Friday, September 14, 2012

It Was Twenty Forty Years Ago Today

Greetings shipmates.
This week we have been lazin' around doing nowt of any interest.
We've been becalmed on the Sargasso of early Autumn and do we care?
Do we two hoots.
Even Mog has enjoyed lounging around in patches of sunshine more-so than he usually does.
Mr.Sheephouse was seen at the start of the week, picking up a camera, saying "Bah!" and putting it down again.
It has been one of those weeks.
His typwriter has fair been rattling though, so hopefully he has pulled an interesting rabbit out of the bag for your enjoyment.
And if he hasn't?
Who gives a cuss.
You see, he's discovered that there's only be a few of you reading this, despite the impressive viewing stats. He be most dejected about it.
But then I've plonked Mog on his lap, poured him a stiff totty o'Rum and told him to not be so hard on himself.
It's only an Electronic Diary and a portmanteau of the words Web and Log.
So what?


I have been rather struggling to come up with anything interesting to write about photographically this week, so imagine my surprise and relief when, last Saturday, I was informed that Tuesday, the 11th of September, 2012 marked the 40th Anniversary of a rather auspicious occasion.
(Thank goodness I thought, I possibly don't have to write anything about photography this week, though I will add that the photos in this article were all made on 126 format Kodak Instamatics and show the importance of relaxing before pressing a shutter button!)
As is often the way with my brain, nothing happened immediately, but sure enough, there I was, on Tuesday morning, at approximately 5.24 AM with two large mugs of industrial-strength tea and a brain slowly whirring, about to commit to the world and his Uncle, just what the significance of that day was.
Forty years ago, in 1972, I was 11 years old, and both very nervous and uncomfortable.
I had made the solo journey to my new school, via a relatively unknown bus route, and to get to my bus I had had to pass amongst people who, up to that point in my life, I had mostly regarded as friends, but who now rather regarded me as the enemy.
My parents had made sure I knew the route, so that wasn't really a problem. It was the Number 140 which went from Northolt to Harrow and though I had travelled it infrequently in my life, I knew enough of where and when to get on and off.
My main problem though, were the crowds of kids heading to St Vincents (now called Northolt High School) who would decant in vast hordes at the bus stop I used, and the fact that I was wearing a different uniform and a cap!
Understanding and appreciation of the awkwardness of my situation were not even considerations.
Yet, by some strange quirk, fate was working with me.
My parents had decided that:
Despite the fact St Vincents was literally a stone's throw from where we lived in Newbury Close, Northolt;
Despite the fact that every other kid my age on our estate was going to St Vincents;
Despite the fact I would have to make a journey flowing against a tide of some really rather nasty teenagers **
Despite the fact that I was a bit of a podge and thus an easy target
They would send me to a school in a different area, which required the payment of annual fees and had a uniform policy which was decidedly archaic!

Oi! Fat Boy! Wot Skoool Ya Garncha???
Er, Harrow High School if you please, Mr Gorilla Sir.
Where's 'at 'en?
Er, Harrow.
Arra?! Wotcha Garn'ere Faw?
Er, School.
Wassat 'en?
You know. An educational establishment where one learns things.
Wotcha doon 'at faw?
To learn.
Wot skoool Ya Garncha 'gin?
Harrow High School.
'Kin Poof!

I think you can get the drift of these interminable conversations from this. Actually I have added arms and legs on this because generally the threat of very immediate violence meant that I tended to avoid as much as I could. This is no snipe at the kids I knew at all though. They were a really nice bunch from round the Newbury Close area, however, I think really it was just that Mum and Dad thought that in sending me to an Independent School, I would be in for a better chance of a rounded education.
Dear Mum and Dad . . oh how wrong you were!
Little did they know that I would become an outcast overnight.
Regular readers will know that I detailed my, ahem, education at Harrow High School a few weeks back in Molesworth and Me. Well, now I am going to tell you about a lifeline and the whole reason that such a terrible place was made, not just bearable, but somewhere I entirely looked forward to going to every single day of the term (apart from sports day).
Enter, Stage Right:
Stephen Roger Wakefield
Or just plain Steve.

Must have been about late 1972/early 1973.
That's me pretending to be a ship's Captain again.
Steve's jacket is really nice and makes him look like he has just breezed in from the Kremlin.
My jacket has a burst zip and I believe is my old milkround anorak, so must have smelled of sour milk!
Vive La Différence

You know how it is on the first day of school.
There you are standing around hoping that the lad with the single eyebrow and decidedly overhanging forehead isn't going to make a sandwich of you.
Groups of new beaks cluster together with a herding instinct more akin to shoaling anchovies.
Those on the edge will hopefully be picked off first and maybe enough of them will be taken to satiate the hunger of the prowling school beasts who are waiting to pick off the weak and exhausted . . .
Fairly typical experience for everyone?
Thought so.
Anyway, there we were, a cluster, at first break, fresh and lonely. The smells of school lunch preparation were wafting across the playground - initially familiar, and suddenly noxious and unbearable.
I happened to comment that they smelled like 'hot cat-food' and that was it. I got a good laugh (my podgy boy defence mechanism at work) and Steve chipped in with something else that made me laugh very much, and that was kind of it. We were instantly drawn to each others sense of humour and before you knew it, we were friends.
Harrow High was different to most every other school.
At normal schools you go to the classroom appropriate to the lesson; at Harrow High, the teachers came to you, so essentially you had for the perpetuity of the year, your own desk.
This was a great thing - my first real taster of being a property owner!
You could carve it, tramline it, use it defensively, gouge it, slam it, make it an incredible soundbox for the twangy ruler, fill it full of crap, fill it full of stuff, keep a mouse in it, plaster the underneath of it with bubblegum, sit on it, sit in it, sniff it, pretty much actually do anything you liked bar setting fire to it, and it was yours.
Your place of permanence for a whole year.
Of course, with the desks being two-seaters you required a co-driver, and in my case that was Steve . . . for three and a half years!

Two friends on holiday, hunting fossils at Black Esk Reservoir, Summer 1974

They were happy times actually. We laughed more than we learned. We almost lived in each other's pockets. Steve lived in a nice part of Ruislip before moving to Chorleywood; I lived on one of the 'Race Course' Estates in Northolt surrounded by countless streets of council housing. My Dad worked for an engineering company and my Mum was a bookkeeper; Steve's Mum and Dad worked together and owned and ran a small but very highly respected precision engineering company. But despite what might in different people have seemed to be cavernous differences in social circumstance it mattered little to me and my friend.
Both our sets of parents were utterly accepting of our friendship, to the extent that they accepted each of us as new members of the family. Always welcome, always made to feel at home from home.
His parents were fortunate enough to own a beautiful and extensive country pile on the edge of Sherington. The house was called Carrisbrooke and it was haunted.
My parents were renovating a cottage in the Scottish Borders called East Orchard Cottage, it was initially delapidated, but it had a warm Scots heart and eventually became a cosy hearth for the two of us.
Our friendship extended to wonderful weekend stays at Carisbrooke and in the case of Orchard, holiday breaks.

Fishing on the Annan 1975.
Dear reader would you not feel priviledged to say that a background like that was your playground?
Those were serious waders I was wearing too.

Inseperable is a good term applied to friendship and that is what were were like.
The more I think about the more I realise how totally fortunate we both were to have had places like these in our formative years - they were havens where you could do anything you liked.
We walked lonely Bedfordshire fields and were haunted by phantoms, climbed trees, dug massive pits, drove a small Go-kart, played snooker and ping-pong, scared the crap out of each other, created our own radio shows on the then new cassette format, swam and walked and dreamed.
In Scotland we fished and shot air rifles and spent whole days digging fossils and rooting around on quiet riverbanks; climbed hills, caved in dangerous places, walked slag heaps, listened to music, read, laughed, picked berries, cycled, collected cat's eyes (road ones, not real ones) and ate massive amounts of food.
There was never any danger of homesickness, because in both places we were home.
How lucky we were.

An out-take from the 1970's remake of 'Lord Of The Flies'
Quite why anyone would wear pale blue flares and white plimsouls to dig
a 10 foot deep pit in mud and clay is beyond me.
The clay hardened quite quickly and was a devil to remove . . .
And as far as I can recall, I didn't have a spare pair of trousers

Back to school and nothing really changed. We laughed and laughed, learned almost nothing, fought ill-wishers, created havoc, saved sandwiches (in other peoples desks), cartooned, wrote, came up with radio plays, took the mickey, farted and burped, laughed at the hopeless attempts at teaching, made more friends, made some enemies and generally survived what must have been the most awful educational establishment that dared to call itself such a name.
And then, in July of 1976, with a sudden realisation that Harrow High was doing him no favours, Steve's Mum and Dad helped him escape and he went to Amersham College where he was actually taught something. I was bereft; but with some well-learned fat-boy survival skills, I made it through to my O'levels and the disaster that was to unfold.
Despite being pulled apart (or maybe because of it) our friendship survived and flourished.
I felt he became older than me at this point, because he was being exposed to the real world and not some retro-nascent 1950's comedy education, but it didn't affect us.

That hot Summer of 1976, searching for Dinosaur bones at Arbigland.
Steve as usual, is appropriately attired. There's those flares again, though (unusually) I am wearing a rather nifty
Fred Perry.
I think I am saying something like:
"Gagh! All this 'ere mud is getting on me flares (again)!"

Then in 1977 I moved to Scotland permanently, and even though three hundred and fifty solid miles would be a test for any friendship, we only felt it at weekends.
We still wrote to each other and phoned and visited (though obviously less often).
Our friendship survived.
He helped me through a difficult time of fitting into a totally alien community (not that bad actually, but more on Lockerbie Academy in an upcoming FB)
Even moving here to the East coast in the '80's and managing to make it an even more solid four hundred and sixty five road miles of distance between us, you know what, we're still in contact.
We haven't stopped and I don't think we could.
Nowadays, thanks to the ease of email, we are in contact nearly every day.
We might have only seen each other about twice in twenty or so years, but it doesn't seem to matter.
We turned out ok too despite (or maybe because of) our underwhelming education. Triumph in the face of adversity and all that
Steve is an overworked precision engineer, Father, maverick inventor (with more patents to his name than I have cameras), collector, antiquarian, and all-round great person.
Me? I make photographs, make music (occasionally), make my family groan, make a passable cup of coffee and hopefully make a few people laugh.

Gottle Of Geer
"Has the Puppet Master finished with us yet mate?"
"Don't know mate. I'll let you know when he gets his hand out my jumper."

And we're still talking and laughing.
Our wives listen and roll their eyes.
Our children snort and laugh.
We're still Phil and Steve though, older and more gravity-challenged, but still us.
Lucky is what I call it.
Friendship can be a wonderful thing and without going all maudlin on you, I count myself fortunate the day my friend showed that he appreciated the smell of hot cat food too . . .
I like to think that when we've both pegged it, there'll be the shades of two teenage boys walking and talking and laughing along a riverbank somewhere, maybe letting off a SBD *** near a fisherman and seeing what he does.
God bless and thanks for reading as usual.
Goodness knows what on earth you find in these things, but well done if you found anything at all.

** Yes, really. There were some real nut-cutlets living in Northolt at the time.

*** Seriously? You need a definition?? Silent But Deadly . . .


  1. an excellent read sir....reminded me of my life imany was Dave & me...infants & juniors together then seperated to different comprehensives and reunited at 6th form...35 years and all and we're still in touch. And of course the summer of ' hot that the tar melted on roads (honest) and dare I mention it, dog poo was white!!! Most of my summer of '76 was spent in Sussex...memories of my late 'uncle' Stephen who had a front downstairs bedroom full of 'Magical' vinyl...'this town ain't big enough...' by The Sparks regularly blurred from that room. I was occasionally allowed in there to look at the vinyl. :-) thanks again, well written, great photos and a memory jogging read! :-)

  2. As always, my pleasure.
    I wish a few more readers would go mad and put finger to plastic!
    Herr Sheepenhouschen