In 2016, I wrote a little piece about my semi-colonial life as a forces child in Malaysia back in the swinging sixties. The post – Reflections of an Army Brat – featured a blurry old black and white image I found online of Mountbatten Primary School, the school I attended. It started quite a conversation between ex-pupils, a conversation which continues to this day.
The post from way back also took me to a Facebook group called ‘We are Terendakians’ – Terendak being the name of the army camp originally built for the 28th Commonwealth Infantry Brigade which consisted of soldiers from the UK, Australia and New Zealand. The Facebook group is a place to reminisce and interact. And reminisce and interact they do with some wonderfully evocative pictures of a bygone era. Sometimes it even gets up close and personal.
This might be me aged around 7:
And this is almost certainly my mother on the ladies badminton team:
On one of our rare visits to the home counties, my sister-in-law fished out an ancient, long-forgotten photo of me from a biscuit tin she keeps under the stairs. I’m guessing I was about 14. I look older, I think. I matured young – so young, in fact, that at the tender age of 12 I used my Dad’s razor to shave my legs in the bath. No, not because I fancied slipping on my sister’s tights (just in case you were wondering) but because I was embarrassed. Most of my contemporaries at school hardly had a short and curly between them.
The backdrop to the image is a perfect picture of naff seventies-chic. Our south London parlour was a riot of clashing colours and patterns – orange floral flock wallpaper, red faux-velvet curtains, an orange and brown three piece suite in synthetic wool and a swirly carpet in reds, blues and greens. It made my old girl proud. Nowadays, it would make everyone else feel nauseous.
As for me, what are those goggles about? And the shocking locks? They had a will all of their own until tamed by creeping male pattern baldness. Still, I was cute – even if I do say so myself – with raging hormones, a 26-inch waist and cheekbones that could slice cheese. Happy days. The grim, buttoned-up decade never held me back. And what was my chopper doing behind that sofa? Now that would be telling.
There’s no better way to spend Boxing Day than a trip to the flicks, especially when it’s to see the long-awaited sequel to a classic. Liam and I saw the original Mary Poppins as little ‘uns (though not together, obviously) and it was the child in us both that spit-spotted us to Cinema City to see Mary Poppins Returns. In fact, Liam was virtually hyperventilating along the way. Sequels are so often disappointing, even more so when competing with rose-tinted memories of the distant past. Expectations were high and expectations were exceeded. The film is every bit as magical, charming, melodic and whimsical as the original. Kids of a certain age will be mesmerised, and subtle references to the first film will keep the nostalgic grown-ups happy too. As the closing credits rolled, applause rippled through the crowd. By all accounts, PL Travis, the author of the Mary Poppins books, hated the Disney treatment of the first film so no doubt she wouldn’t approve of the sequel either. But I hope Julie Andrews likes her able successor, Emily Blunt – practically perfect in every way, I say. I feel a barrow-load of gongs coming on.
I know it’s a-coming because the Christmas lights went on in Norwich last week, enthusiastically witnessed by thousands of over-wrought kids and their anxious carers. Pushy pushchairs and strident strollers took back the streets and our ankles became collateral damage. The good burghers of Norwich fired up City Hall with a row of giant exploding fountains, and rockets flew from the roof of Jarrolds, the well-groomed department store for the well-heeled. Here’s a taste…
Chapelfield Shopping Centre has also unveiled its glitzy seasonal offering, even turning the word ‘christmas’ into a verb – punters are ‘christmassing’ all over the shop. The meaning isn’t entirely clear but I’m guessing it’s about people spending money they don’t have on things people don’t need. It was ever thus. They’ve replaced the enormous melodic Christmas tree of yesteryear with something more modest. It’s chic but silent.
I rather miss the camper, older model belting out Yuletide tunes every thirty minutes though I’m guessing that sentiment wouldn’t be shared by the staff and patrons of the adjacent restaurants who’d have to put up with the racket.
After the fun came the fare. We squeezed through the crowd to grab some hot Spanish sausage. Exotic street food has really taken off round these parts and I’ve always been partial to a generous slice of Iberian spice. The chorizo ciabatta griddled with red piquillo peppers was divine. We finished off the evening in a local hostelry, the newly tarted-up Lamb Inn – no prams the size of a small hatchback, no tantrum-ing kids, no over-fussing parents. My kind of advent.
Certainly there’s more joy than anger on pride marches these days. Yes, attitudes have changed, things are better. But all that glitters is not gold. Recently, Channel Four ran a series of ads made by Pride in London. It was part of the channel’s ‘50 Shades of Gay season’ marking the fiftieth anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. The ads featured belated apologies from parents who rejected or ridiculed their own children because of their offspring’s sexuality or gender identity. Still too many parents disown their own for the sake of family, faith and community. Still too many parents worry about how it looks, not how how it is. Still too many young people suffer bullying and rejection – at school, on the streets, at home. Some cope better than others. Some don’t cope at all. We may be living in the age of sexual enlightenment but suicide rates remain depressingly high. Why is this?
‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad.’
As famously written by poet, Philip Larkin.
Back in the dark ages, my experience with my own family was unusually benign for the times. It helped make me what I am today, for good or ill (no laughing down the back, please). The people in the ads are actors but the message is powerful. That’s why we march. That’s the point of pride.