Dean Ford, R.I.P.

Dean Ford, or Thomas McAleese in real life, was the lead singer of The Marmalade, and the singer with the first Scottish band to reach number 1 in the UK charts. That this was with a note for note copy of The Beatles’ ‘Ob-la-di, ob-la-da’, and the band’s first two hit singles were attempts to copy the highly orchestrated singalong pop of The Love Affair was a shame if you trouble yourself to listen to some of the witty, neatly-conceived and compellingly fresh singles the band – formerly Dean Ford and the Gaylords – released from the mid-Sixties onwards.

Marmalade went on to carve themselves out a record deal that enabled them to control their own musical output, leading to a handful of gently, acoustic dominated singles at the turn of the Seventies. This was a near unprecedented step but it enabled them to be one of the few late-Sixties pop bands to survive the transition to the heavier music attitudes of the new decade.

I didn’t discover things like ‘Can’t Stop Now’, Laughing Man’, ‘I See The Rain’ or ‘Mr Lion’ until this century, but these are little gems that, in a better world, would have brought the band to greater prominence much sooner, and maybe enabled more music of that quasi-psychedelic kind.

Fare well Dean. At least no-one will ever ask you to sing that bloody McCartney song again.


Not Totally Decrepit Yet

It’s been a while since I last deliberately set out for a long walk on city streets, long here being defined as further than our nearby ASDA and then some.

It’s not exactly been a habit of mine, but there have been plenty of occasions when I’ve happily set off to walk a long distance, without any thought of the time and effort this requires. Not since the London Museum Tryptich of 2016, I think (the Eskdale Expedition doesn’t count: despite being 99% tarmac, it was still fell-walking, albeit it in the lowest degree).

It’s been a quiet week, the days slipping by imperceptibly. It’s hard to imagine that this is already Friday and that only the weekend remains before a return to work, albeit for one day early. I’ve barely been out and I haven’t gone far, but today I had to make a trip to the Chemists next to my Doctor’s surgery, to collect a repeat prescription I carelessly failed to sort out before Xmas.

Ordinarily, I’d hop on the bus: ten minutes each way, plus whatever waiting time the 203 requires. Except that my weekly MegaRider card ran out on Xmas Day and I haven’t renewed it yet because I haven’t needed to. Simple solution: renew it, pay for a week’s journeys.

But I didn’t want to do that. I have places to go on Saturday and wanted to renew my MegaRider then instead. The difference is that whichver day I renew, I am starting a seven day pattern of renewals the same day every week, which means having the cash available the same day each week, and it’s going to be easier to do that for Saturdays rather than Fridays.

So, what’s the plan, Stan? I could pay each way on the bus (vastly inflated), or buy a DayRider (less expensive but not worth it for only two trips), or I could walk, there and back.

Which begged the question of fitness for that length of walk, which is, I guess, about two miles each way. I used to be capable of longer walks than that, and when I was having my counselling in Chinley, it was pretty much a mile for station to cottage, and most of it uphill, in hot weather. Nevertheless, I haven’t set out to walk that distance, in cold blood, for a long while. And whilst the age thing isn’t necessarily a problem, the osteoarthritis thing definitely is. I walk with a faint but noticable limp these days.

Due to my basic inertia, I didn’t get myself out until 2.20pm. Plan A was to walk there and back, but I had my fallback positions. Plan B would come into operation if, having got there, I was in too much pain, or general disintegration, to walk back, so I’d get the bus. Plan C represented the extreme position, of being in too much pain, or general disintegration, to walk the whole way there, and having to catch a bus partway.

Nevertheless, I strolled off with what approximates to briskness for me nowadays, pausing briefly at my local McColls for this week’s EuroMillions Lottery ticket (I must check the last couple of months’ worth, in the vain hope of not having to go into work on Monday) before pushing on.

It’s a simple route, straight up Reddish Road/Gorton Road, flat all the way except for the bit just before the halfway mark at Houldsworth Square, where it’s up and down over Reddish South Railway Station, where only one train a week runs. It would cost more to get permission to close the station entirely than to run one train a week through it, the minimum required, so for literal decades that’s been the schedule, though I noticed the timetable now admits two trains a week, request stop only, Stalybridge to Stockport and back Saturday mornings: one day I’ll take that journey, for the hell of it and to say I’ve been through Reddish South Station.

By Houldsworth Square, I was flagging, in the sense that I was no longer walking brskly, but I was in no danger of calling on Plan C so, at a gentle stroll, I pushed on northwards. This was not as tiresome as the trek to Trafford Park for those two undelivered parcels, and though the weather was dull and grey, at least it wasn’t wet.

I reached the lights at the Fir Tree and crossed the road to turn down Longford Road West and into the chemists. There were no other customers, I was served on the spot, my prescription was ready, I wasn’t off my feet for even sixty seconds: bugger!

Back to the main road, and no need for Plan B, so I set off back. Passing Reddish North Library, I took a break for a short browse, picking up three lightweight books (I mean in terms of readability, though as I was proposing to carry these back, their portability was also a key factor).

Definitely, I was not bounding along like a two-year-old on the return leg, and I was keeping in reserve the hitherto unanticipated Plan D, i.e., jumping on a bus if my right leg started giving me too much gyp. A brrief pause at the chippy in Houldsworth Square for some refreshment, a can of Diet Coke, went down well, that, up and over the railway bridge – less gradient from this side – and plod, plod, plod along.

By the time my knee and hip did begin to give me gyp, I was no more than two bus stops from home, and as I intended to call in McColls for milk and the cash for that MegaRider on Saturday, I had to limp on, there and back again (that might make a decent sub-title for a book, one day).

Forty minutes there, fifty minutes back, excluding my halts on the way home, although the hip is feeling the effort now, a couple of hours later. A bit more walking planned tomorrow, and I’m sure I’ll feel it then. I’m not going to start scheduling walks like this more often, the flesh being a bit more willing than the spirit in all honesty, but it’s nice to know I can still get about under my own steam.

A Time of Gifts

For a long time, and for various reasons, many of them my own fault, Xmas has become a solitary event. I have no-one to buy gifts for and no-one who would buy me gifts, so I buy things for myself.

But the favourite Xmas gift I recall was one I bought from another, a woman then very dear to me.

It was our second Xmas, and she knew something of what I had bought her. Being of Irish origins, she loved The Chieftains, and she had been with me when I had managed to get her two very early, and then-deleted albums. Indeed, with childish eagerness, she had unwrapped them late on Xmas Eve, looked at them longingly, and reminded me I’d have to tape them for her, as the record deck on her hi-fi had broken down long before we’d started seeing each other.

I smiled, agreed and said nothing.

On Xmas Day, I drive across to bring her present, and those for her children. These went down well, and she was bouncing round like a kid herself, full of life, wanting to know what I had for her. I had it planned out. I dug in my pocket for something, brought it out, handed it over. It was an electric plug. She accepted it from me, looked at it is puzzlement, looked at me withthis wonderful ‘am I missimg something?’ expression.

Theatrically, I snapped my fingers. “Oh yeah,” I said, as if I’d forgotten something trivial, “you want something to go on the end of that.” And with the kids tearing after me, agog to see what I’d got, I went back to the car and retrieved this box from out of the car and brought it carefully inside. It was pretty big and she had a rather narrow hall.

I put it on the floor and stood back whilst she opened it. She was speechless by this point. The box was too big to wrap so she probably realised what it was: a hi-fi. Radio, cassette, record deck, all-in-one. She looked into the box in shock and then, still unable to speak, she flung her arms round my neck and hugged me, really hard.

This wasn’t the woman I married, though she was the first of two women to have loved me as deeply and seriously as I could have desired. I haven’t seen her in over twenty years, nor had any contact with her since an unexpected phone call in 2001, by when I was married. She was a very private person who hated anyone knowing any details about her life being repeated, and I have respected those wishes, but Mary, you are my favourite Xmas memory, and the pleasure I had in choosing something for Xmas that so completely surprised you is a memory I return to on Xmas Day.

If you are still with us, and ever read these words, I wish you health, happiness and joy. You gave me self-confidence for the first time, and trust and responsibility, and these things changed me for the infinitely better. You were rain in a desert, bringing me to life, not a half-life and I hope the years have treated you kindly.

Apollo 8

Partly due to my growing up on Dan Dare, and partly due to me living through the Moon Landing, I find our increasing knowledge of the Solar System and beyond endlessly fascinting in its pointers towards discovery. And I find the stories of those few men who went into space unfailingly moving. Those few who did what we  dreamed of as small boys, who really did leave this planet.

Fifty years ago, we all had the chance to see the dark side of the Moon for the first time ever, and to look down on our planet as a tiny thing in space. Unbelievably, the three men who went there in the name of all of us are still alive today.

This is that story.


The Nothing Days

These are, as I may have observed before, the nothing days.

Whether you recognise Xmas as a religious occasion, as a season of peace, goodwill and family, as an opportunity for gift-giving and receiving or just an abhorrent pain in the arse that you really wish people would ignore, Xmas is a season that impacts on everyone, and the last days, as the occasion itself grows reluctantly near, are days that have no significance in themselves, except as way-stations.

Not everyone will see them that way, people with plans, events, parties, boozy nights out. Things to do. But many people, like me, who have completed their planning in advance, who have nothing but work, and ticking off days lying between us and next Tuesday, see these as nothing days, neither fish, fowl nor good red meat.

I’ve no-one left to buy me presents, and no-one to buy presents for. My only family is a younger sister, from whom I’ve been estranged for over fifteen years. We meet only at funerals, and barring any disaster affecting her children, which I hope and pray to anyone who has the least influence over such things, will never happen, we will not speak at the next one, for it will be one of us awaiting the flames that reduce us to the ashes that will be sprinkled on Plot C at Dukinfield Crematorium, rejoining that family of which we were once just the junior parts.

But presents there are, ordered and, except for the impulse buy off Amazon on Sunday that may or may not arrive before the day, received. And I divided the food into groups, some to be bought on each of the few shopping occasions permitted me by my shifts. Three more items tomorrow night, when I get out early and can get to ASDA, the fresh stuff – carrots, brussels, bread – on Saturday.

I’m working Sunday the 23rd, until 9.00pm, my working Sunday falling on that day. It’s better than last year, when it fell on Xmas Eve, and I was coming out at 9.00pm after the buses had stopped running at 6.30pm. This year, I will be in my pokey little bedsit for 9.25pm or thereabouts and, short of needing any emergency food and drink buys on Xmas Eve, I plan to lock the door behind me and the world out, and to have no contact with anyone beyond the ethereal medium of the internet until Thursday 27th at the earliest.

It’s all about a complete switch-off, a complete down-time, with only me and my own concerns to be concerned about. There are many people who couldn’t handle that, but for me it’s going to be a highlight.

I’ve a couple of mates I usually meet for a drink between Xmas and New Year, and I have an annual trip to Dukinfield Crematorium, for what will now be the 27th Anniversary of my mother’s passing which, with it being Saturday, I will combine with a visit to Manchester City Centre on the way home.

The rest of it will be new books, new graphic novels, new CDs and the DVD Box Set of The Big Bang Theory season 11. And writing, don’t forget the writing. I am currently turning the second draft chapters of my current novel into third draft chapters, with varying degrees of writing, and when that’s completed, I will be looking at certain of them in order to edit down or build up into fourth draft chapters. That’s discounting my regular features on this blog: there’ll be no stinting on these.

Writing will be the most important part of Xmas, as it is every day: writing keeps me sane.

Roll on the 23rd. Roll on shutting myself away. Roll on the peace of solitude. Roll on the Xmas turkey and the lager.

Sondra Locke, R.I.P.

For a time there, in the Seventies, I would go to our local Odeon cinema to see Clint Eastwood’s films. I can’t remember how many of them I saw, but I thinkthe last one I watched was Every Which Way But Loose.

I think I first saw Sondra Locke in The Gauntlet. Eastwood was an alcoholic cop, Locke a feisty prostitute who was to be a witness in a mob trial. He had to escort her from Las Vegas to Phoenix. But the whole thing’s a set-up, as crooked cops intend to have her killed, and Eastwood’s character too. Buut together the two pair up and win through.

The Gauntlet was nothing special. It was a decent, if routine, Clint Eastwood action vehicle. But it had Sondra Locke in it, and the lady’s fine blonde hair and her delicate features caught my eye, and I spend most of the film time focused upon that part of the screen where she was.

I loked Locke’s performances. All told, she co-starred with Eastwood in six films, not that I saw all of them (after you’ve seen Every Which Way But Loose, in which Locke took third place to an orang utan, why on earth would you want to watch Any Which Way You Can?). I remember watching an early Seventies film on TV in which she appeared: this was Willard, the crappy horror film that spawned Michael Jackson singing a love song to a rat (no, seriously), of which I recall that Locke wore a delightfully abbreviated skirt.

It’s been announced today that Sondra Locke died of cancer on November 3rd. I haven’t thought about her in years, but I remember those few years in the late Seventies when she would have been placed very high on any list of actresses I would have drooled over at the slightest provocations, and according to the recent photos I’ve seen, she never lost those delicate features.

A slight, and shallow reason, to mark her passing, but still a reason. Farewell, Sondra.