Lines Chapter 9: Jimmy Fontana

9. Jimmy Fontana

I have three records in my collection that have the name “Carol Worley” written on a sticky label, and stuck on the paper sleeve. Carol Worley is my Cousin. She is ten years older than me. Back in the day, when I was struggling to get the world to acknowledge my superior reggae dancing, Carol epitomised everything that was cool, to me. In the sixties, I had her pegged as a Sandie Shaw character. The jet black hair, the mini skirts; I could easily imagine her singing barefoot on Top Of The Pops. She could possibly have been a modette, if I understood that cultural reference at my young age. We would often go and visit Carol’s parents, Uncle Albert and Auntie Peg, for Sunday tea, but Carol was invariably absent. I had visions of her gadding about in Carnaby Street and having a banana longboat in a Wimpey, whilst I was stuck with dressed crab and melon balls in Hayes. Whatever she was doing, I always assumed that it was a damn sight more interesting than I was doing. It wasn’t jealousy on my part; it was pure awe and admiration.

The three records were: In The Bad Bad Old Days by The Foundations; Lady Willpower by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, and El Mundo by Jimmy Fontana. Nearly fifty years on, those three dynamite pieces of vinyl still feature heavily in my Top One Hundred songs of all time. How they appeared in my record collection is hazy, but I probably nicked them at one of our family New Year’s Eve parties that I used to look forward to each year. I appointed myself as the disc jockey, and everyone would bring their favourite records along, to help the party go with a swing. Auntie Wilky would bring along her Englebert Humperdinck’s and her Vince Hill’s. Auntie Hilda would proudly offer her vast collection of Mrs Mills’ long players. My contributions were more up to date and straight out of the hit parade, but no matter what latest trend I had bought into, Carol would always trump everyone for sublime cool.

In 1970, we went to a Pontin’s holiday camp at Bracklesham Bay in Sussex. It was World Cup year, and all the happy campers had gathered in the ballroom to watch the Brazil vs England big match. Geoff Hurst on the pitch and Brian Clough in the studio. The anticipation was huge. Back in the ballroom, it was all very polite, and the campers showed impeccable manners. There was no shouting or cheering. Definitely no swearing. We clapped politely when Gordon Banks made his incredible save from Pele. There was no rowdy behaviour when the final whistle blew, and England lost. We obligingly trooped off in a line to the pool, and assembled for the weekly beauty contest; the swimsuit round. Needless to say, my holiday song from 1970 was ‘Back Home’ by the England Football squad, and I am sure I would have made it the big number at the 1970 New Year’s Eve party. “Come on, Uncle Bob. It’s Back Home. Shake your tail feather.”

By 1970, Uncle Albert and Auntie Peg had fully embraced the package holiday and took a fortnight in Majorca. Whilst I was hero worshipping Gary Puckett, Uncle Albert was lobbying for a knighthood for Freddie Laker. Looking at this time through 2020 eyes, it seems almost hideous, but we looked upon Uncle Albert and Auntie Peg as the total adventurers. I did a school project on Captain Cook, and I held Uncle Albert in similar esteem. The shine went off slightly after I watched ‘Carry on Abroad’ and was shocked to realise that places like Hotel Els Bells weren’t quite as glamourous and sophisticated as Judith Chalmers had led us to believe. Despite my lowering of the package holiday ranking, Carol scored several cool points by returning home with ‘El Mundo’ by Jimmy Fontana. A massive continental hit from Majorca definitely outstripped ‘Back Home’, purchased from the Bracklesham Bay branch of Rumbelows.

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I learned all the words to El Mundo. If I had been brave enough, I would have performed it at the 1971 Pontins, Bracklesham Bay Junior Talent Contest. My Mum would have been as pleased as punch, if my outstanding vocal ability had won us a free, return holiday in September, to take part in the Grand Finals. Unfortunately, my vocal chords were weak, and my backbone was weaker still, so the Sussex holidaymakers were spared my Jimmy Fontana tribute act. The closest we ever came to winning a free September holiday was when my Dad won the underwater swimming competition. Every spectator in the grandstand held their breath as Dad completed his winning, one length and three quarters. Unfortunately, Dad only got two weeks off work each year, so we had to decline the autumn invitation.

Although I was word perfect at El Mundo, I had no idea what the actual words meant. It was several decades later, and the introduction of Google translation, that I put the lyrics through the translating mincer. The words instantly lost all their appeal. I studied French for A Level, and the greatest appeal of French to me was the sound of the language. In Spanish, the sound of the lyrics, sounded what I imagined beautiful, but dirty sex to sound like. El Mundo in its native tongue takes me floating high above the mountains, before dropping spectacularly into the crystal blue sea. It has me emerging from the sea, more swarthy than Daniel Craig, whilst scores of senoritas swoon at my knees. El Mundo, translated into English, conjures up images of Charles Hawtrey, lying pissed, on a sun lounger, at Pinewood.

El Mundo has helped me through life. It can disappear off my radar for years, but like a faithful Spanish hound, it always returns. I have it on a loop on my Spotify, as I write this chapter. For me, it is part dreamy fantasy: and part Schoppenhaeur. It is beauty and ugliness. It is love and pain. As the chorus builds, I am transported back to my French A Level course and Voltaire’s ‘Candide’. Jimmy Fontana could be Doctor Pangloss delivering his final line, where he announces that he’s seen all the horrors of the world, and now he’s off to cultivate his own garden.

On the Costa Del Sol, El Mundo  is like breathing in exquisite air. On the front at Camber Sands, it’s a bloody soppy song, strangled by its own sentimentality. How can you be part of a greater whole, whilst keeping hold of yourself, is a question raised by El Mundo that can cause restlessness in the face of your internal calm. And it’s sung with a Spanish swish that appeals to me as much as a man in his sixties, as it did to the eleven year-old me. The boy who was trying to match his cousin for cool, by apeing the vocal dynamics of Bobby Charlton.

“El Mundo.
No se la parado ni un momento.
La noche le sigue al dia.
Y el dia vendra.

Esta noche amor, no he pensado mas.
En ti,
En ti.”

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The funny thing was, that Uncle Albert, Auntie Peg and Carol were not the first members of the Worley family to travel to Spain, although they were probably the first Worleys to know all the words to the second verse of Y Viva Espana.

It was one fine April morning in 1811, that Moses and Anne Paget dragged their cumbersome crates and battered trunks along the dockside at the Port of Barossa. What little money they had left after two weeks of bartering for stockings in the Spanish markets, had to be spent sparingly. There was still the matter of the cost of sailing home to be negotiated, so a cart to carry the luggage was out of the question.

Moses looked at his wife with a mixture of pride, and not a little guilt. Three weeks away from her expected date of confinement, Anne displayed her customary pluck, and ignored the danger that carrying two heavy cases might pose for a woman in her condition. It was in the Spanish mercados that Anne truly came alive. Not for her, the drudgery of the life of a working class mother in England. To observe Anne, bartering loudly and with broad humour, was to see a woman, unafraid to mix in the rough, male world of  stocking trading. Moses blessed his good fortune, in choosing his lifelong companion, so well.

Finally, the Pagets found their boat. They had already paid a large deposit for their passage, and Anne had been silently fretting that the captain of the boat had been no such thing and, like a scoundrel, had departed with their money. Her anxiety was unfounded as the ruddy faced skipper relieved her of her load, and offered his arm to help her board. No such assistance was offered to Moses who was left to hurl his own boxes onto the deck.

The captain’s wife came out from her quarters, with a plentiful tray of bread and fruits. Within minutes of departing, the motley passengers were replenished and enjoying themselves with a raucous chorus of sea shanties. Anne had her own bawdy repertoire which she bellowed out as the small boat ploughed its way through the ocean.

Moses, in utter contentment, stroked his wife’s round belly, and waited expectantly for the scorching sun of the Gibraltar Straits……….

2 thoughts on “Lines Chapter 9: Jimmy Fontana”

  1. Really enjoying this Mark, just the thing to take us away from these times but draw all the connections too – thank you.

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