Shadows and Reflections: the annual collection of postings where Caught by the River’s contributors and friends take a look back on the events that have shaped the past twelve months. Today it’s the turn of Ian Preece.
Shadows: Walking over the motorway service station bridge, the chirpy voice of a grown man prattling on about Burger King and Costa Coffee is piped through the Tannoy. He practically sings, ‘If you’re in a hurry, why not get-to-go?’ . . . I eat my Waitrose ‘Signature Spice’ Wensleydale and Chutney Christmas Sandwich in the car park then chuck the wrapper in the bin. Back on the motorway: ‘Slow down . . . lane closure ahead. Expected delay: 15 mins.’ An hour and a half later, I’m standing on the asphalt, retrieving the newspaper from the boot. Over in the slow lane, a man in combat fatigues keeps getting out of his red Toyota. He’s older than me, he can see finite years in the line of red tail lights that stretches up the hill to infinity. He gets back in and furiously puts his seat-belt back on, even though we’re going nowhere. . . . I keep reading how the average citizen is photographed over 500,000 times a year by security cameras. Why can’t the people who programme the motorway indicator boards relay a simple piece of information? (Why can’t they predict the weather? Whose turn is it to call the photocopier repairman?) . . . I once read a 400-page book on traffic systems in the Los Angeles area but am no wiser as to why I’m in the wrong lane; why that lane always moves faster . . . Satellite navigation systems and slow drivers . . . Jeremy Clarkson . . . I walk past the garage at the end of our road. It used to be called Kash Motors. They seem to have developed a system of clearing the tubes by putting the handbrake on and ramming the accelerator to the floor ‒ a choking furball is finally spat out in an oily purple and black cloud that, short of vaulting over and ducking behind someone’s front-garden wall, I can’t help but walk through. Despite holding my breath, for a nanosecond I can feel a deep burning in my chest . . . On the tube, seven people in the row of seats opposite all play games on their mobile phones. On my side of the carriage a solitary man reads the Evening Standard . . . plans are afoot to sell vinyl in Tesco; people have stopped buying cabbage, beer and tea ‒ we’re all eating muffins now . . . I used to love Christmas lights, now there are too many ‒ all that neon flashing, signifying nothing. (That said, the temptation to install a 50-foot illuminated Santa on the front of our house ‒ the roof ‒ is sometimes overpowering. That’d be something for the area residents’ association newsletter.) I used to love Christmas shopping; now it’s more a case of the loneliness of the long distance Christmas shopper. Marylebone High Street, standing, staring at all that beautiful Iittala glass in Skandium. Sweating. Got to make a decision. I’ve been in here so long the store detective will have clocked me. Why does that attractively wrought tiny schnapps glass cost £40? Here’s a nice little hardback of Swedish drink recipes. But where do you get a bottle of Brännvin spirit from? Where can you pick elderflowers and blackcurrants round here? Walk next door into Daunts. They haven’t got my book. Walk into Waterstones. They haven’t got it either. ‘How do you spell “Heyday”?’ the assistant asks. In my day you were thoroughly humbled and a bit intimidated by the profound knowledge of American literature on display behind the counter. What happened to all those people who worked and shopped in Waterstone’s at the top of Charing Cross Road? The premises might have been housed in the ugly new-build of the EMI headquarters, but that shop had treasures dripping off display tables/stacked high from the floor. I was too late to the party to really know him, but sometimes it feels like civilisation ended when Mike of Compendium Books in Camden passed on, and you could only get Nelson Algren on import.
I should have known something was up with my dad when I was researching the book. I remember asking him if it was really true that Ayr United had sold Alex Ingram to Forest for £35,000 in 1970 so they could buy a set of floodlights. He just stared at me blankly. This was a man for whom no detail of the great Johnny Carey Nottingham Forest XI of the 1960s was too trivial. Ian Storey-Moore’s hat-trick in the 1967 FA Cup quarter-final against Everton – I wasn’t born for another month, but I grew up thinking I’d been there; the fire in the Main Stand against Leeds in August 1968 that next-door neighbour Mr Abbott had successfully escaped from; a chip butty from the chip shop at the back of the Co-op on Talbot Street with his own dad on the way to the City Ground. If I could recall all that family folklore, why couldn’t he? As a kid it used to drive me mad: he was always going on about Billy Walker or Stuart Imlach ‒ when walking to the loo on the landing upstairs, or putting some ironing away, he’d burst into a verse of ‘Zigger-Zagger, Zigger-Zagger, Joe, Joe Joe Baker . . .’ ‒ when all I wanted to know about was Ian Bowyer and John Robertson. Just when I needed him to really wind back the years, he was diagnosed with motor-neurone disease; just as I’m proudly sitting in the cinema with my own kids, watching I Believe in Miracles, there’s an empty seat on the end of our row, next to my mum . . . My dad couldn’t wire a plug, paint a wall or have a conversation about cars to save his life (his one and only driving lesson was abandoned after ten minutes, with the vehicle on the pavement). I was always proud of his complete inability to engage with any of the usual macho crap of daily life, and that he spent his entire working career working for a library services/wholesaler. Thanks, Dad, for the Alan Sillitoe and the D.H. Lawrence and Robert Tressell, and for sending off the school bully in that match you reffed on Vernon Park in 1976 . . .
Reflections: You just have to cling to the good stuff. The sun coming through our front-room window in the morning; my new vegetable patch (excellent tomatoes, oregano and coriander); the postman on the doorstep brandishing a 12”-sized package and saying, ‘Have a good day, yeah’: James Blackshaw’s Summoning Suns and Nap Eyes’ Whine of the Mystic; Joan Shelley’s Over and Even and the Jazzman Records compilation A New Life: Private, Independent and Youth Jazz in Great Britain, 1966‒1990 (which features a superb version of ‘We Three Kings’ by Indiana Highway, a jazz troupe from Torquay – their original EP sold over 200 copies in the Torbay area alone in the run-up to Christmas 1970); ‘Put Those Fools’, by The Tidals, B-side of a Pressure Sounds 7”; An Australian Vibes Anthology by Alan Lee; Japanese vibes, Apologues, by Masayoshi Fujita; Dust and Grooves, a huge hardback book of photos of record collectors and their records (cheaper mass edition now out) which makes you feel less alone in the world; Richard King’s Original Rockers; the generous-spirited 5-a-side bunch who put up with the ageing poor man’s Carlton Palmer in their midst.
An elderly Asian gentleman, a complete stranger, stopped my better half in the street in Forest Gate and expressed amazement at the vibes of good karma she was emitting. He just wanted to stand in her aura for a moment. One morning this summer, she forgot her glasses and I cycled into school with them and spent ten minutes with the little ones, mucking around with bits of wood and at the water table. Despite 40 nursery-school kids tearing around, it was the calmest, most peaceful and happy environment I’d been in for a long time. I felt like staying all day (or going to sleep by the sand pit).
Finally restored to a starting position on the right wing at Millwall my daughter beat a left-back twice her size with a Cruyff turn then floated an inch-perfect cross on to the head of the centre-forward for the equaliser. ‘That’s how you play football!’ I wanted to scream over at the bench.
My son’s portfolio of Bruce Davidson-inspired shots for his A level photography: his mates at parties, on buses, in cafés and parks. I don’t want to think too much about the circumstances of the genesis of these photos . . . I just hope the rows will be forgotten over time.
Looking forward to January: a new dub- and afrobeat-inspired Tindersticks record; a new Tortoise lp; the first album by Nap Eyes reissued. Looking forward to Christmas holidays too: will try to affix that new toilet seat; re-alphabetize the vinyl; read books I want to read; and drink a lot.
Ian Preece and Doug Cheesman’s The Heyday of the Football Annual is out now. Buy a copy here.
Ian Preece on Caught by the River