Thoughts about living in China – All quite random – Part 1

Between about 2006 and 2009 we lived and worked in Beijing, Lotty in one International School (Beijing City International School) and I in the Western Academy Beijing (WAB). I was employed as what they called their Production Engineer, which effectively was the equivalent of what I used to do at the Roundhouse in London, in other words, I functioned as their Production Manager, being responsible for the sound and lighting crew of the school. As we had something like 7 venues to deal with, and as they tended to start each morning at about 8 am and finish some time in the evening – with rock concerts, classical concerts, film shows or whatever, we tended to work for about 70 hours a week.

I had a number of Chinese guys working with me, so I found it relatively easy to learn Mandarin (the Chinese dialect spoken in Beijing, and thus the official language of China), except that it is a tonal language, and the tone used can change the meaning of a word totally – for example, the word “Mar”, can mean the following:- Horse, Wife, Arrow and who knows what more? So if you happen to get the tone wrong, you could be saying something like, “I shot my wife at a straw target”, or “I would like to introduce you to my arrow”. When the Chinese use their tones, it is very subtle, and hardly noticeable, but for us Long Noses (Western foreigners) it is extremely tricky! Which makes a language that on the face of it is very simple and logical, incredibly hard to use properly, so I spent my entire time making that sort of mistake – oh well……

While we were living there, the number of cars increased exponentially. When we got there, most people still used bicycles, but by the time we left, every week another 10 000 cars were registered in Beijing alone! This, of course, caused huge traffic jams, sometimes they were up to 100 km long!!!!

Also, the Chinese hadn’t grown up with cars, the way we in the west had done, so they did the most extraordinary things when in cars, or even when simply crossing the road. For example, when driving on a motorway, if they happened to miss their turning, they were perfectly happy to turn around, and drive against the other traffic until they got to their turning, and then leave the motorway. I have seen the crew of a police car happily having a picnic on the hard shoulder of a motor way, and I have also seen a shepherd happily putting his herd of sheep across a motorway – altogether extraordinary!

Also, in all the cities, the two opposing lanes of the roads have large, and very secure, fences on them, to stop people crossing the road anywhere but at the places intended for them to cross – this because people tended to simply wander across the roads anywhere they happened to be – the results of many, many years of only bikes on the roads.

Another hang-over from the days of no cars (for the ordinary people), when an official is being driven somewhere, they have a total right of way, so all other vehicles have to give way to them and their hugely important passenger(s), and the military have even more right of way than the politicians – so if you happen to be driving in Beijing, watch out for large cars with special number plates, they have, and will take, an absolute right of way!

In another post, I shall dwell on yet more curiosities of life in Beijing – a city that I truly enjoyed living in.

We head north and get a better idea of how huge Australia is.

Recently we (Lotty and I) went for a trip to the north of Brisbane, our first time to the middle of Queensland, and it was an amazing experience – to put it mildly!

The first thing that it showed us was how damn big Australia actually is – we drove for days and hardly covered any ground on our map of Queensland. The trip north was reasonably quickly done, as we were signed into a Yoga Retreat at an area called Mission Beach, about almost 2000 km north of Brisbane, so we simply went up the coastal road, which was for the most part, a motorway.

Once the Retreat was over, we headed further north, through Cairns and onto Daintree, where we camped for a few days. Whilst there, we indulged in a river expedition to gaze at the millions of different birds who live in the rain forest up there – and in passing, also gazed in horrid awe at the huge crocodiles who live in that river.

A huge male crocodile, at least about 5 meters long! – king of that section of the river!

We also saw cattle drinking from the river, with a female crocodile about 2 meters away from them – happily she didn’t grab any of the cattle, presumably she was full?

We then set out to get back to Brisbane, but this time taking our time about it, and using the “inner” road, so we could see the actual scenery of Queensland.

This was an odd experience, not least because of the distances between towns (mostly actually small villages). We quickly came upon road signs that said that the next village was about 400 km away. And that was actually how it was! The road disappeared into a geometric vanishing point.

And the only thing we saw on this road (apart from the very occasional village) were trees and Termite nests and very occasionally, another vehicle.

There were literally thousands of these huge towers dotting the landscape

We passed small villages, small towns and occasionally even ghost towns, sundry old buildings, but no one living there, which was odd, but given that most of these villages were built by prospectors who when the gold, coal or whatever mineral they were after was finished, simply moved on, leaving their town to rot. Odd though.

And to cap it all, on the last leg of our journey we found ourselves in a forest, just about 200 km north of where we live, this forest was about 100 km wide, and the road through it was simply a dirt track, so for about 100 km we bumped along a very rough road – which caused my back to be screwed up for several weeks after our trip – the infamous corrugated dirt tracks of the Australian outback!

Almost 100 km of this track….. Not good!

So, an amazing trip which told us a wee bit more about the country we are living in.. an amazing place!

If you have ever travelled in this area, please let us know via the comments below, so we can share your experiences.

Some of the joys of hitching around Europe

Way back in my youth – in the ’60’s of the last century – every summer holiday I used to wander from south England (where I lived in those days) to go down to Greece, via sundry other European countries. In the course of these journeys I had a number of experiences, both pleasant and very much less pleasant – though I am happy to say, that generally they were pleasant.

One thing I did notice however, was the weird way in which men felt that they had an absolute right to touch women’s bums and other parts of their bodies.

On one journey I was with a girl (not particularly my girlfriend, simply a girl who was travelling with me) and we were in northern Greece and were offered a lift in a truck, so I sat next to the driver, and the girl sat on my far side, thus as far from the driver as she could get. This in no way interfered with the driver’s attempts to grope the poor damn woman – he merely stretched over me and groped her groin as if I wasn’t there. To be honest, neither she nor I knew what on earth to do about him so we managed to say to him (in our broken Greek) that he should stop and we would find someone else to drive us to Athens – which happily he was OK to do. This sort of experience was, sadly, all too common in southern Europe.

On another trip, whilst walking around in Florence – this time with an American girl – we found ourselves surrounded by a group of about 10 young Italians who proceeded to grope her bum, even though this was in one of Florence’s main streets. Her reaction was superb however! As soon as they started to grope her, she stopped, roared in good American a load of swear-words and generally gave them hell! This was the right way to react, as they were covered in embarrassment and quickly disappeared. She later told me that she was regularly treated in this manner, and had evolved this technique to deal with it, and by and large, she told me, it had worked.

But one has to wonder why men behaved in this fashion, did they feel that it was their “right as men” to do this, or did they feel that somehow girls would value this form of behaviour? Or did they simply assume that any young women from other countries were sluts? Altogether very odd.

Did you have any similar experiences whilst hitching? If so, do share them with us here please.

The times I have been confronted with someone dying.

During my long life I have not been confronted with too many people dying, but those I was present for, made a huge impression on my life and how I viewed the world and life generally – as death rather tends to do………

The first time I was consciously aware of someone’s death was in Port Said in about 1947 while we were on our way to Australia (the various deaths I must have seen during the bombardment of England during the war I have no recollection of), and that was a pick-pocket who was on the ship among loads of Egyptian people trying to sell stuff to the passengers, which was the normal way when ships went through the canal.

Anyhow, this fellow carried out his profession but was seen by the victim, who shouted out something to the effect of “Stop thief”, whereupon the Egyptian cops who were also on board , simply shot the poor bloke, which made a heck of an impression on this 5 year old! I can recall standing near to his body as the cops sorted out what should happen to him now that he was dead. Like all dead people I have seen, he looked very peaceful, as all the facial muscles relax when one is dead, so a bland expression is the norm for all corpses – which is a pity for those writers who delight in phrases such as:- “The dead guy’s face showed sheer terror and showed how terrible his death had been…..” Never true I am afraid!

Anyhow, the body was duly hauled away, and we carried on to Aden, a God-forsaken place if ever their was one, where I saw my second corpse. This time it was simply a bloke lying on the pavement who I was told was simply dying – though of what, wasn’t specified. Anyhow, there he was, about to die, and I had to step over him to carry on with our wander around the town of Aden. So that is exactly what I did, but I stopped once I had stepped over him, and stayed to see what happened. What happened was that he carried on with the business of dying, and duly died, while I watched in fascinated horror. As I have since noticed when someone dies, peacefully, one knows exactly when he has departed as there is a marked change in how someone seems, it is hard to describe, but in all the occasions I have been present when someone died peacefully, it was totally obvious when they actually died, even if they were unconscious as they died. A change that is impossible to describe happens to them, at the moment of death.

Odd.

The next time I saw someone dying was many years later, when I was about 17 or 18 years old, and was working in a lunatic asylum (as a holiday job) when I was present for several deaths (patients). All died peacefully in their beds, and all of them died in the same way – while asleep. Even so, I knew exactly when they had died as that change happened that I first noticed with that guy in Aden.

Since when, happily, I have not been present at anyone’s death, and frankly, I hope that the next one I am present for will be my own – but in the worlds of Spike Milligan, “I am not afraid of dying, I just don’t want to be there when it happens!”

If this post sparks any thoughts in you, please share them via the comments section below – simply scroll on down and you will see it. We will be really appreciative of any thoughts you might have on the topic of dying.

A Rock Concert in Hyde Park with the Rolling Stones in 1969

Shortly after I started work at the Roundhouse, the Rolling Stones decided to put on a concert in Hyde Park which is in the centre of London for those of you who don’t know where that park is.


So as frequently happened, a lot of my guys at the Roundhouse were asked to work on this gig, variously as lighting, sound or security crews.    My luck meant that I was asked to work on the security side of the concert, which chiefly meant standing at the entrance to the back stage area, with a list of people who had been given invitations to be there, and name tags to give them.
You would imagine that this job would be a real no brainer, on the list, let ’em in, not on the list, don’t let ’em in, simple eh?   Well forget that idea.  I very quickly discovered that no end of self-important people who felt they should be cluttering up the back and sides of the stage but had by some unbelievable oversight not been sent an invitation started to turn up, mostly with stunning looking girls, and demanded extremely aggressively to be allowed in, as obviously their names should have been on my list.

See what I mean about all those parasites on the stage?


And of course it was totally my fault that they were not on my list (never understood that one).
There were actually two of us Roundhouse guys on that back stage entrance, myself and a huge Scot who looked a bit like Obelix, (he later had a son whom he saddled with the name Thor).   So we were not actually very bothered about any physical attack from these gate crashers, but quickly became very angry with their verbal aggression and self-importance, and took to simply picking them up, carrying them a reasonable distance from the entrance, and sort of throwing them away…. Seemed to work.  The girls on the other hand, who mostly were simply embarrassed by their escorts, we tended to allow into the sacred back stage area…..
All of this had the result you will see in any video of rock concerts, almost as many people on both sides and the back of the stage as out in front… Stupid, but it made them feel important, even if for the stage hands they were a real problem.
In the course of my work in those days, I came to discover that a lot of bands only felt happy if they could bring their entire court of sycophants with them whenever they played in public….    Others refused to issue any back stage passes to anyone except people who had a real reason to be there… we technicians vastly preferred that sort of group, as it meant that we had room on and around the stage to do our work in a reasonable fashion.    Since once one of those courtiers had established themselves in a visible part of the stage, they were not about to move for anyone… Even a roadie struggling to reconnect a live 400 Amp cable where they were standing…  Tricky at times.
To be honest, the concert itself was not particularly interesting, but it was very typical of such open air concerts in those days.. Not like Woodstock or the Glastonbury ones , which of course are much bigger, but for a one day event, they  pulled respectable crowds.
Very noticeable in the video is the large group of Hell’s Angels, actually they were not real Angels, as they had no contact the Angels in the USA, but they were a nasty lot nonetheless, and came long after everyone else had settled down to enjoy the gig.  I was watching them as they arrived, way back behind the mainly sitting audience. So they simply walked over everyone until they arrived at the front row, and sat themselves down and looked fierce.  And I mean it literally about the walking over bit.. They really simply trampled on anyone who happened to be where their feet went down to the ground..   
We were not responsible for security in the audience (I am happy to say), that  was actually being looked after by the police.   But surprisingly enough, though the cops saw this happening, they did nothing about it, nor did anyone in the crowd…..   All very strange we felt.
In passing I would remark that Charlie Watts is a really nice, friendly and unassuming man.. The various times I came in contact with him over the years were all very pleasing and relaxed.. One very nice guy.

If this post sparks any thoughts in you, please share them via the comments section below – simply scroll on down and you will see it. We will be really appreciative of any thoughts you might have on the topic of rock concerts and how they are controlled – or not……

Been going for 78 years so far and still going strong

Up to now it has been a very varied, enjoyable and for me at least, entertaining life for the most part. So far I have managed to live in something like 11 different countries and had a pretty wide range of professions, all (well most of them) totally enjoyable and I continue to find life both fun and an interesting challenge. And plan to stay as long as I can to see what comes next.

The beginning in Britain:
So I shall begin at the beginning, seems a good place to start.

For me this was on 28th June 1942 in a hospital in North London during an air-raid. Many years later my mother told me that as I was being born, young German pilots were dropping bombs all around us in an endeavour to bring my life to a stop before it had begun – Happily they failed in this simple aim.

My mother (on the right), her sister Liz and a Sailor called Joe (apparently) Being romantic in the middle of a war.

To make it even more memorable for my mother, she tells me that on the floor below her room, a large number of religious people were conducting a very noisy and fervent prayer meeting. So killers above, singers below, and generally a noisy affair – A good start to a life I feel, and one that probably was more formative than she realised at the time.

Lorraine and Gerry Striding out in war time London.  Gerry was my real father.

Obviously my memories of my first few years are vague, more a series of impressionistic pictures and sounds. Why is it that we can never remember things from the first 5 or 6 years of our lives? Always struck me as rather odd that – probably the most dramatic period in most lives, and we can’t recall a damn thing about it. Lousy arrangement I have always felt.

For me the most powerful part of this impressionistic period consists of a feeling of anxiety whenever I hear that particular type of siren that was used by the British to warn of air raids. Even now at the good age of 78 I still have this whenever I hear that particular wailing sound. A feeling of discomfort and a strange feeling of fear of I know not what. Odd but powerful.
The only other thing I can bring to mind of my first few years is a sort of overwhelming greyness and women in dark coloured bundled-up clothing and large dark hats. I suppose fashions then were somewhat depressing, but I seem only to remember the worst of them. And a general sensation of dreariness and poverty. Not a good set of memories.

I gather that shortly after I had been born, a V1 rocket landed just outside the house we were living in in London, and the drawer (yup, drawer in a chest of drawers, a normal place for small babies to sleep in then as one was protected from flying glass and falling debris in there) was shot out and across the room with me sound asleep in it. I always was a sound sleeper, something I shall return to later in this saga.
So I survived the war unscathed and went on to start growing up as one does.
The only other memory of the period before we went to Australia that I can recall is the snail races that we held in the nursery school I went to. We each collected and brought snails to school for this purpose, and the idea was that all our snails were lined up at one end of the classroom, and whoever’s snail got to the other end first was the winner. Of course most of the snails didn’t co-operate and wandered all over the place but not to the end point of the race. Silly, but fun.

By this point my mother and father had divorced (no idea why) and my mother had married a splendid Australian soldier who had been based in England preparatory to the invasion of France (Plastic surgery for wounded soldiers and airmen being his thing). This man, Russell Cole was the man I regarded as my father, and loved him deeply, a strong and very likeable man, if given to silences – He was a dentist by the way.

MATALA – I live in a cave in Crete

Just before the time that the CIA caused a coup in Greece, popularly known as “The Colonel’s Coup” I found myself wandering around in Crete – an amazingly wonderful and slightly alarming place in those days – about the mid-60’s. A lot of the men walked around with huge and highly decorated knives in their belts, which I gathered they were altogether prepared to use at the drop of a hat.

I got a lift across the island from the guy who was in charge of security at the huge American Airbase on the island, who told me that he had to regularly get airmen taken off the island with no warning as there were fathers, brothers and male cousins looking for them as they had spoken to local girls – a definite no-no.

Anyhow, all that aside, I was heading for a village called Matala which I had heard about – a place where a load of Travelers were living in what we thought were Roman Burial Caves (it turns out they were actually Neolithic living caves) and I thought that might be a pleasant way to spend some time.

So I duly arrived in the village of Matala, which in those days was more or less deserted, just a few houses were inhabited and I seem to recall there was one café and a bakers shop and a couple of inhabited houses. However, the caves, which were on the opposite side of the bay from the village was almost full of people who could be described as Hippies, though they were mostly part time Hippies, not the real thing. So I wandered along the beach to the caves and hunted for one that was empty, which I found on about the third level of the caves, so I moved into it and made it my temporary home.

General view of the caves – mine was in the top layer on its own.

It was in fact a very pleasant cave to live in, as it had a front door and a window that gave a view over the bay and to the – then tiny – and almost deserted village of Matala. It also had a bed, which was simply a flat area dug out of the wall of the cave which had obviously been intended ( we thought) for the dead Romans, but it now turns out was the original beds of the Neolithics who lived there and who had dug the caves out.

On a slightly gruesome note, during the war, the Cretan Resistance used the caves – we were told – to dump the dead bodies of the German soldiers they had killed, so there were quite a few human bones knocking around the caves, which the people living in the caves used as jewelry which was rather odd… Young girls wandering around with Human collar bones on string around their necks.

All that aside, the people who lived in the caves formed a friendly and close-knit group of people, much given to communal meals around bonfires to gaze at the stunning sunsets over the sea and I had no trouble fitting into the group.

So I spent a couple of months pleasantly in among these good souls, enjoying the peace and tranquility of living in the Cave Community and then headed out again to further explore Crete – An amazing island full of the most extra-ordinary people. I mean the actual Cretans here, they were still living in those days as they had for centuries. The film Zorba the Greek gave a very actual picture of how it was in those days – both the good and the bad aspects. Notably the police were all mainland Greeks, as the government in Greece knew damn well that when dealing with an “honour killing” or some similar, there was no way that a Cretan cop would deal with it as a crime. Odd folk I found.

They all had an enormous admiration for Australia as Australian soldiers had apparently had the same enthousiasm for killing German soldiers as the Cretans when Germany invaded Crete, so many an elderly Cretan villager expressed happily how Australian soldiers had killed German paratroopers with their knives – Gruesome!

Here is a video that I came across on Youtube of a bunch of elderly women describing how they passed their time on Matala in their youth. Altogether rather amazing – seeing how those Hippy like young girls I knew then had grown up into really rather reasonable adults…..

Fun, eh?

If this post sparks any thoughts in you, please share them via the comments section below – simply scroll on down and you will see it. We will be really appreciative of any thoughts you might have on the topic of how people deal with life, deal with living in historical ruins and similar…

I experience the horror of the Olympics – In Beijing

While I was working at an international school in Beijing, the Western Academy of Beijing – affectionately know as WAB – I had the unforgettable experience of being involved in the Olympic Games as they were being held in Beijing while we were there.

This is the song that was recorded by about 100 famous singers, including Jackie Chan rather surprisingly.

Unforgettable is the right word for this, not happy or pleased.  Apart from the various changes that were made by the Chinese government (closing down all polluting activities for the duration of the games themselves, renewing all the taxis and buses with super clean modern ones, establishing an anti-pollution system for cars so that those with odd number number plates could drive on alternate days, and those with even number plates on the other days – which led those who could afford it to buy two cars and making sure they had odd and even number plates – and no end of such ideas), we were also involved in a number of ways.

WAB was chosen to be the base for the Australian team for all the non-training activities – physiotherapy, offices, equipment stores and similar, so we enjoyed the company of all the Aussie athletes and trainers for the Games themselves, which was a pleasing experience by and large.   But we were also used by loads of extremely commercial companies as a training base in the months leading up to the Games.   So TV camera men were being trained for months by English guys who worked full-time on the Olympics for a British TV company.  These got horribly in our way, as we had to also set up lights and sound equipment for the multitude of school activities every day, and these idiots got under our feet a lot!

I was also briefly employed by the local cops to  (of all things) try to teach them English.  This turned out to be a publicity stunt on the part of the City of Beijing, as what I had to do was stand in front of a class of Tourist Police and pretend to teach them English while being filmed by a full team of cameramen and sound guys – all good fun and harmless stuff.  In fact all the Tourist Cops in Beijing speak perfectly good English.   In passing, it was a joy to live in a country where (unless they needed guns and similar) the cops didn’t wander around laden down with guns, tasers and bullet proof vests, after having lived in too many countries where they did that… and also it was great to live in a place where the cops wore smart uniforms rather than black combat suites.

As the time for the Games approached, more and more of the companies who live off the games appeared, and we became aware that in fact the Olympics were all about earning large sums of money for no end of companies and the athletes were the produce, the coca-cola bottles as it were.

This rather depressed me, and those of us who were witnessing this hyper-commercialising of the athletes endeavours.  Not only did we see the direct commercialising of the athletes work, but we had to listen to the lies of the various broadcasters who were sent to China to report on the Olympics, but also were apparently also ordered to say the strangest and untrue things about China.   The Chinese government is absolutely not a nice one, but then plenty of others around the world are even worse, and the total lies we heard everyday on the BBC and other apparently honest broadcasters was depressing, to say the least!  They went out of their way to find nasty things to say about the country, its people and its government, and as one who lived there and knew the realities of Chinese life, I found the various lies hard to take.

So, to sort of sum the whole experience up, I hated the reality of the Olympics, the huge sums of money that apparently everyone earned from it all, the pomp and ceremony of the whole idiotic and expensive mess, the chaos it caused in everyone’s lives and the hypocrisy of it all…

Woodford, The Planting Festival – A Festival With A Difference

For several years Lotty and I have worked as volunteers at the Woodford Planting Festival, which is a much quieter event than the Woodford Folk Festival.  100 volunteers instead of about 3000!

We have also worked on the Folk Festival – as Intergalactic S-Bend Warriors, which you can read all about in this post:  Woodford Folk Festival

We have worked this one as stage managers and each year we worked the same theatre/tent which meant that effectively we were in control of our “theatres” for the duration of our shifts each day.   Given that our shifts were about 8 hours long this was quite a load to bear.

In my case it was the biggest tent/theatre in the festival, and my duties consisted of, among other things, ensuring that the speakers/performers were on stage on time, and rather harder, off stage on time too.

Occasionally I had to go on stage and introduce them, or give them our thanks, but generally there were “Introducers” who carried out this function rather better than I could…   Public speaking is not really my thing I am afraid.

One of our other duties was ensuring that the auditorium was clean before every performance, which in most such festivals is a hell of a lot of work,as people arrive with food and drinks, and cheerfully leave their rubbish for others to clean up – but the good folk who attend this festival are of a different sort, and almost always take their rubbish away with them and dump it in one of the many bins around the place, so I was confronted by an auditorium that only had one bottle and a couple of packets of food to deal with after most performances.   Made a nice change I can tell you from one of my other regular volunteering jobs, the La Boite theatre, where after each performance we have to clean up loads of glasses, food bags and bottles – to be honest, I fail to see why people need to take so much food and drink into a show that will only last about an hour and a half – are they so near to dying of thirst or hunger that they absolutely have to have sustenance during a show?

All that aside, it is a gentle festival to work on, the people who attend it are for the most part gentle Hippy-like souls who wander around with friendly grins on their faces – not stoned but simply content to be there.   One of the things I particularly noted each year we are there is how the patrolling cops behave.

We have a number of uniformed policemen who patrol the festival all the time it is open, and on the first day they tend to be like cops all over the world, scowling and disapproving of the festival goers, but as the days pass, they become more and more relaxed, so by the third day they are wandering around with the same silly grins as all the festival goers and greeting everyone with a friendly grin and waves…    Nice to see them becoming human in that fashion.

The actual shows tend to be people who speak on a wide range of topics, and the occasional music group as well, so I have had a bloke who discussed the idea of Australia building a number of new submarines under the control of a French ship building company, who pointed out that the arithmetic of the deal made no sense for Australia, and that it would be cheaper to hang onto the existing fleet of perfectly good and never actually used, submarines and to give each of the people it was intended to hire for this project a couple of billion dollars – this startling conclusion he proved with a load of facts and figures.

Michael Leunig

I have also had a world famous cartoonist, Michael Leunig giving two talks in my theatre.  The first one was worrying as he didn’t bother to come back stage, but wandered into the theatre about when he was due to speak, and clambered onto the stage from the auditorium side and sat himself in the chair I hurriedly got onto the stage, and then spoke for the entire time he was booked for as a steady stream of consciousness…  It was superb!    The second time he was due to speak, later that same day, the management who were unhappy with how the first one had gone, insisted that he was back-stage in time, and had a bloke to ask him questions, which was rather less entertaining – Oh well……….

All in all, a pleasant way to pass a few days, and a gentle reminder of those far off Hippy Days of yore.

A Fashion Show Where Charles The First Lost His Head

Many years ago, I found myself working on a fashion show, in, of all places, the Banqueting House in Whitehall – which is chiefly noted for being the place where poor old Charles the 1st had his head chopped off.

 

He had his appointment with eternity on a scaffold that had been built outside one of the huge windows that the hall had, overlooking Whitehall, so he had had to walk through the Banqueting Hall to get to the place where his head was going to be hacked off…  A dismal idea and an odd place to hold a fashion show I felt!

Anyhow, I was asked to help with the lighting of this show by a good friend of mine, Robie Simpson, who was the technical manager of the Roundhouse Theatre where I was the Production Manager at this time, so we were both moonlighting.

I had never had anything to do with the world of fashion, so this was an eye opener for me.   The designer in this case was Zandra Rhodes, who at the time was a young and somewhat revolutionary designer, who even I had heard off.

So, on the appointed morning (the show was due to be held in the evening) we turned up at the Banqueting House with all our considerable piles of lights, cables and control systems and started to set it all up.    While we were doing this, all the models turned up and started to sort themselves out.

For them, it was all a normal matter, so they set up their dressing area in an adjoining room and started sorting out who would wear which outfit.

By this time, the catwalk (as I learned to call it) had been constructed by a team of carpenters, so the girls and Zandra began to rehearse the show.

For me this was extraordinary, the girls sort of minced along that catwalk in all manner of what I thought were really odd clothes and sort of stopped once they got to the end of the catwalk and sort of twirled and posed for a few minutes, and then minced back the way they had come, and duly disappeared into their dressing room, and then the next girl came out and went through the same actions.

One thing that I noticed about the models was their unbelievable thinness, they all looked like they had escaped from Belsen or some similar place. A more unhealthy bunch of girls I have never seen.  The other thing that was very obvious, was that they were mostly extremely young, about the same age as the groupies we had each Sunday at the Roundhouse.  Altogether surprising I found, as I had assumed (on what basis I don’t know) that they would mostly be in their 20’s.

While all of this was going on, Zandra Rhodes and her various assistants were rushing around, fussing over all manner of tiny details and generally getting in everyone’s way.

In due time the actual show started, and I was busy working one of the follow spots, following the various girls along the catwalk in various colours and enjoying the show – well, sort of……..

The audience fascinated me as much as the girls did, a more raddled bunch of men and women I had never seen.   They were all buried under layers of make-up and jewellery (both genders) and, of course, were dressed in the latest modes.   Actually, the audience were as much part of the show as the girls in their costumes I felt.

A very odd experience in a “normal” way.