Sunday, 31 May 2015

Random access memory # 10. (1991).

About 6 years after I moved to London I was on holiday in Weymouth and saw 'DC' who I hadn't seen since we were at school together. He now had long hair and a substantial beard.
Even though we used to walk home from school together everyday, it took me a while to recognise him. What eventually convinced me it was him was the distinctive way he scratched the side of his nose, a bit like a rabbit. I didn't make myself known to him. My home town was the past and I was trying to turn my back to it.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Random access memory # 9. (1974).

In my early teens, me and Mum went to visit a distant relative in Norfolk. Out on a walk, we came across a rabbit with myxomatosis. I was encouraged to look away while the relative 'put it out of its misery' with his thick, black walking stick.

Family business # 8. (1970-1984).

I remember very few instances of being praised while I was growing up. And as with certain types of memory, the fact that they are memorable is an indicator of their rarity. When I was about eight I copied a picture of a character from the comic I used to get; Whizzer and Chips. Brother M praised the results and expressed surprise that I'd done it freehand.
At school, in art, we were asked to draw an invention. As I'd always been a fan of the Heath Robinson illustrations in Norman Hunter's 'Professor Branestawm' books, I drew something in a similar style. The result got passed round several of the other kids, who admired it.
When I was about 17 my mum heard me singing along to 'Shipbuilding' by Robert Wyatt and said I sounded 'quite nice'.
Soon after, I was singing to myself one day at work. A workmate overheard, looked surprised and exclaimed, 'He can sing!'.
At the age of 22 I did my first 'A' Level at evening classes. The tutor told me I was definitely university material. It was the first time somebody had said something like that to me. Earlier that week, she had coincidentally come in at the DIY shop where I worked, and seen me in my overalls, covered in shit. It may have prompted her to say what she said. I realise now the kindness of that.
Parallel to the English 'A' Level I took an 'O' Level in psychology and learnt about the role of positive reinforcement in child development. Maybe the lack of it early on contributed to me taking a while to find a direction in my life.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Family business # 7. (1979-1985)

My stepdad, the Fat Controller, made a habit of complaining about everything about me. Coward that he was, he channelled his carping through my mother. If he couldn't find anything to criticise, he'd invent something or trump something up. One day I'll list all his gripes here.
Once, Mum relayed his complaint that he'd seen me walking down the street with my hands in my pockets. She passed on his comment that if there was ice on the pavement and I slipped I'd be unable to break my fall. But this complaint happened at the height of summer. I think my lack of confidence was the reason it took me so long to realise how irrational his attacks were.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

If you're so clever # 5 (2000).

I don't fit easily into the social side of work. I was working on the Housing Benefit enquiry desk of a local authority. A bowling night was arranged. I felt I should make an effort and go along.
I felt shy and awkward throughout; a feeling compounded when I overheard one of the other workers refer to me as 'Silent Ed'.

Random access memory # 7. (1997).

Me, Watercolour, and Racing Certainty were in a pub near Highbury and Islington, pre-drinking prior to some unremembered gig at the Garage. Racing Cert dropped his change near the bar. A man nearby who had an eye-patch and, presumably, one eye, helped look for it after Racing Cert's initial failed search.
I told Racing Cert there was an arse-kicking contest planned for later in the evening if he fancied it, and suggested we might have to rope in a one-legged man to bail him out. I miss being funny with people who like me and find me funny. The opportunities are less frequent now.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

If you're so clever... # 4. 2001.

I got to know a woman, Monkey-trap, who was evidently out of my league, but who started giving off signals she might be up for getting romantically involved with me. That never happened, but it got close to it in what, for me, was a confusing and painful way, with a lot of very mixed messages flying about.
She moved to another city but we kept in touch initially. She started an affair with a musician who was in a long-term relationship with somebody else. She told me they'd been friends for a while, but had stepped things up when he came to visit one weekend. Apparently when he arrived he presented her with a brace of pheasants and 'one thing led to another'. The pheasants detail spoke volumes to me about the gulf between us and our respective lives. For days after she told me, I'd catch myself tutting and muttering sarcastically to myself, 'Brace of pheasants! Fucking hell!'

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

If you're so clever... # 3. (1998).

I was in group therapy for a while. I said one night that I didn't want children and somebody responded that perhaps I just hadn't met the right person. I was irritated by the response because I'd put a lot of thought into working out my feelings on the matter.
I'd always been intimidated by the idea of being a parent, afraid that I'd abandon my kids the way I felt my dad had abandoned me. This may have contributed to my avoidance of intimacy. Maybe I feared that anybody I got close to would be thinking in terms of children at some point.
When the penny finally dropped it felt like a relief rather than a loss, like losing a religion I'd never really bought into.
My first serious girlfriend used to say I'd be a good dad, but I felt unequipped. After that relationship ended I had a really long gap without involvements. It may have been coincidental, but soon after I recognised I had no interest in parenthood, I was able to move on and start seeing people again.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Gone for good # 1. (1993 to 2001).

I was introduced to Watercolour by an ex-girlfriend. We were both 30. He was drumming in a band with a couple of 20 year-old science students. He invited me to join them as second guitarist, sight unseen, a gesture of such generosity that I never quite understood it, though I suspected he may have been trying to edge out the existing singer who was dreadful.
I liked him immediately. In contrast to me he was naturally sociable. I found it easy to talk to him.
That first band eventually petered out but me and Watercolour stayed friends for eight years. At the time it was longer than I'd been in a friendship or relationship with anybody.
In the last two years of our friendship we formed a band of our own, a three piece with bass, drums and keyboards. The keyboard player was a constant source of frustration for me.
Watercolour claimed to share the same frustration but didn't want to address it directly. I realised that while he was good at getting people to like him, he hated conflict and wanted a low maintenance life. Soon after we'd recorded four songs intended for a self-released CD he went incommunicado for almost two months, not returning my calls. On resurfacing he announced that, because of the tension between me and the keyboardist he wanted to gig less than the three or four gigs a year we'd been doing.
Feeling this was unworkable, I left the band on the spot.
He took this as the end of our friendship, although his two month absence before suggests he may have already decided this. It puzzled me as there'd been nothing resembling a falling out.
Friendships wax and wane, for sure, but you can usually feel the drift as it's happening. With Watercolour it was more like he'd just thought, I'm finished with this now, I'll go and do something else.
I realise in hindsight that he had form for this sort of thing. He'd done something similar with a bunch of friends he'd moved to London with. He jettisoned them with so little warning that he got a mutual friend to return a suit he'd borrowed from one of them a few weeks before.
I realise now he had an easygoing charm that meant he had no difficulty getting to know new people. He was never going to have to hold onto old friends out of a sense of scarcity.
In a way he was a typical drummer. It's not the most taxing role in a band but they're always in demand, often playing for several groups at once. Maximum popularity, minimum commitment, really. The loss of the friendship affected me badly, though it took a while to fully have its impact.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Welcome to the working week # 5. (1988).

At my first job, I worked with GB. He was a gaunt, ginger fantasist with a couple of faded sailor's tattoos on his forearms, who worked in the sawmill .
He'd cottoned on that I smoked dope at the time, and boasted to me that when he was in the merchant navy he'd smuggled a weight of grass through some port, secreted in piping on the ship. He also claimed that when in the navy, he and others of the crew would extract and drink the alcohol from the well-known metal polish, Brasso. He'd filter it through several slices of white bread first, in order to remove the minutely fine grit contained in the polish.
I wasn't alone in being sceptical about much of what he said. He used to walk into work from the village where he lived and his excuses for his habitual lateness were often a treat.
Once he explained away a twenty minute delay by claiming he'd witnessed a traffic accident en route and police had insisted on taking a witness statement from him.
After a bout of sick leave with diarrhoea, he turned up late. He reckoned he'd set off in time, but, evidently not out of the woods as far as his bowels were concerned, he'd farted and followed through, and therefore had to go home and change.
The company sacked him the day before Christmas. I thought the timing was harsh but he wasn't bothered; he had a partner and kids so was better off signing on.
There were a lot of other sackings in the four years I was there and I think that influenced my developing political perspective. I took the sackings as evidence the bosses didn't give a shit about us. I may have been generalising from a conclusion I'd already reached that it was an unfair world and nobody gave a shit about me. But the fact I started seeing this stuff in class terms was definitely connected with work, and the antagonistic relations between workers and managers.