A.” The instructor held up something shiny and silver. “This
is a butterfly knife.” He flashed and twirled the weapon so that
the two halves of the handle clacked and rattled like a leper’s
clapper. With blinding speed he made the knife perform a series of dexterous
manoeuvres that ended as suddenly as they had begun, with the startled
attention of the trainees.
“Impressive eh?” We assured him that it was.
“Bollocks!” he sneered, “There’s not a child
on my estate, over the age of twelve, who can’t do that better
than I can.” He returned the knife to the table beside him. “Exhibit
Exhibit B turned out to be a plastic bag, containing something dirty
in shades of red and white. He held it up and looked round at us expectantly.
“This T-shirt was used to staunch the head wound of a man who
had suffered a violent assault at Aldgate East,” he told us, straightening
the garment to reveal the Guardian Angels’ emblem that showed
darkly through the oxide-red of the dried bloodstain. “If you
are fortunate enough to be allowed to wear these colours,” he
waved the gory item under our noses, “this is what they’ll
look like if you are unfortunate enough to meet someone with one of
these!” He flashed exhibit A and the steel hissed as he made an
imaginary slash at our throats. “Point taken?”
The point was taken. I looked again at the bloody relic, and thought
of those other red and white T-shirts in Carnaby Street and Leicester
Square, emblazoned with the pointless slogan “I
“Maybe,” I thought, as the lesson sank in, “it’s
because I’m not a Londoner that I’m sick to death of the
VI. Falling In Love With A Girl On The Tube
was fortunate in having many good teachers to help me find my footing
in the new world that I had blundered into The first, and probably the
best, was my brother Colin. His method was simple. He not only left
me to my own devices, but shortly after my return from Scotland, he
took himself off, with his partner, to South Wales, to while away the
long, penniless student vacation with her parents. I had to make my
own mistakes, a project I embarked upon with immediate success, but
the lessons I learned were more lasting as a result.
My first day back found me tackling the intricacies of shopping. Daily
trips to the Triangle stores in Castle Cary had left me with a rough
knowledge of where food came from, but the topography of something as
large as Sainsburys was well beyond my simple command. Nevertheless,
I contrived successfully not only to buy provisions, but also to take
them home and cook them into a passable breakfast, an act of autonomy
that pleased me no end.
The oratory of Cicero, had I been awake when it was under scrutiny,
probably contained no useful hints whatsoever about where to buy the
cheapest vegetables, nor indeed how to even recognise what was cheap
and what not. I was innocent of such matters, and had no idea what things
ought to cost. Money was something I had become accustomed to buying
records with. Now, all of a sudden, there was this inconvenient situation
whereby it had to be constantly spent on food or there would come a
time when dinner would cease to be a viable prospect. There are only
so many days in a single week when it is desirable to eat chips, and
even my slowly evolving sense of economics was able to appreciate the
logistics involved in buying takeaway foods. One portion of chips, at
65p, equated to approximately one pound of potatoes, the value of which
was 7p, or 13p if you wanted Jersey Royals. The disadvantage, of course,
is that the potatoes have to be cooked, which involves Mother. Mother
isn’t here so......
I overcame the problem of not having taken an O-level in shopping by
settling into a diet of ox liver, which seemed cheap enough and was
reputed to be nutritious, potatoes, either mashed or boiled - anything
involving oil or an oven was far too complicated - and baked beans.
Thus my scant resources were able to keep me supplied with tobacco,
while at the same time staving off starvation, and the liver kept my
pelt nice and shiny.
I went to the dole office. Signing on in rural Somerset was done by
post and after the initial ‘hands on’ interview, at their
HQ in Yeovil, you never saw them again. Here in London things were considerably
Back in the good old days, when being a punk meant being an ‘anarchist’,
and being an ‘anarchist’ simply meant going on the dole
and avoiding responsibility as much as possible, we used to think that
signing on was hard work, and that the staff at the DHSS - Department
of Stealth and Total Obscurity as we knew them - were a bunch of hardened
nazis whose only desire was to swindle us out of the money that was
rightfully ours. The system was complex. No mere question of accepting
cash handouts over the counter, but a lot of ballyhoo involving several
offices, lots of paperwork and the risk, at the end of the day, of being
given a weekly signing-on time of before eleven-thirty! The toughs who
ran the show, we were convinced, were committed to a programme of destruction,
that would end up with us all destitute in the gutter, or worse still,
getting jobs! Had we known then that a hard-faced bunch of fanatics
were going to come along and start re-organising the welfare state,
we would doubtless have thought more kindly of them.
To do them justice, there was a certain Old World charm to their bureaucracy.
Nowadays they have tightened up the rules and simply made the procedure
too complicated to understand, with the result that many souls give
up halfway through. Back then it was so much simpler - they kept the
quota down by simply throwing away a designated amount of files each
week. “Name please.... Mr Hatcher?.....wait a moment please..........
Well.. I can’t find the paperwork, we seem to have lost your claim...”
‘Lost my claim’ indeed! Over the seven or so years that
I played the dole - it really was like a lottery, or a fruit machine
- they ‘lost my claim’ on no less than eight occasions.
It’s a bit like landing on the head of a snake and sliding down,
all the way back to square one, to start the laborious procedure all
over again. “Sorry, back to the beginning, you never said ‘May
I’. Simple Simon did not tell you to attend this office, cubicle
6 at 09.30 on Thursday. BOINNNG! Yer out!”
These were the good old days indeed! We weren’t ‘customers’
then. We were, each and every one of us who stepped through the doors
of Spurstowe Terrace or Langham House, back-sliding no good scrounging
bums, but lost claims aside, at least they paid up at the end of the
As far as I was concerned, I already had a job - I just didn’t
get paid for it. I was a musician, although it wouldn’t have done
to have told them that. Besides, I reasoned, there were plenty of people
out there who wanted jobs, so I was performing a public service by allowing
them to take my place in the national labour force. I wasn’t ashamed.....
Lost claims were not the only spanners that could fall into the works.
A change of address also meant starting afresh. Eventually, by the time
I’d moved house a dozen times, I came to know the ropes pretty
well. They were long ropes, and whenever possible it was preferable
to continue signing from the old address, even if this meant crossing
London once a week to sign on and pick up a giro. Squatters were normally
put on Personal Issue, which meant that you picked up your cheque at
the same time as signing. Personal Issue was safer, they said, as squats
were assumed to be full of criminal scum, who would steal your mail
as soon as look at it, but from our point of view it was better because
when something went wrong you were there on the spot to start sorting
it out immediately. Few experiences are more depressing than waking
up on giro day to the awful realisation that the anticipated cheque
has not arrived. On these occasions, households of slumbering layabouts
would be woken by a dreadful cry from the vicinity of the doormat, as
one of their fellows stared in disbelief at the empty space on the floor
where the little buff-brown envelope should be. A cry of rage, tinged
with a deep and penetrating despair would rise up from the very bowels
of the thwarted soul, manifesting itself in a plea to an unjust God
for succour and deliverance in this hour of need. “Where’s
The Pilgrim’s progress, from initial signing to sweet-scented
green and mauve girocheque, was both quaint and Dickensian. Step one
usually involved going to the nearest dole office to be informed that
you were in the wrong building. Directions would follow and the would-be
claimant would present themselves at their next destination, full of
hope and rehearsing their lines. By some bizarre twist of logic, the
DHSS sorted its clientele alphabetically by occupation, rather than
by name. “What is your usual form of work Mr Hatcher?”
“I’m a Production Operative”. Never, remember, never
a musician, as this will alert them to the fact that you do not intend
to seek work, and they will call you into the job centre and grill you.
“Sorry, you’re in the wrong place here. We only deal with
A-M here. You want to be over at Blenheim Crescent. Sorry”. Damn!
Why didn’t I say ‘Labourer?’ That’ll teach me
to try and be clever.
Strike two! At the next office, a simple form B1 has to be filled out,
and an interview arranged for some three days hence, in order to verify
your particulars, and to give then time to investigate your shady past.
Three days pass in penury, and then it’s back to Blenheim Crescent
to await your summons to a sealed booth, wherein waits an interrogator
behind crowbar-proof glass.
“Name rank and serial number, etc., etc. Why did you leave your
last employment? What are you doing to find work?...We will ask the
questions!....Have you a secure address? What was the largest island
in the South Pacific before the discovery of Australia? Wrong! It was
a trick question - the answer was of course ‘Australia’
you prat. You’re supposed to have O-levels. Take this form BIC
to the DHSS. Here’s your UB40; your signing on time is 04.30.
Ha! Only joking. 10.30, cubicle 3. Don’t be late and have a good
day now”. Thus armed with form BIC, which serves no earthly purpose,
but has to be delivered for three consecutive weeks before the claim
is up and running (and eligible for losing), the journey comes temporarily
to an end, back at the office where you started in the first place.
Work? I’ve never known work like it!
Strolling up the Camberwell New Road, having been redirected from the
nearby offices to a job centre in distant Peckham, I was jerked from
my reverie by a sudden squeal of brakes. A flashy red Capri had skidded
to a halt beside me, out of which leapt two gentlemen dressed in bomber
jackets and jeans. “Old Bill!” one of them said with a flourish,
extending a warrant card for the barest of milliseconds. “Where
are you off to then?” I never had, and never subsequently picked
up the counter-productive habit of being rude to policemen, besides
which, the Starsky and Hutch nature of their arrival had impressed me
no end. I politely informed them that I was on my way to the job centre,
and they, realising from my accent that I was a harmless hick, leapt
back into their motor and sped off to find some real villains. Vaguely
hoping that passers by would have me marked for a real villain after
this dramatic encounter, I ambled on my way.
At the job centre, a very kind lady wanted to help me find a job. All
I wanted was a BIC to take back to Camberwell, but protocol demanded
I show willing. She offered me the office, she offered me the shop.
“Do you want to make tea at the BBC?” I came up with ingenious
excuses for refusing everything she had, including a lucrative position
cleaning out rabbit cages in a laboratory. Eventually she had exhausted
her repertoire and handed me the necessary document. “Come back
when you’ve had a little time to think”, was her friendly
“Like in about fifty years,” I thought.
Back home, I was able to review the afternoon’s events with some
satisfaction. I had not only been offered Career Opportunities by the
callous servants of state control, but also hassled by the pigs, and
all on my first day! Things were looking up! Here I was truly in the
city of the Clash!
my next trick, I joined a band.
Scanning the musicians wanted ads in Melody Maker, I came across a likely
looking request for a drummer. I went along to see them rehearse - guitars,
bass and vocals only - and as they were desperate to fill the position,
and I was desperate to join a band, they took me on faith and I became
the new drummer for Attitudes. My loyal parents forwarded the drumkit,
and I suddenly found myself playing like I’d never played before.
Attitudes were a Mod band. The bulk of the material was original, there
were a few Motown covers thrown in for good measure, but what was really
impressive about them was their professional approach to playing music,
and the care and energy that they devoted to rehearsal and arrangement.
They made it clear from the start that they weren’t looking for
a clonker. They wanted someone who would keep a straightforward beat,
and do as he was told. Under their supervision, and through relentless
drilling, I surprised myself by very quickly finding my way.
They were all North London lads. Vince, Mark, and his cousin Réne
all worked for the Water Board near The Angel, while Dave, the bassist,
was from Enfield, and worked for the Ministry of Defence. Mark and Réne
wrote all the songs. Réne played lead guitar, Vince played rhythm,
while Mark sang. My name soon became cockneyfied to ‘Gal’,
and I quickly came to accept my role as office junior, eccentric in
appearance, but tolerated because biddable. From time to time they would
beseech me to dress a bit smarter, as I hardly fitted in with the band’s
image, but drummers are scarce commodities, so they put up with my unpleasant
We rehearsed twice weekly, Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons,
at a catholic mission on Amwell Street in Islington. Shortly after my
first modest payment, the DHSS decided that as I had left my last job
voluntarily, they would have to suspend my claim for six weeks. In vain
did I protest that I had moved 120 miles, and that commuting to Evercreech
was not a viable option. This left me completely broke, so I was obliged
to learn, firstly, how to bunk the tube, secondly how to beg, and thirdly,
how to walk from Camberwell to Islington.
This wasn’t so bad as it sounds. The walk took me along the Embankment
most of the way, and then northwards up Farringdon Road, and I learned
to do it in an hour and a half without busting a gut. Bunking the tube
was fine on the outward journey, as there were emergency steps at Angel,
which enabled you to avoid the ticket collector who was stationed at
the exit to the lifts. A rapid sprint to the surface was enough to gain
freedom, and save 25p, which was the minimum fare, and to avoid the
need to tell a barefaced lie: “I’ve only come from Kings
Cross.” Returning to Oval, the 25p had to be grudgingly paid.
London Transport, like social security, has since fallen into the hands
of the market economists, and even scrounging doleys now have to pay
their way or walk.
From Attitudes I learned discipline. I also learned that a rehearsal
needs to be ruled with an iron rod if anything is to be achieved. With
Mark in control there were no endless blues jams; no half hours of muddle
while everyone fiddled introspectively with their instruments, waiting
for someone to come up with an idea, and no sudden bursts of fretwank
while someone else was talking. Mark and Réne came to rehearsal
with a set plan of action. Usually we would play the set, which under
their guidance rapidly grew to twenty odd songs, and then work on new
material, winding up with a few repetitions of the trickier parts of
Mark wrote about his experiences of life, which at this stage seemed
to comprise equal parts of romantic angst and job dissatisfaction. He
had a good ear for a tune, and although his lyrics were not what I was
interested in singing about - being the spotty punk from Hell - within
the framework of his personal existence they carried a conviction frequently
absent in the work of the rich and famous:
When the space
between the curtains lets in the sun
It’s a long time before I realise that day has come
The weekend went its usual way
You met a girl who didn’t stay
And Monday has the nerve to say there’s work to be done
I’ve seen it all before
The only thing to do
To while away the time
Is falling in love with a girl on the tube
away the time was one of my favourites. It had a fantastic tune, and
a sweet guitar break after each chorus that always lifted me up above
the day to day traumas of the cost of tobacco and the long walk home.
We recorded it once, along with a track called The Business Man, which
was pure Jam, circa Setting Sons, which hadn’t been released yet.
Lyrically, a lot of the songs came nearer to This is the Modern World,
although this was as far as the Jam influence extended, as the sound
was fairly original.
One of the last acts I was able to perform in defiance of prudence,
before my money completely ran out, was to get my hair dyed black with
a green stripe down the middle, for which I paid £5 to an Italian
barber in West Kensington, compounding the sin by squandering another
fiver on a Sid Vicious T-shirt from ‘Boy’, in the King’s
Road. This turned out to prove a sound financial investment, as I had
taken to passing the evenings in Soho, where foreign tourists would
happily pay 10p to be photographed next to a real English punk rocker,
and a silly haircut was an advantage. Attitudes were not so keen on
it, as it did nothing to dispel the fears of the nuns at Amwell Street,
who assumed I was an emissary of Satan. I thought it was wonderful,
and sewed half a dozen more zips into my trousers to celebrate.
Even less keen than the nuns, were the teddy boys I had the misfortune
to encounter one night, when providence had equipped me with the tube
fare home from Angel. As the train passed down the platform at Bank,
some twenty heavily overdressed specimens came tearing alongside and
bounced into my coach with loud whoops and cries of “Woooaaaarrrrr!
Punk rocker!” While my fellow travellers wisely buried their faces
in their newspapers, I was good-naturedly kicked around the coach, and
eventually booted out onto the platform at Kennington. When they found
I had nothing of value, and only 25p on me they took pity and let me
“I’ve only come from Elephant & Castle,” I lied
as I limped past the ticket barrier.
My nightly walks to the West End took me, again, along the riverbank,
past Vauxhall, Westminster and ‘that clock’ and on to Charing
Cross, where I would vanish into the glowing heart of the city to see
what luck would have in store. I would make casual acquaintances with
evil spiky creatures, and tag along on their pointless rounds of petty
vandalism and nuisance. One gang I fell in with spent the evening shoplifting,
for which I had no stomach, hanging back and eventually abandoning them
when they decided to go down to St. James’ Park to mug some dossers.
I was disappointed in them. I imagined punks to be above such things
- anti-social by all means, but nowhere in my record collection were
there lyrics that went along the lines of:
hours and after dark
Let’s go muggin’ down the park
Winos lying on the ground -
Beat them up and shake them down!
St James’ Park!
St James’ Park!
Cor wotta lark!
then, this was before the advent of the ‘Oi!’ movement.
One den of punk rock iniquity that did draw me was the Eagle Club in
Wardour Mews, a horrid dank basement that opened at 11pm and entertained
its customers with cacophonically loud punk music until seven in the
morning. Presided over by the most enormous black gentleman that I have
ever seen, for the readily beggable admission fee of £1, you could
spend the night alone on the floor being ignored by everyone, wishing
the music wasn’t too loud to try and make conversation, and watching
enormous skinhead couples rutting on the floor in the corner. It was
at the Eagle that I first heard of Adam and the Ants, who had a massive
underground cult following at the time (a lot of whom were pretty sick
by the time Adam became Prince Charming), and also learned the significance
of the letter A in a circle, which seemed to be proliferating on the
backs of fashionable leather jackets.
Needless to say I painted one on mine. It was on my last visit to the
club that I acquired that most essential of garments. Shaken awake by
the grinning proprietor, I was handed a couple of blue pills - “Here
boy, these’ll get you home.” My vast benefactor handed me
an adjacent leather jacket and clapped me on the shoulder. I beat a
hasty retreat in case the real owner should regain consciousness and
reclaim the garment, scurrying off like a rat through the narrow streets
with my prize. Somehow the walk home that morning didn’t seem
to take quite so long.....
Thereafter, in the heavily disguised new leather carapace, I avoided
the Eagle Club. It was just one jacket among many, but I loved it with
all my heart, and dared not risk its loss.
Being a newcomer to London, I had no idea that my fresh faced youth,
and habit of hanging out around Piccadilly, made people assume I was
a rentboy. I had many encounters with hospitable gentlemen, anxious
to buy me drinks, and it was only years later that their true significance
dawned on me. Always keen to accept their charity, I would accept cigarettes
and a milkshake then bid them goodnight quite happily. Some of the poor
fellows must have been hanging around for hours trying to work up the
courage to make an approach. I shudder to think how many nights on the
town I may have ruined in my innocence, not to mention the loss of earnings
incurred by those actively engaged in the trade - I’m probably
lucky to be alive......
One night I did come pretty close to realising the extent of my folly.
I was sitting on a telephone relay box in Leicester Square, listening
to the distant drums of a marching band, when I was approached by a
porky little man with curly hair, a large nose, and a lowland Scots
“You look like a person who’s interested in music,”
he opened. Not an unreasonable assumption, as my clothes were awash
with the slogans and names of a number of bands then in vogue.
“Yes I am”, I replied with the guileless politeness that
frequently alienated me from the sleazy punks whose company I tried
in vain to keep.
“I thought as much.” He smiled charmingly. “Look,
I’m a journalist - I write for Melody Maker - perhaps if you’re
not doing anything, you’d like to come back and see my record
collection? It’s quite extensive, I’m sure you’d find
it interesting.” Failing, as usual, to recognise a pick-up line
when it stared me in the face, I readily agreed. Fortunately for me
he was a stickleback and not a pike, because within minutes we were
in his car and heading west, me chain-smoking his Dunhill filter-tips
and wondering if he might be good for a couple of quid, and him..? Well,
Lord only knows what he was thinking.
We arrived at his flat, which was opulent. His record collection was
every bit as large as he had promised and there was a gold cigarette
case on the table, to which I was just about to turn my full attention
when my host - who hadn’t even had time to take off his coat yet
- came up with the bright idea of dining out. “Look,” he
said, “I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry - I
know this really great Italian. My treat, how about it?”
A number of possible replies would have been appropriate here: “Of
course its your treat you git, I haven’t got a bean”, or
“Mother told me never to accept Scaloppini Di Vitally from a stranger”
spring to mind and would have been both appropriate and urbane. Instead
I said “OK,” and followed him back out to the car. Three
lemons lined up in my head and I prepared to do justice to the situation.
John, for this I learned was his name, seemed to be pacing himself for
something. While I filled myself up with tuna salad, veal in white wine
sauce and black cherry cheesecake, he consumed something sparse and
healthy with asparagus. The veal was excellent - it was a dish I had
missed sorely since I’d left the George Hotel, a year or so before
- and the wine was plentiful. John, no doubt because he was driving,
was doing his best to keep my glass full, while drinking as little as
possible himself, so by the time we headed back to his flat I was as
pissed I’d ever been. Stuffed and ready for the pot, my belly
heaving and my mouth full of Dunhill, I settled on his couch to await
“Here we are then.” He clapped me on the back in a comradely
fashion. “How about another drink?” This time he mixed us
both a buck’s fizz. “Bottoms up”. He clapped me on
the back again, this time with a slow circular motion. Somewhere deep
within my saturated belly a vague sense of unease began struggling to
make its presence felt, while my mind continued to focus on the gold
cigarette case and tried to feign a polite interest in the record collection
which, I reasoned, was the sole purpose for coming here was it not?
John didn’t seem to think so. He was more preoccupied with the
comradely back slapping side of things, and his efforts were becoming
increasingly complicated, one even finding its way under my shirt and
up my spine. Despite my advanced state of inebriation, I was beginning
to smell a rat.
“Let me show you something”, my host was vibrant, animated
and strangely excited. “These are really way out! Straight from
Sweden!” ‘These’ turned out to be a series of pornographic
magazines of a frankness and brutality I had never imagined. The soggy
efforts we had recovered from the long grass behind the tennis courts,
back in Castle Cary, had been filled with bored looking girls with their
legs apart, adverts for vibrators and knobbly chocolate flavoured condoms,
and the tragic endeavours of reader’s wives. Here before me was
something completely different, in which the reader’s wives grandchildren,
got down to the serious business of being rogered in every possible
orifice by an old school teacher. The models were all Orientals, and
none of the children seemed older than twelve. Their faces were blank
masks, and their tiny genitals looked ready to snap off unless handled
with extreme care. I am no expert on erotica, finding it comical rather
than arousing, but this wasn’t funny. I conveyed my indifference
to John, and was rewarded with another hearty rub. I steered the conversation
back to the record collection, inwardly warning myself that the situation
might not be entirely innocent, and politely declined another drink.
I must have been well aware by now that I’d been picked up, but
somehow the drink and my innocence continued to string me along. My
host wasn’t large enough, or brutal enough to take me by force,
so I was more amused than frightened. When it became too late for me
to think of catching a tube train anywhere (even if I’d had the
fare) and John announced that it was time we were hitting the sack,
I was relieved at the opportunity this presented to claim the couch,
and spend the rest of the night sobering up alone with his Dunhills.
John wouldn’t hear of it “Plenty of room in the bed”
he insisted, “No problem - you take this side, I’ll take
the other. Plenty of room.”
I was tired. I was drunk. I clung desperately to the last shreds of
gullibility and stripped down to my grimy Y-fronts and got into the
bed next to him, anxious to believe that nothing was going to happen:
I just wanted to go to sleep. He turned out the light......
To this day I wish I could remember the exact words he used as his comradely
hand sneaked down the front of my pants, it was so terribly gauche.
Something along the lines of ‘Let’s have a look at what
the old man’s doing then.’ The ‘old man’ was
doing fine. He was curled up in his smelly cocoon of greasy nylon, his
little Jap’s-eye shut tight, and the last thing he wanted was
to shake hands with a stranger. I was finally obliged to own the truth
to myself. I was in bed with a man, a situation that no amount of punk
enlightenment had reconciled me to, and one from which I found myself
wanting to recoil. As if this already massive breach of schoolboy taboo
weren’t enough, he was a little plump Scotsman, his hand was violating
the sanctity of my underwear, and he undoubtedly wanted to shag me.
Enough was enough, breakfast wasn’t worth it.
Had I been even half the streetwise punk I longed to be, I would have
elbowed him in the ribs, told him to shut up and let me get some kip
and passed out, snoring drunkenly for the rest of the night. Shamefully
I dressed and left with nothing more than a handful of cigarettes and
his vain protestations ringing in my ears. “Hey look, you’ve
got it all wrong - I’m not going to rape you!” He was right.
He was not.
Had I, on the other hand, become his concubine, who knows in what directions
my musical career might have flourished.
Boredom. poverty, my deeply ingrained ignorance, and increasing loneliness
continued to lead me into perilous situations. I carried on my visits
to the West End, meeting ever more unpleasant people, and slowly discovering
that I didn’t really want to be like them at all. Now and again,
for fun, I would mix travel sickness pills and beer, and stumble about
town on a horror trip, protected by God only knows what guardian angel
from the pitfalls and iniquities into which I should have fallen. It
is not an experience I would recommend. The hallucinations are very,
very real, the three day come-down excruciating, and the danger of speaking
to the wrong people while under the influence is paramount. One night
I went to the Nashville to see The Sincerros with the lads from Attitudes.
After the support band (The Photos), I decided to head for home, so
I washed down twelve Marzene tablets with a half -pint of Guinness,
and set off for the tube. I vaguely recall sitting on Oval station later
that night scrawling profound remarks on the wall with a marker pen,
and I remember someone, somewhere, asking me if I was ‘screwing
him up”’- a lovable cockney preamble to a broken nose -
but I have no way of knowing how much of it was real. Back at our flats
I found myself suddenly in the phonebox in Castle Cary, and the illusion
was so real that I relieved myself in time honoured fashion. Upstairs,
I imagined that I had lost my keys, and sat in the corridor talking
to people who weren’t there until Harvey, the strange beatnik
with whom we shared the flat, came home and found me slumped against
the wall raving about doctors and telephones. “I’ve lost
my key,” I explained. Actually it was in my pocket all the time,
but in the state I was in it might as well have been on the moon.
When I examined the walls of Oval station the following day, expecting
to read great depths of drug-induced insight, there were only a couple
of spidery little squiggles. So much for Carlos Castenada and the doors
My only experiences with drugs until now had been these disgusting -
and readily available - pills, lighter fuel, which one inhaled from
aerosol cans, and a few trips round the bend with magic mushrooms, which
grew on the golf course in Yeovil, and to which I had been introduced
one autumnal evening. Before I moved to London, a number of people had
cautioned me, in hushed tones, to beware of drugs; warnings backed up
with little hard information, and even less discrimination concerning
what exactly constituted drugs. To me these well-intended cautions seemed
both bizarre and disembodied. “Go out,” they seemed to be
saying, “and get incredibly drunk, fall over and smash open the
bridge of your nose on a kerbstone, but don’t take drugs! Go to
a nightclub and drink beastly tasting cocktails until you either choke
on your own vomit or the pissed-up squaddie next to you at the bar decides
to brain you with his pint glass, but don’t take drugs! Drink
for fifty years, until your belly reaches your knees and your liver
packs up, but don’t take drugs! Smoke like a chimney, risk your
life at dangerous sports, go para-gliding, mountain climbing, pot-holing
or skin-diving. Join the army, be a coal miner, a boxer, a skier - risk
your life, and the lives of others in a thousand different ways, but
don’t, repeat don’t! Don’t! DON’T TAKE DRUGS!”
Here endeth the lesson.
life in Camberwell was drawing to a close. Unpleasant letters were coming
about the rent arrears, Colin was still away on a seemingly endless
holiday, and life in general wasn’t offering me what I wanted.
Attitudes were teaching me a lot, but I was neither satisfied, nor did
I fully appreciate the value of the experience at the time. What I really
wanted was to fall amongst punks, to live their life and to play their
music. I also, if the truth be known, would have been grateful to have
entertained sweet nothings, murmured by someone slightly more salubrious
than the portly John. In short, my exile was weighing heavily upon me,
and I was mighty lonesome.
I would have died before I went back to Castle Cary, but fortunately
fate took a hand and I was obliged to do neither. Fat Bob had come up
to stay, one weekend, and we had decided to see how much of the tube
network we could cover in a single day, when emerging at Sloane Square
for a breather we bumped into Graham and Curtis from The Mob.
“Joseph!” they exclaimed, “Long time no see! What
are you doing here?” They took in my green hair, leather jacket
and ‘Sid’ T-shirt with some hilarity. “You’re
not off posing down the King’s Road are you?”
“No”, I lied, for that was exactly where we were going.
“We’re just out for a wander - nothing better to do....”
“Well come back to our squat for tea.” I had no idea that
they were all now in London, and inwardly wept with joy at finding myself
again in the company of the people I would most have wanted to have
We took the bus back to Shepherd’s Bush, where they were squatting
in number 5 Woodstock Grove, just off the Green and backing on to the
railway line, a little way north of Kensington Olympia. There we met
Mark, who urged me to come over and join them. He had a friend, he said,
who had a room spare in a squat just down the road. I was easily persuaded.
Mark promised to speak to his friend, and I arranged to come over on
the following weekend to meet them all at the Acklam Hall, a venue underneath
the Westway near Portobello, where The Mob were supporting Dangerous
Girls. I spent the next week looking forward to Saturday, and saying
goodbye to my records, which were to remain behind until I knew exactly
what I was letting myself in for. Squatting, I assumed, would oblige
me to live out of a couple of carrier bags, but as I didn’t own
much beyond the clothes I stood up in, this didn’t really present
a problem. My records would be safe for the time being, and I would
be free of the nagging concerns of rent, and the spirit-sapping solitude
that no amount of brief encounters with unruly children in Soho could
The change from confusion and bewilderment in Camberwell to resolution
and direction in Shepherd’s Bush was as swift and sudden as my
elevation from the dark toils of the cheese factory. I met the chaps
as arranged and marvelled once again at Graham’s slick technique.
At the end of the gig, we seized the stage and held an impromptu jam,
in which Graham played bass, I performed my first public drum crimes
in the capital, and sundry Dangerous Girls unleashed interminable guitar
solos at the disgruntled promoters, who tried in vain to coax us offstage
so they could pack up and go home.
Mark introduced me to Roddy Disorder, the man with the all important
spare room, and I moved in the following day, much to the surprise of
the house’s other occupants who weren’t expecting me. My
first night as a squatter was spent in a bare room, devoid of electricity,
underneath a pile of old coats.
I slept fitfully that night, due to the cold and the hardness of the
floor, but once the initial embarrassment of landing amongst strangers
wore off I was content. “This was what I came to London to find,”
I told myself, surveying the rat shit in my new basement home. “Tomorrow
I will sign on again at a new dole office, and after that, I will paint
an ugly mural on my bedroom wall.” I was content. I was no longer
scratching on the surface of the city. I had found a hole and crawled
down into the underground. It made me welcome, and was very good to
me for a long time.