Taggs Island & Glasgow

I hated moving to Canada at 15… I did not want to leave my home in Glasgow where we had lived for 10 years.  Unfortunately my dad lost his job at Scottish Television.  Uncle Peter, his brother had already emigrated to Canada and found work in television at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He suggested that Dad try his luck there.  In 1967, Canada was welcoming a huge influx of immigrants.  So off we sailed in August 1967.

High school ………. yuch ….. .keep to myself ………. difficult because of extreme self-consciousness due to my dark passenger (my gammy leg)… and also undiagnosed chronic depression (as it was more often than not in those days – ‘snap out of it’!!) come by so honestly from my Irish side.  I just wanted to disappear into the ground…

Fast forward to January, 1971, I had graduated from high school and decided to take a year to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  I got a part-time job, and saved up my money to make a trip back home (my parents kindly let me keep my money to do with what I wanted).  They say never go back in the first couple of years after emigrating.… As circumstances would have it, I went back, on my own, 4 years afterward.

Yes, I planned to visit my former home, Glasgow, but I first wanted to check out London.  Luckily for me my Nanny had a flat in Muswell Hill, and my aunty Bee lived on a houseboat on the River Thames with her boyfriend Ken and her daughter, Sh.  So my plan was to find a charter flight to London and stay with my Nanny, and somehow at some point, take a train or something to Glasgow.

I loved my first taste of London as a teenager.  I had spent my first 5 years of life living in Hackney, but that’s different.

My aunty Bee and Sh and Ken soon came to drive me to the houseboat, named the Vernette which was moored on Taggs Island.

What an adventure! It was January, so everywhere was so cold and damp!  I can’t remember the logistics of my staying on a houseboat for a few days.  I do remember there was a paraffin oil heater in the kitchen to warm up the interior, and Aunty Bee had sprinkled some dried rosemary on it, perhaps to hide the smell of the paraffin.

Aunty Bee and Sh, my cousin and I went exploring.  On the shore, close to the Vernette, were the amazing ruins of an old hotel.  Bee told me that they filmed some scenes of a movie there.  Actually the movie was A Clockwork Orange with Malcolm McDowell………. wow, exciting!  Apparently Bee and Sh were watching filming from a distance and poor Sh was asking her mum ‘what are they doing with that lady’?  I am not sure, but Bee said it was a nasty rape scene that they were watching.  I had tried to read the book, but could not get into it.  I did see the movie and hated all the wanton violence, rape, and psycho-pathological acts of these yobo’s or whatever they called themselves?…’droogs’??

Recently I Googled Tagg’s Island and Clockwork Orange movie information and finally found information about a very grand old hotel.  I found this wonderful photograph of the Karsino Hotel, Hampton Court.  I was so excited when I saw that the stairway and pillars matched my photo of the hotel ruins…

I took the pic at the bottom of the Vernette by the old hotel ruins

I took the pic at the bottom of the Vernette by the old hotel ruins

I felt pretty growed up, especially when Bee and Ken took me around to visit their London friends.  Ken  had access to, or owned a motor bike with a side car.  It was so much glorious fun when Sh and I squeezed into that sidecar and Ken took us for a ride along the island roads……….Halfway through my 3 week visit Ken very kindly drove me all the way up to Glasgow.  We travelled all night and arrived in Glasgow at about 8am on a Sunday morning.  I was lucky enough to have a place to stay in Glasgow.  The family who bought our house in 1967, still lived there and welcomed me with open arms.

I must say that seeing Glasgow again was a disappointment.  Maybe because it was winter, but as Ken drove me into that big city, all I could really see then was big, grey, grimy and gloomy…  I visited my 2 school friends, June and Frances and we even went to the Kelvin Hall annual fun fair, where I had enjoyed all the midway rides, rollercoasters and handsome lads who operated the rides, as well as the loud pulsating beats of Brit Sixties pop.  Keep On Running by the Spencer Davis Group always comes to my mind when I think back on my blossoming teens spent on an annual outing every winter after Christmas at Kelvin Hall.  However, speaking with my school friends, in my mind, I felt that I still had the world at my feet and the possibilities were many… I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to be?  My pals had both finished school, but June was quitting her job as she was getting married soon and Frances worked as a secretary in an office.  So I think that moving to Canada really changed my way of thinking……….. not settling for any old job, or getting married when you leave school … which seemed like the common thing to do in the old City of Glasgow back in the late 60s….  To be perfectly honest, I could not wait to catch my train a few days later and go back to London.  No disrespect intended to my old home of Glasgow, which a few years later, demolished a lot of the slum areas and had a renaissance of reconstruction and won some European awards for design and architecture… My heart now belonged to London!

my cousin Sh & I waiting for the bus to Gatwick Airport, just down the road from Taggs Island. Look at all the stuff I brought back with me........ mainly lovely London clothes!

my cousin Sh & I waiting for the bus to Gatwick Airport, just down the road from Taggs Island.  Aunty Bee took the photo.   Look at all the stuff I brought back with me…….. mainly lovely London clothes!

That trip, on my own, to London, was a pivotal point in planning my future…

1970 crimpy...

It was 1970, I had graduated from high school, even though I had to go to summer school to get my math… now was it math A, math B, geometry, trig, algebra, new math????……….. I hated mathematics and only got a final mark of 35% in Grade XIII… which thankfully became 58% when I had completed summer school, so I did get my diploma.

As I had no clear direction of where I wanted to go with my life, I decided not to go to Teachers College or Brock University… even though I acutally got acceptance letters from both of them.

I got an afternoon job downtown at Teela Digest at Dundas Square, on the basis of my neat handwriting! I was to put the small Teela Digest insert into envelopes that I had addressed. From that day until this, I had no idea what this company did!!

I had finished work at 4:30pm on a Friday and decided to go to downtown Yonge Street to check out the goings-on. The big news was that Toronto’s busiest street, would be turned into a pedestrian mall for a long weekend.

It was hot and humid, and the busiest blocks of ‘downtown’, from Gerrard Street to Queen Street, had been converted into what I could describe as a big, busy very crowded street market. Most of the pubs and restaurants had spread out to the sidewalks. Smaller shops and boutiques had put out rails of clothes, all on sale! There was ‘live’ music in the street, although I could not tell you who! It was shall I say a very hearty scene!

Oh yeah, my hair! …  back to that!   I had managed to grow my hair just past shoulder length, keeping up my blonding every six weeks or so…. and hadn’t had a perm for a couple of years. But I still loved wavy hair. Somewhat by accident few weeks ealier, I had fallen asleep with my damp hair in 2 braids. When I took out the braids the next day ~ Yeah!  KINKY WAVY HAIR!! I more or less wore my hair this way for the next couple of years. Sometimes the waves were very good!, sometimes hit and miss.. and I could never figure out how to get the ends of my hair to curl nicely and not to stick out ( I tried hot rollers, bobby pin curls,  little perm rollers… none to my satisfaction).

In this photobooth photo, I am wearing a jumpsuit that my MuM made for me out of orange sailcloth. She added the shirring when the neckline bulged out a little… Oh what I really loved about this pattern was that the straps criss-crossed in the back meeting the rest of the suit just above my bra-line!  However, I could not go bra-less as my boobs were just not perky enough, (my sister had such nice firm breasts)…  But unless I wore my favourite jumpsuit with a tee, my bra and straps showed… and I really fancied wearing it as a summer jumpsuit like I had seen in my mags, especially as Toronto summers get so darned hot….what to do?? Guess what I found at the the drug store?… stick-on cups that you place under each breast. I know, they are still around. So I bought a pair and eagerly tried them on! They worked in that there was no bra peeking out the back… I did not particularly like the shape that they gave my tits, but under my jumpsuit, my shape was quite blurred from the front!

now if I continue and tell the tale of what I got up to that evening at the Yonge Street Mall 1970... i might have to kill ya….. later!

MY BIBA DRESS

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Back in 69, I really wanted something from BiBa. We were living in Toronto, our new home. I had seen the articles and the photos of the wonderful BiBa line and had fallen in love with Barbara Hulanicki’s delightful and dreamy fashions. I even asked my Aunt Bee to send ma a BiBa catalogue, which she did.  I picked the dress I wanted, actually I wanted everything.  I saved up all my money and bought an international money order and sent it my my Aunty Bee. I was really never sure if Bee bought it mail order or if she bought it in BiBa. I do not know if she was still living in London then ….bibadr

Imagine my delight when the mailman delivered a package wrapped in a large BiBa envelope, with my Aunty Bee’s writing all over it! Bee had a very distinctive style when it came to addressing packages to us in Canada…  Inimitable, colourful, fun, and irresistible. I have kept some of her wrapping and still love looking at them. I will post pics of them soon.

The dress was gorgeous! Dark navy blue cotton, with a little red flower print… fitted bodice with puffy sleeves and a full gathered skirt flowing from the waistline. There were little buttons on the bodice and a zip at the side. Unfortunately I discovered that I was a little too busty to be able to completely close the bodice fastenings, so for this photo I draped a black lace shawl over the top. (I bought this shawl for a couple of bucks at the most famous store in Canada ~ Eatons. They were having a spring fashion promotion and if you bought a garment, you could buy this lovely Spanish shawl for about $3… I still have it).biii

Below is an attempted photoedit that I did to show the bodice as I remembered it, if it had fit me perfectly!

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I am sorry to say that in those days I hadn’t really developed my clothes renovating skills yet. I wonder why I didn’t ask my mum, who was an excellent seamstress, to alter it for me? Perhaps it was that as much as I adored my BiBa dress, I don’t think I could have worn it anywhere as my life was then! Sadly, I do not remember what became of my precious BiBa dress, but at least I have this Polaroid of me wearing it (as I do also of a pair of leather FRYE boots that were all the rage that I bought, but alas could not walk in!!!!) ….

the house on Vic Park

my wonderful Ricoh camera did not need a flash! so I took lots of photos in mirrors..3 different rooms and I hung the silly plastic parrot from a junk store on the window above the lovely cast iron Punch & Judy on the window sill…

my ‘dream’ comes true……….

Yeah, I wanted him so badly from the time I first saw him, through my (exploratory/// there is a better word) early adulthood!

Adventure is not really the word I would describe for life with an alcoholic partner, but for lack of a better word, here goes:

I moved in with Ty after I had written to him and his wife, asking if they could put me up for a while until I get myself settled finding a job at Great Ormond Street.  I received a reply from Ivy I think explaining how she and the kids had left him and moved in with her mother in Cambridge.  She added that Ty didn’t mind if I stayed in the Vic Park house for a bit!   I could not believe it — not that Ivy had left him (that was hardly a big surprise given what she had to put up with), but that he perhaps finally could be mine!!

It was late 1975 and I arrived at Heathrow.  As usual I was struggling with luggage, when a rocker type asked me if I needed any help.  He then proceeded to tell me that he has just returned from Australia where he and his band had been touring.  I had never heard of J McC, but I had heard of Wings.  When his chauffeur came to help him with his bags, he offered to take me to Hackney and I thought to myself ‘why not’?  I had already briefly explained that I was on my way to my digs with a friend in the eastend.  He told me that he lived in Epping Forest, but that he would be glad to drop me off.

The journey was fine.  I cannot remember exactly what we chatted about, but I do remember that there was definitely no spark!  He asked me if I was sure that I did not want to go home with him when we finally arrived at Vic Park Road.  I declined his ‘kind’ offer (a bird in the hand and all that) and thanked him profusely as I bade him farewell.  The chauffeur brought my bags up the steps to the front door and I thanked him and waved as the limo drove left.  I knocked at the door and down came Mr. Ty.  All my dreams & hopes came rushing into a flash of excitement ….. I’m here…. he’s here….omg~

He was really glad to see me and did not seem too drunk.  I told him about my ride from the airport and he told me how he had worked on a commercial for Venus and Mars fairly recently.  I don’t quite know if I believed him, but it was believable, maybe not then, but certainly when his life was more on the game.

He regaled me with tales about ‘wicked’ Ivy and her venture into witchcraft, affairs with assorted men.  Perhaps I nodded, but in my heart I figured that a more likely story was that Ivy had had enough living with an unstable, unpredictable potentially violent alcoholic and could take it no more.  I thought back to my last visits in 1972 when I lived in Woolwich.  Back then I was a student nurse at the Brooke/Memorial Hospital on Shooters Hill Road and Ivy whom I really loved, was his wife with 2 little kiddies living in their house on Vic Park.  I lasted almost a year at the hospital, but depression, loneliness, and lousy marks  finally won out and I left and went back home to Toronto in September, 1972, where I was luckily accepted into a Toronto school of nursing.

rowntreeI know Ivy worked very very hard to keep up a reasonable home for her and her kids and considering, for one thing, that she had no hot running water, probably little money and that Ty no doubt lost one job after another and money would have been sorely lacking.  I know she must have struggled major trying to live with the unreasonable partnership of Ty.  I know she loved him, but with 2 little kids, one of whom was quite developmentally delayed, she was a braver soul than me.  I have never heard from Ivy again.  I hope she knows that despite my infatuation with her husband, I never really acted on it, other than being with her and him and dreaming.  I give dear Ivy all the kudos in the world and hope that she found a better life for her and Tammi and Tim.

I slept in Timi’s old bedroom.  I think they left about 2 or 3 months before I arrived.  That room was on the first floor just by the water closet (with the pull chain and tank high up on the wall).  There was another room by the front door and that was Tys mother’s bedroom.  She lived in the basement where there was a whole other ‘flat’.

In the period of a year that we lived together, I don’t recall the day we first slept together…. or ‘consummated’ our relationship.  I remember that I was very happy to move to the bedroom on the 3rd floor, which used to be the sitting room and was now Ty’s bedroom.  Perhaps it wasn’t all sparks & lightning and the heaven’s opening, but I was very happy to at last be so close to the object of my desire!.

when self-confidence won over self-conciousness… a few glorious hours

7.3.04 09:18

my most beautiful day…

Summer, 1975

I don’t remember how long it was before I contacted Ty again.  Of course, I was totally disconsolate and devastated without him, so it was only a matter of time that I would test the waters again…

I had made an appointment on my day off from JJ to get my long straight hair made over.  I picked a very cool looking hair salon on the Kings Road in Chelsea.  I don’t remember the name.  I decided that I wanted a more edgy look from my long (dyed) blonde hair.  There was this gorgeous model featured often in a free weekly publication called ‘Miss London’ that I picked up on the tube, who was blonde and had a kind of shaggy, permy, tousled, messy, ‘just out of bed’ look to her blonde hair that I adored.  her name I discovered a while back thanks to the modern miracle of google!…….——–

I took a pic of this gorgeous bird with me and presented it to the male hairdresser, who was definitely NOT gay!

He permed my locks and worked on my cut for hours!!!  In the end I absolutely loved the cut he gave me.  He flattered me to the hilt and ironically, he commented that I walked like a model!!!  I don’t know what he was on!!, but honestly, I don’t think he noticed that I had the dastardly limp!!!

I think my appointment was booked for 2 or 3 pm.  I did not leave until after the salon was closed and it was close to 7 in the evening.  No matter, because I do believe that he gave me the best hairdo of MY LIFE!   I literally felt like a million bucks when I left the salon (and all the wonderful Kings Road boutiques were closed)!

Was it because I felt so confident in the way I looked?  I don’t know, but I was sitting in the top deck of the bus, and guys were waving at me from the street, and beeping at me when I got off the friggin’ bus!!  [believe me, I know that I am a good looking broad, but with all my baggage, I would not lie about the aforementioned statement!!!]

I must have planned a meeting with Ty because I know that with my beautiful new barnet,  I was headed back for a visit to Hackney.  I even stopped off at the local Chinese take-a-way on Victoria Park Road and bought food for us.

Tony was great when I arrived, he was clean sober,… really ecstatic to see me (or else he was just so lonely, but we had developed a bond , fwb??)….and that crazy woman and her kid were no longer living there!!  God knows what had transpired in my absence, but I was glad that I missed the whole shitting mess!!

Ty on the wagon, by design or just a coincidence, or maybe he had no spondoolies to buy booze, who knows, but he was the sweet guy that I loved (yes I did love him so much).  He was so appreciative of the Chinese nosh and he loved, LOVED! my hair!! Since I first clapped eyes on Ty, I loved his sense of style, we had that and a fair bit in common, except for the jazz music he loved – me -no way!…. I knew that I looked great, and that he appreciated a stylish woman.

Needless to say, it was not too long after that, despite my good intentions to remain independent, I moved back in…

AND it did not take too long for me to remember that old saying, it’s true what they say…you cant go back….

I kinda figured that, but my longing heart won over reason!!

But on that particular day, for a few wonderful hours, I was beautiful and I felt it to the core of my being, and I believe that on that magical day I beat the curse of my dastardly leg!!

London~ magical visit ~ BiBa

BIBA

One of the most exquisite times in my life, a time when the magic of anticipation, sheer excitement and pure joy at those prospects transpires all at once – January of 1971. I had taken my first big trip, all on my own, to Great Britain. Since our emigration, my ‘forced’ departure from my home, Glasgow in 1967, I had been eager to go back to the UK to see how much better I believed it was than my new home. I was 19, my grandmother (we called her ‘nanny’) lived in Muswell Hill in London, so I knew that I had a place to stay when I arrived. I bought my charter flight ticket from my earnings as a temporary ‘telemarketer’ for the biggest store in Canada, the Timothy E. Eaton Company, Eatons. I was still living at home and I don’t believe that my parents asked me for monetary room and board, so my money was all mine. My plan was to fly to Gatwick (via Montreal, New York, Iceland and then Amsterdam, it was a charter flight after all!) stay with my nanny who lived in Muswell Hill for a while and check out the swinging metropolis of London and then somehow make my way up to Glasgow and check out the scene and how my friends were doing. Luckily for me I had a place to stay free in Glasgow as the young family who had purchased our house back in 1967 had become our friends.

I was not to realize how London would possess me in the way that it did. It was some time since ‘Swinging London’ had burst on the world scene in the sixties, but I figured that the boutiques and stores would still offer great findings in clothes. I would visit Carnaby Street, Kings Road and Oxford Street and check out the gear. Well, talk about an epiphany!. My Canadian $ afforded lots of pounds sterling, plus, everything was generally cheaper (at least it was back then), and the clothes were to die for! I found the funky, the cool, the gorgeous, the trendiest, and I bought, and I shopped and I bussed and tubed it to all the cool shops in London and came away ecstatic.lo

bibaprinta

I had always stayed true to British fashion and the music scene and voraciously read the New Musical Express, Melody Maker, the British Vogue, 19 and Honey. I adored the fashion (the music I devoured) and much preferred it to what I saw North America offered. I found the 17 magazine, Glamour and the American Vogue to be inferior to the visual quality and impact of fashion that I saw in my UK mags. Back then I even knew the names of all the chicest trendiest British models. So living in Toronto, cruelly transplanted from my home country I managed to keep up with the British scene. One of the names that I equate with divine style in the late sixties, that I had read about, drooled over the fashion spreads and the muted pinks and mauves, velvets, gorgeous prints nipped waists and flowing fabrics, was BIBA. A total concept shop, Biba had fabulous womens’ clothes, neat knick-knacks, cosmetics, incredible posters depicting beautiful waifs with doleful eyes (like Ingrid Brett), in art nouveau surroundings in those muted BIBA shades. I had to somehow see BIBA. Finally in London, the home of all that was swinging and trendy I had my chance.

I learned quite quickly how to navigate the London buses and the Underground, so the Kings Road in Chelsea (by this time this stretch of shopping nirvana had taken over the Carnaby Street scene) was where I finally found myself. Elatedly, I made a few stops at the coolest looking boutiques until finally there it was: BIBA! And I was not disappointed! I remember it was a fairly large shop with large picture windows, and what did these windows display? No, not mannequins wearing BIBA’s delicious dresses, tops and blouses, no!, not BIBA. big bibaArmchairs and couches! With live people sitting in them! Turns out that the BIBA shoppers were the display, and they were truly fabulous trendoids! What an incredible idea I thought, trust BIBA to think of such a cutting edge concept so far removed from traditional stores. I approached the glass doors with total rapture. I walked in and immediately was immersed in loud heavenly (to me) music. It was one of my absolute favourite tracks: David Essex and ‘I Want To Make You A Star”! Somehow, it fit my enchantment so perfectly.essexa There were many counters, fabulous Art Deco décor, heavenly scents, artfully arranged racks of beautiful clothes, totally hip salesgirls and of course the vibrant beautiful people who were the customers. There was even a tea place with light fare. I eventually became part of the window display as I sat in a plush comfy armchair drinking my pop and smoking a ciggy taking a break from the ‘hell’ of shopping. BIBA more than lived up to my expectations.

I wandered around taking in all the superb goods that BIBA had to offer. I bought posters, perfume, BIBA teeshirts which were black with gold art nouveau swirls and whymsical silhouettes, hair barettes, a black carry bag inscribed with the giant BIBA logo, now onto the clothes.
I gathered beautiful printed blouses, a few long flowing skirts, some exquisitely fitted long velvet coats, blouses with divine petit floral prints and sweeping collars, jersey jackets with small fluted trains and even a long dress or two.

What a shock I got when I entered the doors of the fitting room. Here is the one thing about my glorious BIBA that I definitely did not like or bibchangeroomsappreciate: communal changing rooms! (If BIBA had guys’ clothes I did not see, but at least there were no males changing in that large room)! Well I thought, I’m here now and I desperately want to see myself in BIBA gear, so I sought a corner where I could still view myself in a mirror and started to disrobe. This nasty extremely self-conscious feat was made all the more disconcerting by the fact that I was surrounded by many beautiful dollybirds in various states of undress….

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who should be standing next to me in that communal change room….?

I furtively turned my head to the willowy beauty who was in her bra and knickers only to realize with a jolt that she was none other than the supermodel (other than my beloved Twiggy) of the time, the main squeeze of the legendary fashion photographer, David Bailey, Jean Shrimpton, the Shrimp! And yes, she was truly gorgeously stunning, even with no makeup! Somehow I managed to bashfully try on my chosen items, feverishly willing no-one to look at me next to this magnificent specimen. I believe that I bought the blouse, and some black stretchy tees with lovely golden Chasia  vintagey figures but nothing else as BIBA’s clothes were impossibly small. I wasn’t a big girl,  about 100 pounds at 5 foot 3 inches with generous boobs, which meant I could not button up a lot of shirts or dresses .

Still it was an experience I treasured and will never, ever forget, my first visit to the legendary BIBA. I repeat, I definitely was not disappointed! (Thank you Barbara Hulanicki)!bibarb