Chapter Three Those Gambolling Baby Boomers
Those Gambolling Baby Boomers, the first of a series of seventies-themed pieces, tells how I came to be conditioned by my environment in the early 1970s after leaving Welbourne College, a public school situated near a little Thameside village in Berkshire. I'd been a boarder there between about the 9th of September 1968 and the last day of the summer term, 1972. It was first published as Genesis of a Gentleman at Blogster on the 10th of March 2006. In July 2007, and then again in November and December of that year, it was subject to further minor variations.
The Nautical College, Welbourne
Welbourne College was founded in 1917 as Welbourne Nautical College, originally preparing boys aged ca. 13 to 18 to be officers in the Merchant Navy, and then the Royal Navy.
I joined in September 1968 as Cadet Carl Halling RNR. I was only 12 years old, making me probably the youngest serving officer in the entire Royal Navy at the time. The college was still known by its original title of the Nautical College, but by 1969 this had been abbreviated. However, the boys retained their officer status and spent much of their time in full naval officers' uniform. What's more, naval discipline continued to be enforced, with Welbourne providing the rigours both of a military college and a traditional English boarding school. In 1996, she became fully co-educational.
The Welbourne I knew was powerfully allied to the Church of England, and so marked by regular if not daily classes in what was known as Divinity, morning parade ground prayers, evening prayers, and compulsory chapel on Sunday morning. And I'd like to go on record as saying that I'm indebted to Welbourne for the values it instilled in me if only unconsciously. They were after all the same values that once made Britain strong and great; and yet, by the time I joined, they were under siege as never before by the so-called Counterculture. While failing to fully understand the implications of the cultural revolution of the late 1960s, I passionately celebrated its consequences, and took to my heart many of its icons both artistic and political, Che Guevara being my personal hero for several years.
This Glam Rock Nation
In the summer of 1972, I left Welbourne after a year in the fifth form and four years in the college itself. My parents, brother and I had moved to a little village suburb some dozen miles from the centre of London at the turn of the decade, which perhaps made me something of a fish out of water. For after all, I was no longer either in West London where I grew up, nor at the boarding school that had been my whole world for four long years and where I'd formed some of the deepest friendships of my life.
1972 could be said to be the year in which the seventies really began as the excitement surrounding the alternative society and its happenings and be-ins and love-ins and festivals and so on started to fade into recent history. As for me, I couldn't wait to get to grips with the dismal new decade even if for the first two years or so, I'd looked askance at commercial chart Pop and its teenybop idols. I was of the school of Hard and Progressive Rock...Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Yes and so on. But I was changing. For better or worse, this was going to be my decade. In late '72, I saw former Bubblegum outfit the Sweet on a long-forgotten teenage programme called Lift off with Ayesha and was instantly smitten with their high camp image. In January of the following year, I saw a certain rising Glam superstar on the chat show Russell Harty Plus in January 1973 and my devotion to the strange culture taking over the land became total.
In late '72 I was launched by my dad on an intensive hothouse programme of self-improvement. I studied Karate in Hammersmith, West London, and among my fellow students were what I remember as shaggy-haired jack the lads who may have been influenced by the prevailing fashion for all things Eastern, what with the cult of Bruce Lee and so on. Some of them had feather cuts. I also went to swimming classes at a local baths. I had a fierce crush on one of my fellow swimmers, she looked a bit like a Skin girl with her cute short haircut, but my heart wasn't in the swimming, and one of the teachers told me so, wondering why I was wasting my time even turning up. She had a point. I learned how to play basic Rock guitar from a kindly soft-spoken man who taught Rock guitar from his little house near the Thames in suburban Surrey, and who looked so square with his short back and sides and baggy dad-style trousers; but he loved his Rock and Roll. He taught me the basis of the Rock solo, which involved going up and down the Blues scale in whatever key you chose. I was as lazy as they came, but I probably learned more from that man about the guitar than anyone, with the possible exception of a Welbourne friend whose songs I stole with their simple chord progressions...C, A minor, F, G and back again to C and so on. And then there was Deep Purple's Black Night, whose simple bluesy riff I'd once played to a pal at Welbourne, at which point the kid turned to whoever else was present and announced something along the lines of: “Hey guys, we've got a natural here!”
Also through home study and with the help of local private tutors I set about making up for the fact that I'd left school early at 16 with only two GCE (General Certificate of Education) exams to my name; at ordinary level, of course, which is why they were called "O" levels. Then in late '72 I joined the Thames Division of the Royal Naval Reserve as an Ordinary Seaman, attending classes once a week on HMS Ministry on the Embankment. At some point soon after this, some of the older ratings, Able Seamen perhaps, or Killicks (Leading Seamen) made some remarks about my looks, implying that I was pretty or something along those lines. I think this may have come as something of a surprise to me as at Welbourne I'd been no lover of effeminacy to say the least, but I was intrigued rather than offended. The mood of the times was changing at any rate, and it was cool for guys to be androgynous, and it came to serve me well when it came to attracting female attention.
The Innocence of pre-Movida Spain
The dreamy, introspective aspect of my nature became increasingly marked in 1972-73, and I fantasised about fame and adulation as never before. I was growing into a narcissist. Throughout '73, I built an image based on the distinctive look of one of my Rock and Roll idols, spiking my hair, and even at some point peroxiding it. At some point I think I even started daubing concealer on a face which had become latterly troubled by acne.
I didn't fit in in the outer suburbs, unlike my brother. He became part of a local youth scene until about the middle of the decade, wearing the latest youth fashions, getting into Soul music, going to discos and football matches and so on, where I only really had one local mate, Joë, son of a BAFTA-nominated British cinematographer. However, I came into my own in Spain, or rather Santiago de la Ribera on the Mar Menor near Murcia, where the family had been vacationing since about 1968. I think it was towards the end of my summer '73 holiday that I finally started to be noticed in a big way by the local youth, most from either Murcia or Madrid, and so la Ribera became vital to me in terms of my becoming a social being among members of both sexes. A group of us became very close and remained so for four summers running. Spain was such a sweet and friendly nation back then in the relatively innocent early seventies, and the youth of La Ribera as happy and carefree as I imagine southern Californians would have been in the pre-Beatles sixties. It was really a great time, and probably signalled the start for me of a lifelong love affair with the Spain and the Spanish people, indeed with Latin and continental Europe as a whole.
Those Gambolling Baby Boomers
In the early 1970s, everything seemed to be mine for the knowing, for the experiencing, for the taking. It was a time of constant, frenetic change and to be young back then was exciting beyond belief. As I gorged on the fruits of a revolution that had been all but bloodlessly waged on my behalf I never once considered what would be the fate of succeeding generations of youth. They would have to come to maturity in a world in which a generation of Baby Boomers had lately gambolled like so many sensuous fauns. Pity their poor souls.
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