Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Magic Box

If there was one thing I could tell me 21 year old self, it's eat as much as you like now and savour every piece of chocolate because even your metabolism will slow down by the time you're 40. And if I was allowed two things, it would be - don't throw away so much stuff because you'll just miss it eventually and spend ages on ebay buying it all back again.
I think it started with a Mr Man Annual that I had as a child. You get older, move out, and all your childish books somehow vanish. But I saw this particular Annual in a junk shop in Bristol, years later. And opening it up fired off all these dormant synapases, each page full of memories, suddenly hurtling back through time to 1982. I didn't buy it, because, well, it felt a bit silly. But I immediately regretted it, and when I saw the same annual a few years later on a market stall, I stopped in my tracks and bought it. It's now on my book shelf, along with the Fighting Fantasy books that I used to have as a child, and an enormous book from the 1940s called A Day in Fairyland which I used to look at when I visited my grandmother which cost £80. It's not just books. Up until the age of about 16, we only had a handful of records in our home, and I must have listened to each one hundreds of times. I threw away all my LPs about 10 years ago when CDS and then MP3s started changing the way that I listened to music. But I've since regretted getting rid of so many of them, and have hunted most of them down - the Disney Album that was advertised constantly in the run up to Christmas 1977, the Readers Digest Sensational 70s Boxed Set (10 fabulous discs, one for each year), Ed Stewart's fairytales - with a classical music soundtrack that made me fall in love with Swan Lake years and the Hall of the Goblin King before I knew what they were, and even a really corny Western Film Music album.


The magical Reader's Digest Sensational 70s Boxed Set was what set off my love of retro, way back in 1989 when my friend Kathryn discovered that magic box in her older sister's cupboard. We were both hideously uncool and "swotty" although I don't think anyone at our school realised the intellectual disdain we held them all in. Like many social outcasts we rejected a lot of the stuff we were supposed to like, and inside fell back into the past - reclaiming a garish decade that nobody thought much of. I think we started off by making fun of The Carpenters and all the disco but after a few plays, we had fallen in love. We held a bizarre 1970s party for our bemused friends, which culminated in us walking around Peterlee town centre dressed in 1970s get-up, very late one Friday night, posing for photos next to supermarket trolleys and hoping a drunk would see us and think they had somehow gone back in time.

Kathryn loved The Mission and U2 and Bon Jovi and used to make compilation tapes out of Radio 1's Chart Show on Sunday night, followed up by the more exotic fare that Annie Nightingale offered just afterwards. But she's maintained her soft spot for the 70s, and last night presided over a 1970s quiz, made up of 20 intros from the Sensational 70s boxed set. I'm afraid my memory, like my metabolism, isn't what it used to be - and I couldn't recall about 7 of the songs. MY strategy was to put "Dire Straits" for every question I didn't know, although my fella pointed out that they were more of an 80s group, so that didn't help. Towards the end, in desperation I simply wrote "I have the Alzheimer's Gene", and "see above" for questions 16 and 17, hoping that Kathryn's husband, who was going to be marking my answers, would take pity on me. Unfortunately I came last, even mis-spelling Bacarra. I think I'll be needing to spend more time with the Magic Box so I don't disgrace myself next time.

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