Archive | November, 2012


24 Nov

One of my first memories is sitting on the bus with my grandmother on the way to Woolston in Southampton.  Gran had given me my pocket money early that week and I knew exactly what I was going to spend it on, I clutched that pre-decimal coinage in my tiny hand, it was big and it smelt of a thousand other palms but to me it meant just one thing  this week’s edition of the Twinkle comic.

The bus stopped on the other side of the road to the newsagents, but all I had to do was run across the road and I would be there in a jiffy and that is exactly what I did.  I never saw the car, but thank goodness the driver saw me, there was a screeching of brakes, the car stopped with one good old imperial inch to spare.  At that age, I wasn’t really aware of how close to death I had come, but I was aware of the stares from the people who were walking along the street and how they had now all stopped dead in their tracks.

I was also very much aware of how fuming my grandmother was, this lady who was already in her eighties looked extremely upset and very, very angry and she was never angry, especially not with me.  She started to shout at me, and tell me what a “naughty girl” I had been.  Gran’s thick Toxteth accent sliced through the hushed Hampshire air and just resulted in making it more of a ‘scene’ than it already was.

I knew I shouldn’t have left my grandmother’s side, I also knew I had been extremely lucky, all the bystanders kept telling me and my grandmother this whilst giving her disapproving looks.  But throughout all this shock, angst and kerfuffle, around me, my head was still full of one overarching desire, I wanted my Twinkle comic and this was delaying me.

Twinkle was absolutely brilliant and they had free gifts too.  I still have an old black and white photo of me sitting on a rug in the garden in my Nurse Nancy (she was one of the best characters) nurse’s hat and apron tending to a broken doll, I had probably disabled it for the photograph.

After the car ‘incident’ Twinkle was delivered to the house, it was obviously deemed far safer.  So every week, Twinkle would arrive, rolled up through the door, with our name and address written in pencil at the top.  This made me feel extremely special, this copy was just for me, I was an important reader.

As I grew a little older I started to experiment with other comics, Bunty was fabulous, it had a wonderful strip called ‘The Four Marys’.  This was about four girls named Mary from across the social divide all at the same ‘girls only ‘ boarding school and all their marvellous adventures, through thick and thin they stuck together and were the most tremendous chums.  I was determined I would go to a boarding school just like them one day, maybe I could find three other girls there named Angela who would all be my extra special chums.  Image

Every Christmas there would be an annual to look forward to this would be packed with extra feature lengths stories of all my favourite characters.  There were other comics I loved too, it was jolly hard on my meagre pocket money keeping up with them all and not having a young sister to swap comics with, I had to rely on my grandparents being generous benefactors which they always were.  Their generosity ensured I could buy Mandy, Jinty and Judy, which were very similar to Bunty.  On reflection, I think it was probably self-perservation, rather than an act of loving kindness that prompted my grandparents to support my comic habit.  Just like doting grandparents today who buy their grandchildren a film or a video game to occupy them thus giving the donator a short window of peace and quiet.  One thing was definitely true, I was never happier than when I had a brand new shiny copy of one of my favourite comics in my hand.

Then just as I reached that age when you are too old for Bunty and having briefly dabbled with Look-In magazine which was okay, but didn’t possess the drama I yearned for, arrived the queen or should I say evil black queen of all girls comics.  Sent to us from the darkside, the very Lucifer of girls comics –  MISTY.

Misty was first published on the 4th February 1978 and from the first edition I was hooked.  This was a comic packed with stories of ghosts, witches, nether worlds, spells, aliens, demons and anything supernatural.  The supernatural was presented as a reality and this comic was literally terrifying.  The tagline read “stories NOT to be read at night”.  Basically it should have been stories not to be read by children.  It was one of the most bizarre publications aimed at children to ever see the light of day.

I could not miss an issue, just like Twinkle there were often free gifts, but unlike Twinkle these usually had a creepy element to them; a black cat ring, a wheel of fortune that would predict your future “day by day”, a lucky charm bracelet.  It was breeding a nation of terrified and superstitious young girls.

“The old gypsy couldn’t believe her eyes when the young girl stepped out of the fire completely unharmed, who was she?  What was her secret”?  This was dialogue from a typical cover of Misty with the girl engulfed in flames and behind her stands a woman with red eyes in a hood looking like a dead and  dug-up ‘Grotbags’ the witch.  All this for 8 pence every Monday which ensured you had a terrible week at school because you would start the week with insomnia.

I myself had many a sleepless night over Misty, I remember one particular incident, not sure what the actual story I had been reading was but it had traumatised me to the point I could take no more.

Knocking on my parent’s bedroom door I told them in agitated gasp.  “I can’t sleep”.  “Why, what’s the matter?” enquired my sleepy and obviously irritated mother.  “Not sure, I replied, I just can’t sleep”.  There was no hiding the reason though, mum knew why “it’s that bloody comic isn’t it!”, I paused before replying knowing what the consequences of my acquiescence  would be, but always having been far too honest for my own good I answered “yes” in a resigned tone.   “ I knew it, I bloody knew it, if you don’t get back to bed this instant you are never having that ruddy comic in this house again!”

I slunk back to bed, still terrified, but also now worried my parents would deprive me of Misty  and I wouldn’t be able to get my weekly fix of all things occult.

I now know that I was far from being the only girl of my generation who experienced this. There was a legion of females who had experienced the terror and insomnia that was Misty.  My partner Dawn was another one who suffered through her love of Misty;

Dawn and her sister had been given a Misty annual each by their cherubic grandmother on Boxing Day, Dawn being a few years younger than me she was only eight years old at the time, Dawn and her younger sister both decided to read their annuals in bed before they went to sleep.  Dawn’s sister’s story was about a girl who got trapped in a mirror and the story ended with her stuck for eternity in the mirror and her friends walked pass as she tried to cry for help but to no avail.  The final frame showed her screaming in silence and sheer terror.

Meanwhile, Dawn was reading a lovely story about a boy and girl whose grandmother (who curiously had more than a passing cartoon resemblance to dawn’s own grandmother) had been killed by an alien/monster and replaced with an alien/monster in the guise of their grandmother.  The children only found out their grandmother was actually a monster/alien (after much suspicion) when they took a photograph of her and she was totally invisible.  This resulted in Dawn then assuming that her grandmother had given her this annual as some sort of subliminal message and was trying to tell Dawn that she was really a monster/alien.  Dawn and her sister then swapped annuals and which made each other worse, resulting in them both crying on their bunk beds and then being told off for reading the annuals when they should have been in bed. This has left an indelible mark on both Dawn and her sister.

Misty was a more than a comic, it was was a potential ‘life ruiner’.  Ironically  Misty is now a highly sought after publication.  I sold an annual that I found in a box of books at my store recently for £55.  People obviously treasure a magazine that was so unique and incredibly memorable.

So where does this leave girls comics in 2012?  Boys have always been the major market when it comes to selling comics and they always will be, action heroes, Marvel, DC, Manga and a plethora of ever more exotic publications continue to thrive.  I note with sadness though that D.C. Thompson is to end their print run of the Dandy and just maintain an online presence.  So I ask again, where does this leave girls comics and can there ever be a revival?   They have been pretty non-existent in recent years, but surely there has to be a market out there!  Young girls are avid readers, given the right opportunity and inspiration, look at the success over the last decade of the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises.

I would love to think there is still room out there in the publishing world for girls’ comics.  This would give young girls something to look forward to buying every week, the free gifts, the annuals, the stories, the fun of sharing the same stories with your compatriots, looking forward every week to that publication day.  I am not sure how I ever gave all that up.

Think I might just pop up the loft and see if I can find where my copies of Misty went, unless mum threw them out.  Ruddy hell I bet she did!




12 Nov

There has been a lot in the media recently about the West Midlands accent.   From the Birmingham Council’s voice phone recognition software not being able to understand the ‘Brummie accent’, to the West Midlands accent being widely considered a hindrance in business.

My partner is a born and bred dyed in the wool ‘Black Country girl’.  The Black Country accent is considered even stronger than the Birmingham accent and is often a source of amusement and bewilderment for anyone living outside this small piece of middle England.

I have always been fascinated by accents and the effect they can have on people.

I was born in Surrey and grew up in the home counties but both my parents were from the North and though the south softened their accent a little it was still their flat vowels they proudly displayed.

After a year spent living in Holland before starting senior school, the only English voices I heard during that year were my parents, and I started to say “bath” and not “barth”, “laugh” instead of “larf”.

On returning to English shores and starting senior school, I changed my accent right back to those Surrey tones.  One snigger from a fellow pupil was all it took to eradicate any northern tinges I had indadvertently picked up.

So when I met my partner for the first time, I have to admit I was mesmorised.  Dawn had an accent you literally could cut with a knife.  I didn’t really understand half the things she was saying, but I loved how she said it.  The only people I had ever heard speaking like that had been on the legendarily awful but wonderful teatime soap opera Crossroads.  Oh and the ladies in the café at the Motorway service station in Wolverhampton,  that we had deliberately stopped at because mum wanted to hear ‘the accent’.

Dawn seemed quite shy, when it came to talking to anybody else outside of the midlands.   Something I couldn’t understand.  Not long after we had started dating, we were driving through London, long before the days of satellite navigation I did what everybody did in the eighties.  I pulled over to try and get directions from somebody in the street.  As luck would have it there was a bus stop with a healthy queue of people.

Dawn wound the window down and asked if anybody knew how to get to our destination, one by one the line of people waiting for the bus started to titter.  She asked again, and the tittering turned into laughter.  They were laughing at Dawn’s accent.  I drove off and told her not to worry about it, we both laughed at the incident ourselves and it became a point of teasing between us.

Apparently some accents are funny and a broad West Midlands, in particular a Black Country accent is to some people amusing.

Ever since the bus stop incident, Dawn has always got me to; ask for help, information, check-in at hotels, ask for the menu, complain, basically my voice is usually the initial point of contact.  It is not that she feels embarrassed of her accent, no she is proud of it.  This is because she thinks it will just cause more problems and people will not be able to

understand her.

Through living with Dawn and also being somebody who picks up accents very readily myself I have come to realise just how immensely powerful accents can be.  They can shape how people view us, respect us and ultimately form the overall lifelong impression somebody will hold of you for life.

Dawn is highly intelligent and has a psychology degree, I am of course highly intelligent but have never attended university, actually most people think I am the one with the degree.  The accent I am sure is the main reason for this.

We have been in business together now for twenty years and both our accents have come into play.   When dealing with people, Dawn is great at getting a bargain and making people feel at ease if they are nervous, shy or down to earth.  She manages to connect with them and the deal is done.

I actually enjoy turning on a ‘posh voice’ if we are negotiating house clearance or a deal in a traditionally ‘posh’ area.  Somewhere like Sutton Coldfield, I will come into my own and it always seems to work.  You just have to judge your opponent and find your accent, a sort of vocal poker.

Having spent a lot of time in America I noticed how potent an accent can be there too.  Most Americans of course expect only two types of British accent, Mary Poppins or The Queen.  So they are often surprised.

Dawn of course they would equate with Ozzy Osbourne, that is how we always managed to explain her away.  But friends would always sidle up to me after a long dinner or a few drinks and say “I can understand what you are saying but sometimes I haven’t a clue what Dawn is talking about”.

A favourite pastime of mine would be to walk into a very upscale establishment in New York or Los Angeles and ‘lay it on thick’ give them the upper class tones they are expecting and trust me they adore it.  It is after all giving them a show and exactly what they want.

If you think that is bad, my friend from Ireland trowels it on with a big Irish shovel.  I will never forget being lost in Rhode Island with her and she managed to find somebody with a Riverdance T-shirt to ask for directions.  Let’s just say the accent she produced would put a Kerry farmer, mumbling into his pint of Guinness to shame.  By the time she had finished the gentlemen thought he had held court with the Queen of Ireland.

You can come unstuck though, whilst this might work in Manhattan or Beverly Hills.  It can have the opposite effect in a diner in Oklahoma or Kansas, ensuring you become a total spectacle and can’t get back to your car quick enough.  Trust me this has happened, more than once.

Over the years, there has been a vocal war of attrition between Dawn and myself, I have softened her Black Country accent, whilst she has ‘Midlanded’ up mine.  Ensuring that I now sound (unless putting on the glitz), like a posh ‘Brummie’.  Well I suppose there are worse places to come from than Sutton Coldfield.

Sometimes Dawn will call me posh, when she is really angry with me she will call me a Brummie.  I of course will reply with you ‘yam yam’.

We keep talking about one day moving to another part of the UK, Manchester, Liverpool, Devon, Scotland all these places have been mooted.  You know it might be interesting because after a few years we would both have the same accent but different accent.  Now that really would confuse everybody.

It has been said that the Americans and us Brits are separated by the same language, I actually think the same thing could be said for many of us Brits.

So in the words of our Dawn Tara a bit!