I guess it was just the times, but there was an alignment of the stars and the swinging sixties met with adolescence and a society that hadn’t managed to get its mind onto this new group, teenagers. Looking at us now, we don’t seem very wild and revolutionary, but at the time we were unsure about what we wanted to be or do. Then again we certainly knew that we didn’t want to be like our parents. And by golly did we make that clear!
The word bandied around was freedom, and as ‘almost adults’ we wanted more than our fair share of it. For me music was revolutionary and inspirational. My wife doesn’t get it, but I saw the world change from black and white to Technicolor. Clothes became wild, colourful and a statement of individuality and, despite a general lack of money, we did our best to make ourselves stand out. My mother started wearing short dresses with Mary Quant patterns and colours. Artificial fabrics were all the rage and prices were low. I believe she bought a dress for ten shillings, 50 pence nowadays.
As a teenager we didn’t have a lot of money, but I managed to buy a pair of Levis and they were basically my only trousers that were not school ones and, in fact, the only ones that weren’t shorts. My father had built wardrobes into our bedrooms. There wasn’t a lot of space, but that didn’t matter as there wasn’t much in them apart from school uniforms. Having an older brother was handy as I could raid all the trendy clothes that he had. I must say that he was very patient with me, but occasionally we came to blows. My younger brother likes to remind me how my older brother and I fought over the tomato sauce, which ended up splattering over the ceiling. Brotherly love!
As I have said previously, my first social experiences were youth clubs, but by the age of fourteen we were moving further afield. My experience of parties had started when I was much younger with the usual children’s birthday parties. By the end of Harehills County Primary School we were becoming very interested in the opposite gender and games such as pass the parcel were being replaced by postman’s knock. In our teens this moved on a notch. I am not sure what parents, particularly parents of girls, were thinking when they agreed to host parties. To make matters worse they had obviously been persuaded not to be present, which was a recipe for disaster.
I can’t remember where the first party I attended was, but it would have been either around the Roundhay School area or Alwoodley. We had, for a long while, gathered in Pete’s cellar at Harehills but, as we knew who was attending, somehow I don’t count those. Times were different and it was quite easy for teenagers to buy alcohol and cigarettes were openly on sale from street cigarette vending machines. Although, as I have said, we didn’t have much money a bottle of cheap sherry, QC or the like, or preferably a bottle of Chablis could be bought for about six shillings (30 pence). Cider was another favourite and was stronger in alcohol than the current offerings. Newcastle Brown was not a good choice as it was sweet and sickly and gave young drinkers a dreadful hangover and a determination never to drink again. We tried everything in those days. Martini and lemonade, lager and lime or blackcurrant were often the choice of the girls, but avoided by the lads.
I must add that there was a very different attitude in the 1960s-70s. The girls tended to drink moderately and it was the boys who had no sense and drank until they needed help. This was usually provided by a girlfriend, who ensured you got home safely.
Word got around about upcoming parties and it was accepted that if one of our crowd was invited then we all were, which probably meant about twenty of us. They were usually planned for a Friday or Saturday evening. The front doors would often be open and loud music could be heard long before you arrived at someone’s nice home. Usually, by the time we arrived, it would already be crowded and we just arrived and drink, if you brought any, was deposited in the kitchen. Boys tended to gather in the kitchen and the hallway and the two rooms, front and back, would see teenagers standing chatting, smoking and drinking. I don’t remember any dancing. People would bring their latest records to play and I sometimes did, but usually regretted it as people would drag the needle over them, stand on them and generally they were never the same afterwards.
The air would tend to be thick with smoke and even if you were a non-smoker you would have inhaled half a packet by the time you left and your clothes would reek of tobacco. Some civilised and kindly parents would provide nibbles, but they clearly didn’t expect the numbers that were attending. Mid-evening the pantry would be raided for any food and anything possible would be liberated and greedily enjoyed. Good carpets had drink spilt on them, cigarettes trodden into them and food and vomit added to the mix.
Parents would have arranged to return by elevenish in those days and a frantic cleaning up would start from the host of the party. The girl would probably be quite upset by the careless attitude of the guests and her friends would rally around to put things to rights. The boys, including me, saw this as the signal that it was time to leave. We would gather up our records, search for missing friends, often lying ill in the back or front gardens, and head as far away as possible from the repercussions. Supporting any incapacitated members of our circle, we made our way along the dark, now quiet streets, ears ringing, vision slightly blurred as the frost and mist began to settle over the city. I don’t know, why but it seemed that the parties were held during autumn and winter, or maybe that is just my imagination.
I can only guess what the host’s parent’s reactions would have been. Carpet cleaning, or replacing, tears and a very firm declaration that this was the first and the very last party they would ever be allowed to hold in their house. I don’t remember many people re-hosting parties until we got older, with the exception of Peter’s cellar and another friend, John L., where his home became social central for quite a while.
I must add, for educational purposes, some of the party highlights that convinced me to never allow my own children to host parties. I will say that this didn’t always work out as they took their chances when we went on holiday without them. They were considerably older at this point, than my party days, and as parents we got away fairly unscathed.
How could I ever forget the Heinz Steam pudding being cooked in a kettle in one house, a mother’s very large corset arranged around a standard lamp for the world to see and marvel at, red wine on a white carpet, and the surprise of opening a door to find a partly clad couple in a pantry? (parents were supervising the party on this occasion). Of course there were others, but I guess that you get the trend. I can’t say that our crowd was the worst behaved and often we were more observers than players, but I guess we were the types that parents dreaded and warned their children about.
The following Monday after a party, without fail, the host girl claimed it was a fantastic party, their parents hadn’t complained and that they must host one again soon. I guess this was a way of saving face and, as I have said, few had an encore.
For all our turbulent times and experiences, somehow we all grew up and, in almost every case, became pillars of society in a wide range of professions and occupations. I guess we were lucky that mobile phone cameras were not on hand to record the highlights and this is a luxury that the younger generation doesn’t have. Mind you, people like me are now retelling some of the wild times that grandparents got up to. We may be old, but we knew how to have a riotous time!
My latest Christmas single – Fat Cat Christmas.
The next part of Blaze, my latest fantasy novel audiobook is available witht previous parts on the soundcloud player below. A new part will be added each week.