We've all ridden the beast of self-humiliation. At Turrets, I'd constantly sit at my desk, or sometimes even wander around the class, singing squeaky voiced versions of popular chart-toppers, unhestitatingly upping the volume if I thought the lyrics deserved it. The urge towards social suicide continued at Shrapnel Park when I was caught by class seductress Suzie Chewitt one morning and asked which tune I was massacring. 'What is life?' by Olivia Newton John. Maybe it was the spiritual aura surrounding me, but RI (Religious Indoctrination) was a particularly successful lesson in terms of getting girls. Following my one kiss with Wendy, which was probably technically rape, I'd still not managed to find myself a girlfriend. I was feeling pretty desperate, but the hairstyle for the first time gave me the courage to try a joke with the less popular girls.The policy paid off! One day, a paper aeroplane crash-landed on my desk. From Chewitt!!! Would I go out with Linda Grubb? She may have had greasy hair, a dental brace and acne, but as I explained to Seamus, she had 'a nice figure' Well she wasn't obese. I was so pathetically grateful for the attention that I agreed at once, resulting in two or three double dates where nerves ran riot. I still could hardly believe that after two years, a girl considered me attractive and I was desperate not to make any wrong moves. Communicating only through notes chucked across the class from Chewitt and Linda to me and Bertie Woollen (the other parties in the arrangement) and terrified of the prospect of having to go out with her alone, I finally cracked and got Seamus to pack her in for me after a respectable four weeks. The respect for the other class failures towards me had been substantially boosted. However this was only the start. The next landmark was probably the Third Year Christmas disco. I didn't have any higher expectations than usual, but on the night, things just seemed somehow to fall into place. An old pair of trousers I thought I'd never use again suddenly came back and started working. The hair, by now sculpted permanently into the Alessi's 'off-centre parting' seemed on form, and the look, which in a flash, I'd decided to model on fifties American bowling alley chic combo, 'Racey' suddenly came right. The disco was a happy if girl-wise uneventful occasion. I did the 'Jilted John' dance, revolutionary to those looking on, played the fool a little, and even mixed it up with the harder elements like Kane and Heifer, who seemed in good spirits. Unseen eyes were watching however.....
Daz's chemistry dictations came too quickly for the classes' most lethargic member. Such difficulties might be turned to my advantage. Perhaps through having a less well-developed wrist than the majority of my classmates, my pleas for him to slow down a little led eventually to me being afforded a little idiot's licence. Other teachers were less easily taken in. Maybe it was the problem of confronting a subject seemingly unrelated to the world I lived in, but Science proved a particularly volatile period. From flunking my Biology O-Level for refusing to dissect a pilchard, to slicing Bentley's finger open during a barbaric 'experiment' causing him to feint and crack his enormous head (and lips) on the laboratory floor. Even going as far as staging my own Bentley incident, leaning back and pretending to topple backwards from my stool and knock myself unconscious one Friday. (Bentley having done this two weeks earlier during a sex film) They had to rub more than Vaseline on his lips that day. But which one of us was really cracked?
Back at a showbound Shrapnel, Beverley warmed my cockles with the declaration:
"I know somebody who fancies you!"
I came, plopped and dribbled and said something like,
"I couldn't give a shit! Tell me the slag's name and I'll kill her!"
Anything to give the impression of non-needing indifference.
Beverley pointed to a girl on the far side of the playground.
The jaws of those around me dropped open. I'd been playing myself in with pretty unspectacular female company so far, but Madeleine Seal was big fish.
"Tell me more" I didn't say, while pushing the conversation relentlessly in this direction. Every word of Beverley's discourse was an orgasm.
"Oh, she said, 'Who was that boy doing that dance at the disco..?' Well can you pair us up for the party?"
I let the statement hang in the air. It was the unreality of the working class Pools winner. Though in this case, it was the spectacle rather than the substance that counted. In truth, she wasn't actually that attractive. In fact, she had legs like tree trunks. I saw her running once. It was horrible. But she had a dark exotic look and an aura of experience. We wanted her for who, and not 'what' she was.
The outfit assembled for the crucial night therefore, and all I can say is that the hair must have been in good form, comprised flared black cords over 10-hole Blackburns with a ghastly green fuzzy felt shirt, but you could get away with things like that then if you had the confidence. Beverley agreed to meet us at the library and Seamus and I headed off in Father's car. Nerves were playing havoc as we pulled up at the entrance. Thank God. She isn't here. We can all go home now. I can imagine the headlines on Monday.
"Yeah! Leonard stood up Madeleine Seal!"
"Well, (shrugs) I was doing something else."
But Seamus thinks he can find the road. And he does. And we arrive. Nervous as I am, this is nothing compared to the terror inside. Why aren't the lights on? What's going on in the front room? Now I'm getting serious shakes. Stumbling and blinking, I head for a small free space on the floor clutching my box of chocolates, luckily landing 'Monkey' Glands as a conversational partner, his 100 mph fun and games chatter for once a welcome island of sanity in this shocking mystery.
"All right, Leonard? Madelaine's over there waiting for you...!"
"Fuck...shit!" Mumble mumble.
At last a chance to exploit my monotone 'pitched to the general murmur' voice.
Eventually things took their course and we ended up snogging together. That would be the end of the matter. I wandered home with Weisman with a weight off my mind. The next day incidentally was appalling. Hornets were beaten in dire conditions as usual and I was nearly booked for foul language.
After and before the party, the glimpse into a tacky subculture that is Beverley attracts reluctantly. Always with Beverley there is participation of Saturday. Days out in Dragnam. Trips to London. Lots of being outdoors on a precious day free of school duties, usually following morning football training.
And our enchantress herself, though a little chubby, exhibits a powerful personal magnetism. No shame amongst male class members in a Beverley mauling. One Saturday in particular left an impression. Dean hung around the pair of us. I've no idea why. Who could hurt his feelings? And the threat of sex added a certain edge to the atmosphere. Dawdling round to Dean's Victorian terraced dwelling. One parent dead. Another shortly to die. A blast on Dean's video thing. I lay against the wall, vulnerable, virgin. Beverley walks over with those big predatory eyeballs and with little more than an afterthought begins to suck my throat. I can feel the sweat breaking out as Beverley increases the pressure. The feel of this vamp is something incredible but my basic fear of sex and taking matters to their inevitable conclusion leads me after a minute or two to cry halt. What a pleasure decadence being! To be seduced, but not like a girl, for looks, vulnerability. Wallowing in the aftermath, with violently large marks appearing on my neck, I can offer the excuse of 'What will my girlfriend/mother say?" Of course, I couldn't give a shit about my mother's opinion, but the thought of romance being visible to blood relations is repellent, and as far as girlfriends go, I've already encountered great problems in maintaining enthusiasm for romance.
Later in the evening, we head to Rottenbrough to see an insignificant Kung-Fu movie. Maybe we have a couple of snogs, but the satisfaction is in knowing no relationship will follow, but something more than friendship has occured. On Beverley's part, a lust for ploughing through the boys at hand. For me, a shot of the hippy free love experience. Of course though, they made it disgusting.
Jesus was my bumchum
People are always doing deals with deities:
"I'll set myself on fire to be beside Buddah."
"Bring this plane down safely and I promise I'll never fly Air Romania again."
The latter pledge I've kept to this day, which I think goes to show my seriousness regarding spiritual matters. Right now I was looking to strike a bargain to keep this whole Barnsley business off the front page. My mum was godparent to the lead singer of a Blackpool Christian band who'd toured England with Cliff Richard and who wrote McCartney-style melodies with a Lennonesque lyrical twist - a surprisingly potent combination. Sing his praises round town (or the school playground at least) for a while?
Because I was young and liked to get into the spirit of things, I gave the whole 'He is the answer' business quite a shot. I started scribbling punky slogans in praise of God in my rough book and was seen to adopt something of a 'Take me Lord' stance, rather in the manner of offering my throat to Beverley that afternoon at Krapt's.. About the time Barnsley offered me a 'forgotten, not forgiven' fruit sweet at the 1979 England vs Luxembourg friendly, I decided I could loosen the collar on the old hair shirt a bit, amending my creed to 'I am the new Messiah!' Mind you, you can't beat the peace of mind an idiot belief offers you. Even if it means temporarily relocating your ego from the centre of the universe. I used to be fond of quoting from the old punk testament:
'In order to gain everything, you first have to sacrifice something.'
My religious instinct first manifested in my devotion to Tottenham Hotspur FC. Religion being something you followed in the face of all logical reason, as I would probably have put it at the time. My first religious encounter came a few doors up the road at The Church of The Peculiar People when I was four or five. I remember being led into a windowless room and invited to accommodate the holy spirit. My step-nan, who was mad, was a regular at the church, and no doubt it lent her comfort when she wasn't going for my mother with the dress scissors, but she belonged to an age where seances and mediums were a way of relating to the mysteries of existence. We stood on the brink of the Seventies and needed to create our own sensory wonders.
I stood apart from conventional religion having not been christened as the vicar wouldn't baptise the children of non-regular church goers. To me, he had right on his side, but I think my parents were a bit put out. Somewhere around the age of eleven, it was suggested that a reconciliation between church and family might be effected if I was willing to submit to the ritual drip. I declined, but I'd still talk shop about Christianity with anybody who was willing to listen right up to school leaving age, especially my girlfriend's Minister mother when I was being demonised for wearing studded wristbands.
"Yes, you're right...the church wouldn't accept me either....and I had sex at 13 with 'a person', and I'm not telling you 'their' name either..."