My 21st birthday was approaching and my parents asked me what I wanted. I asked for a four track tape recorder and speakers. The depth of music available in the house would have cost me a lifetime to buy, so being able to tape albums seemed a good idea. We also decided to have a party to celebrate my birthday and to farewell the place where we had had such good times. Chris and I decided to put together a party tape. In true Chris style, the planning was almost military. Chatting music at the start, followed by dance and finally, slower stuff to let the guests know it was time to go home. I have kept the catalogue and it is a great reference point for the sounds of the era. We also had some fun with the editing by exploiting the four tracks. By recording a mono version of “A Whiter Shade of Pale” on two of the tracks and then recording the other two tracks with the same song about half a second behind, we achieved a sort of echo effect.
We also decided that we should brew our own beer for the occasion. It was a bit hit and miss. It coincided with sugar rationing in Britain, so everyone was commissioned to buy a ¼ pound pack every time they went out so that we could make our beer. (This rationing came about because of a serious shortage in cane sugar imports from the Caribbean.)
The party happened, and no one died from the beer, although there was a bit of vomit that did not make it into the toilet bowl, which was only detected and cleaned up by Libby days later. Amazingly, many toilets in British homes were carpeted so this sort of accident became a real challenge to clean.
In July, we went to the first Knebworth open air music concert. We were attracted to it because the line-up included the Allman Brothers Band, The Doobie Brothers and Van Morrison. The grounds of Knebworth House formed a natural amphitheatre which meant that the acoustics were incredible, and the weather gods produced a rare English hot day so we were very lucky.
All in all my first ten months in the UK was another blissful time; how could it get better?
Libby and I were partners at this stage, and, as the others were moving on to employment and other places, that share house dismantled. We looked for a smaller house this time with Bob, Ros and her man, Paul. This was in Okehampton Road, Queen’s Park, and twenty minutes on the bike to my job in Paddington. It was an exciting place to be. To our west was Chamberlayne Road which in those days must have been a Rastafarian Mecca. Most of the shops would pound with Reggae music. This street became Ladbroke Grove, made famous by Van Morrison. The flat was close to everything, but in those days, a bit scary. When we came home at night, walking through the 12 hectare Queen’s Park, we were nervous. There was Kilburn to the South; not the most savoury suburb in those days either. Nearer work was the Edgeware Road, famous in those days for their electrical stores and real ale pubs. One night, after a big day at the office including a long lunch, I went to the ‘Green Man’ for a top up. When I felt I had perhaps drunk enough, I wobbled off on my bike to begin the ride home. Before long, a Bobby pulled me over. He determined that I was drunk in charge of a bicycle but he did not write me a ticket. Instead, perhaps more sadistically, he told me to walk my bike home; about 3 miles, and warned me of dire consequences if I chose to ride again.
At the flat, things were not as much fun as they had been in the big house. Ros and Paul did not get on very well, and Ros soon developed the word “Darling” as a term of abuse against Paul. Also the kitty system, whereby we took it in turns to prepare meals etc, was falling apart. Paul had brought his signature Doncaster stodge meal with him, so when it was his turn, he invariably produced baked beans, mashed potatoes and bacon, which tasted as bad as it sounds. Also, Ros would make a sort of stew and leave it on the stove for days to ferment and perhaps develop salmonella. Nonetheless, we didn’t die.
Bob was the nicest bloke I think I’d ever met, and he and Libby got on like a house on fire too. We shared a few joints together, and our evenings were always great fun with music and dancing. He even organised an LSD pill for us which was a bit horrific; never to be repeated. Libby had to be held back to stop her throwing glass tumblers over the balcony, while I just went silly.
Bob had a friend, Liz, but we could never work out if he was in fact gay. One weekend, Liz invited us to stay with her and Bob in a cabin in East Mersea. This was not the Mersey. It was a little seaside place near Colchester in the East. It was tidal and muddy. No one could describe it as a beach. One day, after a smoke, Bob and I decided to go for a row in a boat. We didn’t realise that this was the English Channel and the tide was in. We rowed out a bit and I suddenly noticed, when I looked back to the shore, that we were heading for Sweden at a frightening pace. Libby, who is not known for calmness, was waving her arms in despair as we headed north. Bob’s reaction was not helpful; he burst out laughing and became so weak that he could no longer row. I had to take over both oars and try to get us ashore. We did make land about a mile north of where we took off and it was a monumental task to get the boat back to the cabin.
We have lost contact with Bob. He was such a lovely man. Usually, with the Internet, it is possible to track down anyone, but he has eluded us.
Libby, being a bit older than I, was keen for us to commit to each other, but I felt that I was still too young. I was contacted by a girl whom I’d met in Grenoble and she invited me for a weekend at her place. I lied to Libby that I was off to visit family in Wales and headed off. Libby realised that I was probably lying and she confided her thoughts with Bob, who proceeded to be really supportive of Lib over the weekend.
Once she realised that I was not ready to commit, Lib decided to return to Australia at the end of the year. I was going back to Rhodesia for Christmas anyway, so we agreed to go our separate ways. We had a delightful few months together before the end of the year, and I began to wish that I could go with her. We had a magical weekend together at Littlehampton, where we visited Arundel Castle. But the year came to an end. I had to line up for a dressing down by dad, while Libby headed back to Tamworth, responding to the avalanche of advertisements urging teachers to come to “Sunny NSW” for work.
Libby in front of 3 Woodstock Road, Golders Green, revisited in 2006; 32 years after we met there.