this an acceptable game, I couldn’t tell you. Perhaps they thought a bit of S&M would teach women their places. Anyway, Shirley, if you are out there, sorry I was so good at slapping your legs.
With the baby-boom in full swing, class sizes rose to 58, in the case of mine. It was a scandal that was reported in the papers and parents protested. But there was nothing to be done. Nothing, that is, except get the children to teach. Yes! I’m not lying. As the best reader in my class, I was given my own remedial reading class which I took under the stairs near the entrance to the main block. It was a challenge because most of my small class of perhaps 8 readers had dyslexia. I can’t remember if I managed to improve their reading. I just knew they had a problem. It was only two years later, that one of those pupils, by this time a friend, was diagnosed with dyslexia.
Time to dish the dirty: school dinners in Bucks were crap! In fact, not only crap, but most of the time, inedible. All would be served in stainless steel containers, even the water, which was our only drink. The steel gave everything a certain ‘tang.’ I particularly hated the pilchards which were pickled in vinegar and tomato sauce. I hate vinegar anyway, it makes me sick, and the tomatoes used were so stewed that you couldn’t tell what they were any more. I used to hide my pilchards under the scoop of Smash (commercial mash potato which tasted like cotton wool). But then, Mrs Parks, the most evil teacher in the school, wised up to my technique and forced me to eat it while she held my spoon-hand firmly. I warned her: “I will be sick on you if you make me eat this.” She ignored me and, consequently, I vomited all over her skirt. Besides the teachers, local women came in for lunchtime to watch over us, while the heads of each table, usually two children from the senior year, would serve the food frim the metal containers. We called them ‘Serving Ladies,’ one being Mrs. Rance. Other odd dishes were: the strawberry blancmange which tasted of lipstick and stuck to the plate if you turned it upside down; swede; parsnips and jam pudding. All were prepared so badly that they put me off such food forever. The only dishes I liked were: fried cod; semolina and chocolate sauce; chocolate sponge cake and shortcake biscuits with dollops of strawberry jam on top. In fact, a friend and I tried to eat as many portions of fried cod as we could and made ourselves sick this way!
Here are the 10 school dinner combinations I can remember:
Roast lamb with mint sauce, carrots and peas, boiled potatoes Roast beef (and Yorkshire pudding – Yum), gravy, roasted potatoes Toad in the hole (sausages in battered pudding), roasted potatoes, turnips Battered cod fish (this was ok), chips, peas or carrots Pilchards in vinegar with turnips, synthetic mashed potatoes (yuch!) Kippers with swede, rice Sausages with baked beans, synthetic mashed potatoes Scrambled egg with baked beans, synthetic mashed potatoes Liver with boiled potatoes, carrots or peas Fishcakes or fish fingers with synthetic mashed potato and peas or carrots
Yellow blancmange (lemon) Pink blancmange (raspberry) Spotted dick (sponge with currants) Bread and Butter Pudding Shortbread biscuits with jam Jam doughnuts Semolina with chocolate sauce Tapioca with jam Rice pudding with jam Chocolate sponge pudding (hot) with hot chocolate sauce
A special mention has to go out here to Douglas McKelvie, the head teacher, and the best teacher, of the school. I had him in my last year and hated him at first. He had the habit of running across the desk tops or flicking chalk at you, if you talked. He would often sit a boy next to a girl just to see what happened. In fact, even though I was desperate to sit next to Shirley, he put me next to Alison, a pretty blonde. The strange thing was that a few months later, my sister and I were sent to stay at the Alison’s house for the week before Christmas. To the eternal anthem of Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody (video) I tried to puzzle out what was going on. There were many things I didn’t understand about the Buckinghamshire education system; why did they line us all up from time to time and inject us with strange things called ‘typhoid jabs’ or run eye tests that showed us we had deficient vision and then try to force us to wear thick lenses which clearly (pun intended) made things worse? Why did they get boys to slap girls’ legs? But most of all, I wanted to know why the parents and school seemed to be in league, matchmaking, or indeed match-breaking, pupils?
In the autumn of 1974, it all came crashing to a ugly, heartbreaking halt for me. They had wanted to know my IQ for so long that I thought it might be some kind of biological substance inside me. Was I toxic? Every few weeks, we were given these strange tests called ‘mocks’. And then, without warning, I came to school one day and found the classroom desks equipped with a pencil, eraser and a stapled examination paper. It was the eleven-plus exam. There were three papers, the last in February or March. I did well at the first two and I had no reason to worry; I had scored 86% in the last mock exam. But late in the spring, the awful ‘results day’ came. Buckinghamshire Council didn’t mess about. Douglas McKelvie called out each of our names and we went to the front of the class to collect our white envelope. If it was fat, you had passed but if it was thin, you were going to a secondary modern. Mine was thin.
Whether you liked it or not, within minutes, everyone knew everyone else’s results. Shirley has passed and would go on to Dr. Challoners High School for girls, the best school in the area. But worse than this, my friend, who had passed, and I had a fight. I don’t know for certain what it was about; my memory is that he teased me about failing and I insulted him back, calling him fat. That may be wrong. In any case, we ended up, that very day, on the playground tarmac, fighting it out. It was dirty and no-holds-barred. It was my first fight and I won. That I do remember clearly.
Was that the last time I saw Shirley? Actually, no. I cried for days at my own failure. Never has failure been driven home so absolutely as it was in Buckinghamshire. I lost most of my friends that day and I lost most of my hopes and dreams. Later, I would be saved when my parents moved to a different, more progressive county. Before the end of term, another girl organised a birthday for the summer holidays. I wasn’t invited. But I lobbied hard and managed to get in. It was a ‘Tramps’ party, in which you had to dress up as a – tramp. Who should be there but Shirley. My little autograph book had been all round the class on the last day of term and had every signature, except hers because she had been on holiday with her friends. Now was my chance to steal something! We played spin-the-bottle, a kissing game, and a kiss from Shirley would certainly be something worth stealing. Now, I have to mention here that Shirley had always been nice to me, she had taught me Origami under the stairs, but I had never had the guts to tell her how I felt, so I couldn’t call her my sweetheart. I had certainly never kissed her. But I was hopeful. In the end, the kissing gods were not on my side and I didn’t get the chance to kiss her. I didn’t even have the guts to ask her for a dance. I might well have said to myself: “Welcome to the real world!”
What are your memories of the 1960s? Leave a comment below.
Finally, I have made a profit from a promotional campaign to promote one of my eBooks, Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate. We’re not talking big figures here, in fact, well less than $100. Nevertheless, It has taken me over a year to find something that works. From what other writers are telling me, it’s getting harder and harder to rake in the cash for eBooks. But I managed to beat the odds, at least once. Read on for how I did it:
I have tried marketing using twitter, Facebook paid adverts and google’s AdSense. For free downloads, Facebook’s adverts worked best but you are looking at upwards of $40 to get a couple of thousand downloads if you’re lucky. Of course, there is no money in that!
I have tried for almost a year (since hearing about them) to get on Bookbub and E Reader News Today (ENT) . I am still trying to get accepted for Bookbub, which costs at least $110, depending on genre, but have so far have been unsuccessful. I finally managed to get on ENT about a month ago and, what is more, they scheduled me for 5th July, a day after American Independence Day. I was delighted. But I wasn’t convinced it would draw any sales. Consequently, I signed up for (initially) 1 day of tweets from The Book Tweeting service. This was to be on the 4th July, just to get things going. It wouldn’t help the other sales but it’s always good to coordinate these things to get the highest rank possible. High Rank = More Sales.
By Saturday 5th July, I had seen no sales at all from hundreds of tweet to over 100,000 potential customers. I cancelled the second day of tweets although I must say, the staff were very friendly and helpful and did their best.
However, by midnight of the Saturday, I had already seen 8 solid sales from the E Reader News Today service. It works! I was delighted and will try them again, if they will have me.
There is a permanent page for Memories of the 1960s here.
Memories of the 1960s: Issue III – Toys
I was born in 1962. The first toys I remember are a fluffy ball with a bell inside, a red, plastic American train and a ‘musical box’, about the size of a food can, with a crank on top. As you turned the crank, metal tongues were flicked inside, much like an African lamellaphone. It had pictures of the royal guards and Buckingham Palace painted on its sides. I don’t remember what the tune was. I also had a Playcraft plastic train set (see below). All these toys seemed to be around since a time before I could remember anything clearly.
The first toy I remember actually receiving was a motorised tank. My dad came home late one night (it was always late when he came home for a kid that was at nursery school!) and presented me with this thing that drove up and down a pile of books on its own! My dad showed me how to open a book and turn it upside down so that its spine formed the ridge of a hill. The tank could go over this too. Continue reading “Memories of the 1960s: Issue III – Toys. What are your memories?”→
There is a permanent page for Memories of the 1960s here.
This week: Books Available on Wattpad, Free Giveaway Honorary Cliff Robertson Documentary and Memories of the 1960s: Issue II
Books Available on Wattpad
Wattpad is fast becoming the book writers’ and readers’ social network. The website at www.wattpad.com has a nice, neat interface and in fact the whole approach is heavy on ‘simple.’ This allows you to start scribbling a story or building up a library of free reading material in seconds.
The simplicity does make it a bit difficult to figure out some features but I quickly got the hang of it. I have about eight of my books there, mostly short stories, but also the first chapters of Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate and Too Bright the Sun.
If you are just starting out as a writer or want to read lots of free stories, take a look.
From Saturday 14th June until Monday 16th June, erotic odyssey The Ice Boat Volume I will be FREE on Amazon. If you like adult fiction, and be aware, this contains vivid scenes of a sexual nature, then make sure you grab a copy.
Honorary Cliff Robertson Documentary
Just a quick mention that the project has had roughly 50 followers in the last week! Thanks to all those who have liked the page. If you are interested in getting your name up in lights (for as little as $5) on a Hollywood produced documentary on the Academy Award winning actor, please like the project page here: https://www.facebook.com/cliffrobertsonhonorarydocumentary
Memories of the 1960s: Issue II
I had several nice comments about Issue I so here is another:
Most people will remember the most two most prominent aspects of television in the 1960s; no colour and the dreaded test cards!
Colour television didn’t arrive in the UK until 1967 (BBC2) and late 1969 (BBC1 and ITV). There were some early test programmes on BBC2 and I think I remember one featuring a carnival. My father designed television cameras for a living so we were the first family I knew to have a TV set that could receive and display colour. I remember the riot of ultra-vivid colour blasting out of the screen. It seemed to completely transform the world. There were of course hiccups. Many people turned the colour button up to full, which made greens and red so bright that you would quickly get a headache. Paul McCartney had been assured that the Magical Mystery Tour would be broadcast in colour on Boxing Day 1967. But BBC1 still had not made the transition to colour so he was to be disappointed.
Test cards were what you saw when there were no programmes being transmitted. This was usually between about 1 am and 5 am, 10 am and midday and between 2.30 pm and 4 pm (5 pm on BBC2, which was the ‘educational’ channel). During these times, all you would see was a strange grid pattern with the picture of a young girl holding a piece of chalk against a blackboard and a baloon behind her, in the centre of the grid. Classical or, if my memory serves me correctly, easing listening music would accompany the picture. It would suddenly disappear when transmissions started but this was haphazard as schedules would vary by up to ten minutes.
A curiosity was the National Anthem, played right at the end of transmissions, at about 1 am. This would be followed by a continual tone. Many times neighbours would fall asleep, drunk or otherwise intoxicated, leaving the loud tone to drone on all through the night.
It wasn’t unusual for transmissions to be interrupted by atmospheric condition or even other local phenomenons. There were rumours of ‘ghost’ transmissions from crazy amateurs or TV-guerrillas!
I met one of these later in life. A physics graduate, this guy, along with some mates, figured out how to fire their own transmission at the BBC transmitter aerial somewhere in London. if they got the modulation just right and cancelled out the original signal, they could broadcast their own anarchist message. They were not completely successful the first time because some of the original transmission did reach receivers within a very small radius of the transmitter.
Undeterred, the pirates came up with an ingenious solution. They surrounded the tower at the right moment, and let rise a circle of helium-filled balloons. From these, a reflective tube of thin material was raised to form a ‘curtain’ around the tower. When this rose, they were able to block all transmission from the BBC and broadcast their own to the home counties. My friend never did tell me what message they transmitted.
And what of TV programmes themselves? The first, I remember clearly, there was Muffin the Mule, followed by the Woodentops and Andy Pandy. These were closely followed by Bill and Ben, Play School, Trumpton and Camberwick Green, Pogles Wood and of course the ubiquitous Blue Peter.
As I grew and (some would deny) matured, I progressed to a list of classics, which hardly anybody will remember, but I can’t resist listing: Barrier Reef, Skippy, Flipper, The Singing Ringing Tree, Jackanory, Belle and Sebastien, The White Horses, early Japanese anime Marine Boy, Origami, Yoga with Richard Hittleman, Painting with Nancy Kominski, The Magic Roundabout, Hector’s House, White Horses (so romantic that girls loved it) and of course Doctor Who.
The 1970s were ushered in with some of my all-time favourites: The Aeronauts, The Crusader (sometimes called Tibor: The crusader) and The Flashing Blade. I suppose if one thing marks out these programmes, it’s the high level of action and the driving R&B soundtracks. In those days, The Beeb (as we called the BBC) was not above hiring small R&B bands to play their them tunes and in fact Pink Floyd actually sat and played along to the 1969 moon landing, live! Unfortunately, the recordings, if there ever were any, have been lost. These, slightly kitsch, programmes may have been the progenitor of my love for driving rhythm and blues and rock.
In my childhood, we weren’t encouraged to watch ITV. This was the ‘cowboy’ channel. Mind you, some parents forbade their kids to watch it. I was lucky. I could watch it and I did. I quickly discovered programmes like Catweazle and Magpie, ITV’s answer to Blue Peter.
ITV had a much more laissez-faire attitude to broadcasting. Where else could you get a gorgeous blonde and two hippy guys (Mick Robertson and Tommy Boyd) (Magpie) or Old Father Time and his team pretending to be American Indians while showing you how things worked (How). The gorgeous blonde was Jenny Hanley, presenter of Magpie. She was the daughter of comedian Tommy Hanley, and I immediately fell for her. I was love-struck and I think I may have even written and sent a letter to her. She never replied! The Old Father Time was Jack Hargreaves, one-time director of ITV, who wrote How and went on to do another of my favourites, Out of Town. I only recently found out that he made and appeared in Gone Fishing, which I referred to in Memories of the 1960s Issue I. I do remember him saying that chubb tasted like ‘cotton wool filled with pins and needles!’
Who can forget The Banana Splits or the immortal phrase “Uh-oh! Chongo!” The Banana Splits were a wacky team of men in animal suits – a dog, a bear, chimpanzee and an elephant (which never made a sound!) who delivered a crazy menu of jokes, one-liners and zany music, interspersed with comedy or adventure mini-serials like Microcar, Danger Island (Uh-oh! Chongo!) and The Arabian Knights. Their theme tune has been immortalised by punk band The Dickies and anybody who watched it as a kid will never forget the assault on their senses by the colour and sound of the Banana Splits.
I must also make a quick mention of H.R Pufnstuf, which was almost as psychedelic as The Banana Splits and more surreal – I have to believe both serials were invented by guys taking too much acid. In it Jack Wild, the talented youngster from the hit musical Oliver! strutted his stuff while battling through puberty himself. I never understood what the hell was going on, but then I guess that was the beauty of it!
Some more of my all-time favourites were the Gerry Anderson serials; Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and UFO. I am too young to remember Fireball XL5, Supercar and Battery Boy etc, but I loved Thunderbirds.
The first episode, Trapped in the Sky, I watched, as I watched many, with my father. We would have been out, possibly fishing or to Church and come home to chicken pie or roast chicken at Sunday lunchtime. I would beg my mother to let me eat it in the lounge, with my knees stuffed under and ancient, miniature titling stool like a piano stool and, if I succeeded in persuading her, my dad would watch too. The amount of testosterone pumping through my system after watching these superhero brothers dicing with death in futuristic, jet or diesel powered behemoths probably gave me indigestion!
Then there was Captain Scarlet. This was one man against the evil Mysterons. And he was reincarnated! In fact, he died in every episode and his steady stare above a square jaw, only slightly more mobile than Mount Rushmore, gave no emotional hint of his suffering! I was hooked! Unfortunately it was rarely shown. A rumour would go around that there was one on TV (God knows where kids heard about it) or I would see it in the listings and then tune in, goggle-eyed! I would later learn that not only was the theme of death and reincarnation, Captain Scarlet representing a modern ‘Jesus’, considered too scary for kids but apparently Anderson had had his funding cut and all the character represented his revenge’portrayal of senior ITV management personnel. Captain White was Lew Grade, for instance. Soon the programme was moved to a late night slot. It was followed by UFO, which I also loved, but again, it seemed to be rarely shown on TV, unless I was out playing at the time. I did’t get to see the full series until about 2010.
Then there was Star Trek! By 1970, I was allowed to stay up until about 8.30 pm, twice per week, with my father chaperoning me. He loved Star Trek so I was able to drink in the colourful American vision of the future. The other evening programme, which I watched a lot, was The Virginian. This may seem vastly different from Star Trek, and it was, but it featured many stars of the future; Angie Dickinson, Doug McClure, Lee Majors and many others. And how can I ever forget the dry wit and calming influence of Medicine Bow’s sherrif, played by Clu Gulager?
In 1970, my father brought home the first portable television I had ever seen. None of my friends had one, or had even seen one. For me, it wasn’t that surprising – I regularly found bits of TV cameras strewn across my father’s study – but it was a mouth-watering opportunity. With two televisions, and one being portable, I could finally see a way to get access to the mythical ‘European movies’ that my friends whispered about reverently at school.
The portable TV was only black and white and only had a ten inch screen (I think, possibly twelve) but I quickly made excuses to watch it:
“Oh, star Trek is on at the same time as that film, you and mum want to watch. Can I take the portable upstairs?”
My parents, trusting me as they did, let me take it to my room on condition that I would turn it off after Star Trek. Of course, I did. But then, a careful perusal of the Radio Times’ late night schedule would reveal some dubious ‘European’ movie, usually with no, or very little, description and no (in those days) cast list. I would put the TV in my bed, so that the sound and light were muffled. Then, until the early hours of the morning I would watch Sylvia Kristel (only guessing here, I don’t remember who these people were) undressing and committing carnal acts on wiry, shady men, who always wore socks, and usually their underpants, I seem to remember. Thankfully, they usually left their umbrellas and bowler hats at the door. I guess I nearly came unstuck when I saw Get Carter (1971, I know, but indulge me!). The violence in the film didn’t bother me too much but when he murders the prostitute by injecting her with heroine, I was shocked. I think this may have left a lasting mark on me but I do think the late-night films widened my horizons considerably.
The daytime and evening film fare was usually a Western but the first daytime film I (vaguely) remember being impressed withe was The Wages Of Fear. I had to see it again recently to remind myself of the nitro-glycerine, nerve shattering tension in the film. If you haven’t seen it it yet, make sure you do.
Finally, I have to mention other activities resulting from watching TV (apart from romantic, that is). I probably first felt the inspiration to try fishing while watching Out of Town. During the massive interest in the Gerry Anderson programmes, there was the TV21 annual. 21 stood for ‘Twenty-first Century,’ and the annual, much more exciting than the Blue Peter annual, had plans for all sorts of crazy things you could build.
My two favourites were a version of a tree-house, which you actually suspended from the eaves of a house using pulleys, rope and packing crates or bits of destroyed go-carts, and an SPV simulator. The SPV was Captain Scarlet’s vehicle and SPV stood for ‘Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle.’ Of course, nearly every boy I knew had a toy SPV. But to actually drive one? That would be something. The detailed drawing showed you how to make scenery, which would then run endlessly on a conveyor-belt within a cardboard box, cut to look like a TV monitor. In the full-sized SPV (nobody ever built one, but indulge me again here), the driver faced backwards, to save his body from damage during high-G braking, so he could only see the road through a monitor. The conveyor belt was powered by pedals which in turn were powered by the ‘driver’s’ feet. It was all hilariously good fun. I didn’t, but if anybody did build any of these things, please let me know!
Well, I think that’s about it. Please let me know your memories by posting a comment below.
There is a permanent page for Memories of the 1960s here.
Last week I took a long walk next to the Grand Union Canal near Ware in Hertfordshire. It reminded me of my fishing days in the 1960s and I wondered if fishing could still feel the same. It occurred to me to try and write about the 1960s and I decided to try it. Each post will be entitled Memories of the 1960s and followed by the issue number. Here is the first:
Memories of the 1960s: Issue I – Fishing
A few years ago I took a long walk next to the Grand Union Canal near Ware in Hertfordshire. It reminded me of my fishing days in the 1960s and I wondered if fishing could still feel the same. It occurred to me to try and write about the 1960s and I decided to try it. Each post will be entitled Memories of the 1960s and followed by the issue number. Here is the first: Continue reading “Memories of the 1960s: Issue I – Fishing. What are your memories?”→