1970’s Hogmanays at Chez Strachan

Ordinarily, these days I don’t normally over-indulge with the New Years Eve celebrations. A situation very different to my parents during my formative years, when my family welcomed the dawn of a new year with gusto.

Gusto was a German guy who lived on Cromer Avenue. As I recall, he was affable of nature; however his premature arrival at our home (on the 29th December) to secure his seat by placing a beach towel on the sofa was frowned upon by my parents.

Growing up, mum and dad tended to host a house party to welcome the arrival of the New Year. In the more neighbourly 1970’s, there was a traditional exuberance in the communities of the north east of England to celebrate Hogmanay in the style of their close Scottish cousins.

The party would start back at our modest three bed semi-detached home in Gateshead at pub kicking out time. Officially commencing when Jimmy (a Scottish neighbour) had blessed the whisky. If truth be told, it wasn’t exactly blessing the whisky more him getting to the bottle first.

Under the influence of alcohol, he’d suffix this whisky-fuelled opening ceremony by singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’. Normally followed by him drunkenly staggering mis-song into our record player.

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My parents didn’t always use a record player for the party entertainment. One year, attempting to foil Jimmy’s unintentionally sabotage, guests danced to music sourced by my cassette recorder.

I remember this first tape recorder with fondness. The size of a standard biscuit tin and silver of colour, it came into my possession in the mid 1970’s courtesy of my grandad Strachan.

When grandad Jack kindly bequeathed this to me it had the quirky anomaly of the recording alignment being awry. Meaning you could only record on one side – With the recording head requiring recalibration, if you flipped a recording over, the tape played the music backwards.

It was bizarre to listen to and meant I had to spend double on audio cassettes. However, on the plus side, I did learn how to sing the Don McClean classic American Pie backwards….. A feat I’m sure’ll come in handy one day.

In a bizarre twist of fate, Jimmy became more eloquent and lucid when joining in with the lyrics being played in retroversion.

As we got older my younger brother Ian and I were given permission to stay up later with a glass of pop and crisps to ‘see in’ the new year. It was an intriguing introduction to people watching for the two of us, as we absorbed the behaviour of normally placid family friends heavily influenced by alcohol.

I’ve not experienced that New Years Eve community spirit since leaving the north east in the 1980’s. To be honest, I’m not sure if it even exists anymore….. I suspect not.

My wife lived a few miles away in a town called Birtley. She remembers the 1970’s as a time of fear; especially if her aunt Growmore’s hit man business was struggling. Karen recalls ‘The Great Birtley Bullet Shortage’ of 1978 as a particularly bad time in her family history.

I didn’t know her in the 1970’s, but her dad claims his occupation at the time was collecting protection money for lobsters. As I’m not aware of Birtley’s organised crime being fronted by crustaceans in that decade I think he means mobsters….. If memory serves me correct, extortion by lobsters didn’t become a problem in the County Durham town until the late 1990’s.

Anyhow, going back to the tale of our parents New Years Eve party’s. In our mid teens brother Ian and I would be allowed a beer as a beverage accompaniment to watching the gradual intoxication of the neighbourhood.

On occasion, we’d have our TV switched on to watch Scottish singer Andy Stewart’s Hogmanay show. It was a rented TV, which my dad secured at a cheaper monthly rate as it came with a sponsors logo.

The picture on it was quite good, however, I’d be lying if I said having ‘Rediffusion TV’s’ emblazoned onscreen didn’t spoil the viewing experience a tad.

At midnight, as inebriated Geordie’s and Scot’s raucously introduced us to the words ‘Bllllaaarrgh’ and ‘Waaaahhhheeeeyyyyy!’, Ian and I would clashed our cans of Skol lager and wish each other a ‘Happy New Year’.

As we sipped our gassy beverages, we’d watch the likes of Moira Anderson sing with fellow Scot Kenneth McKellar on the TV. Well, that is until Jimmy knocked over the TV.

I recall there was a superstition that the first visitor to your home in the new year, or ‘first foot’, should arrive with a piece of coal for luck. However, as everyone in the street had gas central heating, coal wasn’t readily available. Consequently, people improvised by turning up at my parents house with their gas bills.

They were memorable nights of celebration which tended to end around 3am, or when Jimmy had broken all music entertainment channels within the house…… Whichever occurred the sooner!

To close my final blog of 2018, I want to say thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings this year. Hopefully, you’ll stay with them in the new year.

All the best for 2019!

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