I even invented a chorus for the song. It was something I once heard Marsha Hunt sing. The words went:
I can recall/The thrill of it all/Though it were yesterday
So I would have my audience first rehearsing the chorus until they got it right and then singing it sotto voce at the end of each verse. From a small group of colleagues to the clientele of a large Chinese restaurant, man, you should have seen me working the room!
Anyway, because I’m celebrating my 65th birthday this week and thus, according to the song, reaching the autumn of my years, I thought it would be interesting to compare the lyrics with the stages of my own life to date. So here goes with the first verse.
When I was seventeen, it was a very good year
It was a very good year for small town girls
And soft summer nights
We'd hide from the lights
On the village green
When I was seventeen
Naw, not even close. When I was seventeen in 1967, I did live in a large village, but I spent my nights running a bar in one of its hotels. The bar was a magnet for both the matelots from the Naval base along the road and the local factory girls. It had a jukebox which played only the latest and best Sixties music. And it was the place to be on those soft summer nights. So, underage in charge of the top bar in the place and winching a twenty-five year-old waitress? Aye, no’ a bad year, I suppose.
Don’t forget the chorus. I can recall/The thrill of it all… That’s it. Softly now. Good. And on to the second verse.
When I was twenty-one, it was a very good year
It was a very good year for city girls
Who lived up the stairs
With perfumed hair
That came undone
When I was twenty-one
Quite accurate, really. It was 1971 when I was twenty-one. Having left that matelot bar far behind, I did now work and live in the city. And the lassies did live up the stairs – in tenements of one sort or another. I rented my own poky wee flat in a tenement. I was broke and hungry a lot of the time, but I was independent, a freebird. That wasn’t to last, though, because I would meet and marry my first wife the following year. So, all things considered, 1971 was no’ a bad year either.
Remember the chorus. I can recall… Yep, you’re getting the hang of it. Here’s verse three.
When I was thirty-five, it was a very good year
It was a very good year for blue-blooded girls
Of independent means
We'd ride in limousines
Their chauffeurs would drive
When I was thirty-five
Totally off the mark. When I was thirty-five in 1985, I was back in my home town, living on my own and drunk most nights. In The Percentages Men, my forthcoming semi-autobiographical novel, here’s how I describe the situation:
While Dan’s career at the SNHC was successful and stable at that time, the same could not be said of his private life. Less than a year earlier, the latter had changed irrevocably when his wife left him without warning, taking with her their three children, the youngest of whom was still a toddler. It transpired that throughout the whole of their twelve-year marriage she had been conducting an affair with an old school friend and had finally decided to go and live with him, her inducement to abandon the marriage after all those years being the imminent prospect of her secret lover inheriting a sizeable hotel business from his elderly parents.
What followed for Dan was a period of utter misery, punctuated by bouts of rage, despair and drunkenness. But slowly, gradually, he emerged from the misery to put his world back in order. He found a solicitor, through whom divorce proceedings were put in motion, a sum of alimony was agreed and regular access to his children was arranged. Then he bought a flat – a bachelor pad – back in his home town, a few miles outside of Edinburgh. And he began to build a new social life – one that was centred on his local pub, but a social life nonetheless.
The chorus again, folks. Softly, softly. I can recall… And on to the final verse.
But now the days are short, I'm in the autumn of my years
And I think of my life as vintage wine
From fine old kegs
From the brim to the dregs
It poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year
That’s one helluva leap from thirty-five to now, isn’t it? Thirty years of my life glossed over. Years in which I went into business on my own and then in partnership with those other Percentages Men. Years when I married again and travelled the world with my second wife. Years when my so-called business partners destroyed a successful company and almost destroyed me into the bargain. Years when I recovered my health and my brain and found I could write again and wrote and published books and made many virtual friends and founded websites and created this blog. Those years.
So do I look back on those years and the earlier ones and think of my life as vintage wine that poured sweet and clear? Not really. But there were some damn good years in amongst them – a mess of good years, as Frank would sing. Vladimir Putin willing, there’ll be many more of the good ones to come.
Okay, people, the final chorus. Very softly now. I can recall/The thrill of it all/Though it were yesterday And fade out.