Some of my most influential films were on 8mm

So its 1978 and I am resident in contractors digs in Jesmond, soon to move to Whitley Bay on a whim, I work as a bonus surveyor on building sites for a large electrical contractor in Newcastle, I’m in the post by complete accident and a fluke of nature, was given the job rather than specifically asking if I could do it, never had to apply for it or go through a selection criteria, more a case of “You’ll do, here, you’re our bonus surveyor now”, no qualifications required.

Everything is OK, its an OK sort of life, I drive to Newcastle every Monday morning, check into the contractors digs ever Monday evening, driive home every Friday night, dump my dirty washing for my mother to cope with and half an hour later I’m out on the town with my mates, its an OK sort of lifestyle.

One aspect of the job that I never asked for is that I get to order all of the materials for all of the building sites that we are working on, this is a large contractor and we’re involved on ten or more building sites across the North East at any given moment employing 70 or so electricians, that takes a lot of material ordering for one person and it also makes that one person very popular among the four wholesalers that we deal with, very popular.

Of course I am not favoured by bribes or indulgences or anything like that for I am scrupulously fair and honest and would not favour one wholesaler over another just because that wholesaler took me out for lunch most Friday lunchtimes, oh no, not me I am as honest as the day is long and John the sales rep from Edmundsons Electrical was completely wasting his time and money by taking me out to lunch with a frequency that most married couples don’t go out to lunch and I never gave them an order just for a free lunch, or even a free lunch every week, no sir, not me, not at all.

Most of our business went through Edmundsons, well they took me to the pub down the road every Friday so it stands to reason really, and they were the cheapest, sometimes anyway, and the beef dinner at the Flying Scotsman was damn good on a Friday.

A rep from BEMCO, another wholesaler, called in one day wanting to know what they needed to do to gather some more orders from us, me, and as I perused my diary pointing at the fact that Thursday lunchtimes seemed to be free most weeks he happened to mention that his business were offering bribes on a more official basis, I was interested, poured us both a coffee and sat down to listen intently.

Points were to be awarded he explained, for everything you bought and some things, the things that they wanted rid of, attracted more points, and with those points you could order, LP’s.

Musical discs on vinyl, yes you remember, big 12″ plastic things that you played on a record player a bit like massive CD’s but black, played music on both sides, yes you remember, I told you all about them a few weeks ago, anyway BEMCA were offering a whole booklet full of LP’s and all you had to do was to start ordering your supplies from them instead of Edmundsons, well, I ask you, you would wouldn’t you, it was good this bribery stuff in the 1970s.

I soon had points to order almost every LP in their catalogue and it as soon as I’d got all the ones I wanted I started to tell other people in the office and hand out tokens for LP’s in a generous benefactor sort of way, they were all very grateful and never once asked how on earth an electrical wholesaler came to be giving out LP’s, well you wouldn’t would you, thats how bribery worked in the 1970’s you never asked questions.

ITT got to know about this and soon their rep came a-calling to explain that they too had a points system starting up but instead of LP’s you could choose from a much bigger catalogue of all sorts of gadgets and things, so having reached the bottom of the barrel in the BEMCO catalogue (its how I came to own The Muppets album) I switched allegiance to ITT having forgone my album supply and free beef dinners in The Flying Scotsman.

It didn’t take long to build up a good number of points with ITT and thus came the question “What do I get out of their catalogue?” and therein lay the quandary.

No, not to tell anyone else wasn’t the quandary, that question just never crossed my mind, they could share the next set of points this set of points was mine, but there wasn’t really anything in the catalogue that I fancied for most of the gadgets were for those who owned houses, stuff for their garden, colour TV sets, swiss fondue sets, that sort fo thing but I was a wandering vagabond, I lived in contractors digs and didn’t even have the same bedroom every week, a new three piece suite was no use to me at all.

So I chose an 8mm cine camera.

Up until that point I had no interest in photography at all, moving photography or otherwise, but I had to use the points up and so a cine camera seemed like it could be fun, I’d film various friends making fools of themselves and maybe become a famous film director into the bargain, it happens sometimes for I’d read that Alfred Hitchcock had never wanted to be a film director, he just went on from arsing about with an 8mm cine camera with his mates.

The camera arrived and so did problem number one, there didn’t seem to be any method of recording your mates antics onto media that could record, this children was in the day before memory chips were invented, the memory chips of yore were called film and it came in reels that were very long, miles and miles of film were need for just a few minutes of arsing about with your mates.

So off I went to Boots to buy some cine film, it came in a cartridge to make it easier to load into the camera and it cost an absolute fortune and when I go the one cartridge home that I’d purchased I found that it only gave you four minutes of film time, well that was hardly going to go anywhere towards making my first feature length film was it.

But we took the camera on a camping trip, me, the Burt Brothers and Smig and we decided that lots of ten second clips would be best in order to cram as much detail into our feature length four minute film as possible, we started with a script but with each scene only being ten seconds long and no sound (it wasn’t a posh cine camera at all) the whole thing soon degenerated into ten seconds of waving at the camera, I’d be walking down a cliff top path with the threesome in front of me and I’d switch on the camera and shout at them and they’d all turn around and wave, the whole thing took about ten seconds and so that was fine.

When we got home I took the cartridge back to Boots and they sent it away for developing and the next week it came back and I rushed home with it.

Thats when I realised that you needed a film projector to watch the film on.

Well I had to order some more stuff from ITT anyway so the following Monday the actual order was doubled and by means of doing this for several weeks I finally accumulated enough points to swap them for a cine film projector.

By this time we had shot several more cartridges worth of Boots film, we were quite enjoying the film making thing and most weekends we’d be out there with a fresh cartridge and a whole list of ten second scenes to shoot, waving at the camera, that sort of stuff, no sound.

We organised a night in and not having any points to swap for a cine film screen I just pointed the projector at a wall, loaded up the first film and sat down with everyone to watch. It was our camping trip, four minutes of three mates waving at the camera with no sound, it got quite boring after two minutes but we played it through and then I loaded another film – it was our shopping trip into Leeds, four minutes filled with ten second scenes of three mates waving at the camera while stood in front of different pubs, it got boring after one minute so I loaded another film, it was our afternoon spent drunk in Steves back garden, ten seconds worth of stupid grins and waving at the camera, then the film jammed in the projector and we had to cut that one to pieces to get it free again – this was turning into a fookin stupid hobby, and an expensive one, if I’d had to pay for all the equipment which fortunately I hadn’t.

The cine camera didn’t really get used that much after the film jammed in the projector, we moved onto other things to do when you are bored but there was just one time when my mother asked to borrow the cine camera to take to Benidorm with some friends from the Con Club, she bought three film cartridges to record the jolly holiday and when she got back she could hardly wait for them to come back developed from Boots, we loaded up the projector again and watched twelve minutes of blackness, with no sound, I had to go get the camera out to see if it was faulty in any way and while examining it my mother asked what that black round thing was on the table, it was the lens cap that I’d removed when I took it our of the box, my mother asked what it was for and we slowly established that actually, she’d filmed the whole holiday with the lens cap on the camera.

We definitely didn’t use the cine camera after that, we simply couldn’t match my mothers story for humour after that.

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