“Blue Watch”

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Exactly why my father opted to join the Auxiliary Fire Service [that’s him, the handsome one, third from the left] was never clear. To me, at least. The National Service (Armed Forces) Act was passed into law in September, 1939, at the outbreak of the war, making all men between the ages of 18 to 41 liable for conscription. [My father would have been 32.] Exemptions could be made for medical reasons or for those engaged in ‘reserved’, or vital, occupations, such as prison warders, police officers, lighthouse keepers – and those serving in the Fire Service. It could be that, while still doing something important for the war effort, he wanted to avoid being sent overseas; I had been born some nine months beforehand and perhaps he didn’t like the idea of leaving my mother and me alone if it could be avoided. He might even have thought the Fire Service less potentially dangerous than the armed forces; there was no one, presumably, to warn him about the terrors of the Blitz.

The perils of responding to nightly bombing raids – in common with most men of his generation – was something he would never discuss. But what did become clear was that in many ways the years my father spent in the Fire Service were the best years of his life – for the camaraderie, the good humour, the excitement and, I dare say, the sharing of danger.

Blue Watch is, in some ways, an exploration of what those experiences, that time, might have been like for him, filtered through the adventures of a fifteen-year old Fire Brigade messenger – father and son. Initially published, in translation, by Editions Syros in France as part of their teenage fiction series, this English edition, published by Troika, and aimed, primarily, but not, I hope, exclusively, at 12-16 year old readers, has been quite considerably rewritten, extended, and, I like to think, improved.

 

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Here’s a taster from the opening chapter …

It was one of those nights when it seemed as if the whole of London was on fire.

What little cloud cover there’d been earlier had cleared and over two hundred enemy bombers had made their way across the Channel by moonlight, with close to a hundred fighters in support. At first it had seemed as if, yet again, their main target would be the docks either side of the Thames, but tonight the devastation spread far and wide.

In the north of the city, three or so miles from the centre, the streets were dark, the air thick with smoke and the smell of burning. Head down, Jack Riley swung his Fire Brigade messenger’s bike hard left and right, avoiding the smouldering debris that lay scattered across the street. His objective was still some way off: a group of warehouses by the canal close to Kings Cross station, where units from B District were fighting to bring a fierce blaze under control.

Like most nights since the Blitz had started, the phone lines were down and the only way of conveying messages securely from the Brigade control rooms to units in the field was by messenger.

On his first day the section leader at Kentish Town fire station, where Jack was based, had gripped his wrist and turned his arm sharply, pointing at the vein clearly visible beneath the skin.

‘See this, Jack? This vein? That’s you. Our lifeline. You and the other messengers, you’re the ones who keep it flowing. Lose that and the whole service fails to function. We die. People die. You understand?’

Jack nodded. ‘Yes, sir.’

People die. The words burned into his brain.

The officer’s grip tightened. ‘You won’t let me down?’

‘No, sir.’

‘Good lad.’

Jack was shaking as he turned away.

That was two months ago. A lifetime, or so it seemed.

As Jack reached the crown of the road, pedalling fast, the loud roar of an explosion shook the air around him, lifting his bike off the ground and hurling him sideways, a flash of light outlining the skeletons of two towering iron gas holders, stark against the sky.

Shaken, he pushed himself up onto his hands and knees.

His regulation issue trousers were torn and there would be bruises, he knew, along with the grazes to his hands – but cuts and bruises were a given, a nuisance to be shrugged off and forgotten, along with the pain – what Jack was most concerned about was the state of his bike.

Fortunately, the damage was slight: the chain had come loose and the front wheel showed some faint sign of buckling, but nothing more. Chain quickly back in place, Jack pushed off and was away, head down into a hail of flying embers.

More than a dozen fire appliances – heavy units and trailer pumps for the most part – were ranged along the cobbled street that ran behind the threatened buildings. Jack lay his bike down and hurried between the maze of hosepipes criss-crossing the ground.

‘Senior fire officer,’ he called to the fireman on the nearest pump. ‘Where’ll I find him?’

The man pointed aloft, towards the turntable ladder that was reaching up towards the heart of the fire.

Jack swallowed hard and began to climb.

Syros

 

 

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Schooldays

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English Class, Heanor Aldercar Secondary School, Mid-1960s

I had an email recently from someone asking me if I would sign one of my books and dedicate it to his wife on the occasion of her 65th birthday; she had been a young student in one of my classes at Heanor Aldercar Secondary School in the mid-60s, and had since gone on, I discovered, to study Mathematics at Imperial College, followed by an MSc and PhD in Computing at Nottingham University – for not one scrap of which I can lay claim to have been any kind of influence. What she remembered me most for was my love of contemporary poetry and my handwriting [a sort of Italic with the occasional added flourish] which she spent hours, apparently, trying to copy. A good job she can’t see it now! She and her husband had read a number of the Resnick novels without realising that the John Harvey who had written them was the same as the one who had talked her whole class into buying their own copies of Penguin Modern Poets 10: The Mersey Sound, thus risking the wrath of any parents who might object to the raciness of their contents.

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So mild they must seem now, those poems, innocent even … Roger McGough’s “At Lunchtime … A Story of Love”; Brian Patten’s “Song for Last Year’s Wife” and “Little Johnny’s Confession”; even Adrian Henri’s schoolgirl obsession. Another time, another age, another set of values: other lives.

Twelve years I spent teaching English & Drama: Heanor first, a small mining town, as it was then, between Derby and Nottingham; then Andover in Hampshire and, finally, Stevenage, Hertfordshire.

All a long time ago, though it doesn’t take much to remind me: a chance meeting, an email out of the blue. But names and faces blur and, looking back, you can only hope you did some little good; taught students successfully how to write a coherent sentence and instilled some enjoyment, in one form or another, in words. Anything more, surely, would be presumptuous – too Goodbye, Mr Chips. 

This message came via Friends United some ten years ago …

Dear John
You turned my life around learning about the War Poets (Seigfried Sassoon – “Oh German Mother”) and introducing me to Folk Music (“Blackleg Miner”).
At the time we met I was off the rails – you put me back on them.
I often refer to you as my saviour from the factories and coal mines of Derbyshire.
Tom Cooke had me down as a loser which I was before you.
I am now retired from the Fire Brigade after 34 years reaching the post of Divisional Officer and I live in Spain with my wife Angela.|
As well as teaching me English you believed in me and taught me about social history ands much more. I have a lot to thank you for. Hope you are OK.
Ian Shaw  1965-1967

Weigh that alongside whatever else I might have achieved, whatever honours and good reviews, and make me choose and I would have to say it means more. Goodbye, Mr Chips, indeed.

 

 

Getting to Grips with “Aslant”

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Photo : Molly E. Boiling

I’ve written before on this blog about Aslant, the small but beautifully formed collection of my poems and Molly Boiling’s photographs published by Shoestring Press earlier in the year, but the arrival of an interesting, quite detailed review by Thomas Ovans in the online magazine London Grip gives me the opportunity to do so again.

This is how it begins …

As I begin to write this review it strikes me that one’s reading of a book can initially be influenced by what one had previously been reading. I came to this collection having just enjoyed another book that  robustly and self-confidently expressed irreverent and sceptical attitudes that I broadly agreed with. Aslant, by contrast, is a much more provisional, reflective and tender work and represented a refreshing change of tone that I hadn’t known I was more than ready for.

Aslant places John Harvey’s poems alongside evocative photographs by Molly Boiling which provide sharp-edged images of steps, shadows, girders and corners of high buildings. These pictures often suggest entrances and exits or incidental glimpses alongside the telling of a story. Hence they combine well with Harvey’s poems which usually have a strong narrative and reminiscent thread.

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Photo : Molly E. Boiling

“A sense of mortality seems to hover over much of this collection,” Ovans writes; “a recurring sense of wistful consolation after loss.”

Of the pieces in the central section which take jazz and jazz musicians as their subject – Lester Young, Art Pepper, Thelonious Monk – Ovans writes, “This is wonderfully evocative writing which, I would maintain, conveys something authentic even to a reader who is not a jazz aficionado.”

And he concludes his review thus …

… this is no ordinary book: the well-chosen images and the way they complement some consistently satisfying high-quality poems make it, in my view, well worth a tenner of anybody’s money.

You can read Thomas Ovan’s review in full here …

And if you don’t already have a copy and feel like following this advice and splashing out said tenner, Aslant can be ordered directly from contacts@centralbooks.com.    or  from any bookstore – including those worthy souls at Nottingham’s Five Leaves Bookshop – bookshop@fiveleaves.co.uk. You can even buy it on Amazon.

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Photo : Molly E. Boiling

Poem for My Father

My father died thirty five years ago this week – June 17th, 1984. He was 78, two years younger than I am now: somehow it doesn’t seem right.

Here he is …

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And here’s a poem from Out of Silence that I wrote about him …

Sunsets

“Grandad looks like John Wayne,”
my daughter said, pirouetting away.

In the westerns I wrote he filled in corners –
the stage coach driver, the friendly sheriff
with spreading paunch and bowed back,
his holstered gun never drawn in anger,
yet stubborn as a mule when the chips were down.

In photographs he holds me high above
his head like a talisman: pride bright
in his blue eyes I could never fulfil.

Writing, he stands between my sentences:
bits of a life that catch like grit in the mouth.
Once I ran, sobbing, after him until, reaching
down, he swung me, safe, in his arms.

He stands in all the doorways of my childhood.
Stands for my meanness, my grudging thanks,
those shifts of direction which push him
further and further behind.

Driving home to visit I‘d passed him
on the road before I realised, stooped
and suddenly slow, one leg turned sideways,
an old man I’d failed to recognise.

Laughter and meaning clogged thick in his lungs:
they moved him to a private room and fitted
a green mask fast over his face; each breath
rattled dry stones along the bed of his throat,
his mouth peeled back and back until it disappeared.

Yet a week or so before he died,
the old smile alive for a moment in his eyes,
he beckoned the prettiest nurse and as
she bent to catch his words,
nuzzled the hard plastic of his mask
against her face to steal a kiss:
an act of imagination great
as any John Wayne ever made.

Mornings of a Recently Retired Writer

What on earth d’you do now you’ve packed it in, people ask? Won’t know what to do with yourself. All those hours stretching out before the Six O’Clock News; a life measured in cups of tea and ginger biscuits and just popping round to the shops, shan’t be a minute; the game shows and stair lift commercials that clutter up afternoon TV. You must get bored silly.

Well, if you’ve any sense, the one thing you don’t do – as a friend of mine in a similar situation heartily agreed when the subject came up recently – is switch off the alarm clock and lay around in bed for hours, surrounded by half-read books and yesterday’s paper, the radio not quite tuned to the station and getting up to set it right too much of an effort. That way lies …. well, I don’t want to stop and consider exactly what.

So … the answer? Get up, early; within reason the earlier the better and with a sense of purpose. For my friend, it’s the allotment and taking the grandkids to school; for me, well, five mornings a week it’s this …

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Coming up to a quarter past seven, my partner’s just back from her morning run and I’ve been up for half an hour or so (the sound of the front door closing as she leaves, the click of the front gate, my signals to rise). Walking shoes on, pockets suitably filled, it’s time for me to leave, heading for Parliament Hill Fields and the edge of Hampstead Heath. Passing round the back of Acland Burghley school – where they recently filmed scenes for the second series of Killing Eve, and which, my father attended many years before, when it was plain Burghley Road School – the arse, as he used to say, hanging out of his trousers – till he left to start work at the age of fifteen – I cut through the housing estate and onto Highgate Road. Most mornings, the newsagent is behind his counter, always with a smile; sometimes standing waiting in the doorway, Guardian in hand.

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I head for the Lido and the small café that has been operating there for several years. With any luck, Alessio will be the barista on duty. If you’re limiting yourself to one coffee a day, then it had better be a good one and that’s what he provides without fail. Morning, Alessio!

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I’m almost the only customer this early and so I’ll sit for fifteen minutes or so, reading the paper and enjoying the coffee, until the swimmers start to come in from the pool and it’s time for me to start walking.

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The path that rises directly up from the Lido opens out to give views back across the centre of the city …

 

 

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… and up towards the summit of the Hill …

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… turning then between the trees …

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… and down towards a line of ponds. Highgate No. 1 Pond; the Men’s Bathing Pond; the Model Boating Pond and the Bird Sanctuary Pond – the Ladies’ Bathing Pond secure behind the trees.  At this time of the morning, at least one of the benches alongside the Boating Pond will be free so I take the chance to sit for five minutes or so and catch my breath,  gazing back across to the other side. I remember when my father and I launched my model yacht here and the wind dropped suddenly, leaving it becalmed and the two of us waiting for what seemed hours for the wind to get up again and propel it back to shore. This walk, like so many others, a walk into my past.

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Circling the pond, I head back towards Highgate Road and the area known as Dartmouth Park, the pavements busy by now with students on their way to one of three schools that are clustered close together: William Ellis, La Sainte Union and Parliament Hill. If I turn my head to the left before crossing the railway bridge to where we live (literally, on the wrong side of the tracks), I can see what was my father’s parents’ house – the last in the row – where I used to go after school and do my homework – unless my Nan fancied a trip to Chapel Street Market, or, if I’d somehow earned a treat, down to the little fleapit of a cinema, the Gaisford in Kentish Town, to see Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers.

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Once over the bridge, I’m almost home. My feet are starting to ache a little. My pedometer says 3.2 miles; the kitchen clock tells me it’s time to get on with the rest of the day.

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This is Your Life (so far …)

The writer, Jack Trevor Story, used to tell how he looked at the list of Birthdays in The Guardian each year to see if he were alive or dead. In his case that little ritual would have occurred on the 30th of March. Never having existed as far as the compilers of said list are concerned [And just who are they? Grizzled old obituary writers? Or interns let loose on Who’s Who?] whenever December 21st comes round I try to be disciplined and not look at all, thus avoiding the inevitable disappointment. But this year, somewhere between seven and eight in the morning, first coffee of the day at my side, I flicked open the relevant section and there I was. John Harvey, crime writer, 80. It would be lying to say that my initial prick of surprise was not followed by a small surge of pride.

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Pathetic, you might think, but hey … 80. And in what company! Flanked by perhaps my favourite tennis player of all time, and one of my favourite guitarists [last glimpsed, some while back, in the Everly Brothers’ band at Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall], and closely guarded by no less than Jane Fonda and Samuel L Jackson. What a pair!

And it was not only The Guardian … Totally unknown to me, Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature had put considerable time and energy into creating an entry on their website called simply John Harvey at 80. A lengthy survey of my life and writing career, together with a broad choice of book jackets and contributions from a number of people I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the years, including Giles Croft, former artistic director of Nottingham Playhouse, screenwriter Billy Ivory and, in a brief but welcome video message, crime writer, Ian Rankin, You can check it out here …

Finally, the photographic evidence, birth certificate included. From the angelic lad in the tin bath (things were hard back in those far off days), through heaven knows what strange incarnations to the bald and bespectacled sage of today.

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Not so Private Passions …

Four years ago, not so long after the final Resnick novel, Darkness, Darkness, was published, I was invited to be a guest on the BBC Radio 3 programme, Private Passions – a sort of (mainly) classical version of Desert Island Discs, only, since this was to be broadcast alongside the London Jazz Festival, there was to be a somewhat higher jazz content than is often the case.

I was delighted to be asked [understatement!] and thoroughly enjoyed the process, from making the choice of music to be featured to the interview itself, which was conducted with little or no preamble or rehearsal, the presenter, Michael Berkeley, making me feel immediately at my ease. The pair of us sat in a relatively small studio space, listening together to the pieces as they were played on air, which meant that one’s immediate response was, well, immediate.

I wanted to choose music that meant something in particular to me, while being conscious of delivering a broad ranging selection I thought people might respond to, and which might include some pieces with which listeners might be less than familiar with – Jocelyn Pook’s Tango with Corrugated Iron, for instance, or James P. Johnson’s Victory March.

Here’s the full list …

Mean to Me  [Fred E. Ahlert and Roy Turk]
Billie Holiday with Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra inc. Lester Young (tenor sax)

Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave) [Mendelssohn]
Maxim Dmitrievich Shostakovich  & Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra

Victory Stride [James P. Johnson]
Marin Alsop & The Concordia Orchestra

Shipbuilding [Elvis Costello]
Elvis Costello with Chet Baker (trumpet)

Cello Concerto No. 2 [Shostakovich]
Sol Gabetta with Marc Albrecht & Munich Philharmonic Orchestra

Tango with Corrugated Iron [Jocelyn Pook]
Electra Strings & Jocelyn Pook

Rhythm-a-ning [Thelonious Monk]
Thelonious Monk Trio

And, somewhere in there, I was asked to read my poem about Chet Baker, which, of course, I was more than happy to do.

The programme is now available to listen to for 29 days …

“The country of my heart … ” Nottinghamshire, Lawrence and me …

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When, in the early 1960s and recently graduated as trained teachers from Goldsmiths’ College, my friends and I were looking for somewhere outside London to ply our trade, and we decided, after a relatively small amount of research, that Nottingham was just the place. Rents were significantly cheaper than in the capital [nothing changes] and, according to the back pages of the TES, there were jobs. A couple of brief visits aside, however, our knowledge of the city and its environs was less than well-informed. We’d seen, and been braced by, Tony Richardson’s film of Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night & Sunday Morning; seen and just managed to stay awake through Jack Cardiff’s tame version of D. H. Lawrence’s Sons & Lovers, a novel I would have read as part of my English studies, Lawrence being more academically respectable then than I believe he is now. [Except at the University of Nottingham, of course.] We’d heard and half-believed the rumours about there being 10 young women for every man – or was it a baker’s dozen? What clinched it, however, was the opening, in 1963, of the newly designed Nottingham Playhouse – Peter Moro’s modernist building, John Neville’s fine profile and artistic reputation … if the city could support a theatre like that, well, there had to be something special going on … and it was only a few hours away from London.

As it happened, my friend John Phillips and I ended up getting jobs in South East Derbyshire, some ten miles west of Nottingham in the small mining town of Heanor, just across the Erewash Valley from Lawrence’s birthplace, Eastwood.

I was born nearly forty-four years ago, in Eastwood, a mining village of some three thousand souls, about eight miles from Nottingham, and one mile from the small stream, the Erewash, which divides Nottinghamshire from Derbyshire. It is hilly country, looking west from Crich and towards Matlock, sixteen miles away, and east and north-east towards Mansfield and the Sherwood Forest district. To me it seemed, and still seems, an extremely beautiful countryside, just between the red sandstone and oak-trees of Nottingham, and the cold limestone, the ash-trees, the stone fences of Derbyshire. To me, as a child and a young man, it was still the old England of the forest and agricultural past; there were no motor-cars, the mines were, in a sense, an accident in the landscape, and Robin Hood and his merry men were not very far away.
D. H. Lawrence: Nottingham and the Mining Country, 1929

Most mornings, unless we chose the alternative route through Ilkeston, John and I would drive out, often in thick fog, past the hosiery factories on the outskirts of the city, on and on towards Eastwood, then down into the valley and up again into Langley Mill, on the edge of Heanor, which was where both our schools – secondary modern in my case, primary in John’s – were situated. It was a journey rarely undertaken without another section of Lawrence’s essay playing somewhere at the back of my mind.

Now Eastwood occupies a lovely position on a hilltop, with the steep slope towards Derbyshire and the long slope towards Nottingham. They put up a new church, which stands fine and commanding, even if it has no real form, looking across the awful Erewash Valley at the church of Heanor, similarly commanding, away on a hill beyond.

So, somehow, those sentences, that essay ‘placed’ the area for me in a writerly way, gave it a kind of added resonance, just as, I suppose, Sillitoe’s writing did for much of inner-city Nottingham. I continued to read Lawrence for my own pleasure [The Rainbow & Women in Love] and read his poems – Snake! – and the short stories with my classes – Sillitoes’s stories, likewise. All of this without any suggestion, any idea or ambition that I might one day attempt to be some kind of writer myself; that was to come later, more than a decade later, and from a quite different direction. Though I suppose, in retrospect, what was learned, what was carried through, was some belief that story and character were best told, best seen and understood, when they were most closely allied with place. Which, in my case, has most usually been Nottingham  – that and the few other areas I’ve spent enough time in to feel I know beyond the lines and contours of a map.

And speaking of maps …

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The above is ‘borrowed’ from the newly redesigned website of the Haggs Farm Preservation Society – https://haggsfarm2.wixsite.com/lawrence – an organisation dedicated to encouraging the preservation  of the farm buildings and reinforcing the vital importance of Haggs Farm to the early formative years of D.H. Lawrence’s development as an internationally renowned writer.

The farm was the home of the Chambers family, both farm and family being inspirations for much of Lawrence’s early writing; the daughter, Jessie, being the clear model for the character of Miriam in Sons and Lovers. The farm, unfortunately, has been uninhabited for over 50 years and is on private land with no public access. Despite being a Grade ll listed building since 1966, the house is in a serious state of disrepair and I would encourage readers to log on to the society’s site and pay the small amount [surely, it should be more?] it takes to become a supporting member.

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Photograph from the Haggs Farm Preservation Society Site

Looking at the map above took me back to the many times I’ve walked, usually with friends, from the site of Moorgreen Colliery, north along the sparsely wooded side of Moorgreen Reservoir and then across the open fields towards Felley Mill, with Haggs Farm off to the west, turning then towards Beauvale Priory and round in a sweep back to Moorgreen. Beautiful country, indeed.

Since the summer, I’ve been reading – a group at a time – through the two-volume Heron Books edition of Lawrence’s Collected Letters, and just recently came across the following, written in response to a request from H. A. Pilcher, a writer of travel books.

 

from Del Monte Ranch, Questa, 17 April 1925

Dear Sir: I received your letter only last night.

The scene of my Nottingham-Derby novels all centres round Eastwood,Notts (where I was born): and whoever stands on Walker Street, Eastwood, will see the whole landscape of Sons and Lovers before him. Underwood in front, the hills of Derbyshire on the left, the woods and hills of Annesley on the right. The road from Nottingham by Watnall, Moorgreen, up to Underwood and on to Annesley (Byron’s Annesley) – gives you all the landscape of The White Peacock, Miriam’s farm in Sons and Lovers, and the home of the Crich family, and Willey Water, in Women in Love.

The Rainbow is Ilkeston and Cossall, near Ilkeston, moving to Eastwood. And Hermione, in Women in Love, is supposed to live not far from Cromford. The short stories are Ripley, Wirkswoth, Stoney Middleton, Via Gellia (‘The Wintry Peacock’). The Lost Girl begins in Eastwood – the cinematograph show being in Langley Mill.

I hope this will meet your requirements.

Now you know!

More Mablethorpe …

… Not that much, just a couple of things hanging over from my recent blog about summer jobs, hot dogs, broad expanses of sand and distant seas.

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First off, there’s the music. I’ve already mentioned the local Shadows-sound-and-look-alikes, Trek Faron and the Unknowns [whatever became of … ] but not the sounds of that summer in general, in particular. There seemed to be music everywhere: not through headphones, as it would be now, but from the dodgems, the amusement park, booming out from the juke box in the restaurant below the dormitory where we slept. It was – the summer of 1962 – a pretty good year for music; pop music; the charts; music on the edge of changing, tilting [see the Beatles sneaking in there] from a mixture of fairly basic rock ‘n’ roll, novelty numbers and sentimental ballads, towards something  potentially more interesting.

A Top  30 [or so] assembled from the Mablethorpe juke box might have looked, alphabetically, like this …

  • A Picture of You : Joe Brown
  • Bobby’s Girl : Susan Maughan
  • Break It To Me Gently : Brenda Lee
  • Breaking Up Is Hard To Do : Neil Sedaka
  • Can’t Help Falling in Love : Elvis Presley
  • Crying in the Rain : The Everly Brothers
  • Desafinado : Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd
  • Do You Wanna Dance : Cliff Richard
  • Don’t Ever Change : The Crickets
  • Dream Baby : Roy Orbison
  • Duke of Earl : Gene Chandler
  • Hey Baby : Bruce Channel
  • I Can’t Stop Loving You : Ray Charles
  • It Might As Well Rain Until September : Carole King
  • Let There Be Love : Nat King Cole
  • Love Me Do : The Beatles
  • Love Letters : Ketty Lester
  • Return to Sender : Elvis Presley
  • Sealed With a Kiss : Brian Hyland
  • Sherry : The Four Seasons
  • She’s Got You : Patsy Cline
  • Softly As I Leave You : Matt Monro
  • Speak To Me Pretty : Brenda Lee
  • Speedy Gonzales : Pat Boone
  • Sweet Little Sixteen : Jerry Lee Lewis
  • Teenage Idol : Ricky Nelson
  • The Locomotion : Little Eva
  • The Wanderer : Dion
  • Twistin’ the Night Away : Sam Cooke
  • Walk on By : Leroy Van Dyke
  • What a Crazy World We’re Living In : Joe Brown & the Bruvvers
  • Ya Ya Twist : Petula Clark
  • Your Cheating Heart : Ray Charles

As I say, not a bad list at all, but there are three songs that I remember most from that summer and which seemed to be playing on the juke box more than most: one, the Nat King Cole, was pleasant if little more, but lifted by a deft arrangement featuring George Shearing’s piano; the other, a true monstrosity, was Pat Boone’s Speedy Gonzales, with its high-pitched intrusions in cod-Mexican falsetto. An abomination.

The third was Brian Hyland’s Sealed With a Kiss. Well, it was summer and even in Mablethorpe the evenings could feel romantic, the sun sinking slowly down over the wide horizon. I remembered it, some of it, some twenty five years later, when writing Last Summer, First Love, the second of my books in the Pan Heartlines series of teenage romances. [Look, a guy has to eat!]

Set, yes, in Mablethorpe, it’s the touching story of true love between Lauri, whose last summer it is, helping out in her mum’s café before heading off to be a nurse, and Mike, a student working on the hot dog stall. The names [and a whole lot more] were changed to protect the innocent.

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Summer Jobs 2 … Mablethorpe

Towards the end of my second year at Goldsmiths’ College, where I was following a teacher training course specialising in English and History, I saw the ad amongst others pinned to the student notice board. Students wanted for Summer Work in Mablethorpe: thirteen weeks, all lodging and other expenses paid. Mablethorpe? I didn’t have a clue. The library had a map.

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With no other plans, thirteen weeks by the sea seemed appealing; and, having made enquiries, the pay was decent – with food and lodging thrown in, especially so. With any luck, I’d be able to save some money for the coming year. I signed on.

There were around twenty of us from all over the country, some returning for their second or third spell. We slept, most of us, in a vast dormitory room above a self-service café and restaurant facing out towards the concrete promenade, the beach and the sea, although most days you had to take the sea on trust. Our meals we collected from the café along with the customers, or, if it was after hours, cooked ourselves, with access allowed to all supplies other than the steaks.

 

We were part of a small empire that seemed to control much of the town’s entertainment and other facilities: dodgem cars, slot machines, hot dogs, ice creams. In particularly busy times, we would be deployed as necessary; otherwise, we each had a particular job and mine was working on the hot dog stand. Which meant helping to serve and take the cash in the afternoons and evenings and peeling a large sack of onions each and every morning. It took until Christmas for me to get rid of the smell of onions from my fingers.

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Despite working long hours, we did have a reasonable amount of time off, some of which I spent strolling on the sand dunes or along the beach. I can’t remember ever walking as far as the sea for as much as a paddle, never mind a swim.

 

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Things picked up when I got to know Shirley, who worked in a little cabin in a corner of the car park, dispensing cups of tea to travellers exhausted by the drive over from Nottingham or Doncaster. On my evenings off we went bopping to Trek Faron [Farron?] and the Unknowns – Trek a potato picker by day and singer & guitarist by night, his band a pale imitation of The Shadows – or to the local cinema, which had very desirable double seats in the balcony, though rain on the corrugated iron roof had a tendency to render the dialogue inaudible. And one day we caught the bus to Lincoln to see the Cathedral – I’d been reading Lawrence – The Rainbow & Women in Love – and been taken by his description of first seeing the spire from a great distance. Which we did.

Lincoln
My friend, Shirley, on our day trip to Lincoln

Somehow, I managed to wangle a weekend off and arranged to meet a friend from Goldsmiths at the East Coast Jazz Festival, which was taking place a short distance up the coast at Cleethorpes. This was prime Trad Jazz time, and we ended up staying in the same B&B as Bob Wallis and His Storyville Jazzmen, who had a couple of Top 50 hits featuring Bob singing old music hall type songs in a gruff Yorkshire-inflected Cockney – “I’m Shy, Mary Ellen, I’m Shy” and “Come Along Please” – this even though their stage outfit made them out to be Mississippi riverboat gamblers.

The festival was not all traditional jazz: Tubby Hayes was on the bill, along with Bruce Turner and Johnny Dankworth, but my especial favourites were the Alex Welsh Band, joined on this occasion by the irrepressible George Melly.

Jazz Fest

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George Melly w. Roy Crimmins (tbn) Alex Welsh (Tpt) Bill Reid (bs) Archie Semple (clt)

There is, believe it or not, more to say about Mablethorpe, but, like the sea, that will have to wait for another day.