Mark Newman

Letter from Thailand

A bit of good old English nostalgia

New research by British scientists from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne suggests that drinking tea regularly could help improve your memory... but I can't remember the last time I had a cup of tea!

Well, reading that got me to thinking about other things that I had forgotten about since leaving my homeland permanently back in 1987. It was easier to come up with a list of things that I liked and missed. you know; Branston Pickle, Penguin bars and sausage rolls, etc. It was a bit harder to think of the things that I had forgotten about and no longer even cared for, but here are a few anyway:

First off, tea! That great British institution that cures everything from the bad news on TV to having your GIRO arrive two days later than it should!

Cricket and Beefy. When I lived in the UK cricket was played in white by every team and only a real fairy would wear a mask. Ian Botham was a hero to every schoolboy. Apart from being the most enigmatic cricketer the world has ever known he also managed to balance raising millions of pounds for leukemia patients with smoking cannabis in public!

My favourite wrestlers; Mick McManus, Billy Two-Rivers (and his 'Tomahawk chop'), Masambula (the African Witch Doctor!) and who can ever forget those tag teaming twits; The Royal Brothers who had different surnames - Bert Royal and Vic Faulkner!

I don't miss the freezing cold weather of Britain, nor the people living in it. Back in the sixties (before we had a fridge) we kids would put a few cups of water outside the back door at night and eat the ice the next day. No gameboy back then! Watching old people fight their way uphill with their two-wheeled tartan shopping baskets wearing fifty years of misery and icy drudgery carved into their faces was a depressing thing to grow up with. England is a gloomy grey country in every single way imaginable.

"Hands on your heads!" at school - for hours on end! Actually, school was cool. The smell of the lunch canteen was a mixture of hot paint from the overheated (and over painted) cast iron radiators to suet pudding! British Bulldog was played with pedantic fairness and the boys NEVER hit the girls. The matron had big tits and the girl that fancied me didn't have any!

It seemed that each season of the year had its own activities. There was cart-making, newspaper collecting, playing marbles and carol singing. We'd go down to the 'pitch and putt' course and offer to 'caddy' for sixpence, then spend the money on chocolate liquers to taste the rum inside them which we all said was fantastic, but which I suspect we all equally hated!

"Carry On" movies. Mention the names of Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Hattie Jacques and you need go no further. Everyone recognised the stars of those saucy Carry On films. From the first one (Carry On Sergeant, in 1958) the humour was unsubtle, slapstick and sometimes even a bit blue, but I remember when producer Peter Rogers said "We're vulgar, but never crude". Mum and Dad agreed, and the films were strangely a family institution.

Well, I didn't mean for this first essay to become maudlin or even nostalgic. I don't miss these things really. But I do miss the way that some of them made me feel... The uncontrollable laughter watching Norman Wisdom bark out orders to a troop of soldiers from his hole in the ground, driving the fuming and confused Sergeant Major crazy. I wet myself watching that! The anticipation of Christmas day when the Queen would blather on and on through the sound of my Scalextric set. The heartbreak of finding out that the girl who snogged me at lunchtime had chucked me at teatime for that cunt with the new Stevie Wonder LP, Innervisions! (of which at the time, I had none!) The frustration of walking to a pub, called 'The Bell in Tong', for an hour in the freezing cold to be refused service because we were just three years under the legal age for drinking and my mum had phoned them to let them know we were coming! Bastards!

In the sedate and more relaxed world that I am confined to in middle age, I don't get to feel these extremes of emotion too much anymore. Maybe the kids around me today have similar highs and lows, but I suspect that they don't. Life seems to be a numbed feeling of tedium for many kids. There was a period of time from the end of the second world war, when the welfare state was getting started, to about 1980, when the UK was really an 'island' and a 'treasure island' at that...

But what do I know. Maybe I should have had that cup of tea, eh?


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