Its Christmas 1968 and Ned and I are in the living room hastily unwrapping our prezzies at 4am in the morning.
However dear reader you have to remember that we lived in a bungalow and so did not have the luxury of a full floor between the living room and our parents bedroom, in fact our parents bedroom was just one very thin plasterboard partition wall away from the living room.
It didn’t take long before one very aggravated father arrived on the scene fresh from his slumbers and with a head full of Christmas eve booze, “Get to bloody bed” is all he slurred, “But dad…” we tried and he gave us that look that told us that, Christ’s Birthday or not, a clout around the back of the head was on its way if we didn’t move within nano-seconds.
So reluctantly leaving several half unwrapped presents laying around on the living room floor we trudged down the corridor back to our shared bedroom and wrapped ourselves in the assorted blankets, eiderdowns and coats that shielded our tender young bodies against the frost and ice inside our non-central-heated bungalow, yes, I said inside, and no, thats not a typo.
The favoured method of retaining warmth within your bed was to start at one side and holding onto the layers of bedding, roll yourself over and over until you ended up on the other side of the bed in a huge roll of wool and cotton like some giant sausage roll.
And so I lay there awake in the dark and started counting to sixty. Thats one minute then, that’ll make it what, ten past four, count to sixty again, thats eleven minutes past four, not long now, we can probably get up at 7.30, count to sixty again …
Neeeeeeee, nee-neeeee, went the noise.
“Wha…?” I muttered inside my woollen sausage roll of bedding
Neeeeeeee-ne-naaaah, went the tinny noise
I unravelled my self from my sausage roll of bedding, neeeee-ne-neeeeeee it went again
It was coming from under the covers of our Neds bed, muffled, but definitely underneath the covers, he was nowhere to be seen but the lump under the eiderdown told me he was under there somewhere, neeeee-ne-naaaaa it went again.
“Whats that noise” I hissed a whisper at him for even our bedroom was only one very thin plasterboard partition wall away from our parents bedroom, every room in that small bungalow was only one very thin plasterboard wall away from anywhere else.
“What noise” came back the muffled words from beneath his bed covers
“That neeeeee-neeeeee-neeeee noise” I said
“I can’t hear no neeeee-neeeee-neeeee noise” he replied
I sat up in bed for a few minutes of silence
Neeeeee-neeee-neeeee-nah it went again, it was definitely coming from under his bed covers.
“Its coming from under your bed covers” I hissed very loudly, “what is it”
There was a long pause, then neeeeeeee-eeeeee
“Its a Stylophone” he finally admitted, a Christmas present that he’d managed to slip into his pyjama top and smuggle back to bed without our dad seeing, neeeeeeeee-neeeee it went as you moved the stylus across the flat printed keyboard, neeeeee-neh as you tried to follow the sheet music that came with it.
There has never been a musical instrument like the Rolf Harris Stylophone, either then or since.
Christmas 68 saw every family in the land own one, a bit like a couple of years later when every family in the land owned Simon & Garfunkels “Bridge Over Troubled Water” album, it was the law, every family in the land had to own a Stylophone and kids all over this land nurtured dreams of becoming the worlds first rock star Stylophone player.
But first there was the tricky prospect of mastering “When The Saints Go Marching In”, kindly provided for you in musical notation form by the one and only Rolf Harris, the man who was solely to blame for the invasion of the neeeeee-neh machine to these shores, a man who escaped prosecution and many years in prison for crimes against the ear in 1968 only because he was the only person in the land to play “When The Saints Go Marching In” on the infernal machines thus proving to a judge that it could be classified as a musical instrument and not a public menace.
Even David Bowie had one and many fans of the weirdo musician swear that he used a Stylophone at the end of his massive international hit record “Space Oddity”, personally I can hear the resemblance to a Stylophone, personally I like the idea that David Bowie should walk into a state-of-the-art recording studio with its myriad of Moog synthesizers at his beck and call only to pull a Rolf Harris Stylophone from his pocket and speak to the engineers behind the glass “Its OK, I’ll use this instead, man”, personally I like that image, personally I don’t think that its a Stylophone on the end of “Space Oddity” for whatever that musical instrument is, is in tune.
Our Ned drove us mad that Christmas with his abortive attempts to play “When The Saints Go Marching In” on his Stylophone, if only Rolf in his madness had included the notation for at least one more tune in the oh-so-brief pamphlet that came with the cursed machine then it might have saved our fathers ultimate breakdown at the Christmas lunch table late that afternoon as our Ned ignored the turkey and all the trimmings to show us what he’d learned in the twelve hours since he first put the batteries in underneath the bed clothes – “Oh When The….” is as far as he went, faltering slightly to read the pamphlet again on the note for “When”, there was no need for our father to snatch the Stylophone off the table in quite so violent a way and absolutely no need at all for him to throw it quite so far up the garden, halfway would have done just as well.