This here website’s supposed to be a travel blog but sometimes I like to write about other stuff too. So here I am travelling back in time to write about a momentous milestone in the formation of my character. If you can’t be bothered reading this one don’t worry, others will be along in the not too distant future.
By the time my parents finally agreed to buy a record player I had already amassed a collection of twenty-six singles and four LPs. I had suggested many times that our family life might be enriched if we had such a contraption to use as an occasional alternative to watching the telly. Perhaps we could have a bit of a sing-song now and again or even a bop when the Advocaat came out of the sideboard at Christmas. My mate Garry’s family had a record player and they all seemed very happy. My family didn’t have a record player and I felt like a second class citizen. No one could argue with that but my pleas were ignored nonetheless.
My father had once said, “What do you want a record player for? Even if you had one you’ve no records to play on it.” I lodged my six hundred and seventy-fifth request for the Dansette four-speed deluxe model with vinyl finish later that evening. This time I meant business!
A state of the art dream machine had been growling, “Come and get me!” from the shop window of a small electrical retailers every morning for a year as I passed it on my way to school. The release of T.Rex’s classic Twentieth Century Boy made life for the turntableless teenager even more unbearable and from the moment the lady in Woolworth’s handed me my seven inch disc, fitting snugly into a seven and a quarter inch carrier bag, I knew that my campaign to gain phonographic equipment just had to intensify. Personally, deprived of the ability to listen to my own choice of music and share and discuss it with my friends, I didn’t feel as though I was part of the twentieth century myself. Buying a record gave me such a thrill but each time I did it I had to go and sit in my bedroom alone, caressing every last square inch of my treasured purchase and only imagining what it would be like to put it on a turntable, turn it up loud and dance around in my socks.
So what did I need to do to get my normally generous but slightly technophobic old dad to part with the £19.99 that would make me so blissfully happy? Buying more records to create a guilt complex in him appeared to be the most obvious solution. I could visualise the day when the shelf above my bed would be creaking and buckling under the weight of my heroes’ work and that my dad would either take the hint or simply worry about me being crushed to death in the night by an avalanche of unused Bowie albums. I’m sure he would have felt terrible if his only son had been lost in this way, but not quite so terrible if the records in question had at least been listened to.
I could have saved up the money and bought a record player myself but I was put off by the fact that, for the price of such a gadget, I could buy ten LPs or forty forty-fives. This seemed a waste of money and besides, I didn’t feel as though it was my responsibility. Fifteen year-olds traditionally spent their money on records along with football stickers and the sweets required to maintain a full show of acne. Record players fell into the electrical necessities department along with washing machines, fridges and vacuum cleaners. Buying them certainly wasn’t something that should have burdened the shoulders of someone already faced with the responsibility of passing ‘O’ Levels, having to attend every Leeds United home game and catching the attention of the girl who worked in Bonnie & Dot’s baker’s shop and who talked about The Velvet Underground and the New York Dolls and who wore black nail varnish which was all far from common in the Seacroft district of Leeds in the early 1970s.
My sister too had expressed an interest (in a record player, that is, not in the New York Dolls) and we briefly discussed the possibility of a joint venture. However, some of the conditions that she laid down were completely unworkable. Not only did she want my record player to spend half of its life in her room, she also wanted to subject it to such atrocious filth as the Bay City Rollers, Donny Osmond and David Cassidy. We are back on speaking terms these days, but only just!
During the 1990s, in the part of Leeds in which I had lived as a youth, ram raiding became a popular pastime. Many a penniless soul was suddenly able to acquire unaffordable material goods that he or she had yearned for simply by reversing a Ford Transit van through a shop window, leaping out of the back doors with a bag marked ‘Loot’ over their shoulder and helping themselves. Why hadn’t I thought of this myself twenty years earlier? I suppose it was partly to do with the fact that I couldn’t drive and if I had had to fork out for lessons I might as well have spent the money on the object of my desires in the first place. Also, I knew Mr Burrell, the proprietor of the electrical shop in which the source of my future happiness lay, and he seemed to be a really nice man. He didn’t deserve to have his window broken and his fine display of pop-up toasters, kettles and Carmen heated hair curlers cast into disarray. He obviously wasn’t so nice that he would just give me the wretched thing though!
No matter what route to musical heaven I considered, the one via my ould fella’s wallet always seemed to be the easiest. An exercise codenamed ‘Operation Become My Father’s Favourite Child’ was launched and I suffered for weeks enduring such unpleasant tasks as washing the car, nipping to the off licence in the pouring rain for a packet of Senior Service, taking the dog for it’s early morning walk, not moaning while he and my mum watched The Waltons on telly and curtailing all acts of violence against my sister. I even started to do my homework at the dining room table instead of in my own room so that he was aware that I was studying hard like a good little boy. In actual fact, my studies probably suffered as I couldn’t concentrate with the noise of the television drifting through from our through lounge. The sugar coated “Night Mary-Ellen” rigmarole at the end of each episode of The Waltons rendered drawing a cross section of a glacial U-shaped valley nigh on impossible and on many occasions I stopped to consider the feasibility of trading in the cursed goggle box for a more useful and entertaining electrical appliance.
Further purchases were made from the city’s many record shops and were left in strategic places around the house to remind him of my desperate plight.
Eventually he cracked!
I brought home a copy of Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits and my mum exclaimed, “Ooh, I like them!” Her words were music to my ears and instantly I recognised that I had an ally. Why hadn’t I thought of this before? I did run the risk of having to listen to music of an alien genre, as I would have had had I pursued any collaboration with my sister, but my mother had the financial back up that made her allegiance and her fondness for the Carpenters acceptable. She told my dad that we needed something to play all my records on. She didn’t ask. She told him. Mission accomplished, I thought to myself.
The purchase wasn’t made immediately. We had to shop around for the best model at the best price and then wait for my dad’s pay day, and a day when my mum and dad were both free to go shopping, and a day when the wind was blowing in the right direction, and a day when all sorts of crucial stellar alignments would take place, and what seemed like a hundred other lame excuses to put off the inevitable. I think my dad had hoped that simply agreeing to my proposal was enough to shut me up and that if he dragged his feet long enough I would have finished school, studied electronics at a major university and built myself a top notch sound reproduction system, thus saving him the combined trouble of having to put his hand in his pocket and having to listen to music he didn’t like. Frustrated, I left Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits on the floor in our lounge, propped up against the television set and my mum did the rest.
The purchase was made at Curry’s on the Headrow in Leeds. It was £1 cheaper there than it was in our local electrical shop. Despite my euphoric state as a first time record player owner, I daren’t look Mr Burrell in the eye again after that. I’m sure he knew about my high fidelity infidelity. I still wake up in the night in a febrile sweat, tormented by the knowledge that gargantuan Curry’s shops still adorn our shopping centres and retail parks but Mr Burrell’s friendly family business is no more.
But for all the agony I go through now in consequence of the decline of independent retailers I can look back and remember that there was no greater joy than when I played a record for the first time in my bedroom on that momentous Saturday afternoon in 1973. Luckily Leeds United were playing away that day and I had heard from a reliable source that the girl in Bonnie & Dot’s bread shop was off sick, so I had no distractions. Elton John’s Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting was the first disc to drop from the stack of six that I loaded into this symbol of mid twentieth century technological wizardry and my dream had come true. The only person happier than me was my dad because he could now watch The Waltons in peace.
Ours was much like this but in blue.
Oh how I wish I'd taken a photograph of this treasured possession.