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)

Six of the Best


Corporal punishment was banned in London schools in 1981 — and 1987 in the rest of the country — which was a bit late to be of any good to me as during my school life I was hit by several teachers with a variety of implements.

I was caned twice at Primary School, I don’t remember the reason for one of them but the other was for an impromptu game of football a mate and I had in the playground (when we should have been in class) with some rolls of toilet paper we had nicked from the boy’s loo. We left the playground covered in a web of unrolled toilet paper and on our way up to class, chuckling over what a laugh we’d had, the stairway was blocked by the figure of our Headmistress Miss Bates who had seen everything we’d done from her office window overlooking the playground. Oops. We should have thought of that.

My vague memory of Miss Bates is of a rather stern middle-aged woman with her hair in a bun like some uptight old spinster, and she was red-faced and fuming when she ordered us into her office. There she proceeded to give us a lecture on our bad behaviour, then asked us to hold out our hands and gave us each six hard thwacks on the palm with her cane.

I was only nine years old at the time. I didn’t cry but I do remember it stinging really bad and the quick, whip-like swoosh sound the cane made.


The Headmaster at my Secondary School didn’t go in for caning but some other teachers there had their own individual methods of physical punishment. Our RE teacher Mr. Busby would hit kids over the head with his very big Bible for talking in class (oh, the symbolism: a Religious Education teacher hitting you with the Word of God) and the music teacher Mr. Rogers used to throw blackboard erasers at misbehaving boys. He often bragged about his prowess at this, claiming he could bounce the eraser off a wall and hit you in the back of the head with it. Rogers caned me on the back of the leg once too (for eating sweets in class, I think), but the cane broke and when the whole class laughed he got annoyed and made me stand in the corner facing the wall which, even in the 1970s, seemed like a ridiculously archaic kind of punishment.

Our PE teachers were all bastards of course, not above kicking you if you were lagging behind in a cross country race, and there was one who was a particularly vigourous user of the slipper — one time I saw him take a run-up of about 10 feet before whacking a boy on the backside with his infamous white plimsoll. Turns out he was a bit too vigourous, after I left school I heard he’d been sued by the parents of a boy he hit so hard he made his arse bleed.

It all sounds very brutal and cruel now, like stories from the Dark Ages when kids were forced up chimneys, but it was just one of the (metaphorical) punches you rolled with at school back then and I don’t mean to make a big, woe-is-me deal out of it. It’s just the way it was, and for some kids being caned was often a badge of bad-boy honour — something to be proud of — and preferable to the alternative like detention.

No doubt schools shouldn’t be in the business of hitting children and some kids suffered from genuinely abusive teachers (like the PE variety with plimsolls), but those canings I had at Primary School only left a mark on my hand, not my delicate young psyche. I hate to use the dreaded phrase “it never did me any harm” (probably didn’t do me any good either) but if anything at school gave me psychological scars it was the everyday abuse doled out by other boys who decided they wanted to pick on me or humiliate me in some way, or the PE teachers who treated you like a useless worm if you weren’t sporty. I still hate those bastards, but I have no problem with Miss Bates.

Download: Hey, Headmaster – Pet Shop Boys (mp3)

Remember, remember



FOR GOD’S SAKE GIVE THE KID A PENNY BEFORE THEY KILL US ALL!!!!!

Something for the Weekend



This song was very popular in my Primary School playground where it mutated into a chant you’d sing to taunt some kid you suspected of fancying another girl at school. You see, back then being attracted to someone of the opposite sex was something to be embarrassed about. What young fools we were.

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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