My father made a gramophone, when I was about six years old. I remember the excitement of him constructing it. A turntable on the top, the mysterious workings inside, all fitted into a re-purposed bathroom stool, the holes cut for the speakers fitted with fabric cut from his old dark blue polo shirt.
I loved it.
I used to spend hours dancing and singing along to our records. We had a few LPs (LPs = long-playing records – all vinyl discs then), namely Beethoven’s 6th, Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, and two slightly smaller discs of Tchaikovsky ballet valses. Later, I was given a Songs from Mary Poppins LP (the first film I ever saw - my sister took me) and one of Burl Ives singing various folk songs.
But we also had an interesting collection of singles – were they called EPs (extended plays)? My father travelled all over the world, and would always bring home gift for us. He often brought my mother a record. So we had Nina and Frederick, Harry Belafonte, Ritchie Valens, The Platters, Françoise Hardy, a Greek record I loved but couldn’t pronounce, the Tijuana Brass playing The Lonely Bull and The Spanish Flea, Mary O’Hara, The Clancy Brothers, The Peppermint Twist (Joey Dee and the Starliters) – and a few others.
Meanwhile, up in Yorkshire, my Auntie Jessie lived with my Grandma because Grandma was blind and Auntie Jessie had nervous breakdowns so they made the prefect household looking after each other. They had a TV in a large walnut cabinet on which we watched Jack Warner in Dixon of Dock Green and Violet Carsons in Coronation Street. And of course, Watch With Mother. My favourites were Rag, Tag and Bobtail, but I liked The Woodentops too. And Bill and Ben. And Andy Pandy. We didn't have telly at home. Anyway, "There we must leave them, playing in the warm sunshine . . ."
Auntie Jessie had a collection of records that I loved. An LP of Scottish dance music, the songs from Sound of Music, and a raft of romantic ballads. Her favourites were Frank Sinatra and Englebert Humperdinck but I think she had Jim Reeves as well. Ooh, and Val Doonican singing daft Irish songs.
Until I reached the age of about twelve, when I started borrowing records from friends with kind older brothers who could afford to buy their own, the above listed musical diet formed my tastes, along with the short extracts of classical music played every morning as our school assembled for prayers.
These songs still come back to me – I can remember most of them word for word (apart from the Greek one, for which I can remember only my own made-up verbal approximations). This morning, one of the songs we had on record, Julie Andrews singing Tom Pillibi (the flip side had Lazy Afternoon) came floating into my mind, and I sang it while I washed up the breakfast things.
And my mind stuck on that line, “He has a very good technique,” intrigued. Because I remember now – that’s what we all used to say! Boys and girls dating – “his technique”. How weird! The idea of someone having a “technique”, a strategy for snaring a girlfriend! And it would be discussed – “What’s his technique?”
This was the end of the 1960s, early 70s, the time when factories and mass-production were getting into their stride, when the mechanistic thinking of the Enlightenment and modernism had entirely engulfed our approach to nature and the body, and social evolution had assimilated the thinking of the Industrial Revolution absolutely. Communism and Capitalism, equally dehumanising, between them divided up the world: everyone else was a savage. The hippies, trying to find a way back to something natural and free, even called themselves “freaks”. “Jesus Freaks”, we were: I had a badge that said so.
Tom Pillibi captured the flavor of the time, when even something as delicate and relational as the flowering of love was to be governed by and incorporated into “technique”. High Schools were “Grammar Schools” and “Technical Colleges”. It was the time the whole Western world fell in love with systems. The runaway train was gathering speed.