My Pop Life #125 : Chickery Chick – Sammy Kaye

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Chickery Chick   –   Sammy Kaye Orchestra

“Chickery chick, cha-la, cha-la
Check-a-la romey in a banonika
Bollika, wollika, can’t you see
Chickery chick is me? “

My mother, Heather Ruby Laming, was born in June 1935 in Portsmouth to mother Ruby née Price and father Horace Laming.  Ruby had come down to Pompey from Abergavenny in her teens and worked ‘in service’ until the birth of my mum.  Below stairs in a rich families’ house in other words.  Something happened there that she almost told me once, then changed her mind.  I’d travelled down to Copnor in North Portsmouth in the 1980s to talk to her about her life.  My Nan would have been late 80s by then, still painting occasionally-interesting abstracts, still lives and strange scenes from road accidents or desolate sea shores.  The house was full of her paintings.  She appeared to be fond of me, regarding me with a tolerant, knowing chuckle as if I couldn’t put one over on her.  She came out with some odd things regarding my Mum – “Heather has always been difficult – she wouldn’t even take the nipple as a baby”.  

That’s a bit dark, I thought.

Her dad Fred Price was a lovely old geezer who used to write funny letters to my Mum when she married my Dad and moved away from Portsmouth, first to Cambridge, then to Sussex. “Winter – drawers – on” he wrote as we entered December.  Clever old stick.  Ruby would have us believe that she was the eternally long-suffering wife of a dreadful husband – Horace, and I wrote about the strange atmosphere pervading his funeral in the late 1960s in My Pop Life #49.

 Almost all of the stories I heard about my Nan were bad, and my own experience talking to her backed them up.  She favoured Mum’s sister, Aunty Valerie, deeply favoured her.   She used to drink heavily when Heather was growing up and going out with my Dad, and once or twice he intervened to stop Horace and Ruby coming to blows.  Or to stop Ruby beating on my Mum.  In any event it didn’t sound like the most closely-knit family.   I remember one Christmas round there when I was about five – where we had to behave.  Keep quiet.  Ssshhh.

Of course when Mum had her first nervous breakdown (that I was aware of) in 1965 (see My Pop Life #54), Nan came up from Portsmouth to look after us while Dad went to work teaching.  She must have lived with us in 2 Manor Cottages, Selmeston, for nine months, for that was how long Mum stayed in the hospital in the end.  The Mental Hospital it was called.  I can’t remember much about that period, having successfully wiped it out of my memory and grown up without its haunting disabilities at the front of my brain.  Buried so deep that it rots my soul from within.  But Nan must have been alternately strict and loving with us, me, Paul and Andrew.  Thinking about it, this was when Andrew was disappeared to Portsmouth to stay with Aunty Valerie and Uncle Keith, so Nan was only looking after Paul and I.  We shared a bedroom.  We talked before we fell asleep, after the light was turned off.  It kept us sane.  Kind of.

Later on, when Nan sold the house in Copnor and moved into a nursing home in Southsea, Mum travelled down to see the house for one last time.  the same one we’d gather in for Horace’s funeral, for Christmas, for strange visits which I dreaded.  When Mum got there the house was empty.  Literally.  No art.  No china.  No furniture.  “Oh“, she said to Ruby, “I thought I could have taken one thing to remember this house by, a saucer or a vase or something“.   Ruby then answered with one of her classics :  “I gave everything to the woman over the road.  She’s been like a daughter to me.” 

When my Mum told me this story I was horrified.  I said “You can’t go on taking this shit, it’s abusive, designed to hurt you.”  Nan was still alive, we were still visiting her in the nursing home.  She was in her 90s now.  “No,” said Mum, “I don’t want to upset her.”  I had another clue to the cause of the mental illnesses mum had been plagued with for what seemed like the bulk of her life.  Not to mention my own bipolarity.

Bollika Wollika.

My friend Richard went to see her one day with Paul and we had an interesting chat about it later.  He thought there was a possibility that she was a lesbian who’d never owned it, let alone come out.  Pretty charitable I thought.

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This may well be the happiest memory I can retrieve of my Nan (although see My Pop Life #183 Rocket Man – Elton John) …and perhaps may have been the first pop song I ever heard, although it would have been from my Mother’s lips.  She remembers it from World War Two when Ruby sang it to her, enjoying the nonsense words.  I remember Mum singing this all through the 1960s.  She actually sang “Wollika Wollika can’t you see” rather than the actual words “Bollika Wollika” which clearly don’t have the same connotation in America and which were carefully screened from our young English ears.   I never did know what she was talking about until one day looking through some old sheet music in a shop, I found this.

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So it had been a Number #1 hit song in the U.S. and in the charts for over 4 months, played by the Sammy Kaye Orchestra.  The odd words were written by Sylvia Dee, and the music by her regular songwriting partner Sidney Lippman.  Sammy Kaye had over 30 hit songs in the swing era, and six number ones.  “Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye”offered the tag-line, and young Nancy Norman auditioned aged 16 and 4’11” high and got the job of female vocalist.  Her mother would chaperone her all over the United States to sing Chickery Chick.  The man’s voice is country singer Billy Wiliams.   Many other stars covered the song, including The Andrews Sisters, Frank Sinatra, Gene Krupa & Anita O’Day, and Evelyn Knight and The Jesters, which is my actual favourite.

The word banonika is still in use in our house here in Brooklyn.  It is used to denote a wrapping into which the special needs cat Roxy will position herself, enjoying the cosy created therein.

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Not a banonika

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Not a banonika, strictly speaking

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a carboard box I’d call that

When she is under the duvet or inside some clothing then :  “Are you in your banonika darling?”we will ask in slightly high-pitched voices as if talking to a child.  Which we are really.  A furry child substitute.  Maybe we should sing Chickery Chick to our cat.  I’m sure people have.

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Roxy and I agree that we have no banonika pictures

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Sammy Kaye, featuring Nancy Norman & Billy Williams :

Evelyn Knight & The Jesters :

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My Pop Life #49 : This Guy’s In Love With You – Herb Alpert

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This Guy’s In Love With You   –   Herb Alpert

…who looks at you the way I do?  

When you smile

I can tell 

we know each other very well…

It certainly helps that the first thing you hear is a soft-tone electric keyboard before the brushes on the snare and the vocal arrive for this is a lounge groove par excellence, from deep in my memory.   Herb Alpert had been running Tijuana Brass since 1962 with huge success, the extremely popular albums outselling even The Beatles in 1966.   Tijuana Brass were a faux-Latin brass pop outfit which Alpert described as “Four lasagnas, two bagels, and an American cheese”.  Alpert himself is Ukrainian Jewish from Boyle Heights and went to Fairfax High in Los Angeles.   He is also the “A” in “A&M Records” which he formed with Jerry Moss in 1962 and was home to The Carpenters, Sergio Mendes and Burt Bacharach who wrote and arranged “This Guy…“.   It wasn’t all easy-listening central, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Cat Stevens, Joe Cocker and Procul Harum (My Pop Life #37) all signed with A&M in the late 60s and by 1972 they were the largest independent record label in the world.  Herb Alpert has many Grammys, millions of sales and the distinction of being the only artist to top the charts as a singer (This Guy…1968) and an instrumentalist (Rise, 1989).

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He’s not the greatest singer as he would himself admit – Herb first sang this to his wife on a TV special (see below) but the phone lines went ballistic and within two days it was released on his own label.  Somehow it is one of the most romantic records ever recorded.  Perhaps the guys listening to it feel they can join in given that the lead vocal is so ordinary, perhaps the languid backbeat just makes them wanna slow dance with their wives…either way it is a potent and irresistible slice of conceptual conception music for adults.   Cheesy you say?  Only in the best possible way.

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It reminds me strongly of my grandfather’s funeral in Portsmouth.  My mum’s dad.  I remember Horace as a kind man, balding with remaining hair greased flat onto his head, slight air-lip, dark suit, sleeveless maroon pullover and a navy tie over a white patterned shirt.   We used to play jacks together – he taught me how to play it with five dice : 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King.  Kept in a nice red leather pouch in the sideboard.  He had a mysterious genesis as we believe his mother returned from Shanghai pregnant and gave birth in Portsmouth.   My brother Paul lives in Shanghai.   There is a Laming mentioned as a government official in China but not much more information, and it could be unrelated of course, but anyway murky family histories sometimes have to be pieced together with the clues available from reticent relatives.  He met Ruby my nan in Portsmouth and they married and had two daughters, Heather, my mum, and her sister Valerie.  I do know that Horace, my grandad, was a policeman during World War Two and had to climb onto the roof of the Guildhall in air-raids to defuse unexploded bombs, which is impressive to say the least.  He then became a shoe shop manager/owner (vagueness again) and a Mason.  The funeral I was attending, along with the other males in the family but none of the females, was Masonic.

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Portsmouth 1968

It was a pretty weird day.  I don’t even remember if my Dad was there, but I think he was.  I was eleven. Paul was nine, Andrew just turned five.   Aunty Valerie was married to Uncle Keith by now and he had a daughter Annette who was about my age. Uncle Keith was a dark-voiced stern-looking smooth operator.  Over-familiar yet unfriendly.  The ‘men” all trooped off to some impersonal chapel of rest where other masons sat in silence and a vicar read a funeral service, inserting the word “Horace” where a blank was left for a name.  There was no personality to it.  No eulogy detailing what he had done, who he was, and I was tremendously disappointed.  The priest seemed not to have known Horace at all.   It made me wonder whether there had been another Masonic funeral service to which Uncle Keith, Dad, Paul and myself would not have been invited.   The glum little ceremony done, we were driven back to 6 Moneyfields Avenue in Copnor where Nan and Mum and Valerie, Annette and cousin Wendy were gathered.  Triangular sandwiches appeared.  Tea.  Paul was there aged nine, and Andrew was five.   Perhaps he’d stayed behind with Mum.  Some music went on the gramaphone, Uncle Keith no doubt.  For some unspoken reason the men congregated at the back of the room, and the women near the bay window.

Then this song came on.  Me being a veteran of the radio and TOTP I knew it, but Uncle Keith wanted to instruct us in the ways of righteousness.  Our conversations were suddenly interrupted as he announced “Listen to this – suddenly there’s a complete silence”.

“Say you’re in love, in love with this guy.  If not I’ll just die….”

We dutifully listened to the silence.

And the mournful trumpets returned, Bacharach-style, and that laid-back groove from heaven resumed, and Uncle Keith made a hand gesture as if to say “See – what did I tell you?”.   We all nodded in solemn appreciation of this moment and then after a respectful pause carried on chatting, ignoring the actual song itself, it was the silence we had come to see.  Uncle Keith had slip-on shoes and he wasn’t to be trifled with.

About two years earlier he and Aunty Valerie had been looking after Andrew and offered to adopt him if Mum “couldn’t cope” after her first major breakdown.  They were childless, and Andrew had spent a lot of time down there.  But he’d stayed with Mum in the end.   He’d be back in Portsmouth a a couple of years time when we lost the house in Selmeston, but for now we were all together.   Later on, Aunty Valerie would divorce Uncle Keith and he would disappear from our lives.   Aunty Val would go on to live with the true love of her life in Norfolk, a woman whom I never met, also called Wendy.

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This Guy’s In Love With You was written by Burt Bacharach & Hal David at some point in the 1960s when Herb Alpert asked Burt if he had any old songs lying around.  It has been covered numerous times by other artists such as The Supremes, Donny Osmond, Booker T and Bacharach himself.  It reminds us that while the Beatles broke the charts, and the Stones brought the blues to suburban England, there was always a strain of seriously laid-back music with its adherents and practitioners happy to croon away on Sunday evening radio, any evening radio, Andy Williams, Percy Faith, Barbra Streisand, Val Doonican and even Elvis himself supported the cause, the chunky sweater, the easy warm smile, the undemanding seductive tune, your gran liking it, your Uncle Keith liking it;  secretly, you’re loving it too;  you know you are.

From “The Beat Of The Brass” TV Special 1968

My Pop Life #43 : Finlandia – Jean Sibelius

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Finlandia   –   Jean Sibelius

1964.   We are in our new house.   Perched above the village road behind a thick privet hedge, but we can see the farm opposite, the farmhouse, the barns, the fields beyond.   We can smell the farm opposite.   There’s a sloping narrow path up from the road to our gate.   A large garden.   Two trees.  A large vegetable garden which my dad dug and dug, and where we buried Caesar the large tabby cat I’d owned since I was 1 year old.  He was wrapped in a pillowcase.   My dad dug his grave too.    A back lawn, with another privet hedge, and a gate leading out onto an endless sheep field.  Beyond that, the Manor House.   Sherrington Manor.  They owned our house.    They owned most of the village.   Selmeston.   East Sussex.   The Lewes-Eastbourne A27 at one end, the Lewes-Eastbourne train level-crossing at the other.  One mile long.  About 200 people I calculated one day, including the vicar, the farmer, the Catchloves, the Whitakers, the Criddles, the Bristows, the Colemans, Miss Lamb at the village schoolhouse, Gilda who looked after Paul when things went wrong, Geraldine next door who was Italian and mentioned shopping in “Marks Expensive”, the Spillers at the top of the road on the other side of the A27 and whose daughter Valerie Spiller was my first crush aged about nine.  They were brown-coloured maybe Indian but nobody ever mentioned it.  I hugged my pillow imagining it was her.  Funny feeling in my tummy.  At least I thought it was my tummy.

I would walk to school every day – the village school up near the main road, the pub the Barley Mow, the only shop, the mini-petrol station.   Across the road from the school was the cricket pitch, an acre they said, so you could see what an acre looked like.  It was big.   Sometimes we’d have our breaktime in the cricket field and Midge Millward whose mum was the school cook would tell dirty jokes to us younger ones.  Probably Rastus & Liza.  “I’m fucking dis custard” etc.   I laughed dutifully because of the word “fuck”without knowing what was going on.  Steve ‘Eggy’ Burton and his younger brother Chrissy Burton, Stephen Criddle, David Bristow, Graham Sutton the postman’s son, Mick Spiller and me and my brother Paul.  There were 30 kids in the village school, aged between 5 and 11.   Some of them came from Berwick, or Firle, Chalvington or Alciston.

At home we had a black and white TV which my dad didn’t really approve of, but the kids (Paul and I) were growing and presumably becoming a handful.   Andrew arrived in May after a long labour and a fight with the nurse over gas and air.   Mum would later claim that she had too much.    I remember fights over the TV between Mum and Dad.   I remember him coming into ‘the front room’ where the TV was put (so that it wasn’t in the family room ?!), and switching it off, and Paul, Mum and I skulking out in disgruntlement.   But he never switched off the record player.   Or should I say “the gramaphone”.

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We had a wind-up turntable on a box with a speaker which would fold up and down inside the lid, a corner compartment for needles – about 1/2 inch long – big buggers.   It was my first experience with handling music – or possibly my second because I cannot discount picking up a recorder at the village school and being taught the simple fingering, following the dots on ‘Men Of Harlech’.   But there is a huge difference between playing music and being a disc jockey as any fule kno.   The records were in the lid, which I think means that it was a portable gramaphone, but I may have misremembered that.   They were heavy shellac 78rpm discs and there were three of them.   Three.   One was Chicken Licken.  One I cannot remember.  And one was Finlandia.

I always connect Finlandia with my father.  I’m sure it was his record.  I don’t know where he bought it, or how long he’d had it, or whether it came with the gramaphone, or phonograph.  Maybe there were other 78s in the house, but I don’t remember them.  I remember three.   The unknown one may come back via my dad or my brothers or my mother, all still happily alive and one day perhaps to read this account.   But for now we’ll focus on Finlandia.  Oh – but first, of course, Chicken Licken.

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The story is of a chicken who has an acorn fall on his head.  He thinks the sky is falling in and runs through the village yelling at everyone that the sky is falling.   Henny Penny ?  Is that a character?  I can’t remember the rest but we played this story – on a 78rpm record – over and over again, winding the turntable, changing the needle for no good reason because we could and had learned how to do it, playing it fast in squeaky voices, playing it slow in underwater voices.

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Finlandia was a different matter altogether.  It was a short classical tone poem, though aged six, seven it was just noise to me, music, horns, violins.  No words.  It was written in 1899 by Jean Sibelius and was part of the Finnish nationalist resistance surge against Russia during that period.  The opening is very energised and expressive with full horn stabs and sudden silences.  Then the timpanis start to thunder and roll.  It is hugely dramatic, then the violins start to swirl and sweep and we get another surge of excitement and a part of a melody.  Again all is excitement and energy, passion and pride.   After about 4 minutes there’s a moment of pause and we are hearing a different tempo, a different hopeful moment, this is how the piece resolves, known as the Finlandia Hymn.  It’s not quite the Finnish National Anthem, but it’s their main tune.   I guess it is their Jerusalem.  It will always remind me of my father, whom I have to acknowledge as a profound influence on my life, both musical and otherwise.   When I think of him now in 1964 I see him as a young man with glasses and a receding hairline, fresh from Cambridge and moving his young family from Portsmouth, where he grew up, to East Sussex, where I grew up.   He was the only boy in a family of five, all sisters older than him.  His dad was a batman in the Royal Navy, the lowest rank, and they lived in a small terraced house in Fratton quite near the football ground.  My dad – John – was bright and passed the eleven plus, winning a scholarship to Portsmouth Grammar.  Again, although a working-class kid, he took the Cambridge entrance exam and passed, becoming one of the tiny intake of worker’s kids in Downing College 1955.   I understand that he hated his first year, or maybe just missed my mum, whom he’d started walking out with as a teenager (after briefly dating her sister Valerie).   At any rate that summer he was married to Heather my mum and they went back to Cambridge together for his 2nd year.   I think my Mum hated it there even more than he ever could.  My dad and his friends talked of D.H. Lawrence and T.S. Eliot and didn’t really include her in the conversation.  I was born in Cambridge in June 1957.

When I think of my parents now I think of them as young people and marvel.   I don’t judge them, I just see them in their lives, making decisions, trying to do the best they can.  I’ve spent so much of my lifetime in recrimination, trying to understand what went wrong, why my family was dysfunctional, who, in particular, was to blame, to unload all the pain onto.  Well it turns out that every family is dysfunctional, and some far far more so than mine.   I’ve put down my cross, the one I carried all those years, Lay Down Burden.   Now I’m just trying to remember everything and write it down before it’s my turn to lay down.    Not to say that there hasn’t been pain, upset, wrenching sadness and loneliness.   But just to say that I’m just another human being in the end.

This is a wonderful recording of Finlandia conducted by Leonard Bernstein appropriately enough in 1965.

My Pop Life #37 : A Salty Dog – Procol Harum

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A Salty Dog   –   Procol Harum

We fired the gun, and burnt the mast, and rowed from ship to shore
The captain cried, we sailors wept: our tears were tears of joy
Now many moons and many junes have passed since we made land
A salty dog, this seaman’s log: your witness my own hand…

The sister show to Pet Sounds/Sgt Pepper which The Brighton Beach Boys developed was, by overwhelming public demand, a rendition of final Beatles LP Abbey Road.  We did this show three times, but the conundrum was always – what would we play in the first half?   In Year One, which I think was 2011, we played an LPs worth of tunes written by Glen Richardson and called it Pop Dreams – brilliant songs, beautifully composed and sung, a gig I sadly missed playing in due to work, but watched from the back of the church.   Glen didn’t want to repeat that exercise the following year so in 2012 we started to put together something we called “The 1969 Show”, playing songs that appeared in that glorious year alongside Abbey Road.   This led to irritating and tremendous rehearsals of Aquarius, Pinball Wizard, Wichita Lineman, Gimme Shelter, Space Oddity, Midnight Cowboy, The Boxer, My Cherie Amour, River Man, Crosstown Traffic, Blackberry Way, Something In The Air and The Liquidator/Return Of Django/Israelites.   A slideshow was produced.   It was a hit – some of the audience didn’t think it “gelled” – why should it?  Others thought it was a tremendous kaleidoscopic presentation of a great musical year.   And the following year an extra date was added to the fringe diary – the Rest of The 1969 Show where enthusiasts could hear extra selections from The Kinks, Creedence, The Archies, Mama Cass and Crosby Stills and Nash.

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1969 is a rewarding seam to mine for pop jewels.   My rather pleasing discovery while researching the show was this gem from Procol Harum, best-known of course for their huge 1967 hit A Whiter Shade Of Pale.    A Salty Dog was their third LP, and the title track was written by singer Gary Brooker with poet member Keith Reid providing the Melville-esque lyrics :

We sailed for parts unknown to man, where ships come home to die
No lofty peak, nor fortress bold, could match our captain’s eye
Upon the seventh seasick day we made our port of call
A sand so white, and sea so blue, no mortal place at all

Any song with seagull noises will get my vote.   The rather amazing chord sequence behind this verse structure can only be marvelled at in a pop context, sounding more like Sibelius or Mahler than chart music.  One for the musos then – here are those sixteen amazing chords :

Db-5                        Csus4     C           Cm7                       Bbsus4 Bb

“All hands on deck   we’ve run afloat”  I heard the captain cry    

Fm/Ab                  Fm              Fm7     Db-5                       E6

Explore the ship   replace the cook      Let no one leave alive

B/F#                     F#                          B        Bmaj7          B7

Across the straits   around the horn    How far can sailors fly?

E                           Em6/G                         B/F#             F#sus4 F#

A twisted path   our tortured course   And no one left alive

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Yes, that is a pastiche of the Capstan Full Strength cigarette packet.   This is the first song in My Pop Life to have been dissected with a chord chart but I only discovered it recently and I have become quite unreasonably obsessed with it as a piece of music.    There’s some fantastic footage of Gary Brooker singing this in 2009 in Denmark with a symphony orchestra and choir, quite wonderful.   Listen to his voice as the sailors see land in the final verse, it is very special.

I’ve always fancied myself as a bit of a seafaring chap, but evidence would suggest I’m more of a landlubber.   I have a very early memory of sitting in a long rowing boat in The Solent between my dad’s knees – a racing rowboat Cambridge v Oxford style – off the coast of Portsmouth where we lived at the time, the waves chopping all around us, the oar blades cutting through the water, the coxswain yelling “Stroke!” and the breathing of my dad and his team.  I must have been five, or six.  1963.  Couldn’t swim.   It was terrifying and exhilarating as we rowed under one of those black looming World War Two forts that sit in the sea down there.

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Conrad Ryle is probably the most comfortable person I know on sea water – oh and Robert Pugh of course, but I haven’t sailed with Bob yet.  Conrad has taken me out from Piddinghoe near Newhaven on his boat and I loved it, but I didn’t help much as Conrad pulled ropes and swung the sail and hoisted this and that.    Conrad and I went to school together, played in a band together, his family were very kind to me when my family were gently disintegrating in the early 70s…

I always talked about living by the sea, the sea the sea but there was little evidence that I wanted to spend any time ON IT.   I like looking at it out of the window.   Final proof came in 2010 when I was cast in one of those ‘small boat with sharks nearby’ films – shooting off Simonstown on The Cape of Good Hope with Halle Berry.   We boarded the craft at 8.00am every morning and stayed on board for lunch which was delivered by another boat coming alongside, shooting all afternoon both on board and occasionally in the water until the fading of the light, for six weeks straight.

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Filming Dark Tide with real Great Whites off South Africa

You’d think I would have got used to it.   We had a box of ginger for seasickness – biscuits, sweets, drinks.  You could tell if it was a rough day by looking at the box – always full in the morning, often decimated by lunchtime.   I felt seasick pretty often, but held it down.   I think Halle was sick on Day One but she’s game, and never complained.   We bonded over puke in fact.   What a beautiful lady – inside and out – the complete professional, courteous, charming, warm and honest.   The sea rolled on,  I refused to vomit, but then we went round and filmed on the other side of the Cape – the Atlantic side -and it was much much rougher.  The horrible thing about seasickness – as opposed to land puking – is that it doesn’t banish the nausea.  At all.

Maybe the nearest I got to salty dog status was when Jenny and I were sitting on the anchor of Admiral Lord Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory in Portsmouth, waiting for her train to London, and an undesirable separation.   But that’s for another story….

My Pop Life #12 : Rubber Ball – Bobby Vee

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Rubber Ball   –   Bobby Vee

…bouncy bouncy, bouncy bouncy…

This Pop Life series started out as a one-day-at-a-time Favourite Songs Of Me but I realised after a while that the songs which had an actual story behind them were a lot more interesting and got a lot more reaction from people than simply “great songs” which were just that, and about which I had little to add other than “isn’t this great?“.   Not that I won’t be adding the odd great song – c’mon, this is My Pop Life after all…. But now it means that the songs aren’t necessarily my favourites, or even songs I like that much, but they’re big songs from big moments in my pop life one way or another.   And this one – Bobby Vee’s Rubber Ball – is the first song I can ever remember hearing on the radio.   Portsmouth 1961.   I’m at my nan’s with my mum.   My grandad is there too – my Dad’s parents.   And I knew some of the words to this song at the age of 3 and a half.   Not that surprising given the lyrical content, and I’m certain that I was unaware of the actual meaning of the tune, of an elasticated love affair – no I’m sure I thought it was about a ball, a rubber ball indeed.  A bouncy rubber ball.

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My dad was brought up in this terraced house, on Manners Road not far from Fratton Park in Southsea.  His dad Frank ( large white-haired man) had been a batman in the Royal Navy and fought in two World Wars, and his mum Pauline I remember as a sharp little smiley lady with a bun. I don’t think we had the radio on much in our house, but we must have done – how else would I have known the song ?   Grandad’s house had a coal stove, a poky kitchen and a front room which was never used and showed no clues as to the diocese of the people therein, and thus served its purpose and its name.   Upstairs in the bedroom where we stayed occasionally there was a mysterious bowl and jug arrangement on the large dark dresser, and actual china chamberpots under the beds.   Both remnants, I realised later in life, from a time before proper plumbing.  The furniture was heavy and brown, the curtains mustard-coloured with accompanying net.   Incredibly, my mum must have been 24 years old, my dad 25.

The song itself is as bouncy as you’d expect, was co-written by Gene Pitney in the Brill Building in Manhattan, and has no particular lasting hold on my affections, except that it alone can conjure this reasonably clear picture, like a sepia snapshot, of my dad’s parents and my young mum and dad in Pompey, in early 1961.