by Karen J Mossman
In 1973, I was a teenager and the most important things in my life were music and fashion. I lived in Withington in Manchester with my parents and siblings.
A few of us, including my brother, John, would catch a bus through to Chorlton and then walk over to the Stretford border to an under sixteens discotheque. We would queue outside excitedly. There was always someone who didn’t know about the neon lighting. It showed up anything white – mostly bras, which made us giggle.
We headed for the spiral staircase where we could watch the dance floor below. Gary Glitter was at the height of his popularity and we danced to Do You Wanna Be In My Gang and I Love You, Love.
The D.J. was Andy Peebles, who went on to find fame with Radio One. I recalled him turning up one night with his face all scarred and rumours circulated how he’d got into a fight outside.
We walked home through a roundabout, which as full of trees and bushes. Not the sort of place to walk through at night, but we were young and fearless. We didn’t care about the reputation of the area.
The roundabout was the Quadrant and the disco these days is now a B & Q Stores, although I have heard it has recently closed down. Little did I guess some 40 years later I would be living nearby.
The 70s were known for its fashion and everybody loved dressing up. We were no exception with our Penny Round collars, tank tops, and flared trousers. We thought we were cool with our feather cuts and bomber jackets.
Platform shoes were the height of fashion and the place to buy them from was Dolcis. I used to go to a shop in Market Street, in the centre of Manchester where it was considered cool to buy from. Only your mother ever wore shoes without a platform. The trendiest ones I had were made from brown fabric with a platform that resembled a brick.
Boys bought their clothes from Stolen from Ivor and the girls from Chelsea Girl. It did your image good to be seen carrying one of their carrier bags.
One day I went into Chelsea Girl and couldn’t find my size. Timidly, I asked the assistant: ‘Excuse me, but I can’t find anything in twenty eight waist.’
She gave me a look I remember to this day. ‘We don’t do that big. Twenty six is the largest.’ I was mortified and snuck out of the shop feeling like an elephant.
John and I, along the neighbourhood kids, played in Ladybarn Park, across the road from where we lived. It had a Lover’s Lane with a roundabout that made a terrific cycle track and I’d even seen kids going round with the go-karts too. There was an abundance of bushes and trees round the sides, which made great hiding places. We’d play British Bulldog and Kick the Can and later smoked behind trees where nobody could see us. I think the odd snogging session went on there as well!
At thirteen my friend Julie and I bought our first packet of cigarettes – 5 Park Drive. We found an old tree with a hole to store them in so our parents didn’t find out. Afterwards we’d rub our hands with grass to take away the smell.
Bruce Lee made his first film, Enter The Dragon and David Carradine was starring in the cult TV series Kung Fu. Everybody wanted to learn how to fight.
I fell in love for the first time in the autumn of seventy-three. His name was Ray, he worked with Steve, John’s friend, and he rode a motorbike. I couldn’t eat or sleep and just lived for seeing him; life was wonderful.
Steve and his other mate Karl were impressed with Ray’s Honda 125. They both saved and bought one each. This meant they could travel anywhere and on their travels met two girls.
Tracy and Sue, they were called, and they came back to Withington on the bikes with the lads. It didn’t matter that it was illegal to carry pillion passengers until they had passed their test.
Julie and I were in awe of the girls. They were cool and trendy, Tracy particularly. She had her a dark fringe with bleached blonde hair and heavy black eye liner. She also had a tattoo on her arm. She was different from the type of girls we normally hung round with. She and Sue always wore the latest fashion of midi skirts with short waisted cardigans.
Tracy and I had didn’t really have much in common. She was tough in the way she acted and dressed, but when I got to know her I realised she was just like me underneath her hard exterior.
‘What do you think of my shoes?’ she asked me one day as we were sitting on the wall outside my house. ‘I’ve sprayed them silver.’
I was impressed. ‘Wow, that’s cool. My mum’d never allow me to do that.’
‘I needed a new pair,’ she said, shrugging as if it was an everyday thing to spray your shoes. They had a big thick heel and a small platform.
My first job after leaving school was an office junior in offices above Rodgers the Florist in Chorlton. Tracy, Steve, and Ray, came up to see me in my lunch hour. The lads went into the barbers next door and as they had their hair full of lather, we girls laughed at them. Things like that were funny then
Carl Douglas entered the charts with Kung Fu Fighting and we were all in the grips of g Kung Fu Mania.
Tracy loved The Jackson Five, and I would watch her dance to them. She looked really good; I wanted to be more like her.
Karl was still seeing Sue, but was two-timing her with my friend Julie. She knew about Sue, but Sue didn’t know about her. So it was complicated. After a while he finished it, to stick with Julie, and we never saw Sue again.
Things between Steve and Tracy were not going well either. Tracy worshipped him, and couldn’t bear to be away from him. I felt sorry for her because I knew Steve didn’t feel the same.
‘She’s getting to be a nuisance,’ he told me. ‘How do I get rid of her? I get home from work and she’s sitting on the doorstep. She won’t take the hint.’
‘You have to just tell her,’ I said, knowing that it would break Tracy’s heart if he finished it.
One day I came home to find the police talking to Mum. The police never visited us. She looked worried. ‘Here’s Karen now. Come and sit down,’ she told me. ‘These policemen want to talk to you.’
I was shocked, this was a surreal.
‘When was the last time you saw Steve?’ one of them asked.
‘Last night,’ I said puzzled. Steve was a bit of a wide boy, but he’d never been in trouble with the police. ‘He was here, we were playing cards with me and John.’
‘What time did he leave?’ they asked.
‘About 11.30. Why? What’s wrong?’
‘Can I tell her?’ Mum asked. They nodded and she said gently, ‘Karen, Tracy’s dead.’
My first thought was that Steve had finished it and she had killed herself, but they soon put me straight.
‘She was murdered,’ said the detective. ‘She was found this morning in a school playground.’
I was stunned. Not Tracy.
‘You don’t think Steve…’ the thought was preposterous.
‘He’s gone missing,’ they said. ‘We know he was going out with her.’
‘He was trying to finish it,’ I blurted, ‘She didn’t want to. If you think, Steve…’ I laughed nervously. ‘He would never do that. Besides he was here till late,’ I repeated.
It was Friday 13th September 1973. Shock waves ran through us. While the police were with me, Steve and Karl were at the scene talking to detectives there and quickly eliminated from their enquires.
We bought every newspaper that carried the story and went to Karl’s house to read them. The lads, Steve, Karl, Ray and John, were going through every possibility. Who could have done it and why?
Murder was unusual in those days and it made the headlines in the evening paper. Apart from her photograph, there was a picture of the scene, and a single silver sprayed shoe.
The killer was apprehended fairly quickly. Someone she knew who had followed her from the chip shop. Afterwards he had tried to kill himself. We didn’t know if he would pull through and he lay in a coma for days. He did, and was soon convicted with a jail term. Steve said when he eventually comes out, Tracy’s family would be waiting.
Kung Fu Fighting by Karl Douglas, reached number one, Tracy would have been so pleased.
Not long afterwards, my parents put the house on the market. We sold up and moved to another area. John and I lost touch with all our friends.
Life moved on, I married, John married, and Steve, I heard, was still living in the area with his wife and family. Karl married my friend Julie and had two boys.
No one ever spoke of Tracy again but once in a while Kung Fu Fighting comes on the radio and I’d be transported back. She should be out there somewhere too, smiling as I do whenever someone mentions the Seventies.