Puddel....a council estate in the 70's
Dedicated to the memory of Raymond Malet
10th June 1962 - 30th November 2013
The concerns of growing up on a tough estate in the 1970's.
Dedicated to my friend, Raymond Malet who features heavily in this story, as part of the Unholy Trinity that was myself, Raymond and Robert Goble. The only ones who's real names I kept for this tale. Raymond was lovely. He had a great sense of humour and was a real go-getter. I hadn't seen him for years and his sister-in-law, Jain, messaged me to say he was poorly when she found this book online. Jain had shown Puddel to Raymond and she told me it had put a smile on his face to read it and, at least, it was a way for me to have a link with him before he sadly passed away. Much love to Raymond's friends and family. xxx
We had all sorts living on our crumbling estate....thieves, midgets, tarts, magpies, child-molesters, benefit-cheats. You name it...we had it. Some ruled...others were ruled over. Most fought...a few just got beat. Most got beaten at some point or other.
'Everybody meets their match', my old man used to say...in an attempt to get me fighting for myself...to give me a back-bone.
'Yeah...I know...but Dad' I remember saying to him once 'I know that people meet their match...but round here you end up meeting eight brothers and three angry uncles too...and I don't have that luxury of numbers'
I was proud of that...thirteen years old and already philosophising. I remember the day they broke the news to me.
'We're moving...to Puddel' said Mum
I wheeled round in downright horror.
'PUDDEL? You're kidding me ain't ya? I know people from there....from school...it's a cess-pit.'
But they weren't joking. Dad had slipped a disc and had to change jobs. Instead of living on a farm we were moving to a place packed with different kinds of animals. Apparently...we were skint.
My first friend was Raymond. I knew him from school...but we weren't mates...not until I moved...to Puddel. He was slightly shorter than me...and I was average height. Skinny sod really. Him...not me. Tougher than me...easily...always looking for action. Wiry...I suppose is the right way to describe him. Wiry...and always climbing trees. I expected him to stick by me when I got into my first fight. He didn't. I still think about that fight.
Terry spat on the ground...again...around the broken telephone-box...upon the broken glass...upon the cigarette-ends. He had developed a serious spitting habit. We all spat a bit. It started through boredom and escalated to a level of automatic subconscious routine...but he took it too far. It was the Top Trumps Fighter Pilots game of the slums. Gob on a coach-beetle. Salivate into a matchbox. Spittle-soak the back of a friend's jacket...secretly. Of course. Coat the shop-window with mean greenies.
Terry looked sort of Mexican...dark skin...shiny black hair...cruel lacerated smile.He WASN'T Mexican.
I sat astride my green pushbike...the one with the cow-horn handlebars so typical of the day. A true 1974 push-cycle.
Raymond was with us...outside the off-licence...and so was Rob. Rob was taller than myself and Ray....the same height as Terry really...but broader in the chest and bigger in the arms. He wore a Christmas jumper...decorated with little green pine trees. It was July.
'Just leave it out Terry'
Well...I had to say something because he was annoying me. He spat again. I felt myself growing red at the prospect of being thrown into a 'conflict position'.
'So...who's bike was that you were paint-spraying the other day?' Ray asked Rob
I was trying to show an interest in their conversation...a ploy to suck me out of the 'conflict proposition' with Terry.
'It's the one my Dad got me a few weeks back...well...actually...my brother got it...but Dad was gonna paint it for me...but you wait for him and it can take months...so I done it myself. I'm still not allowed to use it....Dad's gotta do some more work on it. It's confusing...there was nothing wrong with the original paint-work'
I decided to join the chatter...to edge my way into the conversation
'Yeah....I had a Raleigh Chopper at my last house....they're brilliant...swapped it for a stereo.'
'Pity that' said Rob 'We could have had some burn-ups'
Things were going okay...then Terry hit my leg...again...with that stupid bit of white plastic garden chain he'd been playing with. 10p a yard at Robert Dyas hardware store in town. Probably. It wasn't important right then. It was the fifth time...I guess...that he had rapped me. That's RAPPED me...not RAPED me. That would have been a damn sight worse. I think he wanted to pretend it was a bit of fun...but he knew it hurt me...and he knew it annoyed me. I slid off my bike and kicked the stand down...just to give me some thinking time.
'Just piss off with that thing, man' I said...as I put the bike on it's alloy stand. I THINK it was an alloy. Alloy is just a mixture or metallic solution composed of two or more elements. It's not that important. It was a bike-stand. It held the bike up.
'Yeah' he sneered 'And what the f*ck are YOU going to do about it?'
All manner of consternation swamped my head now. I was most positively on the spot...in the lime-light. Name a cliche...and I was on it, in it or under it. My only hope now...that was Raymond...my buddie...would step in and take control of the situation. I waited. Surely he was gonna tell Terry to back off? No...what he said just exacerbated the situation. Not that i knew what exacerbated meant when I was thirteen. At the time I just thought 'Oh no...this has made the situation worse' I didn't learn about the 'exacerbated word until a few years later. Shame...but it's irrelevant.
'Oooh...Terry...he's gonna sort you out now...look...the bike is parked up...and he's gonna do ya'
I shot a 'you bastard' glance at Ray
I shot a 'help me' glance at Rob
I shot a 'sorry, man, but I just gotta do this' glance at Terry
Before I knew what the Hell I was doing I fired a pokey right jab at Terry...which startled him into a vicious pseudo-Mexican snarl and tightened the grip on his stupid white plastic chain. I was ready to cry. I wanted to be at home...in the warm...with my new Sparks album. I even pined for my homework. (a comprehensive discussion on the merits and deficit-nuances of the Industrial revolution)
Before i could think about the cruel slave-labour of Northern satanic mills...Terry lunged at me. He missed. Well...to give myself credit....he didn't miss...i ducked out of it. It was more MY victory than HIS misfire. I grappled with the hand that held the chain....and thought about how 'The hand that held the chain' would make a great film title. I was surprised....and hurt...by the sudden butt to the head. It left me reeling. That was a great move on his part...and if I didn't hate the c"nt I would have given him immense credit for his 'close-vicinity combat'. Too close for punches...so in with the head. Nice one. The chain fell to the ground. I shot a 'help me' glance at...oh no...already done that bit.
'Come on then' he taunted
He was obviously the better...more confident...fighter.
'Confidence is everything' I said
I didn't really....but I would have done if I'd been more confident at the time.
He hit me
I hit him
Hits brought flurries
Flurries brought blood
It wasn't MY blood
The blur cleared and I found myself ahead of the game...for two reasons
1. Terry's nose had split and the blood was soaking into his crap cheesecloth shirt...and...
2. He was crying.
I moved towards him again....No...he moved towards me. I hit him and he fell to his knees. A random girl onlooker...I think her name was Emmaline...said 'He's on his knees'
'Alright..alright' said Terry 'I think I'm gonna pass out'
'Do I win?'
I looked over at Rob...in his festive jumper....in July. I looked at Ray...who was climbing over the phone-box.
Ray spoke first
'Let him go, Andy'
I had blood on my hands...literally.
'I'd look out now, Andy' said Rob
As I was taking appraisal of the situation (and i didn't really understand that word until Thatcher came into power in '79.) I was immersed in a state-change when a shove in the chest from Terry's mother sent me crashing into the phone-box.
'Why don't you f*ck off down your own end?' she wailed
'Go on...f*ck off back down your own end'
Terry was being helped to his feet...by his sister...and a boy with candles of snot coming from his nostrils. He was...suddenly....'giving it the big one'...cos he was being coaxed away by his cronies.
'Piss off' said the mother
'Come on you c*nt' said Terry
'Can I go home now?' said me
'Well done mate' or words to that effect said the two R's
I'd cut my teeth in Puddel...and I'd cut my opponent's nose. Not the last nose I was to put out of joint...metaphorically.....and yes...I didn't know what a metaphor was then.
I was a raging lion....that's a metaphor
Terry went quiet as a mouse....that's a simile
I didn't know the difference...not then...in July 1974
I was relieved at my 'victory' then it turned to concern when Rob said
'You'll probably get a kicking from his brothers tomorrow'
I did...from all three of them. Terry joined in too
I got a kicking. My big moment of clarity came from my own realisation that I could have had any one of them...on my own. Well..maybe the older one was gonna be a problem. He had a rep as one of the hardest guys in town....and not just on our shitty little estate. In fact....I saw him in a fight on the same spot...outside the off-licence..by the phone box....a few years later. We watched in awe as he fought with another tough guy....both rolling bare-topped over broken glass. I won't name names....but one of them had his pet Alsation with him....and every time the blows were exchanged the dog got involved. It was fantastic for us...as onlookers....and a few fights broke out around the periphery. Great memories. That scene from the film with Alan Bates and Oliver Reed doesn't even come close to what we saw that night. Two men...in their prime...fighting outside our off-licence.
So....how could I refuse a beating from such tough guys?
The alleyways running behind the back gardens...the rat-runs...as we called them...were like the veins of the whole estate...there for us little red and white blood corpuscles to dart through...especially to lose ourselves within...in times of mischief.
Mr Quinn...the long-suffering Irish off-licence proprietor...was the recipient of most of our transgressions of vandalism. Poor soul. It was morbidly amusing that he had done fifteen years hard labour on the streets of Puddel before keeling over with a cardiac arrest on the day before his retirement. I didn't care then. I care now. A lot of slates were wiped clean that day. Sighs of relief in tobacco-stained living-rooms. Credit NOT where credit is due.
We flowed through the overgrown alleys...dodging the police after hoax phone calls...twisting ankles on discarded peanut-butter jars (crunchy AND smooth)...looking through garden sheds...chasing 'little shits' for cigarette money.
Old whorey Hanksworth admiring herself in the mirror...no dear...your tits ain't grown
Liz lived at the lower end of Granite Road...the odd numbers. Can't tell ya the actual number...cos if I did say it was number 13 you'd know exactly who I'm on about. So I won't. And you won't know. We always used the back-alleyway to get into her gaff. I feel so old now...as I look back to when I was so young. We fried onions...and watched a black and white tv. We called her the w*nking-spanner. Liz was about 30...ancient...her husband worked nights at the paper-mill. The fireplace was grubby...with cracked tiles surrounded with wood and soot. I recall one night...the embers in the fire-place were snoozing.
'I'm gonna do some onions, Liz'
She always let us fry the onions up...it was our treat..along with pots of tea...and sometimes some crudely-cut chips. That...and some viewing of her hubby's cine-porno movies. They were shit. Black girls in string vests. Lily-white housewives giving the tv repair man a horizontal hold. 35-year-old schoolgirls and middle-aged studs with stomach-scars and beer-bellies.
I switched the ring on. It smoked cos of the grime and the fry-pan rocked and twisted with the heat as the month-old lard slowly melted. Or did it quickly melt? I had no concept of time then.
I loved fried onions. It was a phase I was going through. To me...they were the King Prawns of the vegetable world. I chatted with Rob as he warmed his hands over the fire.
'So...are you going up with her when Raymond comes down?'
'Probably' he replied 'She lets you do it...you can have her after me'
I sliced an onion...awkwardly...and voiced my fears...though trying to sound nonchalant. Not that I knew what nonchalant meant...but that's inconsequential now.
'Ah....I'll give it a miss...I've got the onions to do...and anyway...how do ya know she ain't got VD or something?'
Rob came through to the kitchen...opened the cupboard...helped himself to a table-spoon of sugar.
'There's a way you can tell' he said 'You put a penny inside her...if it goes green she has VD'
He was serious
'Leave it out Rob' I said....meaning the notion of the actual venereal-testing procedure......not the penny
'Where the f*ck did you hear that?'
'Why the f*ck are you using an asterix instead of a vowel?' he said
'Because one day there might be a facility to put all this online' I replied 'And they will probably have some kind of vetting procedure which forbids expletives'
'You're such a c*nt' he said
Okay....I've added this bit...cos I am f*cking bored...but you get the idea?
Back to 1974
'So....you're gonna say...oh darling....can I just put a penny up ya?'
'And she's gonna let ya do it?'
'Yeah....look...it's better than ending up with VD and having one of those umbrella things rammed up your dick'
I had heard about the agonies of VD...the big boils...the irritating rashes...the bloody big hyper-dermatosic needles. F*ck that
I'll stick with the onions
Ray stormed into the living-room...and joined us in the kitchen.
'Is she still up there? asked Rob
Raymond was grinning like a tom cat that had just won a ball-race with the veterinary surgeon and a pair of pincers. I would not have been able to spell 'veterinary' in those days. I would have probably spelled it 'vetrinary'.
It doesn't matter now
I banked the onions up with the filthy wooden spatula
Rob headed towards the stairs
''Here Ray' he yelled
'Yeah?' Ray yelled back
'How can you tell if a bird has VD?'
'Well....you just wait...and see if you get it yourself'
I scraped the spatula on the side of the fry-pan....stuck my hand into my pocket...and tossed a penny coin to Rob.
'Good luck mate'
Or just vet!
I found an old guitar....at the local dump. No strings attached
I decided then that I wanted to make some money.
Our smoking...and occasional cidering...led to a need for financial support. Late October...1974....heralded the arrival of a need to make money. November led to begging for pennies with the aid of a stuffed dummy with no brain....but that's enough of my mate Barry. A stuffed guy in a rusty push-chair. Classy. That's the guy now. Not Barry. He was just a c*nt.
December 1974 we embraced carol-singing for our way of extortion. A little band of waifs making up a conglomerate voice of disharmony and chaos. We got f*cked off with carols...we ended up doing Bowie and Roxy Music.
'Don't tell your daddy...he'll get us locked up in fright' I would sing...as a local doctor opened his door to our little band of minstrels.
They paid us to go away.
The days were good. We had pockets filled with silver and copper. The silver made me the man I am now. F*ck the copper. We sat in the Canon cinema at Lower Stone Street.....loaded...watching Soldier Blue....and Straw Dogs. It was the first time I had seen a valid rape scene. I was horrified. Susan George. I loved her for years. We watched the big films...and we munched on Kentucky Fried Chicken....which was new to the town then.
'One day' I said to Rob 'I am gonna be famous'
'Your'e such a w*nker' Rob replied
I looked at my chicken and said 'My band will be called Unlucky Fried Kitten'
He called me a w*nker...again
I needed a guitar. I had seen older people who had guitars. C*nts.
We found a new way to get money...and it served us well...for many years.
Rob's brother lived in a metal shell near the Loose Valley. It was in a field up a side-road adjacent to a huge house that had a lion in a cage in the garden. I'm not sure what adjacent actually means...even now. The metal shell was a caravan. I know that now. The road was called Dump Road....probably not it's real name.
Rob's brother, Keith, had two dogs. I despised them and feared them in equal measure. Looking back....they are dead now....and I'm not.
I win that one.
I weakly pretended to like them. I hated them. One...a lurcher...was called Ben. The other...a mongrel...was called Shitty. Rob's brother obviously had an odd sense of humour.
The first day of our new venture seems like yesterday. Rob and Keith were discussing terms. I was looking out of the caravan window. I saw a Grizzled Skipper butterfly dancing on a log. I think the latin name was 'pyrgus malvae' but I didn't know for sure. How could I? I was only a kid.
Shitty..the dog...scraped it's arse along the ground.
'Can't you give us another quid?' asked Rob
We'd been out collecting scrap metal...in Keith's truck. Fridges...washing-machines...cookers...that kind of thing. Keith had already bought us a fry-up breakfast in the Acorn Cafe.
'There ya go then' he said ''Two notes each....but you still gotta come and give me a lift with that motorbike that I'm moving for a friend'
We took the notes...we agreed to the deal.
Rob and myself took the dogs....Ben and Shitty...for a walk.
We went to the Puddel Tip....near the estate. I f*cking loved it there. It was a regular haunt of ours. We had our usual rake through the skips and we took a few trophys away. Is it trophys or trophies? Not freally bothered...either way
It was a great night. We found four television screens to smash...three and a half aerosol cans to puncture....and one dead dog to ogle. I told a joke about a dead-dog float. Rob didn't get it. I can't even remember it now. Sorry.
It was almost dark as we shepherded Ben and Shitty back home....back to the caravan in the woods. The woods were gloomy. I remember thinking 'This is Loserville....I must write a song about this one day'
'Come on then, you two' said Keith
'I'll give you a lift home and we'll pick up my mate's motorbike on the way'
Shitty passed wind
It took all three of us to lift the bike and to co-manipulate it into the the back of Keith's Bedford truck. We couldn't even push it...cos Keith's mate had...apparently...lost the key...and the chain was still wrapped around the back wheel.
Rob came into my house for a while. My mum was on nights at the sweet factory. That's NOT a euphemism....my mum was lovely. Also....I didn't know what the word 'euphemism' meant at thirteen. You don't need words like that when you are adolescent.
I suddenly remembered the joke
How do you make a dead dog float? You put it in a glass...with some ice-cream.
We watched some new shit sit-com called Fawlty Towers...and smoked the four fags that Susan had pushed through my letterbox...in an envelope....earlier that evening.
She was a year below me in school and she had fancied me for a while. She shoved fags through my letter-box. That's what she done. Good girl. She sometimes sent Parma Violets. I hated them. I gave them to my little sister.
'Why don't you just tell her you don't like Parma Violets?' asked Isla (my little sister)
'Because I don't want to hurt her feelings' I replied 'and you get the sweets...and I might get to snog her one day'
'That's really gross' said Isla
'No...it's a win win situation' said moi. ( I wasn't French) 'you get your sweets...I get my fags...and Susan gets her dream that she can be with the best guy on the estate'
'You're such an arsehole....why do you see girls as blank pages with no real place in reality?'
'Isla' I said ' You are three years old...can you stop being so analytical?'
She was a good kid...but I didn't want her meddling in my affairs. I just told her to shut up and listen to my Thin Lizzy albums. Great bass-player. That's Phil Lynott. Not my sister. She was three. Phil Lynott was 37.
My mum always took the piss.
'Susan's been round again...looking for you...when are you two gonna get married?'
One terrible day....Susan found out about a groping session I'd had with her friend, Alison. She went huffy on me....until the night at the Children's Hut. That was our local youth club. It took me a while to notice her. I mean...to really notice her.
A group of us were playing records. She looked good...tight sweater...nice eyes....long black hair...washed and clean. She was throwing off some good signals. She had a nice smile that night. Her eyes were giving signals that I'd only previously seen from the blonde girl in Abba. Not that Susan could have been in Abba. For one thing....she was a Brit brunette rather than a blonde Swede-esian.....and for another....she coudn't sing.
'Why do you think I can't sing?' she asked
'Because you can't....and...also....I am typing this into a f*cking computer 38 years later'
That confused her
We danced together....oh...this is back in 1974 by the way. It might even be 1975...I don't care.
My nervous hands were around her slim byzantium waist
We danced. and our lips brushed.
I looked around the room
Raymond was giving Alison a love-bite in an armchair
Rob was talking to some muppets about football. I don't mean muppets as in Kermit and that Miss Piggy slut. Just muppets.
The next record came on
'Have you seen her...tell me have you seen her?
By the time some other shit song came on.....something about a 'love song in 16 bars' we were kissing.
'Let's go for a walk?'
Her kiss felt like a fingerprint. It was so romantic,,,,then we done it by the bins out the back.
We done it for the first time....behind the Children's Hut....standing up....so as not to make her pregnant. Poor Susan. I was far from responsive to her needs. She might as well have been waiting to be served in a chip shop. Romance is subjective.
Jenny was queen of the estate. Her palace was at number 28 Rocky Road and her principal courtiers were her children. She had STATURE and she ruled Puddel for the major part of my teenage years. She had her own set of morals...her own idealistic commercial framework ...and her own gang of heavies. Jenny's soldiers. I was accepted into the clan....as were Rob and Ray...cos we hung about with her second-youngest, Michael.
Nice boy...liked a drink...couldn't get a girlfriend
Terry wasn't in the club....ha ha at that
The days were majestic....trips to the coast....unbridled protection....good food. We ate well....because Jenny and her gang were excellent shoplifters. I went home in the week to shower and sleep and I would spend the whole weekend round at the palace....eating king prawns, mushrooms and steak....with onions. Of course.
Dave and Punchy, Jenny's eldest two, impressed us particularly one night when they broke into the local army barracks food store and made off with six-hundred weight of government potatoes and five crates of Southern Fried Chicken...battalion size. The crates, that is. Not the chickens. That would be silly. It was busy-freezer time and chicken and chips for three weeks on the estate then. Cheers
Life was never dull...as scores were settled...and unsettled....windows were broken...and beatings were administered like some physical kinda medication for the disloyally sick. Or should that be sickly disloyal? Dunno? I'm not a f*cking English teacher. Jesus.
Punchy beat up a prison officer in a pissy back alley behind Stone Street. Dave put a magistrate's daughter up the spout in the back of a Morris Minor. Jenny beat the crap out of Liz for giving VD to Michael.
We were cruising like Jeremy Thorpe* in a soho shag-joint....but....all good things have to come to an end.....and when the drastic end to which this queendom came...it hit us all very hard. Jenny refused to go into hospital when she got ill.
'Had enough of those f*cking places' she snarled
I watched her as she died...the first death I was to witness**
I saw her yellowing flesh and her freshly re-opened appendix wound
'Re-opened' I asked Raymond 'Is there such a word?'
'Dunno' he replied
'I'm not a f*cking English teacher'
Not many English teachers around Puddel. Or should that be 'round' Puddel?
Dunno........I'm not a......oh f*ck....you know the rest.
Cancer ravaged Jenny. Cancer-ravaged Jenny. Same thing.
When they lifted her out of the house we stood in the back garden and watched over the burning blankets of her deathbed. We said goodbye to her soul.....to Jenny....who always said....there's no smoke without fire.
The ambulance drove off. Ray and Rob and Michael and myself sat in the kitchen. Rob was crying.
There was a knock on the front door. I opened the door....and without a word of a f*cking lie.....God strike me down if I'm telling a tale...I opened the door to see who was there. It was Michael's bloody English teacher.
*not that Jeremy Thorpe...my lawyers have advised me to point out
**not strictly true...I had seen a man in a pub in Laddingford keel over with a heart-attack...when his team won the darts
A Fighting Chance
I was sitting in a police cell...running over the events of the night.
'Your mate has admitted it all now'
'So charge him then'
I knew that Terry hadn't admitted anything....because we hadn't bloody done it. I was annoyed. Most of the coppers had been fairly decent but one of them...the bastard...had cracked my head against the wall...leaving me quite concussed. I felt sick. He ripped my Tramps T-Shirt too....but I didn't care about that. I had just nicked it that morning. He didn't know that...so I had one over on him. We were getting out soon....I was sure of that. Terry was in the cell next to mine. About six hours earlier we had been watching a fire at the garages. We'd heard the bang of a petrol explosion from round at Quinnies...and we hot-footed it round to the scene. The emergency services were there. We watched them at work...containing the fire...suffocating the flames...dragging the burning car out of the garage. We weren't bothered when the police came over to question us...they had been speaking to everybody...but we were shocked at their decision to pull us in. We knew what 'helping with our enquiries' meant....it meant they were gonna try and pin the blame on us. We had been seen running away. There were witnesses. Fingerprints. Photographs. Yeah, right.
'What is this? I asked
'Fiction of Dock Green?'
My pun fell on deaf ears....but I'm sure the copper found it amusing....even if he didn't want to let on. I could see it in his eyes. I was most formidable at seeing things in other people's eyes. I should have been an ophthalmologist....if that word even exists. My eyes were hazel....and soft as clouds....ha ha. I think they still are...hold on....yep....just checked in the mirror.
'What is this?' I asked
'Fiction of Dock Green?'
Yes.....I know I've already done this bit...but I'm proud of that quip and wanted to air it again.
He didn't laugh
'Let's go get a decent cup of tea?' I said to Terry on our release.
'The all-nighter is just over the bridge'
We got to the Acorn at 5.15am
Terry spat on the asphalt outside on our way in
A rough girl sat in the corner....drinking tea...holding a wooden duck. It was painted green.
'Those sods really tried to get a confession' said Terry
'It's their job....to be fair'
'Well they weren't actually very fair at all'
'No...I was using it as a term of summing up an appraisal of the situation'
'Yeah......and I meant........'
'Shut up Terry'
A cat jumped up onto the table in the corner
The girl dropped the wooden duck
'They worked the same confession trick on me' I said 'Rob sure owes us for this one....all night in that shithole to cover his sizable arse
Our thoughts were soon on something new. Something more important.
'It's our fight with the Southway boys tonight' I said
'You mean the Shepway boys?'
'Well...yeah...but I'm changing the name...don't want repercussions and incriminations coming back to haunt me when I publish this...when I'm 50'
'You're such a twat'
'Thank you....I'm taking that as a compliment'
Terry nodded his head...in slow...deliberate thought...his Mexicanese stone face...his detached stare...he looked like some indo-european traveller...about to spit on the food in disgust. I could see it in his eyes.
'Do you reckon they'll show up?' he asked
'Well' I drawled 'It's been leading up to this for ages...since we smashed up Billy Prevett...and slashed his mate's tyres'
'You mean Martin Privett?'
'Told ya...changing names' I said...with a wink
'I just want one of those bastard Bennett brothers' I continued
'Cos they kicked the shit out of me in the third year'
'There was only ONE third year'
'Yeah...I mean..which Bennett brother?'
'I know....I'm joking with ya'
'Which f*cking one?'
We walked home along the towpath
Two boys were fishing....no...they were posh kids...so they were angling. One of them called Terry a w*nker...so he pushed their cycles into the river. I kicked their tackle-boxes over. I suppose Terry went a bit too far...when he booted one of them in the nose.
We walked home
'Why do you think that girl in the cafe had that green wooden duck?'
A dead body
We found a body in the woods one day. Well...Rob found it. He was standing over it when we arrived.
We met up at the Children's Hut. Susan and I were there first. We'd bumped into eachother earlier...for the first time in weeks. I messed around with her in the afternoon...in her empty house. I was in love....to an extent. I made her promise to run home and get indoors at the first sign of trouble...even though I did want her to see me beating the Bennetts.
We snogged on the bench...Susan and me...not the Bennetts...eughhhh
We snogged on the bench...in the play area...near the dog-turds
'Funny word, ain't it? She said 'Snog?
'Yeah.....nice feeling though'
'So what ya got then, Ray? I asked as he approached us.
'Baseball bat.....bit better than a pick-axe handle...easier to use at close range'
'I agree' I said
There ya go....told ya I'd agreed
'Oh....and this' he said...as he pulled out a chopping-knife.
I couldn't hide my alarm
'You can't use that....you daft b*stard...you'll end up doing life'
'Sticks and stones can kill too you know. It's just a bit of insurance. We'll 'ave kicked the shit out of them before this comes out anyway'
I tutted....but he was almost right...in his own little way...and I had no autonomy over him anyway.
Rob and Terry appeared at the gate with a few others. We watched them on their way over. Rob was like a powerful animal....big.....majestic....thick long neck. In a way he looked comical...like a caricature...or a giraffe. Tough though. Terry looked good too....lean and muscular....good reach...but he obviously had a weakness...which I'd found earlier...ha ha. I felt a touch under par next to Rob and Ray...but perhaps they saw something in me which I never saw in myself. I think I lacked the killer instinct.....and I still got scared.....but maybe that went in my favour in a combat-complacency kind of way. Terry and Rob were unarmed.
'We'll grab some wood when we get to the shops' said Rob
Terry dished out the Sovereigns....we lit up and walked to the off-licence. Susan's arm was around my waist. She was smiling. I thought she was so sweet....and I did want to marry her. Our numbers swelled at the shop. Kenny was in his dealer-boots and stripey waistcoat. Eddie...the Glasweigan was in a boiler-suit. Marty was pissed-up....as usual. He was developing a serious drinking habit, that lad. Still.....I guess it didn't help....with his dad and his sister.......well.....
Michael and Punchy were there too. No sign of Dave.
We used car makes as code-names....just for a bit of fun
Ray was a Mini....Rob was an Escort...and Terry was a Skoda.
I was a Capri.....probably a 3-litre one.
We were just getting bored....wondering if we should walk up to meet them....to save sh*tting on our own doorstep....when Toby Harris....the 'knock-down-ginger king'....nudged Rob and got excited.
'That motor up there' he said....waggling a bony digit.
'That's one of them'
He was right...too. Ghastly blue and green Mini....often seen on the Southway estates.
'Blue and green should never be seen without a colour in-between'
Rob looked at me as if I was mad.
'Who is it? he asked
'Darren Butcher' said Harris
Another car....an Austin Cambridge...rolled up behind Butcher's Mini...and the pair of them started to crawl down the hill.
'Go on babe' I said 'Get home'
The cars were picking up speed....just a few hundred yards away now
'Well get in the f*cking off-licence then'
Susan ran into Quinnies.
The cars were upon us but we knew from their speed that they didn't intend on stopping. They were checking us out...but they were pretty startled as all manner of objects clattered and smashed against the car's bodywork. They could see a handful of us by the phone-box but they didn't know about the dozen more...waiting in the rat-runs. Their cars got a battering that night...and they didn't hang about for more.
From Triumph To Adversity
I hadn't prepared for what was gonna happen later that night. Susan and I spent the night together listening to Stones albums at her house as her parents were away. I had some dope and got some home-brew off Ray. We were settled. Susan cooked a meal....corned beef hash and beans....yeah...really. I even brushed my teeth after eating. I knew I'd be kissing her. By 10 o'clock I was speaking in a croaky voice and calling her 'man'
I felt good
'I'm going for a shower' she announced
'That's cool babe' I growled 'Have you seen Psycho?'
'No....is it good?'
I could hear the shower running....and I thought about going in to join her...to surprise her....knowing that she would have left the door unlocked. Yeah....I'm that confident
Ten minutes later she was nudging me back to life.
'I thought you might've fancied a shower?'
'Ah...damn it....I fell asleep...let's go to bed?'
We climbed the stairs and went into the bedroom
It was really stiff...I tried for ages....pulling...pulling....working from side to side...until it finally slipped out. Then I started on the other foot. That was the trouble with those 12-hole DM's. The other boot came off easier...and my army trousers fell to the floor...and I was in bed with my Susan...whom I loved a great deal more.
'That's poetic...you could almost turn that into a song' she said
'The other boot came off easier...and my army trousers fell to the floor...and I was in bed with my Susan...whom I loved a great deal more'
'True; I said
'But hold on....I only thought that line....I didn't say it out loud...how could you ever have known about it ?'
'Stop spoiling my story'
I remember it like it was yesterday….the day we saved Gary Front’s life with an Alvin Stardust album…..on cassette.
The sun rose in the east.
Superfluous information…I know…cos the sun always rises in the east…I think.
It has done for billions of years….and I’m sure that it will do so for many more billions of years.
The Untouchable…..Alvin Stardust…1974.…on cassette
Saved Gary’s life…pretty much.
I remember it like it was 39 years ago
The sun rose in the east. I can’t see that changing any time soon. I think the earth would have to stop rotating and then start spinning the other way round for the sun to rise in the west. Not sure really?
Why should it change it’s spin-cycle on an Autumn day in 1974 just cos Gary Front was due to have his innards bathed in it’s glorious warm rays for 90 minutes ?
If you’ve not seen a human’s insides glistening in the sunlight whilst they are still alive and ticking….and if you are a little bit squeamish…go home…get back down your own end…this is not for you…cos some of the descriptions might turn your own innards about a bit. It’s a whole lot worse than seeing the dazzling guts and ingredients of a person who is actually dead. (you’ve seen that…right?)
The sun rose in the east.
I tore open the green envelope…adorned with hand-cartooned mauve lupins...and gazed lovingly at the words…in fractured English….of my beautiful Bavarian girlfriend. I say ‘beautiful’ but I ‘d not seen a photograph…though even at such a tender age I was capable of envisaging her Teutonic grace plucked from the paraphrasing of her elegant sentiments.
‘See ya later Dad’ I said to my father
‘See ya later Toby’ I said to my dog (cuffing his ear as I slipped the Alvin Stardust album…on cassette…into my jacket pocket)
The Untouchable….Alvin Stardust…Woolworths….99p
The jacket…..mine…The Dress Agency under The Market Buildings…75p
‘See ya later Dad….see ya later Toby’
‘Where you off to then?'
(that was my dad…not Toby)
‘Ah…we’re just gonna play some football up at Armstrong Road…and listen to some music…play some tapes’
Dad worked down the Puddel Paper Mill….he earned almost £100 a week…which seemed like a fortune in those days.
Toby just slept in boxes or ran around the garden…chasing imaginary cats.
Alvin Stardust…he toured concert-halls and belted out his glam 70’s catalogue of 50’s and 60’s rock n roll makeovers.
Me….I didn’t do a lot really…just liked to drink a bit of cider…and piss our local truant officer off by telling her my only ambition was to work down the mill…like my dad. She didn’t like that. Thanks for your concern…Mrs Mears…but I’m happy with the way I have progressed...though I never did get a job down the mill
I made my way to Armstrong Road…but not many of my mates were there….so I went to South Park. I found out later that Rob and Raymond were having a telephone-box-climbing competition…outside Quinnies offy…which Ray won due to his majestic kiosk-climbing adroitness…and cos Rob got called in for his dinner.
I arrived at South Park just in time to see Gary plummet dramatically from the crab apple tree above the railings.
He loved climbing trees
Ray climbed telephone boxes
Gary climbed trees
Gary’s arboreal assault skills were legendary…and rather revered in our neck of the woods
Ray was just seen as a bit of a vandal
I watched Gary drop from the tree...it seemed like it was in slow-motion. I remember thinking ‘If I ever make a film about this I’ll definitely make the Gary-falling-from-a-tree scene in slow-mo’
Gary was 14 years old….a strong young cookie...tough as nails.
The tree was probably….ooh…100 years old.
The railings…they were probably wrought iron…and maybe younger than the tree. It’s hard to say….but the distinctive turn-of-the-century heavyweight design of the uprights would suggest that they were somewhere between 65 and 70 years old.
Emmaline was there. She reminded me of Queen Nefertiti, the beautiful ancient wife of Pharaoh What's-his-face. She was famous for her bust, no, not that bust, and is probably the most famous Egytian Queen after Cleopatra. She only reminded me of Nefertiti since we had done our huge Eygpt project at school in '73. Before that she just reminded me of the Siamese cats, or one of them, in Walt Disney's Lady & the Tramp. Emma had a weird prettiness. Definitely not of this continent. Her eyes were like trap-doors and I tried not to get too close. She was a friend of Susan. I often wished I'd gotten fags from Emma instead of from Sue. Susan, funnily enough, reminded me of the cocker spaniel from Lady & the Tramp, which isn't a bad thing really. It might make her a dog, but at least she's a female one. That should please her if she reads this in later years.
So, I rushed over to the wrought-iron spear fence below the pollen-infested crab-apple tree. I could see that Gary was in a terrible condition. From my biology lessons I knew it was better that I was staring at his pancreas than at his medulla oblongata. I still held little hope for him though, although there have been random cases in history of men being skewered through the chest and surviving. Swords and stuff. I've seen it in films. I was sure that Gary wasn't about to remain stoic and unflinching though, at suce a vulnerable time, at such a young age.
Susan was there too. She vomited. Emma looked at me in terror, really.
'I've always liked you, Emma. I like your Egyptian Byzantium Siamese eyes'
'Not now, Andrew' she said 'We have to save Gary'
'Cheers' said Susan 'All those fags I gave you, and the Parma Violets'
'Oh God, I HATE Parma Violets. I gave them all to my sister. I couldn't get on with the stearic acid and modified starch element of it all'
'Thanks a f*cking lot'
'You should have got me Love Hearts. They were made by Swizzels Matlow too'
'Excuse me guys' said Gary 'I think I'm dying here and you're talking about confectionery'
'He has a point' said Emma
'Yes' yelped Gary 'And it's poking through my frigging torso'
It suddenly struck me that I might just be about to witness my third real death in life.
#1 Landlord of The Checkers at Laddingford who dropped dead of a heart attack as his darts team won at home
#2 Cancer-ravaged Jenny, as cancer ravaged Jenny
#3 Gary Front (potentially)
Intestinal organs basking in the 1974 autumn sunlight, you know it's going to end in tragedy.
'Didn't they make Refreshers as well?' asked Gary
Susan held his hand and I felt a pang of jealousy
'Yes' I replied,trying to distance myself from the hand-holding
I watched as their fingers intertwined and although I was capable of a modicum of compassion for a dying adolescent, even at that young age, the jealousy oozed out. Prior to this she was someone who fed me fags and Parma Violets but suddenly she was my girlfriend. Expiring rapidly is no excuse for holding my girl's hand.
I shot a 'come-here' glance at Emmaline, in an attempt to make Sue jealous.
She shot back a 'leave-it-out-how-can-you-use-a-bad-situation-like-this-where-a-friend-will-probably-die-just-to-further-your-chance-of-being-with-a-girl?' glance
I countered it with a 'yeah-fair-point-see-what-you-mean-and-maybe-we-can-chat-some-other-time-when-this-scenario-blows-over-cos-I-think-you-are-amazing-and-have-the-most-wonderful-eyes' look
At this point I knew I had to pull out my Alvin Stardust album (on cassette) if I was to save his life.
'Run to the phone-box, Emma, or bang on someone's door and use their phone to get an ambulance' I shouted
I knew I had to keep him conscious until the ambulance arrived. I'd seen it on Blue Peter. Ironic if his name was Peter because he was turning blue at this point. His name was Gary though.
I wished we were 25 years on, in 1999, when everybody would have cellphones.
'What's a cellphone?' asked Gary
'Ah, don't worry about it. It's a portmanteau that won't come into common parlance for a few decades yet'
'What's a portmanteau?'
'Oh, a word made from a bastardisation of two other words, like SITCOM or MOTEL'
'Situation comedy and motor hotel?'
I knew at this stage that keeping him talking was keeping him alive. I remembered it from 'You Are The Ref' in Shoot magazine. If he has an apalling injury, keep the player conscious.
'What other words can you think of that are portmanteaus, Gary?'
'Cheeseburger, homoerotic, moped'
It went silent for a minute. We were all confused. Hope was fading.
'You can keep people alive with chocolate' said Susan, waving a Milky Way under Gary's nose
'Yes' I replied 'If they are diabetic. He's not diabetic. He's been ripped open by iron alloy spikes with a very low carbon content. Chocolate won't save him.
'He might be diabetic, too' Emma politely pointed out
'I'm not f*cking diabetic' shrieked our man on the spike 'But I could murder a Curly-Wurly'
'GET HIM A CURLY-WURLY' I shouted
, as I whipped out the Untouchable album, and perused the track-list
'Is that a portmanteau? he asked
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