I thought I had dreamed Adam and the Ants until I was in my twenties, a fact I explained to my mother-in-law on her death bed recently. For a start, I continued, they were referred to as ‘Sharon and the Ants’ by my uncle, on the basis that Adam Ant wore make up, and for a long time I had them in the same cultural bracket as the Banana Splits. I now accept that Adam and the Ants did exist and are both significant and wonderful, as it seems was their wider social context – a time when people dealt with bipolar disorder by escaping electric shock treatment in a Victorian lunatic asylum, reinventing themselves as an eighteenth-century dandy and encouraging adolescents to join the Insect Nation. I was concluding my point when Sid rang. With the directness of a four-year-old, he asked if Grandma – a tiny Jew who, in nappies in Whitechapel, defied Hitler by sleeping through the Blitz – was ‘…going to die today’. I paused for a second. No, I replied, but only because this was Friday afternoon and she wouldn’t want to waste the weekend, so would probably leave it till Monday. I knew this was optimistic, as surely as I now knew that filling air with words for the benefit of a dying person who just wants you to talk about anything makes you babble on about New Romanticism. I continued to chatter while she smiled at the approaching horizon, my discussion of the rockabilly gigantisism of Dog Eat Dog possibly causing her to urge it closer.
New Romanticism is an overlooked but fortunate development in youth culture, as I probably explained in that small room with the ugly picture of the windmill in the Norwich and Norfolk University Hospital. It happened at a time when the ever po-faced Clash had announced themselves Rebellion Monitors and, while they are great and everything, I can see why the more fun young people of the time put on ballgowns and went back two hundred years for a much needed giggle. I had myself also rejected the soundtrack of my youth after attending a Phil Collins themed birthday party for a fourteen year old, for which I blame Bob Geldof. Live Aid, for all its noble intentions, was a cultural disaster, ensuring that efficient, flaccid adult rock dominated popular music for years thereafter, instead of, for example, the Jesus and Mary Chain. In fact, I should think that the biggest benefactors of Live Aid were probably U2. Occasionally, however, a glimpse of fun did get through; I remember a student teacher bursting into our classroom to joyfully shout ‘Frankie are One and Two!’*, and on the threshold of adolescence I had loved Spirit In the Sky. I was reminded of this walking around the hospital that afternoon, as many of the patients closely resembled the dancers in the accompanying video, albeit with whiter hair. Remarkably, one of them, Colette, is a friend of my old ally John the Boxes, the richest market trader in London. These days she lives in Elephant and Castle and has a voice ‘like a cement mixer’, and I am unsure how she would react to me telling her that she is the reason for my attraction to women who look bored. Well, there were two of them, so her or her mate. Either really. I left this snippet out of my discussion of post-punk youth culture, as I felt there was quite enough for someone full of medical grade opiates to be going on with as it was.
She asked about Sid, her sweariest grandchild, of course. The previous morning I stumbled when getting up – a mixture of low blood pressure and Zopiclone, I should think – and knocked myself briefly unconscious on a bedside table. As I came to, Sid asked me to guess what his little eye had spied beginning with ‘b’ and, by way of a clue, was ‘not book or bike or bastard’**, and I recounted this story to her. We had then settled down to watch Yellow Submarine, as I was keen to test its legendary appeal to children. Incidentally, this is attributed to a style of animation that deliberately portrays human characters with long legs and a shortened torso, which is how an adult appears from a child’s perspective. Sid was indeed captivated, once I explained which Beatle was which and that none were Fireman Sam, turning to me during the acid freak out Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds sequence at the mention of rocking horse people eating marshmallow pies to observe ‘Daddy, this is a song about cake, isn’t it?’. I assured her I’d always look after everyone. She was pleased about this, and we spoke for some time longer, making sure that all was right with the world. With that, Sid’s tiny grandmother fell asleep. It was a fitting moment to leave the room.
There are some syntax issues to address. Firstly, I do not have a mother-in-law in the strictest sense of the term, because I have never married anyone. The tiny Jewish woman in the Norwich and Norfolk University Hospital’s daughter is my current girlfriend though, and Sid is our son. In turn, she doesn’t actually have a death bed, either. The anticipated catastrophic major organ failure was, in fact, nothing more serious than a four-day heart attack. I didn’t even think such a thing was possible, let alone survivable, but she is at home as I write this, eating an omelette and chatting to the visiting nurse. We have many aspects of post-punk youth culture yet to consider, such as the funk and Motown influences on bass lines across everything from Club Tropicana to This Charming Man and, as a way of ensuring she outlives me, I have promised to explain this the next time she looks like she’s dying.
Main: Myself and Joe solving all your video conferencing IT issues.
Top inset: Dog waiting outside my mother in law’s house while she was in hospital, wondering where all the treats and fuss have gone.
Middle inset: Sharon Ant: part punk, part pop, part new romantic. ‘Fashion is the last repository of the marvellous’, to quote Malcolm MacLaren.
Lower inset: The dog again, on my mother in law’s sofa and cuddling her blanket while she was in hospital, in lieu of the aforementioned treats and fuss.
*A reference to Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s remarkable attainment of the top of the charts with Two Tribes and Relax.
**It was ‘brown horse’.