The Reading Room 03
I popped along to my gentlemen’s club, late-night library Wednesday, and the most famous of the regular members was gently sleeping across from me.
So far, so normal.
He was certainly a person for whom the word character was created and I’d christened him The Rubber Band Man because he strapped down the all-weather gear he wore around his body with rubber bands and so looked wrapped like an all-weather Royal Mail package. This wasn’t his only distinguishing feature because he also saw like a Sherlock Holmes, with the aid of a giant magnifying glass, and seemed to my eye to spend his time in the reading room eagerly filling in the crosswords in the archive newspapers.
That night the trudging man also came through, dressed up like a dapper little gentleman, who could’ve been my old woodwork teacher, or maybe the actor the late Terry Scott. When it came to the reading room, after hours, all things are possible.
At our next gathering, a week later, I again found the aforementioned Rubber Band Man already ensconced, seeing with his one big magical crystal eye like the three witches from Clash of the Titans (1981), and there was also a man who looked like an aged Kenneth Connor, his shirt unbuttoned to the waist revealing a medallion-sized crucifix nestling amongst his bushy chest hair, like some sort of seventies Catholic lothario.
Another one to add to the list, I thought.
Then, to my horror, I was recognised by someone I went to college with, from A-level Chemistry, and so I had to recant my life story, from the age of seventeen up, and only wished that various members of the library staff were there to overhear it, because I’ve been places, I’ve done stuff, and then maybe they might have stopped grouping me in with the rest of the weirdoes which used the place.
It turned out that my former classmate had been in teaching for ten years and we reminisced over a girl called Suzanne1 who we used to marvel at because she was just so old; twenty-one, or something silly like that, and yet she still looked so young and attractive. Apart from the pretty vicar’s daughter I used to sit next to that was all I could remember about A-Level Chemistry. All of it.
That age was a very peculiar time in a boy’s life and in A-Level French classes I was one of only two male students so it might not be too surprising that from that class all I could recall was the blonde girl called Jo, who also used to work in a local restaurant, and the tall girl called Helen who had blue lips.
On a return visit to my old school one of the biology teachers, who should perhaps remain anonymous, said that he’d heard that one of the French teachers up at the college was “a right dolly bird”, and asked me if I knew her. I feigned confusion out of embarrassment, telling him that I didn’t know who he could possibly be referring to, but I knew, his description entirely accurate, because I was in her class every Wednesday.2
Considering that I seem to have had a one-track mind back then it’s perhaps no wonder that I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped, but who can explain how minds work and the tiny and spurious details they go on to become fixated upon and the connection that they make?
In the reading room I then noted the arrival of a Charles Hawtrey in a cagoule and realised that as I’d already identified locals who matched the comedy actors Terry Scott and Kenneth Connor then all I needed to do now was find a Sid James, and a Frankie Howerd, and we’d have the cast of Carry on Up the Jungle (1970).3
And these are just some of the characters you can see in the north. I know, I know, I’m like a modern-day epistolary Lowry.4 And to think, for some reason, the library staff pick on me.
1 – In an effort to get every detail correct I tried looking up Suzanne on the internet, to make sure she wasn’t a Susanne, and when she didn’t appear on Facebook I turned to the place that everyone had forgotten: Friends Reunited. It was still there although, I was alarmed to see, only just because they were about to pull the plug on it in just three days’ time.
I sometimes do feel like some sort of financial genius because when ITV bought the site my immediate response was that they were idiots. ITV’s first problem was that someone had sweet talked them into buying it for £175M. I wondered if they’d even looked at it first because it was poorly run, poorly managed, and to try and attract people they spent a time bombarding me with begging e-mails to come back with a list of names of newly-joined people who I’d never even heard of as an enticement.
ITV’s second problem was when they went on to sell Friends Reunited, four years later, for a paltry £25M. That’s £150M I could have saved them with just the words: “no, stop, don’t”. It’s not the only time I’ve said about ITV that Willy Wonka should’ve been a consultant.
Other pointless enticements from Friends Reunited were when the “team” invited me to log in for a game of Balloon Bash and if anyone ever needed evidence that the site was on its uppers then that should have been it. Or, if not that, then how about another game called Quiz-a-Bout, which sounds like it was aimed at Geordies, or possibly Canadians.
A friend I used to work with called James told me once that he went to school with the actor Matt Smith and so now knowing where Doctor Who went to school I thought I’d go and see if he was on Friends Reunited, just to have a nosey, and just the act of doing this led to me being eternally pestered by the site to join the Northampton Boy’s School page, despite the face I never went there, or had ever been to Northampton. This just highlights the lack of interactivity on the site and how they just seemed to try and file people away under the school or workplace that they attended and if you did try to have a look about the message seemed to be: “stay in your lane”.
Still, all gone now, and if you tell the kids about this in the future, when they’re busy on their Friendsters and their MySpaces they wouldn’t believe you. Think of that, the last dying act of a social media network can be boiled down to just five words: an S or a Z?
2 – Who, for entirely different reasons of decency, should perhaps remain nameless… partly because I’d really struggle to spell it. But if you went to Bury College, back then, you’d know. I know why I gave up A-Level French, after a year, but I still feel like adding I really don’t know why I gave up A-Level French.
3 – My childhood movie viewing was a patchwork quilt topped off by the Carry On films, which I’d always be allowed to stay up on my own to watch on my own. After some recent adult viewing I still think that some of them stand up today, with Carry On Up the Khyber (1968) being a classic, whilst Carry On England (1976) must be one of the nastiest of the genre seeing as it seemed to have been filmed in someone’s garden, without any big name stars, and had no proper story whatsoever. Also Joan Simms looked every inch her age, whilst still pretending to be one of the twenty-somethings, although I noted that she excused herself from all the topless scenes.
I imagined that this film was surely even a disgrace at the time it was made and Wikipedia duly informed me that it was withdrawn from cinemas after just three days.
Adult viewing of childhood films can be an eye-opening experience and recently I caught five minutes of Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), which was being screened at 3am, and there were some subtle nuances I didn’t pick up on as a child such as when the hero was despatched to the “conjugal suite”, to give the pretty girl a damn good raping for the good of the colony… fresh bedding and everything. Children’s films, eh?
I detect that the Carry On star has faded now to the extent that for one year’s New Year’s celebrations whilst BBC1 book-ended their coverage of the London midnight fireworks with a live Queen concert in contrast Channel 3 were showing Carry On Camping (1969), and I thought: Oh well, start as you mean to go on ITV. Start as you mean to go on.
4 – The painter LS Lowry did use to teach art in Bury at the Art College and the museum did use have its own Lowry painting, The Riverbank, hanging on its wall until the council decided to sell it off for hard cash. This got them the ire of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council who struck them off from accredited museum status. Bought in 1951 for £175 they sold it in 2006 for £1.4 M. It was later sold on again by the new owner for almost a cool two million, so who’s the real winner in all this? Although as that second sale was upon the buyer’s death then maybe we can start a Riverbank curse rumour which won’t be sated until it’s returned to the people of Bury? It’s killed and it will kill again. You heard it here first.