The Best Years Of Your Life

When you were a kid and grown-ups told you that school was the best years of your life you always thought they were talking rubbish. Didn’t they know how much you hated school and couldn’t wait to be an adult with all the privileges you thought came with it?

Now I’m a grown-up myself I understand that it was really just wistful jealousy on their part. They would have loved to go back to a time of no responsibility themselves (while also idealizing it) and were pissed off that we didn’t seem to appreciate how golden our existence was. That’s why George Bernard Shaw said “Youth is wasted on the young.”

So of course this Panorama documentary from 1977 looks like a transmission from a golden era to my adult eyes. I was 15 that year and this is almost exactly what my school was like — but without girls sadly — right down to the teacher who would bore us all shitless by playing classical music in morning assembly. 

But I’m not too blinded by nostalgia not to notice how chaotic and rowdy the lessons are, and how frazzled and tired the teachers seem. I didn’t see those things at the time.

This is hardly the most obscure song I’ve ever posted here but over the years it has become one of my very favourite Paul Weller songs. I used to consider it a little throwaway but now I’m older I appreciate more how it captures the fleeting joy of being young before “you find out life isn’t like that”. Weller was only 21 when he wrote this. Was he wise beyond his years or has he always been an old man?

Download: When You’re Young – The Jam (mp3)

Teacher’s Hot

We’ve all had teachers we fancied — I know girls who swooned over male teachers too — and, such was the impression they made on our young psyches, we can still remember their names. Mine were our German teacher Miss McWhirter who would write so vigorously on the blackboard that her bum would wiggle in the tight, high-waisted trousers she often wore. I hated German but that made the class almost bearable. Another was English teacher Miss Cowan who we got to see in a bikini on a school camping holiday — naturally I still remember that it was black. That trip we also found out that she was going out with our maths teacher Mr. “Ziggy” Zbigniew which made him go way up in our estimation.

But I hope having to deal with us pubescent dogs in heat didn’t ever get too difficult for them. My boyish lust never went further than a longing look from afar, but I remember once seeing a kid follow behind Miss McWhirter when she was walking up stairs and bending down to look up her skirt. Even back then I was shocked and there were some right nasty bastards at my school so who knows what other shit she had to put up with. In my experience it was difficult enough just being a boy at an all-boy’s school, but being an attractive young female teacher could have been even worse. Dropped into a boiling swamp of hormonal young males starved for a glimpse of the opposite sex that wasn’t an old matron type. It was like the boys in Lord of The Flies discovering a pretty young girl on their island.

Download: To Sir With Love – Lulu (mp3)

Commercial Break

At my school you wore a badge of honour if you were able to recite “Lip smacking thirst quenching ace tasting motivating good buzzing cool talking high walking fast living ever giving cool fizzing PEPSI!”

Left Back in the Changing Room

I wasn’t very good at football when I was a kid. I played in my Primary School team but I don’t think any of my teammates can have been that great either because we only won one game all year. The only thing I remember about that victory is when it was announced in morning assembly the whole school cheered as if we’d just beaten Germany 10-0 in the World Cup Final. They meant it too, Primary School kids are too young for sarcasm.

I was put in defence which was a big mistake as I was too much of a wimp to tackle anyone and would back away when a forward approached with the ball. I can still hear our teacher/coach Mr. Grant shouting “Get to him! TO HIM!” at me from the sidelines which was the only instruction I remember him ever giving anyone — in typical English fashion his coaching philosophy was all about getting stuck in physically instead of fancy ball skills. He switched me to midfield for a while (less of a liability there, I think) and I wasn’t quite as bad, or so I thought. I could run a bit with the ball, was a decent crosser, and fancied myself to be a “tricky winger” type player. I was probably still useless but at least I remember enjoying those few games, the rest were miserable experiences: Saturday mornings standing on some cold, muddy pitch in my cheap Woolworth’s football boots hoping I wouldn’t have to tackle someone.

I still liked football, but having a casual kickabout in the street or the park with my mates was more my idea of fun. A “real” game on a pitch with proper goals and boots only rubbed in how rubbish I was, but playing a game of three-and-in or rush goalie it was easy to pretend I was better than that. Every goal scored was the FA Cup winner at Wembley or was greeted with a triumphant shout of “Rivelino!” — even if you were only playing with a tennis ball. Sometimes by some fluke you actually would do something skillful which you’d remember with pride for days or even longer (seriously, I can still remember one particular goal I scored in a game on my estate when I was about 13). The worst thing you’d have to deal with was getting the ball back from some old ladies garden or an argument over whose turn in goal it was.

I ended up playing hockey in Secondary School along with all the other “picked last” losers who were no good at football or not tough enough for rugby — though you felt plenty tough when you got a hockey stick in the balls — but luckily it wasn’t the sort of school where team sports were a big deal. I don’t even know if we had a school football team, I assume there was one but I had no idea who played for them or how they good they were. Thankfully there were no “Jocks” at the school unlike in American High Schools, the sociopathic bullies and sadistic PE teachers were bad enough for a four-eyed weed who was crap at games to deal with without there also being some golden-boy centre forward who was incredibly popular and got all the pretty girls to hate too.

Thank God I had pop music and comics.

Download: The Stars Of Track And Field — Belle and Sebastian (mp3)

Daddy’s best girl in the world

This is one of my favourite Elvis singles and one of his most underrated I think. “Man Out of Time” gets all the props as the great single from Imperial Bedroom but I actually prefer this one.

The paisley-pretty production might make it sound soft but underneath the harpsichords Elvis takes the classic pop subject of teenage love and makes something incisive and compelling out of it. It’s like a Shangri-Las’ song written from the perspective of a cynical outsider.

The video is a rather nice period piece too.

Download: You Little Fool – Elvis Costello & The Attractions (mp3)

Photo by George Plemper

Secondary Modern

When I was young I would have thought Burgess Hill School was brilliant. Now I’m a parent it fills me with horror.

Wonder how these kids turned out. Probably all work for the BBC now.

Download: If The Kids Are United – Sham 69 (mp3)

You can watch the full version of this newsreel here.

Secondary Modern(ism)

This is wonderful, like a segment from an avant garde Blue Peter with the kids making music with tape recorders instead of sticky-back plastic and old Cornflakes packets.

My music teacher at school was into Glenn Miller rather than John Cage so lessons were more In The Mood than experimental sound pictures.

(Discovered at The Belbury Parish Magazine)

Violent Playground

A lot of the attraction of adventure playgrounds for kids was the feeling that they were places to do what you wanted. Even when there was an adult present we still made the rules, which is why this old video of the Notting Hill adventure playground often resembles outtakes from Lord of The Flies. Though the video is labeled “late-1960” it looks much later in the decade than that judging by the clothes.

I played in adventure playgrounds in Fulham and Holland Park when I was a kid — and think we made it to the Notting Hill one too — so this is a real nostalgia overload for me. So much so that I couldn’t see a lot of it through the sentimental tears that were filling my eyes, soon as I saw those two boys walking down the street eating bags of chips I was a puddle, and the little boy saying “If my mum wins at the bingo we might have a holiday” is heartbreaking. It’s also a reminder that Notting Hill wasn’t always so posh and desirable.

I belong to a Facebook group for people who grew up in Fulham and whenever someone mentions old playgrounds everyone starts grumbling about this faceless, shadowy organization called “Health and Safety” who are apparently dedicated to ruining children’s fun, unlike in the good old days when we were free to get tetanus from a rusty old swing. Sounds like one of those imaginary Daily Mail bogeymen to me. Maybe they’re right, but watching this video it doesn’t look like things have changed all that much, though the equipment looks better made and there seem to be more grown-ups present.

Download: See Emily Play – Pink Floyd (mp3)

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





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