Weekly Pic | 16th Jan | That Time I Heard ‘Wuthering’

45 years ago | Bradley Lane, Standish, UK | 20th January 1978

Forty-five years ago, I had, what I now think was my first full experience of chart music: the unforgettable ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Kate Bush… 

I was still only four and I think I was having breakfast before school, with the radio on in the kitchen. I’d been aware of pop music before that point but I don’t remember much of it making an impact on me.  The family record collection included both Chicago’s ‘If You Leave Me Now’ and ABBA’s ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ but I was listening to them well after their time in the charts had ended.  Almost inevitably, I seem to remember being aware of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, albeit also well after the event – although I do know where I was when it was Number 1, but that’s a different story…

Nor was it my first recollection of a song that was in the charts at the time.  I’m pretty sure that distinction goes to Paul McCartney and Wings with ‘Mull Of Kintyre’, which I remember watching on ‘Top of the Pops’, with the band of pipers marching into the studio at the end.

What I mean is the appreciation of a chart song, not just for the music itself but also as an item of fashion; in the knowledge that others would be aware of it, listening to it, knowing it mattered that week.  I can still remember marvelling at its soaring melodies that morning, wondering what kind of creature was making those impossibly high notes.  

When I came to watch the wide-eyed, pouting, dervish of flailing limbs that was Kate Bush on ’Top of the Pops’ or possibly ‘Swap Shop’, I was even more amazed.  I’d taken my first steps into pop music and I loved it.

On reflection, the phenomenon unleashed on the listening public in January 1978 was such a random collision of factors: a prodigy performance artist from Kent dancing expressively to her self-written song based on a (then) 140 year-old novel by Emily Brontë, set on the West Yorkshire Moors. Nothing about it fits any kind of formula for pop success but it got to Number 1 in the charts and stayed there for a month.

And so, as with any other child of the Seventies, thus began a decades-long journey of Radio 1-listening, TOTP-watching and chart-following as the constant ebb and flow of new music seemed to chronicle our lives.  

Eventually, I tired of Radio 1, ‘Top of the Pops’ went to the giant glitter-ball in the sky and, for various reasons, the charts began to lose their relevance.  Such is the natural order of things, you may agree.  But for a large part of my first 30 years, chart music seemed to matter a lot – and I can’t remember ever feeling that way until I heard Kate as Cathy.

Weekly Pic | 9th Jan | That Time I Was Right Here* 

40 years ago | *ABC Cinema, Wigan, UK | 9th January 1983

The ABC in Wigan, just before the UK release of E.T., December 1982. Photo: Frank Orrell (Wigan Observer)

Forty years ago, we went to the cinema.  It doesn’t sound that big a deal now.  It wasn’t really that remarkable then, If I’m honest – except for the fact that it was only my second-ever trip to ‘the pictures’, to watch the film that everyone was talking about: ‘E.T. – The Extraterrestrial’.

In spring 1981, I’d had my first cinema experience, watching ‘Superman II’.  I remember being wowed by the action on screen and bitterly disappointed by the taste of the exotic hot dogs served in the foyer.  The experience had clearly stuck with me because I distinctly remember giving the same counter a wide berth, this time.  

The other difference this time was that I was very aware that this was not just a film but a major event.  That the mere fact I was going to watch it carried its own level of kudos.  The film had been hyped for weeks and radio, television and even daily conversations seemed to consist of very little else.  It was probably the first blockbuster film release that I was old enough to understand as such.

Predictably, I loved the film.  At the age of nine, I was probably in the ideal demographic for it.  Looking back, there was something else that may seem largely superficial now but at the time felt hugely profound: the chase scene at the end involved BMX bikes, something most school-age kids were very impressed by, in the early 1980s.  

By embracing something that was so clearly part of the zeitgeist, Spielberg was able to make his story all the more compelling to his target market.  It felt to us as if the conversations we were having on our playground were actually shaping Hollywood films.  It may not be too much of a stretch to say that they were – in a way.  Although we, like everyone else, thought it was just our school that was so ‘influential’, when, by definition, it was every school.

I remember getting the novelised version on E.T. in paperback from the school book club, not long after and devouring the written story.  I think I still have it.  It’s still one of a small number of films that, if I happen upon it while flicking around the channels, I will feel the urge to watch it to the end, every time.  ‘Jaws’, ‘Educating Rita’ and ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ being other notable holders of that particular accolade.

It also imbued in me a love of cinema itself.  Even the grotty old Wigan ABC fleapit (where twenty years previously, my Dad had watched Roy Orbison and The Beatles) was enough to light a passion which still burns today.  Only years later did I learn that my Grandad, great-uncle and great-Grandad owned a cinema in Standish (‘The Palace’) for 30 years so it kind of is in my blood.

A pandemic and home streaming have reduced my cinema-going in recent years but I’d still rather take in a quirky movie in a theatre than watch a so-called ‘must-see’ series.  Unlike the eponymous ‘E.T.’, ‘Home’ is not my preferred venue, when it comes to film consumption.  Give me the chance to go to a cinema any day – and ‘I’ll be right there’…

School’s Out (Again)!

The summer holidays stretch out, seemingly forever, like a long, sun-lit footpath. They may herald the endless, golden summers of childhood, past or present but for parents of school-age kids, they can easily become an endurance course of daily pressures.

It’s early August and, across the country, an annual ritual is taking place.  Days have been crossed out on kitchen calendars, past favours counted up and the number of ‘sleeps’ counted down.  There are few weeks in the year that can generate as much excitement – and trepidation – as those upon us. 

Many of us think of our own childhood summer holidays as sun-kissed, worry-free and filled with endless possibilities.  Perhaps the truth wasn’t always like that – we also like to think all our Christmases were adorned with snow – but for most, our long summer holidays tended to be a mostly magical time that still hold a special place in our memories.

Ask a child about their summer holidays this year and the answer is likely to be even more vociferous.  They’re anticipating six weeks of ‘freedom’ from teachers, homework and ‘school nights’.  With so many electronic temptations, they even have less to fear from a summer of terrible weather than the generations before them.  But even the most gaming-addicted kids may admit it’s difficult to beat the allure of balmy evenings in the park, amongst friends, under a setting sun.

And yet, this magic tends to fade when we approach the early years of parenthood.  As the school year ends, working parents realise they have an ocean of time ahead of them that will demand their involvement.  Days are taken off, schedules are stretched and, wherever possible, remote working is requested.  Deals are struck with friends and neighbours: “I’ll watch them on that day if you can do the week after” and grandparents acquire levels of popularity they may not have for the rest of the year.  Of course, not everyone has the option to work from home but even if you do, trying to participate in an important meeting from home, sharing a house with bored kids, isn’t always ideal.

With so many weeks to fill and with so much reliance upon factors beyond your control, it’s almost impossible to organise the whole stretch in one go.  Even those lucky enough to have lots of help will still mostly operate from week to week.  It’s important to put this on record because it can be easy for any parent to feel as if they’re not handling all these demands as well as everyone else – and they shouldn’t.  Most who’ve ‘been there’ will readily admit that they often struggled with the logistics during school holidays.  It’s perfectly normal to say so.  

Considerate employers, helpful neighbours, flexible routines are all hugely helpful but you’ll still never be able to be in more than one place at once.  It’s an awesome task that almost always seems to just about work out in the end.  And when it does, you should congratulate yourself for achieving the seemingly impossible.  Again.

Of course, it’s not just about time.  Inevitably, money is also a factor.  Summer grocery bills can quickly reflect the fact that those five school meals a week (per child) have mostly been replaced by ‘something from the fridge’.  At times like this, you can really appreciate just how efficient school meals can be, compared to the local shop – or, worse, a fast-food outlet – five times a week.  If yours happens to be the house where groups of friends congregate, your cupboards can be cleared even more quickly.  

Beyond food, there’s the cost of entertainment.  Days out, events, even a trip to the cinema are all expenses that arise from the abundance of time to be filled.  This year especially, the school holidays are likely to add yet more pressure onto already-stretched household budgets.

There are ways to offset the impact of school holidays on your time and money.  Many schools offer holiday clubs of some description and a growing number of towns have their own Youth Zone, offering subsidised activities, often for age 8 or above, in a safe, supervised environment.  

Even if time and money aren’t an issue, there’s also the worry that, for some, the whole holiday can become little more than a six-week gaming stretch in a room with closed curtains.  School is about far more than just learning; it imposes a healthy structure on young lives.  When school’s out, it can be helpful to look for a similar level of structure elsewhere.

Check what’s available in your area.  Even one day a week of organised supervision removes 20 per cent of your availability problem, guarantees the expense for a fifth of the time and removes your worries about time spent unhealthily for one day in five.  We’d all love to think of summer holidays as being filled with mythical Enid Blyton-style adventure but we live in a different world to that of the ‘Famous Five’, over half a century ago – and it was probably an unobtainable fantasy for most, even then.

As with almost every other aspect of being a parent, navigating the summer holidays is, more than anything else, simply about doing the best you can.  It might not always seem that simple but when you’re the grandparent and your kids are themselves facing those same age-old pressures, you’ll remember that even a little help and encouragement could make a world of difference.

Good luck!

Check your local schools’ websites for details of summer holiday clubs and activities.  To find your nearest Youth Zone, check online.  A good place to start iswww.onsideyouthzones.org

Photo of the Week | w/c 13th June 2022

35 years ago: Standish High School, Standish, UK – 12th June 1987
Something I never thought I’d see again until an old friend kindly put it on Facebook (and tagged me), a while back. 35 years ago, I stood as the SDP/Liberal candidate in the school version of the 1987 General Election. I came third. Labour won (obviously) but I think I out-performed the Liberal/SDP candidate’s 14% share of the vote for the Wigan seat that year. I wasn’t that bothered. By Election Day, I’d flown out of the country and was on holiday in Corfu…