Saturday 9 September 2017

Nightboat to Northants

I’ve just been granted exclusive permission to publish a photo of someone whose name has appeared here several times over the years...

...Mr SDS. 

Here he is in 1981.  A bloke in creepers and a 'We Are All Prostitutes' T-shirt sitting on a folding chair by a river may not be as extreme as teenage goths grimacing on the beach in those ‘Embarrassing Family Photos’ websites, but still I love the way it looks a little out of place. I snapped him squinting in the Summer sun as the morning light bounced off his fluorescent pink socks, androgynous post-punk hair blowing in the breeze against a pastoral backdrop in the middle of nowhere.  (The middle of Northamptonshire, as it happens.)

That’s how it was, though, wasn’t it?  Holidays, weddings, funerals, etc. were difficult when it came to dressing ‘appropriately’.  We wanted to wear what we always wore and (of course) what we wanted to be seen in.  Which was at least appropriate to who we were and what we were into, as deck shoes and shorts had never been in our wardrobes.

A slightly better view of that T-shirt

The Pop Group: We Are All Prostitutes

I took that photo the first time we went away together.  We didn’t have much money, still lived at home with respective parents, but for a nominal donation we were able to borrow a little narrowboat for a couple of days from my mum's friend.  It was moored at a campsite in a place we’d never heard of called Thrapston.

The saffron yellow, bone-rattling, ex-Post Office Viva van got us there somehow.  Mr SDS had only just passed his driving test and I couldn't drive at all; I tried to read the map the right way up while he did his best not to show his inner panic.  We made it unscathed through Bedford anyway, which was quite a triumph.

Smells make memories, don’t they?  And if I ever smell that disctinctive whiff of paraffin now I find myself right back on that boat, sitting on the foam-cushioned bench seats (which disappointingly only converted into single beds with several feet between them) eating Heinz Sandwich Spread on Crackerbreads.   Weird, but I really remember that detail.  Sandwich Spread may have the colour, taste and consistency of sick, yet in 1981 eating food not bought by our parents in unfamiliar waterborne surroundings with my boyfriend was so exciting that I managed to keep it down.

More exciting, though, was just listening to the radio there. We heard a lot of chart singles such as  Kim Wilde 'Water On Glass', The Specials 'Ghost Town' and Tenpole Tudor 'Wunderbar'... they are the sound of that place to me still, the sonic equivalent to the smell of paraffin.

Let me take you back to a 1981 Top Of The Pops for a moment as a reminder:

I really liked Kim's boyish image

Then we listened to Richard Skinner’s evening show which usually featured a band in session.  That night will forever be associated with Soft Cell:

Soft Cell in session, Summer 1981

I remember thinking the last song 'Youth' was really something.

'Don't hide the photos
Or turn off the lights
I'm quite sure we've both seen
Funnier sights'

(People used to think Mr SDS looked a bit like Marc Almond; he was once offered a freebie jar of Dippity-Do hair gel by an older stall holder at Camden Market on the strength of it.)

It was when we wanted to go to bed that the spiders appeared.  Dozens of them. Every corner, every crevice, the low lamplight casting monstrous 8-legged shadows against the wooden panels.  Big fat juicy ones and long-legged spindly ones, stripey ones, ones with bodies that looked like baked beans and hairy varieties too.   It seemed to take forever to carefully flick each one out the window with a Queen's Silver Jubilee themed tea towel.  Thanks to that I conquered my fear of spiders, so much so that long-time readers will know I now actively love them.  But that doesn’t mean I ever want to sleep with them.

You must've heard the apocryphal tale that goes round schools about the couple who get lost on a nighttime drive in the wilderness?  – where the boyfriend gets out to seek help and later the lone girlfriend hears banging on the car roof, which to her horror turns out to be his decapitated head in the hands of an axe murderer.   It came to mind when I was awoken in the early hours that first morning by the mysterious, repetitive knocking on the narrowboat roof.  It sounded very close, very persistent.  Luckily Mr SDS’ head was still intact on the starboard bunk.

What was that noise? 

We’ll never know.

Probably ducks.

Later we wandered out of the campsite and into a time-warp: a grocery store in town, where a plump, rosy-cheeked lady sold us a bottle of Dandelion & Burdock. She was so friendly; I like to think she approved of Siouxsie’s lifesize face staring out from Mr SDS’ chest and my sleeveless Lurex top sparkling in the dusty rays of sunlight.

Strolling back to our moorings, every wooden gate we passed – and there were quite a few - came with a bony old man in a tweed cap attached to it.  Maybe it was the same man, skipping ahead unseen behind the hedges while we dawdled, just to mess with our townie minds.

It's funny how I remember all these odd snippets.  I can never see a man leaning on a gate now without thinking of everything I've described above. 

Did we untie the mooring lines when we got back, fire up the boat's engine and go chugging up the Grand Union Canal with our new-found freedom?  Course not!  There'd have been no turning back.


  1. You and Mr. SDS have been together for over 35 years, C. Now, that's a relationship success story!

    I loved hearing about your narrowboat adventure. It's hard to believe that some folks manage to live in them year 'round. (I'm terribly envious!) A few years ago we rented a canal boat (not a narrowboat) for one leg of our U.K. trip. When it came time to return it, much to our dismay however, we found that we just couldn't park it. The only space available was between two others and we just lost our nerve. Finally, one of the employees had to come out in another boat, climb into ours and take it in for us. (A little embarrassing!)

    Mr. VS would never approve of my posting one of his old photos. I'm thinking of one in particular, taken a couple of decades before I met him - he looks like Rasputin. (It was the '60s after all.)

    1. Lovely to see you again Marie, hope all is well!
      The idea of living on a boat, especially if travelling around on it, sounds so free and exciting but I don't think I could be doing with all the maintenance nor navigating locks and stuff! I have no doubt we'd have been exactly the same as you and Mr VS re. parking a boat. I'm not great at parallel parking a car and would much rather have someone else do it...

      Posting these old photos came from finding them and the ensuing conversation with Mr SDS, so really it was half his idea!

      As for 35 years... aargh, too scary a number, let's not dwell on it!

    2. PS - Loving the image I have in my head of Mr VS as Rasputin!

  2. What a fantastic post. "the sonic equivalent to the smell of paraffin" was a great line. I wonder what that was knocking on the roof?

    Hang on. I think I can hear a knocking myself. I'll just go check what it i...

    1. Ah thanks Rol.... if you're still there in one piece? Whatever it was on the roof didn't leave any bloodstains so hopefully was nothing more sinister than a flock of tapdancing wigeons.

      Yes, smells and music, real memory-triggers. A shame there's no facility on here to upload smells (or maybe not..)

  3. How fantastic to have been given permission to post these pics - I can see how you fell for Mr SDS back then as he would have definitely stood out in a crowd (can see the Marc Almond resemblance as well). Strange how some pictures from those days would now look just so dated but that look of choice, what with the band T-shirts, the straight-legged jeans and mussed up hair is kind of timeless and it could be of a band-member of today. Somehow we start to become invisible as we turn middle-aged and I doubt if my daughter and her friends can ever think of us as having been as young as they are now, wearing cutting edge clothes and sporting wild haircuts!

    My first holiday with Mr WIAA was in his parents rickety caravan - It was more of an endurance test as they towed it over to the West Coast of Scotland for us BUT so many funny stories came out of that trip that we kept our friends amused for years.

    As Marie just said - over 35 years together now so your relationship is real success story for today's world. Perhaps that first holiday together sealed the deal!

    1. Thanks Alyson, yes I know exactly what you mean about the look of choice being less dated than one might expect, and compared with the more mainstream fashions of the '80s - I hadn't thought of it like that before. The band T-shirt and straight-legged jeans look has never dated.

      Your first holiday with WIAA sounds like it could be a blog-post in the making...? Would love to read more if you ever feel inclined!

      As I said to Marie, 35 years is a scary number... I still feel like I can't be old enough, surely! Like most, we've had our ups and downs, but there's that Kahlil Gibran poem though that I think best sums up how relationships can be sustained, the one that includes the line, "...the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow".

  4. Best thing I've read today C- thank Mr SDS for allowing his image to be used. We were tlaking the other day about how, when we were kids, 60 years olds looked like 60 year olds ie old men and women. Now 60 year olds look like, I dunno, Paul Weller and Nick Cave- dressing appropriately has shifted a bit. And while you might struggle to get away with a We Are All Prostitutes t-shirt at a wedding (and that's not even certain) you could wear creepers and pink socks and no one would bat an eye lid.

    I quite fancy a barging holiday.

    1. Ah thanks SA, glad you enjoyed and yes have passed on thanks! We talk about this often too... and from a female point of view it's seeing older women with brightly coloured hair or spiky cuts that would once have been deemed outrageous but now is so normal. The deep desire to never become too mainstream still lurks within me and so finds that a good reason not to have spiky bright coloured hair now... nor tattoos... the irony! But I'd happily wear creepers to a wedding!

  5. A really wonderful post C - I can't tell you how much I enjoyed it. It's remarkable how certain sights, sounds and smells have the ability to vividly whisk us back to another time and place.
    Mrs S & I went to New York, Paris and Rome together, before we were even...together, just as friends. It's a long story.
    I like the idea of a barging holiday in theory, but I think I'd spend the whole time crouching - unless there are some very high-ceilinged barges out there somewhere.

    1. Thanks TS! So pleased you enjoyed the reminiscing. Your long story re. Mrs S and you sounds fascinating... so good to know it all worked out for you both.
      Yes those barges/boats are not really designed for very tall people. They should come with pop-up ceiling extensions!

  6. With the hatch open you'd be ok Swede. Can't guarantee you'd be dry though.

    1. :-) I'm getting a vision now of a kind of barge-cum-submarine, with The Swede having to stand in the periscope...

  7. Love this. Love how the folding chair in the first photograph somehow perfectly dates the photo. Love the idea of the same old man, skipping ahead unseen behind the hedges. Mostly though, I loved Kim Wilde, one of the first of many crushes, way back when.

    1. Thanks - you're right, the folding chair dates the pic more than anything else - funny how it's those incidental details sometimes.
      Kim was so attractive. I loved her look then especially, a pretty face in boyish clothes and lots of messy hair.

  8. I won a narrow boat holiday last year and absolutely love it ( so much so I'm off again in a couple of weeks) locks and swing bridges no problem ....but didn't really fully crack mooring until the last day... There's a knack! I love the pootling along at 4mph and the being in the middle of nowhere with no one else around when you go to sleep...thank goodness there weren't legions of spiders or weird knocking noises though!
    It's amazing that you and Mr SDS have weathered the storms of 35 years, well done!

    1. A lovely thing to win, how brilliant - have a great time on your next trip. Maybe I should give it a proper go some time, I'd love it for wildlife watching especially.
      Thanks re. the years... where does the time go?!

  9. I have been back to this post several times since Saturday, and I had Mrs. LTL read it too. Having trouble putting into words how much I enjoyed this one. Reminded me so much of the first trip Mrs. LTL and I took together. When we were students in Chicago, I had little money, but I "treated" her to a weekend trip to Sauguck, Michigan for her birthday. Too long a story for the comments section, and it would sound like the worst trip ever anyway (rickety cabin with no heat and a scary caretaker) but 25 years later, we look back at that first unsupervised trip together with big smiles and no regrets. We wouldn't change a thing.

    1. So glad you enjoyed this, thanks - funny as I didn't really know what I was going to write about because originally we were just talking about the style and the scenery being at odds, but then the memories of those odd things were so stuck in my mind and the thoughts took off, with the music too.
      Sounds like that would be a very amusing post should you ever choose to write more about your weekend in Sauguck - hope you do some time!

  10. I'm worried in that photo Mr SDS is going to fall over backwards into the river! Your narrowboat trip sounds nice and you have a great memory for all the details.

    Water on Glass is one of my favorites by Kim Wilde. I heard the lyrics could be about tinnitus affliction. Something I can relate to, as I have ringing in my ears from time to time.

    1. Haha, I don't think either of us got our feet wet at all!

      I've never paid attention to the lyrics to Water On Glass but now I will do so with that in mind, thanks. And I do hope your tinnitus isn't too troubling.


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