Monday, December 26, 2011

Recollection: A New Year party to remember

Christmas has passed and new memories have been made. A good blogging friend, Pondside, wrote about a Christmas memory, a Christmas in 1960. That made me think about a New Year memory, mine was just one year earlier, Christmas 1959 - New Year 1960. I went to London for the Christmas vacations when I was 13 ½ years old in 1953, and had a great time. Every year after that I always went to London to spend the holiday season (was a lot more fun than in Paris.) The English family where I stayed was like my family and I had many friends from having gone to school there in 1957-58. My girl friends in Paris went to the winter resorts in Austria or Italy, but that never tempted me – Christmas and New Year for me was to be in the only town for that merry time, and that was London.

London Fog, photo courtesy Jeff Moore

In 1958 and 1959 I started to really enjoy listening to jazz, modern jazz like the Modern Jazz Quartet, Art Blakey and the Messengers and Gerry Mulligan among others. I belonged to a small group in the Latin Quarter in Paris. We listened to records of our favorite musicians in the little coffee bars around the Sorbonne after school and also went to venues and concerts to watch them.

Gerry Mulligan

We also went to dances, at least twice a week, mostly in the Caveau de la Huchette, a jazz club in a 16th century cellar in the Latin Quarter (off Boulevard St Michel.) There, the jazz was New Orleans style. The band was Maxim Saury’s, a well-known French jazz band (Sydney Bechet had joined him in this club several time earlier. ) I danced a lot but don’t remember drinking alcohol. It was just plain innocent fun. While in England I had started to really like Traditional Jazz and enjoyed going to dance clubs playing that type of music.

Famous American jazzman expatriate Sydney Bechet top right,
Caveau de la Huchette in 1957 at the bottom.

For two years in a row my little French group also went to London at Christmas time. I ‘d stay with my English family for Christmas then would join my French friends for several days around New Year in a bed and breakfast close to theirs. (I scanned the photo at the top of this post – don’t remember where it is in London, but I stayed in a bed and breakfast in that area.)

London in winter (Grand Union Canal)

There were anywhere from 8 to 12 of us. We would go to record stores and listen to jazz for hours, and then would purchase some records to bring back to Paris. It was a lot cheaper to buy the Blue Note record label in London. I still have many 45 rpm records. In France, Maxim Saury signed a couple of them on the back cover, but it can hardly be seen now.

We went several times to listen to jazz at the Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. It was in a basement in Soho – I think it opened in late 1959 in Gerrard Street.

I liked to be with my group of friends to go to Soho as it was a bit seedy then (and a bit naughty too.) I did not want to meet some rough “Teddy Boys” if alone on the street.

There were many jazz/coffee clubs in Soho at the time, some with even French names and French owned like La Poubelle, La Bastille, etc. One place was called Les Enfants Terribles, another Heaven and Hell and another Le Macabre – the tables were shaped like coffins and the gothic décor included bones, cobwebs and skeletons – they also recited beat poetry there. We would go to little Italian upstairs restaurants for a cheap meal.

I found a clip, from around that time that shows the type of music played in the London basement clubs.

Now that I have given the background atmosphere, let me get back to that particular New Year‘s party. For this holiday time, as usual, I had taken the train, then ferry in Dieppe to Newhaven, then train ride to London. I’d much rather take the ferry than fly. It took 3 hours and the English Channel was rough in December, which I liked. I’d stay on top deck and loved to watch and feel the high waves and the boat rolling back and forth. It was a rough ferry boat, not a cruise liner.

Close to New Year I joined my French friends in London. We had planned to go to a French-English basement club in Soho. The entrance fee included a couple of soda drinks and breakfast after the New Year celebrations. I knew many people at the club and danced a lot – to records – this was a small club - no band there. My favorite band at the time was Chris Barber’s Jazz Band. I still feel like dancing when I hear his music now. Here is “Wild Cat Blues” below (I have it in a 33 rpm record.)

Other favorites were Humphrey Lyttelton Jazz, Ken Colyer Jazzmen and Lonnie Donegan and his Skiffle Group. Everyone I knew loved UK Skiffle music. This lasted until 1960 when rock and roll started to take hold. Skiffle was a rough mixture of folk, gospel, blues and jazz. Below is Lonnie singing “I’m Alabammy Bound.”

You could not call this dancing relaxing – it was more like exercise. I was pretty slim then. I don’t have a picture of me in London but found one taken in Paris around that time. I am on the left wearing the light hat.

That evening, after a round of exhausting dancing, I came back to the bar to get a cool soda. The barman or owner, I am not sure who he was, asked me if I could help with making coffee. The girl who was at the machine needed a break, or was sick I can’t recall. I said “sure I’ll do it” without really knowing how to use the expresso machine. I made a couple of cups of coffee but then somehow I did not push the handle properly…. - you can see the large handles in a similar expresso machine below -

The handle sprung back quickly, into my right eye – or so I thought. It hurt and blood came rushing. Actually it just missed my eye and had lodged between my eye and eyebrow. My friends did not know where the closest emergency clinic was in Soho but someone took me to one. It was already 11:30 pm. There was no one in the admitting room. A nurse came, looked at me eye, cleaned it a bit and said I would have to wait because the staff was in the back ready to celebrate New Year 1960 but someone would come after that. I did not like this and told her so – that I might be losing my eye while doctors were having a drink – that this was an outrage and so forth…. She went to the party looking for a doctor then came back followed by a young looking guy with a Champagne flute in his hands. He was handsome, in a British sort of way – in the actor Hugh Grant style (my other eye could still see clearly…)

The young doctor laughed and asked if I wanted to share a drink. I asked him if he could help my eye but also if his hand was steady. He said that it would only take 4 or 5 stitches – "no worries." By then it was 11:45 pm. He went ahead and stitched below my eyebrow. Then after that he poured half his drink into a glass and gave it to me – and said “Happy New Year and Bonne Année Mademoiselle.” It was midnight. I smiled and drank the Champagne. Then he left with the nurse to the noisy party I could hear in the back. They never charged me for this and several years later the scar was gone.

After I left the clinic I went back to the basement club. When I arrived the barman/owner asked me “I say, can you keep making coffee now that you are patched up?” I replied “It is 1960 now and I shan’t make any more coffee on this machine.” I did help with the frying of the eggs for breakfast for a while.

I went to many New Year’s parties since, but I can’t recall one that was more fun or scary.

Here is a Happy New Year vintage card.

It’s an old card but a hundred years later this good old fashioned wish is still true.


livininlb said...

Wow! What a great story. I'm so glad you shared it. And the pictures are great too!

The Broad said...

What a fun post and so very well told. Love the pictures and the music -- and your memories are first rate! A very Happy New Year from the UK,

OldLady Of The Hills said...

What an experience!! No wonder that was such a memorable New Years Eve...! What is that expression: "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished"?? LOL! You certainly got your punishment....!
Great memories of another time...!

DJan said...

Very wise to stay away from that espresso handle a second time. What a good story, VB. I think you are so fortunate to have lived the life you have. It's all so cosmopolitan! I also went through a jazz period and loved the Modern Jazz Quartet and Sydney Bechet.

Thérèse said...

Great memories! Interesting post as always. Great pictures.
De bons souvenirs de ce "Caveau de la Huchette" egalement.

Frances said...

What a story, Vagabonde! You have given us such a clear view of a very special time and place and atmosphere, and let us enjoy wonderful music. And, a big surprise on New Year's Eve.

Thank you for sharing all of this with us. I really love the way that you write and draw in your readers, casting a sort of spell upon us.

I wish you and Jim a very Happy 2012! xo

p.s. I also remember hearing records by Lonnie Donegan.

Filip Demuinck said...

What a coincidence, I lived in a house like that in the Netherlands. Good article with the black and white pictures.


Kay said...

Thank you for sharing this with us. You are so great at creating pictures in our minds for us. I also love your wonderful photos. Happy New Year!

Ann said...

what a wonderful memory!! thank you so much for sharing it!! as always,your photos and words make me feel as if i am there with you!! i had a wonderful time!!!
Wishing you a very Happy New Year!

CrazyCris said...

woah! Intense New Year's Eve!

I love the music you've included, makes your post come alive! :o)

Happy New Year! (no stitches please!)

Jeanie said...

This is a wonderful memory -- although I'm not sure about the stitches (the doc might make it worth it all, though!). I love London and I love Paris -- Christmas either of those would be amazing. I especially loved the photo of you in the hat. Oh, wasn't it glorious back when we were young? I'm so glad I came by tonight and hope you are feeling much improved!

Pondside said...

I'm just getting caught up with reading my favorites. This was such an interesting post. You had me right there in the club. I remember places like this in Maastricht in the 70's but that's the closest I can come to the 'feeling' you describe so well.
I hope you're feeling better by now!

Pat said...

How nice that you appreciate our old jazz men.
What an experience - so glad your eye was safe - I still have a faint scar below my brow where I was bashed with a hockey stick.
I only once went to Ronnie Scott's but it was great experience.
Soho was my stamping ground in the fifties; my agent was there and many of the studios. As you say it was quite sleazy in the fifties and I found 'the ladies of the town' quite fascinating.

Arti said...

What lively recollections. When all these episodes and memories are all strung together, you'll have a film made! I visited the Latin Quarter a couple of years ago, and I've been to London several times, but reading your story makes it all the more personal and interesting. And to you and yours: Happy New Year from Calgary, Alberta!

Fennie said...

I posted a comment but I think it became lost in a bad connextion. I am in France having crossed the Channel in reverse for the New Year. What a wonderful story - interesting and beautiful and romantic at the same time.

Friko said...

We must have been in London and in the same clubs at the same time. What a pity we didn't meet then.

I spent a lot of time in Soho and you are right, it was a bit naughty then. I worked in a few of the drinking clubs and coffee bars for real, not just for an evening; the pay was lousy and the customers cheeky but I enjoyed it while it lasted.

Happy New Year, dear friend!

Elaine said...

Lovely memories of the holiday season. Happy New Year to you and your family.

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

What a scary experience even if you met a handsome young doctor with a flute of champagne. As I read I wondered how this was going to turn out and fortunately, fine. Whew.

That was an exciting time to live and you've described it beautifully. People didn't worry about as much as they do now, but there's more to worry about now, n'est pas. I think we had a lot more good fun then. You've brought back memories for me and I thank you.

Bonne année et bonne santé to you and your family.

This is Belgium said...

What a wonderful story ! I enjoyed it a lot ! It reminds me of my first time I went to London to celebrate NY.. I forgot the year... maybe 1974 or something like that. I will go back to listen to the music.. I am intrigued (especially since my Husband is originally from Alabama) ! My son still goes to Caveau de la Huchette!
A very happy NY to you and your family.

Al said...

What a great story! I still listen to the jazz of that era regularly, but I've never seen any of it performed live. Happy New Year, and no stitches this time!

Shammickite said...

I think I was in London at around that time too.... maybe we passed in the street!
Happy New Year to you and your family. May 2012 be full of happiness and good health, good food, good times, and happy travels.

Unknown said...

je te souhaite une bonne et heureuse année 2012.
ton post est magnifique.

Ginnie said...

What a fabulous retelling of a New Year's memory, Vagabonde! HAPPY NEW YEAR. It's here!

Kenza said...

Ma très chère Vagabonde,
Je te souhaite une bonne et heureuse année 2012!
Bisous, premiers bisous de l'année

bayou said...

Wishing you a Happy New Year, too, dear Vagabonde! I am so glad that your other eye could still catch the look of that doctor and am sure, I would have liked to be in his hands :-).
I read Pondie's story and was so touched but yours did touch me, as well.

BJM said...

A most interesting post ... and a lot to take in. I am fascinated with your music items. When back at my own computer I will take some time and listen to the various musical references you talked about.

Deborah said...

What a life you led! To someone with my upbringing, your experiences sound fabulously bohemian and sophisticated - like something out of a film. I can hardly imagine it, but you did a wonderful job of taking me there. Does it seem now like that was another world?
This was a wonderful post and got me thinking about my most memorable Christmasses and New Years - but I have nothing to compare to yours. Je te souhaite une très bonne année, chère Vagabonde.

Ruth said...

I love this vision of you, with tension and fear, and a handsome man who rescued you. But you rescued the bar owner, so all is balanced and grand. I wish you had been my friend in those days and taken me to the jazz clubs. I discovered them too late, as you know, in Paris. Now I am getting educated in jazz, but I still don't know any of the musicians you listed here. I just bought some CDs for my car, as my iTunes library of jazz is growing, but I still had not made any CDs for the car. Now other music does not satisfy me; the transition has begun.

Happy New Year to you, my friend. May your days be full of life and discovery, and many beautiful travels. Love to you and your family.

Marja said...

A wonderful story and I can see and hear the atmosphere as you described it perfectly We used to have a big jazz festival in the town I grew up only there wasn't any dancing which is ashame as I love dancing as well.
Hope you have a wonderful and magic 2012

Dutchbaby said...

First of all, I'm glad you are feeling well enough to blog again.

I adore every bit of this post, Vagabonde. I'm so glad you included the dancing video. I got a true sense of the atmosphere you described.

I once had to get stitches on my thumb in New York City, but I didn't get a devastatingly handsome doctor to treat me. Nor did I get a cocktail afterwards.

Vagabonde, I wish you a joyful and healthy 2012!

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

These were wonderful memories, Vagabonde, written so beautifully.

Wishing you a very Happy New Year!

Unknown said...

So many fun memories! Thanks for sharing them!

Vicki Lane said...

A wonderful story, Vagabonde! I'll bet that English doctor remembers you too!

Happy travels to you in 2012!

Anonymous said...

*** Hello Vagabonde ! :o) très heureuse de te retrouver en ce début janvier !!!! :o)
Je te souhaite UNE BELLE ET JOYEUSE ANNÉE 2012 !!!! :o)
GROS BISOUS de Paris jusqu'à chez toi !!! :o) ***

Jeanne said...

I absolutely love your post! So much fun and love the film clip and the music you included too. Thanks so much for sharing this! Great post.

Perpetua said...

I followed the link from your comment on The Broad's blog and am so glad I did. A beautifully written and illustrated account of a particular time in your youth and so vividly told. I'm hooked. :-)

Reader Wil said...

Quell belle histoire! J' aime les videos aussi! Bonne nouvelle année!

Gattina said...

It's always when something very special happens that you recall a special event ! for sure that was a very special New Year's Eve, lol ! That's like our wedding in 69 The priest had completely forgotten and after half an hour and a phone call to him, he showed up in a flying robe, smelling wine and had a hangover ! That's the only thing I remember from my wedding !
You are right London is the best to celebrate Christmas and New Year. My son lived there for 10 years and on Christmas I get "homesick" now we celebrate in Amsterdam where his is now and it's not the same at all !
Nice to meet you !

claude said...

De bons souvenirs, Vagabonde, n'est-ce pas !
J'aime le jazzy jazzy si je puis dire et le genre de la dernière chansons. Cela me rappelle aussi ma jeunesse.
J'aimerais bien aller à Londres mais je crois que cela ne pourra se faire qua quand mon Chéri sera à la retraite.
J'ai fort apprécié ce post.

Shammickite said...

You have jogged my memory! I remember Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club. I lived in Southampton in the early '60s, and I remember hitchhiking to London with some friends, and going to Ronnie Scott's, yes, it was in a basement in Soho, and staying all night, sleeping on the floor while listening to Jazz and blues music. And then going for breakfast somewhere nearby and hitchhiking back to Southampton the next day. Please don't tell my mother!!!

Shammickite said...

Ah.... the Sears chairs! I still have them, and they have been sat upon. But still no bill or communication from Sears. I shall just wait to see what the next move it.... stay tuned!

Susie Swanson said...

Wow what a great post.. I'm so sorry you were sick, hope you are feeling better now.. Thanks for the nice comments and visit to my post..Happy New Year ..Susie

Cloudia said...

This fabulous post is rich history, fellow jazz fan! Wonderfully worthwhile & enjoyable. . .

Aloha from Waikiki
Comfort Spiral

> < } } ( ° >


Sheila said...

Thank you for visiting and commenting on my blog. I grew up in England and left for Canada in the 60's when I was 17. I remember most of the British names you mention.
Sounds like it was a great time for you.
Happy New Year.

Don said...

Great story... I'll drink to that!

Sally Wessely said...

That is a fascinating story. I can't imagine having such freedom at that age. I wish I would have. I know I would have handled it just fine. You lived in a different world than I did, that is for sure.

snowwhite said...

Hi, Vagabonde,
Thanks a lot for sharing your wonderful memories with us! Your blog made my heart fly back to my good old days and made me want to stay in London in Christmas time.
It is still vivid in my memory that I went to a dance party at first, being filled with joyful expectations!

✿France✿ said...

Bonsoir merci de ton passage je vois que tu ne danses plus et que tu as été malade
je ne suis pas bien depuis 2 jours donc demain j'irai voir le médecin je suis tellement sur les nerfs que je pense encore avoir un zona et je vais dire bonjour la douleur
j'espère me tromper
Elles sont très belles encore tes photos et j'aime bien le voyage que je viens de faire chez toi et avec toi
Ne pouvant rester trop longtemps assise je te souhaite une belle soirée

OldLady Of The Hills said...

Thank you my dear for your very sweet caring comment about my dearest one.....It is so very hard. I miss him more than words can express....He was such a special "presence".....
I am posting two little Videos showing him in a fun mode....It makes me feel better to see them....

I am Sooo very sorry you have been so sick....I hope you will be "well" Completely, very very soon. It's no way to start The New Year, my dear....And I was happy to read about your daughters job...Hooray! Though sad it will mean you won't be coming to Los Angeles any more. I'm so glad you did come when you did...!
Take Good Care, My Dear....Sending Hugs...

Wanda..... said...

What an interesting life...both past and reading your posts!

Meggie said...

Thankyou for leaving me two comments! I have only just found them, as I dont often check the spam folder. I also found other friends comments which had somehow ended up in the wrong place.
I too used to dance a lot- ballroom and the Twist! How slim it kept me! Perhaps that is why I ended up with a dud knee. It is still not good, and I suspect it will take a long time to feel 'good'.

lori said...

Une excellente année à toi, merci pour les compliments sur mon amie.
A bientôt

Angela said...

I was growing up in Hamburg then, a little too young for the jazz basements where my brother went. It was the time when the Beatles played in Hamburg, before they became famous. My brother also had a skiffle group and played songs from Lonnie Donegan (remember: Does your chewing gum lose its flavour on the bedpost overnight?).
Haha, and yesterday my grandson had his first guitar lesson...
Oh, I just see the veri word is "amies". Wonderful!

Miss_Yves said...

Quels souvenirs formidables , et que d'émotions!
Meilleurs voeux pour 2012!

Vagabonde said...

I read all your comments with pleasure and I am delighted that you took a moment to come over and read my post. I have tried to visit all your blogs and enjoyed each visit. Your visits here are very much appreciated. Thanks so much everyone for your kind words and your time.

Miss_Yves said...

Un docteur aussi beau que Hugh Grant...C'est un phantasme, non ?

Ashley Ashbee said...

Man, can you tell a story! Your life fascinates me. And I'm glad you're able to write about it so well.

And it's cool that you touched on so many time periods in this post, with both pictures and narrative.

I hadn't been to your blog in ages and I smiled when I saw it in my Blogger feed today. How nice for me to be back here. Cheers!

this is Belgium said...

what a year 2011 was for you !!
glad that also Brussels was part of it

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