When I first heard about Jo Lambert’s concept of a Life Playlist, I thought it a wonderful idea. Even after she kindly invited me to take part, I was still excited and pleased. Music thrills me. But when I began seriously to think about the songs……. Oh no! How could I not choose all of the R & B, Soul and Motown songs I loved, or the singer-song-writers going as far back as Bob Dylan, through Joni Mitchell…. Too many to list. At my first attempt I was overshooting my allowance by a multiple of ten.
In the end, the songs I have chosen aren’t necessarily my topmost favourites – if I could even decide which those are – but they are the punctuation to important times in my life.
I was a snooty child. I looked down on friends and classmates who were “in love” with pop singers. How stupid! I thought. We’re children! How can you be in love when you’re only eleven? Stars like Elvis, Cliff Richard, and Adam Faith left me unmoved. There were individual songs I liked, and I did think Jess Conrad was handsome (shame about the voice), but it was not until the Beatles – there arrival on the scene coinciding with my awakening hormones – that I ‘got it’.
It was a love affair that lasted for years and even now I watch old footage, and hear those songs with a great deal of nostalgia. But the song I choose from that era isn’t even one they penned themselves. I had never heard anything like it – the rawness, the pulse, the power, the passion – stirred the fourteen-year-old me in ways I’d never been stirred before. TWIST AND SHOUT, by the Beatles, is my first choice. And if you were around at the time this will bring back a smile.
Though my time at Art School is a very significant milestone in my life, and I look back on it with great affection, it was a relatively brief period. I emerged after two years still the gauche, introverted girl I’d been, living at home and without ever having had a proper boyfriend. Jan, my older sister, was always more out-going than me and had a far wider and more interesting social life.
We went to a party together. Even to my inexperienced eyes it turned out to be a rather staid affair, but the music being played was good. Both my sister and I love to dance. So, when two very flamboyant, loud and funny young men arrived at the party the whole atmosphere changed, and the girls they wanted to spend the evening with were the girls who danced. Shortly after this event Jan decided she wanted to leave home, taking me with her. She organized a flat that we could share with two girl-friends, and a new phase began.
The song that epitomized that life-changing party, and the very many subsequent parties during the next episode of my life as an independent young woman in London, is 007 (Shanty Town) by Desmond Dekker.
Read into this choice what you will. Enough to say it was a very happy time of my life.
A few years later I was working happily in an advertising design studio, but was still very unlucky in love. Or perhaps I should say, too choosy. The men I wanted never wanted me and visa-versa. Jan and I were living as a twosome, by then. I had never met Geoffrey before he turned up in our flat with a band of Jan’s friends and workmates after a leaving party. I immediately liked the look of him, but there was a drawback. Geoffrey was too perfect. A year older than me, he was good looking, clever, in a good job, and interested in art.
But my own social life had recently become more adventurous and I was enjoying myself. I was definitely not ready to settle down. We became friends. My parents loved him. Jan loved him. He was the best friend of her partner, Roger. It all looked too pre-ordained. I could see the road ahead of me running out of other options, so the rebel inside my head would not give in to it.
I was already a fan of 10CC – their discography up to that time is a list of witty, catchy, danceable songs and Dreadlock Holiday has to be a contender for my ‘favourites’ playlist. But around this time the band brought out an iconic song that was a complete change from what had gone before – I’M NOT IN LOVE.
It immediately became our song – mine and Geoffrey’s – and, of course, I married him.
But it was not until I had our son, Tom, that life REALLY altered dramatically. I gave up work planning to go back to it later. I’d recently learnt to drive and we bought our first car. My husband had changed jobs. We moved house. And, when Tom was just three, I resurrected a teenage hobby. I began writing again, but this time with serious intent.
I was a young mother, was doing something I loved and, unbelievably, was soon to be published. I had my own car in which Tom and I were able to go places and do things. It could be as simple as driving to an out of town super-store, or to my art class where, he attended the creche, but this was an unbelievably exciting and fulfilling time in my life. There is a great soundtrack to this period, the mid-Eighties, which vividly revives those emotions. Think Live Aid! Because I can only pick one, I choose a favourite song of Tom’s. MAN EATER, by Hall & Oates. It brings back those memories of driving around, just the two of us, our music blaring out from the car’s cassette player.
Needless to say, Tom’s interpretation of the lyrics was entirely different from mine. His involves a lurking monster.
My fifth is a totally brilliant song that we used to play, over and over again, on the juke box of a beach bar in Greece. It always makes me want to leap up and dance. But its importance to me is because this was the first holiday I’d taken with my sister since we were single girls. Now that Tom was at University and we were free-agents, it seemed a really lovely idea to go away as a foursome – she and Roger, me and Geoff. We settled on Parga in NW Greece, or more specifically Volos Beach next door. For years I misremembered the name and thought this song was called ‘Or just forget about it’. It is in fact SMOOTH, by Santana. The vocals are supplied by the amazing Rob Thomas. I have found an utterly thrilling live performance which has had me bouncing around in my typing chair.
I very much wanted to bring this piece up to date with the song I’ve adored since the instant I heard it. The first time I actually saw the performer his appearance took me totally by surprise. I’d assumed he was black for one thing. Beards have never been my thing, but given my own son now sports the full Victorian, I have to put my prejudices aside. Even though I’ve run out of my allowance, I have to mention HUMAN, by Rag ‘n’ Bone Man.
Thank you so much Jo, I’ve loved doing this.
Wife and mother, Nell, fears change, but it is forced upon her by her manipulative husband, Trevor. Moving to a house she dislikes, in a town she has no connection to, she is cast adrift from all her previous certainties. Her life is further disrupted by the renovations her husband feels essential. She finds herself almost living with a firm of builders, one of whom – Patrick – irritates, intrigues and exasperates her by turns.
After taking a part-time bar job at the sports club she is gradually drawn in to the social scene of the area. Finding herself in a new world of flirtation and casual infidelity, her principles are undermined. Should she emulate the behaviour of her new friends or stick with the safe and familiar? She is tempted by a club member known only as Angel.
But everything Nell has accepted at face value has a dark side. Everyone – even her nearest and dearest – has been lying. She’s even deceived herself. The presentiment of disaster, first felt as a tremor at the start of the story, rumbles into a full-blown earthquake. When the dust settles, nothing is as it previously seemed. And when an unlikely love blossoms from the wreckage of her life, she believes it is doomed.
The future, for the woman who feared change, is irrevocably altered. But has she been broken, or has she transformed herself?
FLY OR FALL- myBook.to/GilliAllan
From FLY OR FALL – Chapter Two
The family have not been living in their new house for many months and renovations have recently started. Nell is aware someone new has joined the team of workmen today, but meets him for the first time when he knocks on her door to use the loo. Her first sight of him makes an impression, but she ignores and discounts her response. Instead of returning outside once he’s finished, he follows her into the kitchen where, feeling mildly irritated Nell feels obliged to offer him a cup of coffee.
…..The man sat, stretching out his cement crusted legs and crossing his feet. His large, steel capped boots were almost white.
‘Prefer tea,’ he said, ‘and I don’t suppose there’s a chance of something to eat?’
‘Yeah. You put it in your mouth and chomp up and down a bit. Fuel for the inner man.’ At my silence he elaborated. ‘Lump of cheese? Bread and jam? Marmite? Honey? Anything? I’m easily pleased.’
None of the other workmen had expected to be fed. And beyond the occasional biscuit, I’d not considered offering food. I was surprised, and by now thoroughly put out by the man’s continuing presumption. I was relieved I could dislike him. Had he turned out to be a thoroughly amiable character, his continued presence around my house could have proved seriously distracting.
‘The others –’
‘No need to worry about Spike and Jazz. Gone off down the boozer.’ He glanced at his watch. ‘Don’t drink. Makes me dopey. Don’t want to fall off the ladder.’
‘I wasn’t worried. I was about to say, they provide their own food.’
‘They’ve got mums. I’ve no one to look after me. Rather spend the extra ten minutes in bed than making a picnic.’ He turned the full strength of his smile on me.
‘I’ve the washing to peg out,’ I said, with a nod to the basket.
‘Doesn’t matter. I can see you’re busy.’ He made as if to get up, withdrawing his long legs.
Concerned now, and half ashamed of my churlishness, I looked at the clock. I didn’t want it on my conscience if my hypoglycaemic builder had an accident.
‘I suppose another ten minutes isn’t going to make a difference to the washing. And I need to get myself something.’ My big mouth. Of course he would take this as an invitation to eat with me. Already he was relaxing back into the chair, hands behind his head, as I pushed aside the library book I was reading and put the bread board and butter on the table. It was a bad idea to get too friendly with the men. I knew it, Trevor had reiterated it. If you get too chummy they’ll take advantage. Yet here I was, in my own kitchen, about to share my lunch with a stranger who was patently all too willing to take liberties. I opened the fridge and took out the cheese box, then dumped some plates and knives onto the table. It would have been different if I’d wanted the company, but I preferred my own. I badly wanted to be left in peace to listen to the radio. Just then, the theme tune to The Archers came on. While washing up the previous evening I’d heard the original broadcast – hard to justify a desperate desire to hear the repeat. I turned it off and sat down opposite him.
‘That looks like a bit of a tome. The Inheritance of Loss …’ As he reached for the hardback by Kiran Desai, I noticed his large hands. Though clean now, they were ruddy, and roughened by heavy work, the knuckles pitted, scuffed, and scabbed by old and recent injuries. Instead of turning the book over to read the blurb, he glanced up at me with raised eyebrows. I wondered if he wanted a précis of the plot or a justification of why I was reading it.
‘It’s not particularly long.’
‘Looks serious. Not much of a reader, me. Apart from the Sun, of course.’
Of course. I’d no need to make clichéd assumptions about the man; he’d done it for me. Upstairs he had evidently washed his face as well as his hands; a few strands of hair still clung to a damp forehead. I wondered what it was that had initially unnerved me at first sight. His was a longish face and although I was mistaken about the depth of tan, his complexion possessed the healthy bloom of a life spent outdoors, a bloom which heightened to a tawny flush over high cheekbones. Without the disconcerting patina of rust flakes I noticed natural freckles scattered across the blunt bridge of his long nose. I’d never admired men with freckles. His eyes were not a piercing periwinkle, nor a glittering emerald, nor a smouldering, sensual brown – merely hazel. There was nothing to write home about in the hair department either. A lighter brown than my own, it was cut in such jagged layers it could conceivably have been styled with garden shears, and the faint russet burnish might only indicate it was still dusted with rust. Even the wide, perfect smile was not that perfect; one of his incisors was crooked, and a scar hooked upwards from the right corner of his over-generous mouth. Analysis proved how misled I’d been at first sight. Nice enough, but far from an Adonis. He put down the book and reached for a roughly hacked doorstep of bread, glancing up at me with an enquiring lift of the eyebrow.
‘I’ve not noticed you around before?’
I felt trapped, wanting this lunchtime interlude to be over, but while he was slathering his bread with spread and helping himself to a sizeable wedge of cheese, politeness kept me sitting across the table as an unwilling participant in the conversation.
‘It may need some updating but this is a good sound property,’ he reassured me, following my explanation of how rapidly we’d done the deal and moved in. ‘And for the size, you got it at a knock-down price.’
‘But we’re on the wrong side of town. Anyone who is anyone lives in Old Town.’
He frowned. ‘Why d’you say that?’
‘Something I’ve heard. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t care less whether we’re on this side of the main road or the other; I know we have the best of both worlds here, with the downs just up the road, and the station and town centre only a fifteen minute walk away.’
‘But you’re not happy?’
‘What do you mean?’
He shrugged. ‘You seem a bit dead-pan, bit rehearsed.’
‘I haven’t found my feet yet,’ I said quickly. He continued to look at me as if waiting for more. I looked down at my hands then up and out of the window. ‘I would’ve had reservations about anywhere I moved to. I … I’m not brave.’
‘Brave?’ He lifted his eyebrows.
‘To start your life again you need bravery. I’m a bit of a wimp. In the past I had a vision of what lay ahead of me. Since we’ve come here it’s as if someone has wiped the board clean.’ Why on earth had I said that to this Sun reading stranger? ….
Gilli Allan began to write in childhood – a hobby pursued throughout her teenage. Writing was only abandoned when she left home, and real life supplanted the fiction.
After a few false starts she worked longest and most happily as a commercial artist, and only began writing again when she became a mother.
Living in Gloucestershire with her husband Geoff, Gilli is still a keen artist. She draws and paints and has now moved into book illustration.
She is published by Accent Press and each of her books, TORN, LIFE CLASS and FLY or FALL has won a ‘Chill with a Book’ award.
Following in the family tradition, her son, historian Thomas Williams, is also a writer. His most recent work, published by William Collins, is ‘Viking Britain’.
FLY OR FALL- myBook.to/GilliAllan