I feel my way forward, one hand outstretched the other trailing along a pulsating breeze block wall. A strobe light illuminates shadows through a fog of dry ice. I’ve got butterflies. I can’t hear anything. I feel sick. It’s so fucking exciting! Oh God, I wretch. Water, just get some water. I’ll be fine… A claxon penetrates the rush. “Open your mind” commands the sound system and a thousand of Thatcher’s finest entrepreneurs scream in manic unison.
“Come on ya cunts, HARDCORE FUNKIN UPROAR!”, shouts Preston Bob. Dave P just stands there, grinning though rectangular wire frames. And Klack, a cross between Bez and Joy Division’s Curtis, skeletal, routed to the cause, stares blankly ahead, jerking arms downward in what I guess was his personal bid to escape ‘the system’.
Washing Machines & Fridges
High On Hope
Candyfloss & Cocaine
Give Us Your Fucking Money
Harlesden and Sotheby’s
Starting Again, Again
I Was There
Each chapter concludes with a short ‘I Was There’ commentary from someone with a unique alternative perspective of the experiences described.
1. The War
Don’t worry, I’m not going to go all Pink Floyd on you but you cannot deny the myriad of modern cultural rituals that the legacy of World War II left in its wake. My parents would say the hooliganism of the 70’s and 80’s was down to a rot that had set in to the hardcore of Britain’s social fabric, immigration and a flawed eduction system; that Punk was down to drugs; that the movements of the 60’s and rock’n’roll before that were products of a lack of respect for faith based religion and moral values. I think the truth is closer to a basic human craving to belong, to be part of the Human Race. The Human Race, well World War II nearly screwed that one up didn’t it! It seems to be something we deny responsibility for and so can’t forgive ourselves for. In a perpetual state of paranoia we search of other things to ‘belong’ to and when we are accepted we rejoice in our newfound kinship, instantly seduced by the ritual behaviour of the group. We escape the truth, abandon inhibitions and plaster over our wounded soul. The more primitive the more profound the salvation.
Unlike my farther who scoured the banks of the Tyne looking for shrapnel in between huddling with his mum and neighbors during air raids, storytelling whilst secretly guessing whose home might be blown to bits, or my grandfather who spent four days trapped beneath a bombed low rise barracks in Egypt (pic of gramps with army chums), I observed the war from a council-green park bench, wedged innocently in between my parents, wearing an ice cream moustache. This along with the toy submarine that dived and didn’t come back up is one of my earliest memories. Scarborough 1975 I think. I’d have been three. Fair enough, the weekly recreation of modern maritime warfare with built to scale model battleships, jet fighters on hire wires over the lake and a somewhat feeble pyrotechnics display (even to a three year old) may have been closer to a vision of the Falklands than storming the beaches at Normandy. None the less I’m sure I recall swastikas woven in to the narrative of this ironic seaside entertainment, the national anthem and Dad wincing uncomfortably at the pop of each firework. I wonder if this experience sewed an early mistrust of all thing establishment in my enduringly impressionable mind.
I want to get something straight. Though I sometimes still romanticise about the idea I’m not claiming to have ever been some kind of radical activist, far from it. I was very normal, or at least I thought I was. Desperately normal in fact. So normal, boring, secure and safe that it made me go out and look for something more, much more. My 2.5 nuclear family, first of two, you can tell us anything background, synthesised with the glossy veneer of Top Of The Pops and John Peel on my Radio Shack transistor left me pre-programmed with a fascination of extreme’s. A popular condition of my generation no doubt. Thankfully, and to my parents credit, it was tempered with a fear of going too far and losing loved ones as a result. That fear didn’t manifest without me pushing a few boundaries though. The extra layer of cotton wool bestowed upon me by my folks gave me license to experiment perhaps a little more than the norm. Easily led I’d go on to cut a series of deals with my dark side, leading to my mother requesting I never come home again and contributing I’m sure to my farther’s loss of faith and nervous breakdown.
“Very normal”, for me, consisted of attempting to reconcile my distain for the mundane with a hand-me-down layman’s theology. Soon after the war and a spells with foster (?) families my dad, an only child, lost his own mother. He’d never really known his farther, a merchant seaman who had little to do with them. His first job as a GPO telegram boy, straddling a heavy wrought iron government issue bicycle to deliver inevitable confirmations of loss to Newcastle housewives, unsurprising led him to the only other place that had ever felt like a home. Though he now had an apprentice telephone engineers grounding [qualification??] in basic physics and communications technology [actual title??]), at nineteen, after a talk with Farther Joe Munitis of St. Josephs, he signed up to become a student of the Jesuit order [name?] and took up residence in a Monasterial dormitory. After five [?] years of prayers, porridge and philosophy Dad qualified, though was not ordained. His institutional routine changed and he became a teacher at a Jesuit private school. This was his first appointment in a varied career as an educator. Paradoxically he also joined the Territorial Army and spent his weekends on ‘maneuvers’ as an Officer in the East Lancashire Signals regiment! I have vivid memories from my early teens of after dinner discussion taking in physics, molecular structure, the war and God. For better or worse the it seems relationship between science and spirituality was quite literally embedded in my DNA. It’s a contradiction I’ve questioned almost every day for the last twenty four years. I’m thirty eight now. At fourteen, whilst led in bed staring into the vast chasm of human reasoning, red, yellow and green walls, another with Star Wars wall paper and a blue ceiling could not conceal the following esoteric liaison. My soul elevated as I nervously proposed my first and by far my most profound deal:
“Dear God, thank you for giving me the warmth and comfort of a secure family background. I am conscious that whilst I am privileged there is great suffering the world. I do not think I have the strength to cope with real hardship or extreme physical pain. I would however like to trade a measure of my well being with those worse off than me, that they may benefit and I might share in return greater challenges than those which I have faced in my life so far. I would ask that the degree to which this karma be displaced fall within the limits of my tolerance but maximise my potential contribution to the world… Oh, Amen!”
There have been many occasions since when I’ve been thoroughly sick at myself for being such a naive, spoilt, ungrateful idiot and wondered if my pathetic plea was taken advantage of to teach me a lesson. And if it was, was this not a crossroads encounter with evil rather then good, little old me offering up my soul to the devil in return for a slice of the action?
One year later I would get more than I bargained for. An all too physical encounter that would project me to font page news and irrevocably affect the rest of my youth. More years, several more questionable deals and far too many drugs and a after that, clinically insane according to government sponsored medical research, I recalled my foolish pact… that in my avariciousness it may have been agreed with the wrong party and perhaps as a defense that I might employ when he next dealt his playful hand with a poker face, I stared in to a mirror and spontaneously receipted the following mantra.
The shade in my reflection
Shows contours of my face
When studied they inform me of position within race
Bend light and time and space
That I may see the the devil in the contours of my face