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  • Writer's pictureMark Howitt

Absolute Beginners

The summer of 1986 was hot. So darned hot that of an evening I couldn’t even be bothered reversing my Renault 12 into the driveway. But leaving it parked on the road I paid the price, boy did I pay the price.

The thieves were quite selective in what they took, for example they didn’t take the car. From inside the car they half-inched cassettes by the Blow Monkeys and the Cocteau Twins but left - perhaps out of respect for my superior musical taste - Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s debut album Flaunt It. Also included in their evil swag was a recently reissued copy of the novel Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes which I kept in the glove compartment in the hope that it might spark conversation and lead to romance. I was hoping for “Oh, Colin MacInnes. Did you know he was Angela Thirkell’s son?” “Yes, crazy; two different styles of writing you could not imagine! Shall we get married?” But the best I got was “What the fuck do you keep books in your car for?”


At this distance I couldn’t say for certain that at the time - prior to its theft that is - that I actually read the book. I suspect not, my reading material in 1986 being largely comprised of Management and Cost Accounting by Colin Drury and The Face. What I do know is that I also didn’t see the film starring Eddie O’Connell as … Colin (not Drury), and Patsy Kensit as Crepe Suzette. This was the reason the book was reissued with O’Connell and Kensit on the cover in front of a fiery London sky, the former looking glaikit, the latter dreaming of a life yet to come with the mental one out of Oasis, not Bonehead, Noel’s brother, forgotten his name.

The film was one of two that I am aware of which didn’t even last a week at my local cinema the Dominion. The other one was It Couldn’t Happen Here (1988) a musical starring everyone’s favourite pop duo Pet Shop Boys plus Barbara Windsor and Gareth Hunt, a sort of Carry On West End Girls. Too busy reading Management and Cost Accounting over the weekend I rocked up on Monday evening only to be advised by the cinema’s owner Mr Cameron that “it hadn’t really worked out” and they’d pulled the film after three days. I haven’t seen that film either.

I don’t give up easily though: I have actually seen Patsy Kensit in a film shown at the Dominion. Blame It On The Bellboy (1992) is perhaps not the best film ever to have been made but along with Kensit there is a stellar cast of British comedic actors: Dudley Moore, Richard Griffiths, Alison Steadman, Penelope Wilton, Jim Carter. Actually, despite the stellar cast of British comedic actors Blame It On The Bellend is a complete turkey and that is maybe why that afternoon I was the only person in the cinema.

Where was I? Yes, Absolute Beginners. So, on Sunday there, we were on a road trip to Northumberland and stopped at our favourite second hand book shop Barter Books in Alnwick. And there it was in the fiction overflow section at the back (close to the “spicy” books). Wasn’t even looking for it but it was as if it calling to me, just sticking out of the shelf a wee bit. Same edition, O’Connell and Kensit still staring into the distance. And I’m just so happy to be reunited with it.

Might even read it this time.

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