Runaround now!

I loved this show so much when I was young, mostly for the way Mike Reid took the piss out of the kids. I remember him asking one if he got his hair cut at Sainsbury’s.

Lots of stamp collectors in this bunch. Bless.

This is one of the best singles by The Cardigans, from their 1998 album Gran Turismo.

Download: My Favourite Game – The Cardigans (mp3)

Fashions by Sylvia

Sad to hear about the death of Sylvia Anderson. The obits focused on her being the voice of Lady Penelope in Thunderbirds but the greatest thing she did for me was design the costumes in the Anderson’s live-action series UFO.

Though the styles were often silly and a hysterically groovy 1960s idea of fashion in the far-flung future of the 1980s, she has my undying gratitude for putting the girls on Moonbase in those silver catsuits and miniskirts, especially Gabrielle Drake. My childhood wouldn’t have been the same without that.

I like to think the girls of Moonbase would have been listening to this 1985 hit when they were relaxing between UFO attacks. It’s a tad cheesy but I love it.

Download: Clouds Across The Moon (Extended Version) – The Rah Band (mp3)

Four Eyes

I have terrible eyesight. Without glasses or contacts the whole world is a blur to me, I couldn’t recognize my own kids from five feet away. I started wearing glasses when I was about seven years old, initially just for reading and seeing the blackboard at school, but by the time I was in my teens I needed them all the time.

Being a teenager is hard enough without that additional handicap, and in those days glasses weren’t the slightest bit cool or fashionable if you were young. Kids who wore them were called Four Eyes, Specky, Brains, Joe 90, and usually got beaten up and had their lunch money stolen. They marked you as a weedy, swotty bookworm invisible to the opposite sex. Glasses had the power to turn Superman into the boring sad sack Clark Kent, and if you wanted to make even  the volcanically-hot Valerie Leon look undesirable the first thing you did was stick a pair of specs on her.

I wore National Health glasses for a long time which didn’t help my image, their choices were pretty basic and limited. I spent most of my teens in their black frame ones and switched to the round wireframes in my early 20s which was an improvement because they had a John Lennon cachet about them. But I never stopped feeling like I was being punished for something that wasn’t my fault — bad eyesight.

Besides Lennon, other bespectacled pop stars like Buddy Holly, Elton John, and Elvis Costello were hardly aspirational figures when it came to style or attracting the ladies. The first one of my generation to make glasses cool was Morrissey who wore the same NHS frames I had in my teens but I never looked as good as him in them. He didn’t actually need them but, like his fake hearing aid, wore them as a visual statement that he stood with the loners and losers, the awkward and introverted. 

I got contact lenses after leaving college and I can still remember how strange it felt to see my face clearly in a mirror without it having glasses on it, I almost didn’t recognize myself. The world was suddenly sharper and clearer without a sheet of glass (or plastic) between me and it, the general effect was like switching to a HD television and not realizing until then how shit the picture you’d been watching before was.

Contacts were very expensive back then (you had to get them insured) but so worth it. Friends were amazed by how different I looked, an uncle said to me in surprise at a family party “You’re a good-looking boy, Lee!” as if I’d been this specky ogre before. I didn’t suddenly turn into Tom Jones and have girls throwing their knickers at me on the Tube, but I did feel more confident, more like the me I was supposed to be be without those bloody things on my face. I still wear contacts but now my eyes are so bad I need reading glasses on top of them too, basically I’m back to where I was when I was seven.

Now my daughter needs glasses for school and there isn’t anything like the same stigma attached to them — her frames are certainly more stylish than mine were at her age. These days glasses are so hip and looking bookish is so cool that they’re worn by even more people who don’t need them — people I would like to smack around the head. Don’t these posers know how much some of us have suffered because of our poor eyesight and would give anything NOT to have to wear them?

Here’s the Jackson Five pissing all over Jackson Brown’s original.

Download: Doctor My Eyes – The Jackson Five (mp3)

Things To Make and Do

Kids today don’t know they’re born. Back in my day we didn’t ‘ave any computers, video games, or iPhones. We had to make our own fun, like making a mask out of an old pair of tights and using BISCUITS FOR EYES.

Try telling kids today that and they won’t believe you.

Download: Paper Mache – Dionne Warwick (mp3)

This image isn’t some Scarfolk gag either, it’s from a real 1976 book called Creative Masks for Stage and School.


Oh man, now Ed “Stewpot” Stewart has gone and died too, that’s another massive part of my childhood taken. I listened to his show Junior Choice in my bedroom nearly every weekend morning when I was a kid and he was to my early years what John Peel was to my late teens and early 20s, the one who provided a large part of its soundtrack and whose voice immediately brings the past back with all its sounds, images, and feelings.

I still know every note of the songs he played regularly like “Puff The Magic Dragon”, “Jake The Peg”, “The Laughing Policeman” and, of course, the amazing “Excerpt From A Teenage Opera” which is wrapped up with so many memories I had to unpack them on one of the earliest posts on this blog. But the thing I most associate with his show isn’t a song at all but “Sparky’s Magic Piano”, an audio story from the 1940s which he ran in installments seemingly over and over again. While I have many fond memories of this the robotic voice of that piano always creeped me out and still does.

This is the whole thing, it lasts 18 minutes but the file isn’t too big.

Download: Sparky’s Magic Piano (mp3)

Lemon Drops

The Celebrity Grim Reaper was busy in the week between Christmas and New Year, taking Lemmy, Natalie Cole, The Specials’ drummer John Bradbury and Guru Josh (not Guru Josh!) off to meet their maker. But I’m not kidding when I say the one that upset me the most personally was the death of legendary Harlem Globetrotter Meadowlark Lemon.

Basketball is a niche sport in England and when I was a kid we’d never even heard of the NBA and couldn’t name a single American team. But we knew all about The Harlem Globetrotters (who actually came from Chicago), the exhibition team who toured the world playing “matches” against opponents they always beat which were full of trick shots and clownish routines and more about entertainment than sports.

They were such a pop-culture phenomenon in the early 70s they had their own Hanna-Barbera cartoon show on television (the first one made with a primarily black cast) and made guest appearances on Scooby-Doo.

My mum took me to see them at Wembley Empire Pool (now the Arena) one year and actually seeing Lemon — the star of the team nicknamed “The Clown Prince of Basketball” — doing his famous Hook Shot and that gag with the bucket full of confetti was one of the major treats of my childhood.

But it was their cartoon show that really made them household names with my generation of English kids, and because of it Meadowlark Lemon (how could you forget that name!) became part of the pantheon of loved TV stars I watched after school. So when I heard the news about his death it felt like Hong Kong Phooey or Secret Squirrel had died. No wonder I was so upset.

Download: Harlem – Edwin Starr (mp3)

This soulful beauty by Edwin Starr was the b-side of “Headline News” in 1966.

Giant Steps

NASA’s entire archive of photos taken by the Apollo astronauts has recently been uploaded to Flikr — that’s over 13,000 images of the greatest achievement of the 20th century, scanned in beautiful high-resolution. We all know the famous and iconic Apollo images, but seeing the entire rolls of film unedited — lots of shots are blurry, wrongly-exposed, or badly-framed like holiday snaps you’d reject — brings home the scrappy, imperfect, and seat-of-the-pants nature of the endeavor and makes it even more awe-inspiring because it seems so human. Even when it’s just an empty photo of the moon surface (which is a lot of them) they’re amazing because it’s the fucking moon and it was taken by a human being standing on it.

I was 6 years old when Neil Armstrong took his famous step on July 20, 1969. It happened at 4am in England and my mother woke me and my sister up to see it. I think I watched most of the Apollo missions in my pajamas as the big events tended to happen either late at night or early morning our time which made them seem even more special because I was up watching TV when I was supposed to be in bed. Being a typical boy I was into rockets and space, and I was entranced by the fuzzy black and white television pictures, and the staticky chat between the astronauts and Houston punctuated by that high-pitched beep! 

Even 40-plus years later there is still something incredibly glamorous about Apollo: the towering spire of the Saturn V, the white spacesuits that made the astronauts look like heavenly knights, and the ships gleaming in the raw sunlight of outer space. Of course another reason for the enduring wonder of these images is that we haven’t been back to the moon since, so they still look like the future — a future we never had. Back then the year 2000 was this far-off date that only existed in science fiction, and by which time we thought there’d be people living on the moon or even on their way to Mars. Sadly it turned out that Apollo was just another example of 60s optimism that ran aground on the rocks of dismal reality in the 1970s.

Download: Space Oddity (1980 version) – David Bowie (mp3)

This song was a hit thanks to the BBC using it in their Apollo 11 coverage, so Bowie owes his career in part to the moon landings. This is the version he recorded in 1980 which is more sparse and Plastic-Ono-Band in style, I’ve posted it before many years ago but it’s still not a widely available track so here it is again.

Lucky Dip

This jolly tune was a regular play on Junior Choice when I was a kid, and hearing it 40-plus years later still takes me back to my bedroom on a damp Sunday morning listening Ed Stewart on the radio. Gives me the warm fuzzies it does.

Download: The Laughing Policeman – Charles Penrose (mp3)

I knew this was an old record but had no idea it dated back to the 1920s.

What’s it all about?

The sentimental musings of an ageing expat in words, music, and pictures. Mp3 files are up for a limited time so drink them while they're hot. Contact me: lee at londonlee dot com