Black Bullets And Big Daddy – Why The Seventies Weren’t All That Great And How A Comic Strip Taught Me What I Really Am
I used to visit my Grandma every Saturday when I was a kid. We didn’t call her “Grandma” though. We called her “Nana”. There was one question she would always ask me at some point during these visits. “Do you want a bullet?” she would say. Don’t worry, she wasn’t threatening me or anything. She wasn’t “Gangsta”. She wasn’t pointing “nine” in my “grill” because I’d broken one of her Royal Doulton china poodles. As far as I’m aware, she didn’t have any firearms lying about the house. But she did live through two world wars, so I wouldn’t be exactly shocked if she’d had an old Browning or something similar lurking at the bottom of the ottoman where she stored her bed linen.
No, when my Nana said “Do you want a bullet?” she was just asking me if I would like a sweetie. That’s what old people in my hometown of Newcastle called sweets back in the 70s. Bullets. That’s because, back when these old people were young people, pretty much the only sweets you could get your hands on were these:
Jesmona Black bullets. They were called Black Bullets because they were shaped sort of like little musket balls. Not sure about the “Black” part of the name though. As you can see from the photo, they’re actually brown. Maybe it’s because “Brown Bullets” has a certain lavatorial connotation which wouldn’t encourage even the bravest of children to put them in their mouths.
Along with the offer of “bullets” on a Saturday, there was also the offer of fizzy pop. Always lemonade. There was a very good reason it was always lemonade. Like many old ladies back then, Nana liked a drop of sherry. She even had a little white poodle called “Sherry”. And while she had a bottle of good sherry for special occasions, her day to day tipple was one of the most horrendous ideas ever to come out the Seventies. Armadillo sherry.
Armadillo sherry was draught sherry that you bought from the off-license (that’s what we call a liquor store in England, if you are reading this from over the pond). The off-license stored this sherry in tacky looking red plastic barrels and you took along your own empty bottle, they filled it up and you paid for it by the pint. No, I can’t believe that happened either, but here is a television advert for it from back in the day:
I was always given lemonade because my Nana used to collect her Armadillo sherry in an old pop bottle. Lemonade being a different colour to draught sherry, I was less likely to accidentally pour myself a glass of “Nana Pop” instead of a cool refreshing glass of lemonade. Though it didn’t eliminate the possibility of me drinking bleach, because for some reason, people used to store bleach in old pop bottles as well in the Seventies. Not entirely sure why. Bleach didn’t come on draught. It came in perfectly serviceable, tough plastic containers with the word “bleach” printed on them. But people still used to decant their bleach into unmarked soft drinks bottles. Maybe it was to thin out the herd and get rid of some of the stupid kids, who knows? People who bang on about how great The Seventies were forget how astonishingly dangerous it was to be a child in that decade.
So, every Saturday afternoon we would sit down and watch the telly. Nana would have tea – or sometimes a little bit of “Nana Pop” – and I would have my lemonade and some sort of sandwich. My Nana had a hell of a lot of grandchildren. I’m 47 and I still haven’t met all of my cousins. Because of this, we had to go and visit her in shifts. I got the prime shift, though this was probably just because I lived the closest to her. I got the shift that involved being there at Four O’ Clock in the afternoon.
Four O’ Clock in the afternoon on a Saturday meant only one thing back then. Wrestling on ITV’s “World Of Sport”. Nana used to get very animated at the wrestling. She got very angry and excited, in the way that old ladies do when they are watching two grown men batter the shit out of each other. They’re funny like that, the old dears.
She would get particularly upset when Giant Haystacks:
Did nasty things to Big Daddy:
It was all pretend of course, just like wrestling is today. Good guys and bad guys and everything meticulously scripted. Everyone loved Big Daddy, whose real name was Shirley Crabtree by the way. Strange to think there was once an era when Shirley was also a man’s name. I wasn’t interested in the good guys though. I liked the villains. One villain in particular. This man:
Kendo Nagasaki. Not his real name, obviously. His real name was Peter Thornley. Kind of wish I hadn’t Googled that, to be honest. It has taken a bit of the shine off a very treasured memory. Kendo was the ultimate bad guy. His gimmick was that he wore that mask and that if he ever lost he would be ceremonially stripped of it so the public could finally see his face. So, for years he won every bout but the day did finally come when it was written into the script that he would succumb. I was so excited at this unmasking that I nearly peed myself. What the hell would this super-villain look like? I wasn’t disappointed, because he looked like this:
Then time rolled on and the Seventies became the Eighties but I still had to visit Nana every Saturday. Still watched the wrestling, but in 1983 there was a programme on after the wrestling that made me rush my dad to drive us back home as soon as the final bell of the final bout had rung. That programme was called “Luna” and it starred Patsy Kensit. Here is a still of her from that very show.
Well, you can imagine what effect a fifteen year old Patsy Kensit had on a fourteen year old me. Particularly given that she was dressed either in leotards or tiny little skirts throughout the entire series. I was even more excited than the day they unmasked Kendo. Though looking back, it was a bit suspect really. The star of the show being a fifteen year old girl in extremely skimpy outfits. Suspect but not surprising, given what we now know about the men who worked in the broadcasting business back then. Not that Patsy was in any danger, what with her Godfather being Reggie Kray.
So, that was what me and my mum did every Saturday afternoon. Saturday morning however, was when my mum would “pick up her messages”. Makes her sound like she was a spy or something, doesn’t it? She wasn’t a spy though. She didn’t have a radio transmitter in the bedstead like on “Allo Allo”. At least, I don’t think she did, I never checked. Maybe, she was a spy. If she was then she was a really fucking good one and very deep undercover. Because when she said she was going to “pick up her messages”, what she actually doing was going shopping for groceries. That’s what groceries were called in Newcastle back in the day. Messages. I’ve absolutely no idea why. It’s just another of many words up there, like “bullet”, that has a completely different meaning to its meaning in Standard English.
There was one word though that I never encountered until I read it in a comic. I used to read The Dandy and The Beano. The Dandy had a strip in it called “The Jocks and the Geordies” which, as far as I remember, was about two rival gangs of hooligans. I knew that “Jock” meant Scotsman, but I’d only ever heard the word “Geordie” in the context of a nickname for men called George. Like the Glaswegians call men named Hugh “Shuggy”.
I thought the possibility of every member of the Jocks’ rival gang being called George was a bit remote so I decided to consult my dad. Think I was about seven at the time.
“Dad” I said, “what’s a Geordie?”
My dad gave me a puzzled little grin and looked at me slightly askance.
“You are kidding there, aren’t you son?” he said.
“No dad,” I replied
“A Geordie is someone from Newcastle son. You’re a Geordie, you silly sod!”
Well, that was a bit of a headfuck for me, I don’t mind telling you. Not that I knew the word “headfuck” when I was seven. But not knowing what a Geordie was, I had -ironically- been rooting for The Jocks the entire time I was reading that comic strip. Equally ironically, up until the mid-19th Century, “Geordie” had actually been a Newcastle slang word for “idiot”. Which might go some way towards explaining the title of the television programme “Geordie Shore”.
Don’t think my dad ever told my Nana about me not knowing what a Geordie was. Good job too. I might have been facing an actual bullet if she’d found out and really did have a Browning tucked away under her bed linen. Especially if she’d had a drop too much sherry. Though it would probably have just been a bullet to a china poodle balanced on my head. She was nice like that, my Nana.
Copyright Michael Grimes 2016
Tags: Allo Allo, Big Daddy, Black Bullets, Comics, Gangsta, Geordie Shore, Geordies, Giant Haystacks, Gimmicks, Glaswegians, Google, Headfuck, Jocks, Kendo Nagasaki, Luna, Messages, Newcastle, nostalgia, Patsy Kensit, Poodles, Reggie Kray, Saturday, sherry, spies, Sweets, Television, The Beano, The Dandy, The Eighties, The Jocks And The Geordies, The Seventies, Villains, World Of Sport, Wrestling
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