Tuesday, 25 March 2014


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.


Rapunzel said...

This side of the pond the bathroom stool is the toilet, but I'm gathering that as you father cut holes in one for speakers in your fair land it must be some sort of a little bench. Clever man!
I'm wracking my brain trying to figure out what my first film was. Our Girl Scout troop went on a field trip to the city an hour's drive away to see Mary Poppins. They also taught us to make a ground meat mixture on bread toasted under the broiler, and to dance an Irish jig. Girl Scouts was much more useful than school.
Technique. We called it that here, too. You should look a girl right in the eyes when she's talking, even though she'll be talking about dumb stuff. You should tell her a sad story from your childhood to tap into her maternal side, and it helps if you can cry just a little. Girls like it if they think you're sensitive.
There was also something about holding her hand and rubbing her palm in little circles with your thumb, but I'm not sure what that's supposed to accomplish.
The joke of it was the boys thought the whole concept of tachnique was their big secret, but the girls knew all about it.
I've got it--Blue Hawaii, Elvis Presley, that was my first film.
I've got to go look up your early tv shows, we had totally different ones, and if I don't look yours up the curiosity will do me in.
Thank you for being so deliciously linky!

Pen Wilcock said...

:0D Bathroom stool! Who knew? Not in the UK. You are quite right in your surmise.
I remember that thing about the thumb and the palm of the hand, too! xx

Leslie said...

Yes, I made that dreadfully embarrassing mistake of asking if there was a "bathroom" nearby, while waiting for a bus (in the UK)...oops...of course, I didn't want to take a bath!!! :-D

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Yes - and I think 'restroom' would have been unsuccessful too! xx

Helen said...

Oh my goodness, what a trip down memory lane. Its got me thinking, as I am sure it has everyone, about my earliest records, films, etc. I don't know how old I was when I had my first record player, but I can remember my most favourite record - How Much Is That Doggie In The Window. I played it incessantly, and then .....I sat on it and broke it! I was distraught, but I can't help thinking now that I was probably the only one. Then I progressed to things like My Boy Lollipop by Millie. Now I'm back in the past, I remember going to see A Hard Days Night, with my Dad. He didn't want to go, but I was considered too young to go with anyone else. He sat there, very disapprovingly, all the way through. I was desperate to scream, along with everyone else, but with my Dad alongside absolutely nothing would come out of my mouth when I opened it to let rip! Happy Days.

Pen Wilcock said...



Maurice Slattery said...

Hello Pen - I have a copy of 'The Long Fall', signed by you, that I came across when looking for Lent material this week.
My name is Maurice Slattery and we met when we were both on the Southwark Ordination Course. Wondered what had happened to tou and yours - confess that I am only, spasmodically, still in touch with Richard Crossland from those days. Did keep in contact with Martin Baddeley for a longwhile - went to Judith's funeral in the Malvery Hills.
Am Priest in Charge of 2 parishes in West Sussex, near Arundel, and continue to continue.
Glad that you are thriving and still writing.
Go well. Maurice

Pen Wilcock said...

Hello, Maurice! Yes - I remember you well and with much affection. Happy times! It's so good of you to get in touch.
As you didn't send an email address I assumed it would be okay to publish your message and my reply here - but if you'd have preferred it private just comment again to say so and I'll take away your message and this reply. Arundel - lovely part of the world. x