Thursday, 26 April 2012

Awww... diddums

I'm not sure if it's the silly season for news or something, but I was a little taken aback by the story of the 6-year old girl "abandoned" and "in tears" because the school bus apparently dropped her off at the bus stop too early and there was no-one to escort her 50 yards up the road into the school.

As you'd expect, many of the comments on the article are from people vying with each other to tell the best 'hard times' stories of how far/how long they had to walk to school at her age back in the 'good old days'. That I can certainly relate to: at the age of six I remember my mother used to walk me to school (there was no such thing as the "school run" because very few people could afford cars and we certainly couldn't). I'm not sure how far away we lived: it was certainly an isolated house on the outskirts of the village, so maybe 15-20 minutes? At Junior School I went with the other kids on the 'School Bus' (a converted 3-ton Army truck) and at Secondary School I went on my own, first on foot and then, when we moved to Kenilworth, by bus. So my mother only took me up until the age of about seven. I knew where the school was, where I lived, and roughly what to do if there was a problem - which incidentally wouldn't have included the use of a mobile phone.

My mother was a "full-time mum" *what a ghastly expression that is?* until I was 11 or 12 when she went back to work, although only part-time. I was taught to be self-reliant and to use a bit of common-sense and initiative, so I don't think I'd have been "sobbing for a quarter of an hour" just because there was no-one else around. There again, in those days, school gates weren't commonly locked. I suppose we shouldn't judge too harshly, but part of growing up is learning to be a bit independent and coping when things go wrong without relying on everyone else all the time - while at the same time developing the good sense to stay out of real danger.

Oh, and what a lovely line in petulant pouting young Katie has got in the (obviously posed) photo there!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Young, free and single... part 1?

I've written fairly frequently on here about my childhood and schooldays, but haven't really tended to mention anything about what I did by way of leisure activity.  Maybe it wasn't that interesting or I just don't remember it that clearly - either of which is a bit sad in a way, I suppose.  The other day, though, a random chance question suddenly reminded me of a key element of my transition to adulthood, which went by the name of the Dungeon Disco!  It was held on Saturday nights in the cellars of the Eathorpe Park Hotel, a Victorian-built establishment out in the countryside some seven miles or so from Leamington.  You needed a car to get there, and it was couples-only admission, which together effectively kept at bay the riff-raff and the weenyboppers: it was a smashing venue.

I first went one night in late 1970 or early 1971: my best mate at the time thoughtfully(?) fixed me up with an ex-girlfriend of his, and we all went as a foursome.  In fact his motive wasn't entirely altruistic, as I was providing the transport! You went in the hotel front door, and to the right I think was a little door which led down some stone steps into the "dungeon" - two parallel cellars, one of which accommodated the dancefloor with the DJ in the far corner, the other being the seating area.  A small bar ran across the end.  Not that it matters now, but I don't recollect where the loos were (maybe back upstairs?).  The dungeon theme was reinforced by white grilles and things painted on the ceiling, with bones and skeletons which glowed periodically under the UV lighting: I can't really do it justice with just a brief description.  The music was a mix of chart releases, disco classics and some oldies, with several "smooch-times" interspersed at intervals throughout the evening.  The DJ would do the occasional request dedication, and the whole thing went on till 1am, which was late by rural Warwickshire standards - at least in those days.

Needless to say the foursome wasn't a resounding success, but as luck would have it I soon acquired a partner of my own, and we went a number of times, singing along to such hits as Middle of the Road's "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep" - dead corny now, but great fun doing the chorus as the DJ 'blanked' it out.  At Christmas 1972 it was an established favourite place of ours, and the one we chose for our wedding night - to the amazement of the DJ, as we asked for a special dedication to us newlyweds!  I'm sure he thought we were pulling his leg, but he duly obliged, and I shall treasure forever the happy memory of smooching to the Everly Brothers "Devoted to you", oblivious to everything except singing the words to each other.

We went again a couple of times the first year or so after we were married, but then I heard the Dungeon had shut, and sure enough, the next time we went, the little door to the steps was locked and it was all closed off.  We settled instead for a meal in the hotel restaurant, but although very nice, it couldn't re-create the special ambiance of the Dungeon, and we didn't go again.  This would've been around 1973 or possibly early 1974.  I lost track of what happened to the hotel after that, but I saw from a recent photo that although still standing, at some point it evidently closed altogether and was converted into private apartments.

I don't think I ever did discover what had led to the Dungeon's demise - or at least, if I did at the time, I've long since forgotten it now.  Maybe the hotel changed hands and the new owners didn't want to continue running it?  I suppose, looking back on it from the modern era of clubs and raves, discos in that format were possibly by then reaching the end of their 'shelf life'.  Who knows?  It was a great place while it lasted, though!   

SP3969 : Eathorpe Park by Andy F
Eathorpe Park
  © Copyright Andy F and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Save water... bath with a friend?

The recent spell of uncharacteristically warm Spring weather came to an abrupt end yesterday, with a chilly night giving way to stormy conditions: rain, sleet... and snow!  The snow admittedly hasn't amounted to much here, but it's the first wet day we've seen for about a fortnight I think - prompting slightly panicky pronouncements of drought conditions and imminent hosepipe bans, reminiscent of the famous drought of 1976.  Looking out now at the rain lashing against the window-pane and the phone wires bouncing in the wind, unending sunshine with temperatures in the 90s for days on end seems an attractive proposition.  It's tempting to conclude that we've learnt nothing about conserving water in the last 35 years, but then again there's arguably been no desparate need to.

I remember the house we lived in when I was a teenager: a pre-war detached house in Kenilworth which boasted an iron rainwater tank just above the kitchen, into which all the downpipes from the roof guttering emptied.  I'm not sure which of the previous owners had the idea to build it: it always struck me as being a bit bizarre, and none of the neighbours had one as far as I know.  It had a tap just by the back door, and during the summer we used it to water the garden, which was a large one and took an hour or two even using a hosepipe.  I don't think I ever found out how much it held, but in the ten years or so I lived there, I only recollect it actually running dry once.  When my parents later on had an extension built on the back of the house, they had the tank removed - which with the benefit of hindsight might perhaps have turned out to have been a mistake.

Oddly enough, the little pond in the local woods, which last year dried up to caked mud for most of the summer, this year seems to be starting to fill with water again - presumably from the rain, as there isn't a stream or anything there as far as I know.  Evidently there is water around, just not where it's needed most.  Which shouldn't really be that much of a problem: after all, the Romans were building aqueducts two thousand years ago!