And then there was the Orpheus. The Orpheus was the mods’ cellar coffee bar, under two shops in London Road. Sandra and I spent most of our lives down the Orpheus. Everything else was just school.
There were three groups of schools in Chelmsford – grammar schools (including the girls’ high school), the Technical school (for which you had to pass the eleven plus, but the emphasis was more on getting skills than academia) and there were the secondary moderns. If you weren’t Catholic there were three secondary modern schools in Chelmsford: Broomfield, Rainsford and Moulsham. Rainsford was meant to be the toughest.When you were waiting for the results of your eleven plus, people told you stories about how rough the sec mods were, how they’d flush your head down the toilet as soon as say hello to you. At age 11 it was a terrifying prospect. But in the Orpheus the most exciting boys, the funniest loudest boys had all been to Secondary Modern schools. Except Sugar, who went to the Tec. He got into a lot of fights, and made the front page of the Newsman Herald after assaulting a police officer.
Outside the Orpheus there would always be four or five scooters, a Lambretta, a couple of Vespa’s. Then you walked in off the street and along the narrow corridor, on the worn brown lino. The smell of coffee coming up the stairs, mixed in with the music from the juke box, was exciting, full of promise. The bored assistants in the art shop watched us and I became even more conscious of my mod status, aware of my three quarter length suede coat, pinstriped fan-pleated skirt, and my black moccasins.
You could almost tell who was in the Orpheus by the record that was playing. Take the Beatles, for example. The juke box had some Beatles’ singles, ‘I wanna hold your hand’ and ‘Please Please Me’, but Chelmsford mods didn’t put the A-sides of the Beatles on. It was too obvious. Sometimes, if they played the Beatles at all, they’d put a B-side on – like ‘I’ll Get You,’ or ‘Thank You Girl.’ So if the A-sides were playing you’d know it was strangers, like mod boys from Witham, standing in a group in their parkas, laughing. It there were too many of them and it felt as if they were trying to take the place over, we’d put on something they wouldn’t know, a B-side like ‘Little Boy’ by Mary Wells, the other side of ‘My Guy’, and sing along with it.
The best record on the juke box was ‘Hi-heel Sneakers’ by Tommy Tucker. When the first thin notes of the electric guitar began, Blond Don, who was always there on Saturday afternoons, would dance on his toes round the tables, in the dim light. Blond Don was small and neat and had a pair of real Hush Puppies and a long grey leather coat and everyone said he took the most Purple Hearts of anyone in Chelmsford.