Genesis To Revolutions

"Its a bit of a weird one today". Simon's nasal South African tones cut through the buzz of the A40 morning traffic as the ugly green Sherpa campervan trolled its rattling cargo westwards past the Hoover factory and prepared to swing north, at the Polish war memorial, and on into Northolt. "This guy's died and his kiddy has left the place in a bit of a mess." This, the casual half-explanation, was all the preparation offered for the grotesque days work that awaited in Killowen Road. It was a day just like any other working day: grey, overcast, and far too early for comfort. The gallant Poles were passed at a brisk pace, and to Simon's obvious relief I turned down his invitation to skip the job: "as its a bit of a special case, and I only agreed to do it as a favour."
I had this part-time job, you see, clearing out re-lets for a West London housing trust, supplementing the modest income from my music by scrubbing floors, scraping ghee off encrusted cookers, hoovering up after the underprivileged and, in general, performing the kind of grim domestic tasks I've since spent years avoiding in my own home. Kitchens, bidets, hideous chocolate-coloured bathroom suites to which the water-scale clung immovably, under-stair cupboards full of used nappies - you name it, we cleaned it.
Or, to be precise, I cleaned it. Simon, as senior partner and jack-of-all-things-handy, usually had plenty of tasks beyond my scope to attend to, and would drop me off with a pile of buckets, sponges and hoovers, and picking me up after the dreary work was done. Today, as usual, the Sherpa was laden with all the tools of our regrettable trade; stepladders, gallons of bleach, NOVABLOO (the Devil's own toilet cleaner), and of course Brian, the bastard big-brother of happy-faced Henry, the vacuum cleaner. Brian was an ineffectual steam-cleaning machine, whose job was to spray hot soapy water onto grimy carpets, and suck it up again with no visible result. Brian made a lot of noise and impressed the housing trust inspectors, whose paths we occasionally crossed, but otherwise did nothing other than perform a creditable impersonation of that stupid little robot from Starwars crossed with Snorky the Banana-split. Today, Brian was to meet his Nemesis.
"We think that's his hair." Yvonne pointed at the greasy clump of auburn minge stuck solidly to the maggot-strewn carpet beside the armchair in which the corpse had been found. They'd been waiting outside number 80 when we arrived, faces wrinkled with distaste and spotless boilersuits pulled on over their office clothes.
"Well, its certainly not anything else," I observed, picking up the disgusting object with a display of revulsion and thrusting it deep into the refuse sack. "Is there anymore of him around anywhere?" Through the pink rubber gloves, the detatched hairstyle seemed to cling ecstatically to my fingers. I shuddered, and all the matted clumps I'd ripped from all the plugholes of west London and Middlesex passed before me in demon form. Nose clenched firmly behind the surgical mask, I turned to survey the job in hand.
What had happened was that the former owner of the hair, a single father living alone with his two year old son, had passed away without warning in his armchair while listening to a Santana record. Neighbours only discovered his demise a week later, when the child finally made himself heard, and they broke into the house to find him - by which time the electricity had run out, most of the water in the downstairs toilet had been drunk, and the edible contents of the kitchen scattered about the ground floor, much of it around the sepulchral armchair, where the baffled child had been trying to induce his recumbent father to eat. Happily, by the time we arrived, the body had been moved - minus the hair and a deal of its liquid content which had soaked through the chair and discoloured the carpet - and the house had been fumigated, to the detriment of the thousands of maggots, whose fat white cadavers littered the ground floor.
"The mother wants to come and see the house," explained Yvonne, "The child is in care. If you could just clear away some of the more disturbing elements....."
"And get rid of the smell!" Paula chipped in "we don't want to upset her." The 'more disturbing elements' included the maggots, the child's excrement, and the pathetic attempts he had made to emulate his father's domestic routine. In the ground floor front bedroom he had set up his kitchen on a low bunk, where a number of bowls and saucepans contained various unappetizing mixtures concocted from the contents of the refrigerator and the bathroom cabinet. Some of the more eclectic compounds, even the maggots had ignored.
Simon went off to charge the electricity key. Yvonne and Paula left without ceremony, abandoning me to the eerie silence of the house, and the distant chatter of the oblivious suburbs. Later, when Simon returned and charged the meter, the whole house came to life in a spontaneous moment of recreation; a macabre return to the point in time when the house had switched itself off, just like the father, and plunged the child into deeper darkness. The lights came on, the fridge hummed and a crackling rose from the speakers as Santana resumed their silent spinning on the turntable. I went to work on the carpet with Henry and Brian; the former losing some of his smug expression on ingesting the maggots, while Brian struggled with the rancid, matted pile until his heaving belly was filled with a ghastly chicken soup, the smell of which lingered for weeks.
I don't know why I chose to write about this. Funny, the things we decide make a story worth telling. Its not the thought of mortality that makes it stick in m mind. That, at the time, did no more than to ruin my appetite for a few days. Its the thought of the child's madness that disturbs me. Although I never heard anything more about him, I often tried, as I toiled in the musty solitude of some pebble-dashed nightmare, to picture his confusion, alone in the darkness with the dead man, until eventually, by streamlining my lifestyle down to some bare essentials, I was able to quit the job and leave behind those strange, lonely suburbs.

llI. Guns Of Castle Cary

Out walking one Christmas, during a return visit to the family seat, I took a turn down a small farm track, somewhere on the high ground to the north and west of the village. It was, I remember, a clear crisp day, and I'd just walked up over Lodge Hill and out along the A371 towards Hadspen House, intending to take some photographs for a projected record sleeve design. In no hurry to return home, and eager to take a more circuitous route, I skirted a ploughed field and came out on the Bruton road, half a mile or so from the crossroads and Wyatt's farm. This particular track, often seen from the school bus, presented itself as another trivial mystery from my childhood which, eager to solve, I determined to follow to its source and see where it led me. After about two hundred yards, I was pulled up short by the discovery of a number of damp cigarette packets and used condoms, scattered along the side of the lane parallel to the tyre marks, whose presence I had hitherto attributed to agricultural activity.

Stooping, I examined the detritus in some consternation. Since when had Castle Cary had a lover's lane? How come no one had told me about it - why wasn't I informed? What other mysteries had the townsfolk concealed from me? Had I, who thought I knew everything, who had thought that my visits to London Town had made me a man of the world, been excluded, by this same precocious singularity, from initiation into the most primal and basic rites of village life. What else, I wondered, had they been up to while I had been immersed in urban poets, and scrawling their angst on toilet walls? Did they dance naked by moonlight under the Old Oak? Did they burn strangers in wicker cages on All Hallow's Eve? Did they have cloven feet? What rich tapestry of life had they been weaving behind my stupid back, while I thought I knew better than them. A sense of loss settled over me. To have missed this rite of passage which everyone - Lord knows, possibly even my own siblings - had no doubt been a party to, made of me something monkish, something foolish, for while I strutted and postured in my silly clothes, imagining myself, an object of notoriety, the whole town had been up here, in their rattling Capris, shagging each other senseless, and not once - and this was what really hit home - not once, as they discarded the used prophylactic and lit up another fag, not once would they have even thought about me.

This momentarily damaged my self-esteem. The thought of what a fool I had made of myself in the face of the town's indifference was a bitter pill, and it was only with an effort that I shook off those memories of my former self and remembered that it didn't matter, as I had long gone from Castle Cary, and no longer had any reason to care what it thought about me. Let them rut and breed, I thought with malice, let them multiply, but for Heaven's sake don't let them go forth!
I returned my attention to the overwhelming evidence at my feet. Closer inspection revealed that some of the cigarette packets were of considerable age, and the condoms had evidently not just been used to put over exhaust pipes to produce a comical 'bang!' Clearly this was a trysting place of some repute.

Castle Cary, revealed to me that morning as a hotbed of passion and iniquity, I had previously known only as a small market town off the A303, in that part of east Somerset known to myth as Camelot - a legend still prevalent in the Iron Age hill fort of Cadbury, the distant silhouette of Glastonbury Tor, and the cloth patches embellishing the sleeves of the local scouting uniforms, but of no interest whatsoever to the indigenous population. Castle Cary may be familiar to those hardy enough to attempt the pilgrimage to Glastonbury by rail, as its station is the nearest one to the site of the Pilton Pop Festival, an event regarded locally with considerable contempt and suspicion, and so named because of its proximity to the village of Pilton, as opposed to Glastonbury itself, which is six miles away.

Glastonbury Tor is one of four towers that surround the village at discreet distances, and give their names to the four houses of Ansford school: Cranmore, Butleigh, Stourton - a large brick folly of imposing mass - and Tor itself. Some say that there is a single point on Lodge Hill from which one can see all four towers at the same time, but if this unlikely fact is true, then I have never found it. The Tor, being visible from my parent's upstairs windows, has long since ceased to excite any interest in me, while the others, save Stourton, which has a certain baleful grandeur, set as it is alone in a clearing in Stourton woods, are of even less note.

Lodge Hill, more a ridge than a hill proper, sits along the skyline behind the town and looks out across the rolling fields in the general direction of the Bristol Channel. In my earliest days it would be covered with a five-foot mane of bracken, which provided a playground of rich potential and was home to a handful of pink sows. Five hundred feet above sea-level, the hilltop offers a superb view of the town, and the surrounding world, spoiled only by the encroachment of new housing estates, and the blight that is the neighbouring hamlet of Ansford.

Every tribe has its own scapegoat, to condescend to and heap coals upon the head of. The Germans hate the Dutch, the Dutch look down upon the Belgians, who in turn have their own domestic lower castes. The English make groundless jokes about the Irish, and everyone is terribly polite about the French without really meaning it. These uncharitable attitudes, founded in immutable facts of human nature, form concentric circles of spite that pit country against country, city against city, town against town and so on down, until the fields that used to form a green belt between our two villages take on a new significance; a buffer zone between warring races, now peopled by the retired gentlefolk in their new bungalows whom nobody wants to know. Castle Cary, looked down upon in its turn by the natives of Wincanton and Frome, saw Ansford as its dark side, its shadow, and its Mr Hyde.

Ansford, formerly, was a separate entity, boasting a church, a school, and little else beyond a few streets of ivy-crusted houses with large gardens and inhabitants older than God. Ansford was the first victim of the unstoppable tide of new yellow houses, that trebled its size at a stroke, and caused it to encroach upon the hallowed precincts of Cary itself, but the chief source of its unsavoury reputation has its root in the red brick postwar terraces known as Monkey Town. Polite people, and there are some, say that Monkey Town gets its name from the prominent monkey-puzzle tree that looms large behind it, and the fact that its inhabitants are, on the whole, burly, surly and swift to anger, has nothing to do with the case. Every community, besides a scapegoat, has its car-orientated citizen, of whom it is said "He does motors", and whose front garden is invariably filled with old gear boxes and vehicles in states of disrepair. In Monkey Town, so many people 'do motors' that the streets have taken on the appearance of a war zone, littered with abandoned and derelict cars, and making of the place a little Gorbals, which the folk of Ansford are pleased to look down upon in their turn.

In the mid-seventies, Castle Cary was put on the commuter map by British Railways, who, dispensing with its old Great Western charm, renovated the station and initiated stopping trains to London. Castle Cary became a park-and-ride facility, and grew in size, until all our old playgrounds disappeared beneath housing estates, the inhabitants of which left their mark on the town with a sudden proliferation of antique and craft shops, and even a cafe devoted to the consumption of health foods. Doubtless these newcomers delight in the rural tranquillity of their new homes, oblivious to the games that were played, and the battles fought in the long grass, with sticks and stones, before Chas E. Clothier and sons concreted it over. Down Dens was the first to go, and was ploughed with salt, elm trees, elders, cowshit, the lot, and became instead of a muddy track and a tunnel of green, the black tarmac stripe of Victoria Gardens. The Gully, once a small overgrown stream in a dip dividing two fields that presented a haunted challenge to those determined to follow its course, now comes briefly out of its culvert for a few dozen yards near Ansford church, before slipping back into its pipe and vanishing underground again.

Alone of our childhood haunts, only St John's Priory remains, an oasis of green in the new model village, although the nuns have now moved on. Standing serenely within its uncharted tract of gardens, orchards, and wild overgrown perimeter, the nunnery was home to an order of Benedictines, many of oriental extraction, and many disabled, nursed by their sisters, who confused and mystified us on the rare occasions our paths crossed. These gentle, beautiful creatures, so seldom seen outside the priory grounds, became terrible when stumbled upon during an illicit game of hide and seek in the out-of-bounds gardens. Emerging from the prickly undergrowth, to discover a shrouded figure basking in the sunshine, or enjoying a halting stroll between the holly bushes, we would be overcome by naked fear, the holy sister transformed, by our guilt and trespass, into a weird bat-like creature, that owed a strange bloody allegiance to crosses and crowns of thorns - things that although we were told in school were good, smacked too much of Hammer Horror to be confronted alone in the woods.

Standing then, as I imagine myself now, on the brow of the hill, looking out across the levels, I can see from left to right, first the distant Mendip hills, and in the nearer foreground, the orange blot of Ansford school, the playing fields - isolated now within a belt of ugly new homes - and the thin strand of Ansford Road leading down to the top end of Cary's town centre. Immediately below me are the public buildings, the primary school, and the High Street, the old town hall, now a museum, the Britannia Inn and the Esso garage. Next to the doctor's surgery stands the fire station, and behind this, firstly Millbrook, where the old people go to die, and then Victoria Park, in whose grass-verged security I spent my first seventeen years. Dominating them all, at the foot of the hill, is All Saints church, atop whose graceful spire sits the dreadful flat weather-cock, with its supernatural powers and all-seeing malevolence.

So the town has changed, grown and risen to eminence, but one fact still remains. Castle Cary has no castle. Our childish delight in informing passing tourists of this oversight was only outweighed by the enthusiasm with which we would give them bogus directions to imaginary antiquities in the middle of nowhere. The castle was torn down by King Stephen in the twelfth century, when the local baron opted to support his dreadful cousin Maud. All that remains of interest are some earthworks, raised by the besieging army, and a couple of blocks of stone optimistically assumed to mark the corners of the keep. Like the legends of Arthur, this excites little local interest, and the town is far more proud of the stupid little stone lock-up, that stands in the middle of the old market place, and upon which I, as a punk rocker, longed to paint 'Smash H-Block.' Only fear of discovery stayed my hand.

Far from smashing anything, in fact, I continued to devote my energies, and my wages from the George Hotel, into collecting records. The singles reviews in NME, and the nightly two hours of John Peel provided me with a regular shopping list of punk singles to be sought out in Acorn records. The high spot, and focal point of my week, was my arrival at their counter, and subsequent plunge into the stock of obscure vinyl. The punk scene had elevated the seven inch record into a work of art. Sleeve and label designs inevitably attracted me more than the music, and my collection rapidly increased in size and value. Yeovil, being larger than Castle Cary, afforded the opportunity of going places, and meeting people, without the oppressive presence of the City Boot and its sprawling kin. Thugs there were in plenty, besides the Teds: casuals and soulboys, bikers, and a faceless entity calling itself The Yeovil Mafia (frequently misspelled), whose declared intention, scrawled on subway walls, was to 'kill all punks now.' I never met them, nor did I fear them, for in Yeovil, as in London, I was anonymous. I began to make new acquaintances. Young people, like myself, drawn in from their satellite villages, to show off their clothes and disport themselves in the megalopolis. Glover's Walk, and the bus station became our King's Road, wherein we would waste away the afternoon being outrageous, and, on a good day, have our names and addresses taken by a patient policeman, lacking even the wit to lie to him in the joy of our misdemeanours.

One of the people I was introduced to by Chris, the Acorn manager, was a striking peroxide creature named Mark, whose leather jacket and Clash badges excited my immediate sympathy. Mark, it transpired was the guitarist with a local band called The Mob, based in the nearby village of Stoke-sub-Hamden, and foremost in the hearts of the Yeovil punks. Chris, who had been apprised by me of my own ambitions in this field, and sympathised with my habit of giving him all my money, presented me to this angelic creature with some irony. "Here's another pop star", he told the Goweresque Mark. We fell to talking - mainly of the Clash - and by the time I boarded the Wakes' bus for home, I had not only his telephone number, but also a commitment to having The Sulzers support The Mob at some future convenience. This connection was a crucial one for me, as the only other musicians I knew, outside our band, were either unsympathetic to our chosen medium, or in no position to do anything nearly so astounding as getting us a gig. I left Yeovil that day with an even bigger bag of records than usual, and a sense that something was starting. I was not to be disappointed.

Meeting Matt that day was to have far-reaching and long term effects for me, but as well as providing a first stumbling step into the sphere of live music - the only thing I wanted more than a bigger record collection, and for which I had already set aside train driving - it was also responsible for landing me with a job - something I certainly didn't want! Having by now quit school, I was quite content to remain on the dole, supplementing this with my earnings from the hotel. Naturally this could not go on indefinitely, but after two months I still hadn't given it a second thought. Neither was I aware that it was a situation of some concern to my parents, who were by no means imbued with the punk ethic that enabled me, so blithely, to assume no responsibility for anything. Punks, I knew, went on the dole. I had Joe Strummer's word on the matter.

It had come to pass that The Sulzers were offered their first gig, supporting The Mob, at a pub in Yeovil's town centre. I forget the name of the venue now, but it was full of matelots from RNAS Yeovilton, and bemused Westland's apprentices, who gaped open mouthed at Will's demonstrative performances of songs like You're so clean and Out here where the birdies fly. Our epic cover of the Bay City Roller's hit Give a little love'- a choice inspired by The Drones' version of Be my baby, failed to register with their beer-clouded sense of humour, and if you couldn't exactly hear a pin drop, at the end of our set, then that was only because nobody had one with them. I think it would be fair to say that our talent had failed to impress itself on anyone, beyond the motley collection of Yeovil punks and adherents of The Mob, who were politely vociferous in their support.

Seeing The Mob play, by contrast, was a smack in the mouth for me. I'd never had an opportunity to see a band's back-line in close quarters, and the impressive array of black speaker cabs, meaty looking amplifier heads, and curly leads snaking everywhere both impressed me and left me with nagging feelings of inadequacy at the thought of our humble collection of gear. It looked like an awful lot of very expensive machinery to me, and the vast golden premier drumkit, which I borrowed for the night and patted meekly, in awe of its owner's mastery, looked like Skylab, come home to roost among the pint pots and varnished tables. Most of all, though, it was the bravely stencilled flight cases and drum boxes that enthralled me, and filled me with a sense of longing. Here was a real band, going places and doing things that I still only dreamed about. The respect on the faces of their followers burned me, and left me feeling embarrassed at what I felt to be my own parochial efforts.

The Mob had, by mid 1978, been around in various forms for a couple of years, changing from a Status Quo covers band called Magnum Force into a machine for churning out serious punk rock at about the same time that I was accepting my jubilee crown at the Ansford school disco, they came across to me as a tight, powerful unit, full of anger energy and self-assurance. To a large extent, this sense of power stemmed from their drummer, Graham, a thin, ferret-faced chap from Bradford, who I was bound to respect as a musician, always liked as a person, and ultimately would succeed as the band's drummer - although in another time, another place, and not before I'd learned to play. This I began to do by copying his style, but never quite achieving his authority. Graham had been drumming since the age of seven, and regularly played accompaniment to an organist in working men's clubs. With ten years experience over me, his technical skills outreached my wildest imagination, and depressed me further at the thought of the distance I still had to travel. He played in fairly basic patterns, and was devoted to his cymbals, eschewing the thunderous tom-tom approach then coming into fashion, and beloved by many. When Graham punched a crash cymbal, together with the bass drum, it didn't go 'clunk' or 'pisshh' like mine, but produced a short, dynamic explosion, that punctuated the music with a devastating accuracy, since first listening to which, I have always tried to reproduce by acquiring the best cymbals I can afford. My early years were blighted by cheap lumps of tin by Zyn or Krut (the name sounds like the cymbal), and it was three years or so before I first got my hands on an 18 inch Paiste crash/ride, a cast off, with a chunk cut out, but still the first real cymbal I ever owned. I am not a dedicated enough drummer to appreciate the relative merits of different makes of drum. Ludwig, Premier - all sound the same to me, but I am sensitive enough to the merits of a good cymbal to guess that when the trumpets blew, and the walls of Jericho fell, there was probably a great, and triumphant, clashing of Paiste 2002s.

Graham's fellows that night were the God-like Matt, Virgil, then known as 'Cretin', and later to become first my brother, and then my bass player, and a chap called Brian, who fell at the first hurdle, and for all I know may be lying there still, somewhere between his father's farm and the village pub. Legend has it that he sold the family tractor, while under the influence of glue, but as legend also once spread a much credited rumour that I was not only female, but also pregnant, it may be prudent to disregard this.

The Mob and their posse invited me, after the gig, to accompany them to a dreadful teenage party, taking place in a vicarage near Martock, an invitation I accepted readily, clambering starry-eyed into their ancient Bedford to travel further into the wild unknown. The party was an anti-climax. No one took any notice of me, and there wasn't enough drink going free with which to make a spectacle of myself, so I just hung around the sidelines, a pointless extra, wishing I had been cast in the role of 'man in denim, snogging blond girl on couch' or 'longhaired man with tattoos and loud drunken girlfriend', anything other than 'non-entity leaning against wall', which was the best I could achieve as the vicarage collapsed around me. I ended up spending a sleepless night in the van, outside Mark's house in Stoke-sub-Hamden, cold, tired and with neither the knowledge or consent of my parents, whose concern, on my return to Castle Cary the following day, finally drove my father to utter the reproachful words:
"When are you going to get a job?"

I have lived through a great many clichés; some are unavoidable, and some can be pre-empted by appropriate action and forethought. I should have realised that my career prospects, rather than my band, were my parent's chief concern, and only with the passage of time have I come to realise how long, and how patiently, they must have been waiting to approach the subject. For my misdemeanour I made recompense. The following day I made a number of phone calls, and to my dismay was offered a job in the last place on earth that I wanted to work. I bowed to the inevitable. The interview was a formality, the gaping jaws of the mill opened to receive me, and I found myself, suddenly, an employee of Strode Components Ltd., of North Street Castle Cary.