Good Morning Little School Girl

This week it’s all been about The Essex Girls (formerly known as Beyond the Beehive). I’ve been editing the book for its new publishers, adding a couple of extra scenes, re-reading it all, reminding myself about Linda and Sandra’s exploits in 1965.

In the process I was working on the chapter Good Morning Little Schoolgirl. In the Sixties, at my school we had to wear a uniform. The colour was navy blue. The rules were very strict. A beret (that I always folded in half and clipped as far back on my head as possible) had to be worn at all times on the way to and from school, as did a navy blue raincoat or duffle coat. If the weather was warm we would go home in a navy blue blazer with the school’s crest on the breast pocket, or simply the navy jumper, navy skirt and pale blue shirt and tie that we had worn all day at school.  There was a summer dress of a strange shape and flowery material, but no-one who was cool wore that.  And it all cost money. My mum knitted my V necked sweater which was seen as rather risque. As the mini-skirt became popular rules were made that skirts could be worn no more than three inches above the knee.

Backcombed, beehive hairdos were frowned on, so neat mod hair worked well, and my class mate Corinne and I tried to perfect the Cathy McGowan Cleopatra hairstyle. Corinne was more successful than me.

I would walk home from school along the Main Road till I reached the parade of shops at the bottom of Patching Hall Lane, where I would meet my best friend Chris whose school, the Blessed John Payne, as it then was, was just up the road. In the picture she is holding a guitar which she did not own or play. And then we would walk home together, planning what we would wear when we went out in the evening to the Orpheus coffee bar.

And here is the song that inspired the chapter.

Advertisements

Beyond the Beehive is out!

Beyond the Beehive front cover

This is almost unbelievable!  Beyond the Beehive is on sale now.  You can buy the paperback here and the Kindle version here. Thank you for the support of the readers and followers of this blog, and to Christine Wilkinson who designed the wonderful cover – back and front!

beyond-the-beehive-back-cover-1   Beyond the Beehive front cover

And also thanks to my oldest best friend Chris Wallace – without whom none of these stories would have been possible.  As I keep telling her, they are just stories, but if she and I hadn’t met in Chelmsford on the Woodhall Estate, all those years ago, we’d never have gone to the Orpheus together, we’d never have gone dancing at the Corn Exchange, or to Dace’s to buy records or Clarke’s to buy Valentine cards, and the book would never have been written.

Liz and Christine + mod boy + miniLots of things are happening over the next few weeks.  The first thing is the Chelmsford Launch. It’s next Saturday, 1 October, 6.30 pm and Mark Shelley and the Deans will be playing!

mark-shelley-the-deans-3

I first saw Mark Shelley and the Deans in about 1963 playing at the YMCA.  I remember listening to the rhythm of the guitars and the crash of the drums, as they played all the rock classics – Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Sixteen and Nadine, the Isley Brothers’ Twist and Shout, and the Buddy Holly hits – That’ll Be the Day, Peggy Sue, and True Love Ways.  I know the group have been brushing up on all the old favourites for next Saturday (I’ve even written to Brian Matthew on Sounds of the Sixties, Saturday mornings on Radio 2, asking for a request to be played next Saturday for my sister – who gave me the idea for one of the characters in the book – and all the old Chelmsford mods – but I’m not holding my breath!) and it will be like stepping back in time!  You will think you really are back in the Corn Exchange.

If you would like to come to the launch it would be great to see you.  Contact me here. 

Pop, Pirates and Postmen

image001

Living in 1966.  They say if you remember the 60s you weren’t there.  But some of us kept a diary!

IMG_3101 (2)

(a medical diary only in the sense that my uncle who was a doctor gave it to me – it is in fact full of handy tips about headaches and constipation).
Now the BBC has made a series of programmes about 1966, in all the local regions, BBC North, BBC London and so on, as well as BBC East, which involves Norfolk, Suffolk and … Chelmsford Essex, all to be shown at the same time on Wednesday 1 June on BBC1 at 7.30pm. 
I was there in 1966, and I was there again in March 2016, when on a very cold, grey day in Chelmsford, I was interviewed by BBC Radio 6 Music DJ, Steve Lamacq for the BBC East programme.  We started in the Saracen’s Head
IMG_0203 (2)
 and then went walkabout in the town, in the way we used to, best friend Christine and I, on a Saturday afternoon, when I had finished work in Wainwright’s Milk Bar.
The Dolphin-Wainwrights
We did hover for a moment outside the site of the Orpheus in New London Road – but there really is not much to see there now – although the barber was very thrilled at the thought and was very accommodating.
We finished up at the site of the Corn Exchange, the centre of mod life on Saturday nights – the Who, David Bowie, Georgie Fame, the Animals, the Yardbirds – all played there.  Steve Lamacq is too young to remember the halcyon days of the Corn Exchange – his memories relate more to the Chancellor Hall round the corner, but we stood looking at the scaffolding of some more building work that is going on and shared our musical stories.
Corn Exchange 2 (2)
Patrick McGrady, the director, has sent me a DVD of the programme (securely stored on a pile of books on my living room table until transmission) and I don’t think I’m giving away too much if I say that the scenes in which I appear have a certain style – because of all the things I do so well, walking, reading, and to a lesser extent, dancing. 
The programme also has clips of the Singing Postman and a piece about the pirate radio ship, Radio Caroline, and the two lads who set up their own radio station in their bedroom, as well as some great footage of the glory days of mods then and now in Great Yarmouth and Clacton.
Watch the programme on You Tube here
Living in 66 - pop, pirates and postmen

Off the Hook

This week I have been trying to cancel my landline – a long, arduous and probably expensive task.  Telephones, phone calls, numbers have been going round in my head and last night first line of the Stones’ Off the Hook came to me.  This morning I found the clip on YouTube.

I listened to this track on the juke box in the Orpheus coffee bar.  It was the B side of Little Red Rooster, another great song.  Although the Stones, in the beginning, were seen more as a Rocker-ish kind of group (as compared to the Beatles who were cleaner, prettier and more Moddy) what the Stones had was good bluesy music, which is what Mods liked.  Off the Hook was raw, it scratched its way into the room, it was clean and dirty at the same time.  It was simple but it rocked and it was our experience.  Sitting in your bedroom, getting into bed and reading your book, turning out the light – and taking your phone right off the hook, thinking about your baby.  It was pain, uncertainty, assertiveness.  It could have been me.

Could have been me but probably not, partly because the notion of a bedside lamp hadn’t reached the Woodhall Estate in 1964, and then our phone was in the hall and not in the bedroom – what an idea! – but mainly because we had a party-line.  We shared the line with the Conservative family along the road – so we were morally obliged to keep our phone in order at all times.

But when the first high guitar notes snaked into the Orpheus, you knew you were in the right place at the right time.  And so is my old landline.  It’s gone.  Right off the hook.

Gloria

There was something about records in the 60s which was raw and almost amateurish, a sort of echo, a grating of the guitar strings, a bit of shouting.  But it meant that the music hit you in the stomach – listen to early Beatles tracks, Bruce Chanel, the Ronettes.  I don’t think this is the best version of Gloria by Them, but it sounds as if they’re playing in their dad’s garage, and it’s as exciting as being there, like listening to the local groups that used to play at the YMCA on a Saturday night.

I also like the worried looks on faces of the older people in the audience as if they have arrived there by mistake or they had to be there because they were the mayor and it was a question of civic pride or simply that they were someone’s mum who had heard the band practising in the garage but really thought they would have improved by the time of the concert.

The record was on the juke box in the Orpheus, and there probably isn’t anyone over 60 in Chelmsford who can’t spell Gloria.

The Gift

There was a boy called Ronnie Dee.  He was older than me, 18 maybe 19.  He had a smooth face, dark eyes and short dark hair in the mod way,  and a navy blue leather.  He was quiet but he told little jokes, and then he would turn and smile at me.  When he came down the Orpheus, the mods’ coffee bar, someone would put ‘King Bee’ by the Rolling Stones on the juke box.

Bee Dee.  Blond Don would start to sing, ‘I’m a King Dee,’ and Ronnie would shout ‘Turn it off!’ but I don’t think he really minded…

Read on in A Sense of Occasion – the Chelmsford Stories

Final cover_1622x2500px

 

 

 

Hi Heel Sneakers

It’s funny to think that in our house it was my dad who originally went to the Orpheus.  It was a coffee bar in a basement in London Road near to his office, and beatniks and Swedish-looking girls with long straight hair went there.  For a while Dad abandoned Wainwright’s Milk Bar and arranged to meet his friends at the Orpheus, Richard, the Labour party agent, other union officials and Jimmy Peacock a reporter on the Essex Weekly News, but soon the Mods came and took it over, attracted by its dark interior and superior juke-box, and dad and his mates returned to spending their coffee breaks in the light of the upstairs room of the Milk Bar. 

When Sandra’s older sister Marie became a mod she became a regular at the Orpheus.  She told us about it, the scooters parked outside, swanky Vespas with chrome bubbles, and Lambretta’s with maroon panels, the good music on the juke box, the slice of lemon you got if you ordered Coca Cola.  Sandra and I longed to go there, but we were too young and unstylish.  It was only after Marie and her friend Rita sold us their suedette jackets that we dared even to contemplate it.  Of course, they sold us their suedette jackets because they had moved on to the real thing, suede. 

One Saturday afternoon, after we had passed Walkers Jewellery Shop where we had looked at eternity rings, and Bolingbrokes where we had sneered at the lack of modern clothes on display, Sandra and I strolled casually down London Road.  Outside we dared each other to make the first move.  Together we stepped into the entrance.  We stood in a narrow hallway.  On the left was a door leading into an art supplies shop and at the end was the narrow twisting staircase leading to the Underworld.  Cautiously we made our descent.  Almost as soon as we reached the bottom stair and stepped into the gloomy cavernous space, I realised how wrong suedette was.  People wearing leather coats, suede coats, girls in twinsets, boys in Fred Perry shirts, turned and stared.    I felt young and silly, like a kid still wearing short socks.  My suedette jacket couldn’t cover my twist skirt.

An orange bulb glowed over a large silver espresso machine.  Boys in parkas, leaning on the counter, looked up as Sandra marched across the room.  Reluctantly I followed her, wanting to hide in one of the dark booths which were faintly visible around the walls.  I was relieved to see there was another young girl with a frightened-looking face in the place, till I realised I was staring at a reflection of myself in a mirror.

And then the first twanging notes of Hi Heel Sneekers bounced round the room.