Memories of the Profumo Affair

Saturday 20th December

I was 12 at the time.  It was 1963 and sex of any kind was a taboo subject, but of course people in 1963 were just as excited about sex as we are today.  Maybe more so, as it was all so suppressed.  There was no internet and so hardly any pornography, or not as we know it today.  Playboy and Men Only featured among other more serious articles one or two nudes, though they would now be acceptable as page 3 girls in the Sun.  No full frontal, no rude bits at all, except the occasional nipple and bare arse.  And young men were desperate to have some sex, any sex at all, and the idea of women sleeping with more than one man, of sex-parties, orgies even was incredible exotic and exciting.  So what do I remember about the Profumo Affair.  Well the main characters of course – John Profumo, Minister of Defence I believe at the time, Christine Keeler who was often described as a prostitute, but she has always denied this, Mandy Rice-Davies – a teenager at the time who was probably more innocent than all the others, Stephen Ward – who was targeted by the Establishment as the real villain of the peace but was probably just sucked into things and found himself out of his depth, and of course a Russian Naval Attache (if memory serves me at all).

The Scandal was that Profumo, though happily married, was sleeping with Christine Keeler who was also sleeping with the Russian.  Quite where Mandy and Stephen Ward came in I was never sure, but they were at the time pilloried as much as Christine.  The story broke slowly and of course it was the denials by Profumo that were his undoing.   As so often it is not the crime but the lying about the crime that brings them down.  Anyway it came to represent, and in a strange way is reminiscent of the public’s mood today about the expenses scandal, just how out of touch the Conservative party of Macmillan really was.  They were lampooned, especially on TV (something hard to imagine today) on “That Was The Week That Was” a Sunday evening satirical show on BBC fronted by a then young David Frost which in my memory pulled few punches.  The Government was rocked and Profumo forced to resign, but the after-taste of rich dilettantes living a totally different life from most people remained.   A year later and Labour were swept into power.  In many ways “The Sixties” didn’t happen until after “The Profumo Scandal”.

These are my personal memories of the Profumo Scandal, I haven’t checked any of the details because I simply wanted to recall what I remembered as a 12 year old.  Poor Mandy, possibly the most innocent of all died yesterday, and for all she may have done since 1963 she will sadly always be remembered for this scandal.

C – is for Crowded House

Friday 19th December

Neil Finn was drafted in to the Australian punk-glam-rock band Split Enz by his brother Tim.  Straightaway he was a star, writing their biggest hit “I Got You” and sharing lead vocals with older brother Tim.  Neil left around 1980 and soon formed Crowded House, a trio, guitar, drums and base.  Almost straightaway they were a hit, writing sharp and clever songs and beautiful haunting ballads.  Three albums followed their debut and each was brilliant.  On number three big brother Tim joined the band, but this was for just the one record.  They were truly wonderful, and their live concerts were legendary with great humour and interplay with the audience.  I saw them several times in the eighties.

Then suddenly after four records it was over.  Neil went solo; apparently he was tired of all the adulation and the madness of it all and wanted to concentrate on writing and recording.  A few average records followed and about ten years ago Crowded House reformed.  I have bought the new records but really the magic has gone.  Everywhere they went they always took the weather with them and though we might not have dreamed it was over, it was really.

Things Which Never Quite Caught On – Number 6 – Waste Disposal Units

Thursday 18th December

It was 1978 if memory serves, not as so often to obscure and confuse but to pin down the year.  Joy(bells) and I were, so I believed, happily married and unaware of the approaching storm.  We decided that the kitchen in our rented flat in Finchley needed upgrading.  This was before the mad rush to buy and I thought we were in a lucky position, a controlled rent in a garden flat in a desirable part of London.  We got a bank loan to pay for it, this was of course pre credit cards, and went to John Lewis who designed and built the new kitchen.  Of course we would have new appliances, fitted cooker, and fridge and washing machine and tumble dryer and even a dishwasher.  Then the saleman mentioned the very latest thing from America – a waste disposal unit.  It was apparently a macerator fitted two or three inches under the kitchen sink plug hole and would literally eat up all food waste, yes even chicken bones, but you must be careful not to let cutlery slip down the plug hole as metal would cause a problem.  Happily we agreed to the waste disposal unit too.

A couple of months later and the kitchen was delivered and fitted, and we were given a demonstration of the appliances.  When it came to the waste disposal unit the man showed us the isolation switch on the other side of the kitchen.  This was because if a spoon happened to slip down the thing and jam it you must isolate the power before attempting to clear the blockage, and the switch being on the other side of the room ensured that when you had your hand down the hole you couldn’t reach the switch and accidentally turn it on.

The thing worked quite well, but inevitably as the new plug hole was much larger spoons and forks kept slipping down and jamming it.  One day one of my children tossed a wooden ice lolly stick in the sink and the machine jammed.  I went over and isolated the power then put my hand in and tried to extricate the stick.  In order to get your hand down the hole you had to make a point of it like an arrow and then open your hand in the larger space past the plug hole.  As I had my hand inside the thing searching for the stick Joybells came into the kitchen and inadvertently flicked on the isolator.  The machine started to whirr but luckiy the blades were stuck by the stick but could of course free themselves at any moment and proceed to macerate my hand.  Realising this I splayed my fingers so they were above the blades and shouted to Joybells to switch the isolator off again.  She panicked and ran out of the room leaving me hand inside the unit with fingers an inch away from the groaning blades.  She came back a few minutes later and said sorry and switched the thing off and I retrieved my fingers.  The lolly stick eventually worked its way through the machine but when it went wrong next time I didn’t bother repairing it.  No wonder they never caught on.

Happy Coincidence

Wednesday 17th December

As you probably know I write this blog the day before it appears, so I am writing this Wednesday piece on Tuesday morning, quietly sipping my Latte and taking the occasional bite of almond croissant here in Pret at Baker Street.  I wrote yesterday’s blog about David Crosby on Monday morning at a Pret near Bank Station.  I was just finishing and closing the lid of the laptop when the man sitting behind me spoke.  “Excuse me, but I couldn’t help noticing you were writing about Crosby, are you a fan?”

I turned round and chatted to him for fifteen minutes.  He was maybe ten years younger than I and working in the city he probably earned a bit more than me too; he had made several trips to the States and knew L. A. well.  He was very knowledgeable about the whole West Coast sound and the group of fellow musicians who congregated in Laurel Canyon.  Amazingly he loved the same music as I, Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Joni, Neil Young, Carole King, The Eagles etc:.  We also agreed that those few years from the mid-sixties to the mid seventies were probably the best musically, though I would say that he must have discovered this music a bit later than then.  It is lovely when you find a fellow enthusiast just like that, almost out of thin air indeed.  We parted after fifteen minutes and shook hands without exchanging names.  We will probably never meet each other again, it was enough to have shared the moment together.

Of course if we had been girls we would have exchanged facebook details and probably talked about handbags or make-up rather than an obscure period of twentieth century music….hahaha

C is for David Crosby

Tuesday 16th December

He of Croby, Stills, Nash and occasionally Young; this may have been the very first supergroup, and when they burst on the scene in 1969 I didn’t realize that David had actually been in The Byrds.  The only Byrd I had known by name was Roger McGuinn, but David was one of the original Byrds, though he left, or got kicked out, in 1967 because of musical differences.  The Byrds had at one time almost rivalled the Beatles but were split between staying a ‘pop’ group or moving with the increasingly psychedelic times.  David moved on.  He already knew Stephen Stills who was in Buffalo Springfield along with an almost unknown Neil Young.  When Neil broke up the Springfield, Stephen and David hung out in Laurel Canyon and largely got stoned. But it wasn’t until Graham Nash of The Hollies visited his then new girlfriend Joni Mitchell in early ’68 that the three met and started singing together and then released an album.

The rest is, as they say History; mega sales, super stardom, furious rows and splits and lots of drugs.  In David’s case, industrial quantities of the stuff and increasingly Heroin, which nearly killed him on more than one occasion.  Eventually he spent all his money and could hardly even sing without freebasing during concerts.  He ended up spending a few years in jail where he did manage to straighten out somewhat, and even had a liver transplant which seems to still be working.  A remarkable survivor, and through it all there was the music.  He made a few solo albums, especially “If Only I Could Remember My Name”, with its lovely spaced-out vocals.  He carried on sporadically making CSN and Y albums, but I think his best records were with Graham Nash where the two of them had enough space to sing solo and together, and they seemed to bring the best out in each other.

A great survivor, and one whose sole creed had been to live life to the full, which no one can deny he has done.  He was also blessed with a great voice and though he is well into his sixties now he still tours almost every year and has just recorded another album.  Not bad for a junkie who nearly killed himself several times.

Forgotten Objects of Desire – No. 43 – The Teasmaid

Monday 15th December

Hard to believe now but a Teasmaid was THE thing we all wanted back in the seventies.  Our houses were cold, no central heating and having to get out from under the covers and into a freezing cold kitchen to make tea was unbearable.  So the very idea of a machine that made you tea without you getting out of bed was just the thing.  Looking back we had very few electronic gadgets at all, many of us didn’t even have fridges; every high street had a launderette because most people didn’t have a washing machine; colour TV had arrived in ’68 but many were still watching in black and white; no computers, no mobile phones – in fact most people had no house phone even.  My parents had a Teasmaid first, and maybe they even bought me mine, or else I had seen theirs and wanted one.

There were several models but all worked on the same principle, a kettle on a rocker board with a tube leading out of the kettle and into the teapot.  When the teapot was full it tipped the rocker and switched the kettle off and a light on.  Some models even had a radio switching on when your tea was ready.  You had to fill the kettle up and set the clock and put the tea-leaves in the pot the night before, oh and put the milk on the milk jug and a cup or if you had a friend two cups on the tray.  The trouble was that the blessed thing made so much noise boiling the water that you were awake five minutes before the tea was ready.  I used to be sitting up watching the thing and cursing that it took so long to make a cup of tea.  And the milk might have gone off in the night too; longlife milk hadn’t been invented either.   I used it for a few Saturdays and Sundays, workdays I was just too busy to be mucking about with it, but it used to annoy me so much I gave up in the end.

I cannot imagine anyone using one now, but they are probably still made and like electric blankets have been consigned to the electronic sin-bin of History, only used by diehard old age pensioners.  Strange to think we were all so in awe of them and that we wanted what was nothing more than a combi-alarm clock and kettle.

The Trouble With Scotland

Sunday 14th December

Just remind me again what the result of the Scottish Referendum was.  Oh yes, that’s right the Independence vote was lost, quite substantially in the end if I recall.  And at the time Cameron said that this now settles the question for at least a generation.  Well I always thought a generation was about twenty-five years, not a couple of months.  However in a strange way defeat has actually enlivened and invigorated the SNP to a remarkable degree; I can’t help but wonder what they would have been like if they had actually won the thing, because in defeat they are behaving as if they were indeed the victors and had been somehow swindled out of their rightful reward.  But more than that they are now setting the agenda for the more than inevitable next referendum where they will win.  That’s the trouble with referenda, the more you have the more people think they are entitled to a re-run in a few years time.   Alex Salmond is now standing for a Westminster seat, where if his calculations are right he would be leading a sizeable number of M.P.s, enough at any rate to hold the balance of power, and as such to demand a fresh referendum as soon as possible.

At least if the SNP are right and they annihilate Labour that will put paid to the MidLothian Question which so agitates the Tories.  The trouble with Scotland is that they hate the English so much.  And yet without us they would really be a very small country struggling to make economic headway either in Europe or the World.  The English may make fun of the Jocks but are actually rather fond of them and cannot imagine being without them.  Now Northern Ireland, I don’t think there would be so many tears shed at all if they left, but Scotland would mean sharing this island with someone else and that seems unimaginable.  However it now feels like an inevitability, but when and if they do go I cannot imagine Nicola Sturgeon allowing those who disagree with her a referendum to rejoin the ‘Auld Inimy’ in a hundred years.

Trains and Trains and more Trains

Saturday 13th December

Unlike the song I haven’t been on Planes and Boats at all just Trains and Trains and more Trains.

Wednesday evening – to Walton, to check on the house, pick up some post etc: (2 hours on the train) Good job I did as I had to pick up a package at Frinton Post Office.  It was a CD box-set of Joni Mitchell – 4 cds she recorded in the 80’s but with 3 new tracks (hardly worth buying as I already had the four albums but when you are an obsessive completist…..)

Thursday I set out at 6.50 a.m. and walked to Walton train station.  No trains – signal failure at Thorpe Le Soken….aaargh.  So had to walk the three miles to Frinton to pick up my box-set.  It was very cold but I soon warmed up as I walked and it gradually got lighter.  At Frinton the 8.00 train was running thank goodness, so I made it back to London (1.75 hours on the train and 0.75 hours on DLR).  Home and got washed and changed and packed for the visit to my son’s.   He lives at Alfreton and despite having two cars there was no way he could find time to deliver Christmas presents so the one car free person in the entire family had to lug stuff up to him.  (0.75 hours on DLR and 2.75 hours to Alfreton, change at Nottingham).  Had a very pleasant time with my granddaughter and son and his wife.

Friday left Alfreton at 11.00 bound for London (2.5 hours on train, change at Chesterfield, and 0.75 hours on DLR).  That makes 10 and a quarter hours out of the last 48 spent on trains and trains and more trains.  No wonder I am going off the rails…..

UKIP Beginning to Implode ?

Friday 12th December

It had to happen sometime I suppose, the Press has gone along with them for a couple of years, making Nigel Farage into a Celebrity, and bigging up their chances of a real breakthrough.  But despite hints and whispers there have been no more defections (so far) and now the wolves are circling and maybe their time is up.  Perhaps the conspiracy theorists are right and now that they have forced Cameron into guaranteeing an in-out Euro-referendum their purpose has been served and now it is time to make sure Cameron gets back in.   But actually I tend to believe more in cock-up than conspiracy.  They have always been a weird bunch and have continued to attract some very strange individuals to their cause, and even Nige himself seems to be more interested in a cult of his own personality than in party democracy.  They have always thrived on publicity, and seem to need a constant stream of “stories” to keep them in the public eye.  So now even sex for candidancy and parachuting Celebs in or out, or just old-fashioned sleaze may not actually change that many people’s minds.  I am an avid poll-watcher and their ratings seem resolutely stuck at around 15% and I have a feeling that this will slip to nearer to 10% come the General Election.

Both the Tories and Labour now seem to be getting their respective acts together after a few wobbles.  Of course anything might happen, but barring a major defection of a well-known MP I cannot see things getting any better for them.  And the more candidates they field of course, the more stupid statements will be spouted, and even Nigel came out with a “gaffe” recently blaming his late arrival on Immigration.  But Nigel, I thought you said they were all on benefits, so how come they are clogging up our roads with their new cars too?

But Is It Art?

Thursday 11th December

I studied Art for an A level I never took, deciding that running away from home and school in 1968 might be a better idea.  But I can remember a discussion we sixth-formers had about the nature of Art.  This was against a backdrop of liberation from the conventional straight-jacket in which Art had been considered before.  Our Art teacher, old Jack Trodd insisted that Art had to have an intention, and that intention must be to render a view of the World in a different medium; he had nothing against Modern or Abstract Art but insisted that a lot of it was Accidentally Found Images rather than Art.  I disagreed at the time, being entranced by Yoko Ono, Jackson Pollock, ‘happenings’ and the Pop-Art of Litchenstein etc:

But as I have got older I am not so sure.  It seems nowadays that anything is Art if the Artist declares it as such – and we, like those looking at ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ in bewilderment, go along with it because we don’t want to appear fools who cannot appreciate this wonderful new ‘Art’.  But the definition of an Artist is someone who creates Art, and as any of us can declare that our spilt milk on the kitchen worktop is Art therefore we are Artists.  Maybe we all are, hahaha.  My wife recently framed a ‘painting’ by our 3yr old Granddaughter, and it certainly looks better in the frame than before –but is it Art?   It is just a few daubs of three or four primary colours on a piece of paper; it is anyone’s guess if there was any attempt to represent anything at all, but I cannot see it.  It is a pleasant enough thing, but like a lot of Abstract Art I question if a combination of pretty colours can be considered as Art.   I would rather call it, as per Jack Trodd, an Accidentally Found Image.  Another friend of ours makes ‘Art’ too, by mixing glue and ink and paint and rollering it she produces quite pleasant images and they certainly look good in a frame, but are they Art?  You could say they are simply one step beyond the old childhood game of making ‘Butterflies’ by folding a piece of paper in half over some paint and squelching it to see what emerges.  But there is I must admit quite a bit of work involved and decisions are taken as to the quantity and colours used, although I still contend that the resulting Images are Accidentally Found.  Maybe that is Art after all, who am I to judge?

I too consider myself an Artist.  I used to draw and paint for years, and continually promise myself that on retirement I will start again.  I attempt to capture something of Beauty or Emotion in my Art, some distillation of the Essence of what it is to be Human.  I reject and destroy far more than I ever consider good; my frustration being that my intention and my vision are so rarely actually attained.  I have a handful of what I consider to be good enough from half a lifetime of effort.  But in my own way I consider these far more important and are actually Art rather than pretty splashes of colour which may or may not represent something or may in fact just be Accidentally Found Images.