Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Chapter 8

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.

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