Friday, 31 July 2015

If you're so clever... # 22. (1975).

I went to the local Scout disco for the first and last time. I was wearing Brother M's cast-off red and white zip-up cardigan. A girl came up and started talking to me. She asked my name. I was so surprised and shy that I gave my full name, as if I was being stopped and questioned by the police.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Family business # 16. (1983).

When I was twenty, just after I quit my first job, I cut my wrists with a craft knife in a botched suicide attempt. The cuts weren't severe enough to need hospital treatment but the angry parallel scabs were there for some weeks afterwards.

Dave Workman noticed the cuts. He said, 'That was fucking stupid. You could've died.'

I started a new job soon after, in the garden and heavy goods section of a big DIY store. The manager, Little Man Dave, saw the scabs and asked what happened. I made out that I'd caught my wrists on some packs of greenhouse glass when I was putting them away.

Mum didn't seem to notice. It may have been that I was careful to make sure that the cuts weren't visible when I was around her. Or it may have been that she was unable to see what she couldn't cope with. I can't and don't really know.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Random access memory # 37. (1981).

I was desperate to move out of the Fat Controller's house as soon as I could but financially it felt impossible as I was in a low-paid job. I saw a room advertised nearby and went to ask about it but the rent was about two thirds of my take home pay. I was only dimly aware of the benefits system then and didn't realise I could have probably got some help with the rent. My understanding would have been that you had to be on the dole to get help with your rent. A bloke I knew was signing on and getting his full rent paid. I worked out he was actually better off than I was working full time.
I tried to negotiate a pay rise on this basis, explaining that I'd be better off signing on and it'd be the only way for me to leave home. My employer called my bluff and said they couldn't give me a raise. I had to put up or shut up so I gave notice on the spot as I thought it was the only bargaining power I had. Eventually they relented and gave a me a small pay rise. The manager made out he'd had to pull a few strings and cut me a special deal so I should keep the raise to myself.
About a year later I discovered that, even with the pay rise, I was earning less than Vic who swept the yard, even though I was responsible for pricing all the invoices and doing quotations.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Family business #15. (1976)

I came home from school one day to find the television disconnected and the Daily Mirror hidden. When my mum got back from work she explained all privileges were withdrawn until further notice as a punishment for me not being friendly enough to my future step-dad, the Fat Controller. It wasn't alleged I'd been rude to him, just that I wasn't friendly enough towards him.
Due to my terror of losing any more of my family than I already had, I was chronically well-behaved as a child and this was probably the first time I was consciously punished for anything. I didn't have the presence of mind to question what was going on.
I was taken to the Fat Controller's house and made to apologise.
Years later, me and Brother D discussed this and concluded Mum's uncharacteristic punitive behaviour was almost certainly prompted by pressure from the Fat Controller. It seems an early example of him coercing her into complying with his irrational demands, a practise that went on throughout their marriage.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

If you're so clever... # 21. (1997)

At least five years after we'd split up, La Scala rang me. It was just after Princess Di had died. Discussing the public response to the death I said something sarcastic about florists rubbing their hands with glee because of the public's floral tributes.
She took objection and unexpectedly said, 'We never got on.'
Equally unexpectedly, I burst into tears.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Random access memory # 36. (1977-1982).

I kept the ticket for that Cortinas gig in 1977. For several years it was blu-tacked to the roofbeam in the attic room where I lived in the Fat Controller's house. It got lost at some point. You can see a ticket for that gig online now. When so much is becoming digital, will we be able to forget anything again?

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Gone for good # 2. (2003).

Topknot, my fearsome vegan friend, was incredibly tough-minded and determined but in a rare show of vulnerability she once said of herself, 'What couldn't I have done if I'd been properly loved when I was growing up?' She died within a year or so of saying this to me. The worst of it is, it could've all been avoided.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Random access memory # 35. (1976)

Growing up, it was rare for me to feel good at anything, or to be seen as good at something by others. At school, English was the only thing that gave me this. At secondary school I did a piece of creative writing that the chain-smoking Miss Charlton liked so much she asked me to read it out to the whole class.
A few years before, I'd fallen into an ornamental lake on a day trip we'd gone on with the Holy Ghost Observatory. The water was probably only 3 to 4 feet deep but I went under completely and felt like I was drowning. The composition Miss Charlton liked was a description of that experience. She said it was really vivid.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Random access memory # 34. (1981-1982)

The options for entertainment were limited in the beige backwater that was my home-town. Often we'd need to go miles to another town just to go to a disco. Transport was usually a problem. At least twice, a group of us consciously decided to spend the night sleeping on the floor of the public toliets in Sherborne after a night out, so we could save on a taxi and get the bus in the morning. Inevitably it was cold, so we'd set off the hot air hand-dryer every so often to warm ourselves up.
Live gigs were so scarce that I once went to Dorchester, about 25 miles away, to see a band I'd never heard of, knowing I had no means of getting home afterwards. I tried hitching, without succcess, then resorted to sleeping in a cubile of some public toilets. During the night a policeman discovered me and questioned me. I explained about the gig and why I was there. Eventually he seemed to accept my explanation. He asked if the gig had been worth it. From memory, I think it had been mediocre.
Now it all seems very innocent and a bit odd and desperate. Hard to believe now our options were so few.

Monday, 20 July 2015

If you're so clever... # 20. (1980)

I had a crush on Steph, the sister of my mate Simon. Their mum worked at Express Dairies. Steph used to wear a big, shapeless milkman's duffel coat, with the Express Dairies logo printed on the back. Even in that she looked cool and amazing.
One of the local bands wrote a song about her, with her name as the title. I never heard it and don't know what the lyrics were but I could totally understand why they would want to write about her.
Back then, the people I hung around with nicknamed me Horrid Eddie, for reasons I found too depressing to guess at. The first time I met Steph, I called round to Simon's house and him, me and Steph walked to the Glovers Arms. On the way, we stopped for a joint round the back of the primary school opposite the pub. Steph's black lipstick got all over the roach.
A few days later, Simon reported that Steph had been pleasantly surprised by me. She'd apparently commented that Horrid Eddie wasn't horrid at all. I was quietly thrilled. Not that I was going to do anything about it, but I was thrilled nonetheless.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Who died and made you Elvis? # 3. (1970).

I don't know what primary school teachers are like these days, but I remember some of those at my school being terrifying. Once, unusually, I was chatting to a classmate during a lesson, when I heard Mr Thompson shout at me to stop talking. I looked up to see him fling a stub of chalk at my head with as much force as he could muster, a look of total rage on his face. The chalk hit me full on the side of the head. And Mr Thompson was one of the nice ones.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Who died and made you Elvis? # 2. (1972)

There was a horse-faced teacher at primary school called Mrs Fisher. One day we were doing maths and she made us stand up individually and read out our answers to the questions we'd been doing. It came to my turn and I got the answer wrong.
She screamed at me in front of the whole class; 'You always take forever to do your work and you still manage to make a complete hash of it!'
About ten years later she came into the DIY shop where I was working. I had to load some bags of compost into her car. Even after those intervening years I still remembered the way she'd humiliated me at school and I wanted to kick her teeth in.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Random access memory # 33. (1971)

Primary school had a tuck shop. I now realise what an affectation it was for the school to call it that. You were allowed to go during break-time and buy sweets and snacks. I never used it once, almost certainly because I didn't feel able to afford it.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Family business #14 (1983).

Probably soon after I left my first job, I was walking on the main road near the Fat Controller's house. Charlie, one of the blokes who used to come into the builders' merchants' pulled up beside me in his Jag and called me over. He asked me if I was looking for work. I said I wasn't. He said if ever I was, he'd offer me good money cash-in-hand for fitting kitchens on his sites. It was an offer that surprised me slightly as he would have had no idea as to my ability to put together kitchen units.
Soon after, the Fat Controller was needing some work done on the house and Charlie came round to quote. I could hear Charlie and the Fat Controller talking outside the back door. Referring to me, Charlie said, 'That lad in there used to work up the builders' merchants. He was good – they were daft to let him go – he always did my invoices spot on.'
There was a pause, then Charlie said to the Fat Controller, 'Is he your son, then?'
Presumably because somebody had just said something positive about me, the Fat Controller said, 'Yes.'
I was breathless at his hypocrisy. After four years of treating me like shit, he was now taking credit for me being his son. I could have cheerfully run outside and drop-kicked the cross-eyed prick. Fucking nerve.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Random access memory # 32. (1968).

Occasionally the Holy Ghost Observatory would put on a performance in the church hall, with people doing their party pieces. I remember Mr Thomas singing 'I Belong to Glasgow' and play-acting being slightly drunk. He was unlucky with his teeth – brown and gappy like bits of wood.

Random access memory # 31. (1969)

My home town was once officially identified as the whitest town in England, and certainly wasn't big on difference. At primary school there was one child who wasn't white – a Chinese boy called David. We became friends but he was only at the school for a short while. There was one child with evident learning difficulties, the brother of my friend RS. Sometimes the other kids would torment him at playtime. I remember him stamping around in circles on the playing field, wordlessly groaning at this torture.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Random access memory # 30. (1970).

The local Catholic church formed a major part of my mum's social life. We went with them to Bristol once on an outing to see Mother Teresa. I met her and shook her hand, but my abiding memory is that it was there that I first saw a black woman. She was one of the nuns with Mother Teresa. I was fascinated by her lips, and struck by her calm, still beauty and her huge sad eyes.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Family business # 13. (1972)

Andy R was an only child, although I had no impression that he was lonely. His parents would often take me along on their family outings. That was my main exposure to a family other than my own.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Family business # 12. (1970)

Probably my best mate when I was seven or eight was Andy R. One day I did some forgotten thing that he considered daft. He said, Some mothers do 'ave 'em, they reckon. Usually they say, some fathers do have to keep them, too.' He left a pregnant pause.
His dad, who was in the room, gave him a hard and meaningful stare and snapped, 'Andrew!'

Friday, 10 July 2015

I remember when it was all fields round here. #1. (1986)

When I moved to Deptford there was still half-day closing on a Thursday. The mania for everything being open and available all the time is a relatively recent thing. People forget that.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Random access memory # 29. (1969)

I would read anything as a child, including the local newspaper, the Western Gazette. As it was an old-style broadsheet and I was only six or seven, I had to lay it out on the floor and kneel on top of it to read it. It probably developed my vocabulary. I would ask Mum for the meaning and pronunciation of unfamiliar words.
That's how I learned to pronounce the word 'society' and the meaning of the word 'estranged'. The word 'estranged' came up in a story about a domestic incident between a man and his estranged wife.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Random access memory # 28. (1969)

Mum wrote a letter to her sister Margaret, which I think I must have read over her shoulder. She signed off with the words; 'Must go and get this in the post, then get the tea on. The kids eat like horses.'
I asked her what the last sentence meant. I think it may have been my first encounter with simile. Odd how I remember moments from my linguistic development.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Random access memory # 27. (1985)

I joined a brilliant film society based at the further education college where I did my first 'A' Level at evening classes. Aside from occasional stuff on the telly, it was my first exposure to what might be called serious film. Most of the people who went were drawn from what I saw as the nearest thing the town had to an arty set. I felt oafish alongside them, and envied there apparent confidence and ease.
I had a physically tiring job and nodded off a couple of times during a screening of 'Reds'. Realising I wouldn't be able to fight off sleep, I called it a night and sneaked out early. I accidentally let the door slam shut behind me.
At the following show, before the screening, one of the organisers made a general and admittedly gentle announcement asking punters not to leave before the end of the film, and if they must, then not to let the door slam. This successfully reinforced my feeling of gauche out-of-placeness.

Monday, 6 July 2015

If you're so clever... # 19. (1998).

I went out on New Year's Eve to the Garage in Highbury, with Racing Certainty. Towards midnight I went for a piss and when I came back he was nowhere to be found. I didn't find him again for the rest of the night.
The next time I saw him he claimed he'd been unable to find me and had eventually given up and gone home alone. I suspected this was untrue but he stuck to his story for precisely a year.
The following New Year's Eve I was out with him and Watercolour. Racing Certainty confessed that in the time it'd taken me to go to the toilet he'd got off with a woman and gone home with her. He'd continued seeing her for another two or three months although for some reason she'd always refused to tell him her surname.
I thought his behaviour towards me had been a bit shabby, particularly the dishonesty involved. But that feeling was mostly drowned out by my incredulity that somebody could find it so easy to persuade a woman to sleep with them, when I found attracting that sort of attention so unachievable.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

If you're so clever... # 18. (1984)

The last couple of years in my hometown, between making the break from my old set of mates and moving to London, was a particularly lonely time. For, I think, my 22nd birthday, I went for a meal at a restaurant a few miles outside my hometown. I'm unsure now why I did that. It's possible there was a gig on in the nightclub across the road, but I forget. I was the only customer in the restaurant the entire time I was there.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Welcome to the working week # 13. (1985).

At my second job I unilaterally joined the shopworkers' union, USDAW. I mentioned this in passing to Maurice the storeman. Not long afterwards, in front of a group of colleagues that included the manager, Little Man Dave, Maurice announced that I was 'going to start a union'. Little Man Dave immediately said, 'I'll sack him if he does.'

Friday, 3 July 2015

If you're so clever... # 17. (1987)

Not long after I'd started going out with La Scala we went to see a workmate's band playing at a small community festival in North London. On the way home I wanted to hold her hand. She refused point blank. I found her completely unreadable and perplexing at times like that, and, in the absence of any useful experience, I had no idea how to handle it.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

If you're so clever... # 16. (1987).

Back when video players were still a relative rarity, a workmate at the dole office hosted a film-night at his flat, where he hired a video and invited a bunch of us round to watch. I was invited and went. Afterwards, I realised I'd gone through the entire evening speaking to nobody, and with nobody speaking to me. I had then, and still have now on occasion, a striking ability to absent myself among people.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Random access memory # 26.

At one of our trips to Butlins me and Mum were looking through the programme of upcoming entertainment. There was a hoedown advertised in the ballroom. She knew it was a dance of some sort but didn't understand the name. I suggested it was to do with people downing tools eg putting their hoes down, and relaxing after work. She seemed impressed that I'd worked out the etymology, which I was quietly pleased about.