I’ve been working on The Girl in the Green Mac, the next 60s Chelmsford book. The year is 1966, the Orpheus has changed its name to the R&B and the new owners are putting a stop to the four-hour cup of coffee. Another boutique opens near the Shire Hall, run by a man with an unreal Italian name, and mini-skirts creep into the High Street. And the World Cup promises success for England and particularly for Chelmsford because of local boy Geoff Hurst.
When I’m writing it doesn’t really matter where I am, but what is important is to be able to listen to a song or a piece of music that captures the mood of what I’m writing about. This week I’ve been working on a chapter about the boutique owner, Gene Battini, who likes the cool music of Mel Torme. So I’ve been listening to ‘Comin’ Home’ which came out in 1962 but sounds good, even today.
Galleywood Heritage Centre – formerly the Galleywood Race Course – was the venue for a great heritage day on Saturday 3 June. Lots of different groups guided visitors to ways of finding out about local history or their own family history, in a room that had once been the base of the Grandstand. It was a really hot sunny day, with much coming and going and sharing information and drinking tea and eating rather delicious cakes. In a separate room, decorated with a host of interesting pictures of Chelmsford in the Sixties, and with the Kinks and Roy Orbison and the Stones crooning in the background, I was talking about My Generation.
What was very nice for me was hearing the experiences of those in the audience. In the first session there were no (ex)rockers, but in the second session there was a mix of (ex) mods and rockers – I had to be careful what I said. The discussion ranged far and wide from the pop groups that went to Southend to the £10 Poms who went to Australia, from Martin Ford (fashion emporium) where I bought my pin-striped fan pleated skirt, to the trendy straight shift dresses that made it easy to run up a new outfit for yourself. We talked about National Service and pubs and cafes. And I read a chapter from the new book (working title The Girl in the Green Mac) which went down well. So it was a great day all round.
One session ran from 11.30 to 12.30 and the second ran from 1.30 to 2.30. In between, with scarcely enough time for me to eat a cheese sandwich, Andy Stephens, a local reporter, asked me a few questions. And here are the answers.
Next Saturday (3 June) will be a great day. In the Galleywood Heritage Centre there will be a whole host of exhibitors showing different aspects of Chelmsford’s History, recent history and further back. I can’t really believe people consider the Sixties history – we are all still so young! but there will be The Essex Society for Family History, the Chelmer Canal Trust, the Essex Police Museum, the Western Front Association, and lots of others too. It’s free and there’s a cafe.
At 11.30 and at 1.30 I’ll be talking about my books ‘Beyond the Beehive’ (set in 1965 Chelmsford and coming out in a lovely new edition in the New Year) and reading from my new book set in 1966 – working title ‘The Girl in the Green Mac.’ Come and join in. What were you doing on 30th July 1966 when the World Cup match was being played? What was your favourite record? Were you a Stones supporter or a Beatles fan? Do you still have your Sacks and Brendlor Suede coat?
The Heritage Centre is off Margaretting Road, Galleywood Common, Chelmsford CM2 8TR It would be great to see you there.
And to get you into the mood here’s another chance to see the BBC documentary, first broadcast last year, about East Anglia in 1966. See you on Saturday!