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Friday, 7 September 2007


Sunday 11th June, 1978: Scotland 3 (Dalglish, Gemmill 2 [1 pen]), Holland 2 (Rensenbrink [pen.], Rep)

"Neal and Jack and Me": Caspar (front) and Rufus in their granny's MG outside the house in Westbank Terrace, Hampton Hill; Swipe, as ever, is propping up the rear.

My memory is telling me that I watched this game with Bill Sewell on a Friday night, sometime in June, 1978. I scream out in joy when Archie Gemmill scores to put the Scots 3-1 up, giving them one foot in the second group stage and Bill looks up from what he's doing and says something laconic like, "someone's scored, then, I take it?" That's what my memory, my mind, my brain is telling me about that day in June just under thirty years ago. But it can't have happened like that. It was played on a Sunday, for a start. And now, I find an article saying that Bill died in 1977. Which would have made it very hard indeed for us to have watched the game together. How did people write biographies of the long dead before Google? I can't even manage to keep track of my own life and I'm still alive and have the added benefit of being able to search the net. But even with those supposed advantages, I've still very nearly started out on a completely fabricated jaunt down a non-existent Memory Lane; telling stories is telling lies, it seems even when you're convinced that you are telling the truth. So where did that memory come from? And where did I actually watch the game?

I'm lost in time, now. Bill's death was the first that really intruded on the innocence of youth. I saw Rufus when he'd just been told about the death of his father. It's a cliche, I know, but the only thing I can liken his face to is thunder; or rather the dark, brooding clouds that accompany a storm. The news came with all the disruptive force of a rotten tree trunk thrown violently into a pond by a bored child, a peaceful idyll shattered on a capricious, idle whim. I thought I knew where I was with it, but that day has floated free of its moorings now, belonging to another year, another me entirely; one that I now find I'm in the process of forgetting.

We'd visit Bill at his studio-cum-home which was in a mews just off Wardour Street in Soho. The three of us; Caspar, Rufus and me. Bill was a very laid-back figure, quite unlike the other Dads you'd come across. This I do remember; I was very struck by the fact that he was wearing Kickers, the hyper cool French boots with those creamy corrugated soles. They must have been a fairly recent style back then in what I'd thought was 1978 but must have been a year, at least, before. A handsome man in his fifties, luxuriously paunching out and with a whitening 50s beatnik beard, Bill had hit upon a tremendously cunning means of keeping these three demanding kids out of his hair when they came to stay. "Here's a fiver, now bugger off to McDonalds", he'd rasp in smokey Australian. And so we would.

It's hard to convey how exciting and otherwordly those McDonalds were to kids our age when they first arrived on British shores. The milkshakes meant an eternity of numb-cheeked sucking, the frozen cement inside the beaker never seeming to go down no matter how much effort you put in. And Bill was the magician who had conjured all this magic up for us, this brilliant, vivid world; a new and seedy London with its enormous caverns filled with LPs, balconies of playful, leering whores and cabbage leaf-strewn markets for us to amble around, three princes in our Soho emirate.

I came across an interview with Rufus when I was trying to get my dates straight. His remarks about his slightly at arm's length, every-other-weekend relationship with his father are pretty perceptive:

It gave me this really bizarre idea of what makes someone cool, not really trying, but always having the potential to be fantastic

That catches Bill pretty well, I think; he had that and his two sons have both inherited it from their dad, for sure; the potential to be fantastic.

So, where are we in time and what do I believe; Google or my in-the-doghouse memory? Well, before I surf, I'll try to piece together what I can remember of those fabulous holiday-like weekends. I'm pretty sure that the whole of Soho was covered at some point with posters for an Ian Dury single. "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" (which seems most likely and is also ringing a louder bell than the other options) would place us in late summer 1977. "What a Waste" was out in early April of the following year, so that's unlikely unless the web is wrong about the year of Bill's death. Then there's the story Caspar always tells about the Elvis mirror Bill sent them a week before Elvis died. On opening it, they found that its glass had, with eerie prescience, been shattered while in transit by some supernatural force. That would also place us somewhere in the summer of '77. I'm sure Caspar always makes a mental connection with this, feeling that the mirror's calamity and Elvis's death were both in some way tied up with losing Bill; but whether that's through their proximity or symmetry, I'm not sure. But that feels a while before I first went up with them to visit Bill.

This might all seem completely irrelevant, and, besides, I could resolve it all by picking up the phone, I know. But I need to get my head around it, try to set my own version straight. For what could be worse than losing your own past? Increasingly, you become aware that its about the only thing you have, your sole protection against the welter of information you're bombarded with day by day; the sheer immensity of Stuff That's Happened, the unceasing jabber of the ticker tape; your mind a fizzing seltzer glass of comment and opinion. Your own past, that internal timeline of responses and observations, of upraised thumbs and screwed up noses, that is you. 'All the rest is propaganda'.

And in the same way, when we go, we're not really what we leave behind officially. If you want to know about Bill, for instance, this is all you'll get that's remotely worth knowing by searching on the web. He was the "bohemian animator" father of Caspar and Rufus, who left Australia to visit the home of his idol, the poet Dylan Thomas. He made the following animated films:

Redemption of the retainer (1961)
The apple (1962)
Mr. Know-How in all round comfort (1963)
The first adventures of Thud and Blunder (1964)
Thud and Blunder in haulage hazards (1964)
Handling materials with Thud and Blunder (1966)
Canada is my piano (1967)
The chair (1967)
Tidy why? (1967 - this was nominated for a BAFTA in 1968)
Two off the cuff (1968)
What is a computer? (1970)
Henry 9 'til 5 (1970)
The cranky princess (1971)
Think twice (1973)
Is this a record? (1973 - which featured several members of Monty Python, I think)

His best known work is probably the 'Lucy in the Diamonds' sequence from the animated Beatles feature, Yellow Submarine. It was an innovative application of the Retroscoping technique in which the animation is traced over live action film. The Beatles clip grew out of a longer piece Bill was working on, based on footage of Fred and Ginger that was going to be called Half in Love with Fred Astaire. Frustrated that his orginal work had been compromised for inclusion in the Beatles' film, Bill left the project, going to work for the Canadian Film Board.

There's probably more, but that is only a little part of Bill. He's in a million memories and this is where the sad part is. You see, when we lose the memories, it's as if we've lost that person all over again.

We think of time as something that unfolds consecutively, and it does; but that's not how we remember things. It's less an arrow in our memory and more a marble rattling around a wooden box, spinning through a maze of chambers, until its momentum tires, and the rolling ends. Somewhere in time, I did watch Archie Gemmill nimbly weave through the despairing dives of the Dutch defence, square up to the desperate 'keeper's lunge and clip the ball beyond him in an arc as calm and certain as the trajectory of time. And now I see us clearly, Caspar, Rufus, me; scurrying and larking as we hoof a ball about on a park in Hampton Hill. It's the day before the final, one the Dutch again will lose. An evening sky is forming, and Bill is somewhere else.

L.U.V. on y'all,


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  1. Beautiful writing Bob - a modern day remembrance of things past - so clever and well-written.

    (You look a bit like Ian Beale from Eastenders in the picture - I think its the fringe what dunnit treacle).


  2. Thank you, Ro-ster.

    (I'd just like to remind reader(s) if I may that our Swipe Entreprises' Romantic Walford Weekend packages (cup of tea and row in Kath's Cafe, beer and row in the Queen Vic followed by dodgy Vegetable pasanada and row/vomitting at the Argy Bhaji with an Albert Square fish & chip shop owner lookalikey of your choice) are still available...


    p.s. - wrod vrecififification: *rankbh*....

    You *really* couldn't make it up, could you?

  3. Hang abaht...I'm getting miffed 'ere. I thought Beale served roe, not row.

  4. Top chops Bob. The Soho of Jeffrey Bernard, which I remember as always autmnal & full of a promise -never kept - of cheerful naughtiness.

  5. That's never Casper, he appears to be awake.

  6. I remember being at Bills studio with Casper and you, and watching the Wimbledon Men's final. From Memory Borg beat Nastase, so that would have been in 1976?

    Ziggy Woodblume

  7. wanted to cry with nostalgia and for 3 little boys
    Beautifully written