What to do

It’s been a long time since my last post. I’ve been working on the next book – The Girls from Greenway. It’s out in September! It’s another novel about the Sixties – life in Swinging Chelmsford, mods, Motown, frothy coffee and Ben Sherman shirts. The editing process has been long, but it’s almost over. And now I have two weeks before the next stage begins.

So I decided to go mad and have a weekend in Paris. But then news began circulating about industrial action by French customs workers, talk of 5 hour queues at the Gare du Nord for trains back to London, and I began to wonder if I should risk it. So I found myself walking along the road humming What to Do by Buddy Holly. And I found I remembered all the words.

I loved Buddy Holly’s songs when I was at school, and would walk home in the afternoons, singing whatever song suited my mood. ‘That’ll Be the Day,’ ‘Oh Boy,’ ‘Raining in my Heart’ and ‘Rave On’ were all on my singing playlist. If there was homework that just wasn’t going to get done, if there was a good group due to appear at the Corn Exchange next Saturday, if the weather wasn’t too hot, I would swing my bag, hold on to my beret and sing out loud. I probably looked quite stupid in my navy-blue school uniform and my sensible lace-up shoes, but I was happy.

In the end I didn’t go to Paris – the advice from Eurostar was not to go unless my journey was absolutely necessary, and by the time I took the decision, there was talk of 6 and 7 hour queues. Well, ‘Maybe Baby’ I’ll go soon.

 

The Saturday Girls – countdown

In four weeks time The Saturday Girls will be on the shelves.

I really enjoyed writing the book, much as I really enjoyed those days. How iconic they were, and still are. Everyone has a story to tell about the early Sixties. Yesterday I was in a local coffee shop talking to someone who is at least ten years younger than me. We talked about a whole range of things – starting with her excellent choice, in this hot heavy weather, of iced coffee. Somehow, as it always does, the conversation turned to the early Sixties – mods and rockers and Italian style and the French New Wave and scooters and suede coats. And she had memories of those days. I mentioned the Milk Bar – in Chelmsford that was Wainwrights, on the corner of London Road and Tindal Street. And she, who had grown up in the Midlands, suddenly remembered their local Milk Bar, and its reputation for being a wild and crazy place that your mum wouldn’t want you to go to. I said the word ‘scooters’ and she had a story about riding on the back of a Vespa, and holding on tight.

That’s the book really. What I’ve tried to do is take you back there – so you too can remember those days of Motown and Minis and Cathy McGowan and her Cleopatra hair style. Even if you weren’t there, as you follow the paths of Linda and Sandra, dancing to Georgie Fame at the Corn Exchange and drinking frothy coffee in the Orpheus, and as you meet Sylvie, the most exotic person on the Estate, who has actually been to Paris – you’ll remember.

And it’s so close now. Things are heating up! My editor tells me I shall soon have a copy of the book to hold in my hands. And then it will climb onto the shelves of the shops.  And then you’ll be able to read it. As the Temptations said, ‘Like a snowball rolling down the side of a snow covered hill, it’s growing.’

You can of course pre-order your copy here!

The Milk Bar

The Dolphin-Wainwrights

In Chelmsford in the Sixties, as in so many other towns in England, the demolition of many of the best parts of the town began – that is the Corn Exchange and beside it, Tindal Street, the narrow cobbled lane that was home to the White Hart, the Spotted Dog and the Dolphin, and at the far end, Wainwrights Milk Bar.  They all disappeared.  Before that happened, I started working there, on Saturdays and in the holidays.  It was August 1966.  We served milk from a special machine, milkshakes made with bright sweet milkshake mix and Horlicks, made with milk, on a noisy beige electric mixer.  I never liked serving Horlicks because somehow, for me, it always turned out lumpy.  Why would anyone want to drink Horlicks in the daytime, anyway – or at all?  We also served tea, and two types of coffee, ordinary, which we served from an urn behind the counter and – Expresso! The Saturday girls weren’t allowed to touch the Expresso machine, as we called it.  Elsie, who worked there full-time, and was usually in charge, said that was because it was dangerous.  She’d knocked out her two front teeth one morning making frothy coffee for someone.  So she said.  Her two front teeth were certainly missing.

On my second day at work, in my neat white overall and red and black check pinafore apron, I got my first and only ever tip.  Which, I wrote in my diary, was ‘for giving a man 3 sugars in one cup and 1 and a half in the other.’  It was sixpence.  Not bad!  But why?  The Milk Bar was the hub of the town, I think.  My dad went there for coffee at 11 o’clock from the AEU office in London Road, where he worked.  There he met his old friend Jimmy Peacock who wrote a column in the Essex Weekly News.  My sister’s gang – the In-Crowd – slouched in on Saturdays.  Shop workers came in, occasionally a mod drifted in, sometimes even a confused rocker, young families wanting lemon squash, people from building sites wanting pie and beans.

On 13 August 1966 – 29 years ago today – I did hardly anything ‘except make ice-cream sodas’ (which in Chelmsford consisted of fizzy lemonade, a dollop of vanilla ice-cream and a stir with a long spoon.  I still like it). People came and went, it was hot, it was summer.  The Corn Exchange was closed till the autumn.  Perhaps that was the reason the Troggs were at number 1.

A Sense of Occasion – the Chelmsford Stories

I have tried to find out who took the picture of Tindal Street.  If you know, please get in touch.