Mickey – Toni Basil.
Aged ten, I was a sucker, a rube, a schmuck. In the previous post, I’ve said how I accepted what my old man told me without question. It never occurred to me that a different point of view to his might be valid. To be more – or possibly less – specific, I applied the same logic to almost everything everybody told me until I was about 14. This is the story of how I stopped being a sucker and moved onto being a common or garden idiot.
At that point – ten – I was still unaware that it was possible to actually buy records. I was familiar with the concept of the charts and I understood that it was based on the records that sold the most that week. I realised that whilst some people bought records, I wasn’t one of them. I have only one memory of my dad buying a record and that was a compilation of Country and Western songs from a DIY shop in Castleford. We never went in record shops and I wasn’t allowed in town on my own, so I never questioned why some people bought records and we didn’t. I was ten years old when “Mickey” came out.
Nor did the radio play any pop music. Not in our house anyway, which only ever played the local BBC station which never played any records at all, except on Sundays which had a syndicated Country and Western programme. We didn’t have a radio in the car until much later, and that was instantly, immovably tuned to the same station that droned from the kitchen.
The only pop music I had ever come across was on television. Top of The Pops if I could swing it, but mainly on Saturday morning kids’ programmes – Multi-coloured Swap Shop and Tiswas – when my mum and dad went in town on Saturday morning and had finally decided that I probably wasn’t going to wreck the house if left in it alone. Early eighties.
The very first time I was left alone had gone quite badly and had resulted in my pleading to be dragged around Boots and WH Smiths on a Saturday morning for a couple more weeks until I recovered my composure.
What had happened was, about half an hour after they’d left, I was sat too close to the fire, with the telly on too loud, eating too many crisps and drinking under-diluted Vimto, when there was a knock at the front door. I had been instructed to not answer the door under any circumstances. I wasn’t going to answer it, but then a thought occurred to me: if I don’t answer the door and whoever it is decides to look through the living room window, they’ll see me and want to know why I’m not answering the door and I didn’t fancy telling them it was because I wasn’t allowed.
I dropped to my belly and commando crawled to the hallway, aiming to sit underneath the door so that the doorknocker, whoever it was, had no chance of seeing me. Silently and stealthily, I manoeuvered myself so that I was sat with my back against the door and waited, conscious of my breathing.
“I think there’s someone in there,” a woman’s voice croaked, low down in her throat, dislodging phlegm.
The top of my head grew cold as a swarthy, bony hand poked mottled fingers through the letter box and the rattling voice called through, enquiring if we needed any clothes pegs or lucky heather. Gypsies. Child abductors, probably. Cringing and not breathing, I played invisible possum, right up to the point at which the skeletal, grimy fingers withdrew, brushing my hair as they did and I leapt from a sitting position to halfway up the stairs and hid in the toilet for the next three hours.
Once the trauma of that had become a little hazier in my memory and I had begun to remember my response as being more stoic than hysterical, I began to stay home and watch telly on Saturday mornings instead of moseying around the horror section of WH Smiths to disturb myself by looking at the covers of ‘Slugs’ by Shaun Hutson and ‘The 8th Pan Book of Horror’. If I was lucky, I might get to wander around Ferens’ art gallery, where I was similarly a bit obsessed by the painting of ‘Saint Sebastian tended by the Holy Irene’. I was also into ‘Ulysses and The Sirens’ by Draper, even though that didn’t make me feel funny like the other pictures did. Look at that Pan anthology (Panthology?) it’s the look on the bloke’s face. His head is in a bucket. Why? Don’t ask me, I wasn’t the type to ask questions. The eye on the ‘Slugs’ cover – how unperturbed is it possible to look with a slug drawing blood from your eyeball? It was the indentations of the arrows in St. Sebastian’s body that fascinated me. I’d have called it ‘visceral’ if I’d have heard of it.
I particularly remember ‘Mickey’, a couple of Elvis Costello singles and Boney M, who were on Crackerjack every week, cramming Rasputin into some sort of regular pantomime feature. I liked ‘Mickey’ and I was quite interested in Toni Basil because I liked the look on her face. I wasn’t quite as interested in Toni Basil as I was in Debbie Harry, whose appearance on Top of The Pops a couple of years earlier had delivered the thought, “Maybe girls aren’t all crap,” unbidden for the first time into my consciousness. I gathered that Debbie Harry had an effect on my old man too because he left the room about fifteen seconds into her appearance. I was laid on the floor in front of the telly, wondering what was going on in my trousers and consequently unable and, anyway, unwilling to move.
Years later, I had a discussion with an older bloke I worked with at Trading Standards – Andy Blood, he was ex-directory because of nuisance calls relating to his surname. Like what? Again, don’t ask me, I didn’t ask – just before I went to university about Debbie Harry and what was so attractive about her. He said it was her eyes, I said it was her teeth and the kind look on her face. He said I was a fucking idiot. It wasn’t just her teeth, (she worked a gummy smile, which just made it even better) but I stand by it.
End of Diversion
It wasn’t just the song that was a big deal, it was the video that captured the imagination of Richard Nutt, who was in my class at Junior school.
Nutty was a strange kid, given to standing up in class and making general announcements whilst pointing at something. Nobody else did it, but it didn’t stop him. Once, whilst doing English and learning clichés, the teacher suggested, “The clang of an anvil,” There was another kid called Paul McLaren, who we called Anvil Head, because his forehead stuck out fractionally, and Nutty stood up, pointed at him and announced, “The CLANG of an ANVIL,” After that, we called Anvil Head, ‘Clanger’. Nutty’s very first outburst had been in response to Mrs. Williamson, who told him he wasn’t doing PE again because he’d been a pain in the arse in class. Like many conversations, I recall it verbatim. I don’t know why my brain does this, I haven’t asked it. Anyway, he said – verbatim – “Mine grandma doon say you’ve got no right to deprive me.” He was standing and pointing, as he did. I remember thinking, ‘Nutty’s so rattled, he’s lost the ability to speak’.
Anyway, in the playground on Monday after Toni Basil had been on Tiswas again, Nutty took me to one side and conspiratorially whispered, “Do you know what Mickey’s about?”
Toni Basil had been interviewed on telly and had said it was about Mickey Mouse, which I immediately accepted as the truth – as was my M.O. – and told Nutty so. He laughed at me. I was a sucker.
“She has to say that because she’s not allowed to say what it’s really about on telly, Mid.” Durr.
“What is it really about, then?”
“Oh! Don’t you know! Urgh, I can’t believe it. Hey Clanger, Mid thinks ‘Mickey’ is about Mickey Mouse.” Clanger threw back his protruding forehead and laughed at me. You know what playgrounds are like.
“Well, what is it about, then?”
“Right, well you’ve seen the video, haven’t you?”
“With the cheerleaders and that?”
“What? You mean you’ve seen it and you still can’t work it out? Urgh, Jo-ey!”
“Hey, Clanger, he’s even seen the video and he still can’t work it out!”
More raucous laughter from Clanger, coupled with flapping Joey Deacon hand movements in front of his misshapen skull. The bastard.
“Nutty, just tell us what it is, will you?”
“Alright, you’ve seen the video? Right, it’s about periods and bumming.”
I was ten years old. A young ten years old, too. I didn’t know what periods were. Bumming presumably related to bums, but how? Pooing? Didn’t sound right. There were plenty of asides to Clanger relating to my profound ignorance of pretty much everything, but I’ll chop them out or we’ll be here all week.
Nutty sighed, as if explaining concepts such as ‘eating’ to a simpleton. Which he was, really.
“Right, this lass is going out with Mickey, right? And they do sex and that, right?”
“Right,” I’d heard of sex, but I didn’t know what it was and wasn’t about to risk further embarrassment by asking the playground rumour mill. Not that I tended to ask much anyway… I wasn’t convinced I wanted to know about sex, either. I’d walked in on my mother while she was on the toilet not long previously and had found that quite upsetting enough, without worrying about what act produced the noises that emanated from my folks’ room of a night. I knew it was ‘sex’, but I was terminally incurious.
Diversion 2 – Snogging
As you might be able to work out, I’d not yet had my first snog. That was to occur the next summer, on Sports Day with Sarah Coverdale behind the prefabs whilst sagging off from the designated observation area that we’d been ushered into.
Peter Hardcastle, who hung around with girls and was therefore labelled ‘bent’ told me that Sarah Coverdale fancied me and , if I fancied it, she was waiting for me behind the prefabs. I went with him and we sat down together among the detritus that accumulated in such locations.
“Do you want to snog her?” Peter asked me.
The answer was, truly, not really, but Clanger had snogged Celia Newlove a couple of weeks’ earlier and I didn’t like being left out, so I said, “Yes,” instead of “No.”
“Go on then, Mid,” Sarah said.
I looked at her blankly.
“I don’t know what to do,” I admitted. It was true. When there was any snogging in films I watched, like James Bond films, I tended not to look. Yeah, that’s right. Because snogging was for girls, too. I sometimes wonder how I ever made it out of childhood alive, I really do.
Peter Hardcastle look at me and said, “You move your mouth up and down. Like a goldfish,” and he pantomimed a goldfish gormlessly opening and closing its mouth.
So, I leaned in and, my lips touching hers, began to make like a goldfish. ‘If sex is anything like this,’ I thought to myself, ‘I don’t think I’ll bother.’
“Don’t tell anyone about this,” Sarah told me.
“Don’t worry,” I said.
“Good. I’ll see you tonight then?” she said. “At school at seven?”
“Er, yeah, alright,” I mumbled.
We went back to Sports Day where I immediately told Ian Russell what had just happened and he was concerned about me.
“You can’t go out with Sarah Coverdale,” he told me, “She’s proper hard,”
He was right, she was. And she was only lieutenant to the cock of the school, Donna Larvin. I was worried. What if I wanted to break up with her? I did want to break up with her. I didn’t even know how I’d ended up going out with her.
“I’m supposed to be seeing her tonight,”
Ian laughed. “You’ve had it, Mid,” he said.
Taking the chicken route, I decided to just ignore our plans for the evening and go and do what I always did, which was go to the park and play whatever was being played. Football or rugby in winter, cricket in summer.
As the gloaming began to fall on the park, I began to relax a little. It looked like I might have gotten away with it. Maybe she’d forgotten. Maybe she’d dumped me. The optimism grew inside me right up to the point when I clocked the silhouettes of Sarah Coverdale and Donna Larvin, approaching me rapidly. My little heart stopped. I was going to get killed by girls. Who, to be fair, tend to be a bit more developed at junior school than boys. Certainly more developed than I was at that point…
Sarah hung back and Donna approached me. Through tension and fear, I have forgotten the precise words she said, but what I do recall is that they were evidently not to be questioned and delivered with menace. The message was along the lines of, “If you mess my mate around, I’m going to beat the shit out of you,” I didn’t doubt it and swore off girls again. For a bit.
End of Diversion 2
“Well, when she’s on her periods, he doesn’t want to do sex with her because it’s bad on your period. You’re not allowed to do sex on your period if you’re a girl, I mean, you know that, right?”
I nodded, sagely, encouraging him to continue with the universally acknowledged flared nostril grin of recognition and understanding. In my case, to cover up being a sucker.
“Anyhow, this lass is worried that Mickey’s going to go off and do some sex with other lasses because she’s on her periods, so she says, “Look, you can do a sex up my bumhole instead. ‘Cause she’s dirty, in’t she? Have you seen her?! She’s well dirty.”
It didn’t sound right to me. Toni Basil might not have been Debbie Harry, but she seemed alright. Not boring like the Nolan sisters. She had an appealing set of facial expressions and she’d been quite funny on telly. She was alright. Anyway, I was lost in a wilderness of sex, periods and bumholes that I didn’t even want to know about.
“It doesn’t say any of that,” I protested. “They’re not the words in the song,”
“Well, she can’t say that, can she? It’s on telly, Mid. Use your brain, she says it in a sort of hidden, secret code,” Nutty was getting exasperated, like my mother did when she had to explain obvious things to me, like how your dirty undies don’t miraculously walk themselves to the washing basket.
“In the video, right? She’s the only one with red knickers on.”
“So?” I knew this – the other cheerleaders in the video were in blue and, I’d suspected, were chosen at least as much for their somewhat butch appearances as anything else. I hadn’t questioned why Toni Basil had red knickers on, though. I thought maybe it was just what the lead singer did to stand out. I don’t know why. Never questioned that, either.
“She’s wearing red knickers. It means she’s on her periods.”
Nutty was exasperated. “Because you don’t want all blood showing on your knickers, do you?”
“Oh, yeah. Course not.” I nodded sagely again. Blood? What fresh hell was this? Blood in girls’ knickers? Didn’t seem right. Is that what you did if you were bleeding? Wear red? It seemed like the sort of response that I’d come up with to bleeding from a specific area – but I was a sucker, what did I know? “So that means she’s on her periods,” I clarified, nostrils still flaring in agreement. “What about the bumming though?”
“Right, the words are: “So come on and give it to me any way you can, Any way you wanna do it, treat me like a man. Oh please, baby, please, don’t leave me in a jam,”
“Anyway you wanna do it, treat me like a man. Bumming, innit? Men don’t have fannies, do they? “Oh please, baby, please, don’t leave me in a jam,” Jam. Periods, innit?”
“Definitely, and, when she’s singing about taking it like a man, they’re carrying her around with her bum sticking up in the air. Deffo, Mid. Deffo.”
Like most unexpectedly illuminating teachings, Nutty’s answers left me with questions I didn’t even realise I wanted answering – unusually for me – doing sex, periods and blood – for Christ’s sake – covering up wounds with red clothing items, bumming, taking things like men. I could hardly ask Nutty, despite his all encompassing knowledge of taboo subjects and symbolism in the medium of the pop music video because he’d just tell everybody the truth – Mid knew nothing about anything. I had no siblings and parents who reacted unpredictably in most situations. There was no internet.
Eventually, I broached the topic of periods with my mother in order to filibuster my way out of some trouble I’d found myself in. The upside of doing that was that she forgot what it was that I was in trouble for because she’d spend hours explaining in ludicrous depth whatever it was I’d asked her about. The downside was that she’d spend hours explaining in ludicrous depth whatever it was I’d asked her about. I’d weighed it up: it was worth it. Three or four hours later, I was off the hook for whatever it was I’d ballsed up, with a head full of secret woman lore that turned out to be quite interesting in the end. And useful.
In short, it rarely occurred to me to ask questions – through fear of looking ignorant, through fear of finding out the answers and through wide-eyed acceptance that everybody knew better than I did about everything. Even when I did, I tended to just accept whatever it was that I’d been told.
I didn’t ask her about doing a sex on periods, natch.
Years later, at secondary school, ‘Mickey’ came up in conversation in the canteen.
“Do you know what Mickey’s really about?” I asked my new friends. Nutty went to the Catholic school. I was a bloody heathen. I knew that because my Granddad had told me I was when he got religion about four days before he died and I wouldn’t go to church with him.
“It’s about this lass who’s worried that her boyfriend, Mickey, is going to dump her because he won’t shag her when she’s on her period, so she offers him bum sex to stop him dumping her,”
“Well, in the video, she’s wearing red knickers, isn’t she? Which symbolises her being on her period and…”
“It’s not about that,” said Dave.
“You what? Yeah it is,”
“Toni Basil’s was a cover. The original was by Racey, except it was called ‘Kitty’.”
“Toni Basil made it about a bloke, it was about a girl originally. It can’t be about that, can it?”
He was right.
Evidently, neither Nutty nor Clanger had heard ‘Kitty’ either and, as my most trusted (and only) sources of information that you couldn’t ask your parents about, I wonder how much worse it would have been had the internet existed then. I wondered at the time how much bullshit I’d swallowed over the years because I was too embarrassed not to, and I wonder now if, really, the internet is more analogous to playgrounds than I have previously considered. Nutty and Clanger were my internet. I suppose the hedges around the playground held the pornography.
Anyway, then I felt bad for Toni Basil. Nobody ever had anything sordid to say about Debbie Harry – they really hadn’t – and I wondered why Toni Basil was seen as ripe for this sort of gossip when Debbie Harry wasn’t. And, for the first time in years, I remembered Nutty telling me that he thought he genuinely stood a chance with Debbie Harry, if she would only come to our school. I remember looking at him at the time, thinking, “You’re ten, she’s not going to go out with you.”
But I didn’t say anything. What if I pissed him off and I missed out on his next pearls of wisdom?
I was a sucker. But that’s how you learn, isn’t it? What I learned that day at secondary school was to never believe anything anyone told you about anything, ever. No longer was I a sucker, having completed a sideways promotion to idiot. Clap clap.
Oh, Middy, you’re so fine…