PUSH 15 is out this week; please go & buy a copy from firstname.lastname@example.org so you can read my latest story “Clockwork.” This story was in PUSH 14; it isn’t autobiographical…..
Summer 1976 was the hottest one ever. The temperature constantly hit 80 degrees between 22 June and 16 August. For 15 consecutive days from 23 June to 7 July, it reached 90 somewhere in the country. Meanwhile, America celebrated its bicentenary. The Montreal Olympics took place. Elton John and Kiki Dee’s “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” was number 1 for the whole six weeks’ holidays. Roxy Music released their long-awaited live album “Viva” and I learned more than enough about wanking to write a doctoral thesis on self-abuse.
Ray The Pirate had been nailing my Mam for about a year when we all moved into 26 Clarke Terrace together the day school broke up. The Pirate had broached the subject of cohabitation by informing her that the house was in need of a domestic helper. This proposal wasn’t the best offer she was likely to get; it was the only one.
Consequently, we enthusiastically loaded our stuff, including my precious record collection, into The Pirate’s red transit, while he sat smoking spliffs on the broken back yard wall, cauterizing the frayed fibres of his split-knee Wranglers with the glowing tip, observing our efforts with taciturn approval. As a sign of commitment, Ray had shifted most of his personal effects, consisting of an extensive collection of bladed weapons, several weighty, blunt instruments and large blocks of oily resin, out of the newly vacated back bedroom, which became my private refuge. The Pirate did closet his extensive library of imported pornography, exclusively devoted to photo magazines of multi-racial lesbian orgies, in the wardrobe, as a kind of moving-in present.
Many lads my age wouldn’t have been keen on losing the potential Head of Household tag that I’d been trying out since my balls and voice had dropped to the spectre of a Step Father, especially one as deranged as Ray Westwood, but it didn’t really bother me. For a start, it was absolute quality to live in a proper house at last. Having my own south facing room with a double bed also helped seal the deal, even if Ray did prevent me putting posters of my favourite bands and singers over his handiwork. JESUS DIED FOR SOMEBODY’S SINS, BUT NOT MINE and an attempt at an upside down crucifix painted in foot-high black gloss on the supporting wall, with 100% true added in magic marker just below and to the right.
Our first night under one roof, I drifted from room to room, marvelling at the luxury afforded by a shower. The fitted kitchen. A full central heating system. The massive colour telly. A state of the art Bose music system, seemingly capable of playing only Black Sabbath, Hawkwind or “Horses” by Patti Smith and a proper but wildly overgrown front garden. The grass above my knees. The flower beds littered with empty Strongbow cans and discarded bits of motor vehicles in contrast to the gleaming surfaces indoors.
The front windows, up and down, were thrust wide open and newly laundered net curtains essayed a limp billow; “War Pigs” provided the soundtrack. Mam rested her arse on the garden fence. She drew deeply on her eighth smoke of the day, juggled a half pint glass of Old English, while The Pirate wore the role of paterfamilias with his customary lightness of touch. Slipping the bike jacket that was his signature attire over his homemade Teds + Elvis = Rock & Roll algebraic upper arm tattoo, he outlined his expectations, extending his right arm out from his side to 90 degrees, as if signalling a no ball. Charles Manson impersonating Dickie Bird, his index finger trained steadily on me.
“If daft cunt wants my respect, he can earn it by doing the garden.” The conversation was over. Head down, Mam chained the rest of her smoke, exhaling the clouds of rich, soupy goodness, then headed indoors to continue mopping the kitchen floor, carefully squeezing past Ray’s sedentary bulk.
Saturday morning, the first day of the holidays, was baking. The Pirate, waiting for the bars to open, ran a soaked bandana across his grimy face and greying locks, squeezing the residue down the back of his purple hooped t-shirt. Spruced up, Ray flipped the elasticated cloth patch down over his bad eye and focused the good one on the task of skinning up on the front step, while I toiled to remove the broken car parts and crushed tins from the exposed heaps of soil that were notional flower beds.
Mam poked her head through the open front bedroom window and asked Ray for a word in private upstairs. He didn’t respond immediately but, joint assembly completed, The Pirate barged indoors. Just as I began to rehearse panic and fear, preparing myself for the dull slap of male fist on female face I’d heard endless times before, the sound of his cowboy boots clattering back down the stairs offered a kind of unexplained reassurance. Leaping through the front door and onto the lawn, he brandished a long handled scythe. Waving it round his head, he unleashed a yelp that seemed to be an approximation of Jerry Hall’s contribution to Bryan Ferry’s “Let’s Stick Together,” then fastened an approving gaze on the glinting blade.
“I’ve not done her in, stupid fucker. This cunt is what you’ll need to get the thick of the grass down, before you can mow it properly. Slice the lawn with this twat and it’ll be like the square at The fucking Oval when you’ve finished.” Gracefully brandishing the blade, he chopped the wilderness of lawn like a Samurai Clive Lloyd executing the perfect off drive, before presenting the scythe to me, handle first. “If it’s not done when I get back, I’ll use this fucker to cut your cock off.” I nodded and he almost smiled. “Do a decent job and there’s a few quid in it for you. Put your music on if you want.”
Customers to see, deliveries to make, The Pirate was away out through the gate, clouds of blow smoke signalling his departure like an unhinged, ganja fuelled steam train. I fell to, slicing and nicking the sharp grass and stalks, brittle as wicks, taking short breaks every 20 minutes or so to turn over the albums I listened to.
Subsisting on meagre pocket money throughout my early to mid-teenage years, I’d found buying records was a selective and seasonal hobby to be indulged in around birthdays and Christmas. Somehow I’d amassed about a dozen albums and maybe twice as many singles, which I played on a second hand stereo Mam had got for a couple of quid from a jumble sale at St. Peter’s on Coldwell Street. I was so grateful to her that day. Normally she’d fetch me awful cast off shirts and strides I’d be too embarrassed to wear in public, but too ashamed to turn down. That day we’d gone together as the poster advertised cheap records. Nothing appealed to me though. Glam rock. Disco. Hippy folk. Soul. Instead, Mam bought me the record player and the Reverend Lawrence’s tall, slightly weird, but incredibly cool son Martin helped carry it to the front door, informing us that it was his old stereo, but that he’d blown most of his grant on a state of the art Bang and Olufsen system.
Martin Lawrence had recently left sixth form to go on to music college and combined being St. Peter’s organist, with the less saintly role of singer and keyboards player in a band called Nursery that we all knew about, because of graffiti painted on a gable end at the bottom of the High Street, but none of us had actually heard. I loved Martin Lawrence’s record player. Any spare money I had that didn’t amount to enough for a new album was spent on cleaning cloths and needles for the stereo that transported me to my own imaginary world, where I was debonair, articulate, solvent and admired.
Even though I adored David Bowie and Cockney Rebel, the main band for me was Roxy Music. Intoxicated by glamour and posturing, I had all the Roxy albums up to and including “Siren.” Listening to them back to back as I did the garden, I became increasingly aware of a noticeable dip in the quality of the band’s work after the first three albums, with “Country Life” remarkable only for closing track “Prairie Rose,” and the brace of bare breasted models on the cover, women who I had always found utterly unerotic, despite about a dozen prior attempts to spend my wad, metaphorically, over the sleeve. “Siren” was frankly dull apart from the fantastic “Both Ends Burning.” I couldn’t admit this judgement to anyone of course. My special band couldn’t be seen as merely ordinary. I had only just managed to resolve the internal conflict that I’d endured following my realisation “Stranded” was the greatest Roxy album, which was made difficult to countenance as it was recorded after Eno had left the group. Regardless of this debate, I still felt a pang of anxiety knowing that a Roxy live set was due for the release the following Monday, especially as I was in no financial position to buy it.
In addition to my 5 Roxy albums and numerous singles, bought cheap from the ex jukebox section of Pop Inn records on the High Street, I had managed to get hold of a copy of Eno’s “Here Come the Warm Jets” for a quid from the bargain bin, though I had nothing by Ferry solo, other than the recently purchased seven inch of “Let’s Stick Together” and his debut LP “These Foolish Things.” With his version of “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” opening side one, the album had a cover photo of Ferry wearing a restrained version of the mental DA he’d sported on the first Roxy album’s inner gatefold sleeve, attired in a plain black t-shirt and a stylish, understated, silver chain round his neck, looking a bit like he had done on Top of the Pops when Roxy did “All I Want Is You.” It was the way I wanted to look.
I was just taking Ferry’s album from its sleeve, marvelling at how much better he looked on there than with the stupid tache and white linen suit in the “Let’s Stick Together” video, when a pissed Pirate weaved his way down the garden path. He seemed pleased with my gardening though, winking at me with at me his good eye, before heading upstairs. “These Foolish Things” remained unheard as Ray was a light sleeper.
Later, while The Pirate scranned his dinner, Hawkwind’s “Space Ritual” on full blast, he even allowed me to set light to the garden rubbish I’d diligently swept into a large pile just outside the gate. He turned to Mam and announced “not a bad little cunt is he?” before peeling off a fiver and handing it over in recognition of my efforts.
In time, Ray’s irregular, unpredictable and almost certainly illegally procured largesse allowed me by turns to plug gaps and widen my musical tastes, which is what I intended to do, on entering Pop Inn records and doubling the number of potential customers, on the breathless and sweltering Monday morning following that marked the official release date of “Viva” by Roxy Music. Too hot for music, the owner sat on the counter, flicking through Battle Picture Weekly. I recognised the other customer as Martin Lawrence. Free of the need for academic rigour throughout the summer break, he opted not to practise or create at the keyboard. Instead he filled every spare moment flicking his skeletal fingers across each rack in the shop, pausing to study the sleeves of at least half the records, before finally buying his chosen disc just as the shop was about to close. I knew his habits not by reputation, but observation. Most Saturdays for the past year I’d been in the Pop Inn doing the same thing, furtively glancing at the aloof, bony rectangle, drinking the image of his spindled hands caressing the sleeves of albums I’d never hear in my life, focussing on the taut grin of approval he granted those he coveted. I ached to talk, but fearful of my youth, my stupidity and my gauche attire, I remained silent and yearning.
Today was different. Martin Lawrence, oblivious to the heat in a white trilby, pale yellow silk shirt and matching scarf, black baggy trousers and lustrous winkle pickers, was already gripping an album sized Pop Inn carrier bag in his right hand, while flipping sleeves with his left. There wasn’t time for curiosity about his purchase. The Pirate’s fiver burned my hands. Ignoring the temptation to browse reverse alphabetically (Martin Lawrence, having started at A, was studiously appraising Brand X’s “Unorthodox Behaviour”), I made straight for the section among the Rs labelled Roxy Music Etc, but found no “Viva.” I asked for it at the counter and the owner shrugged.
“Only had one copy. Sold it to your mate there.” Looking round, I saw Martin Lawrence staring back at me. An imperceptible smirk of triumph and a theatrical flourish as he unsheathed his purchase from the carrier bag told me he’d beaten me to the album I’d so wanted.
“The early bird.” The first words Martin Lawrence ever spoke directly to me. I could have ordered another copy of “Viva” and paid for it there and then, coming back to collect it at the end of the week, when the weekend delivery arrived. I could have taken a train to town and scoured the big department stores for a copy. There were options, but I did not take them. Instead, my dismayed eyes fell back on the Roxy rack, which lay parted at a different Bryan Ferry solo album, marked down to £2. “Another Time, Another Place.” As a consolation prize, it looked sophisticated. A gatefold effort with a stern faced and sombre Ferry in a white tuxedo, beside a swimming pool of the deepest blue. He was the second most beautiful person I’d ever seen. I had to have it.
Head down, I thrust the change in my pocket and bolted for the door, the record held tight in front of my chest with both hands. Back outside in the blinding sun, I shielded my eyes with the album as a kind of improvised, vinyl sombrero. Immediately, Martin Lawrence’s arch, dismissive but not sneering voice spoke to me, almost in friendship.
“You should never make false economies. Buy the best quality product, not the cheapest one.” You’ll regret opting for that one in future, because if you insisted on purchasing a Ferry solo album out of impatience, jealousy and the need to buy something, then you should be aware “Another Time, Another Place,” other than “The In Crowd,” is a far inferior release to Ferry’s debut.”
Turning to face him, in awe that he had abandoned his alphabetical scanning of the shop’s stock to talk to me, I quietly told him that I already owned a copy of “These Foolish Things.” Even the fact I knew the title, never mind that I possessed the record in question impressed him. I could tell. That felt good, but frightening at the same time.
“It’s nice to know my old deck is being nourished with quality ear food. Keep on my radar and I may allow you to lend it to me some time.” Narrowing his brows and pouting triumphantly, he delivered the last line as he clamped on a pair of white framed mirror sunglasses and glided away from me with huge but imperceptible strides, displacing swathes of solid heat with the cool breeze created by his fresh musical purchase. Alone and insignificant, I alternated my gaze between the emptiness where Martin Lawrence had stood and the cover of “Another Time, Another Place.” A shot of Ferry in his burgundy cummerbund and black bow tie. I no longer even wanted to listen to my new album. I whispered into the distance at Martin Lawrence’s departing frame.
“Would you like to come to mine and listen to the first Ferry album or your record?” I almost drowned in incredulity when he nodded his acceptance of my offer. I scampered to catch him up. Fawning in obsequious assent, I remained largely silent as Martin Lawrence delivered a monologue on the recording of “Viva.” He announced with insouciance that he’d been in the audience at the City Hall the October previous when “Do The Strand” had been recorded, while I guided him to Clarke Terrace, glad now that my gardening and Mam’s housekeeping had rendered the place habitable.
Ray was flat out in a deck chair on the front lawn. Cans. Joints. An unread newspaper. It removed the temptation to impress Martin Lawrence by using The Pirate’s music centre. In my room, Martin Lawrence gave a small gasp and a laugh of nostalgic approval at the sight of his record player on the floor beneath the window.
“Hello my old friend. How has my colleague here been treating you? We’ve new surprises for you today.” Untying the silk scarf from his neck, Martin Lawrence lovingly polished “Viva” on both sides, before setting the needle on the groove. Sat on the floor next to me at the side of the bed, his legs almost reaching the wall opposite, he extended a giant index finger and placed it first on his lips and then on mine, as rapturous, preludial crowd noise prefaced “Out Of The Blue.”
Martin Lawrence, immobile, silent and aloof behind his mirrored shades, ceased all communication and concentrated, while hot, uncomfortable and conscious of my shabby clothing, I struggled with the sounds I was hearing. The music seemed complacent. Two dimensional. Bland. The only time I connected with the first side of the album was on the closing track, “Both Ends Burning.”
When the stereo arm had returned to the upright position in its cradle, Martin Lawrence uncoiled himself and stood bolt upright, brushing off invisible dust from his shirt back and trouser legs, then flipped the album over. Turning round to reclaim his place, he sensed I wanted to talk, but smilingly he clamped a chilled hand over my mouth, urging me “shush. Not yet.” Trailing his fingers down my cheek, I fought an urge to kiss them, but couldn’t control the increase in my heartbeat, or the pulsing of my balls as Martin Lawrence, recumbent and pensive, showed no objection as I inched closer until our legs were touching. I had never known arousal like this.
The version of “If There Is Something” on “Viva” lasts 10.37, but for entire song all I thought of was how beautiful Martin Lawrence was and how much I loved him. His inert proximity invited further false intimacy, especially as my furtive snuggling during “In Every Dream Home A Heartache” saw Martin Lawrence drape his arm over my shoulder. This was a sign.
As Phil Manzanera’s explosive guitar solo burst forth from the speakers after Ferry blankly announced “but you blew my mind,” I leaned over and kissed Martin Lawrence full on the lips. He leapt up in disgust, drawing his arm away and involuntarily kicking the record player, causing the needle to sickeningly slew across the second side. Silence and then shouting.
“Hey! What do you think you’re doing?”
Before I had a chance to explain my actions, he backhanded me across the face. Flushed with pain and humiliation, I bit back tears and stammered an apology, attempting to explain how much I admired him and wanted to emulate his style and image, but it was no good. The shouting got worse.
He tore the disc from the turntable and stormed out, issuing threats and curses. Crushed and tearful, I followed as he stomped down stairs and straight to the door, where The Pirate’s menacing form blocked his exit.
“What the fuck is going on?” inquired The Pirate.
“Ask your queer of a son. He’s just tried to stick his tongue down my throat.”
It would be fair to say Ray never worried about the neighbours twitching behind net curtains, but he had a code of honour. He protected his own, without question. All talk ended as The Pirate, with devastating economy, smashed his forehead into Martin Lawrence’s face. The blow broke his mirrored shades, made his nose piss blood and caused him to lose his footing, stumbling off the path and onto the freshly manicured lawn. as Ray dragged Martin Lawrence, now attempting to staunch the blood flow with his scarf, upright and escorted him to the gate, while providing a précis of events.
“I know your sort. And your old man. Fucking Christians. Preaching peace and love. Who the fuck do you think you are? For a start, the lad’s not my son, but he’s a good fucking kid. Secondly if he is a puff, then that’s his fucking business. He’s not going to hell and he’s not going to be condemned by cunts like you. So if anything happens, I’ll have you and your arsehole old man. Understood?”
Martin Lawrence, stripped of his aura, crept out the gate and my life forever. Ray grunted a laugh, then went back doors and flicked the cricket on the telly, so I joined him. Set 552 to win, England had reached 125-9 at lunch. Andy Roberts was given the first over after the resumption. His first ball was a wide down the leg side, but his second saw Selvey feather a good length ball straight down Greenidge’s throat at second slip, leaving Hendrick not out 0 at the non-striker’s end. The margin of victory was 425 runs.
“Useless cunts eh?” opined The Pirate as he sparked up another spliff and opened a can of Export with a miniature splash.