Friday, 21 August 2015

Lifetime underachievement award # 12. (1989)

In my final year at Goldsmiths' a poster appeared on the English department noticeboard advertising the chance of a scholarship to go to the US to do an MA at a university there. I overheard another student, who was one of the dimmest and laziest on the course, talking about her plans to apply. I was amazed at her sense of entitlement.
Realistically, I probably would have had a better chance of success than anybody else on the course had I applied, but I didn't. By that stage I was living in the flat where I still live now.
Because of all the hostility I'd faced from the Fat Controller, I felt I'd lost my home at the age of 16. It therefore meant a huge amount to me to have a secure home where I was entitled to be. If I'd gone to America, even if only for a year, I'd have needed to give up the flat. I couldn't do it.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Lifetime underachievement award # 11. (2005).

After I ran out of steam at writing fiction, I went through a phase of doing jokey, throwaway travel writing about my cut price day trips around the UK. Though I didn't take the pieces that seriously, they were well-received at the writers' group I was chairing at the time. One member of the group worked for a national newspaper and thought my travel stuff would work well as a regular column. She offered to put in a word for me at the paper and invited me to pop in to their offices for an informal chat with somebody who had the clout to approve such things.
I havered at the suggestion, saying I wasn't sure about the form, meaning I wasn't sure of the form the writing should take. She thought I meant form in the sense of the etiquette of such negotiations. It struck me that the misunderstanding was quite revealing.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Lifetime underachievement award # 10. (1996).

Towards the end of my two years performing stand-up comedy, I was getting paid gigs more often. I did two in one night for the same promoter, supporting Mark Thomas. After my set I popped outside for a breath of fresh air. Mark said hello and said, 'I really enjoyed the start of your set.'
I immediately wondered what was wrong with the rest of it. Stand-up's a medium that can make you very insecure.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Random access memory # 47. (1997)

Me and Sean the Obscure went to a free music festival in Clissold Park, Hackney. A very drunk bloke, who looked like he might be street homeless, tried to sell us a bag of what he claimed was weed. It was evident that it was a lump of turf he'd just bagged up fresh from the park. When we politely declined he chuckled knowingly and wandered off to try somebody else.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Random access memory # 46. (1991).

I went on holiday to Portland in Dorset. One night in the pub, I overheard a group of women discussing their sex lives. One of them described having recently got off with a crusty with dreadlocks. Her friend asked if he'd stunk. When she replied in the negative, her friend seemed pleasantly surprised.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Random access memory # 45. (1977-1978)

At secondary school for a while there was a trend for playing hangman on the blackboard in the lunch hour. The subject was always the names of bands and albums. I used to do well at it because my musical tastes were seen as obscure.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Random access memory # 44. (1978).

There were no music venues where new bands could play in my home town. In the five or so years after punk, bands would put on their own gigs in village halls. Short of a full blown gig, bands would rehearse in the skittle alleys of pubs and invite friends along.
I saw a band called Valley Forge at one of these skittle alley rehearsals. The drummer would later play for the Mob and Zounds and would form Blyth Power.
I think that night was probably the first time I got ill with drink. I didn't feel drunk but walked at least two blocks on the way home before realising I'd left my jacket in the pub.
When I got home I immediately threw up in the toilet. It didn't help that I'd been smoking heavily. The next day my fingers were dark brown with nicotine stains.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Lifetime underachievement award # 9. (1997)

I wanted to work part-time so I could write. It seemed the only way to find the necessary time. Waiting for my job interview with a new local authority I mooched in the library next door. At random I picked up a book of poems by Adrian Mitchell. A poem about Edward Hopper caught my eye. It said of Hopper, 'He found his thing and did it.'
Even though I didn't know Hopper's work at the time, the phrase struck a chord with me. I felt I'd found my thing in writing and I was finally about to get the chance to do it.
I later came to love Hopper's work but without that chance reference I may never have discovered it.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Random access memory # 43. (1980).

My early teens were characterised by loneliness and boredom. The town I grew up in offered little in the way of entertainment. I was once so bored that I went to see the movie spin-off of the TV series 'Man About the House' twice in the same week. I hadn't even enjoyed it the first time. No wonder I ended up moving to London.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Lifetime underachievement award # 8. (1997).

Aside from teenage efforts, the first serious attempt at a short story that I wrote as an adult, was accepted by a well-respected UK magazine. I got paid £180. Even though it'd taken me all my spare time for three months to write the story, the acceptance for publication made me feel like the future belonged to me.
Aside from complimentary copies of subsequent magazines I was published in, that £180 was the first and last material reward I received for writing. I had a private joke with myself that if I didn't get paid for writing fiction at least once every ten years I'd call it a day.
When the ten years was up I'd pretty much run out of steam as far as fiction went, so I did stop writing it. It left a gap in my life I've still not filled. I'm not sure I ever will.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Welcome to the working week # 14. (1981).

At my first job I somehow got talked into taking a correspondence course for a trade qualification run by the Builders' Merchants Federation. The learning materials were sent in large format booklets which I was expected to read through in my own time.
As if this wasn't pointless enough already, the training material was full of product information for stuff my employer didn't stock – anaglypta wallpaper, hand-tools that people had stopped using in the Fifties, and architraves that went out of fashion with anti-macassars.
Even looking at the information made me depressed, so I barely skimmed it.
I had to go to Bristol to take the exam. I think I had to pay my own train fare. I failed the exam by a mile. I felt some pride at how little effort I'd put in. I felt it showed my employer didn't have the upper hand.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Random access memory # 42. (1978).

Our form room at school had a long cupboard running along half the length of it, just below the window. At waist height, its polished wooden top was perfect for playing a type of table hockey using our small plastic dinner tokens which we shoved from one end of the cupboard top to the next.
I remember it being played at lunchtime though logically it must have only been at morning break as the tokens had to be handed in at lunchtime.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Who died and made you Elvis? # 4 (1978).

They had prefects at my secondary school taken from the fifth form. When I was in the fourth year, most of the prefects were drawn from those in the year above who'd been at the Grammar school for a year before the town went comprehensive. They were clearly identifiable as a type, even four years later-middle class and often conformist. One lunchtime, one of them came into the form room to remonstrate with us for some now-forgotten minor misbehaviour, and had the piss ripped out of him by most of the people present. He was known as Wingnut because of his protruding ears, so was an open goal as a target for ridicule.
What stays with me is his ill-concealed but impotent rage at being disregarded and disrespected. I found myself laughing uncontrollably. He saw me and it incensed him even more. I realise now that what I found funny was his sense of superiority being deflated.

Friday, 7 August 2015

I remember when it was all fields round here #2. (1968)

We had a galvanised bucket in the kitchen filled with a clear jelly-like liquid called isinglass. Mum stored fresh eggs in there. I'm not sure if we had a fridge at that point. I've just Googled the word isinglass to make sure I didn't invent it or imagine it.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Random access memory # 41. (1968).

The elderly woman next door was known to us as Auntie Alice. She lived with her chain-smoking sister, whose name I forget, and a black cat called Pickles. Alice was tiny. With her stoop, her long neck and wrinkles, she reminded me of a tortoise.
I never saw her sister outside of her armchair and don't remember her ever speaking.
They had some connection with a farm and would sometimes give us free eggs from there. The yolks were deep orange and had the disgusting taste of the fish meal on which the hens were fed.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Family business #17. (1979-1985).

For the entire time I had to stay at the Fat Controller's house he made a steady stream of petty and irrational complaints about me. Mum would pass these on, mostly unfiltered, such was his coercive power over her.
He complained about me leaving the toilet roll on the windowsill, because he said the rain might blow in and make it wet. He complained about me putting ketchup on the side of the plate rather than directly onto the food, because, he claimed, it made it harder to wash up the plates. He chose to ignore the fact that his sons routinely left half their meals unfinished.
He complained about me running on the stairs even though I never did. In fact, I'd pick my way up the stairs on tiptoe with great care because they were always littered with cat and dog shit.
He complained that when I washed up I didn't dry the cups properly and that the damp from the cups was making the paintwork flake on the cupboard shelf where they were kept. This was despite the fact that he had no evidence of what was causing the flaking paint, or that I was any more to blame than anyone else.
He complained about me spending too long in the shower and insisted that I only have a shower every other day. This 'rule' was only introduced after my stepbrothers had all moved out and therefore when demand for the shower was at its lowest point. It coincided with me starting my second job which was dirty and physically demanding as it involved a lot of heavy lifting. As a result of the rule I almost certainly stank. I started my first 'A' level at evening classes around then. I'd go straight from work. They'd open a window when I arrived.
He once complained about me walking down the street with my hands in my pockets. As mum relayed it, his gripe was that if there was ice on the ground and I slipped, I'd be unable to break my fall. This was despite the fact he was complaining at the height of summer.
For the Fat Controller, his use of Mum as a conduit for his griping was a win-win arrangement because he could try and control and diminish two people at a time.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

If you're so clever... # 23. (1975-1976)

I can't remember how often they happened but at secondary school they'd occasionally have a disco at lunchtime in the assembly hall. I always avoided going, by, in effect, hiding in the form classroom. Once, the music teacher who organised the event came and found me and, despite my protests, physically dragged me to the disco. Once there I just stood on the periphery feeling humiliated.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Random access memory # 40. (1991)

Until I moved into this housing co-op I'd had little contact with middle-class people. The ones in the co-op were lovely to me. At the time, Charles was probably the poshest-sounding person I'd ever met. I went for a walk on Shooters Hill with him, his GP girlfriend Kate, and our mutual friend Mary from the co-op.
Afterwards we played Boggle in Charles's flat. Unwittingly, I broke the rules by trying to play the word 'noh', a proper noun. Kate gently pointed this out but I could tell she was embarrassed about bringing it up.
When I got home, I realised I'd stepped in some dog-shit on the walk and had walked it into Charles's carpet. The feeling I attach to the memory is one of social clumsiness and embarrassment, a feeling which, at the time, I often had around middle-class people.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Random access memory # 39. (1968)

We had a woodburning heater in the front room. It was beige, made of some sort of vitreous material and had small windows that allowed you to see the flames. Mum told me the windows were made of mica. The word interested me for some reason.
Some time after my dad died we put the heater for sale, with a postcard advert in the corner shop window. Mum asked me to draw a picture of the heater for the advert.
The heater was replaced by a two bar fire. This was probably an economy measure. There were other similar efforts. Once there was a jumble sale at the church hall, which included a fifty/fifty stall where you got back half the selling price of something you'd brought in. Mum sold one of Dad's suits this way. Clearly, times were hard financially.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Random access memory # 38. (1976).

When I was about thirteen, some time between my mum getting cancer and punk rock coming to save me, I went through a brief phase of solitary nocturnal vandalism.
I went into the sports pavilion at the local rec after dark and unscrewed all the aluminium coat hooks from the changing rooms. This took a couple of nights. I brought the hooks home and eventually threw them away.
I also got into somebody's mini-van which was unlocked. There was a pack of Flash scouring powder in there which I chucked all over the van's interior. Even now I'm unsure why I did these things. I was probably bored, and possibly angry, though my feelings were so deeply buried in those days, I doubt if I knew, even vaguely.