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.
A few weeks ago I wrote a little piece on the etymology of Norwich’s River Wensum (old English wandsum). I got quite excited at the prospect of a poetic connection between my current digs and Wandsworth, in South London, where I spent my late childhood and most of my teens. I saw a link between ‘wandsum’ and ‘Wandle’, the Thames tributary that runs through the heart of the London borough. It was not to be. Ye Olde Wandsworth was known as Wandesorde or Wendelesorde at the time of the Domesday Book which means ‘enclosure of (a man called) Waendel’. Shame, but it did take me on a gentle mince down memory lane.
After my father was discharged from the army, he took the tenancy of an off licence cum general grocers. It was called a ‘Bottle and Basket’ for those who may remember the chain, part of the Watney Mann brewery company. We lived above the shop and it surely must have been the start of my love affair with the Devil’s sauce. I used to pilfer bottles of Bulmer’s cider from the shelves to share with my spotty pubescent pals. The liquor trade provided a decent living and kept me in booty hugging florescent loon pants and five inch platform shoes. My canny Dad made a killing during the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. We had a booze, bench and bunting beano in the street and Geordie Jack wisely kept the tills ringing for the duration. For my sins, I earned an honest crust as a Clark’s shoe shop Saturday boy in the Arndale Shopping Centre. It was the scene of my undoing and a slippery slope from which I was never to recover (thank the Peter Lord). I had a torrid fling with one of the maintenance men. His name was Dave. Dave was married, of course; it was always the way back in the day. My midday breaks were misspent sampling his greasy cut lunch in a lift shaft machine room on the roof, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘Going down?’
I used the phrase ‘clip joint’ on a post a little while ago and the words brought back distant memories of an old flame long since extinguished. He crimped for his supper. A bit of a gay cliché I know but he did have his own salon. He called it ‘Clip Joint’ and it was a good little earner down Wandsworth Town way. We stepped out for about 18 months and had some naughty fun until my fickle crimper discovered line dancing and a South African clone. They wore matching tight-cropped beards and dosey doe’d down the aisle. I moved on to lusher pastures and Clip Joint moved up to Nob Hill, rebranded as Alan Foster Hair Design. I heard he bought a detached gaff with en-suite swimming pool. Alan deserves his success. He has talented hands and there’s money to be made in curly perms.