Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Holiday Camp Part 5

Here's me up a tree in 1983. I could be seen on advertisin' signs for years after the Esso Blue telly ads ended.

I slept an' slept. I dreamt nasty dreams. It's funny, some dreams you've forgotten before you wake up, but some stick in yer mind for years. I remember, lyin' there on that little bed in the caravan at Silver Sands, dreamin' that I was bein' sent off into outer space with just a monkey for company. The space ship looked like summat made on Blue Peter with a giant washing-up liquid bottle. It seemed just about big enough for me and the monkey to cram into. An' there was a single lever to pull - one forward, t'other back.

"Ooh, I can't go in there!" I said. "Me claustrophobia'll start up!"

But there were crowds of people all standin' on the tarmac by the launch pad, shoutin': "GO ON! BE A MAN - THE MONKEY'S GOT MORE GUTS THAN YOU 'AVE!" And the Missus was there, doin' the same.

I woke up in a sweat. Me 'ead was still poundin'.

I thought I could smell steak an' kidney for a minute.

"I must be seriously ill," I told meself. "Fantasy smells! Alcohol poisoning!"

I fell asleep again, an' this time dreamt I was in a cage with lots of people jeerin' an' laughin' at me. I knew I musn't get upset though coz Auntie Doreen was standin' at the front of the crowd, wavin' a banner. I kept tryin' to see it, but people were in the way, wavin' their arms about.

But some'ow I knew it said: "BE A MAN".

Well, there were other dreams I just recall bits and bobs of, some I've forgotten completely I daresay, but it were a nasty few hours.

Then I came to.

I was glad to be in the caravan, safe.

I lay there. I realised I 'ad to phone the Missus. We were on the phone at the shop - 'ad to be because of orders an' suchlike. But not many round our way were in those days, just us, the other shop keepers, and the landlord at the Foundryman's pub. Oh, and Mrs Thirkettle in Bright Street. But 'er 'usband was manager of the abbatoir and they were a bit up market.

I 'ad to tell the Missus I knew what had gone on. I knew she'd deceived me. What would she say? We'd never 'ad a conversation that were owt like that in't past...

There'd never been any need...

I got up. I'd 'ave a quick sluice and get down to the payphone. I checked me pockets for change. Plenty of 2ps. Me 'eart felt like lead.

'Ow could she do it? Leave me to face a new challenge with the booking at the camp, and Auntie Doreen for a whole week? And all because she didn't like caravans and didn't want to miss the new bingo 'all opening?

I opened the door of the bedroom.

And everythin' changed.

Just like that.

I blinked.

There were the Missus, just takin' a steak and kidney pie out of the oven. A pan of mashed spuds and a pan of sprouts stood by on the little worktop, together with a couple of warmed dinner plates.

For a minute, I thought I'd died and gone to 'eaven.

"Wash yer 'ands, Joe," she said, very matter of fact. "And whatever's 'appened to yer 'air?"

"It were a fag, I caught it alight..." I started

The Missus laughed. "It's good to see yer again, lad. I've missed yer this past couple of days. I know what you've been through. I met a young girl outside 'ere when I arrived, just about to knock. Very large chest. Bit of a floosie I reckon. She said she were a singer at the club 'ouse. Said she'd seen yer this mornin' lookin' like death, and she'd come over to see make sure yer were all right. She told me all about last night."

"It were nice of 'er to pop over," I said.

"Well, she won't be poppin' over again," said the Missus firmly. "I made it plain to 'er she weren't needed, thankin' 'er all the same."

There were a glint of jealousy in 'er eye, if I wasn't mistaken!

I washed me 'ands while the Missus dished up. One of her 'eavenly pies - flaky pastry, rich meat 'n' gravy... it was a grand sight.

"Joe, I've summat to say," the Missus said after a moment or two, a bit awkward-like, as she finished dolloping out the mashed spud.

"What's that, luv?" I asked.

"Well," the Missus paused with a dessert spoon of sprouts, and looked uncomfortable. "I can't lie to yer, lad. Not for long, anyway. It were a put-up job, our Florrie's gallopin' flu. I couldn't face a week in a caravan with yer Auntie. But as soon as you'd gone, I realised I were wrong. 'For better, for worse, for richer for poorer'. My place is 'ere with you."

I kissed 'er on the cheek.

"You're a wonderful woman!" I said.

"Daft beggar!" she said - but she looked dead chuffed really. "Anyway, I am sorry, luv. Where's Auntie?"

"Found 'erself a fella!" I said. "Off ridin' snails and old time dancin' in Great Yarmouth!"

The Missus looked amazed. "It must me the sea air! Poor fella! Ridin' snails? Been at the brandy bottle 'as she? Always makes 'er a bit whimisical, that does. Remember that Christmas when she were prancin' round our living room sayin' she were't sugar plum fairy? I were that embarrassed! I couldn't look Mrs Potter in the eye for weeks after! Now, luv, we'll eat, then we'll go for a nice long walk along the beach. It'll put some colour back in yer cheeks. And Joe - "

"Yes, luv?"

"Just open that window, will yer? Condensation's terrible in 'ere."

I opened the window - with a sigh of  'appiness.

So, it all ended all right. Gotta go now. We 'ad 'igh winds in the night and a couple of slates 'ave slipped.

JOE x 

'Ere's one of the Snails at Great Yarmouth. Me an' the Missus ended up 'avin' a ride on one. Lovely. You go round a little garden bit with little hills and dips. We liked it so much, we went on a second time. And a third. And we'll go on them again if we ever go back. It's smashin' bein' daft at the seaside. If you've never done it, give it a try! 

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Holiday Camp - Part 4

'Ere's me - thumb up and statin' the obvious.

The next mornin', I staggered out of the bedroom in the caravan to find Auntie Doreen and Percy drinking tea. Auntie was smokin' a Senior Service and sayin' to Percy: "I'm glad you've got a fresh vest and kecks on today as well, Perce. They really improve the ambience."

She liked usin' posh words, did Auntie.

Percy was like a little puppy dog. 'e looked at her bashfully: "Aw, Dor, you do remind me of my Edie!" 'e said.

Auntie simpered and patted her 'airdo. She saw me and her face went all stern: "Well, look what the cat's dragged in! Got a thick 'ead 'ave yer? It's not surprisin' after last night!"

I sat down at the table.

"Want some bacon and eggs? Nice bit o' fried bread?" asked Auntie, heartlessly.

"Ooh, 'ow could yer?" I moaned.

"Yer 'air looks a right mess," Auntie went on. "There's a bald patch where I 'ad to snip some off las' night when you set it on fire it with yer fag. Eee, our Joe, yer are daft!"

Percy laughed. "It was funny," he said. "I know a lot of people were laughin' when your Auntie threw the bitter lemon in your face."

Auntie giggled girlishly. It was a bit unbecomin' at 'er age.

I didn't care. I was thinkin' about me Missus. Me Missus and 'ow she'd lied to me.

Through thick an' thin - that's what I thought marriage was supposed to be about.

An' she'd left me to flounder in me hour of need.

Auntie stood up and stubbed out 'er fag.

"I can't 'elp feelin' sorry for yer, lad. I'll get you some Andrew's Liver Salts  and then you can pop in that shower. Terrible thing, if yer ask me - yer can't beat a proper bath. But it'll liven yer up a bit. Then take a breath of fresh air an' yer might feel a bit better."

"Thanks, Auntie," I said, warmed by 'er sympathy - I needed it. "We'll 'ave a nice quiet day, shall we?"

"Well, YOU will," said Auntie, slamming cupboard doors as she searched for the Andrew's tin, and makin' me flinch. "But me an' Perce are goin' into Great Yarmouth for the day. 'E says there's some snails we can ride on, then 'e's takin' me to tea, then we're goin' old time dancin'. I shan't be back till late. I'll miss yer act at the club 'ouse tonight. Never mind. I've seen it once. That were enough."

I sipped the Andrew's while Auntie put her coat and hat on.

"Now, don't sit here mopin'," she said. "You're made of sterner stuff than that. Be a man! Get yourself outside, get some air and get at the day. I'll see yer tonight. Don't wait up, lad."

And she and Percy left.

I 'eard 'er say: "But I can't imagine ridin' on a snail, Perce. Nasty, slimy things! Funny way of enjoyin' yerself..."

Then the door slammed behind them. And I flinched.

I left the caravan. It was a cloudy day, but at least it wasn't rainin'. I made me way down towards the beach, and on the way saw Happy Harold Henson. He'd freshly slicked his fake quiff and was looking very oily indeed. "Hello, my good man!" 'e smarmed. "I was just on my way to your caravan. Your agent's been on the phone. He wants you to call. You can use the phone in the clubhouse office."

I made my way dazedly through the darkened club, which reeked of fags and old beer, and into the dingy office at the back. I steadied meself, fought back the need to throw up, and dialled Wilf's home number. It was Sunday and 'e'd likely be there.

"'Ello, Joe, lad," his voice crackled over't line. I flinched again. Everything sounded so flamin' loud that day.

"I 'ad a call from Silver Sands this mornin'. They're discontinuin' yer act. Their regular male singer's comin' back early and they don't need yer."

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

I were relieved. And yet I were disappointed. I'd got meself so psyched up for that week.

Wilf went on, and I could hear him dragging on his Slim Panetella: "But they say you can keep the caravan for the week to make up for yer inconvienience and they'll pay yer for las' night, of course."

So I was still stuck at Silver Sands with Auntie for the week.

"I thought me act went down well," I ventured.

"I'm sure it did, lad - but that's showbiz!" said Wilf. "And you've still got the Esso Blue ads. I've gotta go now. Sunday or no, there's work to be done. I'm expectin' a call from Mr Mix. Can you imagine me with two TV ad stars on me books?" 'E chortled and 'ung up.

When I left the office, Happy Harold was 'elpin' himself to a crafty short behind the bar. "Would you care for one?" he asked, grinning real cheesy.

His teeth were so white, they made me eyes ache and me 'ead throb even worse.

"No, ta, " I said, dodderin' on my way.

"What happened to your hair?" he called after me.

I knew he was laughin' at me.

He knew.

"Oh bog off, you stuck-up pillock - you're nowt better than a sawn-off Elvis Presley!" I said, at the end of me tether. "And at least I've got some 'air of me own!"

And I left him standin' there, gobsmacked.

I was pretty pleased with my comments. Auntie would have been proud of me.

Just outside, I saw the young girl singer who'd sung I Never Promised You A Rose Garden the night before, burstin' out of a mini-dress.

"Ooh, you poor thing - you look terrible!" she cried.

"I know," I said, very short and sharp, and walked on towards the dunes.

A couple of women passed me. "There's that ugly little Esso Blue fella from last night again, Shirley!" said one. "Doesn't 'e look a fright!"

And they cackled like a couple of witches.

On the beach, I found a quiet spot, aware that some of the campers were nudgin' each other and gigglin' at me. One of them, a huge woman in an orange bikini, said loudly: "Henry! It's that funny little George Formby impersonator - the one who sang Paint It Black and set his hair on fire!"

"Silly little bugger," said Henry - who was just as large and clad in a pair of green swimming trunks that looked like an elastic band round 'is middle.

I stared out to sea.

"Be a man!" Auntie and the Missus 'ad said.

Well, it were very lonely bein' a man at times.

Both me Missus an' me Auntie 'ad deserted me. I never thought I'd be sorry to see the back of Auntie Doreen for a while, but at least I knew 'er - she was familiar. 'Ere I was, in a strange land, all on me own. It's a long way from Norfolk to Lancashire.

Suddenly, I became aware of a little woman standin' over me - a dear little soul with a perm and an olde worlde print dress.

"Please may I have your autograph?" she asked, a little breathlessly. Some people get like that when they're around celebrities. "I am a most ardent admirer of yours!"

And she thrust a slightly grubby Co-op receipt at me and a blue biro.

Well, I know you have to be good to your public, so I smiled at 'er. "A pleasure!" I said and scrawled my name on the back of the receipt.

"Oh, thank you so much! You've made my day!" She turned to go, looking at the receipt as she did so, then suddenly turned back: "Oh. I thought you were Jack Howarth, sorry." And she handed the receipt back to me and walked off.

Jack Howarth?!

"Daft ole bat!" I muttered.

I slunk back to the caravan.

I'd 'ave a sleep, I thought.

And I did.

Going for a pint with Bert Pickering now - this is a rare treat at today's prices. See you soon.

JOE x 

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Esso Blue Joe - On The Buses...

Back in me days of fame, I were a star of telly, newspapers, magazines, hoardings, signs, delivery vans and... buses! Bet yer didn't know that, did yer?

In late 1972, the advertisin' agency came up with a neat skit. As you know, all the ads ended with "Boom Boom Boom Boom - Esso Blue!" - that was the way they always closed, but other tunes were sometimes featured before the end jingle - like the Smoke Gets In Your Eyes skit of 1971 - and Blue, Blue, Blue in the 1960s. In the spring of 1972, Chelsea Football team released a record called Blue Is The Colour.

"Blue is the colour, football is the game..." it went. And it got into the top pops chart - or whatever they call it.

Well, blue was Esso Blue's colour an' all, so the ad people thought it would be a great campaign tune for us for  the 1972/73 winter season.

So, we teamed up with Chelsea football team and did an ad about a sing-song after a match while the lads were splashin' about in the bath.

"Blue is the colour, smokeless is the flame..."

It 'ad the same tune as the football song.

And in late 1972, I ended up on the buses - me in me shorts sayin' "All together now". I know it looks a bit daft with the 'eadless footballers runnin' after the ball, but when the bus 'ad passengers on, their 'eads became the footballers' 'eads - if yer see what I mean.

That bus ad campaign lasted a whole year.

Yer just couldn't get away from me in them days.


Saturday, 12 March 2016

The Esso Blue Sign Again...

Very pleased to get a comment from Paul:

I like your blog Joe! I'm interested in your illuminated shop sign because I collect things like that. Could you post some more pics and tell me more about it?

Well, Paul, thanks, lad - I'm glad you like the blog.

The sign we 'ad in our shop and now 'ave in the living room is made of plastic. The back is shapped a back like an old telly back. You can take the front off and put yer bulb in.

When we 'ad it in our shop, around the late 1960s to mid-1970s, Mrs Conroy from Pilkington Terrace said it were right ugly: "Give the kiddies nightmares, 'avin' that glaring out at them on winters' nights!"

But my Auntie Doreen said to 'er: "You shut yer trap! 'E might not be a real looker, but 'e's all right, our Joe is!"

I were quite touched, but later Auntie told me she only said it coz she wasn't 'avin' an ex-clippie criticisin' one of our family, an' she really thought Mrs Conroy was quite right.


Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Holiday Camp - Part 3

These three badges appeared in the early 1970s. You'll notice there's one with me on it saying "I'M A NON SMOKER". Well, I was representin' Esso Blue, the product - an' really I was sayin' IT didn't smoke. Me personally - I smoked like a trooper. A lot of us did back then. Nowadays, of course, people start creatin' if you so much as puff one o' them electronic ciggie thingies. People love 'avin' a reason to moan at other people. I stopped smokin' in 1998 coz me chest and me wallet weren't up to it any more.

Splat! Auntie Doreen chucked her bitter lemon in my face.

Well, I'd been sittin' there at the table in the Silver Sands Holiday Camp club room, fag on, chin cupped in my 'and, thinkin' back on the first day at the camp.

It 'adn't been good.

Firstly, I was troubled by the Missus.

She'd stayed at 'ome, if you remember rightly, coz her sister were ill.

But it seemed, accordin' to Auntie Doreen, that Florrie wasn't ill at all really. She'd seen 'er comin' out of the Washer Rama, right as ninepence.

So, the Missus 'ad lied to me to get out of comin' to Caister.

Leavin' me to cope with Auntie Doreen alone. And my singing spots at the Silver Sands club room.

Me and the Missus 'ave never 'ad the most excitin' of marriages - she sometimes sez it lacks "glamour" and wants sun loungers and stuff like that, but we've always been close. Never lied to one another.

Until now.

I felt a bit shattered by it.

I 'adn't 'ad time to tell the Missus I knew what her little game was before I left home, coz the neighbours 'ad organised a little send-off - all out on the pavement - singin' "He'll be comin' round the mountain when he comes", as me and Auntie got in the shop van and set off.

It were nice of 'em, but a bit odd coz Norfolk's not got anythin' like a mountain.

It was a long journey. Auntie kept wantin' a cup of tea. So we'd stopped an' she'd 'ave one. Then we'd start off again and she'd want the toilet. It were like that all the way.

The camp were nice - 'ad a shop, off-licence, the club room. Right near the beach - just over the dunes. The caravan were OK, too. Well, Auntie didn't like the fact that the seating, which was black plastic covering yellow foam, was showing signs of wear (that's 'ow we knew about the yellow foam, coz the plastic had flaked off or ripped in places and the foam was bulgin out).

The first thing Auntie did was to fish 'er Michelin Man ashtray out of 'er 'andbag. "I couldn't settle anywhere wi'out it," she said, lighting a Senior Service.

The beach were lovely. Beautifully sandy. The sea was a bit brass monkeys, but OK for short paddles. If you didn't mind yer feet goin' blue.

Auntie Doreen struck up a bit of a friendship with a bloke called Percy on the beach on our first mornin' at Silver Sands.

He was stayin' in a caravan on the site with his daughter and son-in-law and their two kids, Tracy and Gary.

"They all take me for granted," he moaned to Auntie. "Do this, do that! Change your trousers! Put that pipe out! Take that vest off, it wants washing!'"

The one he was wearin' that mornin' certainly did. It looked ready to walk off  'is back.

"Well, when I were a lass, we respected our elders," said Auntie. "My old grandad used to stink to 'igh 'eaven at times after me grandma died, but we'd never've dared tell 'im to change 'is kecks."

Well, Auntie took Percy under 'er wing.

"We're about the same age, lad. And I always think us old 'uns should stick together. Young people nowadays are too full of themselves by half. Fancy them bossin' you about! Now, go and change that vest and you can buy me a cup of tea."

I was dreadin' doing me turn at the club room, but the time soon came round.

It's always the same, time flies - when you don't want it to.

As I stood there on the stage, knees-a-knockin', I 'eard a woman in the front row say: "Look at that! An' I always thought 'e was a cartoon character!"

"Well, you didn't often see men as ugly as that in real life, Shirley!" said the woman next to 'er. "Poor little beggar!"

The camp comic and presenter bounded on to the stage. He was called Happy Harold Henson, and was a little man with an 'airpiece an' a gold lamé suit. I looked out into the audience through the fag smoke. I could see Tracy and Gary, pickin' their noses, Percy having a doze, and Auntie Doreen - looking more sour than the bitter lemon she were drinkin'.


"Here you are then!" he sort of cooed at me. "Just down from the land of whippets, hairnets and corner shops! Bit of a culture shock, civilisation, eh, my friend?"

I frowned. This view of the North is not summat I've ever liked, and it falls far from the mark. All right, I ran a corner shop, several women in my neighbourhood wore hairnets and two blokes in my street kept whippets, but it wasn't the whole story, not by a long chalk. I wanted to come back at him strong, but I could only manage: "Eh?"

"Going to entertain us with a few homely little ditties, are you?" Happy Harold went on.

Well, patronising wasn't the word for it! I gathered myself together and let rip: "Eh?"

Auntie Doreen came to my rescue. She stood up and let Happy Harold have it good and proper.

"Shut yer trap, lad. Yer nowt more than a cut-price Hughie Green. Let Joe get on with it. 'e may not be up ter much, but at least 'e's a trier."

The audience was on Auntie's side, because they applauded 'er. They obviously found Happy Harold hard to stomach as well.

After that, things didn't go too bad. I'd bought me grandad's ukele and gave them Mr Wu's A Winder Cleaner Now, and then, accompanied by the camp pianist Anthony, I belted out Tears for Souvenirs, the Esso Blue version of Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, Bimbo, How Much Is That Doggy In The Window? and Paint It Black.

The audience seemed to be on my side and I got a bit of applause as I left the stage and joined Auntie. A young woman in a very small blouse was the next turn and she started singin' I Never Promised You A Rose Garden. She bobbed about on stage as she sang, and Auntie said: "She'll be fallin' right out of that top if she's not careful. Disgustin' little 'ussy!"

I drank three pints and 'ad a couple of fags. I'd  'ad a short before I did my turn, and the beer made me feel a bit woozy.

I felt right down.

I puffed on me fag. cupped me chin in me 'and, and thought of the terrible time I was 'avin' and of the Missus.

'Ow could she? 'Ow could she?

I suddenly smelt an appetising smell. I realised I was starvin'. Alcohol always gives me the munchies.

"Is somebody doin' toast?" I asked.

Auntie looked at me - and splat! - chucked her bitter lemon in my face.

"No, yer crate egg! Yer 'air's smoulderin'! You were setting it alight with yer fag!"

Not a good idea, cuppin' your chin in yer 'and when you're 'oldin' a fag.

I sat there, spluttering and drippin'.

And this was only the first day.

Off out to the allotment now. See yer soon.

JOE x 
An old Esso Blue receipt. A non-smoker! If only I 'ad been! Lookin' back, I don't quite understand why the non-smokin' bit was so important when it came to Esso Blue paraffin. You could've kippered yerself on the fag smoke in most people's 'ouses anyway - a bit of paraffin smoke would've probably gone unnoticed!

Monday, 7 March 2016

Solved! The Mystery Of When Joe Was The Esso Blue Dealer But Not Joe...

Me in all my youth and handsomeness (well, sort of) back in the late 1950s.

I've 'ad a lot of queries from folk over't years about an early Esso Blue commercial I appeared in. It may even 'ave been the first one they ever showed, but I don't rightly remember. Anyway, in this ad back in the late 1950s, I'm answering the phone and folk keep askin' for Joe, to which I replies that I'm not Joe, I'm the Esso Blue dealer. It's the famous tongue-tied ad I spoke about before.

Anyway, in the end, Joe phones up an' asks me if there've been any calls for 'im.

Why, folk 'ave often asked me, am I apparently not called Joe in that particular ad?

Well, it's because the Esso Blue ad agency 'adn't got all their ideas together, and at first I was anonymous - just a dealer. So, they picked the name "Joe" as the name of the bloke bein' asked about by people phonin' the Esso Blue dealer (me) and then him phoning at the end of the ad.

Joe is my name, of course, and the ad director said it were a "nice, down to earth, proletarian name", whatever one of them is, so I that's the name they used for the unseen bloke in that ad.

Later, they decided to use my name on the ads, which is Joe as well, of course, and that's when the confusion comes in when folk see the early ad.

They were heady days.

But they sometimes made me feel I didn't know whether I were on me 'ead or me 'eels.


Holiday Camp - Part 2

'Ere's an Esso Blue receipt with me on it from a place called Leighton Buzzard, back in 1971 - the year I'm talkin' about in this blog post. Funny name, Leighton Buzzard.

The next morning, the day we were to go to Caister, dawned bright and sunny. There had been rain in the night and the cobbles were all wet and greasy and kind of dazzling to look at as I stood in the shop doorway with me mornin' cuppa, staring out at the council flats opposite.

I had a real heavy heart.

It was going to be a bad week.

And, even as I stood there, it got worse.

My wife's sister's eldest girl, Sharon, came runnin' up.

"Eee, Uncle Joe!" she cried. "I've got a message. Me Mam feels terrible this mornin'. Reckons it's gallopin' flu. She won't be able to look after the shop for you and Auntie. She sez she's real sorry!"

I was stunned. Went numb. Surely... nay... this couldn't mean...

My Missus 'ad appeared on the step beside me. "Oh no, poor Florrie! All right, our Sharon, tell yer Mam not to worry and I'll pop round later," she said.

"OK, Auntie!" and Sharon was gone.

"Right, Joe, you're all ready, so you'll 'ave to go alone," said the Missus.

"Alone?" I croaked out.

"Well, you and Auntie Doreen," said the Missus. "Probably for the best, Florrie not lookin' after the shop. You know 'ow this decimal money gets her in a tizzy!"

I felt faint. There was a buzzin' in me ears.

"Eee, lass, me an' Auntie Doreen!!!" I said.

"Now, Joe, be a man!" said the Missus firmly. "You've been booked by this camp... it's a real chance for yer, so stiffen yer lip!"

Just then Mrs Tillotson arrived for her Mint Imperials. "You're off today then, Joe," she said. "Eee, rather you than me, lad! Audiences can cut up real rough if they don't like an act. I remember once at Cleethorpes, I went to the Rendezvous with our Myrna and..."

The Missus cut in, hasty like: "All right, Mrs Tillotson! I'm sure our Joe'll be fine." She turned to me. "Get your stuff together, love."

I wandered out to the back yard to say farewell to me pigeons.

Petula looked at me soulfully, head on one side. She was me favourite back then. The night before I got her, I 'ad a dream about Petula Clarke singing Down Town outside our local Woolworth's. It 'ad been a real striking dream, and that's how Petula got 'er name.

I'm sure she understood every word I said.

I felt like skriking at the thought of a week with Auntie Doreen. Yet the Missus 'ad said "be a man"! Why were only women allowed to cry? My mate Bert 'ad things to say back then about 'ow Women's Lib wasn't about liberation at all. No, 'e reckoned we blokes 'ad always 'ad a bad deal. And, as I stood there with Petula, Lulu, Dusty, Engelbert and Ringo I thought 'e 'ad a point.

"See yer in a week, my lovelies," I said.

Was that a tear glinting in Petula's eye?

My peace was shattered by Auntie Doreen's foghorn voice as she appeared at the back door: "Come on, lad, I've humped me suitcase over. We'll need to be startin' off. It's a long trip. Pity it couldn't 'ave been Blackpool. But at least we won't run into anyone we know at this place in... where were it? Caster?"

"Caister," I sighed.

"That's it. It'll be better coz we won't 'ave the embarrassment of friends and neighbours lookin' on when you fall flat on yer face up on that stage," Auntie continued. "Yer better half tells me she's stoppin' 'ere. Funny that. I thought she'd want to be with yer. Thought it'd be a second honeymoon for yer. The first weren't up to much by all accounts."

"Florrie's poorly," I said.

"Is she?" Auntie looked surprised. "Well, I saw 'er comin' out of the Washer Rama just now, natterin' 'er 'ead off to Mavis Thorpe - seemed full of beans!"

I stepped back, a bit on the stunned side. Could it be the Missus had been lyin' to me to get out of goin' on the Caister holiday? She'd never lied to me before, not as far as I knew. Was Florie's gallopin' flu a put-up job?

Petula looked at me sympathetically.

More soon. Dinner's ready.

JOE x 

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Joe's Esso Blue Light

When me and the Missus settle down to the night's telly on the dark winters' evenings (we only watch DVDS of old telly programmes these days, like Selwyn Froggitt and Crossroads - which me Missus loves), we 'ave a reminder of my heyday as the famous Esso Blue dealer to make sure we have enough light to find our cuppas and Hobnobs. It's an old advertising light we used to 'ave in the shop window. I mentioned it before. It features me telling passers-by: "ESSO BLUE PARAFFIN ON SALE HERE".

It's dead nostalgic. It's made of plastic and it's lit by a single light bulb. In the old days, we used to 'ave some 'ooks above the shop window, and we 'ung the sign on one of them, facing outwards, on a bit of string. The bit of string's still attached to it. Those were the days!

The sign with the bulb lit up.

In the old days, the sign used to get quite 'ot, with the 'eat from the bulb. But we've got one o' them modern LED bulbs in there now and it's fine.

They're a real marvel, these modern bulbs, aren't they?

My Missus sometimes gets a bit critical. "You look like somethin' out of a cartoon on that sign," she sez.

My Auntie Doreen used to say: "There's some big great conks (meanin' noses) in this family. Fortunately, mine's nice and dainty. I were lucky. You weren't our Joe."

I don't care.

After all, Barry Manilow 'ad a big 'ooter, and it didn't stop 'im. The ladies used to go mad at 'is concerts.

They were good days. Kiddies used to shout "BOOM BOOM BOOM - ESSO BLUE!" after me in the street, and I used to feel grand seein' my physog round about on paraffin cans and advertisin' 'oardings.

I was a bit of a celebrity, but without all the money that goes with it.


Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Holiday Camp - Part 1

In 1971, my flexi-disc record for the Esso Blue campaign was released. The Great Blue Singer!

They asked me how I knew it was Esso Blue

I of course replies

With lower grades one buys

Smoke gets in your eyes

The flexi-disc ended with the "Boom Boom Boom Boom - Esso Blue!" jingle, which I'd grown right fond of, and was always featured at the end of the ads.

I was as pleased as punch with the record. And I thought I sounded quite good.

Wilf, my manager, thought it might lead to more singin' work. I was keen and started to plan my debut single in my own right.

One day, Wilf phoned the shop and said: "Get down 'ere, lad, I've got summat for yer!"

"A record deal?" I asked, heart pattering away ten to the dozen.

"No, live singin'," said Wilf. "Come over an' I'll fill yer in!"

I went to 'is office, in the "better part of Salford", as my Missus called it, and he puffed on a Slim Panatella and said:

"I've got yer a week's work, lad, at the Silver Sands Caravan Camp in Caister."

"Where's Caister?" sez I.

"Norfolk," sez Wilf.

"Oooh, 'eck, that's miles away."

"Want fame, must travel," said Wilf. "Now, yer get a three berth caravan with black and white telly thrown in, there's a laundrette on site, and you'll be doin' a nightly spot at the clubhouse. Bit of singin', few jokes, that sort of thing."

"I were thinkin' of doin' Crying In The Chapel - the Elvis number for my first single," I said. "I reckon I could make a right good job of that live on stage."

"No, wi' your looks and voice you'd be better off doin' George Formby, that sort of thing," said Wilf - which I thought was a damn cheek coz I wasn't that bad looking back then and he was a little baldy weasle of a bloke with no shoulders to speak of.

When I got 'ome, I told the Missus. "Well... Norfolk..." she said. "I've always wanted to travel, of course, but I don't fancy a caravan camp. You know I like a nice little guest 'ouse or 'otel. You get a lot of condensation in caravans."

She wasn't keen. Wasn't keen at all, particularly when she found out it clashed with the opening of the new Astoria Bingo Hall in Victoria Street.

"I were so lookin' forward to it. Everybody who's anybody round 'ere's goin'. Oh, Joe, what a nuisance!"

"I'm sorry, love," I said - feeling a bit crestfallen, truth to tell. "Will your Florrie look after't shop?"

"Oh aye," said the Missus, with a sigh. "We can't afford to close for a week, that's a fact. If our regulars get used to walkin' to the Pick-A-Snip or Fine Fair they'll not be back coz both are cheaper than us."

Well, word got out in the family. They all reckoned I was a lucky blighter, and when I went to see Auntie Doreen, she was sat there as usual with her Senior Service an' her Michelin Man ashtray. "I've 'eard yer news," she croaked. "Eee, y'are a lucky lad. I've been that poorly. Doctor says a touch of sea air'd do me the power of good, but I can't run to that. Eee, our Joe, you should be right thankful them Esso people were daft enough to take you on. Some folk are lucky, some aren't..."

Well, I'm not daft - I knew she were 'intin', but I wasn't keen. It's true the caravan could sleep three, but I didn't want Auntie there.

I went to my Missus and she sighed and said: "It's no good, Joe. You'll 'ave to ask 'er. We'll never 'ear the last of it if you don't!"

"BUT..." I started.

"No, go on, lad," said my Missus. "Get back round there and get the deed done. It's the only decent thing to do."

Well, I thought this were right big of my Missus - she wasn't keen on the idea of a caravan site anyway, and with Auntie Doreen on top of that... well, I thought my Missus was a little marvel.

I went back to Auntie's. She weren't on't settee.

I 'eard 'er voice, floating down the staiirs, all weak-like.

"Is that you, our Joe? Come up, lad, come up."

I went up and she was in bed, curtains drawn though it was daylight, one hand laying all weak looking on the candlewick, the other stubbing out 'er Senior Service in 'er Michelin Man ashtray.

"Eee, our Joe, I do feel terrible," she said. "I wish our Beryl were here."

Beryl was Auntie's daughter. She'd run off to Australia and married a sheep farmer.

"Well, I 'ave good news for you, Auntie," said I.

"What is it, lad?" asked Auntie, her eyelids fluttering weakly open.

"You're to come to't seaside with us," I said. "It's all sorted out..."

Auntie stopped dying and started being Action Woman. It were amazin'. She sprang out of that bed, and at first I thought she was having some sort of convulsion, but no, she grabbed her jotter and ripped off the first sheet of paper. "That's a note for Sylvie to tell 'er I won't be able to make bingo next Wednesday," she said. "Pop it through 'er door on your way past, there's a good lad. And don't tell your Auntie Gladys I'm comin' with yer - I want the pleasure of seein' the look on 'er face meself! This'll sicken 'er chops!"

Although Auntie Doreen and Auntie Gladys were sisters, they never got on.

I went down the stairs, leaving Auntie packing. Now, you might think I'm daft, but it hadn't escaped my notice that Auntie had her note for Sylvie all ready before I told her she could come to Caister with us. But I didn't say anythin'. Not that I was scared of Auntie, of course.

But sometimes, in fact quite often with Auntie Doreen, it was best to keep your lip buttoned.

When I got 'ome, the Missus had just finished packing my suitcase.

"Not done yours yet?" I asked.

"I'll do it in't mornin'," she said. "I'm tired tonight. Now, eat yer tea and we'll have an hour in the Foundryman's before bed."

And a miserable hour it was for me.

"Eee, lad, a free 'oliday and gettin' paid for it?" said my pal Bert Pickering. "You're a luck devil!"

"Yeah, I know," I sighed.

The Missus was putting on a bright face - in fact she seemed quite cheerful.

But I was convinced we were in for a week steeped in grot.

I felt a real sense of forebodin'...

More soon,