This is a story of life in the 1970’s, and my reason for writing it, is that although it remains real to people of my age, to many of the younger age groups, it is as remote to them as the the first world war was to me as a child. The only reason I have some understanding of the early 20th century is that I had elder relatives to tell me stories of their youth. Even though I struggle to write long stories these days, I feel it is important to share them as much as I can…
LIKE A SORE THUMB
FRIDAY 16th June 1978
I had to catch the train into work that Friday. I normally got a lift into work with my Dad, but the rest of my nuclear family had gone away the night before on their family holiday. At 18, I was considered too old to want to go away to Italy with my parents. I didn’t really consider myself too old, but as I wasn’t asked, I accepted the situation. So I had gone to work in Birmingham, with my weekend bag, ready to go straight to Banbury after work. Banbury was where my fiancee lived with her maternal Grandmother. We had a long distance relationship, she would come to my house one weekend, I would go to her’s on the other weekend. It was not ideal, but such was infatuation.
Friday was a good day in the Jewellery Quarter in 1978, We all got paid weekly, with real cash in a wage packet. The calculations were obvious, all details on the outside of the packet. Wages would arrive at 12.45, and then we would go to lunch in the pub. Friday was an early finish, we were allowed to leave at three, after doing resets and specials.
Friday, we would go to the pub from 12.45 until 2.00 pm. Then we would pop back to work for an hour and then the weekend was our own! I planned to go straight down to Banbury, to Kate’s, get changed then get back out on the beer.
At 10.00 am I got a phone call. There was a shared phone in the workshop. You didn’t really want to receive personal calls on this phone, as the rest of the workshop would listen in and basically take the piss out of you.
” Can you not come down this weekend?”
” Er, okay, Why?”
” My Nan’s ill.”
“Oh. What’s wrong with her?”
” Oh just the flu or something.”
“Do you want to come up to me? I’ve got the house to myself…”
“No. She needs me here.”
“Oh, okay. I’ll give you a call back later.”
Odd. She didn’t sound like her normal self. She usually insisted on long protracted “no you hang up ” rigmarole, and protestations of undying love, which usually led to ribald piss taking from my workmates.
The Friday lunch time session came and went, and after four or five pints, the summer sun outside hit you like a physical blow when you came out of the pub. I went back to do the least amount of work possible for an hour, then left to catch the bus into Birmingham and then the train to Lichfield. By the time I was on the train, the beer had taken it’s toll, and I fell asleep before we even got to Vauxhall… The first station on the route to Lichfield. I awoke as the train left Shenstone, the last station before arriving at Lichfield…
Did I awake with my head and drool on someone’s shoulder? I can’t remember, but it wouldn’t have been the first time if I had.
I got off the train at Lichfield City train station, and immediately went to the Telephone box out side the station, to find out what was wrong with Kate.
The phone was answered by her Nan. She didn’t sound ill. She said that Kate was out and wouldn’t be back until late. Where had she gone, I asked. Her Nan had answered cryptically that she thought Kate should tell me that.
That did not sound good. I thought of getting back on the train and going down to have it out with Kate. However, The drink I’d had at lunch time, was still swilling through my veins… So I thought Fuck That!
The only problem with the family home was that it was a good mile and a half from the train station. I could, of course just go over the road and get on a bus… BUT… Between the family home and the train station were approximately 52 pubs. I had money in my pocket, beer in my belly, which was fast wearing off. I decided, Chips first, to line my stomach and then a crawl home visiting as many pubs as humanly possible. By 5 p.m. I had 6 more pints in my belly, and I was literally crawling down the back lanes, known as the windings, back home. The journey had taken on the epic nature of the Odyssey… I had been thrown out of two pubs; had an argument with an old school friend about football, been threatened by a couple of drunks, who to be fair were in a worse state than I was… I do not know how I got home but the next thing I knew, it was Saturday and my bedroom floor was covered in sick.
SATURDAY 17TH 1978
There is a false dawn when you wake up on a sunny morning after a skinful of beer the night before… It comes just before you move a muscle. You eyes open on to the bright sunlight which is streaming through your window, and you feel great, how good it is to be alive! This feeling lasts a nano second, because you then make the mistake of moving your head. Big mistake! The room, you discover, is still defying the laws of physics, and spinning around in a crazy Alice in wonderland way. So you shut your eyes again… Another rookie mistake! It is not the room doing somersaults, it is your brain! Your cerebral cortex is completing a spin cycle you didn’t even know you’d started.
Then your stomach joins in. You start those hiccuping movements… like a dog with a bit of bone stuck in the back of the throat… And you know you are going to be sick. The next question is: can you reach the bathroom in time. You jump out of bed…(big mistake – you left your brain in idle mode), step in the sick on the floor from the previous night, slip and fall. And as you fall, you spray the wall with an arc of vomit, reminiscent of Jackson Pollack. Then you just lie there. Sick everywhere, dry retching on your back like a perch that has just been pulled from the river… One hand on your head, the other on your stomach. Under normal circumstances your mum would usually be beneficial at this point. she would hear your plight, would bring a cup of coffee, alka seltzer, a towel… an argument or admonishment… But not on this day, on this day she is 3000 miles away in Italy with the rest of your family and you are quite alone. Alone and safe to wallow in the detritus of your stomach and your life.
I’d like to say that having been sick, this early version of me, immediately got up, cleaned up and generally took care of business… Like to, but can’t. This version of me, poor sad young fool, promptly fell back to sleep, right there on the floor, in a fetal position, only occasionally grunting as a movement brought more pressure on his solar plexus to emit more contents from his stomach.
So, two hours later, when the urgent sun had slipped over the roof and away from my window, I awoke again, on the floor, this time with the pressing need to evacuate my bladder. This time, I made it to the bathroom. Having Peed, I made the mistake of looking in the shaving mirror over the sink. I looked like I felt. I dipped my head under the cold tap and swallowed a gallon of good cold water. I gingerly lapped some of the water over my face. I was alive, in a fashion, and had an endless lonely weekend stretching before me. No Kate, no family, no work, no sport, it being summer, and no thoughts on how I would spend the next 48 hours. Obviously, I was never going to drink again, that was a given.
It is amazing how big the house suddenly feels when you are alone in it. With the sudden crush of parents and brother are removed, it feels like a big aching chasm with nothing to fill it. It doesn’t matter where you place yourself, you just don’t seem to fill the void.
The obvious place to occupy would be my bedroom, I could listen to music, play my albums, on my space age music centre, bought in a moment of inebriation, from a work colleague, renowned as the local Shylock, who happened to catch me at a moment of weakness, and offered exorbitant h.p. rates on a 2nd hand radiogram at shop prices.Money management was never a strong point! I ate some food. Hastily scrambled egg on toast, which of course made me feel sick again. I drank coffee. I drank some more coffee. I went upstairs with a cloth and a bowl and tried to clear up the sick. I don’t really do sick. In effect cleaning up sick makes me sick. I cleaned, I gagged, I cleaned, I retched. I ran to the bathroom and deposited my breakfast back into the toilet. I took a towel. I wiped up the remainder with the towel. Then I shoved the towel in the washing machine. I drank more coffee. I noticed a letter on the door mat. It wouldn’t be for me, I guessed. I didn’t get mail. I hadn’t had mail since 1969, when I had a penpal from Leeds. I went to see who it was for anyway. My heart sunk. The letter was in a hand I recognised.
Dear John, blah blah blah.
Upshot. Don’t want you any more.
I was angry. Upset? No angry… mostly.
I went upstairs to my old Imperial typewriter. I had wanted to be a writer since I was 11, and my dad on had bought me the typewriter for Christmas in 1974.
I tried to compose a pithy letter back to Kate. The anger and the tears, ok, yes there were tears, made typing difficult. I was smashing down the keys with heavy thuds until the inevitable happened, the keys got jammed. I tried to disentangle the keys which had jammed in my ham-fisted angry way and promptly sliced the top of my right thumb off. Joy of joys.
Blood now gushed forth. What to do, what to do? The A&E dept was a mile away on the other side of town. There were no Doctors open, it was the weekend… Band-aids. I found gauze and band-aids ( plasters). I wrapped up the injured digit as tightly as I could, and looked for another towel to clean up the blood. It found it’s way into the washer. One day on my own, and two towels down already! As the family had taken most of the towels away on holiday with them, I would have to be careful with the thread-bare towels now left in the airing cupboard. Use them Judiciously, or face the wrath of the washing machine. This was a taboo implement which no man had,at that time, ever encountered. No, I would use the rest more sparingly.
(to be Continued)