After the initial excitement of starting a new chapter in the northern hemisphere, domestic life became more organised. TV was such a novelty we watched EVERYTHING. But Christmas was looming.
From a TV perspective, there were 3 channels: BBC1, BBC2 and ITV. Hard to believe these days but much more conducive to domestic bliss. All I can really remember now was the Old Grey Whistle Test (TOGWT) with Whispering Bob Harris on Friday nights and wrestling on Saturday afternoons that was more comedy than contest. Corpulent men in leotards falling over backwards, sideways and forwards without even having been within a foot of an opponent. Names like Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks added to the sense of farce. For Big Daddy, imagine Matt Lucas in a Borat cozzie. Enlightened by this spectacle, Carmela and I would switch off the telly on Saturday evening and slope down to the launderette and two rounds (pint of Fullers and a coke) in the pub next door. One while the washer made everything wet and one while the drier made it dry again. Washing and drinks for two, less than £1. That may even have included a bag or two of Walkers crisps.
Of course we watched soaps. Crossroads (never to be confused/associated with Robert Johnson or Eric Clapton) was about the daily doings in a motel. It was screened most days of the week and was pretty forgettable although it seemed to have captured the imagination of our news editor, Eldred, when contemplating a canal holiday. He had worked out that, for a substantial portion of the trip, he'd be able to watch the identical episode of Crossroads twice on the same evening, the timing being different for the local ITV franchises.
Back in the bleak midwinter Friday evenings of early 1975 there was naff-all to do but watch the rental telly and, when you got bored, take B&W pics of the screen. The screen was colour but my camera film wasn't. The shutter speed had to be synchronised with the screen refresh, so 'twas a minor challenge. Old Asahi Pentax SLR, no autofocus, no built in light meter. A cursor hover will reveal who the artists were.
Occasionally, for "free" entertainment, we went to observe/heckle at Speakers' Corner. Phil Duff told me he became addicted to the Corner and that he recalled four "quadraphonic" hecklers who deliberately stood at the four points of the compass around a speaker and carried out a choreographed banter to stir up confusion for the incumbent of the soapbox. Contrarily, the bloke in the picture (below) looks as if he's enjoying himself. After all, hecklers were part of the show.
In those days phones weren't in any way ubiquitous. We didn't have our own landline so personal communication had to happen via airmail letters. Christmas was looking a bit bleak. Carmela and I contemplated our original version of the Baby Belling cooker (middle above). A hot plate and a tiny oven. It was going to be a far cry from the Toscano feasts my new bride had been accustomed to all her life.
"D'you think it would fit a small turkey?" I asked.
"It would have to be a very small one," Carmela replied, "besides, I wouldn't even begin to know where to start." She looked a bit disconsolate.
By happenstance, a letter arrived from my Mum (3rd above) a few days later. In it was the telephone number of one of her greatest chums from their days at Rhodes University in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. I had met Molly as a young child before she and her family had left South Africa. Their children, Imogen and Peter were approximately my age.
"I'll ask if I can use the phone at work to phone Molly and ask her advice," I tried to reassure Carmela.
In retrospect it seems like the most transparent hint. Ever.
Thankfully Molly answered the phone the first time I tried from the newsroom. After the usual pleasantries she asked what we'd be doing at Christmas. I explained that we were trying to work out how to fit a turkey in our Baby Belling.
"Yup, yup," she interjected. "Why don't you come here on Christmas day, we'd love to see you?"
I tried to sound surprised. I was extremely grateful.
"Yup yup," Molly interrupted, proceeding to give me directions to their Holland Park address.
I couldn't wait to get back to Ealing to tell my wife.
Carmela's emotions were a mixture of relief, gratitude and trepidation: "Isn't her husband a judge?" she asked. We were both experiencing a little awe. This mini-biog explains why better than I can.
"His Honour Michael Parker.
"Successful QC who failed to persuade South Kensington to vote Labour
"The career of the circuit judge Michael Parker was a standing affirmation of the qualities of intellectual honesty, courtesy and kindness. In silk, just as when he was a junior, he impressed all who heard him by the skill of his analysis and the penetration of his questions. And he carried these talents forwards to the Circuit Bench, which he graced for some 15 years.
"Michael Clynes Parker was well rooted in the Labour Party. He derived his second name from J. R. Clynes, Home Secretary in Ramsay MacDonald’s Government, and his mother, Elsie Parker, was President of the National Union of Teachers. He stood for Parliament in the 1951 general election for South Kensington. It was a forlorn hope, but he acquitted himself well."
)n the tube from Ealing Broadway to Holland Park we were more than a bit nervous but we needn't have worried. As a family, the Parkers showed a a genuine interest in how we were getting on in London and were apparently rapt at both of our opinions.
"Yup," Molly interceded in agreement with many of our points as we held forth. It was over all too soon. We were replete with goodwill and Christmas dinner:
"Nope, you can't go home on the tube.," she proclaimed as we were stirring ourselves to leave. "Imogen will drive you home, yup?" Molly looked at her daughter and son-in-law.
"Of course Mum," Imogen replied. On the way over to Ealing they asked what we were doing for the New Year.
"We'll be in Paris," we chorused. I explained that part of the deal in being posted to Fleet Street was that we broadened our minds with additional travel.
New Year's Eve 1974
"It’s much less bovver on a Hover!" Hoverlloyd had enjoined us with an repeated earworm while we were planning our first trip abroad. Hooked on the idea of bonne année we booked an inclusive deal via Ramsgate and Calais.
Arriving at the English coast it became obvious that our passage to Calais was going to be a bit more bovver than we'd been led to believe. The sea was pretty bloody choppy and there appeared to be some doubt as to whether our craft would "sail" at all. I suppose we were relieved that it did but we were even more relieved to arrive in Calais. It had taken almost twice as long to bounce from peak to trough as we crossed the Channel. There had been screams from others passengers but we had been able to remain stoical.
We arrived in Pigalle without any further ado ... except for the short journey to our pension doing the poodle-poo-pavement-polka. We discovered in the few days we were there that the sidewalks were cleaned every morning but by evening, sacre bleu!
We weren't disappointed with the toutes les bonnes années we received on our festive first night taking in the Pigalle/Montmartre environs on New Year's Eve.
The views from below were from the pension window. The grey Beetle a touch of nostalgia.
Then it was 1975 and we weren't disappointed with the Folies Bergère either. A bit more consistently saucy than the few early London shows we saw but conducted with an extra portion of stylish panache. Twenty plus years in SA Calvinistic isolation and we were already getting used to it. There were no plagues and pestilence, just a bit of glitzy fun.
Lost in France
On our last afternoon we took a stroll along the Seine in the sunshine. Sunshine is as sunshine does and we entered a state of karmic relaxation. The crowds were pretty dense as we were finding our way back to our Pigalle boudoir. I had the only map and somehow we became separated. It only took seconds. I was beside myself. I'd heard stories of the dodgier area of Paris. I could not imagine what Carmela was going through. I spent what felt like hours running around like a poulet sans tête. It was hopeless and it was getting rapidly dark..
The only option seemed for me to make my way back to Place Blanche Metro with my heart in my mouth to see if she had managed to return to our pension. Emerging from the metro and walking briskly towards base, I heard my name coming from the doorway of a cafe close by. And there she was, waving frantically, seemingly with a young Frenchman in tow.
"Marko, this is Arsène, he very kindly helped me get back here." Carmela gestured.
Neither of us spoke French and Asène's English was not much more proficient.
I fell upon him with gratitude, asking him to join us for an evening meal. Carmela was nodding approval.
It was happenstance all over again. What a wonderful evening we had We established he was Algerian and swapped experiences of faraway places. It's extraordinary how people can communicate sans langue commune when they really wish to.
Carmela waiting in Pigalle in the second photo above.
The next day we got back to Calais to find that the Channel/La Manche was like a mill pond. The hover glided across in no time at all.
Things to look forward to ...
For the next month or two it would be nose to the grindstone. Stride a mile in the morning to Ealing Broadway. Read several daily newspapers on the Central Line journey to Chancery Lane. Stride to 85 Fleet Street. Commune with the permies (first pic below) and then repeat the process in reverse in the evening and with evening papers. By the time I got home (second pic below) I'd have digested 5-6 newspapers. Evenings were less stressful on the tube because the papers were all tabloids and easier to read in a confined space. That is, until I learned to magic broadsheet fold and unfold. Once so equipped, the occasional tapping of the side of the nose became appropriate to others who knew the secret. Respect.
I included the picture of our modest block of flats abode mainly because because it was shortly to become the scene of much happiness. Sistas reunited. Elena arriving.
Coming soon: Summer holidays. Business travel. 70s comms.
 Crossroads was cheap and cheerless but watched by many (up t0 15 million) UK viewers.
 Lifted from the 21st of May, 2003 edition of The Times
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