Hits and memories: 3
Updated: May 27, 2020
Peggy Lee – Latin ala Lee (1960, Capitol)
This isn’t so much about the songs – although I love Peggy Lee’s voice, and the opening track, ‘Heart’ – it’s that foxy, Grammy-award-winning album cover, and the memories of our family home it conjures.
We lived in a converted coach house in Stanmore, a village in what was the county of Middlesex. It’s been swallowed up now by Greater London and, in the process, has lost much of its villagey charm. Our house on Stanmore Hill was absolutely not what every upwardly mobile Northwest London Jew would have aspired to during that 1960s diaspora to leafier suburbs: neither new, nor easy-clean. Apparently, Grandpa Barney Parker, my mother’s father, was not amused.
As well as a cavernous garage, converted from the original carriageway and stable for the coaches heading north from London, the house had a massive room tacked on to the back, originally used for dances, by all accounts, its floors laid with miles of parquet. It had been updated with a mid-century irregular sandstone-or-some-such cladded feature wall that boasted an inset electric heater, whose elements changed colour, from pink, through blue, purple and green at regular intervals, to fabulously psychedelic effect.
We called this room – not entirely surprisingly – “the big room”, and it was here that my father would escape to after supper to slump on the elongated sofa and listen to music, drink “noch more” bourbon or whisky, and smoke like a chimney – Dunhill cigarettes, an occasional cigarillo or a pipe (his smoking was as much part of his accessorising as his cravats).
Often, he’d sit drawing with charcoals and painting in oils and watercolours, or making clay figures (including a complete chess set in the form of circus animals and clowns, a trio of which I still have on my shelf). He even tried his hand at etching glass, inspired by a book on Laurence Whistler (Rex’s brother) that he might have picked up on his Thursday wanderings through the West End, escaping the drear of the “gown trade” he endured his whole working life. I still have the champagne flute Dad engraved for my 21st birthday.
It was in the big room, too, that he could play records on his “steereo” as loudly as he liked, from classical symphonies and ballet scores, to the popular musicals of the day – Stop the World I Want to Get Off, West Side Story, Oliver! – and, of course, his “girls” – Peggy, Sarah (Vaughan), Ella (Fitzgerald) and Lena (Horne).
My younger sister, Belinda, and I danced – at great personal risk – to everything in front of that wall heater, in various states of dress, undress and fancy dress (much of it highly flammable, as the fashion of the day dictated).