Monday, 31 December 2012

Piss Drenched Jeans: The Night Micky Geggus Saved Our Lives

Highlight of 2012 was undoubtedly West Ham beating Blackpool 2-1 at Wembley. I was with all my West Ham faithful, the only exception being my good mate John from Canning Town who was elsewhere busying himself with studying Law in his last year in Paris; always thought law was a wise subject to study for a man who heralds from a place known to some as the City of Thieves.
          A brilliant day got off to a bad start. I slept in. The meet was Bond Street 11am. I got out of bed around about that time of morning. It’s what I do best. I rushed out, boxer shorts on back to front, my Morrissey flat-top, proper flat and no top. Awaiting the tube I ran into an old friend who was going to the game with a pack of mates I didn’t know. He’s a top DJ, a large chap thrown into the bargain, and I made reference to this still being the case. It didn’t go down well what with his mates not knowing me. I got blanked and they shifted to the right as the train came in and I decided it was best to get in the left carriage. It was empty. I felt empty, not a good feeling to piss someone off who you haven’t seen in a while, especially on a Wembley Cup Final Day. I sat down. Gazed up sheepishly and said this delicately to the person sat opposite.
          ‘Fuck me, it’s Stinky Turner.’
          I said that because it was him. The front-man of the Cockney Rejects. Stinky Turner aka Jeff Turner aka Jeff Geggus. From then on we had a manic love-in of all things West Ham and his band and then me taking over a bit. His son looked bored throughout but that was okay. I felt bad about having to get off at Bond Street. But that was where our meet was and anyway he was on route to hook up with Trevor Brooking for a pitch-side interview. Before we parted Jeff asked me where I was in the ground and then said he thought his brother was in that same section.
          Fast forward. I meet his brother at half time.

          ‘Alright Micky, I just ran into Jeff and his boy on the way up here.’
          Once again the conversation was like one between old school mates. But I did have some history with Micky. The night he saved me and my small band of mates from getting buried round the back of the Bridge House in Canning Town in March 1981.
          Those were seriously violent days back then. At gigs and at football. On Saturday West Ham had beaten Chelsea in the old Division Two 4-0 and there was fighting everywhere. The next day my band set off along the M4 to support Vice Squad at a pub in Bristol. Happy with the previous days result and naively not appreciating any violent connection with Bristol City, I proudly wore my West Ham scarf. We got there early. The locals didn’t dig my scarf. We had to take refuge in a Marks & Spencer. I was told to tuck the scarf inside my jacket. That night Vice Squad never showed. And neither did the PA. On the Tuesday they were supporting the 4 Skins at The Bridge House in Canning Town. We thought we’d show up and ask for an explanation and an apology. Before I was picked up that night I was told this.
          ‘Don’t wear that fucking scarf.’
          I didn’t bother to labour the point that Canning Town was safe territory for claret and blue colours as emotions were tender after what happened in Bristol. So I left the scarf at home. On the night we never got to speak with Vice Squad. We were the only non skinheads in a 300 strong pub. It didn’t help that they thought we were Chelsea. We drank furiously to accommodate the unsettling paranoia. As the toilets in the pub were evidently a no go area for non skinheads, the five of us agreed we’d have a piss where our van was parked, which was round the back of the pub in a dimly lit anonymous dead end that was flanked either side by high corrugated walls. To compound the problem, we were also afraid to leave the pub.
          We eventually left after the gig, almost unable to walk what with our bladders holding so much lager and then our small and desperate collective got ambushed mid-piss; words directed clearly indicated that they thought we were Chelsea taking liberties on their manor. It was messy on all levels. With more than the odd boot in the face. Lying on the floor cut and bloody and wearing piss drenched jeans, it was all quite depressing. More than that, it looked like we were not going to make it home. In such moments you don’t get overwhelmed in fear because quite simply, there isn’t the time. The only thing I remember thinking was in how I wished I had my fucking West Ham scarf on.
          And then when all looked beyond help a young Micky Geggus – the only other non skinhead and a face we hadn’t seen all night – appeared wearing a green flight jacket with sown on Motorhead patch. He parted the waves, an Oi Moses, stopped the fighting, calmed the masses, got us in the van, climbed in the back with us as they were going to brick the van once we got to the front of the pub, and then ensured we were safely on the A13, homeward bound safe and sound.
          ‘I normally have a good memory but don’t recall that night,’ Micky had said to me during half time at Wembley.
          Not sure if he was just being modest, but that was a night I wasn’t ever going to forget in a hurry and the story was still surging through my head when I went to take up my seat just after half time. When I got there I was asked what I was smiling about. Surviving that night, I thought. But Tom Ince had scored for Blackpool and it was 1-1. What lay ahead was a grim second half of biting fingernails, gasping for breath, the desperate urge to have a piss – going to the toilet would definitely mean Blackpool would score – therefore also, the fear of piss drenched jeans and all of this augmented by the sickening taste of impending gloom and loss. It was all going wrong. Like that night in the Bridge House. And then when all looked beyond help, Ricardo Vaz Te – who we hadn't seen all afternoon – appeared and buried the ball into the roof of the net and I was soon able to empty my bladder and feel the joy.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Waste of a Banana Fritter

We’re all starving like fuck and a few doors down from Susan’s house is a takeaway – Cantonese and Peking Cuisine – and we go in there and after a great deal of pissed up fucking about arguing, we go and finally get loads of dishes that we’re going to share with her boyfriend Bob. As I’ve taken control I do the ordering and shout up: Beef Chop Suey, Stir Fried Chicken with Baby Corn, Sweet and Sour King Prawn Balls, Lemon Chicken – I fucking love Lemon Chicken – Fried Mixed Veggies, Pancake Rolls and two portions of Special Fried Rice. It worked out about eleven quid each not including how post-order Christine decided she wanted a Banana Fritter which I ordered and paid out of my own money and this also added time to our exit as they did what needed doing to cook a fucking Banana Fritter. But who fucking cares. The green light to paradise was still shining down on me and Christine. We were gonna have some tonight. I was definitely a starving horse about to be fed his oats. We went to Susan’s house and I was immediately introduced to Bob and I tried to do the decent thing in a strangers house by trying to act all together as well as convince the bloke that I hadn’t been shagging his bird all afternoon. He shook my hand and seemed genuinely friendly enough even though most small blokes who wear glasses usually are. I mean, by their very presence they’re hardly equipped to go about their lives at war with us lot. Most sensible small blokes all know that they just have to except their placing in the general scheme of things and get on with it. Handle the piss takes if and when it happens to be dished out in their direction and don’t get all self important and try and make a name for yourself. It never ever works out in their favour when they try to be Bruce Willis when they’ve had a few jars of courage. Bob’s sort will always lose out. It’s the law of the jungle. So with that said, I didn’t really have a problem telling him whereabouts I lived. I might look like I’m from the Castle Island but I’m not and I think it probably relaxed him knowing that. Made him think that I’m not a nutter.
Bob ate more than any of us, although I didn’t do too bad. What fucked me off was that Christine had made a right big fuss about getting a Banana Fritter after we’d already ordered and had to wait an extra five minutes for her and now as we’re sitting here all finished, I notice that she’s only taken one mouse sized bite out of it, the very same Banana Fritter that’s slumped on the hard shoulder against the piled up mountain which happens to be the rest of the food she’s also failed to touch. What a fucking waste. I could have got the right hump. But fuck it. Fact is, I have big plans. I need to stay cool here.
We go to watch some old DVD which Bob tells me is his all time favourite film. It was Shallow Grave. I’ve seen it before and it was okay, but no way would you call it brilliant though as the flatmates in it were all cunts and deserved to die. I fell asleep soon into the film and when I awoke it had finished and little four-eyed Bob and sexy Susan are dishing out the polite goodnights as they take out the plates and then Susan came back with some bedding and we’re all rather foolishly saying goodnight again and then in a sort of embarrassed silence me and Christine Dean, while avoiding eye contact, make up a bed on the floor using the cushions from the sofa and the two armchairs as a mattress. The door’s partially open, letting in some light from the hallway, and I’m hoping that Bob and Susan won’t have a problem leaving it on for a while as I like to see what I’m doing. As most birds who know me and have been there will tell you.

We’re still not speaking or acknowledging each other as we undress and then as soon as we get under the quilt cover and our knees touch it instantly becomes the signal for me to start and I reckon it was under two minutes when I had Christine Dean pushed up on all fours arse high and I was in there licking and fingering her in both holes. I was frantic. It was great. She was responding well and I soon had my cock up her. It was total no nonsense. Mad and barmy. So fucking brilliant as I try to truly appreciate this moment as here I am banging into her. I’m pulling her shoulders back and battering her in and out as fast as I can go but it seems that all the beer consumed during what has been a brilliant day is now numbing all sensation and it’s not helping me achieve my ultimate goal. I have to think quickly on my knees and so I pull out my cock and stick two fingers up her and now that I’m lubricated by her juices I’m onto opening up her arse again and seeing that there’s still no vocal opposition, I quickly seize on the moment and stick my long fat cock up there and it feels so much better, it really does, and now I’m possessed and I’m banging into her so hard, so fast, and I’m totally oblivious to her surrendered shape as I just keep looking down, concentrating hard on the visible portion of the rod of my cock going in and out of her arse all mechanically like a piston from George Stephenson’s Rocket or something and I think I can hear her acknowledge my good work, the work of my rocket, my best endeavour in pissed up circumstances and I go and try raise the game further, speed up the ride, I’m now slapping her tiny tight arse cheeks as this 7-4 favourite continues to slut it on home full of the thrust and speed of her brilliant rider – the dirty cow’s fucking loving it more than I am –  and I’m well clear of the chasing pack and I’m in such good health here despite all the beer consumed during what has been a brilliant day and the dark thoughts that now make themselves known to me as I continue on with the job are dealt with as I’m on such a rush that this is at long last really happening for me again, I am back, Jim Best, well and truly back on the saddle, and on and on I continue to push myself faster and further than I’ve ever been before and I’m knackered but getting faster all the time and I try not to get hypnotised by the speed of my cock sorting out this tidy anal slut and on we go and I’m wondering how long I can keep this up for but I’m wanting a finish now cos I’m feeling knackered so to add to the thrill I’m now knocking off a few years off of her, turning her into a sweet fifteen year old school slut who has crept downstairs and let me in through the back door with ma and pa oblivious to what I’m doing to their loving innocent daughter who just loves it shoved right up her, always keenly begs for it up the arse and this drives me to new magnificent heights and I want to shout out and let the world know how good this all is, but I’m in Bob’s house and you can’t do that sort of thing cos he’s got a kid up there and anyway there’s no way I can have him getting images, having a sneaky wank to our dirty noises all carefully so Susan doesn’t know what he’s really doing over on his side of the bed, so I copy Christine and keep my volume on mute and instead I home in on the beautiful sight of the receiver and then incredibly I realise that I haven’t even got her tits out yet, so I waste no time and push her T-shirt aggressively up to her shoulders which she plays up on and tries to resist while I continue to pump into her and then I keep the game going and reach under and rip her small tits out from her tight bra and I have a small grab with my left hand while the right sees to clutching a fistful of her hair, pulling her head back so that I can work my way up there another inch or so as she jerks back grunting away and I reckon I really could just go on like this all night if I really wanted to and I’m just keeping my concentration going working myself up for big explosion and then incredibly, from out of nowhere, I’m registering some negative resistance going on here and it’s not in the script either and therefore it ain’t going down well and it all gets worse cos the fucking bitch is actually right at this very moment telling me to stop, and I lose my way, confused, as I’m dropped from such a great height, confused until the emotion is replaced by complete outrage as I can now see clearly that there’s stewards on the track waving red flags and trying to fucking well call off the race as I’m about to cross the finishing line and she really is telling me to stop, this is no joke, JIM, ARGGH, STOP! ARGGH, STOP! PLEASE JIMMEE. ARGGH, STOP! PLEE EASE! ARGGH, NO. NO JIM. JIM, JIMMEE! NO! PLEASE JAMES STOP! and having hit the alarm name, calling me James, I appreciate in how this is seriously mad, not nice, and she’s now uttering her pleases in some honourable controlled half muted way as if she’s now trying not to bring this apparent out of the blue disaster what’s going on here to the attention of those above us and I look up from what was once the gifted magic of sex and now I can see and hear that she’s crying, pure concentrated devastation, and I just want to continue, finish the race, the job, bury my rich seed up her arse, but she’s really fucking going mental here, sobbing badly, and I go and pull up abruptly and before I know what to do next I go humiliatingly soft and as I do I fall off the saddle.
          At exactly the same time I impact the floor, the hall light sinisterly goes out and now we’re both in total darkness and initially I’m happy because Christine can’t see my face and then I’m wondering if Bob and Susan really have heard any of this and I’m laying on my back and I know that Christine has moved well away from me and she then goes and confirms this as she pulls almost the whole of the quilt her way and for the first time in my life I genuinely feel like I’ve just committed rape.
          Naked and lying on my back in the dark and with the broken whimpering to my left continuing to haunt me, it really does feel so horrific.

Hurting Teeth

The water board had been gathering outside in numbers like an enemy ready to attack. And then attack, they did. Opening up hole after hole after hole all along street, creating misery and chaos in order to prevail good clean running water. They were, in a heavy-handed big ugly way, replacing all the ancient Victorian pipes with big new long yellow ones. And despite a few white feathered protests it soon became clear that all the pipes really were going to have to be replaced. There was no getting around it. Only under it. With just two days to Christmas to go, the scenic view was not one of peace and goodwill. For wherever you gazed there was numerous deep holes surrounded on all sides by mountains of dirt and fractured concrete. It was all rather grim.
          Was this what The Beatles meant by 4000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire in A Day In The Life? thought Tom Barnaby while watching the workman dig deep, Tom hidden from view like a secret sniper from a corner flap of curtain in an overhead side-room. Outside an unfriendly wind blew against the wobbly window with a vengeance – ‘It’ll fall out one of these days,’ she always liked to say – and the rain fired down, icy cold and diagonal.
          ‘Where are you, what you doing?’ came her accusing voice from the adjacent bedroom.
          There was a short spasm of silence.
          ‘I was looking out the window,’ Tom then said, still somewhat startled but happily drowning in the spirit of honesty. And then he added: ‘It’s carnage out there. There’s nowhere for folk to park a car. I don’t envy them workman, mind.’
          ‘What do you mean?’
          ‘What with all that wind and blistering rain. Not a day to be outside.’
          Those words should have comforted Emily. Because there she was, tucked up all warm and safe in bed. But she wasn’t happy. She wasn’t feeling very well and with Christmas around the corner this was not good.
          ‘My teeth hurt,’ was where it all began the night before the night before.
          Hurting teeth was a major problem as Emily was in fear of the dentist. But by the stroke of midnight from when the first tickling of pain began its conquering of her lower jaw, her teeth soon became the least of her worries.  For Emily, the pain of toothache had brought home some friends, many a familiar stranger to her. Along came a very sore throat (throat cancer), a never-ending headache (brain tumour) and she also now had a twisted stomach (bowel cancer).
          ‘Oh Tom, what on earth am I going to do? What if my teeth still hurt Christmas day? I won’t be able have turkey and roast beef. Oh I feel so rotten.’
          ‘We’ll eat turkey and roast beef alright,’ said Tom Barnaby.
          ‘How can you be so sure?’
          ‘Because I am.’
          ‘But you don’t have teeth that hurt.’
          A routine silence prevailed. But was soon punctured.
          ‘You’ll be fine,’ he said.
          You could always rely on Tom Barnaby to say how everything would be fine. Her husband was a happy go lucky chap who got up early without complaint every morning to go out and deliver milk. He had grown up without ever having a problem with his teeth. Tom put this down to the fact that ever since he was a small boy he had always eaten a crunchy apple and drank a glass of cold milk every day. All that calcium over the years had looked after him.
          ‘Why don’t you ever get teeth issues?’ she would bemoan.
          ‘Because I drink milk every day I guess,’ he would reply.
          ‘You know how much I hate the taste of milk,’ would be the end of the conversation.

Milk – how the hell did she ever end up with a milkman? Waking her up at 3am every bleeding morning? Simple answer. When they married – thirty-two years ago – Tom wasn’t a milkman. He was deputy manager at a car showroom on the London Road. It paid well. It was like they lived a better life in them days. Then fate introduced him to voluntary redundancy and soon after that he was delivering milk. His mate Gene O’Dare got him the job. Put in a good word and the interview was a formality. So that was what Tom Barnaby did for a living. He sailed about the town in the small hours on his float, enjoying the tranquillity of dawn, the first peeps from stirring birds, the occasional stray fox and morning jogger. Tom liked his own company while at work. But sometimes too much time on your own plays tricks with your brain. He would often return home exhausted and spout the most inexplicable things. Like for instance when he came into the house this morning and said:
          ‘It’s arctic monkeys out there?’
          ‘You mean brass monkeys?’
          ‘Do I?’
          ‘What did I say?’
          Arctic instead of brass.’
          He then scratched his head and put on the kettle.
          Tom always liked to make a cup of tea and to prepare food for his wife. Especially right now, when she needed him most. He felt bad that Emily was feeling poorly and he wished there was something he could do about her sore teeth and also, her constant worrying. Emily did like to worry. Well, no. She didn’t like worrying, she didn’t enjoy worrying, it was just something she did. Out of habit. Emily worried about money when they had money, she worried about money when they didn’t have as much money and she worried about what it would be like if they didn’t have any money at all. Emily and Tom – homeless and starving and holding hands in the icy cold. Then she would worry about how perhaps they wouldn’t actually be holding hands. How they wouldn’t be holding hands as they were no longer on speaking terms on account of being bitter, broke, homeless. Who would hold her hand then instead of Tom? No one. She would be on the streets, alone and hungry. Without a hand to hold!
          Tom Barnaby liked to think he never worried about money. That such a worry was too exhausting. No. Good health was the most important thing. Without good health then you had cause to worry. Tom felt that it was all her frantic worrying about being worried all the time that brought about her many complaints. But then again, he was surely no expert. Maybe Emily was right to be worried. He could have easily found another car showroom and gone on to become a manager, what with his track record. Had he bottled the challenge and gone for an easy route instead? And where exactly were the loyalties in milk? What about the redundancies that every milkman in the depot had been fretting about since Doug Francis was made redundant in July? Others would follow. That was the truth. It was only a matter of time.
          Perhaps he should worry too? She always said that she’d feel much happier if she knew that her husband was a worrier as well. How he might empathise with her in a more comforting manner. Maybe he should do some over-the-top worrying on Christmas Day. Sort of like a surprise present. Complain about climate change, how we as the dominant species had done serious damage to the longevity of life on the planet and what is the point of being born in the first place what with all the pain and suffering in the world. That sort of thing. But what if his worrying backfired and made Emily more of a nervous wreck? No. He would carry on the same.
          Every Christmas Day they walked the ten minutes to the pub to feast on the Christmas Roast. And Tom was certain that his wife would be fine come the day. He was that confident that all would be well, that the next morning he began to whistle a happy little tune and he maintained it throughout his round. The tune he whistled was a song called Mistletoe and Wine by Cliff Richard. And then an hour or so later, while still whistling, as he headed back to the depot, it began to thickly flake with snow. Tom then wondered where exactly could he buy some mistletoe. Perhaps he could get some at Marks and Spencer? They might sell some next to the fruit and nuts.
          By the time Tom made his way home he was tired and even though there had been all that rain the previous day the snow was settling fast, over two inches now, he was easily sidetracked from thoughts of purchasing some mistletoe. He liked the simple cleansing silence of snow and it had really come down fast, the roads layered in a thick white crust. He thought about the men down them holes in a few hours, shivering and shovelling out snow. Tom looked forward to getting indoors and making a cup of tea. He wondered if Emily would want a hot drink, what with her hurting teeth. He decided instead that he would make her a tepid peppermint tea and stir in some crushed ibuprofen without her knowing. That should do the trick. Keep the wolf of pain at bay. For tomorrow was Christmas Eve and Tom was certain that the surprise presents that he had purchased for his wife – a funbag of blank video cassettes, a pink stressball, a Philippa Gregory novel and some purple jewelled earrings – would most definitely take her mind off of her toothache.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

10 Books

10. Three – Ann Quin

Originally published in 1966, this was the third Ann Quin book I have read after Berg and Tripticks. Three’s got a poetic sexual eeriness throughout. Where  the book lacks the drive that Berg had, it replaces with the tragic beauty of a young voice chasing something out of reach and knowing nothing will change. The last paragraph delivers the inevitable but five pages from the end is the most spine-chilling narration. ‘How easy for a body to drift out, caught up in a current, and never be discovered, or for anyone to ever be certain.’ That was Ann Quin writing about her own death in 1973 seven years before it happened. She had clearly always decided that her end was predetermined. Heartbreaking.  

  9. Judas Pig – Horace Silver
This brutal and absorbing book of East End gangster life is a long out of print Do-Not Press publication from 1994. Was one of a few superb charity bookshop finds of mine this year and a gruesome read. Horace Silver’s writing gets you sucked in so far you get blown out the other side. Not a massive fan of gangster books and always thought The Long Firm by Jake Arnott was Charlie Richardson’s My Manor meets The Orton Diaries. Which it was. Judas Pig is the real deal, well written, uncompromising. Been told could get good money for this book as much sought after. Not surprised. But I don’t care too much for money…the book’s now mine and not going on Ebay.

 8.  Tales from the Two Puddings – Eddie Johnson

Tales is an East End contrast on so many levels to Judas Pig even though Eddie Johnson did know the Kray's and many other dark personalities in the 1960s. This piece of non fiction is by the father of Matt Johnson from The The. Eddie Johnson ran the Two Puddings pub in Stratford. It is a social document, a one way conversation from a man reminiscing about a past that was both violent and full of loving. Eddie’s real passion was entertaining and looking after people, to have fun. A most important gift. He claims to have put on the first ever disco and certainly the pub was a major live venue in the early 60s. The Who, Van Morrison, The Small Faces all played there. Eddie Johnson is a socialist and a humanist. What’s there not to like? Was gutted when I heard he had been book signing in Newham Bookshop on the Barking Road before West Ham/Sunderland and I had missed out on meeting him.  
7.  The Buddha Bar – Joseph Ridgwell

 A third writer on the spin from the East End. What I liked so much about this book was that it sounded like the voice of a family member. All my brothers and sisters have travelled far and wide while I have maintained a package holiday existence at a cost. Each chapter is like a postcard home, honest, warm but mocking me in how much I really have missed out on being young and exploring beyond the end of the road. The narrator puts what money he has as well as all of his dreams, love and energy into running a bar in Thailand. A joint venture. But does trusting in someone  you love  (in this case a wildcat called Mindi) make you blind and is trust a weak trait to maintain? I don’t think so. ‘Domestic or international?’ is the question at the end of the book. I, of course would only answer, domestic. Ridgwell would never settle for such a word.  

6.  Skagboys – Irvine Welsh
This brilliant prequel to Trainspotting is a big book. As published this year only in hardback, not a great travel companion. Like carrying around a brick, a literary breeze block. When I say ‘travel’ I am of course referring to local transport. I remember Kindle idiots sniggering to each other on the bus as I split my brick open and broke into a read. But these moments did have me wondering if Renton’s handwritten journals were displayed like that on a Kindle. Soon found out the answer. Just regular italic font. Hardly the same impact as reading the actual book. Suckers. I always have the last laugh.
5.  Dark Corners of the Land – Adelle Stripe

I was never into poetry until I read Sky Ray Lolly by Fiona Pitt-Kethley back in the 1990s. The poems French Connection, Sky Ray Lolly, Wankers and A Sunday Afternoon – all a kick in the bollocks new territory for me. I think some of those poems shaped the way I began to think and then write. I have memories of friends who when I began to try and write suddenly became non friends, a elitist crew of self-indulgent readers of Penguin Classics who, to quote Siouxsie Sioux were ‘condescending from on high’. And I would think to myself ‘go and read the poem Wankers, Joe and feel the joy’. The best poetry I have read since Sky Ray was recent. Last month. Dark Corners of the Land. The poems Murmur, Last Utero, Self Burial and Penny Dreadful stand out for me as the Champions League qualifiers who would easily be a match against the four Pitt-Kethley’s I mentioned. Adelle Stripe’s book was also my first taste of Blackheath Books. The tea card in mine is of an Artic Skua in flight. It flies into my mind warning of what is to come when I turn the page –  much rural death. Sounds depressing but it’s proper good.

 4.  Last Days of the Cross – Joseph Ridgwell

 The only author to have two books in the Top Ten. Too right. I have never met Joseph Ridgwell but in this crazy world of meeting strangers when on the piss and down a dark alley of social networking it’s been a real pleasure. And his full of life passion via a few email exchanges is finely replicated in this book. I used ‘full of life’ deliberately of course. Heavily influenced by John Fante’s alter ego Arturo Bandini, here we find Joe in Sydney, up against the world and struggling for money, love and the ability to write one word. Painful familiar territory. Unsentimental and often very funny, Ridgwell makes you turn the page like a maniac while also encouraging a constant return to the fridge for another cold beer. Genius.  

 3. Last Exit to Brooklyn – Hubert Selby Jr

 Have read a long time ago and when I saw the film thought it had delivered, matched the book, emotionally and violently. But in June I got a pre-trail John Calder hardback with intact dustcover for £3.50 in a charity bookstore in Devon (a serious result) and read again. The book versus film wins 5-1 having been 4-0 up at half time, confirming to me how the page will always be more powerful than the screen. To illustrate this point, what happened to Tralala and even Harry Black gets you round the throat more in Selby’s words than watching the same acts portrayed on the big screen. Brutal and beautiful. If you haven’t read the book recently or since seeing the film years ago, return.

 2.  The Panopticon – Jenni Fagan

Young Anais Hendricks knows they watch her as she outstares the moon. Right from the beginning this damaged wonderful creation marks her territory. You are either with her or you put the book down and forget she exists. The latter’s what Anais  would be expecting. This is a spectacular debut, a triumph out of damage. This book should be cemented in top place because of the cool self awareness and self determination of this important voice. A voice that no matter what she may or may not have done, screams fuck it, I am not caving in here. And any narrator that raises a fat smile for wanting a two-headed pickled baby in a jar was always going to be hard to beat. But Anais knows this world just isn’t fair and her awareness of this truth must prevail. That’s the reason why I cannae put her top.

 1.  The Voyeur – Alain Robbe-Grillet

Read this mesmerised on a beach in Crete in October; a seaweed strewn beach that resembled the bottom of a hamster cage. A lesson in descriptive writing and how to confuse the reader but not irritate. That is the gift of this book. The Voyeur was my first experience of Alain Robbe-Grillett. Mathias, a watch salesman, arrives on a island with a mission to sell a suitcase of watches to the locals, but while he is there a girl is found at the base of a rock face, she had been raped and murdered, but the questions pile on top of one another thick and fast until at the end I am asking – did Mathias even go to the island at all, hire a bike, leave cigarettes butts at the scene that could implicate him to the murder, did he really kill the girl, did a girl even die, exist, did he even smoke, wake up that morning etc or was Mathias a young imaginative Mathias in a room all along struggling to draw a gull while his mind roamed wild?  The answer is none of this matters. Looking forward to reading again.

Thursday, 29 November 2012


‘They’ll be just the three of them today,’ he said, unflinching.
          ‘Oh right, thought Annie said it was five.’
          ‘It was five. But there was a situation last night. Now it’s three.’
          Though I felt warm sweat dripping under both arms – I wisely always wear dark shirts when working for Annie – I don’t remember projecting any kind of astonishment when he mentioned how there had been a situation last night. Guess I must have just done an amiable nod and carried on tuning up.
          He hadn’t introduced himself earlier when we met in the pissing rain outside the cage. Only that introduction above. But I knew his name was Gerry Castle. Annie had mentioned his name in the email along with the time I had to be here, a contact telephone number and the post code for Mapledune Secure Unit. The only other information – the workshop today was to last for four hours. She had sent me a text a fortnight ago asking if I was available for this job. I normally bite off her arm for work. But the job was one day in a secure unit. I immediately replied, expressing a natural concern. Nuffin 2 worry about they no me well just do ur usual ull b fine. i will email u details A x was the message concluding the deal.
          Annie had a scattergun approach to running her business. Her favourite three words to me have always been, you’ll be fine. I assumed all this today was part of a Silver Arts Award that she was presently running in this unit. But I wasn’t certain. That’s why I had been hoping to tease some information from Gerry Castle. But that prospect diminished fast.
          For a start, there were no handshakes when I got out of the van. He walked straight passed me, directing me round to the left side of the building, to the cage. A fenced in square portal, the place for me to reverse my silver Vauxhall Astra van into. Which I did. I think he grinned slightly as he locked me in and then vanished from view. I sat in the van for a good five minutes before he appeared on the other side, behind me, opening the rear of the cage, a tall gateway that allowed access into what looked like a regular school playground; there was a tennis court/five-a-side football pitch, two large wooden climbing frames, a basketball pole and net. I had to leave the van in no man’s land, in the cage, remove the keys, hand them to Gerry, and unload my equipment travelling diagonally across what I now appreciated was a bouncy tarmac playground; it was so soft underfoot, black marshmallow.
          I brought in all my gear without assistance. Gerry stood guard by my van and observed my nine odd journeys back and forth as I carried my own acoustic guitar and bass plus 35w amp and then all the junior size guitars and 15w amps, a mixture of bass and acoustic guitars all held by dangling arms and as much cradled under armpits as I could manage. As I thought I had five today I had brought along six electric bass guitars and six nylon string acoustic guitars. The aim as always is that the group get to experience the contrast between 4-string and 6-string instruments. I had brought along extra as no one with behaviour issues wants to watch me re-string a guitar should a string snap. All the while Gerry prevailed, leaning against my van, void of emotion, an unfriendly ghoul, watching me. I wasn’t exactly expecting a welcoming party, but I was understandably nervous about working in a Secure Unit for the first time and it was reasonable enough for me to have hoped for something more cordial than a creepy sneering. The room I was to run the workshop from was immediately adjacent to the playground. In truth I didn’t really take in too much of the surroundings or if anyone else was watching as I went back and forth to the van. It really did begin to rain again. Seriously piss down, hard and vengeful. A perfect gesture all considering.

Twenty-five minutes later in the dry I was sat in a very hot room on a chunky wooden chair tuning up the last of the acoustics; the bass guitars were all pretty much in tune and the strings required hardly any manipulation of tension. But the last acoustic I had was completely de-tuned. I knew the culprit. He was from my last workshop. A patch of white from the room lighting shone on Gerry’s small bald head. He had watched me set up in silence. I clearly wasn’t going to get a cup of tea. Gerry just stood there staring at me and not my parade of spectacular guitars, out of their cases, upright on stands, gleaming in the artificial light. The bass guitars are a mixture of red, black and blue. The acoustics, black and purple. Gerry was holding a fixed icy posture, one I understood so well from the short time I had been doing this as another means of earning money; the unfriendly teacher-like stance, the arms folded, not understanding or wanting to understand the good work I had been doing to have gotten this far in this job in such a short space of time. But I knew what the issue was. I was, in his eyes, like in so many eyes, a mercenary. Perhaps having a skinhead haircut did me no favours; even though many would argue I was more Jimmy Sommerville than Joe Hawkins. But I am in this for honesty’s sake. I like shaving my head. My new girlfriend likes the look too. I then wondered if his frosty vibe was because he was naturally bald and mine was by choice.
          With the last of the guitars in tune, I looked up and smiled into his miserable face, hoping the gesture would be returned followed by the offer of that cup of tea. But I was clearly not wanted here today. That was plain enough to work out and that’s all good but the fact translates as this: I am here today. I am here to do my work. This is a day’s money. Good money. Three times more than I get for sanding floors, slaving my guts out for Simon Quinn; my other line of work. And then he spoke.   
         ‘So you work for Annie then?’
          ‘Known her long?’
          ‘We’ve known each other a while.’
          ‘She’s not told me much about you.’
          ‘Hasn’t she? Thought she would have.’
          ‘Of course she mentioned that you’re covering for her today.’
          ‘Oh, right.’
          ‘That you do all this with the guitars, that you’ve had the odd success here and there in behaviour management.’
          Hold on a second. Odd success you say? Over twenty young students who have never had an opportunity in life or had anyone invest time in them before have not only all now got a Bronze Arts Award certificate further to time spent with me, but are also now working on Silver. And three of them I know for a fact – Ben, Azaria and Jack – are now avid bass players in the process of writing their own material and forming bands. I truly believe that they all now believe in themselves to the extent that they will keep to the path I have shown them is out there and that they will never end up in here.
          ‘Yes, I suppose you could say I have had some success.’
          My tone employed sounded very nervous. Gerry was not impressed. And waded in.
          ‘Listen to me. And listen good. We had a situation last night that became extremely unpleasant for all concerned. Extremely unpleasant. This is another level to anything that you have done prior to now.’
          ‘I know that.’
          ‘No, you think you know but you don’t know. You have got to lay down the law hard and instant. They will be waiting for one tiny spec of weakness and then you’ll be in pieces. They will tear your guts out and it’ll be us who has to clean up the mess. And I’m not in the mood for that again today. So make your mark. From the start. Go in firm.’
          I coughed because the air in this enclosed room was definitely lacking enough oxygen to share about. But I remained calm, my voice this time improved and committed.
          ‘Thanks for the advice Gerry but I have never gone in hard. I have my own considered approach that seems to work with all students. I will just go with the same box of tricks as I always use as it does seem to get me results. As the saying goes, no point fixing something that isn’t broke.’
          I was hoping with me now being all assertive that Gerry might at least loosen up, ask me about the workshop, what my approach was, the game-plan, relax and accept that I am more than accomplished in running a four hour guitar workshop in a suffocating locked room. Last night though, whatever had happened in this place, had clearly upset him.
          ‘Your box of tricks won’t provide magic in here. They’re not kids you know. Two are sixteen and one’s not far off that age. Firmness and order is what they will be expecting. Don’t give them false hope. They’ll break you if you don’t lay down the law from the start. If you'd been here last night you'd know full well what I'm on about. You have another twenty minutes to prepare yourself. We will be letting them out for breakfast the instant I leave this room.’
          And with that Gerry was out the door, the chunky wooden door then locked, me locked inside, sat on a chunky wooden chair nowhere to go. Facing me was a wall covered in influential people quoting handwritten famous lines out of inflated speech bubbles. All the usual suspects in this kind of environment. What they think will impress. These dead and living faces trying to inspire the misguided young. Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, John F Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Bob Geldof. Behind me was a locked door that led to a slightly larger room, an arts room. To my left was a large rectangular double glazed window that gave visual access to the corridor and eating area. To my right the same size window was replicated, a view of outside, the bouncy tarmac playground. To the far left of the window, the door I came in through. I found myself gazing outside at the black surface now getting battered again by pissing rain. You couldn’t hear the rain from inside. In fact there was no sound at all.
          So I just sat there, foolish, the last of the guitars I had tuned on my lap, eyes back in the room, staring into space until I was interrupted by commotion. Doors being unlocked, murmur of new day voices, birds flapping wings free from cages, instructions directed by heavier voices, then outside of the thick pane of glass, the corridor became of colour, of life. Three boys in dressing gowns, sky blue, red, pink. They were all taller than I was expecting and made their inspection of me as they strolled idly passed. I smiled at them all. They just stared back. The impression was one of disapproving. My heart sank. Go in firm or they’ll have you in pieces. Gerry had me doubting myself. Was I out of my depth here? Had Annie really thought this through when booking me in? Even dealing with Jacob and the brick he threatened to smash over the head of another boy in the corridor outside my workshop at a school in West London seemed nothing to this environment. And back then that was a pretty grim day. They’ll have you in pieces. It’ll be us who has to clear up your guts. No, I couldn’t allow that to happen. I began to gently pluck the nylon strings on the acoustic with my fingers. Resolute, but soft. All open E shape – G to F to E, G to F to E on and on, soon locked in a gentle trance, strumming infinity.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Sick Music

On a train this morning
a famous person sat
next to me yawning
it was a bearded
Jarvis Cocker
the pop rocker

Jarvis did not pretend
or condescend or
preach or judge
or make aloof criticism
regarding mistakes I have
made my prevailing failure
I will not derail ya

he could’ve said

Jarvis definitely made
many deliberate points
to negate away
from prickly joints
my cul-de-sacs of gloom

I eventually found
the inner strength
to show my appreciation
for the concise length
of this intelligent sensation
his non judgmental indulgence

Here now follows that exchange:
Are you Jarvis Cocker?
eventually one nod
what you up to me old mocker?
I didn’t think he would reply to that, stupid me:
same as every Sunday
oh yeah, what’s that then?
6 Music my friend
sick music?
that’s the one

Fucking legend

Sunday, 11 November 2012


‘Ants, they were butchered like ants.’
          Mad Terry had been ranting on about his disgust of the First World War and how it’s so fucking incredible for him right now to lay on the top bunk while trying to fathom how so many innocent young boys, gangs of mates, were so easily tricked, encouraged to sign up then shipped out to meet with the kind of brutal endgame that nightmares are made of. Terrified young boys blown to pieces.
         ‘You had all these stinking rich pissed-up ex-public school giant devils pouring boiling red sauce over a battlefield stew with a herb of hate sprinkled in to taste,’ continued Terry. ‘Chucking it all over the enemy but splashing our own boys into the bargain, and as I keep saying, all these kids were butchered like ants.’
         Fuck it, thought cell mate Alex, the mad one’s going right into one again. Alex was understandably disheartened. There was no way right now that Terry was going to let him maintain any casual afternoon porno imagining. Not now Mad Terry’s clearly enjoying the sound of his own voice and leaning down into the bottom bunk. Mumbling on about insect mass murder. Speaking at a hundred miles an hour and now he’s insanely ranting on about the insignificance of man and the time prevailing pastime of small boys in the street butchering insects. Especially ants.
         What the fuck is he on about? Saying how he used to do it all the time. Upsetting a discovered nest, treading on them, hitting them with fists and big rounded stones, smiling, setting fire to the nest after feeding dry grass into the exposed opening, bringing out a kettle just boiled when mummy wasn’t looking, destroy, destroy the mini kingdom, doing in the small fucking insects. Tiny cheap mass murder that never had a court case pending.
         Mad Terry pauses for breath and then explains how he has just been reading about an ant killer who went to war in 1915 when he was seventeen and his name was Will Carter. Will Carter and his close friends often killed ants and other insects when they were kids and it was the height of summer. But bad karma was at work to haunt them once the boys had partially grown up and were now just like helpless insects themselves as they got butchered in numbers in the mud while the rich gentry sat well away from the cold and the gore. Sat well away from the cold and the gore and the despicable horror while devouring the very best prepared food and drowning on the most expensive wines the world could offer. Your Country Needs YOU! What scum to make such wicked feelings of guilt upon the masses. The scum from higher circles, who seemingly had to carry the weight of the world on their tough shoulders. The privileged of society voicing how quite naturally they had to keep things in order. Nature’s choice of selection. A cool experienced head in a crisis. The top of the ladder doing their own bit for the cause and also needing to unwind during such a damn bloody horrible war! Getting pissed on wine and brandy and self importance. Preserving their own self righteous lives while irresponsibly plotting more disaster and manslaughter out on the corpse strewn battlefield. Your Country Needs YOU! TO DIE.
        Mad Terry pulled himself back onto his bunk and facing the cell ceiling then said:
       ‘The great Harry Patch had it right when he said that the politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns to settle their differences instead of murdering our young. Legalised murder he called it, legalised murder.’
        Alex had tried his best to comprehend what he was being told, pretending to nod convincingly, that he was genuinely interested in insects and war and taking all of this in. But the reality was, that as Terry continued to go on relentlessly about this battle and that battle, the young dead here and mutilation over there, back to more comparisons to insects and the tragedy of the lost forgotten dead, Alex saw his moment and grabbed it. With Terry now out of view he returned to a previous scene, his face being choked by the bald crotch of Linda Feltham, her small thighs compact so tight either side of his face ensuring Terry’s continued words of war and death were obliterated as she got on with the job, her continued ride to glory.

Friday, 9 November 2012


Clock chucked at wall. Time to rise. Throbbing head reminds of the red wine at bedtime. Take two co-codamol for instant boost. Drink tea out of a Never Mind The Bollocks mug. Can’t remember who bought me that. Listen to Shaun Keaveny.  ‘Everybody’s Happy Nowadays’. Eat a slice of strawberry jam on seeded toast. Due to savage cuts in funding I have been lacking match fitness. Seems so long since I was last in a unit. Try to focus on today’s game-plan. Should I just stick to my usual box of magic tricks –  Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Dance Wiv Me’ meets Sham 69’s ‘Tell Us The Truth’ and garnished with a sprinkling of Bolan Boogie – or go with that new idea I have been tinkering with?
            Get distracted while contemplating the Funkadelic idea. Rattling letterbox. Homemade leaflet from local Labour representative on doormat. In bold capitals a headline screams YOU MATTER. Can you just imagine what carnage would prevail today if I said that in a desperate moment. I would never be forgiven. Another reality check. How I really did have so much work when Labour were on the throne. Think about Celia from next door and her daughter’s painting of David Cameron burning on a stake at Tower Hill. Smile then sigh, shave, shower and dry. Then dress.
            Work clobber suspended on hangers from bedroom door frame. Conservative lower deck: black trousers, black M&S shoes. Cool upper deck: white Fred Perry with claret and blue trim. Then. Bollocks. The Fred needs ironing. Don’t have time. So black polo instead. Not Fred, George. Must stay focussed. Normally always wear dark shirts anyway. To hide sweat marks.
            Tune and pack guitars into their respective zipper bags. Panic: have I got enough plectrums after last time. Relief. I got a new batch over the weekend. Appreciate how many will go missing in action later.
            Think about those two all important returning factors about today. Remember you were their age once and how your thought process used to be back then and is it really appropriate to always say this when a new group of abandoned students walk into the room: don’t be afraid of the guitars, they’re more afraid of you. Got away with it so far. But will leave on the subs bench for now.
            Been told today’s wild bunch are truly uncontrollable. Will test you even if the workshop is going well and they are responding to gentle guidance. Yes, been repeatedly told today’s wild bunch are uncontrollable There’ll be no angels in waiting. Make sure you get a good nights rest. Maybe, she said, maybe this might be the day when I finally meet my match, my reputation toppled. I know she’s just testing me. Ensuring I do not underestimate the job. Think about my lack of match fitness again then realise I am always told all this in advance. I rewind and replay my track record as I load the van with Ampeg and Belcat amps, guitars and stands. Grab the box of headphones, leads, straps, spare strings, plectrums and latest CRB check. With the motor loaded I put on shades and ‘1970’ by The Stooges. Head off into the not so rising winter sun. Another moment to be claimed.