Now let me take you back to, probably 1975, London. It was a time of the IRA bombing of the city, unrest with the unions, the arrival of Margaret Thatcher as a political force and some fantastic music.
I was studying Teacher Training at Borough Road College in Isleworth, which was a college of the University of London and the first teacher training establishment in the world, founded by Joseph Lancaster. It was a small campus and was particularly famous for its sports stars. The college was divided into ‘PE Boys’ (Only male PE students) and Academics (The rest of the us) and had some Olympians and other sports stars as part of its alumni.
In my second year I was on the Students’ Union Finance Committee and later the Social Committee. It was due to this link that I was able to borrow the disco equipment for a friend’s 21st birthday party in a house we shared in Feltham, West London.
Now I must set the scene as the times were very different. They were the days of sartorial splendor: stack heeled platform shoes, bell bottom trousers, Afghan coats, budgie jackets, tear drop collars, flowered shirts and long hair. And that was just the men. It was also the heyday of progressive rock music, prior to its savaging by Punk Rock. Those were still the days of vinyl records and the early days of cassette tapes. Skin heads also roamed the land and confrontations between them and other fringe groups could be seen on the television news. The one programme that no self respecting student would miss at the time, was The Magic Roundabout. The carrying ons of Zebedee, Florence, Dougal, Dylan etc. were prerequisite viewing, as was The Old Grey Whistle Test for serious music lovers. Yes, music was seen as very serious at the time. I wasn’t a big fan of David Bowie then, as he was too pop. I was more Jethro Tull, Greenslade, King Crimson and Genesis. Mind you, I was quite partial to Stevie Wonder and Living for the City was one of my all time faves.
Anyway, back to the party. We were hosting Keith’s do in the shared house. As student houses went it was a bit flash. It was well kept and had a nice conservatory at the back. Friends were invited, guests from far flung places arrived and we started setting up in the afternoon. There was even a free standing bar in the house which was quite trendy in those days. Tacky nowadays! I started setting up the disco equipment and we, the residents of the house and a couple of guests, one being a friend of mine from Leeds and my younger brother, had a few drinks to help proceedings. The disco equipment was a Heath Robinson affair. It had been built by a student or two with some, but clearly not much, electrical knowledge. Health a safety was not as it is now (In Australia, you are not allowed to fit a plug to an electrical cable yourself) and twin rudimentary record decks, mixers and faders were in a hefty cabinet that sat on legs. There was a power socket built into the side where the power connected and this was the root of the near disaster.
I assembled the deck, positioned it where it would give the best effect, connected the speaker cabinets and stopped to have another drink. For some reason I had decided Pernod and lemonade would be my poison of choice, called a perroquet. I am not sure if this was named after the splendid colours it produced or because it made you as sick as a parrot. Anyway, I and anyone near by enjoyed the mixed delight and then it was decided to get the music started. I picked up the extension cord off the floor and was about to connect it to the deck when I realized something was not quite right. Now it may have been the drink, maybe my stupidity or maybe it takes a long time for the human body to register something out of the ordinary, but I held the plug for a while before I realized I was being electrocuted. I can’t say it was painful. It was almost a pleasant experience as 240 volts coursed through me, making the muscles twitch, before I decided to drop the extension lead plug. Logic couldn’t explain how the male end of an extension lead could be live. It was the end that you plugged into the power supply so it could not be live. I stood there shocked, literally, but felt no other effect. I was young, strong and healthy so maybe that explained the lack of damage. No one else took any notice until I told them and then I investigated the mystery.
Some smarty had decided to assemble the deck with a plug socket and so that meant they had wired an extension lead with two male plugs, one on each end. In most cases this hadn’t been a problem, but someone had plugged the lead into the power supply before connecting the other end to the deck. I had picked up a male end assuming it couldn’t be live, to be the receiving end of the full force of the electricity supply. Oh, what joy! As I said earlier no one else seemed put out and seeing as I was still breathing, I had another drink, connected the power correctly and put on the music.
The evening went well. I can’t say I remember a great deal about it, but suffered a mighty hangover the next day. I am not aware of any long term damage from the incident, but it has led to me being careful around electricity ever since.