An Anxious Life – another excerpt

Ok, enough about France (although Acte XIII tomorrow might be interesting), so here’s another excerpt from the latest memoir that I’m writing, called An Anxious Life. These excerpts are from Chapter 2, which was written last month when I had a very bad cold. Hence the writing is a bit rough around the edges. Hopefully I’ll be able to bang it into shape when I do the next draft of the book.

During the Easter holidays Paul Gordon and I set-up a window cleaning round. We built a barrow, using old pram wheels of course. The barrow contained buckets, cloths and detergents. The only problem was we didn’t have a ladder, an item that is rather handy for window cleaners. Paul suddenly remembered that his father had an old ladder hung up in his garage. We pushed our barrow up to Paul’s house. The ladder was big, wooden and had three stages. Paul and I really struggled to get it down and on to the barrow; but then we were set!

Window cleaning was a good number. We pushed the barrow around the streets of Barnehurst, with all those rows of semi-detached houses. Miss, do your windows need cleaning? With hubby out at work, most times the front door would be opened by a housewife, sometimes wearing only a nightie; but Paul and I were in business and had no time for young women wearing nighties. We charged £2 to do just the ground floor windows, or £4 to do the ground floor and 1st floor windows. It was a struggle getting that big wooden ladder into place, yet we didn’t mind because this was serious money for 12-year-old boys.

When the Easter holiday came to an end Paul and I continued our window cleaning business after school and at weekends. All went swimmingly for about a month, until we were asked to window clean a higher than normal detached house. Usually we only needed to use two stages of the wooden ladder to reach first floor windows. On this particular one we had to use all three stages of the ladder. It was a real struggle, but we finally managed to finish the job by cleaning the 1st floor windows at the back of the house. We proceeded to pull the ladder away from the wall and to start getting the upper two stages down. The ladder kept moving backwards, though, and started tipping down on to the prim lawn where there was a large greenhouse. Paul and I jumped clear as the big ladder crashed down on to the lawn. It missed the greenhouse by inches, but we were not saved: the ladder had been badly damaged by the fall. We slunk back to Paul’s house, where we hung the ladder back up in the garage, hoping that Paul’s father wouldn’t notice the damage. Thus ended our window cleaning business…

… The summer of 1976 was a glorious six weeks free of University School. That summer there was a bad drought and a mega heat wave with record-breaking temperatures. Phew, what a scorcher! proclaimed the newspaper headlines. There was also the rabies scare, with government information films on the tv and at the cinema warning of the dangers of being bitten by a rabid animal and dying an absolutely horrendous death. Us kids were terrified by it all; but despite our fears of dying from thirst and heat exhaustion, or of being bitten by a rabid animal and dying a horrendous death, Paul Gordon and I went into business again. Using the barrow we’d built for the now defunct window cleaning business, we went round Barnehurst collecting old newspapers. Miss, have you got any old newspapers you want to get rid of? Most people did and it didn’t take long to have a barrow-load of old newspapers. We would then maneuver the very heavy barrow down the hill to Crayford, where there was a depot that took old newspapers, to be re-cycled. You got paid by weight. Problem was, you needed to have truck-loads of old newspapers to make any money out of it. All Paul and I had was that long-suffering barrow with pram wheels. Nevertheless we persevered. However, on our third trip down the hill to Crayford the barrow completely collapsed under the weight of the newspapers. We abandoned the barrow there on the pavement and ran off, never to collect old newspapers again…

You are a disgusting little boy. Pull your trousers and pants down and bend over. Mr Day then proceeded to give me four lashes of the cane. It really hurt. By law the maximum they could give you was six lashes, the infamous ‘six of the best’. Some of the pupils at University School did receive this ultimate punishment. It was not unusual for bum cheeks to be bleeding after such a lashing.

My four lashes were for ‘passing dirty notes’. This happened while Mr James was giving us an English class. Mr James had a ragged beard and a bad dandruff problem. ‘Dirty notes’ started with one pupil scribbling on a piece of paper, something like: Mr James likes dick. This would then be passed under the desks to the next pupil, who would add to it, and so on and so on. By the time I was passed the dirty note it had many additions to it and would make a porn star blush. Mr James realised that something was going on and came over to investigate. I was the one caught in possession of the dirty notes and was immediately marched to Mr Day’s office.

You can dance, you can jive
Having the time of your life
Ooh, see that girl, watch that scene
Digging the dancing queen

1976 going into 1977 was still the time of disco music. I must confess that I hated the whole disco scene. Now a pubescent teen, my face was starting to become covered in acne. On top of this my ever worsening anxiety attacks made crowded places like discos a very uncomfortable experience. Acne and anxiety were not the best way to pull the girls. Nevertheless one had to go with the flow, and in this instance the flow was the scout hall on Mayplace Road West. This single storey hut was a short distance from Bexleyheath high street and every Friday evening they had a disco there. You were only charged a few pence on the door to get in; but we were rebels without a cause, and Paul Gordon and I along with some of my Mayplace school chums slunk round the side of the scout hut, to climb through the open windows and get in free of charge.

It was crowded and anxious at those discos. The girls stood on one side of the hall, the boys on the other. My little gang thought that the girls would all swoon over us, what with our tough attitude and acne and being unwashed. We were disappointed that the sociopathic kids had most success in getting girls to dance with them, and then to ‘pull’ afterwards for evening delights in the darkness.

Queen Elizabeth didn’t care about any of this. 1977 was her Silver Jubilee, having been on the throne for 25 years. Gawd bless yer, Maam. The Queen’s subjects were in a celebratory mood, or so the BBC told us. The main celebrations took place on the 6th, 7th and 8th of June. The 7th of June was declared a national holiday, which meant that little oiks like me got the day off from school. Street parties were held across the length and the breadth of the UK. God save our gracious Queen! Long live our noble Queen! God save The Queen! Our nearest street party was in Hillingdon Road, two blocks up from our house on Midfield Avenue. One half of Hillingdon Road had been closed off to traffic and long tables occupied the middle of the road. This was right by my auntie Rae’s house. There was bunting strung across the street and lots of Union Jacks. An old record player blared out pop songs. Even as a 13-year-old I could sense that some people found it all a bit uncomfortable. The English are quite reserved, especially in suburban places like Barnehurst, and now they were all thrown together in the street to celebrate Queenypoo’s Silver Jubilee. Send her victorious, Happy and glorious, Long to reign over us, God save the Queen! Hip hip hooray!

The long tables held snacks and treats, plastic knives and forks and paper plates and cups. There were also big bowls of punch. I dipped my cup into one of the bowls. Hmm, this tasted quite nice. My empty cup made a number of return visits to the punch bowl as the world took on a rosy glow. It was the first time I got drunk. Eventually I staggered away from the table. I was then violently sick into my Union Jack bowler hat before passing out on someone’s front lawn.

A few days after that street party a geezer called Malcolm Mclaren hired a boat and the band he managed, the Sex Pistols, performed a floating gig on the River Thames, taking the piss out of Queenypoo’s Jubilee. The floating gig didn’t last long. Police launches forced them to dock at Westminster Pier, by the Houses of Parliament, and Mclaren and the Sex Pistols were arrested.

The songs that the Pistols played on that boat were from Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, which was the only studio album that they ever made. The title of the album landed the Pistols in court again, where defending Queen’s Counsel John Mortimer produced expert witnesses who were able to successfully demonstrate that the word ‘bollocks’ was not obscene, and was actually a legitimate use of Old English. Of course, it wasn’t just the album’s title that stirred controversy. The songs God Save the Queen and Anarchy in the UK caused an outrage, don’t you know.

It’s an old cliché that not many people went to see the Sex Pistols perform, but those that did immediately formed their own punk bands. 1977 saw a number of debut single releases, such as Orgasm Addict by the Buzzcocks. Orgasm Addict is exactly two minutes long and was released in October 1977. One can only presume that it was banned by the BBC. Then there was X-Ray Spex. Poly Styrene was an unlikely lead singer who had huge braces on her teeth. The X-Ray Spex debut single is called Oh Bondage Up Yours and was released in September 1977. Poly Styrene was opera-trained and her voice has been described as “powerful enough to drill holes through sheet metal”. Another unusual thing about X-Ray Spex is that they used a lot of saxophone in their songs. The original sax player was a 16-year-old girl called Susan Whitby. The combination of Susan Whitby and Poly Styrene made X-Ray Spex a kind of rock version of St Trinian’s. Later that year a band called The Adverts released a debut single called One Chord Wonders. Despite the fact that The Adverts could barely play their instruments, One Chord Wonders perfectly captures the essence of UK punk rock during its early years. The band’s rather attractive bass player, Gaye Black, was often called the first female punk star. Didn’t anyone notice Poly Styrene and her metal teeth..?

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5 Responses to An Anxious Life – another excerpt

  1. freddy says:

    Good story Rob, very entertaining.
    The Slits

  2. freddy says:

    Citizens of Raqqa, Deir Ezzor renew call on French and American occupiers to leave Syria

  3. freddy says:

    French ‘yellow vest’ protester loses fingers in violent unrest
    How can Macron justify this level of state vilencence against his own people?

  4. JOML says:

    Good stuff, Rob – reminds me of the time my friend and I tried a shoe shine stall in Glasgow one Saturday afternoon, after having got the idea from a Shirley Temple film we watched in the morning! (around 1973).

  5. The article you have shared here very good. This is really interesting information for me. Thanks for sharing!

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