A piece deceptively camouflaged on a website dedicated to the very best of contemporary poetry! In fact, The Byron was the local cinema in my home town of Hucknall, Nottingham. Named after the Good Lord of “She walks in ’jamas through the night” fame who elected to be buried in the town’s St Mary Magdalene Church. (Truth to tell, he didn’t have a lot of say in the matter!). Incidentally, and I’ll know you’ll be interested, its cemetery also has the grave of Ben Caunt, Hucknall’s national heavyweight bare-knuckle boxing champion.
Lord Byron is commemorated in street names, shop names and business names. Indeed there was a kid of my age on Hankin Street called Byron Abbott. Word had it that he was the most well-behaved kid in the world; he’d run home like the wind when his mother called him in from playing, “BY – RON”. It wasn’t a name he was proud of.
Anyroadup, THE Byron was the picture house. It’s been shut for donkey’s years now or, to be more accurate, it became a bingo hall, then it shut. For me though it will forever remain the flix.
I watched religiously 11 of the 12 Saturday matinee instalments of “Flash Gordon” until something cropped up which prevented me going with my mates to see the final climactic episode. I expect he died or something –NOT!!!
I’d be lying if I said I could remember the adverts back then but I’m quite prepared to believe that they’ve remained unchanged – Kia Ora, Westlers Hotdogs, “There are car pets and there are car pets. But for carpets…” all heralded by “Ya da da da da da da da da da da da, ya da da da da daaaa YAH”. And an ice cream lady with an illuminated tray who wandered around in the interlude with Lyons Maid. She doubled up as an SS guard who crept up on you in the darkness to yell “FEET OFF!” or, more hopefully I suspect, catch couples on the back row playing fiddlesticks with each other.
Sitting in the stalls wasn’t for the faint hearted. You ran the risk of copping some projectile thrown by one of the bigger boys from above in the circle. Worse still, some unidentified fluid. It was the Byron’s urban myth that Nudder, the town cretin, was dangled by his feet from the parapet and lowered into the receiving arms of those below. (It’s not the kind of commotion that would take anyone by surprise no matter how gullible you were for sitting there). It’s said that everyone enjoyed the spectacle, especially Nudder himself.
Another abiding memory, a one-off, is of an incident which may also be within the ambit of your experience. But for me as an 11 year old it was a first. On the screen in B-movie black and white the hero cradled his dying girlfriend in his arms and lamented “She’s gone. What am I to do?” To which some wag at the back shouted “Fuck her while she’s still warm, youth”. Marvellous, marvellous stuff.
Finally another recollection I wish I could call my own (but isn’t) is truly wonderful. My dad told me about it. Or maybe his mate had told him. Or perhaps his mate’s dad – I can’t be sure how long is this chain of hearsay. Any way, a silent movie was showing, frames flickering in harmony with the ticking from the projector. In front of the screen was a raised dias on which a fat lady sat thumping atmospheric accompaniment on a piano to “The Keystone Cops”. Meanwhile, higher up in the stalls rows of small boys were emptying their bladders on the floor.
Now I’ve heard it said there are places in the Rockies where you can pour a bottle of water on the ground which will ultimately flow eastwards into the Mississippi-Missouri complex and on into the Gulf of Mexico. Poured a few feet away and it will flow westward to the Sacramento-San Joaqim valleys of California and on into the Pacific Ocean.
That’s as maybe. But for these young whipper-snappers (and Winifred Atwell, for that matter) there was only one way it could go, as she found herself marooned on Piss Island.
You youngsters whose only experience extends to the comfort of bucket seats at your retail park Multiplex might turn in your graves. As indeed might Byron.