Thursday, 28 January 2010

Remembering Dudley Harris

One of the coolest things about being a 12-year-old kid with older sisters is the boyfriends they bring back to the house. My elder sister, Joy, used to date a David Bowie fan. I inherited the copy of Aladdin Sane he originally bought for her as a result. The lad himself, who I remember sported a fine shade in black nail varnish, didn't last too long. My dad scared him off with the unforgettable exchange: "Do you intend to marry my daughter?" "No, sir." "Thank God for that..."

Both Joy and my other sis, Chris, would sometimes frequent the Quay Club and Tiffany's, Exeter's hip'n'happening mid 1970s nightspots. Boys, one has to presume, would have been involved.

One fine day, Chris brought home a particularly cool kid called Dudley to meet the family. He worked for a jeweller's shop, had David Essex hair and an infectious laugh buried under a dyed-in-the-wool Devonian accent. He wore platform shoes, his collars were of the standard mega-girth and there was a lot of brown in his wardrobe. A keeper, in other words. Welcome to 1976. Or was it 1975?

As the wee kid in the family, I was spoiled rotten by this newcomer. Dudley splashed out a fair few quid on first day covers of collectable stamps for me to hoard. And he eagerly joined me out on the patio in my passion for astronomy. Boys, eh? As his relationship grew with Chris, I'd get taken along on little day trips with the two of them in her rather suave Singer Chamois, which always smelled strongly of those little traffic light air fresheners that dangled like scented talismans from the rear view mirror.

A year or so down the line, in 1977, skateboarding became fashionable for the very first time. I had to get involved - and I needed Dudley's help. He came up with the perfect solution, courtesy of a single roller skate and a plank of wood. I have perfect recall of Dudley's face in the passenger window of that Singer as he and my sis pulled into Spinney Close, his thumb aloft and skate in hand, victory beaming across his face.

Dudley and my brother, Graham, bonded strongly through music and I sort of tagged behind and tried to join in where I could. I got a Sex Pistols tape from a kid at school, which Dudley listened to on headphones, and I remember him bringing home the Bowie 'Thin White Duke' bootleg, borrowed from a chap at the bakery where he now worked alongside my dad.

Records were pooled in the family, which meant I got to borrow Dudley's 'Suffragette City' single (yes, there is a strong Bowie theme emerging here - even though Dudley was at that time an ardent Elton John fan). I'd run the short distance home from school every afternoon to give it a spin. And I borrowed his copy of 'Stage', the live album from 1978. I still have it.

One of my happiest memories of Dudley is from seven or so years ago, when I was on a visit to Exeter. We took a trip in my car down to a massive boot sale, where I rummaged for stuff to stick onto eBay and Dudley looked for reggae singles to add to his pile at home. We were each lost in our own little worlds, but having an excited giggle together.

Nowadays, if I want a piece of Dudley I only have to look at his children. He comes pouring out of Tracey, Mark and Kirsty. They look and sound so much like him and they have his peculiar inner strength, in spades. At least one of them has his appetite for spuds.

On his last day on this planet, I got a call from my sister to say the doctors were about to turn off the machine and he'd be leaving us, gently, in about 20 minutes. I was a little under 100 miles away, alone, in my house in South Wales.

I spent the first five minutes wondering what to do... then I hit upon my plan. I dug out his old copy of Stage, and put it on my turntable. By the time the record got to "Heroes", the 20 minutes was up. I imagined Dudley climbing ever-higher through the sky. So I cranked the volume up a bit. I hope he got to hear it. I'm going to put that LP on again today, but track three on side one will be more appropriate this time.

Five years. Not forgotten.

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