Monday, 14 March 2011
Leaving on a Jet Plane
One of the blogs I follow, Hove Daily Photo, today had a shot of a nondescript shop in Brighton's Western Road. It's a Primark store. It's not a very attractive frontage, and the shopping strip has little to recommend it. It's like a million other blighted high streets - reduced to plastic fascias and corporate anonymity.
Except that photograph picked me up and tossed me back. I'm in Marks & Spencer with my mum buying my St Michael's white Y front pants and matching vests.
I would hold her hand as she walked along Western Road, staring at all the inviting shop on the way to the Clock Tower and into West Street.
It was there that I slipped away, my mother letting go of my harness and losing me in what must have seemed to me like a cataract of bodies. It was a benign PC that gathered up my trailing straps and carried me weeping to a desperate woman calling out amongst the Saturday shoppers for her lost, her one and only, never to be repeated, baby.
Just a few yards into West Street was Duke Street, where in 1966, I saw this girl and the words of Manfred Mann's "Pretty Flamingo" played in my head all that summer.
In West Street which meets, with such confusion and cacophony, Western Road at the Clock Tower, in a coffee bar, I began to say goodbye to a girl I met in 1970. As we supped on burgers and chips Peter, Paul and Mary were presaging her journey home to Boston, Mass.
In West Street, in a small club in 1965 I saw the Small Faces and met my first real girl. When I asked her age she replied "Old enough" and I drove my ancient, even then, Ford Anglia to the Devil's Dyke and much fumbling in the dark.
At the Regent, by the Clock Tower we danced to live bands, desperately wanting to hear the DJ play the latest hits. I'd spend most of the time looking in the mirror, checking my hair, my suit, my modishness. Only when the slow song came on did I dare go on the dance floor.
We'd coalesce a desperate generation dancing, limpet mines ready to explode, as Percy Sledge wrapped us in his warm and tender love. And then we'd splinter; laughing with our mates, enumerating the whys she wasn't the one.
Twice a week we'd do the same at the Odeon, at the bottom of West Street. Aching, arching youths desperate not to be out of time, hoping to pick her up on a Friday night and spend the night together. Holding down a virtual sex life, revising for our A levels, and filling in UCCA forms, we tried to be cool like the Yardbirds.
All hoping we'd die before we got old.