Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
I collected my old geezer
bus pass, last week. Highly chuffed with it, I was too. Yet now I'm
informed that we baby-boomers are all living too long nowadays. Well
it's not our fault, is it? Weird thing, a demographic bulge. The
theory is that after you've had a war, there's a corresponding baby
boom. It's almost as if we as a species, are driven by our collective
subconscious to increase production in order to compensate for
wartime losses. The scientists among you can debate that one if you
wish but I believe it. Perhaps during wartime the constant danger
heightens the human libido in some way. Or maybe it was just because
the blackout afforded people more opportunities for regrettable
instances of fearful beastliness?.
What I do know is that
there were an awful lot of us born between 1943 and 1963. It was
constantly drummed into us by the older generation how lucky we were
that they'd fought for our freedom. As many of us reached adolescence
and ran with this very freedom, they seemed less comfortable with the
concept, often emphasising their disapproval by shouting at us or
sometimes, having us arrested.
The generation which
followed us, also seem to resent us, though. Indeed, now that they
are in government and control the media, they never stop battering on
about it Not only have our generation 'had it all' leaving none for
them, now we're all living too long as well. Well, quel domage, Baby.
Get over yourselves, why don't you? I fought in the generation wars
for you. I grew long hair for your sort and selflessly risked my
delicate psyche at pop festivals, while doing so.
Have you noticed lately
how often you see a headline proclaiming smugly, that youngsters are
turning away from booze and it's the 60 and 70-somethings who are
now, wait for it, Drinking at Home? Meanwhile, BBC Radio Concerned
is asking, as usual, "How worried should we be about the old
age time-bomb?" Thanks for that, oh finger-wagging, news
obsessed ones. But it's just SO unfair, isn't it?
So it's all our fault,
that the country's short of pension money, because we're all living
too long? Well listen:has it ever occurred to any government health
watchdog that if you stop people smoking and drinking, a number of
things will happen as a result? The chief one is that they'll live
longer and be a burden to you. Almost as important, however, is the
fact that you'll lose all that lovely revenue you once collected from
them by taxing their fags and booze.
no easy way of saying this, either, but venues for such debauchery,
this past few years, have gone severely downhill. Pubs, you see, once
used to be full of old working chaps, contentedly smoking and
drinking away their retirement. Many of the pubs which managed to
survive the Blair-Brown Protectorate have become restaurants in all
but name. Laughably, they sometimes feature, by way of a
retro-concession, a small over-priced, beer-drinking area. At
weekends many country pubs become crêches,
with tetchy bored little souls running around squalling, whilst their
parents choff down the Sunday roast. The hapless regulars who still
venture into such places must now contend with flustered waitresses
barging past them at speed, yelling, "Sorry!" every thirty
seconds. This is because we old gaffers haven't quite grasped that
you can no longer stand near the bar, as it's now the fast lane of a
food service area. Is it any wonder that many of us prefer instead to
stay at home for a gargle? That's still not good enough, for the
health wonks, however. Nothing will now do but that they whip up a
media-shower asking how we should convey the dangers of the
'time-bomb ticking away in our midst.' Perhaps the concerned classes
could glance at themselves, as they ping-pong hysterically between
digging their own graves with their knives and forks and.their
guilt-driven gym sessions afterwards?
not just leave us all to get on with our own quiet degeneracy? Then
we'lll shuffle off the coil at a reasonable time, and you can collect
the taxes, while saving the pension pot, the care-home fees and the
NHS. Job jobbed. When I was growing up people used to live until
about 75 or so. Back then 75 would have been considered quite a good
innings. Many had worked physically hard, been through a war or two,
and only wanted a bit of peace and quiet. They weren't expecting in
their eighties to be chivvied into learning holiday Serbo-Croat or
attending Salsa Dancing workshops. They used to walk their old dogs,
have a warm tin of beer from the sideboard, or else muck about in the
garden shed, with a pencil-stub behind one ear and a doofah* behind
the other. Any medication which they might have used to for their
ailments, usually consisted of heart pills, stomach pills, or a drop
of horse linament for aches and pains. They didn't have a special
cupboard with half of the British National Formulary jammed into it.
Nor did they wear a special timer on their wrist which went 'beep'
every 15 minutes to remind them of what to ingest, inhale or insert
in order to keep them chugging along. Let the Three
campaign for a Reasonable Old Age commence here, therefore. And let
our poster boy be the late great Lemmy Kilmister.
In Heddon Street
Heddon Street in January
London drizzle falls the same
softly as it did the night,
camera caught in failing light
famous phonebox, currant red
Ziggy Stardust in the frame
tinted showbiz biscuit tin
drew the viewer in
atmosphere that seemed
basement studios,upstairs flats,
models, queenly spats
rent collected once a week
burned-out boys who'd known
Englan done with swinging now
party-over, drab new nights
keg-beer pubs and candle stubs
IRA and mid-week subs
strikes at factory gates
apathetic audience waits
Sixties now are firmly dead
man from Mars arrives instead
was it in the water then
forged a breed of pop messiahs
underfed suburban lads
up by gas convector fires?
pale, with poor dentition
clothes-horse, pop musician
David's case, all three in one
odyssey which he'd begun
sixty-watts of Bromley sun
Ziggy sang and played guitar
one, yet, had gone that far
Sutton Coldfield, Aylesbury, Bucks
Sunderland they'd cheer
brickies bellowed," 'Ello ducks!"
dads asked, "Is 'e queer?
harder now to tell the boys
girls, with every year."
critics too, blew cold and hot
would they not?
Seventies then bedded in
feather boa and satin flare
suburbs sat like Hamelin
anthems on the air
some pied piper not yet heard
woo them with a magic word:
oddball kid, the bookish geek
one their classmates labelled
in their rooms all week
captivated by his eyes
not alone!" the Starman cries
of his band, what shall we say?
Spiders, not from Mars but Hull
best of any of their day
Kingston-upon-Hull, the name
not roll off the tongue
Spiders seemed to play guitars
if they really came from Mars
all the teenage kooks
hear these boys from Hull
late in middle-age
Ziggy broke the gender cage
when we dig his records out
hard-drives, i-pods, racks
shed a tear,we find the truth
also, that we mourn our youth.
youth, its peerless light
twinkles in the ageless night
we find how frail we are
in the same old car
phone-box now is gone
fans took pictures of
Ziggy had moved on
did they go, those slips
up with steam-trains
rockets in the Dan Dare skies
the dingy terraced streets
Britain after war?
by any score, would seem
kind of Shangri-la
slap some lippy on, then, kid
bring your best guitar
eats talent like a wolf
tenderising powder which can
your mind to spam
when you have to wrestle
your inner Peter Pan
if the boy stops swinging
may just become a man
even politicians cough,
him as nice.
missed him at the kick-off
they're gagging for a slice
helped bring down the Berlin Wall
said, young Bromley Dave
icon, futurist ...and genius.
ones who'll really miss him,
the girls then in their teens
that one weekday night
burst onto their screens
monopolising all their
moral panic from
Mawes to Milton Keynes
won't remember mourning
pop star in this way
won't know why they're
in the middle of the day
was Youth and he was Beauty
was talented and clever
stunningly original and...
thought he'd live forever.
sun falls on a plaque
an actor taking encores
a Mayfair cul-de-sac
here beside the doorway
his flowers in a stack
Ziggy Stardust's never
all the worldly traffic may
its migraine rumble
all the Babylonian showbiz
mills can crumble
legend be his epitaph
lily needs no gilding
Bowie's left the building.
is not for the very young, the vain and the active. It is the comfort
of age and the companion of the scholar and the philosopher."
It was my late mum who first drew my attention to
port.Whenever she was cooking the Sunday dinner, she always had a
little glass of it on the go. Her glass was a miniature tumbler
decorated with a band of chintzy pink frosting around the top. She
called it her 'noggin' glass. Nobody else in the household ever used
it. It emerged from a kitchen cabinet each Sunday and sat within
reach of the gas-stove, just next to her ashtray, her Kensitas
cigarettes and the Zippo lighter which she'd had since her ATS days.
"What's this?" asked your boyish correspondent
wandering into the kitchen. " Port." she'd declare. "It's
my lunchtime noggin. Hands off. You wouldn't like it anyway."
Naturally, I'd sneak the odd sip of it, if she wasn't
looking. What boy wouldn't? It always tasted a bit fierce to me
though, and for years I never progressed to drinking any more than
that one sip.
There is something about the English and their port and
yet, nowadays, most of us only ever drink it at Christmas. Mum,
however, always had a drop of port around the house, something which
I don't think was quite usual in army quarters among NCO's wives. It
was because of her fondness for port that I eventually began to learn
something of it.
In the mid-1970s, when I worked part-time as a kitchen
porter, I asked the restaurant owner, what might be a good port to
buy her for Christmas. A kindly chap, he offered to help me find a
rather better bottle of port for her than that which she usually
drank. He showed me a catalogue and pointed me at Lay & Wheeler,
Colchester's immortal wine merchants. At that time they still had a
wonderful shop in Colchester's Culver Street. In winter, whenever you
walked in, there'd be a coal fire glowing in the grate, a Dickensian
touch which always made the place seem something of a cut above. It
was around about this time, while still in my callow early twenties
that I began to learn that there was rather more to port than my
mum's Sandeman's tawny.
I once bought her a bottle of Taylor's 10 year-old,
which I thought would be infinitely better than her usual 'working'
After Christmas that year, I asked her what she'd
reckoned to it.
"Okay." she said, having considered the
matter. So would she now be upgrading her lunchtime noggin? Not a
bit of it. She was a Sandeman's girl to the end of her days.
By my late twenties, I too had developed a liking for
port. Taylors and Grahams Late Bottled Vintage (LBVs) appealed to me
more than the supermarkets' budget rubys. But if I ever had a bit of
extra money at Christmas, I went up to 10 or even 20 year-old tawnys.
I also learned to study the bottle to see who the shippers were.
Smith Woodhouse were apparently a good name, if only by virtue of the
fact that they'd been doing the job for two centuries or so and ought
to have known it by now.
Perhaps the reason that we British like our port at
Christmas is because in the deep midwinter, when our bones ache, when
our taste buds and sinuses are clogged with cold, it's a good rich
old bit of grog. It's cheery and strong, with perhaps, some of the
warmth of the Portuguese sun bottled into it. Like cinnamon, cloves,
nutmeg and oranges, on a cold winter's day, port is a treat:
a heavy topcoat and roaring fire of drink -- not some
thin little flute of a wine. It has, as we lads used to say, a bit
more lead in it.
The more robust fellows of the old City banking firms
once drank port by the pint at their jolly-ups. Perhaps a few still
wouldn't recommend the practice myself, since port, being a fortified
wine has a strength of 20% by volume. Used in such a cavalier
fashion it can be the stuff of banging headaches, instant dismissal
and long conversations on the Great White Telephone. Port is also
associated with gout. In Queen Anne's day, port wine, regarded as an
antidote to the dampness and fogs of England, was also errantly
recommended by physicians for the relief of gout, a thing which
possibly helped to speed her death at age 49.
Port, though, like a jumper, isn't just for Christmas.
I'll have a drop anytime between Hallowe'en and my birthday in early
March. Nor it just an after-dinner glass. It's a great drink, as my
mum demonstrated, for pecking at, while cooking on a winter's day.
Taylors, Cockburns and other purveyors also do a white port made from
white grapes. This is a dry drink which more often than not is drunk
chilled, as an aperitif. There are no rules though. I'll sometimes
plonk two rough-cut slices of orange into my port glass, and suck the
liquor through the steeped fruit, which, if it sounds inelegant, does
taste rather nice. In the end, though, Christmas or not, I prefer
those rich warm LBVs, sipped at room temperature, whilst getting the
dinner on. Because I'm still my mum's son and a vintage would be
wasted on me.