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Lugging Boxes at Bargain City
By Alan Metcalfe
Is how Danny Zuko's side kick, Kenickie, spent the summer of '78. Except
it was supposed to be 1958. But you know what I mean; 'Grease' was the
word, and we all wanted to tap for Sandy Olsen (who had a different
surname in the stage version, copyright infringement fans.
It was a hot afternoon, the last day of June, and I strolled out of my
inner-city comprehensive for the final time. Sauntering along Breck Road,
I turned into Rik in classic Young Ones episode 'Summer Holiday' as I
launched into 'no more English, no more French, no more bloody anything at
all'. School's out - For Ever!
But then it dawned on me. What was I gonna do for the next few months?
Priorities must, of course, so I was straight up to Breckfield dole office
to make my claim for supplementary benefit, before marching into Shields'
newsagents and quitting my paper round in dramatic fashion. The next day,
my mate and I (he went on to become lead vocalist in a mildly successful
scouse pop combo) headed down to the careers office in Great Crosshall
Street, to look for gainful showbiz employ. I emerged an hour later, with
an interview for a job as a curtain hanger (I kid you not) in the
psychiatric annex to Fazakerley hospital.
To cut to the chase, I got the gig, and started the following Monday at
the unheard of time of 7.30am. I was based in the 'Machine Room' with
about 25 seamstresses (whatever the fuck a seamstress is), and I was the
only lad. It was hell. I'd never been near a girl (and, at 16, in
Liverpool, that's some embarrassing claim to make), but every day they
would ask me if I was 'courting' and how big my knob was. Moreover, when
they were teaching me how to hang curtains, they would deliberately press
their tits into me, whilst they demonstrated the lost art. No wonder I've
never been able to love properly.
I lasted about a month, when salvation came (almost literally) with an
invite to go to a Christian Youth Camp, in North Wales, for a week. They
let schoolkids, or 16-year old dolites or Youth Opportunity types, go
cheap, and without having to satisfy the 'regular Sunday School
Attendance' criteria, in order for the Jesus Freaks to have a bigger
demographic upon which to work their ministerial magic.
And so it was, on a bright Saturday in July, me and three other reprobates
gathered at Mann Island for the 6 hour journey (yes!) to Abererch, near
Porthmadog. Somewhere, I still have the 'handbook' for the week, which
showed that I was placed in the 'Wycliffe' (a bible translator,
apparently) group, and that I banked £2.50 spends, with the group leader,
at the start of the week. Much to our surprise and delight, the bus was
rammed with Nazarene tottie; hoardes of 15/16 year old girls, clutching
their bibles, and wearing tee shirts with slogans like 'He is Risen' (Kaka
- you were 29 years late, mate). Feels like heaven, as 'Fiction Factory'
were to opine some 6 years later.
We dived onto the back seat, pressed 'play' on our cassette recorder, and
sat back to listen to the top sounds of the day. 'Mr Blue Sky' by ELO,
'Miss You' by the Rolling Stones, 'Love is in the Air' by John Paul Young,
and, of course, 'You're the One that I Want' by Oivia Newton John and John
Travolta. Great stuff. After a fraught trip, due to bottle necks at
Capel Curig and Bala (no A55 in those days), we eventually limped -
green-faced - into camp. Incredibly, homesickness was very prevalent on
night one, but we soon settled in.
The routne was pretty fixed, with a chunk of the morning given over to
bible 'study' (which, to us, involved blimping all of the female campers,
and not giving a shit about whether the prodigal son came home or not, or
how small Zaccheus was) before an afternoon out in a local resport (wish
to God I could spell Pwhelli). The evenings were the best, though, as
there was a week long footy tournament, which we entered as 'Everton' and
which we eventually won following a dramatic penalty shoot out against the
Chester lads. There was always a midnight walk to the beach, as well, and
the heady combination of girls, warm night air, and Jesus songs played by
a beardy leader in a kagoule, led to an atmosphere that was never short of
Come the Friday, we were gutted by the thought of going home. To me, the
idea of leaving all these purdy young things behind, and returning to my
daily conversations with Mr Chang in ward 8 (he'd hacked off his wife's
head because she'd burnt the gravy), was just too much to bear. Whilst
none of the lads had kopped off, the frission of tentative looks across a
crowded dining hall, and the accidental brushing of hands (with the girls,
like) during communal prayer time was, in its own way, far more exciting
than slobbery kisses and, ahem, 'getting your tit', could ever have been.
We swapped loads of addresses (no texts in those days), and, in fairness,
we did keep in touch for a while.
With the onset of winter, though, the dream faded, like they always do,
and we discovered all-night parties, with 'heavy petting', sleeping on the
floor, and feeling like shit when you wake up with a Jade Goody
doppelganger. Nothing could ever recreate the magic of Camp '78, and,
even now, if I hear a snatch of, say, 'Kiss you all Over', by Exile, or
Dan Hill's 'Sometimes When we Touch', I am transported back to a better
time, to a blonde haired girl with a New Testament and a Farrah Fawcett
Majors head, and a long hot summer that just passed me by . . . .
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