Genesis To Revolutions

“Exhibit 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 B.”
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 Heart London.”
“Maybe,” I thought, as the lesson sank in, “it’s because I’m not a Londoner that I’m sick to death of the place.”

VI. Falling In Love With A Girl On The Tube

I 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 different.
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 day.
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 my giro!”
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 advice.
“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!

For 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 wardrobe.
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 the repertoire.
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
Yeah!
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

While 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 keep it:
“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:

After 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!
After dark!
Cor wotta lark!

But 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 accent.
“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 developments.
“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 of perception.
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.

My 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 been with.
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 ease.
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.

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