After tripping the light fantastic along Tooting High Street, I took Liam even further down my memory lane with a short hop to Wandsworth Town. I showed him where I was a shoe shop Saturday boy, the primary school where I was a knotty-haired happy chappy, and finally, my digs from the age of ten until I ventured out into the wicked world – my ‘days on the tills, nights on the tiles’ moment before marriage and a mortgage.
After my Dad retired from the British Army, my parents ran a backstreet shop, one of a parade of four. Ours was a ‘bottle and basket’ selling booze and bread and all things in between, and we lived above and behind. It was a good little earner. Even during the dark days of the 1974 three-day week, Dad kept the lights on with candles from the cash and carry. It was a cold and miserable time and people hit the hard stuff to get through it – a bit like the recent lockdowns. On a happier note, as part of Her Maj’s 1977 Silver Jubilee celebrations, Mum helped organise a street party. The till rang non-stop as the red, white and blue bunting fluttered in the summer breeze.
Of the other shops, next door was a butcher’s with a newsagent’s at the end. I can’t remember what the third shop in the parade was. It hardly matters now as they’re all gone – long-since converted into gentrified houses that fetch a king’s ransom.
Here’s a very rare picture of me from that bygone era. Our first-floor parlour was a riot of clashing colours and patterns – very de rigueur at the time. I’m sure it’s much more tasteful today. But why was my chopper bike propped up against the sofa?
The other day, I was Facebooking (is that a word?) with Philip, an old mucker from my bean counting years. Actually, he did all the bean counting while I took all the glory. Philip was one of the first to buy a copy of Turkey Street. In fact he bought two. I mentioned in passing that a little drink might help turn the pages. He took me at my word and attempted the first chapter on a Brighton to London train. Apparently, he was too pissed to remember any of it. This got us into conversation about that tipping point – when a night out on the tiles in your best frock turns into no-knickers in the gutter. We came up with the ten degrees of drunkenness and reckon ‘smashed’ is the point of no return.
I’ve never been beyond ‘dribbling’ whereas the old pro, Philip, has died many, many times.
Liam’s possesses a fine pair of lanky lalls and doesn’t look good with his knees wedged against his chin so I booked emergency exit seats for the flight to Palma. You can do that on Sleazyjet these days (for an extra fee, obviously) and this helps to mitigate the scrum at the gate where it’s every man for himself and the Devil takes the hindmost. Senior citizens have been known to break a hip in the sprint. As Liam enjoyed the extra inches, our neighbours gathered around us: a squawking clutch of bottle-blond Essex grannies with fake nails, fake teeth, spray-on tans and spray-on micro-skirts. They hit the bottle as soon as soon as the captain switched off the fasten your seat belt sign. Drinking the plane dry, they even demanded a discount as they polished off the bar. The saintly cabin crew indulged them with grace and patience. We were relieved that an emergency landing was not required since these pissed-up ladies would have struggled to see the doors, let alone release them and the only brace position they knew was chucking up in the gutters of Magaluf. One senior attendant, a slightly camp Spanish trolley dolly with an Andalucian lisp, had clearly seen it all before. He looked over at us with a wearied expression, throwing his eyes up to the clouds in resignation. Almodóvar met Essex and lost every time.
We threw caution to the wind and have a gay old night in old Norwich Town. We are blessed with three bone fide out-and-proud gay bars and one club. Who’d have thought? The Castle Public House was our inn of choice, a popular haunt perched unglamorously on the corner of a ring-road roundabout just outside the city centre. We knew we’d arrived when we spotted their open top Big Gay Bus parked up outside. It’s used to frighten the farmers as it cruises the length and breadth of the county spreading the word. Not quite Priscilla, Queen of the Desert but you get the picture. The bar was a pleasant surprise. We were expecting tired, tatty and torn. We got camp, colourful and clean. The clientele was a manic mix of trendy young things, most of them squeezed into skinny jeans and Primark plimsolls. Metrosexual girls and boys mingled amiably, gossiping and giggling over the latest must-sup alcopop being flogged by the multi-nationals.
We popped across the pretty garden and crept into the glass-fronted club out the back. It was like stepping into a village hall on acid. We didn’t last long. The two old codgers quickly decided they were way too old for the thump, thump, thump and returned to the snug to finish their halves of mild. After a while observing the Norwich queens in their natural habitat, Liam suggested we leave the children to their play and stumble back home for a welcome cup of cocoa. As we strolled past the cathedral, Liam noticed that my ancient legs (the ones that had been given me so much gyp of late) were firing on all pistons. He was right. No pain whatsoever. Remarkable. Sightly sozzled and suspecting divine intervention, Liam looked up at the dreaming spire and spoke to his maker. “Praise the Lord!” he slurred. “It’s a miracle.” Indeed. He’ll be feeding the five thousand next.
We’ve finally managed to collate all the incriminating photographic evidence of our wicked trip to Bordeaux back in September to celebrate the half century of Blighty life friend, Ian. Liam has produced a timely public heath broadcast about the evils of alcohol. A sorry collection of over-the-hill so-called fine and upstanding members of society (well, except for the birthday boy who runs a sex shop in Soho), strutting their drunken stuff in an isolated French farm house is a pathetic spectacle. It’s enough to put you off your pink gin. Listen up kids, in Nancy Reagan’s immortal words, ‘Just say no.’