Genesis To Revolutions

Part Two - North West Passage

“Crikey! The Jerries are counter-attacking!” As our front line wavered and began to retreat I turned and loped, half-doubled, back the way I had come.
It had all looked so promising at first. Flora, the venue, was a big squatted cinema, well organised and well looked after in the manner of most German anarchist establishments. The food was excellent, and the bar sold no alcohol in a responsible attempt to spare the neighbours the worst excesses of home going revellers. We were impressed. We had completed our soundcheck and were relaxing, waiting for Salad From Atlantis to do theirs. The first indication that all was not well came when the sound engineer began to take down the microphones and stow them away in a locked case, then a succession of serious faced Autonomen began to stock pile pick-axe handles by the door. Across the hall, a bespectacled youth in baggy judo whites was limbering up against a concrete pillar. Bottles slipped into pockets and a crowd began to gather inside the door.
“What's happening?” I asked.
“Some Nazis,” I was informed. “They come to attack the house.” I digested this. Right wing agitators were on their way to attack the venue, presumably with some determination given the precautions that were now in hand. What was I going to do about it? Something smashed outside. Voices shouted. The crowd at the door streamed out into the street and I followed them through the sally port, eager to see what was afoot.
The conflict was still at stone-throwing distance. Figures at the street corner at the end of our building were hurling rocks and bottles. I couldn't see how many of them there were, but our side seemed to be growing in numbers as the efficient anarchist grapevine did its trick. I followed our chaps along to the corner to see the Nazis retreating up the road towards their HQ - a local bar whose proprietor allegedly harboured a grudge against Flora. We seemed to be holding our own as the battle wavered up and down the street, neither side getting close enough to actually engage, but the barrage of stones becoming increasingly determined. I bent down and picked up an expended piece of rubble, weighed it thoughtfully in my hand, made up my mind and then hurled it at a hairy looking chap, whose allegiance could be readily determined by the direction in which he was hurling his stones. It hit him. Enthralled, I bent down and picked up another and flung it as hard as I could up the street. It bounced off the side of a car and skidded between the feet of a denim-clad stranger. I fell to with a will. As fast as the spent missiles rolled to a halt around our feet, we hurled them back again. Everyone seemed to be having a great time.
Suddenly a fresh wave of leather and hair surged out of the enemy stronghold and charged towards us. “Crikey, the Jerries are counter-attacking!” flashed through my mind, as we fell back around the corner. They chased us to the steps of Flora, then broke off, partially as a result of a fresh barrage of stones, and partially because the riot-police were now gathering at the far ends of the street.
A fresh attack went out from Flora, and all of a sudden we seemed to be charging up the street yelling “Nazis Raus!” and flinging anything we could find at the advancing enemy. I could plainly see them coming - one man was carrying a huge axe, which scant seconds later, and thirty yards or so further on, I passed lying abandoned on the ground. The judo expert dropped it down a ventilator grill, taking care to leave no fingerprints. Our rush gathered momentum. In my enthusiasm I picked up a discarded bottle and hurled it over-arm, like a cricketer or an Airfix toy soldier with a hand grenade. It went spinning wildly away to the left and burst against the wall showering some of our troops with friendly fire.
“Divvy!” shouted Jamie, running past with a handful of concrete fragments. Overhead, anxious motorists were shouting from upper floor balconies as the battle overran their vehicles. Non-motorists, and those high enough to be well clear of stray missiles jeered and egged us on. One or two hurled refuse. The riot police - of whom I was far more afraid than the, by now, far outnumbered Nazis, didn't seem about to intervene.
About 10 yards in front of me, a boiling mass of limbs and threshing pick handles marked the target. There was a crash of breaking glass and then dense clouds of black smoke began to pour out of the enemy den. This final act of destruction seemed to signify full-time. We made our way back to Flora and sat defiantly on the steps, while the riot police packed away their picnic hampers and went home.
I never tried to convince myself that there was any justification for my actions that day. I wasn't ‘caught up’ in the event or ‘carried away’ by it. I was in full, sober control of my faculties, well aware that I was behaving irresponsibly, and the fact that I enjoyed it all immensely only makes it worse. Moral of this story: people who live in glass houses should move, because the world is full of evil children with no respect for other folk’s property.


V. OF VEGETABLE MAGMA

As children we are, on the whole, scoundrels and liars. Only the young George Washington knows the true depths of calculation that went into his famous decision to own up. Why, we ask ourselves, did he chop down the tree in the first place unless he thought he could get away with it? Little monsters we may be, but not entirely stupid, and most of our lies stem from our sense of self-preservation. Our George, realising the extent to which he had miscalculated, must have weighed up the odds and cut his losses by owning up with an expression of beatific goodness upon his face. It seems to have paid off.
Most of us, however, are not very good at managing our lies. We lie, lie, and lie again so frequently and shamefacedly, that we become accustomed to a climate of untruth, and our lies lack conviction accordingly. Time after time they are brought back to us, and we are obliged to brazen them out with more fibs, denials and shameless protestations of innocence. Nasty little weasels that we are, we don’t even conserve our capacity to dissemble for those occasions on which it would really serve some purpose, wasting our efforts instead on matters of pettiness and irrelevance with as much energy as an Honourable Member denying sodomy, so that frequently the very baldness with which we lie is a greater sin in itself than the original transgression we are lying to conceal. These are not situations that we set out intentionally to create, but like snowballs on a steep incline, the original germs of untruth collect others as they gather momentum, and these become woven together into great webs of deceit in which we are ultimately caught by the gills and hoisted up into the glare of discovery, where we flap and squirm in agonies of abashed contrition.
From our earliest days we learn to rely on dishonesty and deception to win us those small comforts that circumstance places beyond our reach, and nothing places before us a greater temptation than the prospect of a day off school. Upturned, soulful eyes and plaintiff voices have melted the steely resolve of many an anxious parent, while behind the winsome facade, their offspring’s hearts are secretly black and scheming. As children we Hatchers observed regular rules of conduct regarding the taking of sickies. Once the initial gambit was played, and our mother convinced, we would lie on the sofa all day underneath an eiderdown, sighing and spitting pathetically into a plastic bucket, trying to collect sufficient saliva in the bottom to resemble a genuine puke. How hard we would work for a meagre tablespoon full of liquid to produce as evidence of our malady. What lengths we would go to in our attempts to cover the bottom of the vessel with simulated sputum, and oh what priceless value a real regurgitation would have represented, if only we had had access to emetics, or courage enough to stick our chubby fingers down our throats.
I remember, in about my tenth year, waking before dawn and spontaneously sleep-vomiting on the floor next to my bed. I don’t know what caused it, but being only half conscious, I went back to sleep without remarking the event. Mother woke me next morning at eight, failing to notice the mess, which was hidden from view by the open door. I arose, and prepared to face another day at school, when suddenly my eyes lit on the stale sick, and I remembered in a flash. I was delighted. I summoned Mother and showed her the sticky pool, pale and horrid on the brown linoleum. “Mum! Mum, I was sick.” Mother was unable to deny the evidence of her own senses, and I inwardly rejoiced as I was granted a day off school.
The sick bucket was an institution in our house. A red plastic affair with a white handle, stored under the sink along with the washing-up bowl and an enamel affair in which nappies used to soak menacingly. In later years I had cause to use this bucket for more mature purposes. After mixing drinks stupidly at the George Hotel, I would spew my ring and groan into the red cavern, nauseated and wretched - I never could hold my drink. One night, after a particularly adolescent bout, in which champagne cocktails, gin beer, and finally whisky had all been poured down my tender throat, I fell foul of my mother by using the washing-up bowl. That I had fallen asleep fully clothed, my head in a bowl of vomit, cigars stubbed out on my bedroom carpet, and a record (first Boys’ LP) revolving endlessly throughout the night, bothered her not a bit, but in my drunkenness I had abused the washing-up bowl, and so my name was mud.
I gave up drinking shortly after I moved to London, and am happy to say that I never again spewed up in the wrong place, but I have a nagging fear that one day, when I am called to answer for my transgressions before some dreadful tribunal, the assembled saints will turn from me in disgust, not on account of my sins of greed, spite and envy, with which they must be all too familiar, nor at the beds of lust, malice, covetousness and pride upon which my soul has been racked, but for that one small oversight, that one misplaced bowl of vegetable magma, I shall spend an eternity in the uttermost pit of hell.

What then, did this demon grown of wicked childhood bring with him to fair London Town, to offer on her shining altar, in token of his love? “Peasant!” she sneers with scorn. “If you would walk these streets that are paved with gold, you must pledge something in return - what is your gift?”
So I gave her my body and soul. It wasn’t much of a soul, being housed in a grubby little body, with not a lot of scope for expansion, and precious little in the way of prior spiritual nourishment. My parents had not been inclined to interfere with their children’s morals, beyond the everyday virtues they taught us by example. In matters pertaining to religion, philosophy, astrology and the transmutation of base metals into gold, they had left us to our own devices, and I don’t believe we turned out any the worse for it. As for the body that housed my struggling soul, this had been put together out of left-over spare parts under the sign of Pisces, a matter about which I know little, and care less, having enough paperwork already, without adding birth charts and horoscopes to my In-tray, but as body and soul are inseparable, I dare say it behoves me to attempt to describe my physical being, although it was, and remains, little more spectacular than the mental one it contained.
Physically, when I first set foot in my new home town, I resembled nothing less than a mutant bastard offspring of Dr. Goebbels and The Alien (you know - the one at which in space no one can hear you scream), but while lacking the former’s engaging limp, and the latter’s athletic dimensions, I had nevertheless manage to inherit many of the worst features of both. I am short, though being neither squat nor stocky it is as if there is a section missing from my leg region, rather than a balanced overall smallness of stature, in consequence of which I am neither petite nor fully dwarfen. My hair, which is an undistinguished brown, I wear short, but, suffering from a lifelong inability to express myself to barbers, have been condemned to an endless series of unflattering crew-cuts. This stems from long years in the hands of Castle Cary’s village barber, who only knew short-back-and-sides, so choice was never an option. Turned loose into the world I found myself all too often tongue tied, watching in the mirror as the clippers passed the point of no return when, given an ability to articulate the fact, I would have favoured something slightly more three dimensional, in an effort to offset the heaviness of my lower jaw.
My ears, as I have told, are inoffensive unless backed by a strong wind, and my eyes are a fairly presentable shade of blue. That my nose is in no way distorted is the last in a short series of facial blessings, for the overall impression, when seen from the front, is of something long, and like my siblings’ cruel etchings, ready to break into a carping whine at any moment. My lower lip is full, and my beard - like both my stature and my academic rating - falls into the category ‘unremarkable’, being neither pale and wispy enough to ignore, nor dark and full enough to wear as designer stubble. Its lank weediness, and the stupid shape in which it grows, oblige me to scrape it off every third day. Finally, there is a weird depression on the right hand side of my chin, which only becomes visible when I close my mouth, so on successive passport and railcard photographs I am seen either with mouth agape, looking completely gormless, or mouth closed to reveal this small, curiously right-angled dent distorting the symmetry of my jaw.
I did not bring my maidenhead to London, as I had lost it previously in the company of a nice girl from Shepton Mallet, who undoubtedly deserved better, but would probably have been lucky to find it among the teenagers of Avalon’s mystic vale, for whom the term New Man conjures up only images of that famous lady on the washing up adverts. Our relationship foundered on the intractable rocks of my punkhood. I wanted us to be like the people on the cover of Live at the Roxy, while she wanted a life. It occurs to me now, with the wisdom of age, that others may have been endeavouring to win my sweet young heart, at village hall parties or discos, but at the time, they would have had to advertise the fact in foot high letters in order to get the barb of cupid’s arrow through the wall of my reserve. No doubt it would have ended in tears. Not many girls would have been content to listen to the monotonous dogma of new wave theory, and “I’ve got a great seven-incher” may be an exciting chat-up line for some, but in my case it would have been an original Buzzcock’s Spiral Scratch EP, or Remote Control, in picture sleeve, by The Clash.
This was by far and away the biggest part of me: my record collection, and so I brought to London with me the complete-to-date works of so many crucial bands, among whom were numbered The Adverts; Alternative TV; The Art Attacks; Battersea; Bethnal; Blondie; The Boomtown Rats; The Boys; The Buzzcocks; Chelsea; The Clash; The Cortinas; The Damned; The Dead Boys; Dead Fingers Talk; The Drones; Eater: Elvis Costello: Generation X; The Heartbreakers: Ian Dury; The Jam; Johnny Moped; Larry Wallis; London; The Lurkers; The Members; The Motors; Nine Nine Nine; The Nosebleeds; Penetration; The Radio Stars; The Radiators; The Ramones; The Rezillos; Richard Hell and the Voidoids; The Sex Pistols; Sham 69; Siouxie and the Banshees; The Skids; Slaughter & the Dogs; Stiff Little Fingers; The Stranglers; Talking Heads; Tom Robinson Band; Ultravox; The Valves; The Vibrators; The Wasps; Wire; Wreckless Eric; X-Ray Spex; and XTC, to name but a few. Each of these artists had been checked, and filtered through the censorship process to ascertain their credentials, and each had been somehow found pure, although the gulf that existed between bands like Talking Heads, and the more direct approach of something like The Cortinas required a deal of cultural gerrymandering. When all was said and done, however, if NME said they were a punk band, then who was I to argue?
This priceless trove ceased to grow, from the moment of my arrival in London, for I became swiftly, and suddenly poor. I had in my pocket, three weeks wages from Unigate - including my week in hand and untaken holiday pay. Prudence suggested that I disburse this carefully over the coming weeks, until I had found a new source of income, but prudence would also have gotten a job, something I had no intention of doing. My plans were made. The railway was calling to me - as it still did from time to time - and I was going to celebrate my new found freedom with a massive binge of trainspotting in Scotland, after which I would sign on the dole, and stay there for as long as they would let me while I endeavoured to make my fortune as a musician. The first night in London, I took Sam to see The Deer Hunter. The following morning I took off.....

In light of my devotion to all things punk, this sudden craving for trains seems incongruous, but it wasn’t the first time since I’d cut off my hair that the old love had reasserted itself. Throughout 1978-79 I’d made various expeditions to the North, to satisfy my soul, and Scotland had always been a classic place for old diesels, and its inaccessibility had kept it out of bounds for too long. I’d spent a week there, with Fat Bob and his parents in 1974, and the experience was profound. This time there was no holiday camp to return to each night. I would sleep rough on the internal overnight trains, or on the stations themselves, which to me was truly the freedom of the open road.
Armed with a return ticket to Carlisle, and a Freedom of Scotland railrover ticket, which gave me seven days unlimited travel north of the border for a paltry £24.50p, I climbed aboard the down Royal Scot at Euston. The railrover became valid at midnight, so even a leisurely start would give me ample time in the border city to sample the local traction and make use of the permit I had thoughtfully applied for in advance, granting access to Kingmoor depot. As we pulled out of platform 12 behind 87031 Hal o’ the Wynd, leaving prudence vainly protesting at the carriage window, I knew that I was doing the right thing.
I have since spent many nights on the Citadel station in Carlisle. This, my first, was enlivened by the fact that a tunnel collapse north of Berwick was causing trains to be diverted from the east coast route, many of which were producing Deltics, the prospect of which, so far off their regular beaten tracks, had lured swarms of fellow spotters to the temple to worship. A carnival atmosphere prevailed, and not even the scant hours sleep on the uncomfortable slatted benches in the Citadel’s waiting rooms could dampen my enthusiasm for the coming sport.
I went everywhere that week, and saw everything in Scotland that was worth seeing: pairs of 27s on push-pull shuttles between Glasgow and Edinburgh; 40s on the Highland trains from Queen St.; 06s at Markinch and Kirkaldy; and Inter-City DMUs on the Ayrshire coast line. All the best of blue and yellow diesels were still going strong, north of the border, with indigenous species of a rarity and beauty not to be found elsewhere
I fell in with a plumber from Crewe, who was making a similar pilgrimage to mine. He had permits to every shed in Scotland, although in the easy-going seventies a polite request for admission was rarely refused, and in his company I went to all the lowland depots, and even into Glasgow’s BREL works, which was a major coup.
Eastfield was a must for any spotter in search of the good life. Now closed, it was in the Springburn area of Glasgow, a district noted for unruly conduct and not a feature of the town’s tourist maps. Spotters, casually enquiring after directions to Eastfield shed, were usually warned off by railway employees, or advised to take a taxi, as the local footpads had become wise to the frequent visits of meek gentlemen with expensive cameras, and had taken to watching from the stairwells of their dark tenements for the approach of likely targets. Many a hapless enthusiast has been done down by these lawless brigands, and the alleyways used to be thick with the ground remains of their shattered spectacles. Fat Bob himself received an unprovoked thick ear on our first visit, but the prospect of up to fifty locos simmering away on the depot was too great a temptation for most.
Haymarket, in Edinburgh, was another major diesel depot, whose allocation of Deltics made it another essential feature of the itinerary. The plumber and I, guided by the stench of the adjacent brewery, duly did the rounds, and reaped our rich reward.
Coming to Haymarket for the first time in 1974, Fat Bob and I presented ourselves at the foreman’s window and made our traditional piping schoolboy request.
“‘scuse me, can we go round the depot please.”
Now this is part of a ritual that goes right back to the origins of the railway, and to which the correct response is “Certainly lads, be careful, and let me know when you leave.” Generations of pimpled youths have acted out their roles, and generations of foremen have obeyed the catechism and granted the simple boon, untrammelled by the dictates of European commissions on Health and Safety, the august legislators of which have nailed up their demands on engine shed doors like latter-day Luthers. But the Scots have always been non-conformist when it comes to doctrine, and it should have come as no surprise when the thread of the litany was broken by his unorthodox answer
“Whit part o’ the country are ye from lads? That’s reet strong accents ye have there!”
“Somerset,” we replied, anxious to please.
“Somerset! Och, they’re gey fine singers in those parts, I ken. Gi’e us a sang lads and I’ll let ye gi roond.” We hesitated. Outside, on the sun-baked pads, Deltics were basking, and the whistling of 40s mingled with the thrum of Sulzer engines. The price was high, but so were the stakes. We quickly weighed up the odds, came to the only possible conclusion, opened our tiny throats and sang:
“Number one, number one, now my song has just begun
Wi’ a rum-tum-tad’lum, old John Bradl’um
Eh what country folks we be!”
The plumber and I, armed with his permit, received a more traditional welcome.
Our last move together was a ride behind Deltic No. 55018 Ballymoss, which was operating a shuttle service between Edinburgh and Dunbar. As the engine was waiting to commence the return journey we tremulously approached the cab door, where a traction inspector was talking to the driver prior to riding back with him on the footplate. “Scuse me”, the plumber ventured, “any chance of a trip back in the rear cab?” It was a long shot, but it just might work.
“What do you want to ride in the back for?” he replied. “Come up the front with us!”
Scarcely able to believe our good fortune, we clambered aboard, almost wetting ourselves with excitement. The driver took us up to 103mph, and I still have a photograph taken through the unmistakable squint-eyed window, of a blurred class 47 coming down the line towards us on the opposite track. We blew! my lords, we blew!
Arriving back in Glasgow that evening, still in a state of delirium, I found that I had messed up my timings and missed the 23.30 to Inverness, which I was using to sleep on most nights. It reached its destination at about 05.30, which whiled away the hours of darkness quite nicely, although changing for the southbound mail at Blair Atholl achieved the same end, and allowed for an early start on the Glasgow suburban network. On this particular night I was accosted, while milling about on Central station, by a policeman. According to the dictates of punk lore he should have hoisted me off to the cells and given me a kicking, instead of which, on learning of my plight, he very kindly put me to bed in an empty train, already half full of snoring dossers. “I’ll wake ye ‘fore it leaves in the morning laddie,” he promised. Is this useful, and hospitable, facility still available at Glasgow Central? If so it should be advertised.
Another night, I prowled the sidings in Aberdeen, finding shelter in an empty brakevan, sleeping fitfully in the freezing northern air. I was constantly tired, constantly dozing off on trains, sprawling helplessly in my seat and probably smelling like an old sock. One morning I had come into Inverness early, and successfully done the depot. I elected to take the next train to Aberdeen, which was a two-hour journey in one of the seven Swindon-built units that were based in the area at that time. I boarded the train and settled down into my seat to compose myself for slumber. Summer tinted the hills; the heather was purple and I was content. I sank into a deep, deep sleep and dreamt..
I woke with a start, and looking around me guiltily, hauled myself up from the near-horizontal position into which I had slumped. The final throes of an erotic dream had pierced my consciousness, and woken me up in the hot flush of an involuntary emission. I groped for reality, found it and realised my dreadful predicament. When I dropped off, I was vaguely upright, now I was supine, and Lord knows into what contortions the untimely orgasm had thrown me. Had I thrashed? Had I groaned? Had I touched myself in intimate places? Oh cruel fate to leave me thus, alone and disgusting in a crowded railway carriage. No one said anything, no one was looking at me - but it was the way they weren’t looking at me that said it all. This was the way in which they would have pointedly looked away from the anti-Christ, if he had been writhing on the bench beside them. Guiltily I slunk out of the carriage and found a seat at the farthest end of the train, hoping my infamy had not preceded me.
Scotland has changed now, and all the things that came to draw me there, year after year, are now vanished into dust. The 06s, the 26s, the 27s and the 40s are all gone. The Deltics went years ago, and the Ayrshire coast electrification put paid to the fascinating DMUs that used to work there. Depots like Dundee, Townhill and Eastfield are closed and the sites redeveloped, or like Haymarket and Inverness, pale shadows of their former selves, with nothing to offer but a handful of sorry looking sprinters. Through all this change and trauma, I often wonder, as a trainspotter, what became of TBS no. Sc59681, the hapless carriage whose gentle undulations proved too tempting for my teenaged libido? What was its fate? Where is it now - and what would I do if I were to become reunited with this old paramour? This, like so many other questions, must remain unanswered, and like so much of my life has passed, unremarked, into obscurity.
Dirty, fatigued, I roamed Scotland for seven days, taking in Motherwell and Hamilton, Polmadie and Ayr. I scoured the inner-city network for Glasgow’s blue trains; I sought out the remaining half dozen Andrew Barclay shunters, and signed the visitors book at Dundee TMD before copping the last one. I got round the depots at Inverness, Hyndland, Millerhill and Perth, and amassed unheeded mileage behind dozens of different engines.
My initial plan had been to make a diversion to Holyhead on the way back to London, to clear up the surviving two class 01 shunters which were still working in the docks. On my last evening in Glasgow, however, while waiting for the train to Carlisle, and another night in the Citadel, I saw a group of punks ambling across the station concourse. Suddenly the railway receded, I took in their crazy-coloured hair, their painted leather jackets, and the casual arrogance with which they swaggered among the hurrying commuters. I checked out the departure board. There was a fast train to London that would get me in to Euston before the tubes stopped running. I made my way over to the designated platform and climbed aboard.
There was something I had to do.


TOP OF PAGE