Though Are the Wonders of This Brief Life 12 The Spawn of the Swinging Sixties Chapter Four An Innocent on the Reeperbahn1

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
An Innocent on the Reeperbahn, the second piece in a series of seventies-themed writings takes place in 1973 and 1974 in a variety of locations.

Submitted: July 17, 2013

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Submitted: July 17, 2013





An Innocent on the Reeperbahn, the second piece in a series of seventies-themed writings takes place in 1973 and 1974 in a variety of locations. Among these are London and its suburbs, the French city of Bordeaux, Murcia's Costa Calida, and the port of Hamburg, current capital of the German province of Schleswig-Holstein. It was first published (at Blogster) on the 26th of March 2006 as A Dandy in the Land of Blue Denim 1. While a final version was published at in December 2007.

Toilers of the Thames

1973 was the year of my first voyage as an Ordinary Seaman with the RNR onboard the minesweeper HMS Thamesis. Late in the summer she set out for Bordeaux in Gironde in the south west of France. I was just seventeen years old.
During the trip I made possibly my best-ever RNR friend in the shape of a fellow OD, Kevin “Lofty” O'Shea. I also became quite friendly with one of the most unlikely pair of cronies I ever came across in the RNR or anywhere else. One half of the partnership was Mickey, a rough, wild but essentially kind-hearted working class jack the lad of about 23 who was rumoured to be a permanent year-long resident of HMS Thamesis. The other was a far older man, possibly in his mid thirties, but just as riotously extrovert as Mickey. And yet this guy was as posh as they came, with the patrician manner of a City stockbroker or merchant banker. Mickey took me under his wing with a certain intimidating affection: “We'll make a ruffy tuffy sailor of you yet!” he once told me, even though I was surely among the most pathetically effete sailors in the civilized world. There was one occasion below deck during some kind of conference when, after having been asked by an officer what I thought of minesweeping, I replied that it was a gas...another when the ship had been prepared for a major manoeuvre and everyone on board had retreated to their respective allotted positions, when I was found wandering on deck in a daze only to nonchalantly announce that I was taking a stroll. Incidents like these made me an object of affectionate banter on the part of Mickey and others.
The crew spent its final night together in a night club in the port of Portsmouth, or perhaps it was Plymouth I really can't remember. The chief attraction was an ebullient drag artiste who tried to keep us entertained by singing cabaret style numbers in a comic falsetto, and bawdy jokes told in a deep rich baritone, but she was ruthlessly heckled for her pains. At one point she turned her attention to me, or rather I think she did. I was trying to hide at the time, it being one of those rare occasions when I was wearing unsightly horn-rimmed spectacles. “ look pretty, what's your name?”, she might have trilled. “Skin!” was what some of the sailors bellowed back, this being a nickname of mine, perhaps as in a bit of skin or something. It's all a bit of a blur to me now. Before too long, the bearded sailor seated next to me had collapsed face down onto the table with a thunderous crash. Onlyashortwhile earlier, he'd performed the theme from William Tell on his cheeks while I held the mike for him. I'm not certain whether he ever appeared as a musician in public again, but he was certainly a star that night.

A Dandy in the Land of Blue Denim

Back onshore, I resumed my growing passion for louche and shady music, art and culture. Some time in 1974, however, I turned away from what I now saw as the old hat tackiness of Glam Rock, convinced that Modernist outrage had nowhere left to go. Instead, I turned my devotion to the more stylish glamour of previous eras and particularly the twenties and thirties. At some point in '74, I started using hair cream to slick my hair back in the style of F Scott Fitzgerald, sometimes parting it in the centre just as Fitz had done. I also built up a new retro wardrobe, which came to include a Gatsby style tab-collared shirt, often worn with black and white college-style tie; several cravats and neck scarves; a navy blue blazer from Meakers; a fair isle short-sleeved sweater; a pair of grey flannel trousers from Simpsons of Piccadilly, a pair of two-tone brown and white, or "correspondent", shoes; and abeltedfawnraincoat straight out of a forties film noir.
As the seventies progressed I became more and more entranced by the continental Europe of recent times, and specifically its leading cities, as beacons of revolutionary art; and of style, luxury and dissolution. Certain key eras became very special to me, such as the 1890s, known as the Yellow Decade in England, and the Mauve in the US, Belle Époque Paris, Jazz Age New York, and Weimar Republic Berlin.
There were those cutting edge Rock and Pop artists who appeared to share my European love affair, such as Sparks and Manhattan Transfer, and Britain's own favourite lounge lizard Bryan Ferry. Much of the latter's work with his band Roxy Music was haunted by the languid café and cabaret music of the continent's immediate past. What's more, some of Roxy's followers sported the kind of nostalgic apparel favoured by Ferry himself, but they were rare creatures in mid-seventies London. As for me, I wore my bizarre outdated costumes in arrogant defiance of the continuing ubiquity of long hair and flared jeans. In 1975, I attended a concert at West London's Queen's Park football stadium in striped boating blazer and white trousers, while surrounded by hirsute relics from the Hippie era. The headliners were my one-time favourites Yes, whose Relayer album I'd bought the year before; but my passion for Prog Rockwasathing of the past. I'd moved on since '71...

Take to the Sky with a Natural High

It was while I was sitting Spanish "O" level in June 1974 in central London that I became deeply infatuated with a pretty slim Dutch girl called Marianna. She didn't look Dutch, in fact, with her tanned complexion and long dark brown hair, she was Mediterranean in physical appearance. And it was probably she who came up to me, because I was so unconfident around girls in those days that I would never have made the first move. Over the course of the next few days, I feel deeper and deeper in love, but I didn't have the courage to make my feelings known to her. This was so typical of me, to assume an attitude of diffident indifference when confronted by something or someone I truly desired. So, once we'd completed our final paper, I allowed her to walk away from me forever with a casual “I might see you around,” or some other cliché of that kind.
For a week or thereabouts, I took the train into London and spent the days wandering around the city centre in the truly desperate hope of bumping into her. One time I could have sworn I saw her staring indifferently back at me from an underground train, possibly at South Kensington or Notting Hill Gate, as the doors closed; but typically I was powerless to act, and simply stood there like a lovesick fool as the train drew away. In time of course, my infatuation faded, but even to this day I will listen to certain songs and it'll all come flooding back to me. They include Just Don't Want to be Lonely, a Soul ballad by The Main Ingredient that may have lingered in my mind as I sauntered up Kensington High Street in the sun; and Natural High by Bloodstone. I'd been a lover of Sweet Soul since the early part of the decade when I first heard La-La (Means I Love You) by the Delfonics and Betcha by Golly Wow by the Stylistics, and this type of music went on to soundtrack some of my most romantic experiences of the seventies.
Later on in the summer I found myself once more in Santiago de La Ribera, a little village on what is known as the Mar Menor or little sea, being a large coastal lake of warm saltwater off Murcia's Costa Calida in southeastern Spain, and the summer of '74 was one of the most blissfully happy summers I spent there. Every afternoon - that is, most afternoons as I recall - we used to congregate on the jetty facing our apartment on the Mar Menor which was largely deserted it being the time of the siesta, that's myself and my brother, and Spanish friends both male and female, to listen to music and talk and laugh and flirt.
To some youthful Spanish eyes I think it's fair to say I was an impossibly exotic figure in the mid 1970s, from what was surely the most culturally vital city in Europe; while the young of Spain were still so endearingly sheltered in those years leading up to Franco's passing. After which she set about sophisticating herself to the extent that on my last vacation in La Ribera in the summer of '84, it was I who was in awe of the local youth rather than the other way around, so intimidatingly cool had so many of them become, dancing their strange jerky dance, doubtless to the latest hippest tunes; some such as Won't You Hold My Hand Now by King (featuring Galway-born singer Paul King) from my own homeland.

An Innocent on the Reeperbahn

I returned to London in late summer '74 with a deep brown tan and hair bleached gold by the sun, and hanging long over my ears and forehead. While on my way one Tuesday evening to HMS Ministry, moored then as today on the Embankment near Temple station, I created a bit of a stir at Waterloo mainline, which wasn't the bright tourist-friendly station it is today but a far rougher place with its own barber and pub, attracting not a few souls down on their luck for one reason or another. For a start, I was accosted by a genial Scotsman in late middle age, a former seaman as I recall him telling me, when he wasn't going on about how good looking I was. He was harmless enough though, a sweet old guy in fact who behaved impeccably and was as far as I could tell just being friendly, so I was more than happy to chat with him for a while. I even went so far as to agree to a meeting with him the same time the following week, which of course I had no intention of keeping.
Within a few days, HMS Thamesis was on its way to Hamburg, second largest city of Germany and its principle port. Once we'd arrived, one of the Chiefs, or Chief Petty Officers, advised me not to wander alone in the city for fear of what might happen to me, what with me being such a pretty boy and all. I duly fell in with a group of about three or four, and on our first night ashore I think we set off for St Pauli, with its infamous so-called sinful mile, the Reeperbahn of Beatle renown.
A day or so later, a coach trip to the suburbs was organised. We ended up in a park where I had my picture taken on a bridge by a reporter for the Surrey Comet. At some point, a group of schoolgirls breathlessly asked me to be in some photographs with them. On the way back to the ship, one of the sailors remarked that I'd been a hit with the Hamburg teenyboppers or something along those lines, while another retorted that it was only because I was so blond and Teutonic...or something of that sort. Whatever the truth, there was something so touching about the young suburban girls' simple unaffected joy of life, and the way it stood in such stark contrast to what existed only a few miles away.

Title and photo edited 11/11/14. Title edited 14/11/14.

© Copyright 2019 Carl Halling. All rights reserved.

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