Write About What You Know. Part Two…

April 24, 2021

Hi again everyone and welcome to another review concerning the art/mystery/nightmare/struggle* of writing. As I mentioned before, I know an awful lot of you are reduced to gibbering wrecks when someone tells you, “I’d like you to write a seven-hundred-word essay on the subject of…”

(*tick one or all of the above, depending on your current state of mind)

“Oh noooooooo…”, I hear you scream, rushing headlong towards the nearest fire exit to escape the nightmare of writing the aforementioned essay.

Don’t panic, it’ll be okay. Take a deep breath and repeat after me, “I’m in control, I’m in control…”

Look, I know it’s a heck of a challenge right now but honestly, it’s not impossible to do it, and it does get easier after a bit of practice. It’s simply a question of mind over matter and a light sprinkling of compositional fairy dust, which will be available the more you write.  At the risk of sounding like a broken record, don’t overthink the task you’ve been given. Take a moment to consider the subject and place your mind in that situation. Write from the heart, using your imagination and experiences to create the story you want to write. Remember, you’re not being asked to write ‘War and Peace’, you’ve been asked to write something relevant to you. 

And please bear this in mind, what you’ve been asked to write is not a legally binding document, it’s not a deposition, so use artistic licence and interweave fact with fiction, in other words, tell a story. No one will mind embellishments or a slight bending of facts, after all my story here is set in the past and it’s all based on my personal memories. How many of us remember actual hard facts from twenty or thirty years ago? No one, so play with those memories, use them to create the narrative and weave the memories into your story, adding creative licence as you go along.

And this is exactly what I’ve done in the story below. It’s a vivid memory of my teen years spent growing up here in Halifax. In particular one place in the town centre that for some reason resonates with me to this day. So, I tried to imagine I’d been given an essay challenge with a title something like, “A Memory of My Teenage Years”, “Growing Up in My Hometown”, or “My Favourite Memory of Halifax”. I used an amalgam of those types of titles, which I’ve often seen set for exam essay titles, to create this work you can read below.

Is it fiction? Is it fact?

It doesn’t matter because it’s a combination of both. It’s the truth insomuch that the location still exists and the specific places I’m referring to did exist, so that much is fact. Did I do the things I write about? Well, not all of them as I’m employing the creative licence I mentioned earlier. I did about seventy percent of the things I’ve written about and used creative licence to make the imagery vivid, relatable and hopefully interesting, humorous even.

Don’t let it overwhelm you, just write. And now I’m genuflecting in your general direction, begging of you to not overthink it, I’m imploring you to just do it. 

Well, here we are again. Another cajoling and hopefully inspirational article that I know you’re all capable of writing. After all, I did, so why can’t you?

Take a few minutes to read it through, take that core narrative and transplant it into your experiences and memories. Change the place, the dates and times and I’ll bet your memories have a similar pattern, after all we’ve all been impulsive, naive teenagers, haven’t we?

I’ll be getting part two done soon, so I hope you’ll stick with me as this story develops and grows. I beg you, use it to inspire your writing and see if it spurs you into sitting down in front of the keyboard to bash out your own, highly personalised version of fond teenage reminisces.  

Go on, you can do it. I for one, have complete faith in your unbridled writing abilities.

Hardly Shakespearean is it? And that’s the point. It wasn’t meant to be a work of art, it wasn’t created to win the Booker prize for literary effort, it was written because I wanted to do it to please myself. I’d seen a few friends of mine on Facebook asking about their all-time favourite Christmas track and as I couldn’t actually find ‘the one’, I decided to list my all-time favourite top ten.

However, as I was listing them, I decided to ‘put a little meat on the bone’, (literally), as to why I’d chosen the ten that I had. You know what? It wasn’t that difficult. I wrote how I felt, what the songs meant to me and why they were so memorable. I wasn’t writing to impress, I wasn’t writing to ask if others thought my choices were okay, it was straight forward personal indulgence that was fun, enjoyable and ultimately rewarding.

Of course, you may not agree with the tracks I’ve chosen themselves, that’s fair enough, but for the purposes of looking at it in context, see the list as a fun piece that’s not afraid of humour, irony and exaggeration that’s first and foremost very personal and involving.

As I said in the title, this is part one of many, many articles I’ll be sharing on this subject, as I know how tricky it can be for such a lot of you.

All I want you to do is take away a single-minded thought from this, namely: whatever and whenever you write, make sure that you enjoy the process. . Write about things that affect you, write about things you enjoy, write about things that make you laugh or make you cry, write about the things that come from your head and from your heart. Don’t overthink it, just do it. You’ll be surprised how easy it is.

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Life in 1970s Halifax; Part 1

Before I get started, I think it best to be completely honest with you. For those reading this who were born after 1980, this story may come across as the ramblings of a madman. If it does fly over your head, do me a favour and show it to your mum and dad please. Trust me, it’ll be right up their street.

However, for Halifax residents of a certain *cough*, mature vintage, (you know who you are…), this rambling ditty will loudly ring every single bell your memory currently possesses. So, make yourself comfortable, settle back and join me on this shared literary meander down Halifax’s memory lane. I hope you’ll enjoy every twist, turn and enlightening back-ginnel on the journey ahead.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

You know, I haven’t the foggiest idea why I’ve been thinking so much about this subject, or more specifically, why my subconscious has been nagging me to get it down on paper. But I just can’t seem to stop thinking about a certain iconic temple of 70’s style, the salon to the great and good of Halifax. Yes, I’m talking about the uber-magnificent hair emporium that was Irvine Lodge.

Come to think of it, how did you pronounce it, Irving or Irvine? Was it Lodges or Lodge? I can’t remember right now. However, if it comes to me while I’m scribbling this little lot down, I’ll definitely let you know.

Crikey, what a place. Wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling marble if I remember, with zillions of down-lights, up-lights and high wattage spotlights everywhere, with a breathtakingly stunning reception area that greeted you upon arrival. It even had its own switchboard!

Good grief, how many calls a day did they take? 

And, to add to the overall impression of Tomorrow’s World-ness to this emporium d’elegance, there was an intercom system that Raymond Baxter and his extending ballpoint would have been proud of. Mind you, obviously there must have been a diktat from high that’d created some kind of early intercom etiquette. No shouting or hollering from staff at either end of those cutting-edge communication devices. All messages over the IL intercom were whisper-quiet, brisk, efficient and all about projecting the right image for the clients. 

Mind you, all the time you were standing there at reception, you had a nervous feeling they were talking about you. What were they saying? Is your stylist available? Was your tip, I mean, ‘gratuity’, from last month’s appointment rather less than what is expected as befits someone of your perceived net worth?

But through all the nerve jangling whilst waiting, you got this overall feeling of control and calm as the smiling, well-coiffed staff appeared from every direction, going about their business, smoothly and efficiently, meeting, greeting, glad-handing and mwah-mwah air-kissing the glitterati of our once fine and pulsating metropolis.

I do seem to remember being somewhat in awe, and a little terrified of those haughty girls who manned the desk itself, giving you the once over as you walked in. If you were a regular it was all bonhomie and welcoming smiles. That rictus smile however was fixed only as long as they checked your appointment in a massive appointment register on the desk, the size of which was absolutely astonishing. I swear I remember the damn thing being as massive as a maintenance manual for a Boeing 747.

However, should you be a first timer, sans appointment, then the frosty blast emanating from the guardians at reception chilled any nervous potential customer to the bone. I think there was something vaguely Masonic about the place. And there was the rub. To be admitted, you had to be one of Halifax’s ‘faces’, one of the in-crowd, a local toff, socially mobile in an upward trajectory and be introduced through a friend of a friend of a friend who was already an existing customer.

Customer? Wait a minute, that can’t be right. I’m pretty confident that a regular to IL was never referred to as anything as grubby as a mere ‘customer’. I’ll bet you they were referred to with the glitzy, honorific of ‘client’. Yes, that’s much better. Client is so very Harrogate, dahling. Mwah!

Once your social and fiscal bona fides had been scrutinised and cleared at reception then, and only then, could you pass through into the hallowed ground of the salon itself. You’d made it, you were one of the Halifax elite. You were now inside the hallowed ground of Lodge’s itself. You’d made it, you were ‘a face’, you’d been accepted. You’d arrived… 

And, dear reader, you’ve reached the end of part one. Stay tuned for the next hotly anticipated, action packed, nerve jangling episode about life and being upwardly mobile in late-1970s Halifax.

Memories of Halifax in the 1970s; Part 2

As promised, dear reader, here’s the second spine-tingling, nerve-jangling instalment of the trawl through the furthest recesses of my aging mind. I hope sharp-eyed readers of a similar age will recognise and be reminded of a time when Halifax was a place to see, and be seen ostentatiously promenading round its bustling centre. Sit back, pour yourself a glass of your favourite tipple and enjoy the memories we’ll encounter as you tag along on this canter with me.

(I ended last time as I walked into the perfumed opulence that was Irvin Lodge’s magnificent salon. In its 70s heyday, it was this town’s quintessential emporium of elegance, a hair salon so salubrious that only the great and good of Halifax were asked inside, beyond its fabulous façade).

And so, without further ado…

I was inside, phew, however I still had to stay focused and not let my outward air of nonchalance slip, lest I be exposed some mere Johnny-come-lately .The regulars however knew the ropes as they glided through the reception area, elegantly slipping off their reassuringly expensive vêtements and handing them to one of the phalanx of fawning staff, who in turn discreetly draped madam’s mink coat, kid gloves, fox stole and obligatory Hermes scarf over the waiting arms of the salon’s very own cloakroom attendant. Yes, the salon had a cloakroom, with its own attendant. Good grief, a cloakroom. That was seriously stylish and probably unique in Halifax, where let’s face it, most of the local populace thought cloakroom was code for downstairs loo.

The cloakroom attendant, in her little cubby-hole was on the left as you walked on into the salon beyond. However, on the right, directly opposite, was a mysterious office with thin mirrored strips alternating vertically on the glass, thus making it impossible to actually see through it, unless that is, you pressed your nose against the glass and peered, boss-eyed through a narrow transparent sliver of glass. Not that I ever did that, of course, I’ve merely written that action for illustrative purposes. That cleverly obscured window fascinated me and I often wondered who could possibly work behind such a slightly sinister contrivance.

Actually, I did once catch a quick glimpse of her when she left the door ever so slightly ajar. She was distinctly plain looking, and before you all howl me down in righteous indignation, I came to that rather 70s, male-centric subjective conclusion based purely on the fact that I’m comparing her to the wall to wall dolly-birds that comprised the entire styling staff in the salon. Her lupine, perma-scowled visage emitted a high frequency ‘don’t mess with me’ signature which, when combined with her dark, closely cropped hair meant anyone unfortunate enough to pass close by to her on the way through to the salon, gave her as wide a berth as possible.

To be honest, on more than one occasion, I did begin to imagine that the aforementioned lady behind those ominous strips kept a vigilant, unseen watch for someone who had managed to hoodwink the reception staff and snuck through into the salon, passing themselves off as a major player in the town. However, if that interloper who’d blagged their way through under false pretences, was caught by mysterious lady behind the glass, they would have had them escorted off the premises, tout de suite, with a flea in their ear, suffering the indignity of standing in George Square, hair askew, being gawped at by the great unwashed populating the numerous bus stops opposite. That left them to the terrible fate of an unscheduled visit to the socially gauche Mary Crossfield’s. Oh, dear me, that really was such a huge step down in the pecking order. Indeed, it was probably considered a faux pas of such magnitude that the event itself would never have been mentioned, not even fleetingly, in the genteel and rarefied air of a West End Golf Club lady’s lunch.

And while we’re on the subject, let’s talk about George Square itself. Oh yes, the glorious hub of Halifax, known colloquially the ‘top end of town’ back in the 1970s. It was astonishing and utterly removed from the desolate, decaying place it is today. Back then, it was Halifax’s very own Rodeo Drive, Orchard Road and Regent Street rolled into one with added northern self-assurance thrown in for good measure. It was a fantastic place and exuded sophistication, braggadocio and its unique charm that reflected this town’s important position in the wealth creation of what was known then as the ‘West Riding’. Even a quick glance around the entire square back then reinforced its rightful moniker as Halifax’s true town centre.

I say that because anyone finding themselves in George Square in its 70s heyday would immediately be aware of its importance, largely because of its unique look. It had majestic angled parking slots and an abundance of well-tended large flowerpots running its entire, spotlessly clean length right up to the Bull Green roundabout. Those reverse-in-only slots were definitely parking spaces to lust after and what was interesting was that those spaces always seemed to be populated by an assortment of pretty swanky cars. Every bay had either a Jaguar, Daimler, Rolls Royce, Bentley, an exotic Italian or something quirkily Gallic parked in it. I’ve often wondered if George Square had some kind of unwritten bye-law written specifically for it by a social climbing councillor which forbade ordinary Fords, Vauxhalls or heaven forbid, anything British Leyland may have produced from parking there. Really, it did seem as though the entire square and the immediate vicinity was designated for, and populated by Halifax’s wealthy elite. Mind you, back then Halifax had its own Rolls Royce and Bentley dealership, Hoffman’s, on Huddersfield Road. I guess if you had it you had to flaunt it, and perhaps the best place to flaunt it was in George Square.

And staying on the theme of George Square itself, I seem to remember that in its prime, the salon was situated next door to an establishment called Silvio’s, which for its time, was an extremely chichi bakery and café. Silvio’s was perfectly positioned and primed to lure Halifax’s upscale ‘ladies that lunch’, including many of the well-heeled clients of Irvine Lodge into its upscale premises. Its panoramic plate glass windows overlooking the square, offered a chance for those partaking of Silvio’s massively overpriced, comfortingly continental nibbles de jour, whilst sharing reputation-shredding gossip and inconsequential badinage, to see and be seen by Halifax’s other movers and shakers as promenaded and posed in the square outside.

“Enough of the George Square story filler”, I hear you cry, “get back to writing about the salon experience; that’s what we’re paying you for, dammit.” Point taken, now, where was I? Oh yes, so I’ve successfully negotiated the guardians of the gate at reception, handed my coat and other bulky accoutrements to the cloakroom lady, who I bet craftily checked the clothing’s label and stitching to establish its authenticity, then I’m waved through into the hallowed ground of the salon itself.

What a fabulous sight it was that met me as I self-consciously nervously entered the hallowed temple of style. Everywhere I looked there were wall to wall stylists in thigh-skimming outfits that sent my teenage blood pressure of the scale when one of them haughtily wafted past. Honestly, it looked like they’d been poured into their dresses that morning, given the way the material clung so tightly to each of the stylist’s magnificent curves. Blimey, an appointment for a haircut at Lodge’s was like being gifted the role as one of the judging panel at a Miss World pageant staged in London’s Albert Hall.

And yet, being in the salon was a nerve-wracking and potentially reputation damaging experience. Let me give you a little background which will explain why I was so fearful of having my haircut there, and what the long-term consequences of having that haircut could be. At that time, it was definitely a ladies-only salon. I mean there was no vulgar ‘unisex’ signage spoiling its outward appearance, in fact such was the femininity of its exterior, the entire place seemed to scream ‘No Men Allowed’ at one hundred and fifty deafening decibels. It may have been the mid-1970’s with gender equality in its ascendancy, but Lodge’s proudly floated above all that new-age tripe. It maintained its core belief, stuck two fingers up at the establishment looking to normalise equality of the sexes and proudly, nay ostentatiously advertised its chic, ladies-only policy.

And it’s that policy that I’ve referred to above the was at the heart of a massive, almost overwhelming problem for me back then. Whilst getting my hair cut at Lodge’s was in and of itself a delightful experience, especially as I was surrounded by all those delectable yet utterly out of reach female stylists, I had a reputation at school to think of, a reputation that could be mangled beyond repair should anyone get wind of the fact that I was getting my hair ‘done’ at Lodge’s. You’ll see I used the word done rather than cut, which encapsulates the very essence of the dilemma in which I’d found myself back then.

You see, long before society woke up to equality; men had their hair cut at a barber’s where in-between expertly analysing the football scores, may well have surreptitiously glanced at well-thumbed copies of ‘Titbits’ or ‘Reveille’. On the other hand, women had their hair ‘done’ at a salon, indulging in the latest gossip, enjoying a coffee whilst leafing through the latest issue of ‘Vogue’, ‘Harper’s Bazaar’ or ‘Country Life’. That was how it was, that’s the way it was done. No argument, no discussion and a clearly defined demarcation of the sexes. It was an unwritten law and like it or not, was strictly adhered to by every single person in this country.

Yet, there was I, a pimply and gangling reputationally obsessed teenager, breaking that rigorously haircut rule, forced into that situation by an overbearing mother, opening myself to a world of pain and ridicule from my peers if my shameful little secret became public knowledge. As the visits to Lodge’s were beyond my control, my anxiety about being found out and exposed by my none-too forgiving peers at Crossley and Porter became almost overwhelming. It was my own private hell and had to be kept secret at all costs, because as I mentioned earlier, my unsullied reputation was at stake and that reputation, as any teenager would have reluctantly told you then, just as they’d tell you now, means more them than life itself…

And that, ladies and gentlemen, brings Part Two to a dramatic and cliff-hanging close. In Part Three, I’ll be taking you through the many Houdini-esque contortions and misdirections I employed to keep my covert visits to the salon a closely guarded secret, away from the ever-prying eyes of fellow Crossleys peers. Join me next time as I take you through my escapades in George Square as I evade recognition during my hellishly stressful bi-monthly trips to the salon.
Before I go, I’d like to thank you for reading this and I really hoped you enjoyed this trip down memory lane with me. I’ll be posting Part Three in the next few weeks, so please keep an eye out for it.

If you’d like to learn more about the English language and ways to improve your skills and knowledge then please drop me a line at simon@englishmaverick to find out more.

See you soon.