Thursday, 11 February 2010

"I've got to get out of my skin" - recalling Judith Jeffers

My best friend when I was young lived with her mum, aunt Judith and grandmother. I spent vast stretches of my teenage years at their house, where the regime was rather more liberal than in mine. The family were American, they came from Zanesville, Ohio. Two-thirds of the adults drank whisky and 100% of them smoked. Like a lot of young people, my friend and I grew up passively addicted to nicotine.

Aunt Judy had a penchant for melancholy, but also a great sense of humour. Just five things I remember her for (with affection!):

1. Making ludicrously hot dhal curries on a Friday night and paying us to eat them, with a water jug at hand. Clearly a form of mild sadism, she would reward us for toiling, weeping, through a plateful. Then she paid us again the next morning to wash up the disgusting plates and pans.

2. Spoiling us with cash to go around the corner to Tony's cafe. Tony was a camp old man who struggled to be nice to his customers, but at least he did try. In those days (late 70s/early 80s) camp was quite exciting. I remember hearing "Glad to be gay" on Dial-a-disc and thinking that there had been a revolution. At Tony's we had 'milk shakes' made of milk and flavoured syrup.

3. As a special treat, allowing us to peruse her collection of Oz magazines. ("I've got to get out of my skin" was the caption to a very disturbing cartoon in one issue.)

4. Taking us to see "2001: A Space Odyssey". The cinema manager came over and warned us that we must all behave ourselves. Although she was well into her 30s, Judy could pass for a teenage boy. She gave the manager short shrift on this occasion, however.

5. Advising us never to consent to anal sex.
Now, some of this is quite shocking, but I think it was because all the basics were there - school, just about enough sleep, reasonable diet, lots of love - that it probably did us good to be exposed to some heavy stuff, and given a chance to think about it before it was seriously laid before us in real life. For example, Judy must have chuckled to herself as my friend and I solemnly worked out, a few years ahead of time, how many days it was until we could legally have sex, and began to count off the days.

Sadly, Judy died early, in her 40s, of cancer. My best friend and I had drifted apart by then (not uncommon, I think), but I found out about Judith's death from her sister. I have been looking up some of the songs I associate with her on YouTube (isn't it a wonderful thing?!). After many years I can hear again these great, sometimes melancholy tunes that make me think of Judith Jeffers.

1. "Mere Mehboob Tujhe" - romantic music from an Indian film "Mere Mehboob", made in 1963 (year before my friend and I were born), which Judith had seen and bought the soundtrack of.

2. "You are my heart's delight" from Lehar's operetta "Land of Smiles", sung by Richard Tauber.
3. Theme tune to the film "High Noon", starring Judy's (inexplicably) beloved Gary Cooper.
4. "What is life?" from Gluck's "Orpheus and Eurydice", sung by Kathleen Ferrier.
5. "O for the wings of a dove", a fair way into this recording from 1970, but it's all nice.

1 comment:

Rog T said...


Great blog. It sort of reminded me of some of the inceidents and things that happened to me aged between 14-16. It is a really odd time of life as adulthood collides with childhood.

What is really scary is that my eldest daughter is now 14 and I know how I changed in that period and what I was up to.

I just hope that my awful example has not rubbed off too much.