This photo of my dad was taken by me in the summer of 1980 as we made our way back from watching The Empire Strikes Back, the only one of the original Star Wars trilogy that I truly loved. It was taken in Atherfold Road, in Clapham North, southwest London, which as the decade progressed, became the most dog muck ridden road I have ever known and was behind my reputation locally for walking in the road, rather than on the pavement. I was always getting stick from drivers for that and from neighbours.
At this point in the picture, as you might detect from the boarded up window to my dad’s right, and the sand on the road, Atherfold, at the time mainly comprising of council stock, was going through a two-year refurbishing process and was pretty much a building site for that period. It meant many tenants had to move houses on the same street. Sometimes they moved next door, or sometimes a few doors away. Sometimes they moved across the road. Just by the green vehicle on the right of the picture, a great childhood friend originally lived at number 21 but the council moved his family next door to number 23 in the summer of ’81. I helped them move, though at such a young age, I’m sure my impact on the move itself was negligible.
At the bottom of Atherfold, by my own childhood road Mayflower, we would play street football pretty much every night of the week in the summer, with goalposts chalked onto the walls. I would imagine this was pretty standard all across the country at the time. It was a different world where even lazy kids like me were physically active on a regular basis. I would never be one for the video games which within a couple of years would become all the rage.
It’s not a great picture of my dad and it’s not easy to tell he’s slightly cheesed off in the shot. There is a bouffant, make no mistake. Like many men of the period, my dad’s seventies hair crossed over into the eighties and like many guys, my dad made the mistake of favouring a brush over a comb. The green towel top I remember rather well. A year later, he would kit me out in my own green towel top from C & A (my dad loved C & A) which my sibling would vomit on as we completed a ninety-minute car journey from Malaga to Puente Mayorga in Spain’s deep south on a blisteringly hot July day.
Imagine wearing a towel top in ridiculous heat.
Now imagine vomit on that same top.
I never wore a towel top after that day.
By the time of going to see The Empire Strikes Back, I’d already read a full comic book adaptation of the film, bought from the old three-floored Woolworths in Victoria, central London and I loved it. My dad had reluctantly agreed to take me. We weren’t big cinema lovers in our family. It’s not to say I don’t enjoy films. I do. I just don’t enjoy cinemas. I never have. Having to sit somewhere surrounded by people for a set time. It’s a little too close to the exam conditions that constantly broke me in my academic years and this means I rarely get to see films the way they’re meant to be seen.
My dad only ever took us to the cinema three times. The first occasion was to see Pete’s Dragon. That would’ve been around ’78 maybe. The second time was the first Christopher Reeve Superman film on a Saturday in April ’79. While not a Superman fan, I remember this well because on our way home, we stopped off at a newsagent and my dad picked up the evening paper. There was one in London at the time but I can’t remember what it was called. I’m not sure if The Evening News ran on Saturdays, but I remember clearly the result of the Liverpool v Man Utd FA Cup semi-final, memorable to me because both sides wore their away strips in the game (Liverpool in yellow for the first time) and I’m very anal about that kind of thing. I remember it too because it was the first time I’d ever seen a result ending in 2-2. It stood out.
My dad did not enjoy The Empire Strikes Back. I can’t recall at what point of the journey home he said it, but I do recall excitedly asking him if he’d enjoyed the film.
“Fue una mierda,” said my dad.
It was shit.
I was taken aback. Looking back, it surprises me that my dad didn’t have it in him to pretend to a young boy that he had enjoyed something that had so thrilled his son. But that was my dad. He always had to tell it like it was.
He never took us to the cinema again and to this day, there remains a whole bunch of cult eighties films I have never seen, such as Ghostbusters, Gremlins, to name but two, and which I must own up to never being desperate to see when the VHS recorder finally arrived in our home in late ’89.