What Saturdays Meant To Me

Saturdays were always magical to me. These days, being in my mid-forties, most Saturdays I am working. I've been a shift worker since the late 90s in an assortment of jobs. My current job allows me two weekends off a month so I still get to enjoy the Saturday experience, which mainly comprises of me waking up around 8am, switching on my laptop, staring at the screen for an hour while I think about the bleakness of my existence, throw some clothes on and go out and start drinking until I encounter oblivion, which usually happens to be a hedge along a quiet lane at 2am.

But in 1980 I was nine years old and already had dreams of being ten. I knew that once I hit double figures I would have to give up reading comics and start saving for cigarettes. It would be tricky as I only got 50p pocket money each week, which was enough to buy two comics and an assortment of sweets and chocolates. That money came from my grandparents. After school on a Friday my Bamp's car would be waiting for me, a red Vauxhall Viva which always reminded me of the General Lee, the car in the Dukes Of Hazzard. I would hop happily inside and be whisked off to a beautiful kept house on the outskirts of Cwmbran, spending the weekend with my Nan and Bamp, only returning home on Sunday evening to my alcoholic and promiscuous mother. The alcoholism and promiscuity was a badge she had earned, working hard at it weekend after weekend since my dad left some years earlier. That badge should have become a trophy, by all accounts. Saying all that, she was still my mother. She died in her early fifties in the late 90s and I miss her.
So, on Saturday mornings I would wake, often around 8am due to the call of my Bamp. The call would usually be 'Breakfast!' which often comprised of two soft boiled eggs presented on a plate with an array of 'soldiers' – toasted bread slices into thin strips, spread with butter and sprinkled with salt and pepper. I loved the simplicity of that breakfast and all it represented to that ageing man with love in his eyes. They had both lived through the war when such things as eggs were hard to come by and even in 1980 they still seemed to be so thankful for the simple things in life, like eggs and cars.

We would then visit town and my Bamp would slip 50p into my hand and I would make a beeline for Martin's The Newsagents, running inside and then standing and salivating in front of the four tier rack of comics that I remember so well, picking out my favourite.

Whizzer & Chips sounds like something illegal that you would first snort up through a straw and then eat with salt and vinegar. But it was nothing of the sort. It was a comic that I treasured above all others. A smarter and cooler friend of mine swore by 2000ad which was a comic full of science fiction and fantasy stories. It was adult in tone, the Judge Dredd strip in particular being quite violent and graphic in many ways. For some reason I was never into that when I was ten. I just wanted to read about boys who loved sweets (Sweet Tooth), a girl with a pointy nose who had a range of very specific opinions (Fuss Pott) and a mother who had extraordinary strength and speed and looked after her kids in a perfectly loving way (Super Mum), amongst many other equally vibrant and memorable characters that graced its pages.

Then I would choose some sweets, pay for it all, and slip my hand back into the large, wrinkly, liver-spotted hand of my Bamp and we would walk around the town for a while as he looked for this and that, before returning to his house.

And then the second wonderful part of the Saturday would commence. The two children's shows on at that time were both three or four hour epics – Noel Edmunds Multi-Coloured Swap Shop on BBC1, or Tiswas on ITV.

Swap Shop was middle class, not that I knew what middle class meant back then, but it was quite reserved in many ways. It featured Noel Edmunds sat at a desk taking telephone calls. Sometimes he would switch to a sofa accompanied by other people who would all take telephone calls too. Often though he was sat behind a desk with a phone in his hand. The whole phone thing was quite exciting back then, as my grandparents had a trimphone, which produced a shrill and attention-seeking warbling sound whenever someone rang. It was the only one in the street, as my grandparents were quite well-off.

So I would often ring Swap Shop in the hope they would call me back so I could fling open the front door and all the neighbours would hear the annoying trilling of this plastic beige brick and would bristle with envy.
It never happened.

Tiswas, on the other hand, was a different kettle of fish. Or should that be 'bucket of custard'.

Tiswas was chaotic, anarchic, zany and stupid. Oh it also had the Spider-Man cartoon which made it much cooler than the Godzilla cartoon that Swap Shop would show. But Tiswas fitted my personality far better and I would become mesmerised by the two or three hours of zaniness that unfolded before my eyes each Saturday morning as I munched on packets of Monster Munch while simultaneously flicking through Whizzer & Chips. I could multi-task back then. These days my concentration is so poor that I can only multi-task being asleep and dreaming.

By around noon the shows would both be over and it was then the turn of my Bamp to hog the television as World Of Sport hosted by Dickie Davis would begin, featuring an hour or two of the wonderfully homo-erotic sport of wrestling. Those muscular, sweaty men who kept trying to grab hold of the other man's shorts kept my Bamp happy and out of my Nan's way as she cooked dinner. I would sit on the sofa, reading my comic over and over again, nurturing the autistic child within by examining the detail of every single pane of every single cartoon strip.

And that was my Saturday, or the morning at least. But it was often the mornings where all the magic happened.