Tropical City Disks (2)

It seems like only a few weeks ago, but I've just realised it was almost four months ago, that I wrote the first in what was supposed to be a short series. To find out, go and read this.

It was the summer of love, well, kind of. And I was too young to take part in most of it, anyway! But I did spend a few weeks most summers in my Grandparents' home in a small village in Staffordshire.

Barton Under Needwood was the kind of village that people think of when they think of picturesque English villages. In the 1950s, my grandparents had bought a bungalow which was one of several along the main road into the village. It had a long garden with a hedge that I hated and was delighted one year when I visited and it had gone. I hated it because, for some reason I could never work out, it fell to me to do the weeding under it.

The bungalow (it means a single storey house) also had a big back garden and there my grandfather grew vegetables and tomatoes. I didn't like them but today, when most commercially available tomatoes are force grown and tasteless, I realise how good his really were. I wish I'd learned how to grow them so I could enjoy that strong, distinctive flavour now, especially when I cook. Between the village and the main road, there was a canal which had once been a busy thoroughfare. Crossing the canal meant using one of the hump-back bridges that were designed before long, low cars were dreamt of. Every so often, there were locks with pretty lock-keepers cottages and a tow path to walk or, for others, to cycle along.

My days were spent reading the same books, year after year: 1930s thrillers like the Blackshirt series, The Saint and the humour of Wodehouse. Or building Airfix models: in those days, Airfix, a British company, included a great deal of information about what the model was based on and we were given the name of each part so that building the aircraft, ship or car, for example, was a constant lesson in engineering. I was always disappointed when I got a Revell model: the American approach was to give me an exploded diagram, part numbers and show me where to put them, like an Ikea manual today and, just like my bookcases usually collapse, so my Revell models would have parts glued in the wrong places. And worse, I'd have learned nothing by building them. Sadly, Airfix later followed that trend and I stopped building models as, according to their collapsing sales, did many others.

Across the road, the village park was the place to see and be seen on Sunday afternoons when the village cricket team was playing: you often hear people talk about the thwack of leather on willow as a cliché but lying in the sun, the afternoon punctuated by the occasional crash as someone dropped a tea-cup, the occasional sound of bat hitting ball and the resulting groans and shouts were simply the sound of a summer being well spent.

But I had a little secret: I had a tiny transistor radio. I think it was called something like a Purdey 2 (but that might be a double-barrelled shotgun!). It had an extendible aerial that I had to point towards a signal and a pretend leather case that had a funny smell and a single earpiece that was impossible to keep clean. It also had a small speaker that created a tinny, thin sound. But it dropped unobtrusively in my pocket and I took it everywhere.

It amazes me that my generation used that type of sound as a measure of where we would never go but today, on the train for example, I'm surrounded by trendy Millennials listening to a sound from their phones that is just as crap, but thinking they are being cool. At the time, I didn't care either. That little black box with its strange smell and its sound that came and went with whooshing sounds was my gateway to the world of popular music as being played by Pirate Radio. At first, there was Radio Luxembourg but then there was Radio Caroline (North and South), Radio London (if the weather conditions were right) and one or two others. Sitting in middle England, I was, by the power of radio waves, transported across the world to the latest sounds coming from the USA and London and Liverpool.

So my second piece is a reminder of those days, with the peels of church bells as I sat in the garden, or played with the corgis (I know. Don't laugh at me. They weren't mine.), watched for the mobile shops, one for "pop," one for bread, one a small supermarket. There was a butcher in the village and his boy would deliver on his bike, or I would walk the half-mile or so each way to collect the meat. Oh, and there was the milkman who also delivered eggs and the most delicious orange squash, ready made, in milk bottles. Weird...

My second pick is by The Beach Boys: Good Vibrations. It's a piece of music that I don't actually like very much, but I do like the associations: the fact that when I hear it I don't smell the sea but the scent of freshly mown grass from the striped lawn across which the petrol powered ATCO mower had had its most recent application. If the bloody thing would start. It hated me.

 

 

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