Trekking

Past

I can remember when I first saw Star Trek.

That’s not so unusual, but if my memory is right — and I’ve just more or less confirmed that it is — then when I first saw it was the absolute first time anyone could see it, in this country, at least.

Here’s the memory (and it’s tied up, as many good things are, with Doctor Who).

It’s 1969. It’s the summer holidays, and we’re in a holiday home with a TV. That in itself makes me doubt the memory, because back then holiday houses just didn’t have TVs. A lot of houses in general didn’t. But this memory has always told me that we were on a family holiday. And it’s Saturday, late afternoon. I’m settling down at the TV, and somebody says — I think it’s my sister — ‘Martin, Doctor Who finished, remember?’ Because it was Doctor Who time.

And I said, ‘But this is like Doctor Who!’

And as the new programme started someone else — my Dad, I think — said, with a tone of surprise, ‘He knows all about it!’ And then the Enterprise swooshed towards me out of the screen.

I’ve long wondered how true this memory was. It was 1969; I’d have been five. But I just checked:

Initially, the BBC was the first-run broadcaster of Star Trek (12 July 1969-15 December 1971).

The series was shown in four seasons, the first on Saturday evenings at 5:15 pm (in the time slot usually taken by Doctor Who).

Which exactly matches my memory: summer, Saturday, Doctor Who slot. And the calendar confirms that the 12th of July 1969 was a Saturday.

I wouldn’t be five for another month plus. Not a bad bit of early-memory retention. I wouldn’t have remembered it at all, if it wasn’t for one thing: trauma caused by fear that my parents would turn the TV off just as this exciting new programme was starting burned it into my brain.

My Dad always liked Star Trek too, so I guess I was partly responsible for that.

Present

Yesterday I watched the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery, which are on Netflix (in the UK and Europe, at least; in the US they’re on CBS’s own new streaming service). And I really enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say it felt like being that nearly-five-year-old again, but it did feel like they’re trying something new and potentially very exciting.

Today I was looking at its entry on IMDB. It turns out there are user-written reviews there, which I don’t think I’d been aware of before.

Sadly they are almost universally negative. ‘It’s not Star Trek,’ is a common theme. But there’s a strong whiff of racism and misogyny coming through. Two non-white women as leads means ‘social justice warriors’ are running the show, it seems. Well from what I’ve read of Gene Roddenbery, I think he’d have been happy to be called a social justice warrior. Star Trek was always about diversity and tolerance.

Future

I don’t know how many episodes of this new series they have lined up, but I know I’m looking forward to watching them. So is my inner five-year-old. So would my Dad have been. And so would Gene.


Pamela Constable on her parents' WASP values

Great piece in the Washington Post by one of their correspondents whose Republican parents would have hated what the party has become:

it occurred to me that our cerebral and courtly African American president, struggling against the tide of an angry, visceral age, had more in common with this elderly WASP gentleman than did many white Republican leaders of the moment.

Source: I rejected my parents’ WASP values. Now I see we need them more than ever. - The Washington Post


The first time

I've probably meant to write about this kind of thing for years: first records, the first bands I saw live, and so on. I was prompted to finally visit it by a post over at The Reinvigorated Programmer.

The Programmer tells us of his first record, and links it to his impending trip to see Paul McCartney. I note that, irrespective of his first single, he knows what the first album he owned was. I don’t. I can tell you the first singles I was given (one now spoiled by the epidemic of 70s celebrities having been slimeballs), the first I bought by choice (maximally embarrassing), and various other details. But the first album? I’m not sure. Not sure at all.

I can tell you the first album we owned as a family: it was called Bing and Louis, by Messrs Crosby and Armstrong. We had gone to a hi-fi shop in Glasgow to buy a stereo (which for some reason my parents pronounced “steer-ee-oh”, and did for years thereafter). We hadn’t had any kind of record player before then. I must have been about seven, maybe?

Anyway, the guy in the shop was using this Crosby and Armstrong record1 to demo the turntable, and my Mum liked it so much that he gave it to us. As I recall it was always really badly scratched – crackly, not sticking – so it makes me wonder why on Earth he was using it to demo anything. Unless it was like, “This system is so good you’ll hear every crackle.”

After that initial record, my parents mainly had soundtrack albums – or at least, those were the ones that I remember listening to. The Sound of Music, Paint Your Wagon, Cabaret… I know, the latter was most unsuitable. Except the music isn’t (unless you’re overly influenced by “Tomorrow Belongs to Me”). It was years later before I saw the film.2

And as I think back to the cupboard under the stereo, I’m remembering a couple of albums that were bought for me that are not the one I was going to mention (inasmuch as was going to mention early albums at all, which I wasn’t when I started writing this).

There was an album of really bad versions of TV themes – mainly SF ones, I think, as the only ones I can remember are Doctor Who and Star Trek. The former was bad, but the latter was so bad that I remember my friend Scot saying, “The shite’s coming out” when it started playing one time, after I had described it as “shite”.

Why did we listen to it, then? I dunno. I guess we were musically starved to death.

And something from when I was a bit younger, called, if I recall correctly, Tubby the Tuba. I don’t even want to google that.

I think there was also at least one Disney soundtrack album. Maybe the animated Robin Hood?

The thing I was thinking of, though, that was at least something like a rock or pop album, was given to me by my brother one Christmas. It was called Blockbusters, and it consisted of songs by The Sweet, Mud and Suzi Quatro, making it a seminal influence on me, considering my origin story. And I still have that one.

The connection between the three, as the well-informed musicologist will know, is that they were all Chinnichap artists. Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman were the Stock, Aitken and Waterman of their day.3

It was a great album, with all the hits you could want: “Blockbuster” itself, of course; “Tiger Feet”; “Dynamite”; and of course, “Devil Gate Drive”, and more.

It was only years later that I realised that they weren’t by the original artists. These were the days before compilations like the Now That’s What I Call Music! series, which reliably package up a selection of the year’s chart hits, properly credited and in their original single form. Back then, every year saw another album in the Top of the Pops series, which shared only the name with the TV show. On them you got a selection of the year’s hits, performed by a studio band doing passable clones of the originals.

My Blockbusters album was the same kind of thing, but focused on a single songwriting team.

It was still good, though.

But none of this leads me any closer to remembering what the first album I chose to buy (or asked to have bought for me) was. Possibly it was something by The Beatles. It wasn’t till my sister gave me a reel-to-reel tape of Beatles singles that I really got into music.

But I suspect the only way to be sure will be to do a careful inventory of my records. Which is project for another time.

By now, though, you’re probably desperate to know about those embarrassing or spoiled early singles. Or, you’ve completely forgotten about them.

Some time after we got the stereo, I was given two singles: “The Laughing Gnome” by David Bowie; and “I’m the Leader of the Gang (I am)” by Gary Glitter. Who’d have thought that the second of those would come to be the more embarrassing?

Then a few years later, after Britain’s Eurovision triumph, I took a liking to the Brotherhood of Man, and bought “Oh Boy (The Mood I’m In)”. Which – oh my god! – was in 1977. I am ashamed.

I bought it in Boots (the shop, not the footwear), if I remember rightly. Remember when they were kind of a department store, and sold records?


  1. I’m kind of sure it must be this one, except that’s shown as Bing & Satchmo, and I’m sure the title was as I gave it above. ↩︎

  2. And I’ve still never seen Paint Your Wagon↩︎

  3. I’m kind of amazed to read that they wrote Toni Basil’s “Mickey”, as well. ↩︎


New Year Activities

The day after New Year's Day we decided to go to the British Museum, to see the mummies. So did half of London, it seemed. I've never seen it so crowded. Still, the mummies are always interesting. I must go back another time and see some other sections.

Home was via bookshop, Pizza Express, and Little Fockers at the cinema (ignore the critics: it’s loadsa fun; unless you didn’t like the first two, of course).

Oh, but before all that, we had tried to play basketball in Millfields Park. But there was an annoying dog-owner who couldn’t control her Alsatian. The latter proceeded to bite our basketball till it burst. When we remonstrated with the owner, she ran off.

At least it was only the basketball that got bitten.

The next day brought an early start. Neither London’s young skaters nor anybody else gets up very early on New Year’s Bank Holiday Monday, it seems. I don’t think I’ve ever seen London streets so empty. The drive in to the Aldwych area for the start of skating at Somerset House felt like driving through a Jerry Cornelius novel: “Martin tooled the big Duesenberg Skoda down Roseberry Avenue…”

I don’t skate any more. I did it twice when I was a student, and I think once since I had kids. From the student times, I remember enjoying it, but getting very wet and very bruised. With kids I didn’t fall over so much, but only through caution, not because I had magically become able to skate.

Anyway, what with one thing and another, I didn’t do it through all those intervening years, and by the time my kids were old enough to be interested and able, I had broken my cruciate ligament in a freak gardening accident. I probably could do it now, but I’m too scared of re-injuring my knee.

So I sat in the warmth of “Tom’s Skate Lounge” and had a Cappuccino and a Danish, and took photographs and notes, while our party slowly, but with increasing confidence, circled the ice. I loved the fact that the staff members who were on the ice had hi-viz vests saying “Ice Marshall”. There’s something very pleasing about that term.

After that we drove on out to South Kensington, and the Natural History Museum. Ostensibly to see the dinosaurs. But of course, the other half of London had decided to do the same. After queueing for maybe twenty minutes to get inside, we found a 45-minute queue for the dinosaurs. So we elected for the blue whale, via the other mammals, instead.

Which was of course, fabulous. Wonderful place, the Natural History Museum. Actually, London’s pretty wonderful.

Ice Marshalls at Somerset House