James was growing up. Having been in the nursery at Rawmarsh Ashwood Road because it was nearer for Auntie Mo to take and pick him him up, we took the decision to move him to a school that was nearer home and so nearer to where his friends were likely to live. Kilnhurst Primary School was the school where I knew the headteacher and so it was that in September he had his first proper day at proper school. He came home and almost immediately fell asleep on the settee, hands between his thighs, shattered. Happy, but shattered.
He was also into everything and collected full sets of toys with an almost obsessive compulsion. He had sets of Digimon playing cards and figures, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figures, Power Rangers figures (all of them) and as for Thunderbirds, well he had everything: figures, videos, books and even a playsuit. Tracy Island was really hard to get hold of in the shops, so I decided we’d make our own and we had a great, messy old time on the patio using newspapers and Plaster of Paris to model the basic shape. We later splodged paint on it (and the flagstones) and when it was dry he played with it for hours. We did eventually get the ‘real’ one but he barely touched it. I guess it was kind of an excuse for me to revisit my childhood and go up into the loft and get out a few Thunderbird toys I’d had as a kid. We used the toys and other bits of stuff to write and photograph James’ own storybook. He was still more of an outdoor kid, though and we spent hours at Wentworth Garden Centre kicking a ball about or in Hoober woods collecting blackberries and running down hills.
Back indoors, whilst I didn’t really understand the concept at first (and actually don’t think James did either), I did start to enjoy the Digimon cartoons on television and thought the way they ‘evolved’ was a great idea, particularly as a means to sell yet more figures! James’ favourite characters were Agumon, Gabumon and WarGreymon but I became utterly convinced that the programme creators were people about my age, trying desperately to get in the names of things they’d loved whilst growing up, when they introduced ‘Metal Gururumon’. Definitely a T.Rex in-joke going on there.
Also wearing their influences on their sleeves, ‘Is This It’ by The Strokes could be the Velvet Underground in its production; the drums sounding like they’re played on a budget kit, the guitars with a live, studiedly amateurish feel and the vocals which are just overloading enough to sound like a cheap microphone has been used. The whole look of the band was straight from Blondie or The Pretenders with their seemingly effortless cool in ever-so-carelessly ripped jeans and battered sneakers combined with slim-fit jackets and skinny ties. It’s just a brilliant album full of brilliant garage rock songs played with a ramshackle sense of joy.
It was the first time I’d ever heard songs on the internet before the album actually came out. I’d read about The Strokes in NME and had been using Napster to frantically (if extremely slowly) download every song I really wanted but had never got around to buying, before the site was closed down for being illegal. We’d talked in the band for years about how great it would be to be able to send new songs to each other and now, it was easily doable. I’d recently upgraded my computer to one of the new iMacs (Blueberry) and thought it was fabulously fast; it still took forever to download a song but at least I could actually do that. The Powermac 5200 I’d previously been using just wouldn’t let me do anything much apart from a bit of very slow Photoshop manipulation and writing the stories with James. I now, for the first time, had one of those new-fangled things called an email address too, though wasn’t really sure what good it would be as I didn’t know anyone else who had one! As I’d been looking on the internet for songs, I’d come across a couple of things by The Strokes – ‘Hard to Explain’ and ‘Barely Legal’ and was so excited by what I heard that I copied them onto a CD writer that I borrowed from school and played them to everyone I thought might be interested. It was, as ever for me, met with a general ambivalence and comments about it being a bit raw and unpolished – in fact everything that I loved about it.
In fact I was a bit disappointed that when the album did come out in July, the versions of those two songs were slightly different from the ones I’d played to death. The drawl was still there on “Oh momma, running out of luck, but like my sister, don’t give a fuck” (Barely Legal) but the arrangement wasn’t quite the same. However, other songs such as ‘New York City Cops’, ‘Someday’ and ‘Last Night’ with its drum track that could have been lifted from ‘This Charming Man’ more than made up for it. It’s also a very sexy album cover.
I was able to put the songs I’d got from Napster onto a CD (the words ‘burn a CD’ came into my vocabulary) to take with me on holiday but I never could sit long enough to listen. We went back to Florida in America to visit the theme parks again. As the kids who went were all a bit older this time, we went to have one of the ‘Character Breakfasts’ at Disney. Big mistake! James was terrified of Winnie The Pooh and just cried and cried his little eyes out. From then on, he clung to me whenever there was a character walking around meeting children. He was eventually fine with Tigger, but that was it. They must seem very big to little people.
Back at home, after his first half term at Kilnhurst Primary, in the holidays James went to his first Soccer School at Swinton. He was absolutely in his element and came away with his first little trophy and medal for ‘Player of The Week’. A sign of things to come, ‘Is This It?’ – not yet.