Lost childhood

If you could recreate one element of your childhood, what would it be? Just one; not a single memory like that amazing holiday in Milnthorpe, or your first kiss with Sharon Fothersdike outside Grimethorpe Social Club. A real rose-tinted-spectacle general condition that made childhood so much better than the living hell that is adulthood.

To give you a clue what I mean, let me provide one example.

When I was growing up in the soot blackened north west of England there was a fairytale land called continental Europe. Some people were lucky enough to live there, some lucky enough to travel there, but for me continental Europe existed in one of several peculiar forms: the Eurovision Song Contest, European football, and Jeux Sans Frontieres.

Eurovision had songs that didn’t sound like music, sung by singers who didn’t look like musicians. And the television picture, like David Vine’s commentary, was scratchy and prickly as if it was being broadcast from the moon.

Eurovision acts rarely went stratospheric in the way Abba did, but on the night (in spite of the costumes) we knew we were watching something different from the usual Alpine horn blowers and sombrero wearing crooners.

European football was contested by teams with weird football kits and even weirder names. Ajax? In Britain, Ajax was a brand of floor cleaner. The strips were made by Adidas, the football boots had stripes on them, and the footballs were black and white and light as feathers. Compare all that to British football with plain shirts, football boots more like pit boots and footballs as heavy as dead sheep. And don’t even start on the stadiums. Bayern Munich playing at the Olympic Stadium was no comparison to the derelict quagmires of Derby County’s baseball ground or the Lancashire mudbath of Turf Moor up in Burnley.

Dutch forward Johan Cruyff controls the ball under pressure from a West German player during the World Cup final between West Germany and the Netherlands 07 July 1974 in Munich. West Germany won 2-1 to earn its second World title after 1954. AFP PHOTO
This image was a poster on my wall throughout the 1970s. Two stripes on his shirt (Johan Cruyff had his own Puma sponsorship, not Adidas like the rest of the Dutch national side). Check out the black and white football; as rare and exotic as a pineapple tree to this lad in Lancashire.

In Jeux Sans Frontiers – broadcast using the same telephone lines used at Eurovision – came from villages surrounded by mountains, towns full of canals and windmills, and various locales that you only found on jigsaws. When Jeux Sans Frontieres crossed the Channel it would come from somewhere like Goole or Aldershot; not the sort of locations where a James Bond film might be made.

euro-jeux sans frontieres
I think light blue were the Germans. Beneath the hammer is what’s left of one of the Belgians!

Yes, Europe was over there, with its clogs and cuckoo clocks, its vibrant colour and vibrant life. It was a foreign land; a parallel universe. Now, Europe feels like it could be anywhere. Eurovision could be a large version of the X-Factor; Champions League football is indistinguishable from a Thursday night in Stoke (which Valencia experienced when they played Stoke in the Europa League one Thursday night a few years ago.) And Jeux Sans Frontieres disappeared off British TV screens when people realised it was always won by the Germans.

The magic has gone. Now that we live in an interconnected world and television broadcasting in high definition, there’s no longer a sense of ‘over there,’ the other world on the opposite side of the Channel. The difference has gone and with it the fascination, the curiosity and mystery.

The closest we ever came to being in Europe was television and jigsaws. (Lake Bled in Slovenia.)

If I could bring back one thing it would be the distant mesmerising magic of continental Europe.

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4 thoughts on “Lost childhood

  1. Simply incredible childhood. The parallels to my life are astounding. Love Eurovision as that was my first introduction to Riverdance. Jeux Sans Frontieres or as it was in Italy, Giochi Senza Frontiere was the show to watch on TV at the time! You had Ajax, I had Juventus, which I’m still trying to figure out what it means!

    And lastly, this sentence is the perfect Tim Burton movie to me: “When I was growing up in the soot blackened north west of England there was a fairytale land called continental Europe.”

    Awesome post, Chris!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m lucky in that I can blank out the bad bits of my childhood. (I hated school!) I’m currently watching a load of old episodes of Jeux Sans Frontieres along with episodes of the Ghosts of Moley Hall. ’70s bliss.

      I had a look online and the only source of the name Juventus I can find is that it’s Latin (iuventus) and means youth; probably chosen because the club was set up by students from Turin. Don’t know if you’ve come across any other explanations. And were Axax had Cruyff, Juventus had Michel Platini, another talismanic figure in Eurpean football.


      Liked by 1 person

      1. That makes sense since gioventu in Italian means youth, which I never really thought about until now. Also, I’m sure you have, but I thought I’d ask–have you heard Peter Gabriel’s Games Without Frontiers based on the game? It’s one of my favorite songs from the Eighties.

        Liked by 1 person

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