One Song: 300 Versions

Always On My Mind.

You could be forgiven for thinking this song is much older than it is, I know I did. But it was written as recently as 1969, which I suppose for many of you, is old enough. 🙂

The first recording of this song was by B.J. Thomas, the singer who sang ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On Your Head’, on the film soundtrack to ‘Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. But it had to wait until Elvis Presley recorded his version, in 1972, to become a huge worldwide hit. I confess that I was never a fan of Elvis. However, I did like his version of this song, (and also his recording of ‘Suspicious Minds’) as the big ballad with a theme of lost love suited Presley well, and he really nailed it.

Cover versions continued to pour in, with this simple love song becoming one of the most covered songs in the history of music. In 1982, Country singer Willie Nelson had a big hit with it, considered by many to be the best version. Five years later, British pop duo The Pet Shop Boys took the song into the electronic age, with their fast-paced version reaching number one in the UK. It is still being recorded and covered in live performances, to this day. Fifty years after it was written.

Here are four versions for you to enjoy. You may well already have your own favourite.

B.J. Thomas.

Elvis.

Willie.

Pet Shop Boys. (This looks blank, but does work)

London

Following yesterday’s post ‘Regional Prejudices’, I thought it might be informative to write a little more about London.

(Enlarge by clicking on the map)

As you can see from the map, it is divided into many districts, and separated by the River Thames. From the northern boundary, to the southernmost point, is a distance of 25 miles. That is even larger from east to west, over 30 miles. On the map, you will see a borough immediately south of the river, marked as Southwark. That is where I was born and brought up, though back then it was even more divided, into smaller boroughs like Rotherhithe, Bermondsey, and Camberwell.

Although not as populous as many of the word’s capital cities, it has a population of 8.8 million, as of November 2018. And that population has become very ethnically diverse since my youth. This map shows the main distribution of residents with non-British heritage.

This diversity has provided my old home town with everything from popular restaurants, street entertainment and parades, to new places of worship and a better understanding of cultures from around the world. It has also changed some districts completely, especially in parts of west London, like Hounslow, which have a real Indian/South Asian feel to them now.

Right in the centre, is The City of London. This is not to be confused with other parts of London, as it is actually a self-governing district known as ‘The Square Mile’. It is home to the Financial District, and some of London’s oldest buildings, including St Paul’s Cathedral. But in many respects, it has little to do with the rest of London. It has its own police force, separate from The Metropolitan Police, it also has its own crest, which can be seen on the street signs there, and even its own flag. Any tourist could be forgiven for not noticing the difference, but it is there, I assure you.

Many of the districts have a distinct identity, and feel like ‘villages’. Head west along the river, and the areas of Barnes, Chiswick, and Richmond begin to open out, with boating on The Thames, people living on small islands or in houseboats, and riverside cafes and hotels. Despite being close to the centre, they feel like a different part of England. Head east, along the traffic clogged roads that lead to Essex, and the scene is very different, with high-intensity living, street markets, and London’s clothing district. Much of that area has not changed since the streets were stalked by Jack The Ripper, though he would not recognise the office buildings and tower blocks there now.

When you live in London, you only really ever live in part of it. It is just too big to get an overview, unless you have reason to travel to the boundaries. I knew many people who had lived most of their life there, but had rarely if ever travelled north of The Thames. (Or south of it) It is also home to many British people from other parts of the UK, as well as an estimated one million people of Irish origin. ‘Original Londoners’ are hard to find there now, especially close to the centre.

We have a song too. One that always brings a lump to my throat. If I have too much to drink, you might even hear me singing it.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner
That I love London so
Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner
That I think of her wherever I go
I get a funny feeling inside of me
Just walking up and down
Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner
That I love London town
Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner
That I love London so
Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner
That I think of her wherever I go
I get a funny feeling inside of me
Just walking up or down
Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner
That I love London town

This is how you sing it.
“All together now!”

“Too cold for snow”

Has there ever been a more stupid expression than that?

I spent my formative years hearing this from the lips of every adult I ever encountered. Knowing no better, I believed it to be true, and repeated it myself, without a vestige of embarrassment.

As winter arrived every year, pipes froze, and we huddled around insufficient heating in draughty rooms, we would look across at each other, nodding sagely. Before long, someone would say “Well, at least it’s too cold to snow”, and we would grin in agreement.

What was this fallacy based on? I cannot imagine the ancient Celts staring at the sky, shivering in woolen cloaks, and stating that at least there would be no snow. Perhaps an over-enthusiastic weather forecaster once said it, intending his remark to be humourous? Always ready to believe anything they are told by some authority figure, the people of this country kept repeating this meteorological mantra, until it became accepted as fact.

Right up until the age of 25, I said it more times than I care to mention. Even staring out of my window looking at two feet of snow covering the street, I would pronounce, “It must have warmed up. It’s been snowing”.

Then I went on holiday to Russia, in February.

I had never experienced cold like it. We arrived in a temperature of minus twenty (F), and it dropped down to minus twenty five within two days. Being outside for too long could freeze your cheeks, and people removed the windscreen wipers from their cars when they parked, so they would not freeze and crumble. The sea was frozen, in the Gulf of Finland. That was a sight to see, I can tell you. At the airport in Leningrad, as we queued to depart for Moscow, we had the unsettling vision of men with hammers and iron bars, pounding the ice off the wings of our waiting aircraft, so it wouldn’t be too heavy to take off.

But wait. It was snowing. Not a little snow, but snow deep enough to cover a person, were it not for the fact that a veritable army of people and machines laboured around the clock to shift it. I was very confused. It was colder than I had ever known it to be back in England, but still snowing. And it didn’t stop snowing.

I stood in that airport feeling like I had been duped for twenty-five years.

And I never let anyone get away with saying “It’s too cold for snow” again.

Things you don’t hear anymore

When I was growing up, any time there was a protracted argument, or a disturbance in a pub, or out in the street, you would be sure to hear somebody say “What a palaver”. The origin of this expression was never explained to me, but I instinctively knew what it meant, when I heard someone say it.

For some reason, this came into my head today, and it was the voice of my grandmother saying it. She would always say it if us children were being noisy, arguing among ourselves, or playing loudly. That also made me think that it is a great many years since I hear that used in conversation, along with other phrases and expressions that were once familiar, at least in London.

Many of those old expressions have disappeared due to political correctness, and the fact that using them may well cause offence. I was still quite young when it was common to hear a gay man described as a ‘Confirmed bachelor’. This was never done with malice, I hasten to add. Quite a few local men were obviously gay in the London of my youth, though rarely open about the fact. Rather than label them with the formal term of ‘Homosexual’, my family would prefer to use ‘confirmed bachelor’, to let others know that this was a man who was unlikely to get married to a woman, and might possibly stay at home with his parents until middle age.

Another one familiar from an early age was ‘A touch of the tar brush’. This was a racist remark, much favoured by my own Dad, and used to indicate that a person had parents who were mixed race. Looking back now, it seems strange that he used it so often, when mixed-race people could be counted on the fingers of one hand, where we lived. On the same theme, my Mum and her sister often used the word ‘Piccaninny’ to refer to a black baby. Black babies were also a rarity in the district where I grew up, and would be treated with huge admiration by any local woman who came across such a child. I can still hear my Mum saying, “Those little piccaninny babies are so lovely”. Once again, there was no malice intended, at least none I could discern. But this now reviled term was so common, I thought that ‘Piccaninny’ was a country, for the first years of my life.

Something else that has changed is the references to currency. These days, almost anyone would say things like “five hundred pounds”, or “twenty-five quid”, when talking about such amounts. But in the London of my youth, £500 was a ‘Monkey’, and £25 was a ‘Pony’. £100 was a ‘Ton’, and £1000 a ‘Grand’. Coins also attracted colloquial names. A shilling was always ‘A Bob’, so ten shillings was always ‘Ten bob’. Five shillings was called a ‘Dollar’, and seven shillings and sixpence was known as ‘Three half-crowns’. Twenty-one shillings was referred to as a ‘Guinea’, and shops advertised the prices of more expensive items in’Guineas’. Even now, I still refer to a fifty-pence piece, the modern equivalent of ten shillings, as ‘A ten-bob bit’.
Watching programmes on TV, those made before 1971, or set in the 1960s, I notice if they get those expressions right or not.

What expressions do you remember that you no longer hear now?
Please add them in the comments.

Thinking about: Nostalgia

Anyone who has read my posts and fictional stories lately cannot help but to have noticed that they are steeped in nostalgia. This is something I cannot seem to escape. Whether my school-days, London life in the early 1960s, or harking back to simpler times, and less complicated lives. It is nothing new on this blog of course, as long-term followers will know very well.

I recall that many of you manage to avoid this compulsion to look back. You cope well without the constant reflections on former relationships, life in an age before electronics, old money, and weights and measures that meant something. You have adapted, moved on, and are looking forward. I get that, and understand why you do it. In my case, it seems to get harder to do this every year. As I move on to one more birthday, one extra year in age, my mind refuses to allow me to embrace what future might lie ahead, and takes me back to places I used to live, and things I once did.

When I first retired, I felt frustrated about this. Sit quietly in the garden, lay down in bed to sleep for the night, and my past life played out in my mind like old films in long-demolished cinemas. No matter how hard I tried, and I did try, I couldn’t get those images and memories to stop running through my mind. Eyes closed or open, they were still there. I wrote about it on this blog, in the hope that would deal with it. But that didn’t work.

By the end of 2017, I stopped trying, and just let it happen. As a result, I spent most of this year feeling like I was living two lives. Half in the present, with my routine with Ollie, and life in Beetley, and half in the past, still going to school, shopping in familiar streets, or playing in parks in the school holidays. Riding on the backs of those pleasant memories come the bad ones. Failed relationships, unpleasant things seen and done in difficult jobs, and bad decisions that I have had to live with ever since.

You can’t pick and choose what comes into your mind, it would seem.

Is this just a normal aspect of getting older? I don’t know, as it is the first time I have become old. Taking to other people around the same age, they don’t appear to wallow in nostalgia in the same way. Or perhaps they hide it better, who knows? But I have managed to settle into it, and no longer resist it.

Nostalgia has become my friend.

Chasing Leaves In The Wind

Hard to believe now, but there was a time when I was attractive to women. Especially older women, but younger ones on occasion too. Unlike the good-looking boys, the sporty types, the football players, and the accomplished swimmers, all confident in their desirability, that came as a great surprise to me. A greater surprise was that they not only liked me, but lusted after me too, eager to do much more than chatting, or cuddling. Although their affections and desires confused me, I knew enough not to question their reasons. I accepted their favours, and their affections, with a sense of gratitude combined with wonder.

My mirror now confirms that this is no longer the case. I harbour no illusions these days. I am an old man, and perceived to be one. I live a life of relative contentment, and do not concern myself too much about things like passion and desire. But I still have many treasured memories of course. Snapshots of the past; fleeting moments that appear, sometimes when I least expect them to. Mostly, they are good memories of course. The excitement of a new partner, the hurried fumbling followed by mutual satisfaction. Sometimes, whole scenes play out in my head, as if they happened just yesterday, not almost fifty years ago.

As I get older with each passing year, the same memories appear to change, and for the better. Perhaps I am only searching my mind for complete positives, and that’s why. They have also decided to mainly appear when I am in bed, just about to fall asleep. As I lay with my eyes closed, they flood into my mind, and the feeling is a good one. Faces and names from the briefest of encounters, longer relationships, and previous marriages. They are happy faces, and I am happy too. But as sleep takes hold, those memories begin to fragment; they merge, and start to flutter away.

I want them to remain, so I feel as if I am chasing them, trying to hold onto the last second of time with them, as I unwillingly slip away into the arms of Morpheus. But they swirl around, elusive, one over the other, off back to wherever they came from. Until the next time.

It is like chasing leaves in the wind.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

This morning, I woke up thinking about catalogues, specifically those used for shopping, before the age of the Internet. When I was young, there were mail-order catalogue companies that were household names, like ‘Freeman’s’, and ‘Littlewoods’. Those things were huge, much larger that telephone directories, and very heavy for a child to lift. They used to arrive a few times a year, with the seasonal Christmas catalogue being the most anticipated, as it was packed with more toys than usual.

My Mum always had at least one of the two mentioned above, sometimes both. They literally sold anything you might want for the home, from a new bed, to a set of spoons. Clothing and shoes were featured heavily, from a wide range of suits and dresses, to underwear and hosiery. They didn’t sell foodstuffs, but the Christmas special would feature hampers stocked with luxury items, shortbread in tins, and a huge variety of sweets, sold in ‘selection boxes’.

The prices were always shown as small weekly payments, as these companies serviced the market of customers who could rarely afford to pay for something up front. They would employ collection agents, who would call at the house with a payment card, collecting the small amounts for anything from twenty-six weeks to sixty weeks, depending on the total owed. Those collectors became familiar figures around the neighbourhood, as almost everyone in our street used a catalogue for everything except food shopping.

As a child, it never occurred to me that the total cost of these goods from the catalogue companies was exorbitant. They simply operated as credit agencies, charging huge amounts for everyday items far in excess of what they would cost if bought from a shop with immediate payment. But for working class people on tight budgets, before the time of credit cards and other methods of payment, they offered the chance to own something that others took for granted, paid for in relatively tiny amounts, affordable from a weekly pay-packet. They accepted the criminal interest rates as part of life, and didn’t think too much about it.

As I said, I was unaware of this. To me, those wonderful catalogues with their appealing photos were like a Bible of consumerism. In those days, there were no supermarkets, and no dedicated superstores selling toys. To see all the items visible in that huge catalogue would involve visiting dozens of shops, all over London. But here it all was, in a huge book, which I could flick through at leisure. And flick through I did. Whenever a new one arrived, I would quickly check to see if anything new had been added, sometimes comparing it with the previous issue. The toys were generally at the back, so I would open it that way round, working my way through from the last page.

For at least a week, I would revisit my favourite pages. As my birthday approached, or Christmas was on the horizon, I would tear strips of paper, and write the item number or letter of what I liked most, slipping the paper into the relevant page. In this way, I hoped to give my parents a guide to what to buy me, without the awkwardness of actually having to ask them outright. It didn’t always work in my favour of course, but I used to greatly enjoy the process. What was sheer joy for me represented months or even years of debt for my parents, but I was oblivious.

Catalogues still exist of course. These days, many are much smaller, and only give some indication of what might be available on a website. Others arrive unsolicited in the post, and end up in the bin, unread. People still pay excessive interest rates to buy gifts for their children, though usually from shops that exist to offer the same weekly payment system, and they are few and far between. Modern day children can browse online, using laptops, phones, even Tablet computers.

But there is no longer the simple wonder of anticipating the arrival of a massive catalogue, filled with ideas and pictures that could delight you for months on end.