was 1964. Simon Langton was turning me into a "posh
person" despite the fact that he had been dead for centuries
and I was suffering the humiliation of a uniform that blended
maroon, blue and yellow with all the subtlety of a Kenwood Chef.
At a time when style had become the key to self esteem, the
“eleven plus” had sentenced me to seven years as a strawberry
we were all smarter and, by now, it wasn't just Father Christmas
that had been sussed. Peter Brough and Archie Andrews could no
longer sell the idea of a ventriloquist on the radio. (Hands up
all those who thought he was good because his lips didn’t move
on a crystal set). In the midst of our new "visual era",
we also rejected "Journey into Space". We wanted to see
green space monsters rather than have them described to us.
Confronted by green space monsters, "1950s" radio actors
might wait around for a description but the rest of us run
away…. and we did.
richer. Dad put a mat over the lino, mum bought psychedelic
"scatter cushions" and we headed into the
"swinging" years. We even opened the front door for
things other than the rent man and coffins.
changing. The 50's class system was still there... but only if you
looked... and no-one could be bothered to look. Humans were judged
by the size of their cuban heels and not their bank balance.
People now fell into four social classes:
too young for the sixties ("nuisances"),
too ancient for the sixties ("old
ready for the sixties ("us"), and, worst of
who would have been ready for the sixties if it had happened
20 years earlier (the "would have been readies")
missed out and were forgotten. "Old
sods" opted out but wouldn't allow themselves to be
forgotten. To an "old sod", the new supermarkets were
too far away, ten pin bowling was too trivial, TV was too bright
and the world was too complicated. But, on Sundays, they marched
three miles to bingo, sat under a fluorescent light for four hours
and "worked" half a dozen cards simultaneously.
became pre-occupied with food. The war years had taught them not
to waste a morcel and, during the affluent years of the sixties,
they ate everything in sight including the tablecloth. In the
process, they remained blissfully unaware that the temporary
diversion of food around the digestive system didn't necessarily
mean that it wasn't being wasted. And so, they grew fatter beneath
hats that never came off.
The war had
deprived the "would
have been readies" of an era of their own and they
muscled in on ours.... following months behind and getting it
wrong. Middle aged women complained about the mini-skirt in March
and cut ten inches off their hemlines in June.... overlooking the
fact that tights were replacing stockings, varicose veins were
"out" and undergarments needed to be easy on the eye.
Middle aged men moved into Beatle jackets as Beatles moved into
flower power. "Would have been readies" quickly became
changed. We bricked up fireplaces and pointed furniture at the
television. We chopped up the "living room" table and
used trays in the "lounge". We replaced wirelesses with
radios and demolished buildings that were listed to make room for
buildings that would never last long enough to be listed. In a
matter of weeks, half the national heritage had gone.
Valente's Ice Cream Parlour changed.... neon signs, acres of glass
and a juke box. We didn't want Mr Valente to put ice cream in a
cornet anymore. We wanted him to hurl it into a Coke so we could
call it a "Brown Cow". We wanted old ladies to do their
disapproving outside in the white, wicker chairs that still
littered the pavement. We waved at them through the window as they
grew moustaches in the rain.
no-one cared about reminiscence or disapproval.
We had left authoritarianism at the Horsebridge along with
our woolly cossies. We were looking to the future in an era
orchestrated by young people for young people. It had never
happened before... and an entire generation celebrated.
became a temple for "sixties" people. Motorbikes roared
in carrying spacemen in leather jackets.... followed by scooters
carrying druids in green anoraks. Finally, as hair grew longer,
the world re-united in the formidable shape of the Ford Cortina
box played on while the Valente family desperately fed it new
releases.... Beatles, Swinging Blue Jeans, Dave Clark Five,
Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd.....
Ken Dodd, Des O'Connor. (Forget those last two..... some "would
have been readies" obviously slipped in for a "Brown
of course, other temples and other juke boxes. The Ten Pin Bowling
Alley had arrived on Tower Parade. Here was a game that seemed to
require two brain cells.... one to play and the other to control
bodily functions while playing. On the other hand, the scoring
understood the fascination with bowling. It seemed totally
dependent on machinery. Would people have become
"bowlers" if they had been made to stand the pins up
themselves? What was so fascinating about the machinery anyway? It
resembled a bottling plant. Would anyone have paid money and
queued for hours to watch a bottling plant? More important, would
they have done so wearing orange shoes?
the real significance of the Bowling Alley had nothing to do with
pins, machines or psychedelic footwear. It was mirrors! Sixties
people could not pass a reflection without resorting to a comb. In
fact, a walk along the new High Street became a problem of mammoth
proportions. Sixties people performed acrobatics in front of every
plate glass window in Town.
Alley had toilets with mirrors. Bereft of plate glass between
Harbour Street and Tower Parade, sixties people used the
"Alley" as a vital "stopover" en route to
Valente's and a Brown Cow. Teenagers dashed to the toilets for
little reason and they never did so unaccompanied. Toilets became
single-sex meeting places and mirrors ensured that meetings were
lengthy. (Yes, I know they still are single sex meeting places...
but not for nice people).
We gave up
bowling when the "would
have been readies" moved in. At first, we tried to ignore
middle-aged men as they removed Beatle jackets to reveal
sleeveless pullovers and braces. We looked the other way as
middle-aged women struggled to control mini-skirts while
attempting a Brooklyn Strike in suspenders. When the embarrassment
factor rose to unacceptable levels, we escaped to the temples next
door... Jacques and Jimmy's arcades.
corner of the dismal Jacques temple, stood a macabre machine that
executed a 6" tall criminal for a penny. Amidst the dramatic
scene of a prison gate, doors opened, a priest read the last rites
and the poor criminal dropped through a hatch to dangle at the end
of a rope. It had all worked efficiently in the 1950's but this
was the sixties and compassion prevailed. The little criminal
hurtled through the trap door only to discover that the hole was
too shallow and the rope too long. Waist deep in prison
floorboards and unscathed by the experience, he waited for the
doors to end his embarrassment. It was the first tangible evidence
that capital punishment had become a thing of the past. Even the
machine had stopped the killing. Perhaps it had heard of Bentley,
Hanratty, Ellis and Evans.
was brighter. It also had an enormous gambling machine with
pictures of five female film stars. The idea was to bet a penny on
one of the stars while a light flicked between the pictures. When
the light came to rest, we had a winner. Unfortunately, Simon
Langton never taught me to cope with this. Having inserted a coin
in Marilyn Monroe, I looked on as twelve pence shot out of Ava
Gardner and into the pocket of a “would have been ready”.
Ava Gardner never did that for me. Come to think of it, neither
did Marilyn Monroe.
course, this was daytime stuff. On Saturday night, the parish hall
throbbed to the sounds of the Rockabeats and Spartacans as local
musicians recreated Merseyside in Oxford Street. Sixties people
arrived from all directions stopping off at each shop doorway to
exercise the comb.
I became mobile…. thanks to Roy’s driving school. Dear old Roy
taught 80% of Whitstable to drive and then spent half his day
trying to avoid us as we circumnavigated the town in our Ford
Prefects, Hillman Imps and Renault Dolphins. However, in our
desperate attempt to make the most of three dimensions, we forgot
the fourth. Time was moving on and the seventies were beckoning.
Our teenage years would be gone forever and, ahead, there was
marriage, responsibility and kids of our own.
those swinging years really so good… or do we simply need
something special to cling to in order to soften the passage of
time? The answer is not easy.... but, at the end of the day, does
it really matter? Memories don't necessarily have to be wholly
accurate or wholly justifiable. They exist within ourselves as a
way of coping with what has gone and a means of preparing for what
is yet to come. It's what we do now and the memories we create for
the future that are important.
Return to Menu: