August 14th 1973

“Bludy hot. Went to London for the day with Trev. Good larf. Saw Monotone amp – SMART!”

Blimey, England was in the midst of a heatwave! Two “bludy hot” days in a row.

We probably caught the train to London, each buying a simple ‘cheap day return’ ticket for travel from Eastleigh to Waterloo, the only restriction being you couldn’t arrive in the capital before 10am.

This was of course back in the days when train travel was easy and affordable, the entire network publicly-owned and maintained. Since Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s disgraceful splitting up and privatisation of Britain’s transportation system in the late 80’s/early 90’s, there is no such thing as “simple” train travel anymore. Now, over 100 different companies – all apparently run worse than British Rail ever was – control the network, with a completely different company owning – and (badly) maintaining the track the trains actually run on.

Buying a simple ticket for a train journey these days is an exercise in futility, the sheer number of options as enormous as the restrictions imposed by the plethora of companies all fighting for your business. A quick check suggests that the current cheapest fare for a round-trip train ride similar to the one I took in 1973 is £28.50 (almost $50) which is a ludicrous amount of money for a 60-minute journey.

I don’t know when train traveling fell off people’s radar in such a big way – resulting in these silly pricing levels to cover costs – but I’ll bet it coincides with Thatcher and the Tories decision to decimate the system all those years ago.

In London, I suspect Trev and I eschewed the regular tourist haunts and instead headed straight for the capital’s Tottenham Court Road. In the 50’s and early 60’s, the road found itself home to a peculiar concentration of shops all selling surplus post-war radios and electronics equipment. In the late 60’s and early 70’s many of the shops had switched to selling hi-fi equipment, running the gamut from high-end name-brand stuff to knock-off Japanese radios.

Then, hi-fi shops sat side-by-side down both sides of the street, each with its own particular kind of ‘dodgy salesman’ specially trained to lure unsuspecting tourists or naive buyers into splashing out on something that they either didn’t want or which would break down within days of purchase. A pretty damning reputation.

Trev & I knew of the reputation – most people who read the hi-fi magazines of the day knew – so it seemed unlikely we would be duped. But that wouldn’t have stopped us from visiting every single store from the Oxford Street end all the way north to the City of Westminster, doubtless ooh-ing and aah-ing at the equipment on offer.

Seeing the very name “Monotone” conjured up all kinds of synapse-busting memories for me. I remember this brand sowell – I’m sure I owned a black Monotone amp at some point? – but, strangely, a Google search reveals absolutely nothing whatsoever about it.

In retrospect though, you would think I would have had the intelligence to have certain levels of suspicion about a hi-fi manufacturer – specialising in stereo equipment – trading under the name Monotone, wouldn’t you?

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