Biting cold and childhood memories in Oxford

SharkMaybe I am aclimatising to the frost and ice now im down in Oxford, I almost feel like skinny dipping in the River Thames – I did say almost. I have been visiting a few old haunts around Oxford during my stay, more of the pubs later. Hope you are suitably impressed by the famous headington shark, it’s been in that roof since August 1986. The house owner, Bill Heine, an American ex law student had the 25 foot creature sculpted in fibre glass by John Buckley. It arrived under a veil of secrecy, scaffolding and covers went up and then one morning it was removed to reveal the shark, much to the horror of neighbours and the indignation of the local council. After a big planning row, it was allowed to stay, probably because it had gained so much world wide publicity by then.

Why is it there? i hear you scream – I have very acute hearing. it is called “Untitled 1986” and is supposed to say something about CND, nuclear power and Chernobyl. It has done well for its owner Bill Heine, who became a bit of a local celebrity and then a presenter on BBC Radio Oxford, he later added a giant pair of candy striped kicking legs on the front of his Moulin Rouge cinema, and a giant pair of white Al Jolson like hands on his Penultimate Picture Palace – both have gone now.

When i was younger, so much younger than today, hey thats a good idea for a song lyric, I used to go to the local cinema down the road The Regal, for the saturday morning ABC Minors Matinees. Oh what jolly good fun it was, a cartoon, a main film, and a serial such as Flash Gordon or The Black Whip, try Googling them and you will probably get something much raunchier these days. The cinema closed years ago and after a brief spell as a bingo hall, was left to rot until earlier this year when 2 entrepreneurs bought it and gave it a face lift to become a big live music and private hire venue, I have been itching to have a look, in my young days it just left me itching.

The Regal

As a grade 2 listed building, The Regal has been restored with all the old grandeur and ornate decoration revived. The gorgeous and very helpful Charlotte on reception must have thought i was an escapee from Jurassic Park as she let me in to have a quick nosey. The memories came flooding back, it was 6d to sit downstairs and 9d to sit up in the balcony, a good vantage point to flick sweets etc. I recall the brushed red tip up seats, the kiora and slimy hot dogs and even packets of poppets chocolate sweets. Each week anyone with a birthday was invited on stage to get a free ticket and a goodie bag, some kids seemed to have several birthdays in a year. then there was the song we all had to sing before the films started, I can remember it even now, but suffice to say it was all about how we were all jolly pals together – corny or what.Â

Regal inside

There was also a series of ABC Minors badges you could collect, wish i still had mine, probably very collectable these days and worth a bob or two. Usherettes ( not a job option these days) would stand down the front below the stage in the interval, in their red uniforms, selling choc ices and sweets such as Old Jamaica, a sweet imitation of tobaco, you wouldn’t get away with that now. It was a simpler age, not always better, im sure many of the kids still went out after the show and caused mayhem, shoving bangers up a cats arse or nicking sweets from Woolworths pick and mix – I always went for the raspberry ruffles. Nice to see the old place put to good use, the day after I was there, they had an afternoon tea dance-isn’t that what Max Mosley called his little parties? or is that just my smutty mind.