Oh, how ageing delivers complications, dumping issues and chores and routines and problems, piling up the stack till life holds to itself an ever present and very personal Everest. Are we therefore mountaineers, who, when feeling fit for purpose, periodically clamber towards our mountains summit, hoping to triumphantly wave our flag, screaming out to the world that all is now clarity? But the mountain keeps on growing, life’s detritus accumulates and the summit seems forever beyond our enfeebled, climbing weary limbs. Do we die beneath an avalanche life? Fortunately ageing also enables accretion of a certain amount of dismissiveness and wonder to the Everest situation. We can often find time to contemplate the marvellously difficult, the generously laden and seriously comic convulsions of these Kafka-esque themes that litter our lives.Currently, my most time consuming diversions have been provided by the tax man and court services. Just get this… I say to the tax man on 28th September that I may be starting a business next year and may employ some people. By 21st November I am fined £800.00 for non-payment of employer’s contributions dating back to May the previous year. At the same time I am being taken to court for non-payment of employer contributions for a different business, only the thing is, I had paid this bill but the tax office reimbursed me for reasons that they cannot explain. They’ve got bailiffs out for that one. Ho hum, that will be another court case that I shall win. Without this bureaucracy what would we do with our time, and with it, where is our time? I think that this is the philosophical question of our age – not ‘who are we?’ or ‘what are we here for?’ but what ought we do with our time? Hey, I am ahead of myself – I have not inveigled my way into comfortable middle age yet, I am a teen, last year of school and about to start my first job, vibrant, engaged, energised and feeling relatively happy about the way that things are going…
‘Get over you idiot.’The train was busy and available seating was scarce, if Veg squashed into that girl a bit then I would not be intimately acquainted with the plywood, glass and dusty old fabric that are the components of the carriages walls. He doesn’t budge, a bit shy I think. Well, we don’t really understand girls, it’s the all boys school you see, a fairly odd, central London all boys school. As a fifth year student I was able to walk, bold as brass into the GLC building and go to the staff bar, order half of Guinness and be able to drink it without fear of eviction. I felt so mature. This is how I spent my lunchtimes.School was a naval academy for young lads. I was there because my uncle had worked on the Woolwich ferry and I lied about my abilities… well not so much lied, I had simply been misunderstood. You see, I was never an academic. I could never drum up enough enthusiasm for learning to do well in tests. I would much rather spend my time working on my own projects, Peter Cushing style. I wanted to be an Egyptologist circa 1875, or a Victorian vampire killer with red silk lined cloak, carriage and black horses to match.The headmaster at the interview asked me whether I took part in any sport. Of course I did I was 10 years old. I played football in the playground, I played handball against the school wall. We used to call this squash so I told him that I played squash. This impressed him very much and I got into the last public grammar school in London. I learnt to lie was to do well.We had captain’s hats with gold badges and were required, each and every morning and for ten minutes, to stand on parade. During this torturous procedure we were inspected by teachers and jobs-worth prefects. The ‘you better sort those shoes out Andrew’, ‘you better get that hair cut’, ‘stand straight’ and ‘look ahead I said’s’ all helped to develop a strong sense of worthlessness combined with a vigorous anti authoritarian approach to life. Not really what the school were aiming for. The most memorable part of this process was after the parade was over. We would file into assembly and, en masse, wait for Canning to faint. He was a new boy, a late arrival, who perhaps suffered from high blood pressure, or low, or something. Almost every day in summer, during the hymns, he would keel over and gradually the hall would erupt into a swirling, jostling sea of boys edging ever closer to the horizontal, pale Canning, not really for a closer look but most certainly to disrupt the dour assembly.
School was a commute for me, a rail journey of approximately 30 minutes. I loved the rail journey, it was exciting. I travelled to school from the suburbs and as my journey progressed I would be joined by other boys, a small clan, a train gang, Colin, Veg, Gary and a few others whose name’s I no longer recall. We had great times.We would lock ourselves into the dog carriages, get into the guards compartment, open doors when the train was moving and pretend to fall out, climb from one train to another, through the windows, when two trains were at a standstill in a station. What freedoms. Then, as we pulled into Blackfriars we would open the door and jump from the train, legs running in the air so as to avoid crashing to the platform floor when our feet hit the ground.We had to walk over Blackfriars bridge. We became skilled at spitting on the barges in the morning and the tourist boats in the afternoons, as they journeyed under the arches and along the Thames. We talked about music, perhaps about how dirty the lyric was to ‘In the Bush’ or the new single by the Ruts or how dirty Donna Summer sounded, in fact, a lot of our chat was to do with women, girls and sex. Not that we knew anything about females. Well, not much that was accurate in any case.
Veg and I were on the way to Stu’s place to practice. I was lead guitar, Veg was bass. We looked cool with our guitar cases, spiky hair, leather jackets and drainpipes, baseball boots finishing off the look. We were punks. Punk was a startling smack in the face to the established and complacent but to us it was as well fitting as my PVC jeans. I was a punk and I loved it. I liked people looking at me thinking that I was a state. I wanted to be different. We all wanted to be so different. I was telling them, the authorities, the prog rockers, the police and whoever needed offending to shake them out of their sleep, that I did not belong to their world. I had adopted a very different world, one that was peopled by my friends and any that wanted to be part of it, any who displayed the attitude.This was 1979. Punk was already new wave and some of the original bands were about to break up, Penetration, X-ray Spex. We understood this I think but it didn’t matter much. You see, we were anarchists, seemed like we always had been, and an emergent political movement led by a truly great band, Crass, was guiding us now. We wanted to subvert the system and we would scream this message of anger over the noise of our guitars.Our band was called the Deicides and we were going nowhere. Stu the drummer was rapidly turning into a real wanker. Gareth the singer had mutated into an art school type and Veg and I were just into, well, into nothing much, anarcho-nihilists perhaps, anarcho-punks for sure.
Wimbledon station arrived and we got off the train and made our way to Stu’s. We had to practice at his as that was where the drum kit was. Not sure his mother was too keen though. We belted out a few rough covers and worked on a few songs written by Gareth. We had some badges made up and never practised together again.We never went much to school in that final year and kinda left early, returning only to sit the exams that none except Gareth revised for. We did not engage with the education system. I think we viewed it as pointless for we were not going to be part of the system. I educated myself, reading literature that surprises me by its complexity today.We had another mate, a Scots guy called Andy who was a bit older than us and smoked a lot of dope. He loved that advert… ‘how do like your eggs done have you seen the milkman you know you’ve got a wasp in your ear’ … well, we’d all be walking down the road singing that and then, well, then nothing ever much happened. Life was fun because we had each other but wholly uninteresting in all other ways.
It was punk that did it for me, that key influence that defines me to this day. I would have been radical as I was a hippy kid but punk gave this social angst an energy that felt as though we really could change society. We, the collective of estranged and strange, disenfranchised and problematic, raw and powerful young people. The new chant was that of peace and anarchy. We wanted an end to the government, we didn’t want to be told what to do, we were adults and powerless. How impotent we really were we did not understand. We thought that when we shouted we could plant an idea that would grow into the peace and freedom that we so wanted to flourish. Remember, we had been living with the ascendency of the white witch of the west. She was masquerading as beneficent, her slow deliberate speech undermining the confidence of the nation and making children of us all. This evil had to be destroyed and we hoped that this would be possible through our music. We sang ”fuck the politically minded’, we sang ‘I want you, autonomy’, we sang ‘subvert’.I remember Gareth, in his Black Flag period making up some stencils in a Crass style, I do not remember what they said, but anyway, we used to spend our evenings in town, central London, Waterloo, Trafalgar Square, Soho. We managed to spray paint the Admiralty with precisely cut slogans. Every time we walked down the Mall we knew we had the power. We could do what we wanted.
At summers end I found a job and continued the same commute. It was not so much fun now, no train gang to play with. Was I an adult or a child? I met a girl on the train. A friend of Gary’s, one of my train gang mates from school days. She was called Karen. She was nearly two years older than me, bright, funny, and more importantly, into me.I now spent a lot of time with Gary, in order to get closer to Karen. Eventually, after a few weeks that seemed like an age, Karen asked me out and we became an item. She did her thing and I did mine, she being a soul girl and not into punk or politics. At this time I was going to about three or four gigs a week and she would go to discos. Most of the time that we spent together was on the train. Thinking back, we made a sweet couple, hugging as we commuted to and from work, she just a little taller than me, with make-up and jewellery and sensible clothes, me looking oh so young, school-boyish but with a punky edge.A few evenings a week I would get off at her station and walk her home, spending the evening with her, not getting up to much as her mother was mostly always home, and then she would walk me to the station and send me home on the last train of the night. Weekends we occasionally went shopping, to the cinema or for the odd walk with her dog but mostly I went to her house. You see, her mother worked Saturdays.Then one Sunday night Gary called me. He said watch the news. He sounded shaken. I rushed to the TV and there was Karens face.
Karen had been to a house party the night before and on her way home was raped and battered to death. The news reporter said that her face was unrecognisable and that the police had said they had never before seen such brutality, such a savage attack.
I met Delyth, one of Karens friends on the train a couple of weeks later and she produced from her bag some photos of a recent holiday she had spent with Karen. We looked at the pictures, hugged and cried.