Genesis To Revolutions

"Nazi arschloch! Nazi arschloch!" Belatedly realising that the words were directed at me, I turned round to face my tormentors.
We were in Zwiesel, halfway up a mountain near the borders of Bavaria and Czechoslovakia, a one-goat town of wooden gables and lumber stacks, whose inhabitants pined for either the good old days of the Housepainter, or yearned to be anywhere but Zwiesel. Grinding up the mountain roads earlier, Angi, our engineer from Bremen, who possessed red dreadlocks and the North German's natural distrust of all things Bavarian, had groaned aloud in anticipation of the horrors in store. "They will burn me on a wooden cross!" she lamented, wringing her hands theatrically. As the snow got thicker, and the hindquarters of the wayside goats became bandier, we began to share her apprehension.
Zwiesel was in Fiesta mode. That's why we were there, on a plausible financial guarantee, as part of the celebrations. Our status as international rock ambassadors, though slight, was bolstered by the very fact that we were not from Zwiesel - indeed not even from over the next mountain - but rare, foreign and exotic. Entering the town after dark, Angi was comforted by the sight of revellers with naked pine torches carousing in the streets. Faggots of wood and inquisitions sprang to mind. We kept the doors locked.
After the soundcheck I made my way down through the town to find a phonebox, wrapped securely against the snow in a huge NATO parka, nothing but my para-boots visible at the bottom end, and traces of an extremely short haircut at the top. The phonebox was occupied by a woman who seemed to have the whole tragic history of continental Europe to relate in 10 pfennig pieces. I waited.
After some minutes, I became aware of a commotion behind me - "Nazi Arschloch! Nazi Arschloch!" a voice was repeating persistently, egged on by the drunken encouragement of lesser acolytes. It began to dawn on me that this abuse could be aimed at me. I turned to find three young punk rockers, well advanced in drink, and a couple of village girls of vaguely New-Wave tendency, preparing to be impressed by their menfolk. The boldest of the lads was addressing his harangue to me. I was, it seemed, expected to respond.
"Excuse me," I addressed the least drunken of the three. "Is there something wrong with your friend?" They gaped, and my accuser stepped forward to touch me.
"Uuuhhhh - English?" I nodded.
"So.. not Nazi?"
"No," I agreed, "Not Nazi."
"Aieeee! Blith pooer?"
"Blyth Power," I corrected them gently. The miscreants fell to their knees and begged my pardon. I looked, they said, just like a Nazi. Please, please could I forgive them.
I looked around at the village; the bench beside the phonebox and at all the familiar hallmarks of a small country town existence, just like the one I hadn't thought twice about leaving behind in Somerset, fifteen years before.
Perhaps, I mused, if I'd had the courage to shout "Arschloch!" at a few people then, it might have been for the good. Perhaps I might just have got my head kicked in - but would this chap be picking on me if I wasn't a dwarf and outnumbered five to one? Is he courageous and principled, or is he just a "divvy?"
Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I crossed myself piously and absolved the kneeling children of their sin.

lV. An English Hell To Pay

What happens when the light's go out? What fears used to torment us when, as children, terrified of the dark, we lay in the tenuous security of our beds, the sheets pulled up to our nose, and the pillow down over eyes, listening to the distant cackling of the cuckoo clock, chiming in the empty house below? I was scared of something. I didn't know what, but something without a name knew I was there and wished me to the Devil. It wasn't the black skeleton - that was just a name we'd invented to frighten each other, and I knew he wasn't really there, but what did he represent? I had no real fear of the weather-cock either. He too was just a name, applied to an unknown, made all the more terrible for concealing its identity. Some nights I would distract myself with other more tangible fears. What if I got appendicitis? What if it wasn't discovered until it was too late to save me? What would happen to me then?
I was frightened of a lot of things when I was a child. Frightened of the dark; frightened of heights; frightened by the noise of a train passing too close, or one of the jets from Yeovilton when it flew too low; frightened of dogs, frightened of cows, frightened of ghosts and graveyards, in fact its a wonder I survived my childhood at all I was so frightened.
When I was still in my cot, my elder siblings used to taunt me with a performance known as the Vendetta Lullaby, as a punishment for my constant whining and threatening to tell mum. Vendetta was an early sixties' crime serial, one episode of which ended with a man being shot, and sliding to the ground with a ghastly smile across his face. Predictably I was terrified. Mother would sometimes sing to me over the cot, to soothe my fears: 'Go to sleep my baby, close your pretty eyes,' but when she came to the line in which 'Angels up above you, are smiling at you sweetly from the skies,' Beverly and Colin would leer round her shoulders and perform this same Vendetta death-grin. My screams of terror only added fuel to their campaign, and resulted in a flood of cartoon drawings, depicting me as a long-faced set of bagpipes, mouth agape in a tartan body, shrieking in tuneless falsetto.
I cannot, to this day, rationalise or define all these fears, but if there is one emotional instant in my past which outweighs them all, and deserves recognition as the worst moment of my life, it must be that moment, on my first day at Strode's when the chargehand, finished with instructing me, left me to get on with the task which for all I knew then, was to be mine for the rest of my life.

Strode Components - now a victim of the recession, rot it's ugly soul - made little bits of shoes for the Clark's factory in the neighbouring town of Street. Myriad heel and sole shapes that had to be glued or stapled together, stacked into little boxes and pushed off along a conveyor belt. I found myself not quite as far down the production line as I was down the pecking order as most of my 'workmates' were ex-Ansford scholars, and quite apart from their links with my, by now, sworn enemies, resented the presence among them of a 'Sexey's snob.' I was, it became apparent, wantonly throwing away the opportunities that had been given me by the eleven plus, and should know better than to waste the education that anyone of them would, they sought to make me believe, have given an arm and a leg for. This rubbish was fed to me daily through the cold shoulders and taunts that I was obliged to put up with. If I was grateful for my educational opportunities, then it was for the determination they had given me to make up my own mind about the future. At the moment I felt under no obligations, and my only concern was with being a musician but as I had no definite scheme for improving my lot, I had no option but to shut up and get on with my job.
I was initially required to assemble cardboard components with a staple-gun. This was a category 'B' task, and was rewarded on a piece-work basis. Assembling the cardboard boxes into which the pieces had to be packed, a matter that occupied some five minutes in every two hours, was category 'C', and paid at a different rate. This meant that every time I ran out of boxes, I had to hunt out a chargehand and get my timesheet signed, both before and after, and in this way much time was wasted seeking the man out, and queuing up with all the other labourers involved in momentary changes of occupation. It is hardly surprising, in light of this, that my first pay packet contained a modest £17.40p. That the factory, run on such a ludicrous system, lasted into the mid-eighties is little short of miraculous.
After a couple of weeks I was transferred to a ghastly glue-spreading machine, and befriended by the fellow on the next bench, who kept me constantly entertained with improbable tales of his sexual conquests, and more believable ones about his beer consumption. This new-found warmth failed to reconcile me to my misfortune. The glue in the machine stank only slightly less than the chemicals I used to clean it, the bulk of the workforce remained either surly or indifferent to my presence, and the chargehand immediately above me was, in my considered opinion, a slimy git. I began to plan my escape, applying to other local factories, farms, hotels - anything in the hope of finding a way out.
I was made a trade union member. "You'll lose your job my lad if you fail to enroll." This was the summer before the Winter of Discontent, as history now remembers it with a pang of regret, and union activity was rife. The TGWU operated a closed shop at Strodes', and although politics and unions meant little to me, outside the lyrics of a punk song, I was more than happy at the prospect of a union meeting to break up the monotony of a day's work. An afternoon dozing in the sunshine listening to the elders droning on was a welcome change from the glue and chemicals. I didn't need to listen to what was being said - I'd have jumped at the opportunity to down tools and would have gone on strike to support a wage cut if that was the price of freedom.
Perhaps the deepest impression left on me at this time was the strange and unsympathetic attitude of the factory's middle management to my ambitions as a musician. An opportunity arose to play with The Mob at the Metro Club in Plymouth, which necessitated an afternoon off work to ride down in their van. Being engagingly innocent, not to mention dumb, I asked my chargehand for the time off. He conferred with his direct superior, and together they gave me a paternal lecture on my responsibilities as an employee, finally granting me leave with heavy hearts, and much sorrowful shaking of heads and admonishments. They hoped, they said, that this was not to become a frequent occurrence.
In my innocence, I was astounded. I certainly hoped it would become exactly that, but the real shock was the thought that I was in some way supposed to care about their stupid factory, that making bits of shoe was first and foremost my duty and vocation, and that my own plans were subordinate to this. Well, I thought, if that's the way it is, next time I'll just kill off a relative or catch some dreadful disease. Suddenly it all became clear. They were quite mad! They thought I was a shoemaker! They really couldn't see the insanity of the situation. To live only to work, rather than to work only to live! From that moment on, inside the bleary-eyed little automaton, feverishly struggling to keep abreast of the piece-work quotas, there crouched a frenzied screaming death-dwarf, only awaiting the opportunity to leap upon the amazed chargehand, rip open his belly and bathe its hands in his hot stinking entrails.
I never did this. Instead I applied successfully for a job at Unigate Foods Ltd. in Evercreech, which although far removed from perfection, by comparison with Strode's was heaven on earth. I handed in my notice to the slimy chargehand, who was deeply hurt. "You'll be sorry," he warned me. "We get a lot of men from Unigate come up here." As far as I was concerned, they were welcome to it. Not even the menial nature of my week's notice could smother my joy at impending departure. The petulant overseer had me sweeping out the toilets every morning, by no means a necessary task, but calculated to insult. I couldn't have cared less. Come Friday I was off, and he could stay behind and stuff his shoe factory, and all the cobblers in it.
When I left Strode's, I was worth £23 a week, £5 of which I was giving to my mother for housekeeping - she wouldn't take more. I smoked John Player's cigarettes, and considered myself worldly. More importantly, I had settled into my accidental role of drummer to the extent that I was no longer content with my tiny Hoshino kit. Having twice now played upon Graham's golden premiers, I firmly believed that I needed more drums in order to become proficient. Will had now left the band, we changed the name to Valley Forge and Alvin and I were in the saddle, jointly writing songs and organising bizarre gigs in local village halls, which we would hire, and endeavour to persuade people to come to. Invariably we lost money, but it was worth all the effort involved just to be playing live. Even these homespun affairs gave the illusion of progress. Someday, we believed, someone might actually pay us to do it. Our best, and most expensive effort was the Rock against Disco RSPCA benefit we staged at The Pilgrim's Rest in Lovington. I personally shelled out for the hire of the hall, and a vast sum was tapped off me to pay expenses for the other bands, including The Mob, who came over from Yeovil. The City Boot turned out in force, with murder in their hearts, but the be-leathered presence of our Grebo bouncers tied their hands, and they could only gape in impotent fury as The Mob played Jailhouse Rock in a style of which the King would not have approved.
I took another step into the quagmire of hire-purchase and bought my second drumkit from a shop in Yeovil. £250, spread over twelve monthly payments was the price of my further indenture to Somerset's company store. I was happy, on the one hand, to invest in my future with this expensive piece of infrastructure, but the downside was the commitment it spelled to staying on at Unigate and paying off the debt. Fortunately the new toy was big enough, and shiny enough, to keep me happy for the time being.
My new acquisition was a five piece kit by Maxwin, a subsidiary company of Pearl, long since banished to obscurity. It comprised bass, snare, two rack-mounted toms, a floor tom, two cymbals with stands, a hi-hat and a bass pedal, the drums finished in a shiny blue veneer. The bass drum had a 22 inch shell, and two feeble little legs, which I had, over the years, cause to bemoan. The rack-mounts I subsequently replaced with premier parts, as the Maxwin fittings were rubbish - as indeed were most of the stands and fittings, none of which stood up to even my feeble patterings. The cymbal stands were flimsy enough to bend with your teeth, and the hi-hat scarcely lasted beyond two rehearsals. The cymbals were by Zyn, and deplorable, but as my drumming was equally dreadful, it didn't make a lot of difference. I soon learned to stuff a pillow into the bass drum, to dampen it's hideous booming, and since then it has performed faultlessly, surviving thousands of hours unsubtle pounding, and several styles of upholstery. The tom-toms sounded fine, as did the snare, but the cheap hardware and stands simply did not work, and the kit slipped and slid, bounced and slumped and would become quite unplayable. Drumkits are too often treated like scrote Cortinas - cluttered up with all manner of expensive embellishments, to the neglect of the engine and gearbox. A furry set of dice, may look lovely, but will not compensate for the problems caused by bald tyres.
Neither will furry dice teach you to drive. I bought my new drums, and proceeded to play them as badly as I had the old ones, with an enthusiasm and panache that far outweighed my modest talents. I was never taught to play, and my powers of observation were too limited to pick up more than the occasional hint from watching Graham. I assumed, initially, that it was down to me to play each different song in a different style, on different parts of the kit. Thus one song, Civil war, would be hammered furiously on the edge of a ride cymbal, in a vain attempt to sound like Rat Scabies, while another would be pounded out on tom-toms in a frantic impersonation of the introduction to Pretty Vacant. Gradually I calmed down, but it took several years, and several bands before it finally dawned on me that it is the drummer's sad monotonous lot to play the same patterns, and repeat the same actions, for the whole of his or her neglected life. That was when I took up singing. Singing is a pleasure. Drumming has become a necessity born of a reluctance to let anyone else do it for me, a mistrust that condemns me, like Chief Ironside, to deliver my lines sitting down. A treadmill, I may complain, but a better one than I found myself on at Strode's, and a sweeter smelling one than that which awaited my arrival at Unigate in the first week of September, 1978.
By the time that autumn turned into the Winter of Discontent, I was well ensconced at my new workplace, and set in a daily pattern which became tolerable, partly through familiarity, and partly through the good company in which I found myself, although doubtless I would have embraced Hitler as a friend, after Strodes', if he'd happened to be working in Men's Pre-pack. Each morning I would wait patiently on Station Road for the works bus to come rumbling in to view. My fellow workers, shivering in line at the bus stop, were all of my parent's generation, and beyond the pettiness of my contemporaries, being on the whole good-natured and content with their lot. Wrapped in Macintoshes and armed with the Daily Mirror and the football scores, they would hiss and grumble without malice, expelling plumes of steamy vapour to mingle with the blue smoke from their woodbines. 07.30 on an icy morning was neither the time or the place to light up the first fag of the day. I normally waited until I had taken my place on the bus, next to my mate, old Bill Vining, before setting fire to one of the bone-dry roll-ups that I had now taken to making on a machine the night before. Coughing and choking, weak and nauseous, I would let it go out and relight it time and time again to Bill's amusement. "Yerrr me boy - you don't know how to smoke yet," he would sigh. "You'm too young." He would cackle as a fresh spasm of coughing racked my young body, and I would endeavour to compose myself and glare through the misted windows at the bare elm trees, inwardly agreeing with him, sick to my bones.
Bill knew my father from their days as volunteer ambulance men. He wore a Red Cross patch on his white overalls, as a qualified first-aid hand, and worked on the machine next to mine. We enjoyed an amiable comradeship for the nine months I worked at Unigate. He reminded me of a badger, only taller, and had a ready supply of indecent responses to my complaints of ill-fortune. "Oh it's so hard Bill"' I would opine, heaving another block of cheddar off the pallet.
"No me son, 'tis only half hard at the moment."
Bill on the subject of the masculine organ: "Now lad, you only need two inches. Two in, two out, and two going in and out." I never quite understood this particular riposte, but it seemed to amuse him no end, and I have inexplicably failed to forget it.
Prior to Unigate, Bill had worked on a sewage farm - "'Tis a step down here for old Bill, me son, that 'tis" - and was prone to professional reminiscences. One fine day, he recounted, the heir to the throne came on a tour of inspection. "We was all given little fishing nets," Bill recalled, "and we had to fish out all they Johnny-bags from the tanks, so's his Highness wasn't offended." I was enchanted by this tale, and by a vision of Bill with a little pink net on a cane, scouring the vats of turd, lest the princely eyes light on something uncouth. "And all they jamrags too, me son," he went on " he weren't to see them neither." The Prince's unorthodox ambitions in the field of feminine hygiene were not yet a matter of public knowledge. Bill was even-tempered to the point of serenity, and I, like Charles Windsor, found my working day a better place for his having been there.
Unigate Foods Ltd. took up most of Evercreech - another village familiar to those Glastonbury pilgrims, whom the town's shopkeepers were wont to fleece at festival time. Revellers straying from the site in search of sustenance would find prices inflated to Weimar proportions for the duration, unless you could prove you were not one of 'them hippies.' The factory is a huge sprawling complex of brick and glass, employing a couple of thousand local souls, in two main sections: the cottage cheese department, where foul slimy concoctions of offal and rinds are blended with rotten, putrid vegetable matter and shipped out as delicious low-fat consumer delicacies, and the pre-pack, where various cheddars arrive by the lorry load and are processed, packed and dispatched to supermarket chains. I never had the misfortune to work among those grim-faced men in green wellingtons, who toiled in the noisome vats, neither did I fraternise. I was in pre-pack, and both branches kept close ranks, rarely giving each other the time of day: "Who? Oh - He's in cottage cheese....."
So the activities of the cottage cheese department must remain shrouded in mystery. What little I learned of their dark endeavour was enough to put me off for life, but the ways of the pre-pack folk were my own for nigh on a year, and I learned them well enough for me to assume the identity now of a forty pound block of Irish cheddar, and tell of the journey from my initial arrival in an articulated lorry at the main cold store, to my final dispatch from the loading bay by the men's cloakroom, in which unhallowed closet a group of cheesemen daily meet to consume their sandwiches.
These men are all crucial to our odyssey of cheese. Cecil Tucker; fiftyish, stout, and ruddy-cheeked, is a forklift driver in the big coldstore, and known among his friends as a wit. Cecil motorbikes in daily from Shepton Mallet, and will probably die one day at the controls of his forklift. Ernie Higgins - retirement beckons for Ernie - is a cadaverous, mouse-faced, wrinkled little man, who sports those immense ears so common among men of his generation, and so respected by the Germans. Do our ears grow in our sixties? Or do our heads shrink? Ernie has teeth, although not so's you'd notice, and if you could understand his broad west country accent, you'd realise that he was quite happy in his senior years, and that the security and companionship of the cheese factory was all he'd ever wanted. Ernie likes to listen to the toilet-orientated banter of the locker room, and one day, when Keith Pankhurst, the afro-permed lorry driver, brings in an Ivor Biggun cassette, Ernie nearly chokes on a mint imperial, so heartily is he amused. Ernie doesn't drive the fastest milk cart in the west. He loads cheese into a machine called Alpma 1.
Besides a perm, Keith Pankhurst sports a moustache, and grey overalls, which set him above the grubby white of his colleagues. Keith is cock of the walk and king of the road, besides having the biggest mouth. The highspot of 1978 for this wag is the Jeremy Thorpe scandal, on the crest of which he rides with a daily crop of vulgar jokes pertaining to that man's downfall. By the cheese-capped standards of the pre-pack men, Keith is a globetrotter, and daily hauls his load to Scrubb's lane, in the wicked city of London.
Brian Morris, early twenties, raven-haired and handsome, is another forklift driver, but his parish is the front loading dock. As we near completion of our fragrant journey, it is Brian who will ultimately load us into Keith Pankhurst's lorry. Brian is from Bruton, which we mustn't hold against him, and in his youth probably threw stones at the windows of Sexey's school, the educational establishment that did so much to shape the character of the youngest member of the company. But Brian is a lovely boy, and bears his fellow no ill will.
This youngster, then, is Gary Hatcher. He's a punk rocker that one. He's sprayed his workboots pink, and wears brown American army spats to shield them from the cheese. In his locker he keeps a dinner jacket, with tails, which he wears over his boilersuit as he carefully eats his jam sandwiches with a pair of surgical artery forceps. Ernie finds this toothlessly amusing, but no one can be certain if the garrulous Charlie Frampton finds it funny. Charlie, the last of our fellowship, doesn't talk too much. A dour, choleric man, much advanced in years, Charlie's only concern is not to be outdone on the block quotas by his fellow workers, everyone of whom he mistrusts as a bitter rival. When he does speak, it is in a dialect so broad as to be unintelligible even to Ernie.
These men, then, Cecil Tucker, Ernie Higgins, Keith Pankhurst, Brian Morris, Gary Hatcher and the brooding Charles, comprise the male half of a production line along which we can now, in our cloak of cheese, wend our way. Safe hands, these, each schooled by repetition in their appointed task, and we need fear neither accident nor misadventure as we traverse the factory from one end to the other. Come with me now.....

Somewhere out the back of the factory, an articulated lorry has deposited me, and many others like me, at the Goods In dock. I am a forty pound block of tasty mature Irish cheddar, but at the moment you can't see me as I am tightly packed in several layers of protective wrapping, in consequence of which I am unable to tell much about my journey to the main cold store, and can only guess as to how I come to be deposited in the enchanted realm of the men's pre-pack department. Finally unmasked, I watch as my fellows are, one by one, stripped of their shells and piled up alongside me by a thickset man with a red face, and safety spectacles. I have been, it becomes clear, enclosed first in a cardboard box, and then packed tightly around with wooden slats, and it is these that the thickset man is stacking, having first cut through the metal straps that hold them with a pair of rubber handled tinsnips. We are 'on block', the conversation around me reveals, traditionally the part of the factory where newcomers are initiated into the ways of cheese. Many a callow beardless youth has started his time here, under the watchful eyes of the ruddy faced man, addressed by his colleagues as Charlie. I watch the tinsnips, mesmerised by their rapid action, but it is not so easy as it seems. One youngster, who obviously hasn't mastered the tool yet, is chafed by his fellows. "Come on me son, slip 'er under - do ye 'ave as much trouble slippin' yer little cock into yer missus?" The youth blushes hotly, struggling to slide the blades under the wire band. "I bet 'e'll fuck 'is missus with a shoehorn when 'er comes to wed," the uncouth voice continues. The boy, thoroughly abashed now, lets the heavy block, still bound in its slats, roll off the pallet and land corner first on his little foot. He hurls a virgin oath, to the great amusement of the older men. "Garn! I thought 'e didn't know 'ow to cuss."
This interesting little tableau disappears from view, as I, along with forty or so others, am trundled off on a rol-a-truc to a room behind a plastic curtain. As I am now wrapped only in transparent plastic, I am able to watch with interest the activity that now surrounds me.
I am a cheese, trapped in a literary device that is now careering out of control. I have been stripped almost naked, and rolled into a terrible room, air-conditioned and clinical, in which everything is made of stainless steel. White robotic figures bend and scrape at their labours. I am dropped, along with my pallet-mates, next to a short youth who is working at a silver table, peeling the plastic film from my fellow cheeses, and scraping them all over with deft movements of an iron tool, to remove the crust of salt that accumulated at the dairy. This child wears spats over his pink workboots, and a white plastic hard-hat. On the back of his slightly rancid white boilersuit is the legend HATCHER 036 calligraphed in black roman letters, his hair, underneath the white helmet, is cropped short, and he has the biggest chin that I have ever seen. At an adjacent table an old codger, so mousey looking that I half expect him to start nibbling at me, cackles toothlessly over his work as he duplicates the youths movements, although more haltingly, and without the fluid grace of the younger man.
HATCHER 036 - I discern this to denote his identity - heaves me off the pallet. "Oh its hard Bill!" he opines. An indecipherable reply comes from another figure in white, but I am already moving onto the next stage of my journey. HATCHER 036 has carried me to a machine marked Alpma 3 and dropped me onto a platform, screwing a hatch shut behind me. I am delivered into the hands of the blue-clad wenches and left to my fate by HATCHER 036, who plods awkwardly back to his work station without pausing to tease or flirt with the girls on the production lines, for that, it is apparent, is not his way. Is he content that this should be so? Does the flamboyance of his manner in the men's half of the room, so subdued among the women betray a shyness, an awkwardness? A sense of inadequacy? Something about his gait excites pity in my cheddar breast, and I yearn to call after him, with words of comfort, but I am made of cheese, and so unable.
With a hard-faced leer, the blue-clad harpy pushes a button, and I am forced through a series of wire grids until my whole forty pound bulk is reduced to eight ounce wedges. Hereafter, my journey is a wild switchback ride along the conveyor belts, until I drop, wrapped, weighed, priced, and quality-controlled onto a revolving table. The excitement ends in a plastic bucket in a large chilly warehouse, bewildered, dazed, and labelled 'Marks and Spencers.'
The portly man driving the forklift truck, that carries me on the penultimate stage of my trans-pre-pack adventure, has about him an air of coarse fishing and DIY. He deposits me in a dock, from which another forklift, whose raven-haired driver sits astride his machine like a young god, bears me tenderly to another loading bay where a sleazy, permed lothario lounges by his juggernaut, scrutinizing the bosoms of passing women. I am gently laid to rest in the lorry's hold, and at last have time to gather my wits. It has been a hectic and busy day. I am weary, and though only a piece of cheese, I have faculties of my own which are quite as susceptible as yours or, indeed, HATCHER 036's, to the trials and pressures of the cheese factory.
Before the doors close, I catch a glimpse of a group of men, several now familiar to me, passing through a dirty blue door with the air of those about to eat sandwiches, and before the lorry has even passed the factory gates, I know deep in my cheesy heart that I will never see them again.

I recall with, fondness, my second experience of British industrial relations, and that happy phase in the discontented winter when all the lorry drivers went on strike and no cheese found its way into the factory for a whole week. While Keith Pankhurst's long-suffering wife was rewarded with an opportunity to finally wash his lorry-driver-trousers (you know, the ones with the stitched in creases), the whole of the pre-pack department ground to a halt, and I wandered the factory with a broom in my hand, trying to look like I was being useful. The strike failed to affect the cottage cheese workers, whose raw materials were scraped from the local drains, and weren't dependent on truckers. Likewise the lab-workers, who continued to concoct ever more ghastly experimental products, samples of which regularly passed through the hands of the workforce en route for the locker-room dustbins. Pre-pack, on the whole, was conservative in its approach to diet, and not yet ready to appreciate yoghurts flavoured with carrot and onion, or chicken tikka.
I sat on the other side of the industrial fence too. My readiness to pull my own weight was mistaken by the chargehands for some kind of zeal. In fact, after a week or so I hated the sight of cheese, and felt no loyalty towards the stuff. My willingness to strive stemmed only from a reluctance to oblige others to do my share of the work, which I considered shameful, but it was decided by someone, somewhere, that I might be the stuff of which Gauleiters are made. I was trained as an emergency chargehand for a week - a kind of last resort in case all the others were off sick simultaneously.
This had an upside. I spent a week armed with a clipboard, doing very little, but the downside was that it soon became clear that my word carried little weight with those older, and considerably taller than I, and my trials as a chargehand were not dissimilar to those of that half-pint drill instructor in the army cadets:

ME (approaching fat youth chatting up woman by Alpma 4): "Trevor, could you give Bill a hand please, only he's running out of cheese."
TREVOR LUNT (for it is he): "Yerr, fuck off tiddler, I'll be back in a bit."

My woeful inability to instill fear into the work shy became apparent, and whether by fortune, or design, I was never called upon to act in authority again. I didn't mind.
Besides providing me with an inferiority complex, Unigate served to further my musical education. After the A-level examinations in the spring, one Jeremy Adams, late of Sexey's school, came to work in pre-pack for the summer. I remembered him from school, but hadn't spoken a word to him there, being his junior by two years. He was put to work with Bill, on Alpma 4, becoming my immediate neighbour and constant companion throughout the working day. Jeremy had a sixth-form taste in music, which encompassed prog-rock in all its nastiest forms. Yes, Boston, UFO, and all the multifarious works of the counter-revolution were in Jeremy's record collection, and we set to work to convert each other with fanatic's zeal. We started a programme of cultural exchange. He would lend me his records, and I would lend him mine, and in this way I became exposed to what I believed were all the reasons punk rock bands had come to exist. On one dark night, I sat through all six sides of Yessongs, studiously preparing a criticism to deliver over the following morning's cheese, while Jeremy got off lightly, with Penetration's Moving Targets. He was not averse to the idea of punk rock, and professed respect for both Stranglers and Sex Pistols, but in general my records were a little too wholemeal for his tastes, and I soon knew better than to try him with Eater or The Adverts. For my part, Yessongs convinced me that everything the punk movement stood for was right, and neither Lynyrd Skynyrd nor Led Zeppelin were going to change my mind.
So the cheese factory wasn't entirely the dark satanic mill it could have been, but neither was it a world of sweetness and light. In fact it was smelly, boring and hard work. I have a recurring nightmare that I have returned to my old employment there after decades adrift, to find Alpma 3 and all my old colleagues waiting for me with 'I told you so' expressions on their faces. Wrenching myself into wakefulness brings a relief every bit as real as that I felt when I handed my cheese-scraper back in to the company store for the last time. To my blessed relief, I never dream of Strode's.
I have been in many bands, and had long years of association with the music industry, but only worked in two factories. Familiarity sometimes brings with it a deep ennui, and consequently I am able to amuse myself more by reminiscences of cheese, than of the wild excesses of rock and roll. This is unfair, in fact, because by the time I made my first and only foray into the enchanted world of Yes, Valley Forge had improved to the point of being able to not only start, but to finish a song together as well. Our set had swollen and improved with the addition of creditable covers of Indian Reservation, The Boy's Backstage Pass, and an obscure song discovered on the Farewell to the Roxy live LP by a band called The Red Lights. Never wanna leave, by virtue of its catchy chorus, has since been covered by more bands than Sweet Jane. It should have been a hit.
We went into an eight-track recording studio in Yeovil, and spent the day recording a hesitant version of our most tuneful song, Departure. The studio engineers dazzled us with science and jargon. Expressions like 'Pipe it through the cans John' and 'Give me some kick please' defied comprehension, and when I was asked to go into the drum booth and 'Play a straight four-four,' I was completely flummoxed. Although they were barely more competent than us, we were impressed and awed by their leather trousers, and not displeased with our finished effort, which had a start, three verses, a guitar break, and a fade out at the end - just like the real thing.
My love affair with London had continued throughout those dark months of employment, and regular visits to Colin had done nothing to curb my disaffection for Somerset. I would spend days lurking pointlessly in Soho, wasting money on Big Macs and Chinese takeaways. I went to see The Adverts in Woolwich, and they were brilliant. I saw Richard Jobson posing outside the Notre Dame nightclub, and decided he wasn't. I took myself down into the tube station at midnight, and I tried to be noticeable in the King's Road. Most remarkable was the production of Volpone that Colin took me to at the National Theatre, which knocked the spots off McDonalds, and laid the foundations for an abiding love of Benjamin Jonson and his work which was one day to lead me into unashamed acts of plagiarism and idolatry.
But nothing matched that final decision to go. Colin had moved into a new flat off Camberwell New Road. The old block in Deptford, Speedwell House, was rubble, and the £40.11p that I was worth at Unigate was slowly eating its way through the hire purchase debt. It was on my second visit to Camberwell that Colin casually suggested that I take the plunge and move up to London. He offered me floor space, anything I wanted to induce me to just get up and go! I considered my debts. At the moment I was tied to Alpma 3 until September, but an acceleration of payments, and a reduction in expenditure to the bare essentials that my record collection demanded, would enable me to get out much sooner, and for the first time I left London with a feeling of elation, my spirits soaring at the knowledge that I would be coming back for good. I worked out that I could leave work, a free man, in just over a month, and on my return to Somerset I spread the news exultantly, only refraining from telling the chargehands at Unigate, lest they be tempted to deal with me as spitefully as their counterparts at Strode's.
This was not to be. They were sorry to see me go, as I was one of their most reliable workers. I could always come back, they assured me. "We'll see you in a few weeks," some said skeptically, but I knew otherwise. I stuck to Alpma 3 right up to my last day - June 30th 1979 - and it is only in those terrible dreams that I have ever returned.
I enjoyed every minute of those last weeks, secure in the knowledge of my impending escape, but I didn't waste any time saying goodbye. The morning after I quit Unigate, my family waved me off at Castle Cary station behind 50020 Revenge, laden down with one small suitcase full of clothes, and my entire record collection hung about my person in a series of unwieldy plastic bags. My drums were packed up and ready to follow by Red Star as soon as I had found a band to join. It was summer; I was seventeen and a half, and stupid, but as the train pulled round the corner at Wyke, I had left Castle Cary, Alpma 3 and, I truly believed, my self-conscious childhood behind me.

"Work, let me see," said Brer Anancy, at which point the whip leapt up and began to beat him, chanting shrilly:
"Work, let me see! Work, let me see!"
Somewhere on a shelf in Marks & Spencers, a lump of tasty Irish cheddar is expostulating to its brethren. "I am not the cheese I was before I started my journey," it is saying. " I am an older cheese, not necessarily a wiser one, but inescapably a different cheese to the one that first passed through the gates of Unigate Foods Ltd., Evercreech. How then can I, from this distant perspective, tell you of the cheese I was without distorting the picture through the focus of cheesy hindsigh?. I cannot. I can only tell you of the things I did and saw, and hope that these will suffice to tell my story. What I was, is past. What I am and will become is of no matter. What I felt, throughout those early trials of factory and dairy are matters from which you must draw your own conclusions.
And what of HATCHER 036? An enigma I stumbled upon in my childhood, that I never knew, and cannot now remember. What did he think? What did he feel, as he scraped away the endless days at the steel table in that sterile room? Was he brave? Was he lucky in love? From the fleeting glimpse I have offered, you will be little the wiser, and having seen only the surface I cannot say that I knew him at all. Who was he? Where did he go? What was he really like?"
"He was a fool, my Lord, that the lady Olivia took much delight in. He is about the house."
"Go. Seek him out, and play the tune a while."

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