It’s a long one this, you’d better put the kettle on and make a cup of tea.
A funny thing happened on Saturday. I don’t know what it was, maybe watching repeats on BBC2 of my favourite comedies from when I was a child, or the compilations of Top of the Pops we followed that with, or maybe the Desperados beer with tequila chasers, but something in my memory was triggered, and suddenly thoughts, songs, images from being a kid came flooding back like a cold water tap that’s been turned on full in the sink, the water splashing and hitting you so quickly that you can’t turn it off without getting thoroughly soaked. I picked up a pen and writing pad, always good to have them close to hand on nights like this, and I started writing, furiously, words, half sentences, names, rewriting again if I couldn’t read what I’d just put, arrows and lines, ‘put this here, move this bit, remember this bit, it’s important.’
I finished writing, tore the pages out of the pad, folded them up, put them in my wallet, and set the alarm on my ‘phone to remind me to read them. Always good to leave yourself an aid memoir, I usually do this kind of writing either late at night or on the hoof, and if I don’t remind myself then I can have reams and reams of jottings that just gather dust on the shelf and don’t make sense..
9 years old, 1973. Princess Anne’s getting married in the afternoon, the same day as Prince Charles’ Birthday. And mine. A day off school, on my Birthday. How cool is that? Very. But not as cool as the transistor radio my Mum and Dad had got me. My own radio. With an earpiece. Finally, I can listen to Radio Luxemburg at night without anyone knowing. Apart from my brother that is. We shared a room, and he’d had a radio for a good few years. In fact all four of us Canavan kids now had radios, all the same make, Murphy, different colours but all tuned to the same stations. And all with the same earpieces, tinny, mono, badly fitting so they fell out when you walked, moved, or breathed a bit too heavy.
Where was I? Ah yes.
I can’t begin to tell you the freedom I thought I would have now. My radio, goes wherever I go. My stations. Radio One during the day until Newsbeat. Then Luxemburg in bed at night, loving the music, first time I ever heard Earth, Wind and Fire’s ‘Shining Star’ was on the Dave Lee Travis show, fading in and out. But I never understood the adverts. What was a tampon anyway? I’m nine, I don’t need them. (Actually, I knew what they were, but not quite what they were for. My brother Sean and I had found my sister Aron’s supply on top of her wardrobe. A quick explanation from Sean as to what they were for, still didn’t understand, then, time to fill up the sink in the bathroom, unwrap them and throw them in the water. One of our many Science experiments. Blimey they grow to a big size. You wouldn’t want to use them if you had a nose bleed.)
That was a long time to be in brackets.
As with all big working class families there is a tradition of passing things down, whether it’s clothes, me and our Sean had to wear pink corduroy jeans for years thanks to this rule and my sisters growing out of them, but also the passing down of obligations. After 5 minutes of unwrapping my present and trying it out, my brother took his radio down from on top of the fridge, where my sister Grainnes’ radio had sat before it, and before that my sister Arons’, and replaced it with mine. And there it stayed, until I’d grown the added height to reach up and take the bloody thing down at night.
Jump forward a year. 1974, my birthday, a Thursday in November.
The radio is still the only source of music in the kitchen, or front room if the heating’s on and we can sit in there without losing the feeling in your hands. I’ve had a summer of playing out side and it being my companion, all day long. Or until the batteries ran out. And now it’s Autumn and my Birthday.
Down at the Shops at Sharoe Green there was a Chemist and his wife. He dispensed the medicine, his wife sold the perfumes, toys and Dr.Whites, which according to my Mother was a big box of cotton wool and no I couldn’t have any to play with and could I stop asking her what the cotton wool was for, go and listen to your radio. There’s a theme here, but I don’t know what.
In the window of the shop, for sale, le’ts say 50p, which was a lot, was a lamp. A battery operated bedside lamp in the shape of a dogs’ head, Bloodhound, who was wearing a night cap. The dog was pink and brown, the nightcap green. I had no idea what it would look like when lit up, but it must be lovely. It looks lovely. Well, I didn’t need to wait long to find out. My sister Grainne bought it me for my Birthday.
Now, you’re probably thinking, 10 years old and he gets a night light. Strange boy. Or you’re thinking, ‘how long have I been reading this and when is he getting to the point?’ Nearly there, Dear reader.
That night, I got in bed and we put on the Doggy light, as it was now affectionately called, and then put out the big light.
I can’t remember seeing anything so beautiful, this lovely warm, orangey and green glow came from it, the dogs face lit up, not enough to light the whole room, but enough to light the side of my bed. And there it sat, next to my radio that I could now reach, next to my bed, on top of the Tea Chest that I had as a bed side table (it had sharp metal edges, and I was forever catching my head on it when I rolled over at night.).
Every time I hear the song ‘Killer Queen’, the clicking fingers, the ‘She keeps the Moet Chandon in a pretty cabinet,’ the vamping piano, I always think of that doggy lamp. November 1974 and that song was in the charts and you could guarantee that it would be played at some stage of the evening on the radio. And I’d lie in bed, look at the lamp, listen to Freddie singing. Bliss.
I’ve never liked the dark, complete darkness that is. I don’t know if it’s my claustrophobia, or the solitude of it, or the fact that when I was little the curtains at night used to talk to me. Long story for another time. But with this light, this glowing doggy, there was none of that. I felt safe and loved. And for any child at any age, feeling safe and loved is the best thing in the world.
And for some reason on Saturday night, suddenly, and only for a short while, that’s how I felt. Ten years old. Safe. And loved.