This is not the start of my story, but it sits somewhere just near the beginning...
...Its the early seventies and its winter time, the final straw has been placed on top of the other final straws onto my growing young shoulders, it being put there by a baying, violent when pressured, overworked mother of six of whom, I am the eldest.
My sanctuary was the bathroom, which was still a novelty even after leaving the one bedroomed house four years previously that has now been recently flattened by bulldozers. The house that never had such a thing as a bathroom or even an inside toilet, the weekly soak I had was after everybody had been in the tin bath, it otherwise resided on the wall outside in the small yard for the rest of the week. The story before I stood in the bathroom I coveted so much, is long and arduous, and may be told someday, but here I was, looking at an angrily punched mirror with shards laying in the sink, I simply and confidently chose a knife like piece and proceeded to tear my arm apart in an unbelievable anger.
Blood rained and poured steady, my anger was still unabated, unsatisfied, unlocked the door and was face to face with my mother. I pushed past demanding my space, she said nothing, I grabbed my guitar and coat, and as I fled down the stairs to the front door. my gaze led me to my mother standing in the doorway of the bathroom, she was repeating the words Oh! Jesus, Oh! Jesus, over and over again. Only now as I write this, It has occurred to me the site that must have caused her to freeze in her tracks was the bloodbath I left behind.
Brick Lane Toilets, by a bus stop, didn't wait long, and soon jumped on a number 8 bus and headed upstairs, I sat and watched the rivulets of blood making their way down the channels in the floor, it was strangely fascinating, and watched to see if the blood would make it to the front seats. I was unaware the bus had stopped for a while, and whispers were being whispered and it snapped me back into reality, The conductor had stopped the bus and the police were now walking up the stairs to me...
I can't remember the conversation with the police officer that I had so clearly inconvenienced, but when I got to the bottom of the stairs of the bus I ran. the fat heavy copper was no match for my unending stamina and I quickly lost him. I found myself in the back streets of Roman road, arm aching now and feeling sick, the adrenalin of the last hour was starting to subside, I found myself, as I got my bearings, within yards of mile end hospital and coldly and logically thought this was the best place to be.
Within moments of walking into the now, long gone A+E department, I was carried to a cubicle. I had fainted... It was warm, cosy and dreamy, I felt serenely at peace, a place I try to get to today when I sleep, but can never reproduce that feeling. What woke me? The smell of a wet and musty policeman's uniform, he was standing over me, I kept my eyes partly closed and felt a tugging at my arm, it had obviously been numbed so that it could be sewn together, a drip of some sort was in my other arm. The male nurse was sewing my arm. The four deep cuts were spread open, occurred to me that my skin must be a tight fit for the cuts to be open that wide, like large toothless bloody mouths.
Fifty plus stitches and clamps of some sort I much later counted, my left arm looked hairy with the ends of the stitches protruding upward. and it was about to covered in a bandage, when I heard the policeman impatiently asking and wanting to talk to me. putting on a long denim coat was difficult, and taking out what I know now was a cannula, hurt, stung and bled. The fine hairs of the stitches only amplified any feeling I had in my arm, and as the once sodden bloodied arm of my coat had now dried, it was like stiff cardboard.
My guitar and I simply walked out of the hospital, nurse and policeman involved a battle of words too busy to notice a long haired 14 year old boy slip away... I apologise that this is another long piece I seem to be writing, and god knows I don't know when it will finish either, so you AND me are on a journey to its comfortable point where I can walk away from it as well. And to my children who never knew the full story of daddies scars, I apologise. You, me, and whoever can be bothered to read this far, will all know at the same time.
...Its been dark for a good while, the bus takes me to Tottenham court road, Its a busy thoroughfare in the west end, I wander and wander, crowds gone now, I buy a wimpy burger with the last of my money, they lock the door as I leave. I headed for the brightest building nearest me, which I now know was Centre point, I walked around it to find a place to sit for a while. It wasn't long before an amazingly warm humming air duct came into view and in a line along the wall there were about ten others sitting and sleeping under it. I sat far away from the others, but near enough to get warm and fell asleep in the light rain...
Morning came quickly didn't sleep very well, was always aware of shuffling going past me all night long, I felt some of them stopping I could see from the size of their shoes how big they may be, and if in front of me too long, I glared a stare into their eyes, A stare I'd perfected when my mother beat me on occasion, a defiant your not going to beat me stare. they walked away. These shoes were different, small, buttoned and tip toed, a soft voice offering someone a hot drink of tea, she was talking to me, I will never forget that feeling of warmth radiating from that cup.
I learn from my peers, I learn from people that know better than me, I followed three of the less aggressive looking men that were asleep close to me and watched them sit outside Tottenham court road tube station and started to beg, I stood in the station as the warm air coming from the tunnels tickled my face and dried my hair. After an hour or so, one of them got up and went into the wimpy, I followed him in and sat near, arm was screaming and letting me know its pain, the dried blood all over my coat was getting stares from customers and the beggar I'd followed in.
I cheekily asked for a cup of tea and a burger with every intention of bolting out of the door when I finished, but the beggar paid for my meal. He came and sat with me, I held onto my guitar that I didn't even know how to play even tighter. I wished at this point I could remember the beggars name for you dear reader, It would be easy to make one up but I wont. Suffice to say he told me how to beg, He told me to use the guitar, after knowing I couldn't play it he took me to a music shop nearby and I sold it for five pounds, and I gave beggar man a pound note, this sealed our mutual silent pact, and he looked out for me over the next few days.
Aspirin and coca cola and eating out of bins was the thing I did for the next couple of days, a launderette washed my coat and shrunk it, morning of day three I had swapped it for an overcoat, from the lady that brought tea and a sandwich in the mornings, the beggar man didn't say much but gestured and showed me how to eat, and I ate quite well, begging got me a pound or more a day, keeping the four pound I had from selling my guitar almost as my back up money.
Day four, a cup of tea and sandwich, the beggar man was gone. I never saw him again. I have had people since in my life that have appeared at the right time to show me some direction. And I could almost believe in angels...almost. Evening of day four, not gave a thought for my mum and dad, and actually happy with my new life, my scars were finally not looking so angry, although the sticky up stitches were now rock hard and driving me crazy with an itch of itches.
I fell over a young woman bent over picking stuff from her bag outside a strip club, after her cursing I offered to carry her bag, she accepted and walked into the club, shouting at me to hurry up, I followed down the stairs. " look after my bag" I was instructed with a finger pointing within an inch of my eye she warned me not to move. I didn't move...Another reason I didn't move was because I was in the second row of a strip club watching a stripper do what strippers do, not ever seeing a naked woman in the flesh and very naked, this became an instant highlight of the last four days.
My next surprise was Cathy whose name I can remember, she was on stage taking her clothes off to walk on the wild side by Lou reed, a song that still makes me stop in my tracks and remember her to this day...I felt compelled to make myself useful and picked up her outfit and knickers thrown to the side near the front of the small stage and put them in her bag, within minutes Cathy the stripper was marching towards me on the way out of the door, grabbing the bag I was holding as she past, I followed her out.
She watched me collect her outfit and gave me 50 pence thanked me and rushed off, I rushed after her and skipping along side asked were she was off to, she was already speed walking to another strip club, one of fifteen she would perform in that night.
So the deal was done, I was about to save this young lady a small fortune buying outfits and for the next three nights I was a goal keeper of knickers, the comedic fighter of old men to rescue a bra, and once ending up on my arse with two other old men fighting it out over green satin knickers, I say "old" anyone over 3- at fourteen and a half would have been old to me. A fight even stopped the show and Cathy on stage almost wetting herself laughing at the tug of war I was having with her frillies.
|Friends on Ocean estate opposite the gas works 7th floor|
Mick's house was always welcoming and full of laughs, we had adventures best left for another blog in the three years we knew each other. His mum, his sisters and elder brothers all listened to my tale and the telling of it made me cry for the first time. I was given the settee to sleep on and was the best sleeps I ever had, In the early light I went out of the balcony seven floors up and looked out over the gas works, and feeling safe for the first time in what seemed weeks but was in fact, just a week.
Everyone had a "house" even if you lived in the flats, you always went up so and so's "house" regardless of what type of council abode you actually lived in, that's just the way it was. I won't bore you with my first time in the black horse pub and the subsequent visits there after, my experience's with LSD given to me by my mate Mick's brother Bobby.. another day perhaps.
Day eight, or maybe nine, I don't know, it's nearly forty years later now dear reader and my brain is dulled by time. I went to petticoat lane to search for work, because I decided that is the way to go, first place I walked into was a clothing wholesalers above the undercover market and got a job as a packer, and started right away. It was the three day week, worked in gas light for some part of the day packing dresses for shops all over Britain, I got £9 a week for my 42 hours and after tax and insurance I came home with £7.52...exactly £7.52.
The Jews looked after me well, I think because of my brick lane upbringing I was practically a Jew myself, and fitted in all too well... Manny and Manny junior barked the orders, cousin Manny extracted the orders from the rails for me to pack, there were too many Manny's. Dinner time for me was salt beef sandwiches and roll mops practically every day, I got them for the many Manny's and myself from a cafe just a short walk down Middlesex street. The woman serving me was my mate Tony's mum and was confident she didn't know who I was...
Into week four or was it five? possibly six, I cant be sure, I was enjoying my freedom, and my money, I pulled out the now barbed wire sticking out of my arm with pliers and covered it in plenty of Vaseline. Dinner time and the usual for the many Manny's and me, but this time at the bottom of the stairs stood my Mother... If there ever was such a thing as being ripped out of your reality and into another, at the bottom of those stairs I had just experienced it. she stood looking up at me and I stood on the top step looking down at her. My Dad who was standing behind her, was willing her to do all the words and the actions quietly and not cause a scene, dad didn't like a scene.
"Your brother is unwell" she said almost too quietly, her Dublin brogue still strong, even after years of London life. "He misses you, and calls out for you" she said in an equally quiet manner. My position was clear, my eyes and detachment said it all for me as I hadn't yet spoke. I walked on to get the sandwiches and they both followed, silently. As I walked to the sandwich shop I was beginning to realise the power my mum had over me was gone and I went in and paid and received my regular order, I sneered a lingering sneer at the snitch behind the counter whom I know now told on me... Phew! I don't know about you dear reader, but I've just stopped and got a coffee, how about you doing the same? And meeting me here in about ten minutes or so, It will give me a chance to write a final paragraph or two.
...I walked back, dropped off the sandwiches for the many Manny's and went back down. My Mother stood face on to me, my Dad silent behind her, and what followed was a barter, an exchange of wants and gives, of deals and promises, culminating in my Dad being forced to buy me that denim jacket with a studded eagle on the back I have been lusting over. I was fourteen and a half and going back to school never happened...ever again. Strangely and unbelievably, they never missed me, not a letter nor a visit. I never saw my school friends ever again and to this very day I have never stopped working.
My brother? He was unwell and upon my quiet return and the happy faces of my brothers and sisters, Doctor Hymen left after prescribing warm water and a colic something or other. Within an hour of my return, dad was back at work and mum was tending to my sick brother. He was listless, eyes somewhere else, and at fourteen and a half, I walked back out, this time to a phone box and phoned an ambulance.
The first my Mum knew I'd phoned was when an ambulance man came thru the door. discussions and guesses were made, and off went my mum and my youngest 18 month old brother to the London Hospital in Whitechapel. He had severe peritonitis and had maybe hours left to live, he was gravely ill, my mum from that day never questioned me, never said a no, never raised a hand. I carried on working and for years after, I gave half my money to me mam.
I still have the Xmas cards from her and put them out every year on the shelf, they say and end after the wishes of good cheer "love Mam" just like she always did. When xmas is over I put these precious cards back in the box I keep by my bed. I miss my Mam...a lot. My Dad has gone now and his cards too stay in my box and are put out at Xmas next to me Mams. Two of my three sisters have sadly gone too and their cards have their place on the same shelf.
One thing I have learnt in my life is that time is short for us all, there isn't enough. We are all to blame for the lack of it. I could have and had the will to, walk away from my family and disappear into the abyss that is London and all of its devilish ways. Nearly forty years have passed since I drove that mirrored knife into my arm. The scars are quite bad and they are a daily reminder of that moment in time of such long ago. The many Manny's must all be long dead, Cathy the stripper is probably a grandmother now with tales to tell about her wild days to her shocked but admiring grand children.
The beggar man that helped me survive the impossibly cold wet streets is somewhere... I'd like to hope he is still alive. I see a street drinker now and again and I look hard... just in case, I return the favour given to me by a man from the street by buying the big issue and giving it back so they can sell it on again. I buy the man in the underpass begging for money a burger meal and not give him cash, maybe he won't be eating out of bins tonight.
I am not a tolerant man. I don't suffer fools and whinging whiny misfits who think the world owes them. I can look a man in the eye and I know if there is any pain. I miss my family, and I know I miss my Mam and Dad. My little brother? He's now late in his thirties. 6ft 2, a big, brash, and boisterous man. A little scar on the frame of a giant is all that is left of his near death experiences as a baby. I have another brother, and a sister, we don't see each other hardly at all now, the pain of the past is in each of our eyes and when we look into the eyes of each other we see it.
There is nothing cheerful or happy about my story, life's tragedies heap and wait there turn at my door and I'm sure at your door too. But I greet each one the same. If you where expecting a treacle ladled finish then I'm sorry.
I am loved and love well, I search for the good in people and often find it, my children I am proud of and my wife festoons me with light and cheery goodness.
And I can tell a lot from peoples shoes...
Oh! By the way, your coffee is cold...
I want to acknowledge The Beat for the title of this blog, a man of my acquaintance is Wes Magoogan, he was in The Beat and he certainly would beat me next time he sees me if I didn't mention it!