The Bowling Alley, November 1963
Wake up. My friend Ken arrives. He has a newspaper clipping about a new bowling alley. It's up Westgate Road, past the motorbike shops. I love Westgate Road. A new bowling alley at the top, bike shops in the middle and the Majestic Ballroom at the bottom of the hill.
Ken is modern. He wears a dark blue satin zipper jacket with a bowling badge on the back and he's carrying a bag with a bowling ball in it. I wonder how and why? Until today, there have been no bowling alleys in our region. I know the song 'They've turned our local Palais into a bowling alley', but that's happening Down South. We still have our local Palais, the Maj.
Modern Ken tells me there are people who are Professional Bowlers. Ken is from the north, like me, but he already looks like a Professional Bowler. The paper sellers are still shouting about President Kennedy being shot this week. Ripped Ban The Bomb posters say 'Christmas 1961?' and show a mushroom cloud. It's nearly Christmas 1963. We're still here. But in 1962 we all come close to being sucked into mushroom clouds in a big row about missiles in Cuba.
I have a bad dream about missiles when I'm a kid. A lot of big missiles come very slowly over the Northumberland hills towards our house. My mother shouts "Oh NO! It's WAR!" and runs outside, leaving me behind. I fight to get out after her, then wake up to find I'm upside down in my bed, tangled in bed clothes and sweating.
The bowling alley is near the big fire station. The building is the old Brighton Cinema. A crowd of teenagers are outside. We pile in. It's all changed. The noise reminds me of Whitley Bay ice rink. Whitley Bay ice rink is a good place to get beaten up. Also, teds wearing ice hockey skates with sharpened saw teeth on the blades knock you down and try to skate over your fingers. I see someone's blood on the ice. I skate carefully past it and look out for a sliced-off finger. My older cousin Anne is a great figure skater. Anne can go backwards very fast, do jumps and spins. If she can go to Whitley Bay Ice Rink, so can I.
At the bowling alley, I check my collar to make sure it's flicked up. I glance at my quiff in the glass door panels as we go in.
When I'm twelve, Modern Ken shows me how to do my quiff properly at the Church Youth Club. I borrow my dad's Silvikrin and comb the front part up very carefully, but don't think about the rest because I can't see it. Modern Ken says I still have little kid's hair at the sides and back. That's no good. We go outside. I do my quiff properly in a shop window until Modern Ken says it's right. We go in again.
I feel much better with my new quiff. I wait to see who likes it, but nobody looks. Our vicar plays Lonnie Donegan. The Vicar tells us to bring our own records, but he never plays Elvis Presley. He thinks Lonnie Donegan is alright for young people to hear. I agree about Lonnie Donegan, but I think we should be allowed Elvis too. At home, I practice going up on my toes and swivelling my heels outwards, in case we get Elvis records at our youth club. He does that. Elvis flicks his collar up too.
All the boys stand at one side of the dusty village hall and all the girls stand at the other. The Vicar wants us all to dance to his record player. It sits on the small stage where they do the Nativity Play. A few girls dance, but no boys.
My mum is a great dancer. She can do the Charleston, Latin American, Jitterbug, ballroom dancing, everything. She wins spot prizes at dances. When I'm little, her mum and dad run dances at the Drill Hall in Norton, near Stockton-on-Tees. They take me with them. Everyone dresses up and there's a dance band. I want one of those silver trumpets.
But now I'm twelve and I want an electric guitar. My mother wants to teach me to dance. "Don't you want girls to like you?" "Maybe...I don't care..." Blushing, lying. "Well, let me show you how to dance!" "NO!" I run out of the house. "Now you're just being silly..." she shouts after me. I know. I always get a squiggly feeling down my back when I'm being silly. I've got it now.
I keep running until it wears off. I always have a fast tune in my head when I run. Sometimes I think I'm on a motorbike, or flying a Spitfire. Or a Lancaster, or a Vampire jet.
At 16, I still run everywhere. The best tune to have in your head for running is 'Night Of The Vampire' by the Moontrekkers. 'Man of Mystery' and 'FBI' are good too, plus loads of Duane Eddy tunes. My mum still thinks I should learn to dance, but I want to be the singer with a guitar, like Lonnie Donegan and Buddy Holly and Elvis. Or a guitarist like Hank B Marvin or Duane Eddy. Not a dancer.
This new Bowling Alley is great! Bright lights, sharp colours, the crash and rumble of balls, the clatter of falling pins, big Tannoy loudspeakers, clashing metallic echoes, "Well do you love me? Do you love me? Now that I can dance?" I can't dance. But now we're modern, just like they are down south. They've had bowling alleys in London for three years. Ours is brand new, so now we're more modern than them. Ken keeps saying "Fab!" That sounds quite short and modern. I'll try it. "Fab!" Ken says I'll have to change my hair if I want to say that. Why?
'Sweets For My Sweet' by the Searchers comes banging out of the Tannoys. The Searchers are one of the new Merseybeat groups, like the Beatles. Modern Ken has washed the Brylcreem out of his hair and has a Beatle cut. Why? He looks like a little kid again. I think he's mad. Getting your quiff just right takes a lot of hard work and I'm not going all the way back to having little kid's hair again. It would be completely insane.
I've only had proper rocker hair since I was twelve. I use Vitalis now. I think it looks better than Brylcreem, unless the wind blows and then it's wrecked. But now I notice two girls are talking to Modern Ken, with his Beatle cut. That's worrying.