As children of the Why Don’t You generation, my wife and I are pretty keen on the notion that our kids should make time to enjoy the outdoors and enjoy a range of different experiences when the time allows – especially during the long break from school that the summer holidays allow.
Indeed, my wife is such a proponent of this that she even runs her own successful blog – Get Out and About – which is directly aimed at encouraging families to leave the house and enjoy the manifold experiences to be had across the UK and, for that matter, the rest of the world (her / our National Trust A – Z Challenge was a minor twitter hit throughout 2014!)
Thankfully, both of our sons fully embrace the idea. My youngest divides his time between a football pitch, rugby pitch and tennis court during most weeks of the year while my eldest son, when not treading the boards (a budding actor, you see), is constantly thinking up new experiences that he can give a try.
At the end of 2014 my dad was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer. Whilst it’s always a shock to the system of any family when a loved one is hit by an illness, particularly one of those ‘C’ ones, for children it can be be all the more traumatic. As far as my children were concerned we were all, grandparents included, somewhat indestructible; constants in their lives always on hand to help with the school run or to cheer from the touchline or, often, to spoil them with sweets and other assorted treats. We made the decision to keep them informed, rather than overly coddle them on the situation, my dad’s prognosis was reasonably good and we decided that they ought to know that his situation was serious but that he was in good hands and would hopefully make a full recovery. But serious, as I say, nonetheless. To our great relief, my dad’s operation was a success and, despite a number of months recuperating, he has made a fairly remarkable recovery to full health. But the episode had had an effect on my kids; in particular my eldest son, Sam, aged 12. I won’t explain why because I’d encourage you to read it in his own words on the link below as he’ll elucidate a lot better than me. Suffice to say, however, that the whole business made Sam come to a decision: that he wanted to do something for those who might not be as fortunate as his granddad.
The Spirit of Why Don’t You / Get Out & About
With six weeks of summer holiday fun in which to look forward, Sam decided that, rather than contemplate the X-Box hours he could enjoy or the TV he could watch, he was going to get out, on his bike and ride around Cardiff to raise some money and awareness about Prostate Cancer. His other grandfather, Boppy Howard – a retired police inspector, professional grandparent and generally superfit bike enthusiast, was recruited to the task with the mission being to ride 70 miles in one week around the streets, parks and lanes of Cardiff City. 10 miles a day, every day for a week. The plan was to set up a Just Giving page and try to raise a few pounds to go towards the Men United / Prostate Cancer UK campaign.
We tentatively set a target of £500.00 to raise, and in truth, if Sam managed to get even half of that it would have been a job well done. So when we saw that the £500 barrier had been smashed by Day 2 of the ride, it was, to say the least, beyond expectation. Each day, Sam and Howard, dressed for the occasion in official riding tops kindly sent from Prostate Cancer UK headquarters, took to their bikes and hit the road, taking in the landmarks of the city and turning heads along the way; generating increasing interest and raising yet more money to the cause.
Their routes took them along the Taff Trail, to Llandaff, Heath, Rhiwbina and Roath Park. They stopped off alongside the Millennium Stadium, Swalec stadium and Cardiff Castle. Took the time to get a selfie by City Hall and make a few laps of Cardiff Bay and the Barrage. And by the time they arrived home in Whitchurch on Sunday, 70 miles and a lot of satisfaction later, there we were; proud parents, grandparents and brother, to greet them both in a fanfare of glitter (and kisses from his mum!) and raft of well wishes from friends, family and social media alike.
Hard to believe it’s really 15 years since that, somewhat memorable, Wales v England match at Wembley.
Anyway, I was a-hunting through some old boxes in the garage a few days ago and happened upon this little ditty below, penned a few days after the intoxicating event. So, what with another impending clash with them from over the bridge looming large, I thought – as a bit of nonsensical nostalgia – that I’d stick this up here on the interweb site.
So, a bit of background – in true Max Boyce, I was there mode…
The trip was in the heyday of what was then known as The Hawk President’s XV – a bit of an in-joke between young men trying very hard not to grow up. The Hawk in question was (and indeed still is) a man soft of voice, deep of thought and ill-fitting of blazer.
The XV made the trip to London and Wembley, the temporary home of the Welsh team as the Millennium Stadium was being built, stopping somewhere in Fulham on the Saturday night before the big Sunday match. A beautiful spring day full of warmth, blue skies, plane spotting and Heineken. After which a match which would take its place for the ages.
And, for better or, almost certainly worse, this was my recollection of the occasion, in the hazy, lazy days that followed.
That Sunday we woke early
The boys, the Hawk and me
On a floor in a flat in Fulham
A journey to Wembley
We walked out into that spring morning
Warm sun in a bright blue sky
Boarded a tube at Clapham Junction
Someone said, “if we win then I’ll cry”
In a pub by the ground we adjourned to
Not an English voice could we hear
For the Valleys had moved to London
Because Wembley was ‘home’ this year
In the ground Tom sang ‘Delilah’
The chorus the crowd joined in
And the sun beat down on the green grass of ‘home’
And for a second I believed we would win
We had lost to the Scots and the Irish
Written off without a chance
But Graham said have faith and we did
And we went and won in France
Now at Wembley against the English
Surrounded in the stand
We gifted the saes an early score
And I sat with my head in my hands
We were mocked as they stretched their lead
Swing low was the popular cry
But we stayed in touch thanks to Jenkins
And by a magical Howarth try
But the clock ticked down we were losing by six
A familiar feeling of woe
A penalty: a glimmer of hope
But only mere seconds to go
Wyatt to Howley to Senior Quinnell
To Gibbs, the crowd started to roar
As he scythed his way through the English defence
Raising his arm as he touched down to score
And I burst into tears embracing the Hawk
Saying, “Jenks still has to convert”
But this was a day for magic
The kick was, I knew, a dead cert
I slumped where I stood, crying freely
But the tears were of joy not sorrow
My voice had gone, my vision blurred
And I sobbed “I’m not working tomorrow!”
And so now we are back in Cardiff
Where God willing we shall stay
But the memory of that Sunday at Wembley lives on
Where we won while playing away
Blockbuster Video store will disappear from the UK high street on Monday of next week (16th December) as the administrators announced the closure of the 91 remaining stores.
It is, I suppose, an inevitable sign of the times.
Sky, Virgin, Xbox, Playstation, Lovefilm, Blinkbox, Netflix, iTunes and so many other digital and online suppliers now make it almost ridiculously easy to access just about any film or TV box set that you can think of; at the touch of a red button, in the comfort of your living room. All beamed in glorious 1080i HD directly to your big ole flat screen gogglebox, laptop, tablet or phone.
With all that access, why would anyone go to the video shop anymore?
Now, I’m not complaining about this you understand. Having virtually instant access to the films I want to watch is a positive thing as far as I’m concerned. And yet, I cannot help but feel a certain pang of sadness at the final demise of Blockbuster, marking, as it does, the end of the video era.
Video was epic.
The video rental store would become a cornerstone of popular culture. There was something cool about video stores – this place, this shop with row upon row of the films you longed to see, the films you’d heard about, the films you never knew existed. The TV constantly playing, usually above your head, hanging precariously by bracket, playing Ghostbusters or Goonies, distracting you from making a choice.
And how difficult was it to make a choice?
I could spend hours in my local shop trying to come to a decision. Staring at the walls, at the Top 20 wall, the new releases wall, the differing genres – comedy, drama, horror, family. Should I get a film I’d already seen and enjoyed in the cinema, or something completely new?
Of course, some things never change – the days of standing aimlessly in the video store may be over, merely replaced by the vacuous scrolling through the on-screen lists provided by Netflix or Sky, the night ebbing away without a film actually getting viewed.
The Golden Age of the Video
When it came into our lives it heralded an era of unprecedented change. At least, that’s how it felt at the time.
Video first arrived into my family in the early part of the 80s. It came in the form of a giant silver, rectangular box with a row of buttons along the top and the words FERGUSON imprinted on the side.
It was one of the most amazing things I’d ever seen.
A gadget that enabled you to record programmes off the television. Not only that, but you could pause those programmes and rewind and fast forward them as well – the way you could a cassette player.
Which is essentially what it was – a cassette player for the telly!
Our machine was fab – I loved it from the moment it arrived in all its garish and heavy glory in our living room. I loved that when you pressed the eject button the compartment that held the video tapes would spring up in the manner of Arkwright’s till in the sitcom Open All Hours.
I helped set it up and, shortly afterwards, considered myself quite the expert upon its workings.
On that first morning I taped Tiswas while I continued to watch Multi-Coloured Swap Shop on BBC1. This was a revolutionary moment. Up until then I’d had to make a choice; usually this meant the first hour of Swap Shop, watching Noel’s introduction, the Tarzan cartoon they’d show, finding out where Keith ‘Cheggars’ Chegwin was on his travels that week, before changing channels at ten for the anarchy of Tiswas on ITV.
But not anymore. Now, thanks to the wonder of the video – I had the pleasure of both. My parents were thrilled.
Video changed everything.
Over Christmas I played with it as much as my new AT-AT Walker. Father Christmas even brought me some blank tapes of my own as an additional present. I taped as much television as I could, patiently tolerated by my parents. On Christmas Day alone I taped the Worzel Gummidge Christmas Special, The Muppet Movie and Dr No, even recording the Queen’s Speech that preceded the big Bond movie, much to the delight and amazement of Nan and Bampy, who’d come down from Rumney to stay with us over the holidays. Even the smallest advances in technology were enough to bring sighs of wonderment from Nan, so such a radical invention as the video recorder had her clicking her false teeth in astonishment.
I was diligent in my video use, strict in my cataloguing of all the taped programmes, bringing in a system of numbering each cassette with the sticky numbers provided then keeping a record of what was on each number in a small A5 notepad.
The system lasted about a week.
Nasty Videos for nasty times?
The birth of the video era was quite a thing indeed – but it wasn’t all joy and jollity.
Rumour was growing that this new technology might be a weapon of more sinister design. A tool of corruption and seediness; even, perhaps, a gateway to depravity and moral decline.
In fact, as the guardians of all that is moral and right, the tabloid newspapers, informed that we were all in grave peril of our souls being tainted by the rise of the VIDEO NASTY.
Video nasty is a term, much like Frankie Say Relax, laced through with pure 80s. A term we became all too aware of as the opportunity to watch movies at home grew in prominence. A term which, in fact grew in conjunction with the rise of the video rental store.
My first experience of these new, somewhat at odds, phenomena came via my dad who revealed that there was a new place down on Cathays Terrace where you could go and rent films to bring home to watch. Films that hadn’t been shown on the TV before. New films. Or at least, nearly new films.
We made a trip to this new shop, a family outing to this wondrous new grotto. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Every wall was covered from ceiling to floor with row upon row of every film imaginable. Surely this spelled the end for The Monico, the Plaza, the Odeon – all the places I loved to visit. As it happened, video itself was soon to be under attack because of the sudden availability of many of these film titles.
I scanned the walls of the shop in awe that day, reading titles and looking at cassette covers that were thrillingly gory and disgusting and scary, even if you were older than eight years old. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Driller Killer, I Spit on your Grave, Zombie Flesh Eaters. And I thought Raiders of the Lost Ark had been terrifying. Mum and Dad were soon ushering me away from there, thrusting a copy of Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo into my hands before bundling me back to the car.
I don’t recall ever going back.
Somehow, everybody in school had learnt of the existence of these films. One of my best friends who had a brother and sister, both well into their teens, had even seen them. Rumours abounded about what horrors they contained.
“Apparently a woman is put on a hook and then sliced up,” was the prevailing rumour about Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Most laughed and said how much they wanted to see it. I remained quiet on the subject. I didn’t like being scared.
Soon the powers that be joined forces with the powers that wanted to be and cast moral judgements down from their lofty positions of correctness. The Video Recordings Act of 1984 was passed and swathes of films were cut from shelves, confined to the naughty step of the banned video list.
To defend the action to a small degree – video was still in its infancy and as is often the case, was something of an unregulated domain. As such, films of low budget and lower quality came onto the market via the new ‘straight-to-video’ distribution (i.e. without getting a cinema release or classification) – films, in many instances, designed only to shock. If they’d been banned on the grounds that they were dreadful, we would perhaps have understood a bit more.
As it was though, any film that delved into more troublesome terrain of sex and violence, gore and general horror, found itself cast into the abyss (the void, as opposed to the film). The Exorcist, Clockwork Orange, Texas Chainsaw et al all became these mystical movies whose legend and notoriety grew with every passing year out of view.
That first trip to the video store on Cathays Terrace was the start of a love affair with the video store that would end, quite literally, with a more traditional type of love affair.
My wife used to work in the video store on Caerphilly cross-roads, where Rhiwbina kisses Llanishen delicately on the cheek.
It was where she worked when we first started going out back in 1997. In fact I picked her up from there, at the end of her shift, to go out on our first date. I arrived early, hung around in the shop, watching Top Gun on the TV as she got rid of the late night pervs trying to discretely rent their Saturday porn. I helped her lock up, pull the shutters down and off we went in my little Ford Fiesta to catch last orders at the Traveller’s Rest.
It was all very John Hughes.
Within 3 years we were married, the big day recorded for posterity on video. Trouble is, we no longer have a player to watch it on.
Dark Fridays in November, when night would begin before day had a chance to properly end. When the air was cold and damp and light mist drifted along Pantbach Road, caressing the rooftops of the parked cars, swirling in arcs of light from the streetlamps. Friday nights when the queue would wind its way around the front of the large looming, yellow rendered picture house, disappearing into the darkness of the car park on Ty-Wern Road. Family treats – adults and children, husbands and wives, boyfriend, girlfriend, nervous young lovers in the first throes of awkward adolescent romance. Sombrely attired pensioners, silently judging the younger crowd.
Familiar faces. The woman with the earrings in the claustrophobic ticket booth, her bottom half forever hidden beneath the counter. The woman in the tuck-shop, her back always half turned, reaching for sweets or drinks. Mr Monico himself, standing at the back of the foyer, a bespectacled observer, immaculate in navy blazer and grey trousers, matching the neatly trimmed beard and receding hairline; his shadow crawling up the blue-grey wall, sandwiched between glass framed posters for ET and Rocky III. A man of severity, intolerant of those whose mischief threatened the wider audience’s pleasure .
We huddled, slowly moving, shifting patiently towards the small kiosk at the entrance to the foyer. Handing over money without thought for an evening’s entertainment – a ticket for the film and a box of something sweet. A drink – 7-Up or Coke or maybe a tub of orange cordial with the bendy straw that would spew juice as it pierced the plastic lid. Inching through the small and crowded foyer, adults holding children’s hands in the growing crowd of limbs and overcoats. A general murmur of clipped conversations as all headed towards the stairs; darkly lit and winding away from the hubbub below.That was the Monico.
Two screens, two theatres. Proudly boasting its use of Dolby Stereo. Cinema 1 – the original auditorium, bigger than its newer, more intimate counterpart. Soft lighting and an aura of red. The heavy velvet curtain at the front, draped from ceiling to stage. The piano to the left that harked back to an older, more silent age. Two tiers of deep red, soft cushioned seats, faded and worn by generations of backsides. Dust and nicotine tinged smoke drifting up into the spotlights as the theatre would slowly fill and settle. Underfoot the carpet, hidden in the darkness, detected only by its sticky grip from fallen popcorn and pastilles.
No matter the film, the feeling always the same. Anticipation and excitement that grew with the bobbing heads and swaying shoulders, with the elbows that rubbed on reluctantly shared arm rests; while the curtain slowly raised, the huge screen tantalisingly revealed. It was the knowing. The knowing of what would follow. The same old comforting rituals of commencement. A shaft of dusty light overhead firing from the small window at the back of the theatre, the screen before us turning blue, a black splodge within. The music starting and faint white writing appearing, moving closer in a wonderful, ludicrous, 20 second fanfare of our childhood.
Pearl & Dean, purveyors of cheap local advertising. Poorly scripted, badly filmed, jumping and skipping grainy images to entice us to the local Indian restaurant, travel agent, tyre repair specialists. To remind us of the treats in the foyer, Westlers Hot Dogs, cowboys and Indians informing us all of bite after bite after bite of processed pleasure; or Butterkist popcorn with its cheerleading chant:“Butterkist, Butterkist, rah, rah, rah.”
And then the trailers. The teasers of films to come – as exciting as the main event itself. A glimpse into the future. A source of conjecture and anticipation.
“I’ve got to see that.”
I remember these nights and the many films. The screen fading, the theatre dimming to black, the hushed silence or the whoops of over-stimulated teens. The whirr of the projector, the BBFC classification page, wobbly on the screen and then…
Star Wars, Grease, ET or Indiana Jones. Sci-fi or comedy, action, romance. James Bond or Crocodile Dundee.
That was the Monico. Rainy school holidays watching Disney’s latest fairytale. Visits with mum, with dad, with friends, with cousins. Later, with girls. That was Saturday morning cinema club. An onslaught of local kids, dropped off on wet weekend mornings; minors hopped up on e-numbered treats, entrusted to the care of Mr Monico and the cheery patience of Uncle Ian, the good-natured moustachioed host with the thankless task of containing and entertaining armed only with scratched copies of old Flash Gordon episodes and the delights of the Children’s Film Council – Calamity Cow or Anoop the Elephant. Being called onto the stage to a chorus of cheers and jeers if it was your birthday. Little kids standing somewhere between proud and shell-shocked with their 10 Today badges pinned to their jumpers while Uncle Ian tried to lead a tone-deaf rendition of Happy Birthday that could make or break your big day.
The lights of the projector dimmed for the final time in 2003; another independent cinema wilting and ultimately dying from the might of the multiplex. Ten and twelve theatre behemoths sucking the life from the smaller sites. In its place a block of inoffensive but largely uninspired apartments – we used to call them flats.
I’m as guilty for its demise as anyone else. As numbers dwindled and the breeze became more pronounced through the fire exits; as the yellow stuffing forced its way through the stitching of the worn red seats, I, like most other regular cinema goers, finally succumbed to the comfort and variety of the large cinemas down at Cardiff Bay and Nantgarw. The Monico’s time had past. And yet its passing left a void. Bulldozers rolled sadly in and the walls finally crumbled, leaving in its wake a poignant void as another monument to my youth disappeared, fading into a foggy past.
You see, long before Gareth Bale & Sam Warburton raised the profile of Whitchurch High School there was us – the forgotten generation of forty-somethings who spent the best part of the 1980s (and early 90s) navigating their way through the corridors, stairwells and quads of Wales largest high school – trying to avoid the taxing of trainers, the sideburn pinch of Snag, the hurling objects of Mr Brazel and the general threat posed by a mass populace of hormonal teenagers.
And, so – taking more than a smidgen of inspiration from Billy Joel (whose famous song has been parodied almost as much as the Hitler bunker scene in Downfall) I pay tribute to those for whom those school days seep further and further into the distance.
We’re A Long Way From Whitchurch High School
Leather Trevor, inset day, Tower Block, Manor Way
Doctor Michael, Bunsen Burner on a gas tap
Double Welsh, Mrs Lake, John Wayne, Lunch Break
Upper School, Lower School, Fritter in a bap.
Piggy Williams, History,
Games, Swimming, P.E.
White socks, Toni’s Van, Wear your trainers if you can
Llandaff North, Birchgrove, Eat your heart out Michael Gove
Rhiw-bina, Eglwys Wen, Robin Hood’s Merry Men
We’re a long way from Whitchurch High School
But we never miss
A chance to reminisce.
It’s a long time since we were in school
And it keeps the rage
Away from middle age.
Dangermouse, Rent-A-Ghost, 3-2-1, Ted Rogers Host
Jim’ll Fix It, It’s a Knockout, Oh My Fucking God!
Kick Start, Take Hart, Li’lo Lil, a tart
Button Moon, The Wombles and of course, Bod.
Tiswas, Saturday – a real mad-hatter day
Frank Spencer, Michael Knight, Michael Barrymore Aw’wight.
Look In magazine, Why Don’t You, Just 17
Murdoch, Face, Hale & Pace, Freddie Mercury & Queen
We’re a long way from Whitchurch High School…
Mr Nichols, CDT, Mrs Oram in RE
School Tie, Mrs Guy, Breaking up in mid-July
Mr Winters Mr Waream,
Shout at Kids, try to scare’em.
Finish school half past three
Man that subway stinks of pee.
Registration, Assembly, Homework Diary,
After school, after dark, outside tops Caedelyn Park.
Pugh, Pugh, and Macgrew, Cuthbert, Dibble too
Dudley Jones, Mr Wadsworth and a Ford Sierra Cosworth.
We’re a long way from Whitchurch High School…
Mr T, Mrs T, Neil Kinnock, Rocky 3
6th Form, Party, Groove is in the heart
Chips from Victoria, Saturday Superstore
Home Time, Ride Bus, The opening of Toys R Us
Lower Quad, Mod Ex, Constant thoughts about Sex
Any more I can say?
Mallet’s Mallet, Wac-A-Day.
Mr Williams in his sandals, bullies, brawlers, common vandals
Nike Top, LaCoste, Reebok daps at quite a cost
Brazel, Griselle, Panda, Snag, to the trees, crafty fag
Sausage Roll and a can, Beastie Boys, Duran Duran
Date nights in the Monico, snogging, youth club disco
6th form, common room, growing stress, exams loom
Revision is such a chore, Berlin Wall & The Cold War
Wish I was in standard 4, I can’t think of anymore…
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