I’ve just bought my son a new phone. He’s not particularly bothered about having an updated version as his fingers are surgically attached to the one he already owns but unfortunately the battery on his ancient iPhone is going down quicker than an old lady on a frosty day, so biting the banking bullet I decide to get him a new Samsung as the latest iPhone is unfortunately out of the question. We’d have to sell the car & a kidney to purchase one of those and even then we may still be short of a few hundred euros.
After blackmailing the boy child to accompany his ‘uncool’ mother with a pack of Red & Black Maynards filling removers he reluctantly agrees to walk down with me to a completely soulless Mediamarkt and we stand silently in its air-conditioned sanctum, gawping at the array of shiny devices on offer. I unfortunately then make the mistake of asking the teenage man-child which one he prefers, and he stares back at me as if noticing for the first time his geriatric mother is standing at his side. Apparently, at the age of 16 they no longer communicate with their mouths, so he shrugs and continues to be transfixed by the multitude of desirables on show. After ten minutes of simmering silence a disinterested assistant looks from the till, so I hold up my hand and point at the available phones in the vain hope he will indicate anything which is on offer. Sleek and silent they stand in line like shiny soldiers awaiting their next command and I can feel an overwhelming desire to knock them down like 21st century dominos and make a bid for freedom out of the air-conditioned enclave, dragging my son behind me and leaving the apathetic employee in our wake.
How have we become so digitally reliant? Unable to communicate with other humans without a device in our hands? I look at my child standing beside me, unimpressed and unresponsive and I wish with all my tarnished heart he’d grown up without this pressure to conform with the continuous updating of technology and I cast my mind into the past, dragging forth my innocent upbringing which I had been fortunate to be part of all those decades ago.
I had been brought up in my grandparents’ house in a nice part of Blackpool (they did exist back then you know), sharing a bedroom with my single mum who worked as a waitress to put food on the table. Most winter days were long, uninspiring and cold with central heating a thing of the future, but in the summer months when the tourists infiltrated the thriving seaside town, a despondent and unimpressed famous drag artist and his perfectly toned ‘helpers’ would commandeer the biggest house at the end of our road. This household name had once again been booked to perform the short summer season at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool town centre and the neighbourhood were amongst his biggest fans.
With scabby knees and home hairdos, our motley crew of 7-year-old delinquents would meet every morning outside my well-pruned privet and jauntily cascade over to ‘Danny’s Den’ and hang on the garden gate for hours on end, watching as his entourage splashed about in the hastily erected aquamarine pool. We shouted our greetings at him and his well-oiled employees, screaming into the Hydrangeas only promising to leave him alone if he gave us some cola spangles or a bag of sugared tobacco. For hours we would stand taking it in turns to force our grubby faces into the wrought iron gate until he finally reached the end of his theatrical tether. As he marched over in sequinned scarlet mules clutching a handful of coins in his manicured hand and would, in no uncertain terms, tell us to fuck off to someone’s else’s entrance and leave him and his minions in peace. We readily agreed. Our roller skates were already on standby.
Those heady summer days in the 70’s was spent mainly wedged in an assortment of neighbours’ inflatable paddling pools alongside numerous other sunburned children. Crammed in like sardines, unable to move an inch while our mothers cackled together while inhaling whatever cooking wine they could locate under the kitchen sink. I loved growing up in Blackpool. The amusement arcades, the rides, the fun house with its insane giggling clown imprisoned in a glass cage. The freedom we had back then was intoxicating, and short lived.
All that changed in the summer of ‘75. Granny’s house was suddenly put on the property market and Owen Oyston flogged it before we even had time to mow the lawn. My mum was handed a £1000 in cash from the oldies and told to go buy herself a place for us both to live in. Even in the 1970’s a £1000 wasn’t enough to buy a house in Blackpool so Drag queens were left behind alongside my slack jawed best friend (One prepubescent unfortunately named Samantha Fox, I bet that haunted her till the day she married) and so we moved our life, memories and meagre possessions inland to a 2 up 2 down in a small Northern town with a name I couldn’t even pronounce.
‘Where are we?’ I enquired to my slightly shell shocked mother and she placed a gentle hand on my shoulder and whispered ‘well we certainly aren’t in Kansas anymore… say hello to Oswaldtwistle Paula’