Life On Mars.

My adaptation of the BBC’s series but set in the year 2020 whilst in the Covid-19 pandemic By Colin Baker

My name is Colin Baker, I lost all sense of taste and smell, I developed a cough then a fever, the next thing I knew was I was rushed into ICU struggling to breathe, then I woke up in 1973. Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time? Whatever’s happened, it’s like I’ve landed on a different planet. Now, maybe if I can work out the reason, I can get home.

Ring, Ring, Ring, Ring, I can hear a faint voice, “Colin, it’s six o’clock, you don’t want to be late for work”. Mum? Mum is that you? – No reply. As I gather myself, I recognise I’m in my old bedroom. The emersion heater next to me in the cupboard, the turned up plywood cabinet with all my books and of course my Subbuteo football and cricket inside. The small chest of draws by the window, the door leading into Raymond’s room, the boarded up fireplace and the wardrobe. What wall space I have, contains the pennant of Barcelona that my elder brother Peter brought back from Spain, I had to have that seeing it was the same as Palace’s colours, my pictures of Slade and Status Quo. However, all the pictures of Rod Stewart and The Faces I collected I gave to my girlfriend Alison.

I went into the bathroom next door to my bedroom, attached the plastic shower stoppers to the tap and turned on the water, it was freezing. As I focused, I opened the wardrobe, not much in there except 5 nicely ironed crisp white shirts, one suit, that fantastic green crushed velvet jacket and few other bits and pieces. Having heard what my mum had said, I dressed into a suit and selected from one of the half dozen ties hanging on tie rack. I looked down to pick out some shoes, and there were those brilliant multi-coloured suede ones I bought in Oxford Street, sadly don’t think they would go down too well if I walked into Midland Bank with those on!

I walked along the long passage way towards mum and dad’s bedroom at the front of the house, the door was open, but nobody in there, I looked across into Peter’s room, that was empty to. Strange I thought, because Raymond wasn’t in his room either! I walked down all those stairs, the 3 to the small landing then the 18 down into the downstairs hall way. The backroom door was open, we never used posh words like lounge or sitting room, it was either front or back room. Again, it was empty, everybody must be in the kitchen I thought, as I walked down the hall and opened the door, mindful of those two steps down into the kitchen, that was empty to. The room smelt of Peter’s morning cigarette craze, and slightly of the chance he had been out for a curry last night. My stomach wretched a little at the thought of it.

I called out hello, but no answer, there was some porridge in a pot in the extended part to the kitchen, it was still warm, but where was everyone? The clock ticked as loud as normal as I glanced up it said a quarter to 7. I didn’t have long, I remember my train left at 7:35 from Carshalton Beeches and it was a good 15 minute walk, I turned on a radio it was Tony Blackburn’s breakfast show and that irritating song “Long Haired Lover From Liverpool” was playing, Tony would say after it “Welcome to the 1st January 1973 pop-pickers, we have got some great Tamla for you after the weather forecast, as a voice then told me “Today will be prominently foggy with a maximum of 3 degrees”. Blimey, I’m going to need a big coat and a scarf and gloves if it’s that cold I thought. I ate some porridge, but still no sign of my family. I turned off the radio rushed up to wash my face and hands again, put a comb through my hair and slipped on my shoes. Opening the front door, you could hardly see the main road it was that foggy and boy was it cold.

I got to Carshalton Beeches station just in time, as the train pulled in, I remembered coach 5 was a non-smoker, I twisted the handle on the door to open it, there were three people already in the compartment. One with his bowler hat on and Financial Times stretched out another guy chewing at his finger nails peering out the window and a rather lovely looking young female with a very short skirt running her fingers through her hair. “Excuse me” I said as I brushed past her, she looked up and gave me a big smile. I started to feel uncomfortable already not knowing if I should now sit next to her or opposite to one side next to the guy surgically removing half his fingers!

As I glanced at the guy in the bowler hat’s pink newspaper, it dawned on me, “Why didn’t I question that earlier when listening to the radio? It’s the 1st.January and I’m going to work in a Bank? Surely that’s normally a Bank holiday isn’t it?”. Well as it happened, had I spun back in time one year later it would have been, but not in 1973!

The train pulled into West Croydon, 8 people piled on, the girl that looked like someone off the cover of a glossy magazine, moved up next to me and unknowingly sat on the flap of my coat. If I originally felt a bit uncomfortable just walking past her, imagine what I felt like now! Her perfume smelt rather erotic, I needed to lift my coat tail, I looked at her and again said “Excuse me” as I tugged on my coat. She looked straight into my eyes, giggled and said “Oh, really sorry”, I nervously smiled and took a big gulp replying “Not to worry”. As I moved the flap of my coat into my lap, I crossed both my hands into my lap. I just didn’t know where to look as that tingle went through my body, I closed my eyes and tried to blank out all those thoughts you get as a 16 year old boy!

Suddenly I felt a hand on my knee gently shaking me, a voice said “Come on son, wakey, wakey, must have been a good Friday night. Would hate it if we just took you back where you came from and you missed all the excitement, plus you don’t want to be paying an excess fare now do you? Don’t forget your bag in the luggage rack as well”. He must have been the guard off the train. I stepped down onto the platform shaking the weariness from my eyes, walked towards the station exit through the gate. The ticket attendant didn’t even bother to ask me to show him a ticket! Odd I thought, mind you, how many times had my monthly ticket run out the day before and I simply put my fingers over the date and got away with it? I never pushed my luck too far, but it saved a quid or two along the way.

I walked into the WH Smith store, there were a lot of people about with Union Jacks and a lot of children to. As I looked down at a newspaper, the date read Saturday 17 March! Then as I looked across, I saw a copy of Melody Maker** with a headline “Rod: Our new album is a disgrace… a bloody mess”. I shuffled through my pocket, found the 10p I needed and took it to the girl on the till. As I walked out the store, I looked for somewhere to sit down as I had to read it straight away. The main story on the front pages though was all about Pink Floyd’s album released 2 weeks earlier The Dark Side Of The Moon, god now there was a band that did absolutely nothing me.

Why were there so many people about on a Saturday I wondered, I thought perhaps just find a quiet spot in the courtyard of Southwark Cathedral to read the article, what had Rod gone and said? The interviewer asked Rod to describe the album and his response was “It’s was a bloody mess, But I shouldn’t say that, should I? It was a disgrace, Well, I should say it in a few weeks’ time. Not now. I mean, the public ain’t gonna like me saying it’s a bloody mess. It was a disgrace. Maybe I’m too critical. But look, I don’t like it. One of the best tracks is one I don’t sing on, and that’s Ooh La La. All that fucking about taking 9 months to do an album like Ooh La La doesn’t prove anything. But I’m not going to say anything more about it. All right? That’s It”.

Oh Rod, what have you done I thought? With Elton enjoying success on both sides of the Atlantic and now his 6th straight week on the top of the UK album charts with Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player. You had to think that Kenney, Mac, Plonk and Woody would simply save their bullets for their own lead vocalist given those comments. Suddenly a guy said to me “Come on son, hurry up if you sit here all day you’ll miss Her Majesty opening the bridge”. I was confused, but simply got up to see what all the fuss was about, as I climbed the steps back onto London Bridge. The royal limousine with the royal standard on the side drove past, and there she was waving to the huge crowd gathered. Suddenly people rushed forward, I got caught off balance and fell I must have hit my head and passed out.

Buzz, Buzz, Buzz – The new alarm clock awoke me, boy did my head ache, another Monday morning and off to work. The red square on the calendar read 4 June. Thoughts of the previous night flashed past, we had gone to a Chinese restaurant in Mitcham called The Bamboo House with Alison and her family to celebrate my 17th. birthday, what a great night, and boy didn’t Alison look so gorgeous in that amazing navy blue halter-neck dress that hugged her body so tight, those big glass beads around her neck, her wavy hair straddling her bare shoulders she looked so perfectly made up, just like a magazine cover picture right down to those bright yellow long finger nails. I simply couldn’t take my eyes off her all night, oh how I wish I could have spent the night with her. Well maybe one day I just might.

Mum had made some cakes and put them in a tin for me, as I guessed I had to follow in the traditional office tradition of giving cakes out to everyone because it was your birthday, this being my first as a working lad. The journey to London Bridge was pretty uneventful, the walk across the bridge on a pretty warm morning where I cut into Monument Street then up Fish Street Hill. The smell from Billingsgate fish market can often be a bit of a stomach turner, and after last night’s feast it certainly was this morning. I crossed Eastcheap into Gracechurch Street and then into no.60 and the big sign Midland Bank Overseas Branch situated on the corner with Fenchurch Street. On some days I might test myself and use the stairs all the way up to the 6th. floor, but not today, wait my turn to go up in one of the two lifts.

It was a pretty normal day, matching cheques up to statements for our main London offices of other foreign correspondent banks alongside Edna Hunt. I’d been doing this now since mid-October of last year. It wasn’t that exciting, plus Edna smoked those awfully smelly French Gauloise cigarettes. I felt that I stunk at the end of every day. I worked in a team of 10 females and one other guy. Derek Todd who was not your standard dresser for working in a bank, he had told me a week ago he was leaving which would leave me as the only male on the team. I must admit I felt rather mothered or is that smothered at times by some of the older women.

Derek said to me he was going to Petticoat Lane in his lunch hour and asked did I fancy joining him? Well if it got me out of the open plan office that had it’s fair share of cigarette smoke circulating around it, then I would take every opportunity to do so. Petticoat Lane was a 15 to 20 minute walk, Derek said he fancied looking at shoes, but also wanted to buy Bowie’s no.1 album Aladdin Sane if it was on a market stall anywhere. I knew where the music stall was, as I had used it to catch up on my album collection as soon as I had money in my pocket. I had bought Rod’s albums Never A Dull Moment, Gasoline Alley and An Old Raincoat, plus The Faces First Step and Long Player. I did have the full set of Rod and The Faces albums now, but not all purchased from a market stall.

Fortunately, the stall did have Bowie’s album so Derek purchased it, I still thumbed through the albums, the problem was I was a bit skint because I had bought Alison’s engagement ring, so had no intension of buying anything, but eyed McCartney’s Red Rose Speedway maybe after next payday perhaps. Derek said to me “You’re a bit of a Rod nut aren’t you?”. “Yeah” I replied, he said “I fancy going to see the Faces, they are on at Edmonton tonight do you fancy coming?”. I said “We haven’t got tickets, so what’s the point?”, “Oh don’t worry we should easily pick up one via a tout”. Well I never did anything normally on a Monday evening, so I thought, why not.

Five thirty couldn’t come soon enough, although my bold decision left me slightly uneasy given my dress. I loved The Faces, Alison’s influence had turned my head, but we had never actually had the opportunity to see them before, I was a little worried how she would react when I told her I had now seen them and not invited her. I crossed my fingers she would understand. As it happened, I didn’t have to worry about that after all.

Derek and I boarded a train out of Liverpool Street just after six to the station Silver Street. We found a Wimpy bar to grab a burger to eat with some chips. There was a lot of people with their tartan on about and plenty of singing to go along with it. We got lucky when a guy was shouting “Tickets, get tickets, I will buy or sell tickets”. Derek approached him and said “I need two, how much?” The guy looked Derek up and down and said “For a couple mate the best I can do is a fiver”. “Okay he said”. I gulped, £2-50, that was an awful lot, especially when we got them in our hands and noticed it quoted £1-50 on the ticket. But it was done, we had some.

We waited till about 8:30 to attempt to enter The Sundown as we reached the door, the heavy set guy said “Tickets, let’s see your tickets”, as we showed him ours, he simply looked back at us and said “You ain’t coming in with those”. We looked at one another puzzled, Derek asked “Why not?” “There forged mate, now clear off”. Our hearts sank, total dejection as we turned away, five quid between us had just lined some scum bags pockets, how many more fools had he conned? Had we tried to get in earlier and discovered this, he may still have been around so we could have confronted him, but he was long gone. Maybe inside even,+ having bought genuine tickets off someone else with our money. Derek looked crest-fallen and just said “I can’t believe it, we’ve been conned, we might as well just go in the pub over the road and drown our sorrows”. Although I had precious more money on me, it seemed a good idea.

We had been there about half an hour. I looked at my watch, it really was time to be making tracks and head home. Suddenly a guy comes over and says “You guys don’t look too happy? You should be over the road enjoying yourselves”. “Yeah funny” said Derek as he got up and went to the jukebox in the corner. The guy said to me, “What’s up with your mate?”. I told him the story and he said “Oh man, I’m sorry to hear that, I’m Pete by the way, I’m the road manager for the band, have you travelled far to get here?” “Carshalton in Surrey I replied”, “Oh, I know it well, my sister lives in Cheam, tell you what, if you want, I can get you in after the gig, perhaps meet the guys, it’s not the same as seeing them perform I know, but it might be some consolation”. My eyes lit up, “Really, that would be brilliant”. Just as Derek’s choice of Bowie’s new single *** Life On Mars started to play in that somewhat downbeat tone, my own heart had just gone up a beat. I said “Do you mind a minute if I just catch up with my mate?” “No sure go ahead” said Pete.

I went over towards the jukebox, Derek had gone and was now sat with some guy in a sheltered booth, the guy he was with gave me hard questioning glance. I whispered to Derek about what Pete had suggested. I didn’t want this other guy muscling in on our good fortune, but Derek said “No, don’t worry about me, you just go ahead”, laughing back at the guy he was with. I then happened to noticed some traces of white powder on the table and a cut down straw. As I looked at Derek again a little closer, there were traces of the powder on his nostril. I had no idea what it was, but my instinct told me it was time to leave Derek to whatever it was he was doing and simply get a drink for Pete as a thank you for his offer.

It must have been nearly eleven when Pete lead me into the back door at the Sundown, he had told me this was Ronnie Lane’s last performance with the group ****, and he wasn’t that approachable of late. A flash came to me, “Was this the real reason I was here? Maybe if I could persuade Ronnie not to leave, The Faces would continue as a band for many years to come just like The Rolling Stones. If I could find a way to make that happen, then maybe I would then find my way back home!”

Regardless of Pete’s warning I managed to find Ronnie, he was with a girl called Kate, clinging to his arm, she gave me a disapproving look as soon as I approached him. ”Ronnie”, I said “It’s not too late, please change your mind, don’t leave the band please. You may not believe me, but if you plan on going on the adventure your thinking of, it will break you financially, forget big circus tents and life in a caravan, the boys would love you to stick around, and please, please, try and find some medical advice”. He laughed at me and said “Who do you think you are? A gypsy clairvoyant? I’m sick of lead vocalist syndrome, Rod just makes his own albums and quite frankly doesn’t have time to spend with The Faces. Woody these days is cruising up everywhere. I don’t feel in control anymore, things to do with the band have slipped through my fingers. I won’t ever be in somebody’s else’s band and everyone seems to want to call it Rod Stewart and The Faces these days. I doubt very much if The Faces will ever make another album, I’ve just lost interest in the whole thing”. His, so called girlfriend, leaned over to me and whispered “You’ve got your answer you prick, now just go and fuck off elsewhere whoever you think you are”.

I was shocked to be talked to in such a way, clearly Ronnie was so under Kate’s influence as he grabbed her hand gave her a big kiss and walked away. I tried to get Kenney to talk to his lifelong friend, the one person that had been with Ronnie from those early days in the East End pub The British Prince. But Kenney’s mild manner and perhaps his exhaustion just said “You won’t change him, Ronnie obviously wants to do something on his own, and there is no reason why we should stand in his way”. I then tried Ron Wood, perhaps he could have some belated influence, but he also seemed like he accepted the situation when he said “You know we knew it was over with Ronnie when we toured the States, he didn’t want to travel with the band anymore, said he was sick and tired of the luxury hotels and questioned why we all dressed up the way we did to go on stage. It was just a matter of time before he came and said “I’m quitting” mid-way through and said he’d do the London dates as a final farewell, and here we are”.

I tried to get Rod’s view point, but again there was an air of a done deal about his response “Look, there’s only one Ronnie Lane and it’s impossible to look for another one. The guy’s a character and we will never replace him. We’re all parting on the best of terms, there’s no bad feelings. I’ve always said he’s one of the best lyricists Britain’s got, and he still is. He’s got a great career ahead of him, so good luck to him”. I guess that just left me to plead with Mac to try and twist his old pal Laney’s arm, but if anyone, Mac seemed more content the whole saga was coming to end when he said to me “Fucking Kate is like bloody Yoko Ono, she’s got in his head and twisted him. She should never have been on tour in the States with us, we all agreed beforehand “no wives”, then that fucker at Long Island throwing wine in my face, good riddance as far as I was concerned when he said he was quitting in the dressing room afterwards, followed up by his tantrum in Virginia when he picked on me again saying “Fuck the gig” right in my face, I wasn’t having any of that so I chased him kicking his arse as we left stage only for him to say “Bollocks, you cunt and repeating I’m leaving the group once more, he even had the front to then say “Why don’t you come with me and we’ll get another band together”. Even at that point after everything, I didn’t want him to leave, but I’m resigned to it now, you ain’t going to change him all the time he has that bitch clinging onto his arm”.

I also now felt exhausted, if this was the challenge I had been set which would get me back home, I’d failed miserably, The original Faces line-up with Plonk in it was over, I needed the toilet now which was back through the foyer, as I walked in I decided to just sit in one of the cubicles, bolted the door, I put my head in my hands and closed my eyes.

As I shook my head, something didn’t seem quite the same, there was a lot of noise of people outside the cubicle, laughing, burping, swearing. As I unlocked the door, a couple of kids yelled Oi, Oi, looking at me, laughed at one another and one pushed the other through the door and back to the foyer. I washed my hands, splashed water over my face, not really sure where on earth I was. As I exited the toilet, instantaneously I recognised that I was at The Granada in Sutton, the place I had spent nearly every Saturday morning at with my brothers to see “Saturday morning pictures”. There were people milling all around me, over excited, I looked at the clock in the booking room it read a quarter to nine. Suddenly the big guys in what looked like tuxedo jackets standing by the main entrance doors pushed us all forward saying “The concert starts in under 5 minutes, take your seats now”. I was ushered through the doors into the stalls, I felt in my pocket, I had a ticket, but as I squinted to see it in the dark it quoted “Circle” not “Stalls”, with the date Thursday 20th. December. It dawned on me, I had come here with Alison, her brother Neil and his friend Trevor, they must be upstairs, I have to get back to them. But I was being dragged forward as the crowd continuously sang Rodnee, Rodnee, Rodnee.

I found myself bundled to the front and then there they were on stage, Rod, Woody, Mac, Kenney and Tetsu as they launched into Silicone Grown. I knew now there was no way I could get back up into the circle, so I might as well sing and sway along with everyone else and enjoy myself. My plan was to attempt to leave just before the end and catch Alison and her brother in the foyer and try and explain what had happened to me. Next song was Cindy Incidentally, followed by Memphis. Rod with his long flowing tartan scarf seemed in a great mood. Woody cigarette perched on his lips was in flamboyant clothing pacing across the stage, whilst Mac, candle burning brightly on his Steinway was banging the ivory in a way only he knew how. Then you had the intense concentration of Kenney, leading the band in on each number. Whilst Tetsu, still learning the trade on what it meant to be “A Face” stood back and taking in how the band enjoyed performing and making an audience dance, sing and sway to every beat.

Borstal Boys continued the rawkus beginning, followed by Too Bad until they slowed things down with a raft of Rod’s solo numbers, first up was Angel which had everyone singing and Rod simply standing there conducting a word perfect and tuneful audience. Then to add to the now slower tempo went into I’d Rather Go Blind as the tartan scarves swayed and some simply were thrown upon the stage. You Wear It Well would be followed by True Blue. It was then back to The Faces hits and the beautiful I Wish It Would Rain, once more sung in tune by one and all, then it was switched back to an up tempo with the howling intro to Miss Judy’s Farm and Rod running about stage from side to side, where did he get so much energy from? That would be followed by the song everyone came to know as The Faces, Stay With Me, but of course, Rod would move swiftly on to his career lifestyle changer as the band played Maggie May. I was by now in complete heaven, laughing and singing with everyone around me. The odd spilling of alcohol over me was unavoidable, everyone appeared to be having the time of their lives. As the band launched into, I’m Losing You, it dawned on me, we must be getting close to the end. Kenney’s drum solo seemed to go on for ever. Finally, the band came back on stage to finish the number. Rod would thank us all for coming along and hoped we had enjoyed ourselves then said here’s our new one, as Pool Hall Richard blasted out at us. Part way through there seemed to be a disturbance to the left hand side of me. Mid-song Rod said “Anymore of that and we’re fucking off”. As the song drew it’s last cords, I turned to see if now was an opportune moment to make an exit. As my face pointed towards the back of the cinema, all I could see was an object in the shape of a bottle hurtling towards me, I couldn’t change my position there was no room either side of me as I slightly moved my head sideways, the object hit me with force on the side of my head.

My head was thumping, as I squinted to open an eye, there appeared like four shapes of people in front of me. As my vision clarified a bit, I could see they all had perspective frames over their heads and a heavy mask covering their mouths and nose. All four were wearing gloves and a plastic like apron. I thought I heard the man, an doctor of Asian decent say “Looks like we may just have another survivor”, then the black nurse with a broad smile said to the Far Eastern nurse, “Ain’t it funny, his wife said on the phone to try and find that song and play it loud to him, and make sure you play it right to the end, I ain’t never heard that song before, what with the smashing glass and laughter”. Then the white nurse leaned over holding my pulse asking, can you hear us Colin? Can you hear us?” My eyes had now fully opened, I felt a smile come across my face. I suddenly realised I was back in time to when this nightmare had begun. Somehow thanks entirely to the magnificent and diverse NHS service we have, I had found myself back in 2020.

#:- In the BBC drama series Sam Tyler did find his way home as well, but faced the problem of where did he want to be, the present day (2006 as was) or 1973? Faced with the same question, would I still have preferred being in 1973 with The Faces still together? Or as I wake up reading violent protests and social unrest in my world today often aimed at the police and still unsure how long lockdown will last and how safe is it to go out, not only with a pandemic but all this unrest around us?

But back in 1973/74 it was a time when IRA bombs were going off, a 3 day working week due to coal shortages and a belligerent Enoch Powell opposing mass immigration! Some choice and to think of it, some similarities in there to…. But maybe it would be an ideal opportunity to persuade Mick Taylor to stick with The Rolling Stones as the groups longevity had at least another 47 years to run.. What would you do???? If my choice was based on music at each point in time, then there really could only be one answer.

Note some of the dates quoted are inaccurate to when the true events may have happened but have been fitted in to enhance the storyline. The true event dates can be found listed below:-

** Reality:- The real copy of Melody Maker was dated April 21, after Roy Hollingworth interviewed Rod at his Windsor home on April 11. Rod would later claim he had been misquoted.

*** Bowie’s single wasn’t actually released until 22 June 1973. Which was a somewhat odd fact that it had come from his 1971 album Hunky Dory, not his more recently released Aladdin Sane. It would reach no.3 in the UK charts.

**** The Faces would add on 6 June at The Sundown, but that was Plonk’s last ever performance with the band. They had, had to cancel the rest of their European tour following Kenney’s collapse at Edmonton, after examination from a doctor on the whole band, both Kenney and Rod were diagnosed as suffering from extreme exhaustion. The tour began again in July featuring their new guitarist ex-Free member Tetsu Yamauchi.

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