During most of my stay in hospital, songs from the film Grease seemed to be playing everywhere. What appeared to be making the biggest impact were the clips from the film that accompanied the songs. Music illustrated by images goes back a long way. A magic lantern type projector had shown images to audiences while a song called “The Lost Child” played in theatres in 1894. In the 1930’s “Screen Song” films were produced that had the words of a song animated so that an audience could sing along to them, a bit like modern day Karaoke. Disney cartoons, and popular musicals were all steps along the way to a winning formula that would soon be jumping from the cinema to the TV too. From the Elvis, Bond, and Beatles films, to Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues clip to Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes video, and then to The Monkees having a TV series that incorporated songs, and then came Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. This combination of images and music became a very powerful tool for marketing artists and their wares. In the 1970’s it was as if we were being groomed by the media moguls, and it worked. By the time they’d finished with me I had the clothes, the haircut, the albums and the cinema tickets.
I went to see Grease in a cinema in Croydon, South London. I’d never seen an audience so involved in watching a film. There were people dressed up like the characters, dancing, running around and fighting in the aisles, whilst many were acting out parts simultaneously with the actors in the film. There were cheers and boos and rapturous applause. This was the communion that had been absent in many of our lives.
I wouldn’t experience anything like this for another 6 years, when I went to a cinema in Gibraltar where the kids who felt trapped on that small rock would go wild. There was dope being smoked openly, people dancing in the aisles, and things, including lit cigarettes, being thrown all over the place. It was pandemonium. In a way, it was a mass group primal scream therapy session.
* * *
1985 Hammersmith Odeon
Dire Straits, one of the biggest rock bands at the time, were performing at The Hammersmith Odeon which wasn’t far from where I lived then. I didn’t have a ticket so went there on the off chance of buying one from a ticket tout. I saw someone I knew, well she used to sell papers at Fulham Broadway Station and I’d say hello when I’d pass her, anyway, she had some tickets for sale so I bought one. When I got to the front of the queue I was taken aside and informed the ticket I had was a fake so I had to do the walk of shame past the long queue back outside.
I hung around a bit looking for the people who had just conned me but they were long gone and from then on, unsurprisingly, I never saw her selling papers outside the station again.
Whilst I was hanging around a young man came up to me and asked if I was trying to get in. When I said I was he told me to wait near one of the doors at the side, which I did, along with about 20 other people. The doors opened, an arm came out and beckoned us to enter quickly, which we did. Once inside he said “OK, I want £20 each, once you go upstairs try to find an empty seat and if possible go to the front of the stage, and if you get caught don’t grass us up.” So, we did as instructed and once in the auditorium infiltrated the audience. A few of us recognised each other through the night and gave knowing nods and smiles occasionally.
As the concert got going a lot of people made their way to the front of the stage but because my legs couldn’t stand standing for long periods of time I found a seat. There must have been a lot more infiltrators because the aisles were full of people dancing during the fast numbers and swaying during the slow ones. At one point a man was dancing near me, he was moving his weight from his front leg to his back one whilst standing in a running position with one foot on one step and the other on a lower one. It was like watching one of those looping animations of someone running. 33 years later that man is animated in my mind still.
* * *
These worlds where people became more anarchistic, they took place in the semi dark, coloured light, hidden spaces of theatres, and were almost ceremonies of their own. They touched a more primal side of ourselves. Whilst the Mummers day events have been curtailed, successive generations find their own dark places to exorcise their darker selves.
* * *
I am walking in the rain listening to “Tunnel of Love” by Dire Straits on headphones. I suddenly feel an emotional high. I haven’t felt anything like it before, I had never felt an aesthetic experience like this.
* * *
Chelsea School of Art (Lime Grove building)
I’m talking to John, one of the college technicians.
I say to him, “Modern art is just a load of people pretending to see the emperor’s new clothes, it’s just pretentious bullshit”
“I wouldn’t say that completely, some of it has some substance” He says back to me
“Well, I can’t see it” I say.
A few days later I am in The Tate Gallery on Millbank in London. I walk in to a room with big purple coloured paintings in. I sit down because my legs are aching and look at the paintings. I feel an overwhelming sensation coming from the depths, like in some way I connected with the artist. The paintings were Mark Rothko’s works and could hardly be more abstract.
* * *
Music was definitely a medium through which I was able to connect not only with some deeper aspects of myself but also I could connect with others too. However, as I moved out of my own period of adolescence I could see that the commercial manipulation of youths in order to make money also created a focus on youths that isn’t particularly nurturing, or deep in any spiritual way, but one that almost holds people within a cycle of materialism and further grooms them to become adult consumers, so much so that now it is not just our environment that is polluted with plastic, but our psyches are too. The pop world may well deal with the trials and tribulations of infatuation, “love”, breaking up, having kids and a bit of politics, it rarely deals with the deeper concerns that we may face in life. I too am guilty of tending to play safe regarding subject matter when it comes to writing songs, but in the context of what’s ok in our society, there are some very clear limits. Maybe that’s partly why I write this too because I can cover a wider spectrum of subject matter.
I once heard am Amazon rainforest tribal story teller telling a traditional tale, his story was filled with details that I doubt we would generally find acceptable in our society. The intricacies of women’s genitalia, the complicated emotions related to incest or other taboo areas, the tearing desires of lust and faithfulness. These were facets that were included in the Greek Tragedies, which are now almost forgotten beyond a Hollywood treatment of one of the tale’s every now and again. Even our own traditional stories have been replaced with sanitised versions, and yet mental health issues, addictive behaviour and suicides are on the increase. And yes, I think there’s a connection to those issues and our urge to deny a more honest portrayal of life, especially to adolescents.
* * *
This evening, before writing this, I came across a video of a child, maybe around 2 years old, listening to Moonlight Sonata. As he listened he was crying, seemingly as a reaction to the music. You might be able to see it using this link.
* * *
1978 Wilsons School
There was a kid at school who was in the year above me, he was most notable for having a school blazer that looked black in doors, but in direct sunlight had a turquoise green sheen to it. Along with his copper colour hair he kind of stuck out. On top of all that he had an Elvis style hair cut which meant I knew we had something important in common.
It’s hard to remember the weaving process that takes one from acquaintance to friend but in the latter months of 1978 this other Elvis fan called Scott and I started to spend a lot of time together. His father, an ambulance driver, was a big bear of a man called Jim who had grey hair and a white beard, his mum was big and friendly. There were 3 other kids in the family and a big Old English Sheepdog called Blue, all living in a little cottage of a house around a green in a housing estate in Wallington. On the walls were prints of paintings including a crying child and a scantily clad woman with long black hair leaning on a tree. Images that later I would find naff but at the time thought were rather appealing. In this dark, messy, over crowded home was something I knew I didn’t have, the experience of a big bustling family. As an adult, Scott would work on submarines for months at a time, maybe having a childhood like this was the perfect training.
The whole family accepted me, included me in meals, outings and the parents even told me off if I was being a bit out of line. One could see it as me playing the lost child, which probably had some truth to it, but at the same time I was identifying what I felt I needed.
* * *
As I now lived a few miles further away from Roundshaw I started to visit friends there a lot less. It was a time of wandering around, calling on friends and meeting new people, especially in the parks. It was the beginning of learning to live with an often-overwhelming sense of loneliness.
* * *
I don’t think we’d studied “Waiting for Godot” at school yet, but if we had, I would have probably recognised the similar experience of the main characters to mine whilst waiting for the 157 bus to take me to school. There was a cut-off point when, if the bus wasn’t coming it would be worth walking about half a mile to where there were other buses available too. I’m surprised I didn’t grow up to be a compulsive gambler given the amount of adrenalin rushing through me whilst I waited, trying to decide whether to walk to the next bus stop or not. And if I did then I’d be continuously looking over my shoulder in case there was an option to run back or get to the next stop. I wasn’t the only one, Sunil, who lived opposite the bus stop would often be there too as he went to another school near Wilsons. Not only was the bus stop a good place to make friends, but the bus itself became a bit of a social club. There would often be the same people on the bus so we’d chat to them and over time become friends with some of them, even to the extent of visiting some of them, whether they wanted it or not. The accountant I have used to tell me how poor I am for many years now, well I met him 37 years ago through a woman on the bus who was his girlfriend at the time. He still charges me the normal rate though.
Aside from meeting at the bus stop, Sunil and I would go to each other’s homes too. He was from a family of Indian heritage and whilst his mum would react with sympathy about my arms she would always be very welcoming. There were not many Indian people living in the area and probably because of that there was a lot more assimilation going on, especially with the younger generations. I have advocated for a long time that the best education is integration, not only in terms of ethnic related issues but also with disability ones. It would be a few years before I would start to become more politically aware but even so there were experiences that were already stirring some kind of understanding, even if it was somewhat blurred.
Sunil and I would go to the local park which backed on to Westcroft Sports centre. As we started to get to know other kids there we would use the sports centre to either go swimming in or just to hang around the café with the other kids.
Some of the kids we mixed with were a bit older than us, had either skin head style haircuts or were dressed as Mods and made it clear they didn’t normally like Rockers, although on this occasion they’d make an exception for me, and Sunil, who also looked a bit like Elvis. Some of them carried weapons, dealt in and took drugs and easily turned violent. These ones were definitely on course for time in prison. I hated the way they would punch unsuspecting kids, I could feel this was a world best avoided.
At one point one of them called a national newspaper to inform them there was a bomb in the sports centre, which resulted in everyone being evacuated, including all the shivering swimmers.
I wanted to belong to a network of friends but I could tell they weren’t for me.
Some people believe that gangs perform a similar role to families for people who don’t have a good family life, but in many ways, there is no comparison. The world of gangs is scary and insecure, it lacks trust and magnifies feelings of detachment. If anything, they reproduce the feelings of an absent or highly dysfunctional family, so maybe it feels like home to many people, it’s what they know. There may be honour amongst thieves but I doubt there’s much love.
* * *
I had no conscious notion that I was seeking out an alternative family, but maybe at 13, given my home family was quite detached for me, I was being adopted by some of the families of friends, well at least on a part time basis.
One evening I was at the sports centre, sitting in the café area. Across the room were a couple of men dressed in karate suits. I went up to them and asked if I could do karate.
“I don’t see why not” one of them said.
“I can do some kicks” I said as I did one, over straightened my leg and almost broke my own knee.
The man I was talking to tried not to laugh.
“Why don’t you come to our classes?” he asked
“Really, are you sure it’d be ok?”
“Yes, come along”
* * *
One of Scott’s friends invited us to a party that would be held in the cricket pavilion in Beddington park which was one of the big parks nearby. This friend’s dad offered to drive us all home at Midnight. But when I asked mum and John about it during our Sunday dinner John said that I would have to be home by 11. When I pointed out that it would be safer for me to be brought back at midnight than to walk through a park or along roads around the time the pubs would be closing John insisted I be back by 11.
I am not sure if was the hatred of being controlled or the sense of injustice but I lost my temper and kicked a chair. Instead of it going flying, it remained where it was but the seat part went flying up in to the air. John got up and went for me, not in any awful violent way, but my reaction was to kick him, which by chance caught him right between the legs. He dropped to the floor. I just stood there whilst mum shouted at me. A short while later John stood up, pushed me back on to the arm chair and pulled my artificial foot off and slapped me around the head. I can remember thinking “Erm, I didn’t kick you with the artificial foot, I think you’re being a bit unfair”, but I stayed quiet.
When a week later I asked if I could go to Karate lessons he said no, citing me possibly using it to bully other children (which wasn’t something I had a history of). It may well have been more his own concerns about me being violent towards him. Mum thought it might be a good idea.
No matter what they said, I was going to go to the karate class anyway.
* * *
The party in the park was probably the first adult party I had gone to by myself. I tried drinking some beer, but didn’t like it. Instead I thought it would be funny to spit it out. I was talking to a big black guy on the upper balcony and said “Watch this”. He was probably expecting something highly entertaining to happen, so might have been a bit disappointed when I took a mouthful of beer and then whacked my bloated cheeks with my arms to create a beautiful fountain of beer. He laughed, probably politely, thinking “Oh he’s mental as well, poor guy”. Unfortunately, the guy below didn’t think it was funny. He came rushing up shouted “Who just spat beer all over me?” and before I was able to come up with a plausible excuse, punched the guy next to me who got knocked unconscious. The beer soaked guy went back downstairs, whilst I frantically apologised to the guy as he came around. He looked at me and said “Don’t worry, I’ve been looking for an excuse to get him”. At which point he went downstairs and knocked the beer soaked bloke unconscious.
When I got home at 11, as instructed, mum asked if it had been a nice party.
“It was ok” I said, “there were a few drunk people being stupid”.
I didn’t bother telling her that there’s been a sober one being very stupid too.
* * *
It was very rare that mum would exert any control over me, which must have wound John up even more. When I look back on it now I feel a bit sorry for John because there was definitely an allegiance between mum and I against John. This would normally take the form of withholding information about things we’d know he’d disapprove of, or agreeing not to do something to his face but doing it anyway. John probably reminded mum of her own father who had been strict so she tended to identify more with me than him so consequently he must have felt quite hurt and betrayed about that.
* * *
I had befriended a boy who was from an Irish family who lived down the road. I’d been mainly drawn in by him having an Elvis hairstyle. I think you can probably see a bit of a pattern emerging here. I’d go round to his house and watch TV whilst one of his cousins who was visiting from Ireland would get a bit drunk and tell us about her sexual experiences. I was sure I might be in line to become one of those experiences if I hung around long enough, so one weekend I stayed the night. Nothing happened, and no I’m not going to make something up to keep you happy. The only thing I got was her putting a load of Brylcreem in my hair and giving me a proper rocker hairdo.
Now I knew mum was going to be a bit surprised about my new look but when she opened the door I wasn’t quite prepared for her wrath. I think within 2 minutes my head was under the shower as she washed the oil out of my hair. Even mum had her limits, and being a hairdresser, Brylcreem in my hair wasn’t so much a hair-do, but definitely a hair-don’t.
* * *
I had bought a big “Green River” knife and strapped it to my leg. I wanted the other kids in the gang to think I was tough, even though I knew I wasn’t. In real terms there was no way I would be able to use a knife in a fight and if anything it would have probably ended up being stabbed in to me had I ever brought it out in anger.
The only time it ever saw light was at the Roundshaw youth club when it accidently fell out. One of the youth workers grabbed it and started shouting at me. He had such a go at me that I didn’t ever carry it again.
* * *
At the main cross roads at the top of Wallington High Street there was a big church. It’s now replaced by a large supermarket, which just about sums up our culture now. But back then my only contact with it was to go to the chess club which met there on a weekly basis. I had learned to play chess at about 8 or 9 years old and although I liked it I wasn’t particularly any good.
My memory of the venue is almost surreal now, it was as if we were in a large hall whose ceiling was so high it couldn’t be seen. The floor was made of yellowing long floorboards, the radiators were green and the people wore sepia coloured clothes. The leader of the group had a large yellowish beard, but it was old aged yellow, not blonde. A line of tables was perfectly centred through the length of the room, each with a chessboard, box of pieces and a clock on. I only ever played the old man with the beard once and I won. Maybe he was being kind, or possibly my little arms moving the pieces around and me writing down every move in a little chess notation pad distracted him. I wasn’t really a strategist, I would just take as many pieces as I could and then try to overwhelm my opponent. Against a good chess player, I wouldn’t stand a chance. I got the feeling he was a bit pissed off I’d won.
The main highlight of the evenings was the tea and biscuits. In the winter months, the hall was very cold so the tea was a chance to reheat my paws. There were a few other kids there who I would end up going outside to the dark car park with and having a chat. Two of the other kids were a couple of girls who hung around there too. They weren’t from the chess club, they were from another world, but the car park was a no man’s land where it was safe to meet.
* * *
I was having a discussion with a friend recently. In it they stated that there shouldn’t be borders, that we are all one race with similar needs and rights. I couldn’t help but disagree. For me, there is a link between all humans, that bit I agreed with, that most of us have similar central aspirations and desires and most of us will have compassion for a fellow human being in need. But I also recognised differences, differences that cause different levels of allegiance towards different groups of people. The notion of seeing past these differences is a noble one but it might also be suicidal. For me there are natural borders, especially around language, where difference can be perceived between people not only speaking different languages, but different regional accents, class accents and even choice of words. That doesn’t mean I will forget that someone who is very different from me is just as human as I am, but I also keep in mind that allegiances tend to be aligned with kinship. People are more kind to those who they share more kinship with. First in line are those that we love along with our close family and friends, then those ideological communities we belong to, those who share our cultural values, then our local community, our part of the country, then our country and possibly there are many people who also identify with others based on whether the look like each other, I see this as a genetic pool, but many see that as “race”. Race is probably not the best word to use, but even those who deny a scientific basis for the term are quick to point out racist behaviour against people of colour, although they might add the notion of “otherness” to their definition. No matter how much people tell me we are all one race, I can still feel difference influences how we feel about each “other”. It’s something to contend with, but I doubt we can have it programmed out of ourselves completely.
* * *
I still wore my parker coat most of the time, it was blue outside and had an orange lining. One of the pockets on the right had a hole in it, which at first was annoying, but then I realised I could use it to make things disappear, especially from shops. My main target was acquiring sun glasses. One week I went in to an opticians in Wallington high street, tried on a few glasses then pocketed a few. At one point the old woman serving me asked where I’d put one of the pairs, a cold fear ran through me. “I put them back on the shelf”, I said. She grabbed a few pairs down and luckily for me there was an exact same pair amongst those she’d chosen. But I’m sure she gave me a suspicious look.
The next day at school I sold them all for a highly reduced rate. Demand was high, so on the way home I popped in to a chemist in Wallington High street. The cashier was one of the girls from the chess club car park. She helped me go through a few pairs then left me and my accomplice to look through the carousel. I think we took about 7 pairs all in all then walked out the shop. As we walked off the girl came out the shop and ran up to us. “Simon!” she said “I saw what you just did then, I saw you take those glasses, don’t ever do that again, next time I’ll call the police. Don’t be stupid.”
I could see my days as a criminal mastermind were numbered, so I got a new coat with less deep pockets and decided to try getting a job.
* * *
I was mixing with violent people, being violent at home, stealing from people and only curbing that because I feared being caught. If ever there was a need for an axis point in my life, then this would be an ideal time. But I’m not sure, even now if one can talk about a moment of change, that doesn’t feel real to me. When I meet people who tell me that one moment changed their life around I can’t help but feel a bit doubtful. I’m sure it happens sometimes, but often such proclamations are more about convincing the people around them or themselves. Generally, change tends to take time.
* * *
I have a friend called Ruth who is part of a local church community. She’s taken me to meet someone who she and some of the other congregation members are supporting called Veronica (this was not the Veronica I knew from Roehampton). Maybe God was playing with them because in the Bible, St Veronica was a woman who felt sorry for Jesus whilst he carried the cross to Golgotha. She gave him her veil to so he could wipe his brow. Instead he held it to his face then handed it back to her. When she looked at it afterwards, the image of his face was impressed upon it. In the Byzantine world, her name meant “Bearer of Victory” but in the Latin West it came to mean True Image (Vera Icon). There are other versions of this story, most of them follow a similar line. Maybe God was showing them the true image of themselves.
It was clear to me that this Veronica had a host of mental health issues that were not going to be dealt with by the prayers of those who visited her. They told her to pray and all would be well and because she was eager to believe, she tried and tried but sure enough there was no quick fix and in time they gave up on her. She handed me a book to read when I was there with her phone number in, I called her a few months later and we stayed in contact for many years. As far as I could see she didn’t ever improve dramatically.
* * *
1985 Tavistock Clinic
Mrs. H “Why do you come to these sessions?”
Me “Because I want to be cured”
Mrs. H. “Do you think therapy will cure you?”
Mrs. H “I don’t know if you can describe it as a cure, that would mean the problem doesn’t exist anymore, like ridding a body of a virus. But these feelings you have, they might not ever go away totally. Maybe therapy will help you to deal with the feelings, maybe it will help you not to behave in ways that make them worse, but I can’t promise to cure you of them”
* * *
I doubt very much that we have archetypal characters speaking to us in our minds, but it’s a good way to personify how our psyche works. If we were going to represent the interactions it would probably have to be portrayed using different theatrical devices. For some situations it could be a theatrical production, other times a suspense thriller movie, sometimes a piece performance art, maybe even a musical, and so on. But at the age of 13 it’s probably going to be a shit amateur dramatic scenario, with occasional intervals for a quick porn film.
* * *
Inter-mission – A play in one act
There are large badly painted grey clouds hanging above the stage. The background is full of more grey skies. Across the backdrop one of the characters who is dressed as an artist is spraying the words “Boring Sunday” across the backdrop in big black letters as the lights come up.
Another character dressed as a beatnik walks in from the left holding a little black book. He turns to the audience and says in a posh accent.
“Who would want to come to see a play about a boring Sunday? I say, who would come to see a play about a boring Sunday?”
He nods affirmatively to the audience.
There is a sudden burst of canned laughter, then he lays down on his back, takes the death position, and snores a little.
“Poets!” says the artist “They’re so pretentious. They can’t even speak properly”
“What are you doing artist?” The poet shouts.
The artist spreads his fingers and arches his back as if he’s hearing the screech of chalk on a blackboard.
“I am using illusions to help you see the truth.” Says the artist, as if the answers is obvious.
“No you’re not.” says the poet, “You’re just using your skills” he pauses and laughs “to get attention, mainly female attention”.
“Hypocrite” shouts the artist.
“Oh, no I don’t deny it. I actually think my poetry is codswallop, it’s just I have a knack for saying something that doesn’t make any sense in a way that sounds like it must do.
“Is that an example?”
They both go quiet.
A young pretty woman in a light blue chiffon dress steps up from the audience and climbs on to the stage.
She says “I couldn’t help but hear what you said, you know about art and poetry and I have to say I was very touched by your honesty”
The artist and the poet wink and nod at each other.
Someone from the audience shouts out “It’s a bit sexist, you need to get yourself up to date”
The woman looks at the audience, sighs, then says “Look it’s 1978, the only thing he knows about feminism is that they burn their bras. Anyway, I quite like playing these parts. It’s my choice and I get paid loads of money”
Both the poet and artist say “Do you?”
There’s a moment of silence
All three characters stand up together in a line and look out toward the audience.
“All I can see is emptiness.” Says the artist
The woman says “I can’t bear it.”
She raises her finger to the poet’s mouth.
A man walks on wearing a very large cod piece. He says “Did you know, pubescent boys think about sex nearly all the time?”
“So do girls” says the woman
“Then why don’t they let us have sex with them?” Asks the codpiece wearer.
“Because it’s not true… sometimes OR they just don’t think you’re attractive.
Anyway, I would just like to point out that there is no way that this is a representation of a thirteen-year old’s mind in 1978, it’s more like a 53 year old’s in 2018. I’m just saying”
A white man and a woman in a burka walk across the stage pushing a pram. Followed by a white boy and a black boy holding hands. Followed by a black woman in a wheelchair wearing a bridegroom’s outfit holding the hand of a man dressed in a bridal gown.
The poet picks up a clip board with BBC written on the back and Ticks off boxed as each group pass.
All the characters stand quietly their eyes looking left and right, their mouths pursed.
A trap door opens, a chair with a teenager sitting in it rises to the stage. The boy has headphones on and is blindfolded.
All the characters start shushing each other.
The boy holds out a remote control and pushes a button
The woman says “Remote controls weren’t in common usage in 1978, what idiot put that in?”
Suddenly there’s a sound of a car approaching. The actors mime as if a car passes over the stage hotly pursued by several police cars. All the actors stop and follow the pursuit.
The poet starts to commentate on the chase.
“The police are going full throttle they are catching up. One of the officers is leaning out the window. He’s firing his gun. The rear window smashes as one of his bullets hit it. They are approaching a railway crossing. A train is coming. Oh my God the train’s hit the car they were chasing and the driver’s been thrown from the car and, well he’s been decapitated.”
“Oh no he hasn’t has he?” asks the artist who is holding a can of paint and a brush and is painting a red line around his neck.
“No, unfortunately not” says the poet in a very disappointed tone “As usual he got away”
The artist puts the paint can and brush down and sighs.
“That looks very Avant-Gard” says the woman pointing at the red line around the artist’s neck.
“Do you think so?” Asks the artist
“Yes I do” nods the woman, first she nods affirmatively then switches to a no. Then adds.
“You do know that this is just your fantasy and I don’t really fancy you, don’t you?”
“Yes I know”, he says sadly “I really shouldn’t get carried away”
A good-looking man enters stage left, walks across the stage combing his hair.
He says loudly “There’s never a mirror when you need one” and exits stage left.
“He could have used a pool of tears I cried, because of a joke so cruel, if he had asked me” says the poet.
The boy in the chair stands up. The man with the codpiece goes on all fours in front of him.
The poet looks at the woman and nods towards the boy.
The woman gives the poet a look of “don’t go there” (a cocked eyebrow and shaking her head)
The man walks backwards until he is under the boy who then sits on his back.
“I’m bored” says the boy exasperatedly
The man passes him a novel. The boy throws it over his shoulder. The poet catches it.
The boy shouts, “Giddey Up”
The codpiece wearer looks at the audience and mouths “Giddey up? Wanker”
The man rides him slowly towards the woman.
The boy says, “Hello? I can smell someone is there”
The woman quietly steps backwards and looks up to the ceiling.
“I’m getting very tired of this objectification. I know it’s meant to be 1978 but we all know you’re writing this in 2018. You know, hashtag me too and all of that?”
A very good looking topless man walks on to the stage, in one hand he’s pushing a hoover, in the other he’s holding a Kafka novel (The book is large and has Kafka writ large on it).
The woman asks him which Kafka book he’s reading and follows him off stage.
A priest walks on the stage.
“I just want to say that sex before marriage is not for you. It’s for good looking sporty chaps, so you’d better get a grip of yourself.”
The codpiece wearer smiles at the audience.
“No” says the priest “It’s very bad to do that”
“Why?” says the codpiece man
“Because you are killing” his voice is drowned out as some very loud music starts playing.
All the characters start dancing, the woman and man re-enter the stage, dancing across the stage in a ball room style. As they do disco lights flash and an image of a woman in a bikini fades in to view on the backdrop. The artist stops dancing, pulls a sheet from an easel to reveal a painting of the woman in the bikini. He beckons the audience for praise.
The music fades. There’s a clatter of cutlery and crockery being loaded on to a table in the distance. Then a woman’s voice calls out.
“Thank god for that I couldn’t hear myself think.” All the characters nod in agreement.
“Anyway dinner’s ready. Hurry up, it’s getting cold. What are you doing?”
A clown walks on to the stage, shouts “I’m just coming” then does a handstand, between his legs is another head, he walks off stage on his hands.
The woman looks at the audience and says “I know, it’s all so bleeding obvious now, but in a few years’ time, it will be so much more sophisticated.”
There’s a moment of silence then she gesticulates a motion of mocking disbelief with her hand and mimes some uncontrollable laughter.
The codpiece man lays down flat on his front. The boy walks around with his arms out feeling for something to guide him. The beautiful man starts doing push ups at the feet of the bikini image. The priest prays whilst following the boy on his knees. The poet throws the book he caught. The artist puts a for sale sign on the painting.
The caned laughter roars for a few seconds and fades as the lights go out. The “Boring Sunday” words on the back drop shine out under an ultraviolet light. Slowly the grey clouds and backdrop illuminate in to beautiful colours.
Over the Tannoy, a voice says “Please return to your seats, the program will continue in 5 minutes”
* * *
There was definitely a feeling that there must be more to life than this. The empty spaces of time and places dominated this era. I was wondering the streets looking for connection and significance. I wasn’t so much lost, but I hadn’t found what I wasn’t looking for. I might have thought I wanted to love someone, but really I wanted to feel loved. I thought I wanted a girlfriend but when I had one it wouldn’t be as I dreamed. When Bono sings “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” the same is true for most of us, especially at 13, we really haven’t identified what it is we are looking for.
1978 Wilsons School
I came in to school late (as normal) so had to wait in the foyer until assembly had reached a certain point. Whilst the kids were singing a hymn I got talking to a new supply teacher. It didn’t take long for me to realise that something was up with him. Within a few minutes of us speaking he was telling me how our materialistic society doomed us to a cycle of behaviour that aimed to deal with psychic pain via a process of analgesic consumerism that helped us ignore that pain. All of which rung true. It wasn’t what he was saying that was a problem, it was more a case of the appropriateness of the conversation. Even I, someone who barely knew what appropriateness was, could tell he was on a mission. It was ok for me eagerly promote whatever I was obsessed with but revealing the crack in our society’s structure to a 13-year-old was probably a sign of madness. There’s a few lines in Evelyn Waugh’s book Decline and Fall that illustrate this point well when the vicar says.
“Are you quite sure he is right in the head? I have noticed again and again since I have been in the Church that lay interest in ecclesiastical matters is often a prelude to insanity.”
Sure enough, a few days later he wasn’t invited back, but still in the interim he had managed to tell me that “Nothing is everything and everything is nothing”, which whilst I thought that didn’t make much sense, the poet in me never forgot it and used versions of it on many occasions since then. Often resulting in a response such as “You’re so deep”. At which point the artist, poet and codpiece wearer wink at each other.
* * *
It was 6pm, I took the 157 bus. I got on it where I normally got off it after school. This time I was going on a journey that would last a lifetime and would, as many books promise, change my life.
* * *