Thursday, December 16, 2004

Chapter 11

WILLSON
Summer was over already. Christy went to his room and shut the door. When people phoned he said he wanted a few nights in. He wasn’t feeling right. He lay on his bed thinking about the way they’d all said yes, about the way Patrick had said he’d still be as much of a mate as ever. Christy turned to his detective novels. He tried to suck some comfort from the tidy mysteries where people were readable.

Phil, Danny and Patrick worried about the drug squad finding their gear. Animal worried about his brothers finding his. Most of it he kept in his locker at work.
Every Friday the pantomime repeated. His brothers gathered in one bedroom with their freshly opened pay-packets in their hands. Animal, with a bookie’s biro and a cigarette packet, took their orders like a waiter; sixteenths, eighths, quarters. He said, ‘Right. I’ll just shoot round the bloke’s and get it.’
In the downstairs toilet he transferred the required packets from one pocket to another. He let himself out of the house. He walked to the Esplanade, sat under the Jubilee clock for ten minutes, then returned to his brothers.

Christy sat in the kennel trying to ignore his itching crotch. Where the overalls touched a rash had appeared, hot, coral pink. It felt like something was working its way into him or out of him through the raw skin. Something was happening to him. When he went into shops now, people would think he worked there and ask him for help. It was as if the hours behind the counter at Conrad’s were tainting him with a stink.
He rubbed his temples and stared at the meaningless grid of the invoice in front of him. It was one of Steve’s which Christy had repeatedly put to the bottom of the pile. He heard Steve’s Cortina pull up, then his wedge heels clumping across the warehouse floor.
He reached the office in time to find Steve with the phone wedged under his chin. ‘Any chance of a price on this Japanese oak?’ Christy asked. Steve waved him away like an insect and continued with his phone call.
On the way back to the kennel Christy stopped off at the toilets. Potter had just been in there. Christy opened the window. It gave onto a two-foot gap between Conrad’s and the dog-food factory. He thought for a second, then dropped the invoice out of the window. He made up some rules. It had to be an invoice that Steve had quoted on. Christy had to have asked Steve for a price at least five times. He could only do it once every month.

For now, Danny was where he wanted to be; in two places at once, both inside and outside of everything. He’d persuaded Ian, who’d given up drumming, to let him buy his drum kit, paying by instalments. Danny replaced Ian in The Bad Detectives. After an argument with Fred, Ed left The Shakespeare Monkees and began living in the garage of their dad’s house. Replaced by Psychedelic Derek, Ed secretly formed The Cows with Recurring Jeff and Danny. Dave left The Bad Detectives, gave up singing, learnt bass and formed Genius Or Lunatic with Max from the disbanded Dead Loss Orchestra. Danny drummed for Genius Or Lunatic until they’d saved up for a drum machine. It was nothing personal. Max said for Danny to keep in touch. There were some things a drum machine couldn’t do, like get hold of dope.

Bernie and Christy were leaning on the counter.
‘How come they can afford to take on this new bloke Vince if they’re doing so bad?’ Christy asked.
Every month head office sent through target sales figures. Every month Potter put a graph up on the noticeboard showing the failure to reach that target.
Bernie bit into a biscuit. ‘Them figures have so-called been below target since I can remember.’
‘Why don’t they close the place down then? Like Potter’s always saying.’
‘Think about it,’ Bernie said. ‘Who does the books?’
‘Potter’s wife.’
‘So what’s to stop Potter sticking any figure he wants up on the noticeboard?’
‘What for?’
‘So he can sit and say, if you buggers don’t pull your fingers out it’s the dole office for all of us.’
Bernie straightened as a customer entered. Elderly, with glasses and spotless overalls the man held a notepad and pen. He asked if they had any mahogany in stock. Bernie said yes. The man asked if they stocked lauan.
Bernie scratched his nose. ‘Yeah. Philippine mahogany. Same difference.’
‘Hardly.’
The man asked for plasticiser.
Bernie went to check the shelves. ‘Sorry. Run out. Fairy Liquid’ll do the trick at a pinch.’
The man sniffed. ‘Weakens the mortar.’ He asked for a ball-valve. Bernie fetched one and told him the price. The man winked and said, ‘Anything off for cash?’
Bernie shook his head. There was sweat on his top lip. When he wrote out the cash ticket his hands were shaking. He watched the door shut behind the customer.
‘Mystery shopper,’ he said. ‘Definitely.’
He explained how head office paid people to go round the branches pretending to be customers, to test the staff.
‘They try and wind you up, or catch you on the fiddle.’
‘But he didn’t even look like a proper punter,’ Christy said.
Bernie tapped the side of his nose with his finger. ‘Double bluff,’ he said. ‘You can’t trust these bastards.’
Christy went into the toilets and opened the window. The invoice was still there.

In Olly’s kitchen Animal dropped to his knees. Wringing his hands he looked at Olly. ‘But please. You’ve got to help me. I’m hurting real bad.’
‘Oh, fuck off,’ Olly laughed. ‘I’m just saying, you lot’ve near enough smoked me out of house and home. I don’t want to run out before the new crop’s in.’
Phil looked at Olly carefully. ‘Any chance you could put us in touch with somebody. Save us hassling you.’
‘There’s Dennis I suppose. Up at Dunmore.’
‘Dunmore?’ Patrick asked.
‘Dunmore Cottage,’ Olly said. ‘As in done more drugs than you can shake a stick at. Run you up there now if you like.’
He stepped out into the garden to kiss Denise goodbye. He peered into the orange wigwam where the children were playing. ‘See you later you two. Keep the flap open, otherwise you’ll bake.’
The neat brick house was on a small Dorchester estate, built for junior management first time buyers. There was a rotary drier on the front lawn. Olly rang the bell. Dennis opened the door, smiled at Olly, looked once each at Patrick, Animal, Phil and Danny. He led them into the living room, where a T.V showed an old Western, silently.
Dennis introduced Binny. For a clumsy second the boys hovered just inside the doorway, smiling, waiting. Binny, cleaning his glasses with his sleeve, nodded towards the sofa. ‘What’s up? Got piles?’
Joints circled. Conversation slowed to nothing. Danny turned to Dennis. ‘Any grass about then?’
‘There’s only solid about at the moment,’ Dennis answered, licking the seam of a cigarette.
‘That’ll do,’ Danny said.
‘It’s rocky. Is that okay?’
Danny paused, then gave up. ‘How do you mean?’
‘Moroccan,’ Dennis said, smiling, superior.
As they were leaving, Patrick stopped in the hallway. He made it sound casual. ‘How much would we need to get before the price went down?’
‘Two ounces usually,’ Dennis said.
Patrick smiled, began calculating.

Christy thought he could at least rely on Kev. He’d had no cause to doubt him since that thing he said at primary. But now he never seemed to be at home. So Christy waited until he could realistically pretend he wanted a trim.
As Christy entered the barbers Kev glanced at him in the mirror and smiled. Christy sat alone on the black vinyl bench along one wall. He stared down at the cigarette-burnt maroon lino and waited. No puddings now. Brings home Pink Elephants from work. Pink in the middle, disgusting. Says they’ll never catch on. She says waste not want not all the time now.
Arnie swept the cape from his customer and turned to Christy. ‘Who’s next please?’
Christy looked up. ‘Mind if Kev does me?’
Arnie nodded and smiled.
Christy sat listening to the soft tick of Kev’s scissors, and drifting. Before, but how long? Him with his jacket on. Like he’s blurred. Half not there. Disappearing. Dinner. Fish in a dish. Yellow bubbles in the milk. Dead and dried up. The eyes looking back. Dead. Drying up.
He heard his name. He sat in the leather chair. Kev tucked in the cape, pinned it at the neck. He straightened Christy’s head and asked what he wanted done. He began cutting.
‘Not working today then?’ he asked.
Christy, puzzled, looked at Kevin’s reflection. ‘Don’t work Saturdays Kev. You know that.’
Kev looked interested, nodded. ‘Nice to have a weekend. One thing I miss in this job. So what line of work are you in?’
Christy turned. The point of the scissors caught his temple. ‘Kev. It’s me.’
Kev lowered his voice. ‘Help me out Christy. It’s part of the training. Got to show I can chat to the customers.’
Christy tried. He asked how Karen was.
‘Alright. She’s got herself a little job in Boots.’
‘Oh, right. What, part-time?’
‘No full-time. Handy now we’re saving.’
Christy didn’t ask what they were saving for. He could guess.
There was a lull. Kev looked like he wanted to say something but couldn’t. He had an anecdote prepared. He told Christy about his mother’s new boyfriend, Roger. She’d met him at the Con Club on a Country and Western night. He was into C.B. He cut verges for the Council.
‘He came round ours the other night, straight from work. Hopping mad he was. He’d hit this big bit of dog-mess with his Flymo. Got covered, he did. Even Mum couldn’t help smiling.’ Kev paused with his scissors in mid-air, suddenly conscious of the lack of a punchline.
Christy wasn’t laughing. He’d seen Roger around. He could imagine what Kev couldn’t. He could imagine Roger punching Kev’s mother where it didn’t show, the second Kev left the house.
Kev scraped the back of Christy’s neck with the razor. It wasn’t going well. ‘Anyway. What have you been up to lately?’
Christy frowned. ‘Nothing, really. Been feeling funny. Hard to say.’ He paused. ‘It’s like something’s going on that I don’t know about.’
Kev sighed. ‘You’re not helping much Christy. That’s not the sort of thing we’re supposed to talk about.’

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Chapter 10

KEVIN
It seemed natural to ask Arnie Todd if he’d thought of taking on a trainee. He said yes, he could do with someone sensible. He’d been cutting my hair since I was tiny. I used to go with Dad. Arnie used to put a board across the arms of the chair to get me the right height. I was scared of the chair because it was like in the dentists, but Arnie calmed me down. When Dad left us Arnie always asked if there was any news. I know what people say about him but he was good to me.
It was a lovely and peaceful at work. I’d sweep up a bit between customers. Arnie’d make cups of tea and we’d sit on the window-ledge watching the world going by on Fortuneswell.
Somehow seeing the others didn’t seem so important. Me and Karen were together a lot, and I was busy organising things. I opened an account up the building society. I had a Post Office one before but that was more of a kiddie’s thing. Then I was getting us sorted out to go on the waiting list for a Council place.
Karen was never keen on arranging things like that. I said we could go through the form from the Council, then I’d try giving her a bit of a trim. She looked a bit anxious. I said, ‘Don’t worry. I won’t take much off.’
I’d started doing the odd paying customer by the time Hello Cruel World played their first concert. Kiddies and pensioners mostly. Less likely to get shirty. So I gave all of the band a free haircut, the Saturday before the gig. It was my way of showing I was still interested in what they were up to.
They all took the mickey but it was only in fun. Danny said I’d made everybody look like Stan Laurel. I didn’t mind the teasing as long as they weren’t horrible to Arnie.
It was strange seeing them all again. They seemed different. I suppose people just grow up at their own pace. I’d been seeing a bit of Christy but I couldn’t go to watch any practices because of working Saturdays.
About a fortnight before the August Bank Holiday, Fred’s posters started popping up in bus-shelters. He’d copied an old picture from that film, ‘The Village Of The Damned’, and put the groups’ names in like they were the stars of the movie. At the top it had, ‘An Exploding Plastic Predictable Event.’ At the bottom it had, ‘Be there or turn into your parents.’
It said the concert was in the afternoon on Bank Holiday Monday but it didn’t say where. People had to phone Eddie. He arranged to meet people in Portland Cemetery so he could take them to where the concert was.
Christy told me they were playing on the cliffs above Clay Ope. I liked that; being in the know. Me and Karen made our way straight there. We took some sandwiches and a Thermos, to make a day of it.
All the equipment was set up with a generator for the electric and everything, but most of the audience hadn’t arrived. Me and Karen found ourselves a nice spot and got settled.
I meant to do a review for Ed and Fred’s magazine, but when it came to it I couldn’t really think what to put. It was like at school. I did my C.S.E project on the New Wave groups, but I just ended up pinching bits out of Sounds magazine. The Sounds people seemed to put everything better.
Ed was clever like that; good at making things up. In that second Milk, Milk, Lemonade, the one with the headline ‘Land of a thousand dunces’, he didn’t just do about the bands, he put all bits of description, like in a book. I’ve still got a copy: On the village green at Easton there is no pond, there is no cricket team, white in slow motion in the afternoon sun. There are only dough-faced adolescents, always there as they always will be, wheelying on pushbikes or huddled on benches over Players Number 6.
Round the corner in the cemetery, other youths are gathering. The graves are packed in like tightly parked cars. Those waiting read the ages on the stones. The children are near the back. Big ones at the front, small ones at the back, like a family photograph turned to face the wall.
Even what he wrote about the bands was clever. The Dead Loss Orchestra were on first. They only did this one song that went on for ten minutes. Ed wrote; Jeff and Andy thump and throb like they’re in another band, concentrating like children trying to read without moving their lips. Meanwhile Max picks out a melody which reminds me of the tune played by the crashed ice-cream van in ‘Day Of The Triffids’. This is a good thing.
He said The Bad Detectives played their instruments like someone with soap in their eyes trying to find a towel. Bit uncalled for, I thought. They were just nervous. Ian the drummer kept speeding up. Halfway through ‘Looking For A Clue’ he let go of one of his sticks and it hit the singer Dave on the head. Dave went over and punched Ian right off his stool. There was no need for that either.
Hello Cruel World were on next. I went over to wish them luck. They were really nervous too. Danny said he could smell the adrenalin when he went off for a wee.
Christy wandered off for a bit. When he come back he was all white and his eyes were watering. Karen reckoned he’d been sick. I thought, oh, he’ll be okay. It wasn’t like at school when I used to look after him a bit. We were still best friends but I had someone new to look after.
They did well. Best of the lot I think. They got a good write-up; It starts with four wooden clicks. The chug, crunch and chop of Phil’s guitar is stitched together by Animal’s lines of stabbing notes, looping, never repeating. Patrick supplies the pulse underneath, the words when necessary. At the back, Danny and Christy hunch over their work, throwing secret sideways glances, like two people cheating in an exam. It’s the sounds coming from Christy’s gadget that linger. Slices of half-nonsense, overhearings, eavesdroppings, they come in at random moments like bad memories, and stay.
Hello Cruel World make their mistakes into choices. Hello Cruel World make themselves understood.
Only Patrick spoilt things a bit. Half way through he went over to the amp Christy was using and turned it down. Patrick and Phil had words when the song ended. Over the mic you could hear Patrick saying, ‘He’s putting me off. It’s like shagging with the telly on.’
Last were The Shakespeare Monkees. They were such a din. Danny looked so embarrassed. They had to stop when Fred’s fuzz pedal started making a noise like the Clangers.
Afterwards, me and Karen went to say goodbye to Christy and the others. They were all sat in Olly’s Morris Traveller. I opened the door and said, ‘Blimey, it stinks of fags in here.’ I didn’t know they’d started all that nonsense with smoking the drugs. They went into hysterics laughing. Except for Christy. It must’ve just been decided I suppose.
He said, ‘I think I’ll walk on with you.’
Phil said, ‘Don’t be daft Christy. Come back to Olly’s with us.’
Christy said, ‘No. I could do with a bit of air,’ and he got out.
We walked along the path towards Wide Street. It was nice, with the sun going down behind us and nobody about. Then Christy told us he’d left the band.
I said, ‘Why?’
He said, ‘Because they want me to.’
I said he could come round Karen’s for tea, but he wouldn’t. Karen reckoned he would’ve felt a bit of a gooseberry. He went his own way on the corner. It was a shame it turned out like that. Nobody likes unpleasantness. But all in all, it’d still been a nice day.


Friday, September 10, 2004

Chapter 9

DANNY
I started working Wednesday to Friday with me dad at Goodwill and Chant’s. Just to fill in. You get some poxy apprenticeship and the pressure’s on to stick around for three years. It was a doss. The punters took the piss out of me but I wasn’t bothered.
It was all a bit dodgy and complicated though. Mum didn’t show any signs of coming back off the sick so me dad put it through the books that she’d started back, and paid me her wages. Dad said if Goodwill or Chant ever came in, to just say I’d popped in to see him. I shouldn’t’ve even been in there being under eighteen. Plus I kept signing on.
My dad was a funny mix like that. A real chancer some ways. He started off as a bookie’s runner before it went legal. He knew loads about fixing the odds on dogs and all that. But other ways he was dead straight. Even back then he wanted me to follow in his footsteps or some daft bollocks. Fuck that. That’s why I dyed me hair green the week I started. To show him who was doing the choosing.
The music was getting me out of the house a lot. Herman let everyone use the skittle alley for band practices. I said to the others I might as well move the drums down there, then we could use it too. I said how us practising in the shed was making Mum’s nerves worse.
The band was coming together. Patrick picked up the bass quick and he could sing a bit; Animal was good on guitar. We even had a name; Hello Cruel World. It was something Christy used to say to himself when he was pissed off. We said yes to it so he wouldn’t feel left out of things. He knew Patrick and Animal didn’t see the point of him. Once they joined it was like you could see him shrinking. He just stood to one side fiddling with his tray of radioes.
It was a lie about me mum’s nerves. I wanted the drums down the Merman so I could play with other bands. I tried to get in with The Bad Detectives. They weren’t interested then but I’d’ve been doing them a favour. Ian drummed like somebody playing the xylophone in school assembly, and his timing was slack as piss on a plate.
But The Shakespeare Monkees were glad to have me. That was Ed and Fred and Linda. The twins were funny as fuck, like some sort of double act. I remember Eddie explaining the name.
He said, ‘You put enough monkeys in a room full of typewriters they’ll produce the complete works of Shakespeare. We reckon if you stick us in a room with some instruments eventually we’ll come up with something like “I’m A Believer.”’ Then Fred said how The Monkees didn’t write ‘I’m A Believer’ and they started having this massive row.
They could be funny peculiar too. People said Ed went a bit mental in London. With studying and that. It was his idea to call themselves the W twins. Partly they nicked the idea off Mark P from Sniffin Glue but mostly he was paranoid about doing the zine while he was signing on. Fred wasn’t bothered. He’d started work doing graphics on The Echo. Their dad was on the print there, same as Patrick. Fred never stopped feeling bad about earning more than his old man.
Linda I couldn’t get used to. Dead serious. Short black hair, glasses, looked like Joe 90. Dressed like she’d found her clothes in a skip. She had this beige raincoat she’d drawn big checks on in felt tip. Used to use a binoculars case as a handbag. She smoked Three Castles. It turned her lips brown.
They were hopeless to start with. Early on, Linda and Fred only knew one chord each. They used to take it in turns to play the chord they knew. I lost me rag with Fred once. I said, ‘You’re supposed to count the fucking bars between chord changes.’
He looked a bit put out and said, ‘Oh. I didn’t think anyone actually did that.’
In the end I settled for whacking the Bontempi on me kit when it was time to go into a chorus.
You’d’ve never thought Ed and Fred had already been in a band up in London. The other two, Vic and Ritchie were still up there, in a squat on Seven Sisters Road. Later they formed a band called The Pigs. They had their own label; Finsbury Pork Records.
I couldn’t understand the twins coming back to Portland. London was always like magic to me. It was where music come from; St Pancras, Chiswick, Deptford Fun City. It was where you could lose yourself, not have to answer to any fucker. Ed and Fred would tell me about gigs they’d been to in London. Back home I’d look up the addresses in the A-Z. Then I’d fall asleep and dream of getting on trains.
So round about then I was barely ever home, what with work and band stuff. That and us going round to see Animal’s mate Olly. We were smoking like Trojans even back then. Just homegrown. The five of us’d troop round his house and get out of our boxes.
Phil thought Olly’s shit didn’t stink. I could see Phil turning into him, twenty years down the line. Sometimes he’d go round theirs straight from work and read to the kids while Olly and Denise took it in turns to do the tea.
I could take it or leave it, all that cosy bollocks. I thought it was boring. We’d be on the sofa skinning up. Denise’d be sat stuffing envelopes for CND or something. Olly’d be telling Phil about India, or talking to Animal about getting more veggie stuff put on in the canteen. The odd game of Scrabble was about as lively as it got.
It felt to me like you were always under manners round there. Like one time there was this thing with Patrick and Christy. Christy was always a hog for it. A J reached him, he’d keep hold of it for ages. Annoyed people. There’s a sort of manners expected.
This one night Patrick leaned over and snatched the joint Christy was hogging. He went as if to smack Christy’s hand. Like he was a kid. He just said, ‘Don’t be so fucking greedy.’
It wasn’t anything. But the look Denise give Patrick. Like she was going to kick him out. They loved Christy them two, Olly and Denise. He’d be off staring into space, glum as fuck, one of them’d give him a nudge in the ribs and say, ‘Chin up. Skin up.’
Trouble was, the only other place to go for a session was round Patrick’s, depending on the shifts his mum and dad were working. Phil shared a bedroom, Christy’s mum never went out, and I didn’t want to be round ours anymore than I had to.
Animal’s wasn’t an option. He had five greboe brothers and he shared a room with two of them. That was why he talked so quick. As a kid he had this stammer really bad. Said it come from trying to get a word in with all those brothers. He got over it by talking at ninety miles an hour.
First time I went round his place the stink of cats nearly knocked me over. His dad used to dry out the old cat litter on top of the storage heater. Animal said, ‘Sorry about the smell. Me brothers had a few people back from the pub last night. For a piss up.’
A piss up the wall, it smelt like.
In his bedroom there was a stripped down Triumph Bonneville laid out on old newspapers. Above his bunk there was drawings of birds. Magpies and that. I thought it was Alison that done them, but it was him.
It got so we were round Olly’s so much, and he was giving us so much gear that it looked like we were taking the piss, even though he had a greenhouse full of it out the back. So Phil asked if we could buy some. Olly looked doubtful. He said how it was risky. Fuck knows with those teeshirts he wore, if the D.S. hadn’t got him by then, they were never going to.
He weighed us an eighth each. You could tell he wasn’t set up for dealing. We had to stick the dope in old fag packets, matchboxes, bacofoil, all sorts.
On the bus we couldn’t stop talking. I had this B & H packet full of homegrown stuffed down me kecks. I walked back from the bus-stop looking over me shoulder non-stop. I put the gear in the bedside cabinet. I couldn’t sleep; kept wanting to take it out and look at it, smell it.
For a while there was more dope floating about than we knew what to do with. I started knocking some out to Ed and Fred. So I suppose I’m the one who started it.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Chapter 8

PHIL
Thinking back, the start of everything was there in that week I started work if you looked at it. All the good stuff and the bad.
I left school once I done me C.S.E.s. I knew I’d made a bollocks of them the minute I walked out the Sports Hall. Think me dad was pleased. He said you could have an alright life without exams. He worked in the ticket office on Weymouth station. He asked round for me down there but there wasn’t nothing going.
I loved it, signing on. All that time to practise. Me playing really come on them weeks. Then Dad started on about me not having a job. We ended up having a row about it. I stormed up to me room. I told Paul when he come in. I asked if he could fix me up with anything at Skinners, the leather factory where he worked. He looked at me for a bit and goes, ‘You sure?’
I said yeah and he goes, ‘Alright. As long as you don’t stay there, mind.’
I should’ve took the hint but I thought, if it’s good enough for Paul it’s good enough for me. I always was like that with him. Looked up to him. When I was little he had this tonic suit. Beautiful it was. When he went out I used to stand looking at it. It had all these colours in it like petrol in a puddle.
It was him got me into music. The Feelgoods to begin with. They all looked like blokes out of a dirty movie. But Wilko’s guitar playing; fucking magic. Good songs too. All about living in a shit-hole by the sea.
Paul was in a band before. Everybody said they could’ve been as big as Stackridge. I only seen them twice because I was only young but when they done a gig I always used to wait up to ask him how it went. Then one night he come home and said he was packing it in. I never asked why. Seemed like a sore point.
One day he walked in our bedroom and caught me listening to the Kinks and playing air guitar in the mirror. Once he’d stopped pissing himself he sat down and taught me my first chords.
Like Lenny the foreman said, you didn’t have a proper interview interview at Skinners. He just wanted to see you could tell the time and you had all your arms and legs. He was straight about it all. He said how all the jobs there were shitty and horrible but the people made up for it. He showed me round. It stunk like fuck. Don’t even notice it now. He said I could start the next Monday. I didn’t mind.
They put me down the wet end. The skins come in there with bits of guts and bollocks still stuck to them. I had to take them one at a time and spread them on a bench called a horse. Then I had to scrape all the muck off them with a blade thing like the spokeshaves they had in woodwork. The only tricky bit was not nicking the skins with the end of the blade. I had the hang of it after half an hour.
When I got in me dad was in the kitchen reading the paper. He stood up and shook me hand. I felt a right tit. He give me a fiver. He goes, ‘Welcome to the real world.’ I spent it on the first Clash L.P. later. He went down Kelly’s and got cod and chips three times and put Mum’s in the oven. We had it out of the paper. He said it tasted better that way. I looked across the table at him and thought, you sad fucker.
What made the job alright was the people. Lenny was right. They were a good laugh. Like with the clocking-in machine. It looked like the old radio we had at home. There was a little red arrow that moved along during the day. Along where the arrow went it said, IN OUT IN OUT. Underneath, somebody had got a felt tip and wrote, SHAKE IT ALL ABOUT. Cheered you up when you was going in.
Down the wet end people was always lobbing bollocks at each other. Sometimes we’d play bollock football out the back, dinnertime. People made the most of things.
There was some real states working there, mind. Like Big Steve, this twenty stone Mongol bloke. Lived with his sister. Always wanted to shake hands. We’d be sat chatting in the canteen, he’d be smiling and nodding and you could tell he didn’t know what the fuck anyone was on about. Everything was a mystery to him. He’d stand at the machine, buffing. He’d take the raw skins out of one trolley and put the finished ones in the other like he didn’t know where they were coming from or where they were going. Mind you, we all had days like that.
Then there was Tom. He used to work in the dog-food factory until it closed. They called him the Wildman of Bonio. He used to talk to himself non-stop. The first two mornings I seen him come in with a crash helmet on. Tuesday knocking off I was behind him going out. He never went in the car-park and got on a moped or nothing. He just kept walking; out the gates and down the road off home. With this big red piss-pot helmet on.
All the inside of his locker was covered in silver paper. He said it helped him pick up messages. I felt sorry for him. There was that rumour about him; about his dad. Nobody took the piss out of him. It wasn’t being nice it was just he was gone on past all that.
Made some good mates at Skinners. Olly I liked straight off. He showed me the job. Sometimes when I took a nick out of a skin he’d put it in with his skins so nobody’d know.
He was this knackered-looking old hippy. He had to have his hair up in a net because of the machines. Every tee-shirt he had was something to do with dope. You could talk to him good. When he was younger he went round India like Wilko did. You could tell he was settled though, the way he talked about Denise and the kids when he showed me a photo.
But most of all I got mates with Animal. He started down the wet end the same day as me, just fetching and carrying. First time I seen him was when he come and dumped a trolley of skins next to me. He looked like one of the gyppoes that parked up behind Weymouth fairground. He had both ears pierced. He done it to piss his brothers off.
We got chatting in the canteen. He was sat by the window looking pissed off. He had this knackered leather jacket on. It had The Damned written on the back in proper letters. He’d painted it himself. I pointed at his jacket and asked who else he was into. We was off then. I told him about me and Danny and Christy. He said how he’d been having guitar lessons off some Country and Western twat round the corner but he wanted to get into a band. I never said anything then in case he turned out to be a prat.
On the Wednesday Animal wangled a sub and we went up Radio Rentals dinnertime. He goes, ‘Anything to get out of this fucking place.’
He hated Skinners like you wouldn’t believe. He said he wasn’t afraid of hard work, he just didn’t like it. He said about when Lenny showed him round. ‘He took me up by the chroming machines. It was like when we used to go and see me gran in the home, everyone giving you this one blank look then going back to what they’re doing like a bunch of fucking cabbages.’
I said how the people were alright but it was like he never heard me.
He said, ‘When Lenny finished with me he goes “Can you find your way out of here okay?” I thought, I fucking hope so.’
I got ‘Fascist Dictator’ by The Cortinas. I thought they were fantastic, them; to be the same age as us and having records out. Give you something to aim for.
Animal picked out ‘Alison’ by Elvis Costello. Surprised me. It was for his girlfriend Alison. He said how she’d told the Careers she wanted to work with animals. They’d lined her up with a job in a butchers. So she was going up the College to do Art in September.
We went to pay. That’s when I saw Milk, Milk, Lemonade. It was the first fanzine I’d seen. There was a pile of them by the till. That first issue was just two sheets of A4 stapled together.
The cover was done out like the front of The Mirror. The headline said, ‘Not Yawning But Screaming.’ Underneath there was a drawing of a bloke stood on Weymouth Esplanade, holding his head and howling. His head was massive. You could see Portland behind him. That was exciting just knowing it was local.
There was next to fuck all in it except record reviews. The main good bit was this big rant about punk. It was all weird stuff like how if you wanted to know what punk meant it was in the dictionary between escapism and escapology. It said how if punk was only about how things sounded then it didn’t amount to any more than bad tempered skiffle. What mattered was how things were organised. It reckoned that since rock and roll come out we’d had twenty years of pornography and it was the readers’ wives’ turn to run things. At the end, in big letters it said, STOP WANKING YOUR LIVES AWAY! It was signed, Ed and Fred, the W twins.
But the best bit was on the back cover. There was a picture of that bloke with a moustache who was on the posters in the war. He had his hair spiked up. Underneath it just said, ‘The W twins need you. We want to put on gigs locally. If you’re in a band or you want to be, meet us in the Merman, Fortuneswell, eight o’clock onwards, Friday 24th June. Be there or turn into your parents.’ That was the coming Friday. I seen that and I didn’t want to go back to work. I wanted to phone and tell Danny and Christy.
I’d been in the Merman once before. Herman’d serve anyone, eighteen or not. I asked for a pint of bitter. He asked if I wanted Best. I said it didn’t have to be anything special. He still served me. That time there was only a couple of old ciderheads stood wobbling in the corner. There was bright orange plastic seats that made your arse sweat even in winter. All the walls looked like they’d been done in airfix paint. Or snot.
Herman wasn’t his real name. He just got called it. People used to say; walks like a man drinks like a fish, Herman from the Merman. His eyes were like soft-boiled eggs. When he took the pub over he changed its name from the Mermaid. Once he’d paid the signwriter to change the name he couldn’t afford to get the picture redone. So he got a magic marker, drew a beard on it, a load of hair on its tits, and a tattoo of an anchor on its arm.
I rang the others, said to meet in Victoria Square. Christy turned up first. He said hello, then stood there looking at Animal and acting nervous. Then Danny showed up. Fuck me if his hair wasn’t bright green like Swarfega. We all pissed ourselves. It was good. Give us something to talk about.
There was about fifteen people in the pub. Herman must’ve thought it was Christmas; barely any fucker in there for weeks then that lot show up. We didn’t hardly know any of them till then but all the main people who was in bands later was there that night; Max, Andy, Jeff, Linda, The Bad Detectives. I don’t remember none of the posh lot being there except that Terry, and he went home early. Animal still had his overalls on from work. That Terry come up and asked where he got them from. Tit. Animal just blanked him.
I went up to the bar. Animal wandered off. He come back with this bloke. He had a red and black striped jumper on. His hair was dyed black and spiky. You could tell he fancied himself as looking like Dennis the Menace. Animal introduced him as Patrick, a mate of his from school. So that night wasn’t all good news.
I asked him who was in charge. He shrugged and said he’d only just got there himself. Then I felt a tap on me shoulder. I turned round. This really skinny bloke in a donkey jacket said, ‘Nobody’s in charge. But we’re the W twins.’ He pointed to himself and the fat bloke next to him. He said, ‘I’m Ed. This is Fred.’
I got them pints and we sat with them. I liked them from the off. You’d’ve never guessed they were twins to look at them. That Ed, you’ve seen more fat on a cold chip, but Fred was a real porker. Everyone said Ed looked like a victim of famine, and Fred looked like he’d caused one.
They was older than us; about twenty one odd. They lived up near the Borstal but they’d just come back from doing degrees in London. Ed done English somewhere and Fred done Art at the place The Pistols played their first gig. Fred told me how he’d nicked the idea for the fanzine cover off a bloke called Munch. The fag machine in the Merman had a picture on the front of this woman in a field. Fred always called it the Impressionist fag machine. I liked that; them knowing about that sort of stuff but still being a laugh.
The atmosphere was brilliant that night, people getting on with each other. Danny and Animal really hit it off. I looked over. Danny was telling him about taking his books back up school and going round signing people’s Bibles as God. Animal was pissing himself.
Even Christy made an effort, talking to Patrick. He done the usual, asking loads of questions. After a bit Patrick goes, ‘What is this, a fucking quiz?’ I never thought nothing of it at the time.
A few rounds later, Fred banged an ashtray on the table to shut everyone up. He said about how him and Ed had dragged us all up there because they wanted to put a gig on so they’d have something to write about. He said it was down to people like us to get some bands started.
It went dead quiet for a minute then everyone started talking at once. It was like picking the teams for football at school, everybody not wanting to get left out. All the lot that turned into The Bad Detectives stuck together. They couldn’t play anything but they were mates. They took on Dave as singer. Jeff and Andy hitched up with Max. Patrick tried to get Linda to start a band with him and Animal. She sussed out he was trying to pull her and made out she was going to do something solo, just to scrape him off.
In the end, Patrick and Animal was the only leftovers. I looked at Danny. He nodded. I looked at Christy. He shrugged. So that was us. The full line up.
About one in the morning Herman fell asleep behind the bar. We called it a night and let ourselves out the side door of the skittle-alley. It wasn’t nobody’s idea but we all trooped down Mallams and onto the beach.
It was lovely down there. Nobody was saying anything. All you could hear was the waves going shh up the pebbles. We stood looking out at the sea. There was this big white moon and the sea was like silver paper. I felt fantastic. Dead peaceful but excited too; butterflies in the stomach and that. ‘Days’ by The Kinks come into me head for some reason. I’ll never forget that feeling I had then. Things were good. They were going to get better. We were a proper band. I had money in me pocket. What could go wrong?
I took off me boots and socks, rolled up me jeans and waded into the water. Then everyone done it. All of us just kicking and stamping about in the waves like big kids.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Chapter 7

CHRISTY
Phil was good to say I could be in the band. Don’t know why he done it; Danny wasn’t keen and really I wasn’t doing anything any use. But at least it give me a bit to look forward to. There wasn’t much else lined up for me.
I was into the music too. Not just Phil and Danny’s band but all the proper bands that was coming out then; The Damned, The Adverts, The Clash, all them. I couldn’t say how I felt, but they sounded like I felt.
I got right into the thing with the tapes. To start with I used to just record stuff off the radio; foreign stations and that. Then I unscrewed one of the cassette recorders off the tray and started carrying it round with me. I had it in me school bag and went round recording stuff without people knowing; in school, up the Careers, everywhere for a couple of weeks.
I took it with me when I went in school to take all me books back. You had to get them signed for by your form teacher. I took a short-cut through the assembly hall. There was about thirty people in there making a big drama, girls crying, boys shaking hands like old men. They give you a Bible when you left. There was people signing each other’s Bibles. I kept walking. The whole place felt like nothing to do with me.
I seen Tetley to get signed out. He was this big thick bloke who taught P.E. Danny used to say if Tetley wrote down every original thought he’d ever had he wouldn’t cover enough paper to roll a fag with.
He took the books back like he’d never seen a book before in his life. Then he tried to talk to me a bit, trying to be nice and that. He asked if I was planning to go to the College. I just went ‘Eh?’ Nobody else had asked that except me mum, and that was only because she had to tell the Family Allowance people what I was doing.
I said no, I wasn’t going up the College. Tetley had this wanky little moustache he used to suck on when he couldn’t think what to say. So he sucked on that and nodded.
I walked home. It all felt nothingy and flat. I didn’t do anything definite like Danny. He told us about it after. He could make anything into a story. He said how he went and seen Tetley, and Tetley started on about how Danny had potential but he was a bit too full of himself. So Danny turned round and said he’d rather be full of himself than full of shit. He give Tetley the finger and walked out.
Before they let you get the dole you had to have an interview up the Careers. I went there in me school trousers and a new shirt. I put a tie on once I got off the bus outside the place.
There was a kind of waiting room with a couple other people there to see the bloke. I sat reading the posters. There was one on the door saying, ‘To follow the dream, and again to follow the dream.’ What a fucking joke.
After a bit the bloke called me in. I knew him to look at. His kid used to be a year above us in school. She’d ended up working in a cake-shop. I thought, if that’s the best he can do for his own daughter, that’s me fucked.
He got behind his desk. I sat on the only spare chair. One leg was shorter than the others. He started asking me questions and making notes. Every time I leaned forward to try and look keen I nearly went flying. The new shirt was itching me neck.
He asked if I had any idea what I wanted to do. They had these cards in the school library where you could look up about different jobs. So I said to him the only thing off of them that I ever fancied.
He said, ‘A lighthouse keeper?’ Then he said, ‘You might not think it now but this is actually quite a serious thing.’
He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He asked if I had any hobbies. I said, ‘Reading.’
His pen stopped over the next box on the form. He asked what sort of thing I read. I told him detective books. He looked at me for the first time and said, ‘Anything else?’
I said, ‘No,’ and he put a line through the box.
He had a look through an index thing on his desk and pulled out a card. He told me about Conrad’s wanting a clerkstrokestoreman. I didn’t know what a builders’ merchants was. From what he was saying the job was all adding things up and talking to people. I didn’t fancy it but I heard meself saying I’d give it a go. He phoned and made an appointment for an interview that afternoon.
I come out the Careers in a daze. It was like going to the barber’s. You go in hoping for the best and come out thinking, I never asked for that, what the fuck happened there? At least with a bastard haircut you can go round in a hat for a bit. No hat was going to sort me out.
Conrad’s was on the industrial estate, between Skinners and the old dog food factory. I got there miles too early. On the wall of the dog food factory somebody had painted, ‘It’s all been done before,’ in big letters. The line of writing started out straight then drooped off like the person doing it got tired. I waited for three o’clock, looking at the graffiti and getting depressed.
I went in at five to and rung the bell on the counter. I heard someone humming, then this short fat bloke in his forties appeared. His hair was everywhere. All round his mouth there was wet biscuit crumbs. That was Bernie.
He took me in the office and fetched Potter. Potter had on this suit the colour of Toffoes and a pair of disco shoes with brass bits on. He shooed Bernie out and started the interview.
Mainly I remember me trying to sound posher and keener than I was, and not knowing where to look. Potter smoked menthol. I looked at the little green asterisks on the filter of his Consulate. Then I looked at the brass bits on his shoes. Then I looked at the sign on his desk saying, ‘You don’t have to be mad to work here but it helps.’
He told me the woman who’d been doing the invoices had left. Bernie had been covering since. He said Bernie needed help. Then he sort of laughed. Sounded like a cat sneezing.
He run through a load of questions and put the answers on a form. Once he’d finished he turned the form over and wrote ‘NUTAC’ at the top and underlined it three times. I knew what that meant. He said he’d give me a phone.
He rung later. Said I could have the job if I wanted. Potter didn’t bother sounding pleased so I didn’t either. He said, ‘The bloke we wanted turned us down. Just to let you know.’ I knew what he was letting me know.
The first day was the last time I was early. I went inside. Bernie was behind the counter checking a list off on a clipboard. He looked at me for a minute, then the penny dropped. ‘Hello. Do you want Dick?’
I said, ‘Eh?’
‘Dick Potter. Mr Potter.’ He said, ‘I’m Bernie. I’m head storeman, for my sins.’ He scratched his head. ‘I must’ve done something terrible.’ It was one of his things he said all the time.
We went through to the office. Bernie swung the door open. The glass panel in it rattled like fuck. Potter said. ‘Bernie; you keep doing that, one day that glass is going to drop out and cut some cunt’s throat.’
Potter offered me a Consulate, then looked pissed off when I took one. He sat with his eyes closed telling me what I’d be doing. ‘Mornings you’ll serve on the counter so Bernie’s freed up to load the wagon with Ken. Afternoons you’ll do the invoices. Bernie’ll show you how to do that.’ He opened his eyes and said to Bernie. ‘Don’t go into the Shirley business. Might give him ideas.’
Potter stood up like he was getting out of bed and said, ‘Steve the rep’s not here yet but I’ll introduce you to the others.’ He took me up the yard. I met Ken. Potter said, ‘This is Christy, Ken. New bloke. So don’t go mistaking him for a customer and offering to split a bag of cement for him.’ Ken smiled but as we walked away I looked over me shoulder and seen him giving it the five finger shuffle to Potter’s back.
We seen Ron in the sawmill then we come back down and Potter sorted me out some overalls. I felt a cunt. You had to wear a shirt and tie and overalls; talk about getting shot by both sides. They might as well have give you a hat with ‘loser’ written on it. The overalls was a dark blue jacket and trousers. Made you look like someone out of ‘Porridge’ off the telly.
Potter took me back to Bernie behind the counter. Before he went back to the office he said, ‘Remember, there’s some places you mustn’t let Bernie touch you. Okay?’
I stood there. Then he dug me in the ribs and said, ‘Fuck me, sonner; wake up. Only joking.’
I followed Bernie round all morning. All I learnt the first day was that all Conrad’s stock was covered in dust and some of it was covered in oil as well. Plus I learnt that builders and chippies smell dry and plastery, but plumbers have got a metally smell like the taste of blood in your mouth.
Bernie introduced me to the regulars when they come in and I’d stand there not knowing how I was supposed to be, matey or arselicking or what. The third thing I learnt was, all the customers thought Bernie was a twat. Howie come in for a shower trap. He asked him how it was going. Bernie said, ‘Struggling on. Struggling off again. Getting up, going to work.’
When Bernie went to get the trap, Howie goes to me, ‘Prick’s still living with his mum.’
About eleven Bernie went to the bog. He always called it seeing a friend off to the coast. While he was gone a bloke come in and asked for thirty inch eights. Brass. I just stood and looked at him.
He said, ‘Screws mate. Shelf to the left.’
He come round and found them for me in the end. Once he’d gone I had a look through the boxes of screws. Half of them had been there that long they were priced up in old money.
When Bernie come back he made mugs of tea. There was all big black thumbprints round the rim. We stood and drank them round by the roofing felt.
After dinner he took me in the kennel, this shed inside the loading bay, and showed me how to do the invoices. There was piles of them where he’d got behind. You had to look the prices up on this big list then look up people’s discounts from this box of cards. I asked him what Potter was on about with the Shirley business. He wouldn’t say.
After a while I took me watch off and put it in me pocket. It was the only way I could stop looking at it. When it felt like it must be hometime I took it out and looked. It was only quarter to four. Another hour and three quarters to go.
When I got home I lay on me bed and put on ‘Career Opportunities’ by The Clash, as loud as it’d go. I listened to Joe Strummer garbling out all this list of rubbish jobs; bus driver, ambulance man, chicken inspector. They all sounded better than anything that was down for me.
Don’t know why work come as so much of a shock to me. Wasn’t like Mum never talked about it. She did stock control up the box factory. I used to put the tea on for when she got in. I’d dish up and she’d sit complaining about things at the factory.
I had a bit of a moan to Phil about it up the shed. He just said, ‘That’s what work’s like if you’re ordinary.’
I wanted to say something but I didn’t know what. Phil handed me a fag and said, ‘You’re just ordinary Christy.’
I heard Danny mumble something. Sounded like, ‘Just a pity you’re not fucking normal.’

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Chapter 6

WILLSON
Christy waited, annoyed with himself. He’d been given a chance but he was no use. Danny’s mum opened the door.
‘Sorry to bother you. I’m Christy. I’ve come for the band practice.’
She squinted at him, one eye clenched against the trickle of smoke rising from the cigarette in her mouth. ‘He’ll be up the top of the garden.’ She led Christy through to the back door.
He saw Danny crouching near the shed. Danny called to him. ‘Do you want to see some puppies?’
As he got closer Christy saw that Danny was crouched over a bucket of water. Beside him were several tiny greyhound puppies, pink as piglets, wriggling and tumbling and climbing over each other. ‘I’ll be there in a minute,’ Danny said. ‘I’ve just got to do these. They empty the bins Monday.’ He hitched up the sleeve of his jumper, picked up the nearest puppy by the scruff of the neck, and stuffed the dog down into the water.
‘Christ Danny. What are you doing?’
Danny looked up, his face expressionless. ‘Teaching them to swim.’ He pulled the dead puppy out of the water and tossed it onto the hessian sack beside him. A couple of the other pups sniffed around it casually. Danny picked up one of them and drowned it.
‘Why, though?’
‘They’re spare. Dad’s always bollocked on about breeding them for racing. So he bought a pregnant bitch for Mum at Easter. Mental. We haven’t got the space and Mum’s not up to it at the moment.’ He drowned another. ‘Think he thought it’d give Mum something to do.’
Christy watched as the pile of dead dogs grew. ‘I thought she was working in the bookies with your dad.’
‘No. She’s been on the sick. Bit run down.’
One dog remained alive. Danny nodded towards it. ‘Keeping that one. For meself.’
‘Why that one?’
‘Why not?’
Danny loaded the pink carcasses into the sack, tucked the surviving dog under his arm, and walked to the house. He put the sack in the dustbin and placed the live pup next to its mother in a basket in the kitchen.
Christy stayed at the top of the garden, shivering slightly.
Danny returned, wiping his hands on his jeans. ‘Thought Kev’d be coming with you.’
‘No. He’s making his own way. Where’s Phil to?’
‘Should be here soon. He’s gone down Radio Rentals to get the Stranglers’ L.P.’
When there was no band practice, the Weymouth branch of Radio Rentals was the focus of the other option for killing a Saturday. Danny, Phil, Christy and Kev would loiter in the record section, waiting for their lives to happen. They would squeeze into the coffin-shaped listening booths. Carol the assistant would pretend to believe they were going to buy the records they asked to hear. They would flick through the album racks hunting for anything that might have been recorded by people with short hair.
Punk records were trickling out but mostly they had to be ordered. The waiting was delicious, second only to that bigger waiting for the end of school when they’d have money for all the records they wanted. If an order came in they’d all go round Phil’s to listen to it. If nothing arrived they’d move on to the Cadena cafe, where, with the exception of Kev, they’d smoke themselves yellow.
Danny and Christy went into the brick and timber shed. Inside, the smell of creosote and paraffin made Christy’s mouth water. He propped the bass guitar he’d been carrying against Phil’s amp. He placed a black bin liner next to it.
Phil and Danny had been playing together for six weeks. Six weeks of Phil chugging and crunching at the two movable chords he knew, groping optimistically up and down the neck of his guitar. Six weeks of Danny frowning, hammering, moving around his drum kit like somebody trying to kill a small quick animal.
Danny had plans for them. He always had plans. His constant leaning forward into the next good thing was visible in the strange headlong way he walked; as if he were living his life in italics. At their first practice ideas had rolled out of him. Within sentences a band was formed, signed up, and living in London.
It had been Phil’s idea to ask Christy and Kev to join the band. You couldn’t just leave people out, leave people behind. Danny was reluctant but the choices were few. Nearly everyone at school was into Genesis and Yes. Christy and Kev at least listened to the right records, at least listened to John Peel.
The plan was that Christy would play bass, using one borrowed from Phil’s brother Paul, and Kev would play keyboards. Danny had found a child’s Bontempi organ in the attic. Back before his dad went, Kev had piano lessons for a couple of months, to keep up with the neighbours.
As Christy’s eyes adjusted to the near-darkness a squirt of laughter shot from him which he tried to disguise as a sneeze. ‘What’s that?’ he asked.
‘Me kit.’ Danny stood at an old ironing board. In the middle of the board was an ancient snare drum. There were bristles on the skin of it. At one end of the board were two Quality Street tins padded with cardboard. At the other end was a partially dismantled typewriter with a small child’s xylophone taped to the carriage. The whole kit was held together with straps, nails and carpet tape. On the floor beside Danny was an upturned galvanised dustbin. There was no bass drum. When Phil had remarked on this Danny had confidently explained that a bass drum was just for show, somewhere to display the band’s name.
Christy looked at the kit, then looked at Danny. Danny looked back, as stony-faced as Buster Keaton. Christy said nothing. It was something that interested him; the way Danny would have a stupid idea and just front it out, daring anybody to take the piss.
‘Where you learn the drums?’ Christy asked.
‘Taught meself. I was in a band for a bit in Yeovil.’
‘Yeah? What were they called?’
‘Fucked if I remember,’ Danny mumbled.
Christy frowned. ‘How come?’
Danny straightened. ‘That was our name. Fucked If I Remember. I never chose it.’
Before he met Phil, Danny had never played the drums before in his life. He just felt like hitting things.
Danny stubbed a Benson on a flowered saucer. ‘I had to leave nearly all me proper kit behind when we left Yeovil.’
‘How come you moved to Portland?’ Christy asked.
‘Just did,’ Danny said. He made it sound like, ‘Shut up.’ The subject was closed.
After the accident he’d gone blank for a while. His hair came out in handfuls. Months later he still had bald patches the size of fifty pence pieces. There is a photo from when he started at Royal Manor. In it he is death white. His hair looks like an explosion.
His parents acted like something out of a nursery rhyme. One of them couldn’t leave the past alone, the other wouldn’t look at it. So between the two of them they decided to move.
His dad asked Chant for a transfer. Anywhere. They ended up on Portland. Danny was relieved to be somewhere where he had no history. He met Phil in his first term at Royal Manor. Christy and Kev sort of came with him.
‘How did you get on with the bass?’ Danny asked.
Christy looked at the guitar. ‘I don’t think I can hack it. I’ve been trying but it won’t sink in.’
Phil had spent hours trying to teach Christy the two songs he and Danny had written. Deep down Phil knew Christy wouldn’t get the hang of it as long as he had a hole in his arse. Christy practised in his room for hours, every good boy deserves, every good boy deserves, but it was no good. He had no sense of time. Playing music, he began to feel, was all about maths and confidence; he couldn’t do one and he didn’t have any of the other.
Danny kneeled down to light the paraffin heater. ‘What you going to do then, keep trying?’
Christy looked at his shoes, then at his hands. ‘I was saying to Phil. I had an idea.’ He reached over and pulled something from the bin liner on the floor.
‘What the fuck’s that supposed to be?’
Christy looked meaningfully at Danny’s drum kit. In his hand was a rectangular wooden tray. Screwed to the tray were three small transistor radios and two battered cassette players. His mum had come home from a Holy Ghost jumble sale one Saturday and presented him with a box of electrical leftovers she’d bought for fifty pence. While he was checking which pieces of junk worked, inspiration came to him from nowhere.
He plugged into the hot-smelling bakelite socket in the wall. A babble of speech and music spilled from the contraption. Christy hunched over it, retuning the radios, rewinding the squawking tapes, adjusting volume controls. Every time it seemed like he was finding a rhythm, making something like music, a blurt of noise would throw everything into another pattern.
Danny watched, his head on one side. Eventually he nodded. ‘It’s got potential. Give it a proper go when Phil and Kev turn up.’
He looked at his watch. He sat on a deck-chair in the corner of the shed. Christy perched on a hardened bag of cement. Danny looked at his watch again. He looked at Christy. ‘Any news about your sister?’
Christy coughed, surprised. ‘No.’
‘Phil told me. Said you don’t even know where she’s gone. What happened there then? Didn’t she get on with your mum and dad?’
‘It’s only me mum about.’
‘How come?’
Christy’s mouth twisted. He picked at the cement sack. ‘Me dad’s dead.’
Danny knew but he wouldn’t leave it. ‘Must’ve been pretty young. How come he died?’
Christy imagined kicking Danny in the mouth. ‘It was something to do with his heart.’ He shrugged.
Danny stared at Christy’s face. He blew two plumes of cigarette smoke from his nose.
Christy stood up. ‘Where do you reckon Kev’s got to?’
‘Changing the subject?’
Silence fell. The morning dripped by. The paraffin heater popped and whispered. Danny sat watching Christy. Christy stood chewing the skin at the side of his fingernails and trying to think of things to say.
When he was bored, Danny had a habit of holding his cigarette between his thumb and second finger, and tapping the burning end with the tip of his forefinger. Christy looked at the tip of Danny’s Benson.
‘What?’ Danny asked.
‘Nothing.’
Minutes passed. ‘Why are you so quiet Christy?’
‘Why am I so quiet?’
‘Yeah. Why don’t you talk to people, for fuck’s sake?’
Hate all the howsyourfather. Asking and asking and asking. Like being peeled. Mrs Davies the fat secretary in front of everybody. Just for the records, any one not got both Mum and Dad at home? Kev gives a nudge under the table. Feel the buckle on his sandals on the leg. Hand won’t go up. Lift it with the other one. She looks. Just for the records. Sarah says is diddums daddy deaded then? Ian all interested. How? Just did. How? Just did. Couldn’t’ve just did. Stupid.
By the air raid shelter the others are singing. Where’s your father where’s your father, where’s your father Christy Cross? Haven’t got one, never had one, you’re a bastard Christy Cross. Ask Mum when there’s nothing on the telly. Lips moving like she’s reading a book. It’s a rude word for someone who hasn’t got a dad.
Kev knows about the scraping out the fridges. And the Widowed Mothers Allowance. Queue for dinner. Him and Phil in front. Don’t see. Laughing. His mum gets widows’ memories allowance. Spends it all on sausages.
Christy exhaled. ‘No reason particularly.’
The back door of the house opened and closed. Danny looked out of the shed window and saw Phil. He stepped out and met him halfway up the garden. ‘You took your time didn’t you? I’ve been waiting with Christy. Like being stuck in a lift with a fucking deaf mute. And the twat says he can’t play.’
‘He told me on the phone.’
‘So why’s he bothered turning up?’
‘I said he could still join the band. He’s still a mate.’
‘Your mate.’
In the shed Phil explained his lateness. ‘I stopped off at that tailor’s to pick up me jeans. Them flares he was taking in. Weren’t ready so I waited.’
The stooping solo backstreet tailor apologised and smiled. He’d been getting behindhand. He didn’t know what was going on with the youngsters. Phil was the third person that week who’d brought in jeans to be narrowed.
‘No sign of Kev then?’ Phil asked.
‘No. Twat.’
‘Shall we give him a bit longer?’
‘No,’ Danny said. ‘If he can’t show up on time, fuck him.’ He picked up the Bontempi organ and placed it on the ironing board. He took up his drumsticks and played a roll around the kit, ending on the keys of the organ. ‘Right. Let’s make a fucking start.’

In Karen’s small, warm bed, in the house on Avalanche Road, Kev and Karen were making spoons, curled into each other like speech marks. Kev studied the swirl of brown hair at the nape of her neck. It made him think of a Walnut Whip. When he blinked he could hear his eyelashes scraping across the pillow. When she blinked he could hear hers.
Her dad was a plumber so they had central heating. It was warm enough to have the covers off. Her parents were away for the weekend but they would have let Kev stay over if she’d asked. He was a steady boy.
They had known each other since primary school. She used to come round his to play. He used to go round hers to play. Everybody thought he was daft, being proper friends with a girl. Since his dad left the friendship had become something else; the youth club, the pictures, the under 18s’ disco at Deja Vu. And now it had changed again, forever.
He’d tried to stop himself from wanting to do it, but that just made him want to do it more. And it was so lovely, even with the messes and the noises he hadn’t expected. It was something about the way sex made time stop. There was no planning and hoping or remembering and wondering. There was only the feeling of being in the middle of everything.
He waited for his cock to soften, then pulled on his Y-fronts and jumper. He went into the kitchen to make tea and toast. He stood looking out of the window while he waited for the kettle to boil. It was nice, this. Like a marriage. Like a home. The kettle whistled and the toaster coughed up another two slices. He loaded the tray and returned upstairs.
Karen was awake now, sitting up with her back against the headboard. She smiled at him, wiped sleep from her cheek. Kevin poured tea for her and placed the tray at her side. She drank and ate, grinning. A shred of marmalade fell and landed where the curve of her belly began. Kev picked it up and fed it to her.
‘Weren’t you supposed to be having your first practice with Phil’s group today?’
He hadn’t forgotten. ‘It wasn’t anything definite. I said I might be late. Anyway, I’d rather be here.’ He kissed her on the forehead.
‘Christy might be nervous. First practice and you not there.’
‘He’ll be alright.’
Her breakfast finished, Karen curled onto her side. Her eyelids bumped shut, once, twice, three times. Her mouth opened loosely.
Kev couldn’t take his eyes off her. She was pink and she was white and she liked him. Unbelievable. He leaned down to smell her. Her armpits had a faint tang like the curly shavings from a newly sharpened pencil. At the back of her knees were tiny veins which reminded him of a marble he’d had in the Infants. There were bumps like buttons all up her spine. Her body wasn’t beautiful all over but it was interesting everywhere. He wanted to wake up every morning forever next to someone like her. No. Not someone like her. Her. Just her. Her.
He imagined Phil and Christy and Danny, waiting for him in the cold shed. He knew it was a bit off to let them down but he wanted to stay where he was. He wanted to keep his good secret thing secret. They’d probably start without him anyway. Karen was waking up again.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Chapter 5


CHRISTY
The first time I really felt wrong was soon after Clair went. Her and Mum never got on. But they got really bad in the summer of seventy six. That was a shitty, horrible summer, that. Baking hot non-stop. It was a dry hot but it still felt like there was a storm coming. But the storm never come then. It got swallowed and thrown up later.
The heat give me headaches. Felt like me brains were bursting. I used to lie with the sheets kicked off, hearing them two shouting.
I never understood it. It was like Clair was in a permanent strop. She hated it on the checkout but that couldn’t’ve been all of it. It scared me. The way you couldn’t work her out, couldn’t get a clue. Think I felt jealous of her a bit, being able to shout and go, and act like she didn’t deserve a shit time of it.
Don’t know why she went, but I was expecting it, her going. A bit after Christmas I heard her talking to her mate Deb. Deb worked in the caff up by the Bill. You could always smell cooking on her. She was humped over a bit because of her platforms. They come in from the pub. There was two lots of laughing then they went in the front room. My room was next to it. I turned the radio down so I could hear.
Deb said, ‘You heard back yet?’
Then Clair said, ‘Not yet. Only just got the form in. Got a good chance though. With the money it is.’
Deb said, ‘Blind school though. They’d want experience.’
‘Got experience living here. Nobody so blind as someone who won’t look.’
Then she shut the door. I couldn’t hear any more.
Not long after that she cheered up a bit. The rows stopped. Until the last one.
Couple of days before Easter I come home from school and there was a minicab parked out the front of the house. The bloke was stood by the car. He had on this brown and white zip up cardigan like the one I had. He was tapping his fingers on the roof of the car. His nails were black with shit. He seen me going in at the gate and said, ‘Tell her I’ve got the meter running son. She’s taking forever.’
The front door was wide open. Them two were in the hallway going mad at each other. Shouting and shouting. I can’t remember what they were shouting. I just stood there looking.
All down the stairs there was clothes on the floor. Clair started picking up the clothes and stuffing them into this green suitcase. Then she tried to shut it but the catch was broken. She was kneeling down saying, ‘Fucking thing. Fucking thing.’
Then they went quiet. Mum went in the kitchen and got some string. She give it to Clair. Clair tied up the case and stood up. She walked to the door. Mum stood there with her arms at her sides, lifting them then letting them drop, like a penguin.
Clair walked out. I followed after her, a bit behind. She speeded up when she seen I was following. I said to her, ‘Where you going?’
She said, ‘Off my fucking head!’
She got in the cab. The bloke didn’t need to say about the meter running; she couldn’t get away quick enough. He tutted and went, ‘Thank fuck for that,’ under his breath. I watched the black car leaving.
The way it looked to me, that was the last I was going to see of her. Mum must’ve thought she’d gone for good too because she never said anything when I moved into the upstairs room. I’d had enough of being downstairs, overhearing things.
I didn’t want to move Clair’s stuff out. I wanted to be in the middle of it all. Mum thought I was being daft. She got me to put it in the cupboard under the stairs. It nearly all went for jumble in the end.
I kept a couple of Clair’s things. To remember. When she went she took all the photos with her in them, as if she wanted it to be like she never happened. I kept her name badge from work plus a tube of her psoriasis cream. It smelt funny. When I was smaller I asked her what it was.
She said, ‘Vanishing cream.’
I said, ‘Is it?’
She said, ‘Fucking wish it was.’
I put the cream and the badge in the shoebox I had under me bed. I didn’t like looking in it but I wanted to have it there. Afraid of forgetting.
Before, I used to sneak things away to put in it. There was two photos. Used to like them till I found out. One of them had Mum and Dad standing in a field of grass. They were close enough for their shoulders to touch but they could’ve been in different pictures. Mum was at an angle to Dad, smiling and squinting into the distance, like she was trying to remember something.
Dad was stood with his shoulders sloped, as if he was under extra gravity. He was looking straight into the camera, frowning, like whoever had took the picture had just asked him a question he didn’t understand. His lips were a bit apart, like he wanted to say something but he couldn’t. That’s how I felt. His eyes and his nose were like mine.
In the other picture he was younger; late twenties or something. He was leaning on a gate, sleeves rolled up, pipe in his mouth, big grin. Behind him at the top of the photo there was this big thick bar of black cloud. It looked like it was going to come down on top of him. I wanted to reach into the picture and warn him.
There was this wooden hammer thing from his work. There was dents in it from when I used it to bang in a nail. Wish I hadn’t done that.
There was two of his records. One was Louis Armstrong singing ‘What A Wonderful World’. The label was black, the writing was silver. I hated it. I thought the words were stupid. I’d sit and look at it and try to imagine Dad listening to it and enjoying it. The other was an L.P, ‘The Man of La Mancha’. Most of it was bollocks but I liked ‘The Impossible Dream’; the words made you feel better.
Then there was Dad’s spare pair of glasses. I found them at the back of a drawer in the kitchen. I tried them on once but I didn’t like the feeling.
So I put Clair’s things in with that lot.
Near enough the first thing Mum said after Clair went was that we should have a holiday, me and her. She said, ‘We’re still a family after all.’
I didn’t know what she was on about. We hadn’t been away for years. It was like putting on an act.
She booked a weekend break at Butlin’s. We got the coach to Weston Super Mare. We were sat across the aisle from this bloke who kept farting. I read till I felt sick then I went to sleep.
The camp was set back from the prom. There was big Chinese-looking gates and this pink tarmac driveway called Welcome Boulevard. Looked like a big dirty tongue.
I got the first twinge when we walked in. It was crawling with people. All I could see was faces coming at me. They all looked the same. Me breath started catching. There was this rushing in me ears like being under water.
We checked in and found the chalet. Mum kicked her shoes off and lay on her bed reading the booklet they give you saying what’s on. There was a talent night on in the family bar. The booklet said it was a chance to meet new friends or some bollocks like that. I had a bath in the block near our chalet. The bath was all gritty on your arse.
Everything in the bar was either sticky or greasy; the glasses, the tables, the carpets everything. Up one end there was a bit of a stage. On it was two blokes in velvet jackets. One had on a bass, the other was sat behind an electric organ.
They nodded to each other and started playing ‘There’s No Business Like Showbusiness’. The compere bloke bounced up and took hold of the microphone. His hair was grey as a badger round the ears and brown everywhere else. We were a few tables back but I could still see his dandruff.
He told a few old jokes. Then he come down with the mic and chatted to a few people. I was dreading him coming near us. He stopped at the next table and talked to the two girls sat there. When he walked off one of them said to the other about how his breath stunk. Then there was a game of ‘Take Your Pick’. People took it in turns to pick envelopes that didn’t have a tenner in.
Then it was the talent competition. It was all teenage girls doing their Shirley Bassey bit and blokes in their forties slaughtering ‘Spanish Eyes’ and ‘Green Green Grass Of Home’ and that. It was depressing the way they threw themselves into it, like something was going to come of it.
All through it, the backing blokes looked like they had something sharp up their arses. Every time someone sung an off note the bassist pulled a face like he’d bitten into a bit of silver paper on a Kit-Kat.
This milkman won it. He was skinny and nervous-looking. He done ‘I Remember You.’ I looked at Mum. She was humming along and clapping time and smiling and bobbing her head. I slid down in me seat and hoped nobody was looking.

We went in for breakfast. The dining room was the size of a warehouse. We got shown where to sit. You had to sit in the same place the whole time. We were on the end of a table beside an old couple. Every now and then the woman smiled sideways at Mum. Mum’d smile back then look back down at her cornflakes. It was like the old woman was trying to think of something to say. Then the rumour reached our table and she didn’t need to.
People said it was a boy. That it was two blokes. That it was a woman who’d gone swimming nude. In the end the old couple asked the waiter. He dished out the kippers off this rack thing and leaned over to tell us. He said how a bloke and his grown up son had been walking back to their chalet the night before and the son had decided to have a swim in the outdoor pool. Both of them were pissed. The son had all his clothes on. He was in trouble straight off. The dad couldn’t swim. All he could do was stand there watching. The boy drowned.
I didn’t feel like eating after that. I sat there trying to imagine it. People loved it though. Give them something to talk about. The old woman next to us was having a good gas with the family on the other side. I heard her say how she wasn’t being funny but at least it broke the ice a bit.
I mooched around on Saturday morning. Mum come round with me, trailing a couple of feet behind. She said she didn’t mind just watching. We went in the games room. Everything was being used apart from a couple of the dart boards. She wanted a go at playing darts. Two turns in a row she missed with all three darts. I stood there itching and feeling hot. There was blokes with their sons all looking and grinning. She smiled and shrugged and bent down and picked up the darts.
There was free films in the afternoon so she went to one of them. I went on the chairoplane. Other people screamed, but I couldn’t feel anything. I went out the camp and sat on the beach till teatime come. The sea was so far out it was like a line between the sand and the sky. The beach was mud. There was a smell coming off it like chicken gone off.
Teatime, the old couple tried to talk to us again. They said I looked eighteen. Said I had really long fingers like I played the piano. They didn’t mean any of it. They just couldn’t think of anything to say to us. There was a proper family the other side. Bit by bit they started talking to them more.
Saturday night Mum went dancing in the ballroom. Before she went she give me some two pences to play the machines. I went down the arcade and played pinball. A kid my age come and stood by the machine, watching. I looked at him a couple of times and he went away.
Sunday was more of the same till after tea. Then whatever happened, happened. We were walking back from the dining room so we could get packed. Seemed like there was hundreds of people come out of nowhere, coming towards us. Felt like I was going to get swallowed up, lost in all them people.
Jellybean taught us in Biology about how everybody’s eighty per cent water. I used to wonder why you didn’t dissolve when you got in the sea. That was what the feeling was like then, like I was going to get dissolved.
The faces were coming at me again. All smiling. Eyes dead like fish. There was sweat all down me back. Me legs were shaking and going bandy. Me head was hammering, felt like it was swelling up. Don’t know what it was.
I run for it, off the Boulevard and across the grass. I didn’t even look back. I heard Mum call after me. I kept running, all through the chalets, round the edge of the camp till I was buckled over. I lay face down on the grass getting me breath back.
After a bit I walked back to the chalet. Mum was in there packing. I never said anything to her about it. And she never said anything to me.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Chapter 4

DANNY
For a long time I wouldn’t even think about it. But I’ve thought about it since I’ve been here; thought about it until there isn’t anything more to think. It wasn’t my fault I don’t reckon.
It was the school holidays, Easter 1976. We were living in Yeovil. Mum and Dad were at work and I was looking after Kathy. I’d just done us both scrambled eggs and bacon for lunch. She was sat on the kitchen floor looking at a book, flapping the pages backwards and forwards. I was dossing about drinking tea and reading the Mirror.
I’d run out of cigs and I was gasping. Kath was good for seven. I’d smoked in the house before when it was just me and her there and you could trust her not to grass you up. Not even by accident.
So I got her to put her shoes on and we headed up the shop for twenty Craven A. We got to the cross-roads and went over to the shop. I got the fags, and a Twix to split with Kath. We came out and were stood at the kerb waiting to cross. Then it all started happening. The traffic wasn’t even that bad. It must’ve been quick but when I remember it, it goes on forever. I heard the bell on the shop door go. Ray called out that he’d short-changed me so I started walking back towards the shop. I was pulling Kath with me. I still had hold of her hand; I know that for a fact.
Then this noise burst behind me like a house falling down. I looked round and there’s this lorry. I still had hold of Kath’s hand. The back end of the lorry flipped round by about three foot.
I tried to pull Kath out the way but I was too slow.
It looked like it barely clipped her. Threw her yards though. I had her hand held tight in me fist, but when she got hit her hand just slipped away, dry and smooth like there was talc on it or something.
She went up and forward. I started running, fast as I could, like I was going to catch her and she’d be alright. But when she hit the ground I knew that was it. She was bent up all wrong. The driver never stopped. They never caught the cunt.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Chapter 3

KEVIN
It came as quite a shock to the system, it really did. I didn’t see it coming. They made me not expect it. And it wasn’t just me. Phil said later that nobody would’ve thought it of my mum and dad because they were so steady and careful. We were the sort of family that just plods along quite nicely.
Mum and Dad had always been the quiet kind so I didn’t notice any atmospheres or anything like that to begin with. I say quiet, of course they talked to each other but mostly it was day to day things. It used to be nice, sitting in the kitchen listening to the same conversations coming round again. Comfortable. Like the way the front gate always squeaked, or the way Dad always wound his watch after tea.
You never used to hear a raised voice in our house. Even with me when I was little, I never needed a ticking off. Then when I was in the fourth year they started going out separately. They’d never gone out much before and when they did it was always together; parents’ evenings, the Christmas social with Dad’s work.
Dad was first. I don’t know for certain where he used to go, but he was out a lot, and he always took the car. Then Mum started going out to loads of church things. Just to get even, Dad said later.
Then the arguments started. Once Mum smashed all the plates in the house; just stood there smashing them on the floor, one after the other. Afterwards they sent me out for fish and chips.
Around then was the only time I ever heard Dad swear. They were arguing because Dad had come home late and left the cheese out of the fridge all night. Terrible the things he shouted at Mum. I went to my room and put a pillow over my head.
At the start of that really scorching summer things seemed to be getting better because they started going out together once a week. I thought they must be off somewhere nice because they always went out done up quite smart. It turned out later they were going down the Marriage Guidance.
One day towards the end of summer term I came home and found Mum in the lounge, having a bit of a cry. She told me Dad had left. Gone to Bristol with the Saturday girl, Elaine. Just like that. It knocked me for six to be honest. Out of the blue like that.
Nothing was the same after. One minute we didn’t know anybody who’d have that sort of thing happen, then suddenly we were those sort of people. Mum got herself a little job at the sorting office. She could’ve done better for herself really. A shop job or something.
All the way along nobody sat me down and explained anything. All the time things were going wrong I wanted there to be something I could do to fix things. I’ve tried not to dwell on it all. Doesn’t bear thinking about.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Chapter 2

CHRISTY
I couldn’t believe it. Couldn’t take it in. It knocked everything out of me. Scared me rigid. Couldn’t speak to save me life. I put the papers back in the box, shut the lid and sat on top of it like I was trying to stop it from ever opening again.
I ran to the bog. Felt like I’d swallowed something rotten. I leaned over the toilet breathing in Harpic and heaving, but I couldn’t make it get out of me.
I took the spare Yale off the hook and slipped out the house. Walked up through Fortuneswell, scraping the yellow key up the side of every parked car I went past. Started pissing with rain; sheets of it. Me eyes stung but I kept walking, out to the end of the island. Think I had to get to where it happened.
All while I was walking there was this weight inside me like something black and wet and dead.
I got to the Bill and climbed down onto the big ledge behind Pulpit Rock. I sat with me legs hanging down over the edge. I looked down at the sea and the rocks and the waves, me clothes getting soaked with the spray and the rain. Then me guts come up all hot and sour in a big blurt. I sat there on me own with me jeans covered in sick. Two hundred yards behind me the Pulpit Inn was kicking out.
Don’t know when it happened. Can’t get it in time. It’s a mystery. Most things, you can work out when they happened because they’ve got some sort of
sense, because one thing leads to another. Not this.
That’s when I started going out wandering. After Mum and Clair had gone to bed I’d let meself out of the house. I’d drift round the island like I was looking for something. I’d walk past all the houses with their front rooms blue like fish-tanks from the light of the telly. But I always ended up at the Bill, back in the same place. I’d stand on the edge of the land looking out to the sea. And nobody knew I was there.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Chapter 1

WILLSON
Call me Willson. I’m just this bloke but I suppose I’m in charge. I’m the one who was always there. I’m the one who doesn’t act like nothing happened. Here I am, still, trying to write the unrightable wrong, to right the unwriteable wrong. Here I am, trying to move beyond the father-tongue and the mother-tongue, beyond the imagined voice that judges harshly, and the voice that can’t even try to explain.
In front of me is a box of index cards covered in names, numbers and tiny scratchy annotations. Behind me are shelves full of other people’s books. I’ve read first novels by the dozen. Even the ones that come close don’t come close enough. Half of them you could sum up in a sentence; I’m a very special person, allow me to explain. Some people write about the start they had as if aspects of that life aren’t good enough for them. But what if aspects of that life aren’t good enough for anyone? And what if you don’t just want to write about the brainy ones, the horny ones, the funny ones? What if you don’t want to translate everything into the language of escape?
Apparently I’m supposed to set the scene; create a sense of place. So; Portland then, is shaped like some obscure cut of offal. It’s tethered off the Dorset coast just next to the town of Weymouth, where the plague first entered Britain and where Charles III was immersed in the sea as a cure for madness. The islanders refer to the island as the island and the rest of the world as outside. But Portland’s only an almost island, a cross between a peninsula and a cul-de-sac, you get to the end and there’s nowhere to go but back. I’m looking at a map of Portland now. It’s on the wall next to a cartoon where a man’s saying ‘Remember, being an artist is largely a matter of total commitment to an activity which everyone else thinks is a complete waste of time.’
In that first edition of Milk, Milk, Lemonade, Ed wrote that until the Eighteenth Century there was no word in the English language for the concept of boredom. Then, he claimed, some explorers discovered Portland, and everyone agreed such a word was needed. The largest village on the island is Fortuneswell, a grid of narrow terraced boxes, so packed together that it’s impossible to escape the feeling of being overlooked. These boxes are built from the famous local limestone. This stone, the colour of dry dog-shit, is a source of great pride to the islanders. They boast of the fact that St Paul’s Cathedral and other fine buildings are made from it. They miss the point. It’s the architecture that counts, making the out of the ordinary out of the ordinary, the thing chosen out of the thing given.
This place was home to my boys; Danny Sharky the bookmaker’s son, chicken Kev, the sheep of the family. And Christy; precious son of my floundering imagination, floundering son of my precious imagination. This is the place I’ll recreate, in sufficient detail that if in a hundred years time it’s completely destroyed, people will understand why.
Creating a sense of time is another requirement. At the point in question it had been just after the War for over thirty years. Children in primary school playgrounds still sang about Hitler only having one ball.
Punk was happening. Contrary to myth it was nothing to do with having no future, and everything to do with leaning forward into the future, the time when good things would be possible, sometime soon, soonish, sooner or later, later, maybe. Nobody raises their own expectations; someone has to give you a clue. For some people punk was that clue. It was a chance to think about something different, is a chance for me to talk about something different. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. We made our own entertainment in those days. Etcetera.
When do I mean exactly? Say from 1976 to, perhaps, the end of 1978 when the whole Pistols thing had turned into a massive punch up between some accountants. Or later maybe. Hard to know where anything begins and ends.
People wax nostalgic about punk now. But I’ve been spared the temptations of nostalgia. What I haven’t been spared is the cause of nostalgia, the view of the flatlands ahead.
Anyway, that’s enough of that sort of stuff to be going on with. Here I am then, old enough to be my own parents, a know it all, know nothing narrator. I’m ready to dive in and make a beginning, so here I go, making stuff up and remembering things.