It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible



I’m not sure what triggered it, but the day before yesterday I was reminded of the first science fiction novel I can recall reading. And that got me thinking about the first album I remember buying, and the first film I remember seeing in a cinema. So I decided to write a blog post about them.

First book
I remember reading books on Norse mythology and maritime mysteries, and by Joan Aiken, as a kid, but the first sf novel I remember owning was… Doctor Who and the Zarbi. We were living in Dubai, in a villa in Jumeirah, and my parents gave it to me for Christmas. So it must have been 1975. Because the previous Christmas we were in Qatar, and the following September I started at boarding school in the UK. During my first year at boarding school, I was introduced to “proper” science fiction by a kid in my class called Silver who lent me Robert Heinlein’s Starman Jones. Then a lad in the year below me named Hopkinson lent me an EE ‘Doc’ Smith novel – one of the Lensman series, I think – and I started buying sf novels myself. In fact, several years later I bought all seven of the Lensman books – the Panther paperbacks with the Chris Foss cover art. I still have them.


First film
I know I saw several Disney films in the main hall at Doha English Speaking School – my clearest memory is of The Jungle Book – but the first film I saw in a cinema was Where Eagles Dare, also in Doha. I remember the cinema was open air and that we sat on folding chairs, and I can remember watching the movie on the screen quite clearly. The film was released in 1968, but it was unlikely to have been available in the Gulf until several years later. We left Qatar in 1974, so it was either that year or the previous one. In which case, I’ll have been seven or eight years old. Of course, Where Eagles Dare is now a Sunday afternoon perennial on television, so I’ve no idea how many times I’ve seen it since. The first genre film I can recall seeing is Planet of the Apes. After leaving Qatar, we moved to Oman and  lived in a villa in a small camp outside the Sultan’s palace in Seeb. We would often visit the army barracks at Rusayl, where there was a film club. They’d project films onto the end of a barracks block, in a small area fenced off with barasti and provided with folding chairs.


First album
One of the first bands I can remember owning an album by was Deep Purple. But that was a pirate cassette – you could buy them openly in the Middle East during the 1970s; and, in fact, right up to the mid-1990s. They usually cost less than £1. I remember them being Dh 4/- each during the 1980s when there were about six UAE Dirhams to the Pound Sterling. The first legitimate album I can remember buying was a LP, and I bought it in a record shop on Clumber Street in Nottingham. The shop has long since gone and I no longer remember its name. The album was Cat Stevens’ Foreigner, and I still have it. I don’t listen to it that much, though. The album was released in 1973, and I’m fairly sure I bought it before I started at boarding school in 1976. So I’m guessing it was either summer 1975 or summer 1976 when I purchased it. It might have been the year before.


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5 thoughts on “Firsts

  1. Having family in the Nottingham area, I was travelling there a lot in the 1960s and 70s, and I vaguely remember a record shop on Clumber Street. I’ve consulted a book I have, entitled ‘Nottingham; old and new’, which is now notable for the “new” pictures being taken in 1973, so they are as historic in their own way as the 19th-century/pre-WW1 ones! But the picture of Clumber Street in 1973 reveals no record shop, merely a branch of Wigfalls electrical retail (though some electrical retail shops also sold records in the 1960s and ’70s, I recall) and an un-named bookshop four doors up from Wigfalls.

    If time machines ever get invented, I suspect they’d be used far more to settle this sort of question than for viewing the key events in history…

    • I remember it being about halfway down the pedestrianised bit on the right-hand side coming from the Vic Centre.

      I can remember electrical shops selling LPs and cassettes too. In fact, I remember buying a cassette version of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds from one such shop in Mansfield’s Four Seasons Centre. It was Dixons because I remember they sold own-brand stereos under the marque Prinz.

  2. To continue the Middle Eastern theme, I am pretty sure the first sf book I read was Arthur C Clarke’s Islands In The Sky, it was about 1965 and I was about 7 and in the hills above Beirut, where my parents were having drinks with their friends, Peggy and Jeppy Jepps. They had no kids, or probably my brother and I would have been doing something with them instead of raiding the Jepps’ bookshelves. I only started the book there, though I think I must have been allowed to borrow it to finish it. My father was an airline pilot (and so was Jeppy) and interested in “space”, which encompassed mild astronomy (first learnt for navigation) and a certain amount of pre-New Wave science fiction.

    I can’t remember my first film, though. Beirut, where I was born, was rather more cosmopolitan in the bars, restaurants and cinemas line in the 50s and 60s than the Gulf in the 70s, and Hamra, the main shopping street, had several cinemas and we used to go to them pretty often. I am certain I saw Mary Poppins in a commercial cinema there, and that came out in 1964. I might even have seen Hellzapoppin’ before that, in the British Council. I certainly remember various slightly later films, like Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines and The Great Race (both 1965). Lebanon used to get films pretty quick, as far as I can tell, so I may have seen them in the same year.

    The first record I was given was in 1968, for Xmas (still in Beirut), and was Holst’s The Planets (going back to the space theme). I had been away for my first term at boarding school in the UK; for half term I stayed with my uncle and aunt in Wales and heard it there and liked it. The first album I bought for myself also had a bit of a science fiction and Apollo space element, To Our Children’s Children’s Children by The Moody Blues, which came out in 1969 but I got second-hand – in York, where I was at school – in about 1971, I think, or maybe even later. “Blasting, billowing, bursting forth/ With the power of ten billion butterfly sneezes/ Man, with his flaming pyre/ Has conquered the wayward breezes”.

    My father might have flown you or your family if you/they ever flew on Kuwait Airways between 1956 and 1974 (when he retired).

    • We flew pretty much on BOAC all the time in the late 1960s / early 1970s, and I think the first time I flew Kuwait Airways was 1995 on a trip from Abu Dhabi to the US. We did visit Beirut around 1973 or 1974, but the only thing I can remember is having a Spanish omelette for the first time in the hotel restaurant 🙂

      • We stopped living in Beirut in 1970 when aircrew like my father, who’d been allowed to commute till then, had to be based in Kuwait itself. However, we still got some free flights and went back for Xmas and Easter. Once was Easter 1973, and I took a Super 8 film of the visit – who knows, maybe you were there at the time (the hotel we stayed in was the Mayflower).

        My brother badly broke his leg skiing on the 9th April (the date is scratched in the snow), and then was disturbed overnight in hospital by the aftermath of an Israeli commando raid that killed several Palestinian leaders that same night.

        That Super-8 movie, plus some 16mm film my father took in the 60s, is on my website here, if you’re interested. Plus some photos of the time too. Might remind you of those days. The sound effects are all added, as our cameras had no sound recording. The image quality is not superb (filmed with a digital camera off a film projected on card) but still.

        The stories listed there were mostly published in Interzone a while back.

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