Category Archives: Memories

Random memories from an average guy’s past

Innocents Abroad (Part 1)

It’s 1981 – frighteningly 30 years ago as I write this!
The music of choice for my 17 year old self is a combination of Prog Rock and Heavy Rock with particular favourites being Tubular Bells, Genesis, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath and so I have a weekly delivery of Sounds music newspaper and one particular edition that year included a competition involving the Heavy Metal band Judas Priest.
Now – I was no fan of Judas Priest and they barely registered in my consciousness but the competition did draw my attention – 1st prize was a trip to see Judas Priest in concert in New York, 2nd prize was K K Downing’s guitar and there were a number of booby prizes consisting of cardboard cut-out guitars for shadow playing-along to your favourite riffs.
I had decided that it was high time that I took up the guitar if my rock star career was to begin to take off and here was an opportunity to get my hands on a professional quality guitar if only I could scoop the 2nd prize.
Sadly I didn’t know the answers to the questions so had to enlist help from my friend Andrew on the understanding that any prize that could be shared would be.
Once the (hopefully) correct answers had been inserted, the only thing that remained was the tie-break question “Why would you like to win a cardboard guitar?”
I jotted down my answer and sent it off without a further thought.
Weeks passed before an envelope landed on the doormat with my name on it – something of a rarity in those days before I was responsible for the household bills. I opened it with mild curiosity while tucking into my Weetabix and scanned the contents in my half-awake state then I stopped eating and dropped the letter to the floor in stunned silence.
“What’s the matter?” asked my mother who sat with me at the kitchen table.
I fumbled nervously with the fallen paper with the Sounds letterhead “I’ve won a competition!”
“I’ve won the first prize – a trip to New York!”
We digested this news along with our morning cereal and then I made the call as instructed in the letter.
After the normal pleasantries had been exchanged my contact said “Ah yes – you’re the one who said Why would you like to win a cardboard guitar? To boldly pose as no man has posed before!”
And there we had it – so these tie-breakers did actually make a difference!
I broke the news to Andrew who naturally refused to believe me at first until I presented the documentary evidence.
It’s probably worth saying what a big deal this was in more ways than one – this was before the days when holidays in America were common place and New York itself had a reputation as the crime and murder capital of the world before Mayor Gulianni’s zero tolerance policies of the 1990’s.
This being the case, our little good luck story made the local rag with me posing in denims and holding a guitar.
Time flew by and soon enough the trip was upon us – we had to make our own way to Gatwick Airport to catch Freddie Laker’s DC10 Skytrain to JFK an 8 hour flight and a 5 hour time difference – how exotic!
The only instruction that we had was to call CBS offices upon arrival – this being my win, I assumed the responsibility of being leader and made the call fully expecting the office to reply that a limousine was standing by to transfer us to our hotel – instead the message was “Welcome to New York can you make your own way to the Hotel – the band will see you at the gig tomorrow!”
We were naturally on a tight budget and, having no concept of the distance from airport to hotel and likely resulting taxi fare decided to take the Subway to the City Centre. We weren’t disappointed – the subway train looked exactly like the ones in the movies – grubby, covered completely in graffiti and filled with aggressive looking passengers. It was however, efficient and delivered us neatly to our destination and we emerged unmolested onto the skyscraper-lined sidewalk – the sheer height on the buildings in all directions was at once hugely impressive and oppressive.
We got our bearings with some difficulty and found that we were only a couple of blocks from The Ramada Inn as detailed in our instruction letter so we were soon at the Reception Desk being warily eyed by the Concierge would appeared less than enamoured to find to travel worn teenagers sporting cowboy boots, denim jackets and long hair in his foyer.
I explained that we had just arrived from England for a two night stay armed only with a letter from a London travel agent to back up our arrangements. A cursory glance at some paperwork confirmed what the Concierge had already deduced – the hotel was full!
He suggested that we try the Howard Johnson Hotel two blocks North and, slightly shaken we lifted our cases and moved on.
Howard Johnson too was surprisingly fully booked and suggested a Motel two blocks West and two blocks South….the afternoon was wearing on and we were now tiring after our long journey and we were fired only by adrenaline for fear of being temporarily homeless in the Big Sin City.
We repeated our story at the Motel and the clerk behind the security glass nodded acceptance and gave us a room key but kept hold of our magic letter of passage – by now relief and exhaustion were taking over and we collapsed on the beds in the room to take stock.
Realisation soon dawned that this Motel although only two blocks from our intended residence was a world away in both standard and location – we knew that we needed to get back to the first hotel for the second night at least but how could we do that when our letter was held at the Motel Reception?
I paid a visit to Reception to see how this could be resolved only to be told that having reviewed the letter it was not acceptable after all and we would have to pay for our stay.
There was only one thing for it – throw ourselves on the mercy of the Ramada Inn once more so with twilight setting in we took the two blocks East back to the Ramada to see the same concierge. I explained fully how we came to be in this predicament and that the only solution for us was to stay in the Ramada.
He considered matters …he thought some more …he excused himself retreating to an inner sanctum and re-emerged some moments later to review the ledgers once more…”We seem to have one room available!”
We were finally shown to our room by a middle aged Bell Boy who removed the Wet Paint sign from the door then kicked his heals until the dim English kids realised that a tip was in order.
And ….relax!
The following day we explored New York and took a dip in the rooftop hotel pool before making our way on foot to the concert venue – our dreams of the grand Madison Square Garden style auditorium were somewhat shattered by the run down flea-pit theatre that is The Palladium.
Our instructions were again wildly vague but we were supposed to meet the band at the gig so told the guys who were checking tickets on the door – they helpfully directed us straight through the theatre and out onto the street again. We never did meet the band. Arrangements were made but not kept and we suffered the ultimate metal fan’s shame of being featured in the next issue of Sounds wherein there was a revue of the New York shows stating that we had failed to turn up!
We returned to the UK on the same day that Charles & Diana got married and it was a surreal experience travelling through a silent country our transport seemed the only movement on that day with the entire population glued to their TV screens.
So we got home traumatised a little but otherwise unscarred by our experience – had we been lucky not to have been mugged or worse or was the danger less than it appeared?
It was certainly an adventure!


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Last Day of School

I was one of the quiet kids at school – shy & terrified of getting into trouble. For me, corporal punishment was a real deterrant.

Although I was popular enough amongst my circle of friends, I remained largely anonymous to most of the school population – the most daring that I got was to dye one of my brown brogues black on the premise that school rules allowed “brown or black shoes”. This drew curious glances from people across the school but was eventually stamped out by staff despite my protestations.

So it came as a surprise to myself that I became involved in an event that is still remembered by teaching staff today.

It was the Summer Term of 1980 and I was in the 5th Year and about to graduate to the town’s 6th Form College. My friends and I decided that we needed to make our mark on the school with a last hurrah on our last official day of school. Myth had it that previous years had flown knickers from the flag pole and chained the school gates closed so how would WE mark the day?

Well as it happened, on 5th May 1980 television had captured dramatic events as the SAS burst into The Iranian Embassy in London to rescue hostages. The scene had captured the imagination of the country and as 16 year old schoolboys we were no exception!

So a plan began to hatch in embryo form – we would choose our moment and sneak into Dorothy Long’s storecupboard (one of our favourite English teachers) then once class had restarted after break we would burst out of the storeroom with faces covered in full SAS style causing as much confusion as possible.

There ended the plan – not fully formed and not really that amusing but that didn’t deter us one bit.

Cometh the hour cometh four spotty teenagers with an ill-thought out ruse: Andrew, Pete, Rodney & I found the room empty and secreted ourselves in the storecupboard with the exercise books and Shakespeare texts.

Time ticked by and we remained as silent as possible though increasingly bored until finally we could resist no longer and began our assault on the 2nd Year English group within.

Teacher and class were indeed suitably shocked at the sight of four large khaki covered yobs emerging from nowhere until realisation dawned on them that we were clueless as to what to do next and we retreated back whence we had come only to find the rebellious 2nd years barricading us in!

There we were four lads stuck in a 4 foot by 4 foot room wondering how long the incarceration would last when Pete decided to climb up the wall-mounted shelves to take a peak out of the ceiling height skylight.

“Why don’t we get out this way?” says Pete “Except that the opening arm is screwed shut”

I whipped off my belt and passed it to Pete to use as an improvised screwdriver and he soon had the screw removed and opened the skylight letting some much needed air into the sweaty little room.

The skylight was only just big enough to let us through and one by one we emerged onto the school roof to almost immediatly attract attention from windows across the site.

Whoops and hollers of “SAS!!” wafted across to us miscreants on the roof as we scuttled away to the down-ladders in suitably furtive manner.

We dropped to the ground and swiftly removed out SAS gear sauntering away as nonchalantly as we could muster.

Next on the agenda for me was a bunk off school (unheard of in my case) to ride bikes with mates to a country pub for some underage drinking.

I gather however that the school heirarchy visited every 5th Year class that afternoon to express their dismay and stress the potential cost that this heinous deed may have caused.

Some 20 years later I attended a concert given by a band formed by four of my teachers back in the day. I went along with Neil – another of my best friends.

After the concert we went up to talk to one of the teachers who quickly said to Neil “You were in that SAS raid on the last day of school weren’t you? Very intelligent humour that!” Neil nodded and agreed, chatting on and I kept my counsel not feeling the need to say that I was there too!

It was only later that night that I recalled that Neil, although involved at the planning stage had made himself scarce when the raid actually took place. Yet it appeared that in the intervening years he had laid claim to participation in our fun.

Well I (and now you) know the truth and that’s good enough for me!

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