A History of an Unremarkable Socialist in 10 Objects (Part One)

 Hoover Building.jpgDansette 'Viva' record player 1965 [14KB]Picture

Never being one to fear the accusation of self-indulgent bollocks or unoriginality, I was inspired to write this by The History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor, which I am in the middle of reading.  It explores human history through objects, showing how we have shaped the world and been shaped by it. And I thought – are there 10 objects which I could list which have played a part of making me who I am? With nothing on TV and not worrying if anyone could give a toss, I decided to give it a go.

So, switching concepts and ripping someone else off, we start our magical mystery tour, and as you read it, maybe you might consider what you might list for yourself:


Or to be precise, the Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S Lewis. Because quite possibly, much of what follows stems from this book. It was as a primary school kid, listening to my teacher read this to the class every day that I first got totally enthralled by a book. I couldn’t wait for the next day’s reading; always knowing exactly where we had got up to. Every book which I read later and loved, be it by Raymond Chandler, Leon Trotsky or Hilary Mantel or whoever, was read because that teacher introduced me to a different world. It doesn’t matter that now, as an adult, I find the book wanting – White Witch and Edmund in sledge, Illustration by Pauline Baynes Ill, vintage watercolour sketch of Queen of Narnia in reindeer-drawn sledge with Edmund and dwarfthat is totally irrelevant , it hooked me then. Years  later, and I am myself now a primary school teacher, and I make sure that I read to the class every day. Indeed, with successive governments doing their best to damage a child’s love of reading and writing with their mechanical obsession on the technical aspects of language, it is vitally important to remember that the primary reason for reading – is to enjoy.


At much the same time I was given a green, button down check, short sleeve shirt by my maternal grandmother. It wasn’t expensive (probably bought from a stall in the then not-yet gentrified Islington, north London). It was way too large for me. But I thought it the epitome of cool. So I kept it in my own cupboard (sadly without witches or lions) and once a year would get it out and try it on. Finally, by the time I left school, it fitted and I wore it to death.  A neat metaphor maybe for the importance of my grandparents, but certainly for my shallow love of clothes.


Mum and Dad are from London and we would often visit relatives there. A highlight would be to jump in my uncle Bernie’s car (we didn’t have one) and at Christmas drive up and down the A40 looking at the Christmas lights. The stand-out was the 1933 Art-Deco masterpiece of the Hoover Building. During the war it had been an armaments factory and now it is a supermarket (there’s a moral in there somewhere) and I still think it is wonderful building. For me, it started a love of architecture, especially industrial, and a belief that London was where IT WAS AT. Even if it was just the A40.


One Christmas, Mum and Dad gave me a red record player (possibly a Dansette, or more likely a copy). To go with it they had bought a single they knew I liked, Children of the Revolution by T.Rex (an apt choice in view of future political changes). The stylus hitting the vinyl, was the start of an expensive love of music.


Without an older brother or sister, to guide me, I missed the ‘serious’ music of the seventies. Many friends might be into heavy or prog rock but I stayed with the pop, which by then was deemed by the more hip as being childish. So when I first heard the Clash on a friend’s tape recorder (his dad had a few bob, so he had one of the very first) it was quite a jump from The Sweet to punk (then again, maybe not). But it changed me. I could have listed the Clash first album here, because as a 15 year old, feeling bored and listless in a Hampshire/Surrey commuter village (the village I grew up in is on the border, and for some reason I  always felt that locating it in Hampshire was more street cred than Surrey. Sadly, decades later, I still do it) its anger strangely resonated with me. Soon after hearing it, came the music now known as post-punk which consumed me totally.

But not being allowed to, let alone being able to afford to, go to London on my own, the trip to Guildford and in particular, the record shop, Bonaparte Records, in Phoenix Court,  was a trip to wonderland. It was a shop which was rare, in that it stocked as many of the new punk and indie releases as it could (writing this, I googled it and found that it was apparently owned by the manager of the Stranglers, so that explains it). Waiting for it to open on a Saturday morning, and running in to look at the new singles stapled to the wall was the highlight of the week. In my mind I can still see them there.  Many we would have heard on John Peel but others we would pester the poor sales assistants to play (and wo betide if they hadn’t had time to unpack them – hey, I might have been a fledgling socialist but never mind worker’s rights, if we were waiting for the latest Slits, or Raincoats or Buzzcocks single- work a bit quicker!).

I would read/hear about feminism or socialism, or lesbians or gays. That was all new to me. You never heard about any of that at our local post office. And in our overwhelmingly white village, I was also was introduced to the fact that black music other than the Jackson Five existed. That whole time started to shape my politics. It was an education and shifted my dissatisfaction leftwards to find answers. Depending on the latest single release or article in the NME, I would call myself an anarchist or socialist or a mixture of the two. In reality, not knowing what they actually meant.  It was then, on Anti-Nazi marches that I took my first political action. Indeed, the iconic ANL lollipop could/should have been the fifth choice here.  But as sad as it might seem, it was those records on Bonaparte’s walls, which got me asking questions, and thinking I had the answers. Political awakening  can come from all manner of places.Anti-Nazi League badge: c.1980

Now Bonaparte Records has long gone, and I wonder if the era of downloads has deprived people of that joy of seeing a single as more than just three minutes of music.

But back then, I was starting to be able to pay for those records from my wages because the ‘O’ Levels were over and I was working. The final five were to come.


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