Monday, 24 October 2011

Ramblings: Marlene on the Wall

I’m having a moment of nostalgia and bringing to mind fond memories of my teenage bedroom. My memory is odd, unreliable at times; forgetting names and faces, incidents and whole chunks of life, but at other times is almost photographic. I can recall scenes and pictures in minute details and random useless stuff like price codes from when I worked at Woolworths in 1988, lodge within my brain wasting space.
We moved from a densely populated terraced back street near to the centre of town to a dull suburban street. I was aged 12. The move seemed exciting and felt like progress as at least I wouldn’t have to share a room with my older brother. We were at odds when it came to musical taste and tidiness. He liked mess and clutter. I was organised and clean to the point of anal retentiveness. I liked The Nolan Sisters and Abba and he liked Iron Maiden and Motorhead. It wasn’t harmonious.
I missed our old house and hated the sleepy homogenous street where no buses passed by and there was nothing to see or nowhere to walk. I did however like my room. As the younger of two  I got the smallest room which I considered very unfair and felt it should have been allocated out according to standards of tidiness. As the neatest I should have had the biggest room which had its own gas fire and mantel piece. It seemed logical to me but still I was consigned to the tiny box room. I sulked so much about this and managed to maintain a momentum of bad mood for so long, that my parents agreed to decorate my room before any other in the house. This was a sacrifice as the whole house was hideously papered in bold floral prints and was screaming for emulsion.
I chose beige walls, chocolate brown paintwork and a swirly brown carpet. It was very brown indeed. Fast forward to 1985 and I was 14. Who would live in a room like this? Live in it, I did. I rarely left the room if I could help it, begrudgingly attending tedious family meals when I had to but otherwise staying cloistered away.
There was a bed with a stark black and white duvet under the window. It was strategically situated so that I could lie down and look at the small black and white portable on the G-plan unit in teak. The TV was tiny and white with a coat hanger style aerial, no remote control but a very large and sensitive dial. The picture often scrolled and depicted snowstorms whether the program featured them or not. My favourite programs were Victoria Wood’s “As Seen on TV”, “Tenko” and “Juliet Bravo” I had high hopes that I would grow up to be a stern but caring policewoman like Ms Bravo. Obviously there were minor obstacles to this, the first being that I am male.
Whiskey, the cat that looked (and often behaved) like Hitler, was usually to be found asleep on my bed and much to my chagrin would often leave behind muddy footprints and the odd slug who’d hitched a ride on his long hair.
Next to my TV sat the stereo, an ancient brown record player, radio and cassette player combination in mock wood and silver. The records jumped a lot and I had to prop a penny on top of the stylus to weight it down. My records were an extensive if slightly odd collection; The Smiths, Suzanne Vega, The Cocteau Twins and a bit of Shirley Bassey and Dusty Springfield. Tucked at the back were the secret gay records which my dad had banned from the house: Bronski Beat, Erasure and Culture Club. I could only play these when no one else was in the house or with my chunky headphones on and one eye on the door.
To accompany my love of Suzanne Vega there was a huge poster over my bed of Marlene Dietrich. See what I did there? It was Marlene on the Wall just like the song. I felt that this was very witty indeed. The pretension of youth is limitless. It was a great poster though, full face shot, dark seductive eyes and cheekbones that could slice cheese. She spoke of enigma and sensuality. Facing her was a full size picture of Debbie Harry from Blondie, looking sassy and a bit scary. I wanted to be like her, a person no one would mess with. I was never very good at this but I could aspire.
Up above the stereo were my books. These were mainly the countless battered editions of Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell and P.D. James novels which I’d devour, sometimes reading one a day. A minor investigation would reveal that stuffed at the back behind the Dickens and Brontes was a minor collection of smut; Jackie Collins and Harold Robbins, which I would read covertly to learn about “real life”. There was also a very saucy book called “The Lure” by Felice Picano which was a lewd thriller set in the gay leather bars of San Francisco. That was a guilty pleasure and was top secret. I’d found it on a market stall and loved it’s speedily paced plot but more importantly its debauched scenes. It all felt very tantalising.
I had a clock, given to me by my grandmother, which was a 60s design classic, a stylish oval wooden affair with a loud tick. I also had a small collection of tasteless cat ornaments and a large collection of old Smash Hits magazines which I’d flick through, mooning over boy pop stars.
The window still had a net curtain. A couple of years later I would accidentally set this on fire whilst smoking out of the window late at night. When my mum asked where it had gone (I binned it) I replied "I got rid of it, it was very last year." She accepted this explanation.
My wardrobe contained an assortment of hideous items which have sadly all come back into fashion: skinny jeans, checked shirts and jaunty tank tops. The eighties were a bad decade for style. I rarely ate at this time so the drainpipe jeans looked ridiculous on my knock knees and cachexic legs.
In the corner at the end of my bed sat a wooden legged brown chair from the 1950s. Low to the ground, with no arms, it was perfect for sitting reading and had an imprint of my bony bottom on its seat. I’d spend hours sitting there reading, trying to escape the misery of being a teenager in the suburbs in the 80s.
Under the bed lurked my collection of games which I rarely had anyone to play with. I loved Cluedo (provided I could be the sultry Miss Scarlett) and was a dab hand at Scrabble.
Finally, there was a secret place. On the end wall was a little air vent which was perfectly sized to fit a small notebook. This was my notebook of boys. It was supposedly a diary but was actually all about boys. It was, of course, written in code. I’d wax lyrical about different boys, always older and always taller. I’d write reams of coded text about my love for them. I eventually burnt it, thankfully.
I like spending time alone and have learnt how to keep myself amused over the years. Having my own room cemented my love of being solitary. Provided it’s balanced well with fine company being alone does not equate loneliness. It can be nice to have a place to withdraw and read a smutty book, listen to banned records or moon over boys. I still do it now.

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