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Once A Mod...


John Waters is very kindly sharing this tale of his very eventfull Mod years:

"The wonderful feeling as I tried on my new two piece petrol blue three ply Tonik mohair suit – the particular attention to detail and the hand stitched finish – perfection."


"Of course keeping abreast of the changing styles was a problem. A decent suit would cost around 25 guineas and most young lads would be lucky if they were earning a fiver a week! Almost inevitably the only alternative to young street arabs like us was to turn to more nefarious means to accrue monies."

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  • Brilliant article well done John mate!!

  • To finish my thought: The increasing affluence following the Second World War lead to a raise in the Standard of Living. The Mod movement was an attempt to establish a corresponding increase in the Quality of Life, to make day to day living more meaningful and enjoyable in aesthetic terms.
  • Hey John: Great reminiscences and stories. So we wore white silk cravats, you are me both? That’s Mod synchronicity for you. Mine was woven and quite long and substantial. What kind of trilby was that John? How big was the brim?

    I remember the whorls of ice on the inside of the bedroom windows. I think that was probably general in those days. I remember the bread and dripping too, yum yum, I can’t eat saturated fat now, but I still begin the day with a hot cup of tea. Distressing to hear about Roy North sleeping on the floor of his kitchen, impeccable Mod that he was. I didn’t experience real poverty, but at the end of WWII, I remember the ration books and food was scare, bananas, chicken, and such, were rare luxuries.

    One Islington Mod I hooked up with had to pick up something from his home and we arrived at a row of shops, and I said, “Well where do you live? He said, “Down there” and pointed to a glass grill in the pavement. He didn’t invite me in and I waited by the scooters.

    I am happy to hear the class system has finally been brought to an end in my absence. That’s a relief; it oppressed people for too long.

    You talk about India. Poverty in the Third World is another thing. I lived in Africa for a number of years where villages are composed of “mud” (clay) huts. But I distinguish between “Standard of Living” and “Quality of Life” and the two don’t automatically go together. Standard of living refers to technological advances, running tap water, electricity, access to transportation networks, etc. Quality of life, on the other hand, is represented by social factors, human interaction and support, and aesthetic areas such as art and music. A high Standard of Living doesn’t necessarily imply a high Quality of Life. Some inner-city areas in America have good living amenities, but a high rate of neurosis, suicide, crime, and drug use, which shows that the quality of life leaves a lot to be desired. Traditional Africa did not do well obtaining technological resources, but the social culture—village and community support networks; and aesthetic areas—art, music, dance, festival and ritual, shows that traditional Africa has a relatively high quality of life. In fact I’ve had some idyllic times in African villages. Palm trees and palm wine make a nice combination.

    On another note, Stephen Hughes says he will put up my essay on Blue-beat and Black White interaction soon. A lot of it will be familiar to you because I worked through the ideas in the Forums. I even quote you about Blues Parties, Red Stripe lager, etc. But chip in within the Forum anyway; you will get a new audience for some of your ideas.
  • On the subject of ethnic tolerance this is the quite amazing story of a black racing-tipster in 1920's East End London - who was probably the most famous black person in Britain at the time...Ras Prince Monolulu

    • Hi Stephen

      I have heard of the Prince. As you have probably guessed on of my pet subjects is the modern history of the East End and twentieth century Britain generally. I have not seen the photo before and he certainly looks very impressive. I know he made quite an impression around the racecourses of the capital. Sorry to go into a bit of a diatribe at times but I tend to get carried away especially on the subjects of racialism and the the working classes generally! Personally I think it is important to understand the background that spawned the Mod movement and the sixties revolution in general but I will have to try to keep things relevant!

      John
    • Hey Chris: Good to hear from you--I know all this is preaching to the choir in your case.

      John: I’ll catch up: I’m still responding to a previous posting, you mentioned the pub Tally Ho in Finchley and bells started clanging. What little I recall has it as rather a hip kind of place with jazzy, arty clientele—didn’t they feature Trad Jazz at Sunday lunchtimes?
      When me an my mates reached fifteen (underage) were we started going to pubs in Ponders End and Enfield Wash (areas that took the spillover from the East End during WW II and before), dismal places, and they used to sing music hall songs like "My Old Dutch," and "Abie My Boy." Gawd 'elp us it was 'orrible, depressing! That's why I headed or the Royal in Edmonton (LOL).
      Stephen: The photo of the back racing-tipster Ras Prince Monolulua in the 1920s is really something. I shared it with Peter Frolic, you remember him, and he said: “I looked him up and saw that he originated from the Virgin Islands, from a horse-trading family in fact.” Well you know I have to be chuffed about that. I’ve been here in the VI for over fifteen years and take some pride in the place. Horse racing at holidays is a custom here, though I’ve never attended.
    • Cheers Robert. Its always great to read your own and John's accounts of the 60s Mod scene. In one respect we are not in a position to comment on the racial problems that beset you guys down south. We never did have a large influx of black people settle north of the border. If we did, who can say what the reaction of a lot of people would have been. What we did have was the second highest Irish population in any British city outwith Liverpool, and a lot of these people did not exaclty receive the warmest of welcomes. That maybe leaves me to believe that a simlar (welcome) would have been forwarded to black people if they had come up here in similar numbers.
  • Cheers John: Congrats on your Top 100 and I like your photos, the younger one is great, a real Mod!
    Yes, I had an Italian bumfreezer suit in very dark blue with winklepickers. Can’t remember where I got it. I think I had it made at Burtons, although sometime I’d buy clothes on the knock (? “hire purchase”), at Harry Fenton’s in Edmonton.. And yes, by your description I had some Spanish Fell Boots, in a durable dark brown suede (or was it imitation?).
    I’m glad you liked “Under My Own Colours.” I knew Suzy Kester, she was the older sister of Josephine who I was dating back in the day when she was a student of the London School of Fashion on Oxford Street. I had put a link to Josephine’s group “The Jodelles” singing “My Boy” on the Forum about nine or so months ago. In the book, there’s a picture of Jo as a tot, in her little red boots I believe!
    Under My Own Colours was chosen as a “Book of the Year” by Maggie Gee in 2003 in The New Statesman. What I like is that Suzy is so cool about her experiences of poverty and racism, there is little anger, and no recrimination or guilt trips, but of course, she was London Born (LOL). Sadly Suzy got sick and died last year. But I’m so proud of her and that she left this legacy with her book. She married Vibert Stewart, a Trinidadian and they used to have parties at their house in Neasden.
    The section on the 1920s London Jazz scene and her grandfather, drummer Pete Robinson’s role in it, is interesting. Suzy’s brother Peter was a Mod with a scooter, Jo said she get some photos of him, but nothing came of that yet.
    • Hi Rob

      Oh yes the fond memories of buying 'on the knock'. My first suit was purchaesed the same way! Lets not forget the 'provi' man who was the busiest person I ever came across!
      It was a mark of 'adulthood' when you finally were old enough to have your own provident ticket!! There was a vibrant black market in provi tickets at one time.
      We used to visit a 'Scottish' pub down in Kings Cross wher some very dubious characters always had provi tickets to sell at a reduced cost. They were always on the look out for dodgy post office books as well. In fact they would buy 'official paperwork' that was on offer - a forerunner of 'identity fraud' I suppose!!
      I never had a pair of winklepickers as I was still under the parents 'cosh' at that time. I can remember talking my mother into buying me a pair of 'semi-points' though.
      The one thing that struck me about Suzy Kester's book was the seeming lack of bitterness which is to be applauded in view of the blatant racism she endured.I am sorry to hear that she has passed away.
      Never heard of the Jodelles. I will have to keep an eye out for that.
      It makes me wince when I remember the blind racism that was an everyday trait back in the late fifties and early sixties. The youth population as a whole was overtly 'anti-black' and yet most of us had never reall met a black person. When I think of the racist diatribe that was spouted it makes me cringe.
      It is all the more ironic in the case of my mates as we awere almost all the sons and duaghters of immigrants ourselves albeit Irish, Greek, Maltese or Italian.
      Of course ignorance was the main reason and thankfully we learned to form our own opinions as we came into more direct contact with different nationalities and accepted people for what they really were rather than what had been fed to us.
      Having said that it seems to be a trait that continually repeats itself in British society and today we hear the moans and groans about Africans and East Europeans coming here and 'milking the system ' or 'stealing our jobs' just as we heard it back then about West Indians, and again many of those who complain the loudest have never had any contact with those they complain about the most!
      Enough of my griping about society! The grumpy old man syndrome I suppose!!

      John
    • Hi John,

      Do you remember Albert Easy, used to hang around the Hornsey Rise area? One of the nicest black guys I ever knew.

      Another John

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