You Can’t Always Get What You Want – How To Turn The Tartan Trousers Of Disappointment Into The Shark Attack Of Happiness
That’s a photo of me at my big brother’s wedding. I am not the tall fella on the left and nor am I the bearded chap in the middle. I’m the one in the tartan trousers. The bearded chap with his hands on my shoulders is my big brother, Paul.
As you can see, when I say big brother, I mean big brother. I was six years old when that photo was taken. Paul was in his twenties. Not exactly sure how far into his twenties, but far enough to have a full beard and to be getting married without any family members shaking their heads in the background and whispering “Too young, I give it six months.”
The reason there is such an obvious age difference between me and my big brother can be explained in two words. The Breathalyser.
You see, after my brother was born, the doctors told my mum she wouldn’t be able to have any more children. And for a decade and a half, it appeared that the doctors were correct. Then, one summer evening in 1968, my mum and dad went for a drink and a drive around the pubs on the Northumberland coast. They were both drinking. None of this “designated driver” stuff we very sensibly have nowadays.
Attitudes to drinking and driving were very different back then. When a policeman pulled you over and you’d clearly been drinking, he would apologise for nicking you. “Bad luck, mate” sort of thing. He did still nick you though, and the judge did still take your driving licence off you.
In the last pub my mum and dad went into that evening, they got wind of the fact that the local constabulary were out in force that night. And the previous year, the coppers had been given a new toy to play with. The Breathalyser. No ambiguous roadside sobriety tests. Breathe into the bag and if the crystals change colour, you’re nicked.
So, my mum and dad finished their drinks and, being on the Northumberland coast, they headed towards the beach and hid in the sand dunes until my dad had sobered up enough to drive them both home to Forest Hall. And they did what tipsy couples do in sand dunes on balmy summer evenings, when all you can see is the stars and all you can hear is the sound of crashing surf.
“Have a drink, have a drive and go out and see what you can find” as Mungo Jerry famously sang. What my mum and dad found was that my mum was, against all expectation, pregnant and I turned up in May of 1969.
What they also found, seven years later, was them being invited to my brother’s wedding. I was invited too, hence the photo.
It may seem to you that I was given quite an outlandish outfit to wear there. You’d be right. No one batted an eyelid at it though. There are two good reasons for this. Firstly, it was 1976 and The Bay City Rollers were at the height of their powers. There was tartan everywhere. Secondly, the wedding was in Scotland. A country which also tends to have the odd bit of tartan knocking about the place. Well, it does in front of the tourists at any rate.
I really didn’t want to wear those trousers. They weren’t pretend tartan. They weren’t some nice, comfy cotton/viscose mix with a tartan print. They were made of real, rough, woolly, ithchy-as-fuck proper tartan. I was only six though, so I didn’t really have much choice.
It may seem like a cruel thing to do to a six year old, but it was all part of a cunning plan and totally done with my advantage in mind. This is how the scam went down.
I was six on the day of my brother’s wedding, but the following day was my seventh birthday. My brother and his bride, Anne, had tried to book the wedding on my actual birthday but there were just no places available. The day before was the best they could manage.
The reason they wanted to have their wedding on my birthday was so they could tell the guests it was my birthday and I would be bought unlimited pop and crisps and be given cash handouts in honour of the joint celebration. They figured that my birthday not being until the following day might limit the pop and crisps and cash, so they decided to give me an edge. Hence the tartan trousers.
And it worked. It worked like a charm. Most of the guests were Scottish and they thought that a little Geordie boy dressed like Rob Roy was the cutest thing they had ever seen. The pop and crisps were brought to me like I was a little Viking boy who’d died in battle and I was in the hall of Valhalla. And I was given money. Lots of money. Mainly in the form of 50p pieces.
If you weren’t around in the Seventies, let me put that into some sort of context for you. In 1976, a pint of beer cost 32 pence. A pint of beer costs about three quid now, on average. So each of those 50ps I was given was the equivalent of giving a six year old a fiver in current money. I made out like a fucking bandit.
The following day, I was taken to the caravan site where most of the family and quite a few of the guests were staying. Not the most exciting place for a newly fledged seven year old. Unless, of course, that caravan site had trampolines and a games arcade. This one did. I spent all day bouncing up and down on trampolines and playing a video game called “Shark Attack!”
I spent every last penny of that money I’d been given. Though to be fair, the trampolines were 50p a go and shark attack was 10p for about two minutes game play, which strikes me as rather expensive in retrospect. I had the time of my life though.
Wearing those tartan trousers was definitely not what I wanted. But lord, bouncing on those trampolines and killing virtual sharks was most definitely what I needed.
You can’t always get what you want, when you want it. Maybe you’ll get what you want and maybe you won’t. But, to paraphrase The Rolling Stones, in the meantime, you just might find, you get what you need.
And if what you needed was a big old belly laugh, then I’m sure the photo of me in the tartan trousers has probably helped. It certainly makes me chuckle every time I look at it.
Copyright Michael Grimes 2017