Hot nuts

1977 was one of those years where everything seemed to happen. It was a big year for the world, for England and for me.

Jimmy Carter became President of the USA, and I quite liked him – he was a peanut farmer I think, which appealed to me for some reason. It was the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, which as far as I remember meant everyone had the sudden urge to close off their road, tie bunting to lamp posts and eat fairy cakes outside.

It was the year Liverpool first won the European Cup. Worth a click as much as anything to hear how a good commentator does his job. It’s beyond comprehension that some fool in a grey office decided that John Motson should be given the biggest games a year or two after this. Not one stat, not one ‘there’s no question about that’ trotted out here. Davies was simplicity itself. He said nothing when the picture didn’t need adding to. You could tell he really felt it. He still commentates on hockey, gymnastics, just about anything other than football and he’s utterly brilliant at each of them. Everytime I watch a game I regret I’m not hearing his voice.

I remember it as the year Roots, Jesus of Nazareth, Starsky and Hutch and the Incredible Hulk were on the box. They might have been a year or so either side in reality, but 1977 seems like a year where things happened, a year of focus with a blurring around the outside where not so much occurred.

I started going to the big school. I learnt the saxaphone for a term. My parents separated. But something far far bigger happened: Elvis died.

I was on holiday that summer in Lancashire, where most of my mum’s family live. The girl who lived next door and I took a shine to each other and swapped many notes over the summer. I hid the ones she sent under the bed. I forgot to take them with me. They were found. I think she may still be blushing. I know I still am.

In 1977 you could still pick up the paper and be surprised at the main story, it was news to you almost every day. Imagine that: hearing something as huge as ‘Elvis is Dead’ from the paper first.

The aunties were in bits. They’d grown up with Elvis, with the emergence of rock n roll, with society letting out its belt a little. 42. Dying, as he did, ‘at stool’, overweight, and addled with prescription drugs seems impossible for someone who looked like this only 8 years before.

I guess the aunties felt old overnight.

I think I might feel very weird if Morrissey dies while I’m still alive. The second I heard the first Smiths late on one of many sleepy nights spent listening to John Peel the world changed a little. Like so many people you’ll hear a similar story from, it felt like it was music made for and played to me alone. I hate saying it, but there it is – I’m a walking cliche of a male of a certain age, and every one of us feels like we alone were the authentic one.

I saw them as soon as I could – Cornwall Colliseum, summer 1984. Still-close friend Stu, myself and a girl with curly hair with a name I can’t remember and a mini that could drive us there went. We backed into a wooden fence having taken a wrong turning, but that’s all I remember apart from being blown away (by the Smiths I should add). Their first album had been out a couple of months, Heaven Knows Im Miserable Now was the new single. Every single single failed to let you down, which as anyone knows is the main responsibility of any band.

I only saw them once after that, a couple of years later at the GMEX Centre in Manchester. Factory records organised the event to celebrate Manchester’s contribution to punk and all things related. I had an idle life punctuated only by traveling to see bands. Exmouth to Manchester. 254 miles each way. Up and back in a day. 20 or so of us hired a minibus, piled in at 5 in the morning and off we went.

£10 got you New Order, The Smiths, The Fall, A Certain Ratio, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, Pete Shelley, John Cale (from the Velvet Underground), The Worst, OMD, Cabaret Voltaire, the Virgin Prunes, and Adultery (former members of Magazine). That is certainly the best £10 I’ve ever spent. I can’t imagine the circumstances under which that may change.

It was also the year I won the Devon Under 11 Table Tennis Championship. As anyone who’s ever been in my company for longer than it takes to drink a cup of tea will testify, I haven’t forgotten my triumph. This may well be because other than an encyclopedic knowledge of Liverpool FC 1974-present, maths, identifying what smells smell like, identifying lookalikes, and catching a pile of coins in one hand having been balanced on an elbow, table tennis is my sole area of expertise. I say ‘is’, I mean ‘was’. A few years ago I had a quick game and it was a waste of time – my centre of gravity (from where you play most shots) was no longer below the level of the table: nothing worked as it should. I connected with most shots sweetly, but they sailed way past the end of the table. A rather cruel indication of time passing.

I mention this table tennising triumph not merely out of pride, but because I think it may well have been the last time I won anything. This isn’t a prompt for the violins: I rarely, if ever, place myself in a situation where I am competing to win something for many complicated and largely uninteresting reasons. That was until last Thursday at the Garden Media Awards.

The Media Awards is the yearly shindig organised by the Garden Media Guild (formerly the Garden Writers Guild). It doubles as the garden world’s excuse to let its hair down. It was my first visit. The great, the good and the truly godawful are all there and if you can’t have a top time on a day like this then you need to try a little harder.

I had the pleasure of James Alexander-Sinclair, Martyn Cox, Cleve West and Matthew Wilson on the same table along with Hayley Monkton (RHS PR Queen) sitting on my right hand. There were 3 others but I’m boring myself listing people so it must be sending you fast asleep.

It’s a very simple day: food, awards, everyone gets to the pub.

There are around 15 awards. The host announces the 5 shortlisted parties for the award, followed immediately by the winner. If you’d have lashed me to a tree and flicked my buttocks with a wet towel I might have owned up to hoping I might make the Blog of the Year shortlist. Blog was the 5th award announced. I didn’t make the shortlist.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to win it – I knew if I did I’d feel it was a miscarriage of horticultural justice – the actual winner should have won it all year long. But I was disappointed not to make the shortlist. I’ll confess that I looked at the shortlist and thought I should have snuck in above one or two of the contenders. Ugly isn’t it? But there we are. Better out than in. It’s a hideous thing to acknowledge, and is probably not the cleverest to own up to, but when I stopped doing my other job and tried to spend more of my time doing what I love for a living I promised myself that I’d not pretend to be something I wasn’t. I was looking for a job and then I found a job and heaven knows I was miserable then. This is supposed to be different.

Then the shock of being nominated for and winning Practical Book of the Year and Book Photographer of the Year. I think I took leave of my senses. Not
in a Gwyneth Paltrow sort of a way, but the world sort of shut off. I acquired a sort of deafness – I don’t remember the music they played (the title of which had some relevance to each person) as I walked up to try not to get nervous-smile face while being photographed. I can’t remember what anyone said to me.

At some point between blog failure and Practical Book of the Year, Cleve West and I got roped in (somewhat willingly it has to be said) to sharing a cooking demo at Hampton Court Flower Show next summer. This can’t be right.

I spent some time apologising to Martyn Cox – he was rightly nominated a few times and wrongly won none of them. Later I would spend so long apologising to Andrea Jones for winning the Book Photographer award that I must’ve seemed insincere.

The pub followed, spent mostly with Cleve, JAS, Joe Swift, James Wong and Lia Leendertz. Then an eventful train journey home with the very lovely Mr and Mrs Buckland.

So, 32 years after I last won something, I won something again. It was very pleasant.

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  • And well deserved both awards were….and, yes, you should have been on the Blog short list. As should Nigel. Mind you, if you had won I would have given you a dead leg and put a notice saying "Kick Me" on your back (I had one ready prepared)

    Under 11 Table Tennis Champ? Blimey.
    Now that really is a title worth holding: my nearest to that was Under 10 goalkeeper for an undefeated team. Which is a bit of a gloryless honour. Yes one is part of the team and let in fewer goals than the opposition but the fact that the rest of the team were good meant that one seldom had the chance to demonstrate one's athleticism and flexibility.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEUiKTtR5SM
    I really wanted to be Peter 'The Cat' Bonetti.Insterad I stood around a lot wearing an itchy polo neck.

    1977 was a great time. The beginning of Punk and I was 18. I was in the Marquee Club in Wardour Street the day Elvis died. I think watching Adam and the Ants (before they became all noncy poncy and instead wore leather and played pretty rubbish stuff). There was a lot of cheering, some counter booing and then there was a fight.
    Ah, Happy Days.

  • I have a feeling life is repeating itself…In was B team goalie then, B team bloggie now.

    Mustve been a magical time to be 18

  • You look smart for a change! Well done though and all the hard work is really paying off.

    BTW – I was 5 in 1977 so can't remember too much. Hope this doesn't make you feel too old 🙂

  • Again, you deserved thsese awards, and the warmest of congratulations.

    In the past two weeks I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with the most intelligent knowledgeable people in the Hort world. I always feel that these people for whatever reasons do not get the merit they deserve. I know this happens in every profession,the unsung hero. I, in a rebelious mood feel that these people are forgotten.So I will now list some people that probably no one has heard of ,but they make me feel like one day I might win.
    Martin Perry ,Patrick Fairweather, Ray Boughton Rosie Yeomans, Fabio Bigazzi and Julian.

    Oh did Star Wars come out in 1977.I remember waiting with anticipation for the cinema dors to open.

  • Lia – Didnt see much action in 1977 – I do hope that's changed
    AVDRHSS – I think it did, but I didn't get the fuss – I was a Bond kid. Managed to dodge watching any of the Star Wars films until about 2 years ago. I think it was Empire Strikes Back. It was alright, but I still don't get it. I do realise this counts me out off many a pubgaggle of (mostly) men

  • I was always made team captain at cricket (under nines -1968) not because I could play (in fact I wasn't even allowed to bat, bowl or keep wicket) but because my mother had a car (a relative rarity then) – she was quite literally "team coach".

  • I was so fascinated with punk (I too was 18 in 1977) that I'm sure we were spouting Elvis jokes within hours of the news…blasphemy I know…sorry.

    I was quite a timid (sans safety-pins and an anti gobber which was disgusting) but how amazing that I may well have politely pogoed into JAS at the Marquee.

    Anyway what I really wanted to say is…Please write less less nostalgic blogs in future as some of us need to earn a living.

  • I was 11 in 1977 and to be honest dont remember much about Elvis dieing except bad taste jokes.

    I remember the jubilee though as everyone round us seememd to be planting their front gardens with red geraniums, blue lobelia and white alyssum. We were in Italy during the actual jubilee and I remember having to attend a fancy dress party at the hotel which was embarassing especially as my mum and dad went as French dancers (sort of Argy Tango) and my Mum wore a crepe paper shirt and my Dad a beret made out of the hotel shower cap – traumatising at the age of 11!!

  • Unlike my wimpy friend CW, I did actually push a safety pin through my cheek at one point. Annoyingly I did it in the wrong place so it wouldn't do up again so had the pointy bit bouncing around in my mouth stabbing my tongue every time I moved or spoke so it didn't last long.
    Quite hurty but not as much as one would expect. I also avoided septicaemia which was a result.

  • OMG! 1977 and you haven't even mentioned 'Saturday Night Fever'! I went to a fancy dress party with someone who was dressed as a packet of spaghetti and did the disco dance to it.

    Not so good memories on the Netball front – I never was much good at sports or team spirit. At my all girls grammar school we were forced to play (in our thick navy knickers and white T'shirts) and the best two players would pick teams. First they picked the good players, then they picked their friends then there would be me, the fat girl and the one who had a hygiene problem left. First the fat girl would get picked then the whiffy one and I would be sat there all on my own until the gym teacher said "Come on now girls – someone has to have Arabella". 🙁

  • Always an honour to be mentioned on the Otter Farm blog!

    I can't remember the curly haired girls name either….

    My main recollection of the Smiths gig was the lorry outside the Colosseum selling Gladioli, the crowds waving them above their heads in adoration and lobbing them onto the stage.. Oh and the minor collision on the way home!

    Shocks me to think that Elvis died at the same age that I am now.

    Fab times..

  • I too was 18 in 1977 (how good a vintage was 1959 for the gardening world eh? Both JAS and Cleve) – about to leave home, at last and really find out what the world was about (still am BTW) 🙂

    I made the netball, hockey and swimming teams. Mind you, I think I only got selected for netball and hockey because I was very good at turning up for practice games.

    I couldn't abide Elvis, but many girls at school were just like your aunties.

    If it's any compensation you made my shortlist, alongside JAS, The Guardian, Nigel, Martyn and The Constant Gardener.

    Mind you, 3 awards would have been a bit greedy wouldn't it? A bit like having all that pudding like I did.

  • This is too much of a coincidence 4 recent or (possibly soon to be) half centurions wasting their time flinging words at the altar of the Otter.

    Finest wishes from another '59er

  • Yeah, WTF you missed out Star Wars!!! That was by far the most exciting thing that happened all year!!!

    I think your blog is lovely, but, then, I would say that, wouldn't I?

    Emma T
    Like the Gap, established 1969

  • I was 23 in 1977, shiny new degree, shiny new job, tendency to stay out all night and come home with the milkman. It was the year I was proposed to, the first time.

    It is a good job I was not at school with Arabella as she and I would have been fighting for the award for crap netball player of the year.

    Very well deserved awards. I love it when the good guys win!

  • Hi Mark,

    Once again congrats on the awards and well deserved they are too. I'm sure that these awards are likely to become more regular now.

    I was never one for sport although I once managed to get on to the cricket team for a tournament which was later cancelled (so bad). Following on from this great disappointment I won a competition in school for composing a piece of useless orchestral music themed around the nativity (wtf?). Probably my greatest achievement to date!

    Sorry to make you feel old but I was -7 in 1977.

    Ryan 🙂

  • Two awards – so greedy, but well-deserved.

    I have only won one thing and that was first prize in the year 1 fancy dress competition. I went as a tube of Colgate toothpaste – a costume that took me all half term to make out of a plant pot, cardboard box and old sheet. I only won a sodding stick of Toblerone – and I can't stand Toblerone.

    I was 5 in 1977 so remember nothing except that I wanted to be called Samantha and be elected Prime Minister – in that order.

  • I was -2 in 1977, so I confess I remember exactly nothing about the year. However, I adore Saturday Night Fever and I am a bit of a Star Wars lover. The last fancy dress party I attended was a 'film' theme, so (as a group) we went as the cast of Star Wars. We had a Han Solo, Princess Leia, Princess Amadala, Yoda (genius) a very large Ewok (the other half) and myself, as Boba Fett (my favourite character by far). We won a Chocolate Orange. Between us all.

    Well done on the awards – very well deserved and your beautiful photographs in this post says it all!

    Hmmm, my verification word is lingsyf – sounds like a Swedish juice you can get from Ikea. Or is that just me? again?

  • I was eight when Elvis died and have been scouring my mind for any memories of his death, but sadly have none. I do however, clearly remember the death of Bill Haley. I found out about it on my way to the Ferrers School, in Higham Ferrers, Northants, on Feb 9 1981. A boy was standing on a wall, holding the front cover of a newspaper in the air which announced Haley's death. As my hometown was stuck in a rock 'n' roll time warp, the news came as a complete shock.