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Feeling Like I'm Almost 16 Again

Mark Harrowell sees something that takes him back in time

Today (the one millionth day of lockdown and associated home schooling – “please, for the love of God, just put a fucking circle around the right angle”) the Watford Observer published this image on their website.

This sent a pulse through my innards, and my heart skipped like Nordin Wooter on illegal narcotics as it aroused memories that had been slumbering for the best part of 40 years.

In 1978, the picture was very much the centrepiece of the display in residence at my personal gallery, i.e. the posters on my bedroom walls. Other exhibits in the collection included The Jam in concert above the bed (which I couldn’t see when reclining), and a seemingly underwear-less Debbie Harry on the wall opposite (which I very much could). There was also a photograph of the 1977/78 promotion team which my mate had embellished with a cutout of Blondie’s lead singer sat on Bertie Mee’s lap.

But the Terry Challis print was the image that I stared at instead of doing homework and, when Radio Two (Long Wave) threw to Old Trafford to confirm that Luther Blissett’s two headers had knocked United out of the League Cup, it was this poster, not Debbie, that I kissed before running up and down the road senselessly.

Of no relevance at all, my sleeping/ study quarters were painted cream and brown, shades which Farrow and Ball would probably today describe as ‘Rhino Tusk complemented by Beef Stew’, though I reckon ‘Grandad’s Teeth and Disturbing Log’ would be more accurate.

Elsewhere in my den, the obligatory record collection nestled beneath my misguided foray into the world of hi-fi which had arguably wasted the compensation received from a coming together with the Garelli Gang (Mill End lads with attitude and Italian mopeds) as the frequency response (44Hz–24kHz) of the Wharfedale Denton speakers was probably lost on Flying Saucer Attack by the Rezillos. Around 30 albums were located in a cupboard under the belt-driven turntable (wow and flutter: less than 0.05% WRMS). All were purchased with Saturday job wages (£2.75 for a four-hour shift at Sangers in Croxley Green) and all were uncompromisingly punk or new wave. Once I’d heard Watching the Detectives, the Eagles and Steve Miller Band LPs went straight to a neighbour.

I bought into the whole ethos of ‘New Wave Good, Hippies Bad’ lock, stock and drainpipe jeans, and therefore the rather prog-rock, concept album-cover feel to the Terry Challis print felt out of place in my room. I had other mates who would describe the genius of King Crimson, Yes, Rush and Genesis while I silently scoffed at their attempts at facial hair and tie-dye shirts. At the matches, it was the Bogside boys in their donkey jackets and Dr. Martens boots who I pitifully looked up to and wanted to emulate. Elton astride a giant insect pointing a footballer with a Roy Race/’Joanna Lumley as Purdy’ haircut towards some fantastical landscape which evoked sorcery, dragons, goblins and any other Rick Wakeman-in-a-cape cliché you want should not have been on message. Yet it transcended my asinine style laws and, in my head at least, it was the coolest thing I owned apart from a rare Clash import.

The only other possession that could come near the significance of Terry Challis’s artwork or my vinyl was a blue and white striped collarless shirt which still smelt of the perfume Caroline Wilson had been wearing when I snogged her at a cricket club disco. Caroline was thousands of places above me in the snogging pyramid and I’m not sure that the shirt ever got washed before it was thrown out.

And it was a member of the fairer sex who came between me and the picture of Jim Bonser’s broken effigy. When I left home, the poster came with me and was Blu-Tacked to a damp wall in every rented bedsit and flat until well into the 1980s. Non-Watford-supporting guests seemed oddly immune to its aesthetic appeal. ”What the fuck is that?” was not an uncommon reaction, and when I moved in with my first girlfriend and unrolled Elton riding his massive, magical hornet, I could tell it wasn’t what she’d hoped would gaze down on our dinner table. I must be a particularly sensitive man because somehow, I just knew she wasn’t as enamoured with Terry’s art as I had been. “Either that goes or I do” she whispered while, rather unfairly I thought, unbuttoning her blouse.

I still have my copy of Black Market Clash though.