At the movies · Memories

Ickenham and Fassbinder, Summer 1982

As a teenager I spent some of my holidays working on building sites. I never worked in offices, in hospitality, or in retail, unlike many of my contemporaries. The money was good. University friends in particular were surprised at the daily rates my brother and I could command. He usually earned more, being three years older than me and with much more experience in the building game.

There was only one summer when my brother, my father and I worked on the same large project for any length of time. It was the construction of a data centre in Ickenham 40 years ago, in the summer of 1982. The subbie we were working for even provided us with a van for several weeks. I didn’t take driving lessons until many years later, so my brother or my father took turns at the wheel and I was able to doze off most mornings on the journey north and west. I can’t even recall the route we took, but it was over 10 miles from home and generally took around 45 minutes.

Many of the other “building sites” I worked at were small-scale: houses being renovated rather than the major construction projects my father worked on. Occasionally I would do even smaller scale things like clearing out all the fittings in a couple of rooms in readiness for a properly skilled workman to refurbish them.

Our time in Ickenham, 40 years ago this summer, came to an unexpected end. My father got the start at another job, my brother got some strange fungal infection in his mouth and throat and was off sick for over a week, and I, as the least skilled member of the team, was not kept on.

I was able to return to my regular holiday pastime of touring London’s repertory cinemas, catching up on whatever seasons were being programmed at the Hampstead Everyman, the Electric in Portobello Road and the Renoir in Russell Square. The last of these was commemorating the recent death of prolific German film-maker Rainer Werner Fassbinder. His 1980 release “The Marriage of Maria Braun” was an arthouse hit in the UK. Like Volker Schlondorff’s “The Tin Drum” it was one of the few German films of the time to reach a large audience here. I spent many afternoons that summer watching Fassbinder double bills. I admired his work ethic, over 35 features in around 13 years. He crammed a lot into his 37 years.

I also spent much of the summer trying to read Theodor Fontaine’s 1895 novel “Effi Briest”. Fassbinder had adapted it in 1974, although period drama wasn’t really his thing. It took me so long I might as well have tried reading it in German.

I started this piece intending to write about a rusty nail, but I’ll leave that for later. [Update: You can find it here.] Not for the first time, I have been caught up here in vivid memories of a specific time in my life. And (probably not for the last time) I have to ask, how on earth was that 40 years ago? 


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