Friday, 22 July 2016

Random access memory # 52. (2000)

My Chinese friend, K, was a notably messy eater. We went together to visit a mutual friend at the housing co-op in Stratford where she lived.
She made us all a meal. Travelling back on the Tube, K found a piece of bread from the meal wedged inside his shoe. Even by his standards he'd surpassed himself.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Family business #18. 2012.

As my mum's dementia progressed I started going down to Somerset every Friday on Megatrain so me and Brother D could spend the day with her and give her a break from the Fat Controller's impatience and aggression.
There was a point on the journey where the train would always pause alongside an open field. It always felt like a moment for quiet reflection. One day there were two hares chasing each other in the field. Even at that distance I could tell they were hares rather than rabbits. I think that's the first time I'd seen hares.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Random access memory # 51. 1984

I was involved in the Labour Party Young Socialists during the Miners' Strike. The local party branch was twinned with Tower Lodge colliery near Pontypridd, which was later collectively run by the workforce.
The Christmas of 1984 I decided that I'd agree with family that we wouldn't exchange presents. Instead, I'd donate the money I saved to the miners' hardship fund.
Mum was going to a miners' benefit event at the Labour Club so she handed over my donation. The miner who accepted it gave her an NUM tiepin to pass on to me as a thank you. It meant a lot to me at the time. I've probably still got it somewhere.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Welcome to the working week # 15. 1979

The premises at my first job were round the back of a tyre garage. The tyre garage staff always had Radio One playing full-blast which I could hear in the cubby hole on the mezzanine where I sat pricing invoices all day.
We shared toilets with them. These were never cleaned. The toilet bowl, urinal and washbasin were always black with grime. My stepbrother's then girlfriend worked there as a tyre fitter.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Random access memory # 50. 1993.

Soon after Stephen Lawrence got murdered there was a big protest march to get the BNP bookshop in Welling closed down.
On the coach to the protest I read New Grub Street by George Gissing as it was required reading on the English MA I'd just started.
We didn't get near the bookshop and for most of the time were redirected by the police along a stretch of closed-off dual carriageway. I remember a woman dressed head to toe in black with a baseball bat poking out of her backpack.
At one point troops of black lads in their teens and twenties were running on the spot in blocks, chanting, 'Too black, too strong!'. I was struck by the power of their self-discipline.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Random access memory # 49. 1984-1985

Mensa used to put small ads in the Daily Mirror in the form of puzzles. You were supposed to complete them within a given time and if you scored above a certain amount you could send in your answer and then sit a free invigilated test to see if you qualified to join.
I did a random test from the paper in the time allowed, without cheating, and scored 156; the score required for entry to Mensa was 140.
It was quite a while before I applied to do the invigilated test. I think I was just satisfied to have what was probably my first indication that I might be intelligent in a recognised way.
I took the invigilated test at ULU within a few months of moving to London. The other candidates struck me as fidgetting, jittery, weirdoes and I wasn't sure theirs was a club I wanted to join.
I scored 138. That test in the Mirror may have been one of the first things that made me think I might be able to go to university.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

If you're so clever... # 24. 1981

The first time I went out with someone, it was set up by my mate Simon. The young woman involved had apparently fancied me from a distance for a while. I was probably nineteen. I'd never kissed a girl before but had tried most of the illegal drugs that were available with the exception of heroin, which gives an indication of how well my life was going at the time.
Come the night, I decided to take the edge off my cringing shyness by necking some blues – cheap, rough amphetamine tablets popular at the time.
I took some before we met in the pub, then, thinking they weren't working, nipped out to the toilets to take some more. Still I felt tongue-tied the entire evening.
As the night went on, I sensed disappointment seeping into her like damp.
A day or so afterwards I rang her from the phonebox at the end of our road to apologise to her. She seemed puzzled and asked what I was apologising for. I don't remember what answer I gave. It didn't occur to me for a moment to ask her out again. Although strictly speaking I hadn't the first time. It was just sort of arranged.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Random access memory # 48. 1985

Soon after moving to London I decided to sample some fringe theatre. I went to see an adaptation of a Dostoevsky story in a pub theatre above the Bear and Ragged Staff off Charing Cross Road. All I remember about it is a female actor very self-consciously taking her top off. I'm fairly sure that was the first time I'd seen breasts in real life.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Family business #24. (1969).

Mum had quite a relaxed attitude to safety issues though I'm not sure how conscious this was, or whether it was just a feature of how preoccupied and overstretched she was as a lone parent bringing up 4 school age kids on her own.
One of my tasks when I was eight or nine was to tip caustic soda crystals onto the grate of the outside drain and pur boling water over them.
She also gave me the task of supervising and topping up the bonfire we'd have periodically in an old oil drum in the back garden. My favourite bit was draping a carrier bag on the end of a stick, letting it catch fire and watching the droplets of flaming, molten plastic falling off it. She'd leave me to get on with these tasks unsupervised. Perhaps she hoped to teach me responsibility, though I'm conscious that the usual approach is to buy you a gerbil.