Sometimes when celebrities are interviewed in publications like Smash Hits and The Guardian, they are asked to describe their favourite ever Christmas present. There is no deliberation for me. It was my first ever Walkman (or the Philips FM Sky Way in sleek navy blue, if you insist on specifics). It was a chunky box of delights with a long shoulder strap, like the kind of medium-sized handbag that was probably in vogue at the time, and it had three fat, clunking buttons - until they were gradually shed in the autumn of its life.
I wish I still had it to mount in a modish, framed glass box and put on my wall, as they would probably recommend in Wallpaper* magazine (their asterisk, no smart-arse footnote implied). I don't know what happened to the Sky Way, but perhaps when my mum moved house a few years ago, it was disinterred from a cupboard boneyard of twisted leads and chargers and fossilised electrical equipment, the relics of any family home, and perhaps she decided to let it slip quietly away. This is unlikely though because, to her credit, Mrs Jones has always been incredibly charitable towards our childhood treasures, providing any and all of them with a home for as long as we felt they needed it, without a murmur of complaint. Now I am more aware than ever of how emotionally valuable this kind of ephemera is, I am increasingly appreciative. No, I can only assume that it was I who pushed my faithful friend away in favour of a newer model that actually had some working buttons. I have no defence. I was young and my head was easily turned. I know better now.
I don't remember the precise moment I peeled back the wrapping paper, but I remember putting the first tape in and pressing play and being full of shock and wonder as I was told that no one else in the room could hear what was powering into my ears loud and clear. There was much taking off and putting back on of headphones to verify that this was genuinely the case. This truly was a Christmas miracle to me, and a new and thrilling private world had opened its portal. These can be hard to come by when you're 9.
Around this time - it may even have been the same Christmas - I also got the Rio album by Duran Duran. It was one of the first proper albums I owned (I am not counting Disney, The Muppets or Danny Kaye sings Hans Christian Andersen, although those are seminal records that were played incessantly in the Jones house. In any case, I think they were technically my brother's). The two of them - Rio and the Philips FM Sky Way - are still joined in blissful union in my heart, their enduring commitment to each other forged on interminable car journeys to grandparents' houses or far-flung domestic holiday destinations. I remember the constant, plaintive call to my dad echoing around the service station forecourt as he went to pay for a tank of petrol: 'Daaaaad, can you get me some new batteries pleeeeeeeeeeeeease?'
Despite having negotiated the ages of 15, 18, 21, university, moving to London, Madchester, Britpop, the rise of dance music (and the rites of passage that came along with them) I don't think any album in its entirely means as much to me. For better or worse, it is my Sgt Pepper, my Never Mind The Bollocks, my Meat Is Murder.
Even now, I listen to it and, with the zeal of youth still courageously flickering, I think, 'Come on, seriously, this is BRILLIANT. How could anyone NOT think this is TOTALLY COOL?' I remain utterly immune to the derision that was aimed at Duran Duran then and, to a lesser extent, now. I hear the opening surge of the title track and I am eight years old again, discovering pop music for the first time, assiduously typing out all the lyrics on my mum's typewriter, not understanding a word of them, carefully administering Tipp-ex with my tongue out for concentration, filing them away with obsessive compulsion in a ring binder with the PG Tips chimps on the front (at a young age, we also owned and loved our vinyl copy of Bernard Cribbins being Mr Shifter), rendering a version of the album cover on graph paper with felt tips. I was a child who loved graph paper.
I was talking about my devotion to Rio with my friend Mr Taylor last week (not John, Roger or Andy, although when I was 9 I probably would have counted them among my closest friends). Mr Taylor made the point (and apologies if I am misquoting him) that despite being a ludicrous pirate-shirted pop band, doubtless pastiching more edgy artists of the time, their artistic pretensions were sincere and even ambitious, which could probably not be said of their critical counterparts today. I am less concerned about that, though. The fact is, I still put that album on and find it madly exhilarating. All the albums that should define my youth and stir my heart - Stone Roses, Definitely Maybe, Different Class, Blue Lines - can only muster powerful but nonetheless isolated pangs. It all started with Rio.
You can't choose who you fall in love with.
38. QUEEN ELIZABETH OLYMPIC PARK, LONDON
9 months ago