Days – The Kinks
thank you for the days….those endless days, those sacred days you gave me
I’m thinking of the days…
I hated my Mum and my Dad when I was growing up. Who didn’t ? Especially as a teenager. Then again later, in therapy in my late twenties/early 30s. They fuck you up your mum and dad they do not want to but they do… Mine sure did. Jeez, didn’t yours ? Mine were a) mentally ill and b) absent. A badge I wore for years, a cross I carried up the hill from Gethsemane. Hi, I’m fucked-up, how are you? Then I grew out of all that and made friends with my parents again. Took responsibility for my own life and stopped feeling so hard done by. Then I forgave them for making mistakes, for being young. For separating. And for everything. If they annoy me now, I still get annoyed – of course. But there’s no residual anger. I don’t think. Now I feel lucky that they’re both still alive (Feb 20th 2016). And that they are both my friends.
In 1968 my Dad was in Eastbourne in a bedsit flat off Terminus Road. We’d visit on Saturdays, have lunch at Ceres Salad Bar and then walk to Beachy Head, be back for the James Alexander Gordon football results and Sports Report. We’d never talk about Mum. Back in Selmeston Mum would talk about Dad now and again, or John Brown as she called him, we all called him that in fact. Later he became JB for me and my brothers. Mum would tell me things I didn’t want to know about, why they split up and so on. Lurid details of conversations and incidents that eleven year-old boys don’t need to know about. My memory of those years is blurred naturally, but Mum wasn’t entirely alone bringing up three boys in a Sussex village – she had Stan at one point, (see My Pop Life #63) and her friend Heather at another point, both in 1968/69.
Stan was Australian and worked at Arlington Reservoir, digging out a huge hole in the Weald where water would be stored for the surrounding farms and villages. He was our lodger, and Mum’s lover. Later on, when he went back to Australia and left Mum with a broken heart, she bought a single called “Part Of My Past“by Simon Dupree & the Big Sound and wept while listening to it. Even worse was a song called Skyline Pigeon by Guy Darrell : “fly away…” She took all of these records deadly seriously, and we respected that. They were treated like living breathing things with immense power. Emotional bombs. They were her and our soundtrack.
On sunny days we would make a picnic up, take a tablecloth and cups and crisps and buckets and spades and walk up the village – Mum and three boys – then take a sharp left by the church and heading through the path and overhanging trees to the most sacred spot of my youth – the sandpit. Mum later confessed that she felt secretly ashamed that we weren’t getting on a bus and going to the beach somewhere, but to us the sandpit was simply a magical place.
The path carried on towards Berwick across the fields, but there on the right, tucked away, was a small patch of trodden grass which led to a clearing – and an area completely overgrown and wild. A half-dozen acres probably with patches of exposed sand in cliffs and banks, other areas of marsh, other densely wooded parts and some open space with short tufts of grass where we settled and laid the tablecloth and ate our sandwiches. Mum would bring the transistor radio, but wouldn’t always play it because the rustling of the leaves, the birdsong and the silence was better.
Adonis Blue f & m
There were butterflies everywhere – the usual Small Tortoiseshells, Peacocks, Gatekeepers, Speckled Woods, Red Admirals and Common Blues all in abundance, and more unusual ones too – Clouded Yellows, Small Coppers, Adonis Blues, Brimstones and Orange Tips. Marbled Whites! We spent hours identifying them from a book – the Observer Book of British Butterflies, which always got packed along with the paste sandwiches. Shippams. Or Marmite. Peanut Butter. Delicious. White sliced bread. Of course !
We were always alone in the sandpit, never once did we sight anyone else, or even hear them. It was our place. It was always a sunny afternoon. It was always peaceful. Some days Paul and I would go there on our own, and one day with my friend Martin Coleman we found a grass snake, also unusual. The slow-worms were pretty common – actually not snakes but legless lizards whose tails fell off if you picked them up the wrong way. There were plenty of actual lizards there too. Sometimes we would bring back a skull of a small mammal – a squirrel perhaps, a fox, a weasel. And the bird-life was also rich.
It was the butterflies though that captured our imaginations. And we in turn captured them. As we got older and learned about methods of capture we suddenly had nets, jars, and at home, chloroform to put them to sleep. Two in particular were pinned under glass – a Small Tortoiseshell and a magnificent Clouded Yellow. Treasure. Near us in Alfriston was Drusillas, a mini-zoo with toy railway and a butterfly house, with an exhibit of every single species of British Butterfly – there are 63 altogether – and some foreign ones too including the spectacular irridescent Morpho.
Of course grown-up Ralph finds this behaviour abhorrent now – the decline in butterfly numbers in the UK is truly alarming, mainly thanks to farming chemicals and loss of habitat – hedgerows and meadows, but the collecting didn’t help and no one does this now. We have all learned to cherish our world in a different way. It only serves to reinforce the innocence of those days in the sandpit. Whatever misery was upon us, whether financial, emotional, mental or spiritual, those trips down that secret path past the church to the sandpit healed us, nourished us, gave us a reason to be. A reason to believe.
Days was released at the end of June 1968. I’d just turned 11, and I wouldn’t be going back to the village school. I’d passed the eleven plus (at the age of ten!) and was on my way to Lewes Grammar – a long bus journey away. Things were changing. It was exciting. I was about to outgrow the village, and my friends. The Kinks were very popular in our house, we loved everything they did. Songwriter and singer Ray Davies was like a raconteur troubadour speaking to us of England. On 45 rpm of course – the singles market was all we consumed in those days. I had absolutely no idea that The Kinks‘ LP The Village Green Preservation Society had been released, just as I didn’t have a clue what The White Album was – we had Lady Madonna and Hey Jude and The Marmalade singing Obla-di Obla-da instead. Leapy Lee singing Little Arrows. Those Were The Days by Mary Hopkin. I Can’t Let Maggie Go – an advert for Nimble. Build Me Up Buttercup by The Foundations.
The best thing about The Kinks ‘Days‘ were the harmonies. Our cousin Wendy used to come up from Portsmouth to visit Mum and they’d go into Eastbourne to get kissed (see My Pop Life #102). They would also sing together – they’d done it for years in church. Mum would always sing “thirds” as she called it, in other words two tones above the melody, or Doh-Re-Me. In fact Days has a suspended 4th – “Thank you for the Days…” – on the word days, which resolves onto the third at the end of the phrase. I didn’t know that at the time, but I knew how to sing it thanks to Mum and Wendy. And thus I was really brought up singing in harmony, to The Seekers (Morningtown Ride, Georgy Girl), The Beatles, Motown, Beach Boys and The Kinks and many others. It was the most natural thing in the world. So Mum – Thank You for the thirds, the suspended 4ths, the butterflies, the sand-pit and all of the music. It’s still what makes me happiest. And yes, thank you for the days.