27 Jul 2015

Nightclubbing in the 70s. Part 2.

Night Clubbing 2.

Tim would like nothing better in the whole world than for his life to go back to the way it was just one week ago. But instead, he’s stood beside us in a club he’s unfamiliar with, whilst some booze-for-brains lout is shouting in his face “Are you looking at me?”

Bringing him here was a dumb idea from the start. Three guys are never going to pull. We should have simply taken him to the pub, there to let him alternately drown his sorrows and pour his heart out over the fact his fiancé has said goodbye. Instead of which we brought him here, suited-up and stood like an out-of-place Top Shop dummy beside a noisy dance floor, his face vacant as someone whose thoughts are miles away in another city.

“Are you looking at me?!”

Tim wasn’t looking at anybody. But in late night Nottingham, “Looking at” is regarded as a serious offence. One punishable by Fists.

“Are you looking at me?!!”

Tim is now frozen on the spot. Now he really is looking. He can’t do anything else. In fact, he’s staring like a rabbit caught in the bulging red-faced glare of his drunken accuser. He wants to look away, he really does. But he can’t. He’s scared stiff fixated.

We take an arm each, almost lifting his rigid body away from the scene, offering abundant “Sorry mate” apologies as we go. We’ve both been in similar situations before and know the ropes. Tim hasn’t. I doubt he went to an all-boys school like us. I know for sure he can’t ever have lived in a place like Liverpool where I developed a sixth sense of how and when to avert one’s eyes, and how to walk home in the centre of the road because it offers an extra pavement width of sprinting distance if attacked.

Now the bouncers have turned up, wanting to know what the problem is. They never take sides. As far as they’re concerned, if there’s a fight to be had then everybody goes down. So now we’re apologising to them also, edging backwards towards the exit, Tim’s frozen body between us.

He wasn’t looking at anybody. He’s not even focusing. He didn’t even want to be here. Tim just wanted everything to be as it was one week ago. He wanted to be at home and able to watch a favourite movie, or order pizza, or listen to romantic records, all without thinking of her.


All text copyright Ian G Craig.

26 Jul 2015

Pete.

 Pete.

There is today a common misconception that the grammar schools of the 1950s / 60s were places for those of a privileged disposition. They were not. These schools catered for working class kids bright enough to pass a basic exam comprising elementary arithmetic, a short essay, and a visual I.Q. test. I if you could do long division, string a few “what we did on our holiday” sentences together, and spot the odd-one-out circle in a row of triangles, you passed. Known as the “11-Plus”, this exam gave an opportunity for the sons and daughters of coal miners or factory workers to one day enter the lower ranks of the white-collar professions. The word University was on no-one’s lips I knew of, but eventual “training college” was a possibility.

I have almost no memory at all of my first three years in the excruciatingly dull all-boys Grammar School system. Wearing one’s cap seemed to be of paramount concern rather than any degree of enlightenment. However, in my fourth year there, things took a turn for the better. That was the year Pete joined the school. Or, be more accurate, he didn’t so much join the school as happen to it.

Schoolboys seek compatible male company according to how far they are along nature’s puberty trail. Trainspotters furtively collected together like so many numbers in their well-thumbed notepads. Sycophant minions tagged along behind psychopath bullies. Outsized sporty types substituted bulk for ability, competing for tarnished trophies on which any space for the further engraving of names had long since expired. The short, curly headed boy who always played the female lead in the school’s annual Gilbert and Sullivan production, coupled up with the tall thin boy who went on to become an officer in the Merchant Navy. These being really the only options available for playground socializing, I chose to self-isolate. However, at age fourteen, this other group starts to manifest itself: The “cool kids”.

Across the 1960s schoolyard one began to recognize who else “got” the humour in David Frost’s emerging satire; who else “knew” why The Who were cool and the Dave Clark 5 were not; who else was adjusting their school uniform to just this side of school-rule legality whilst still managing to express their individual self. It was in this setting that I was first able to find friends during my grammar school years, and it was into this group that Pete arrived. It was the art room which brought us together. I was a wannabe cross between Paul McCartney and Illya “the Man from UNCLE” Kuryakin; Pete could have been Syd Barrett’s twin.

Previously, I’d always had things my way in the art lessons. My work was no doubt as dull as the set tasks I was given. Nevertheless, “Top of the Class” awards usually came my way, so art gave me an identity amongst my peers. Pete challenged all that. Whereas I had always been encouraged and rewarded for a high level of technical competence, qualities considered desirable for future employable, Pete had a much stronger creative streak. Not only that, he was already selling his work. He would produce these ten-minute water colour sunsets, washing the paint across the page, before adding a few strategically placed silhouettes. Simple stuff, but awe-inspiring to those with no art skills. On one occasion a neighbour came knocking to see if he had any more for sale. Pete ran upstairs, rapidly dashed off a sunset, placed it still dripping wet into the neighbour’s grateful hands, and duly received his £10 note in exchange. When you’re fourteen years old that kind of enterprise is impressive.  Even more impressive, he had the gall to hang back after class and present our ex-military, strict schoolmasters with his portfolio, touting for custom. It wasn’t long before I was copying his example, selling scraperboard depictions of vintage cars to chemistry teachers who had hitherto only noticed me, if they noticed me at all, when reprimanding me for my complete failure to understand what function their complex equations were ever going to serve in my life.

So it was that Pete and I came together amidst a sea of pupils who were more likely themselves destined to follow their fathers into the district’s coal mines. It seemed not everyone’s curiosity was piqued by the copies of J. D. Salinger that got passed around, or that single snare drum’s thunderous introduction to “Like A Rolling Stone”. Soon to be regarded as a “bad influence”, Pete was certainly of positive benefit to me; the first creative spirit I’d encountered apart from my great grandfather’s paintings on the bedroom wall.

Grammar school uniform regulations were tough in the late 1960s. As the older boys approached shaving age the headmaster would line them up after assembly and, using a ruler, check that no-one’s sideburns extended below a point on level with the corner of their eyes. Also, that no hair at the nape of the neck made contact with the collar. Hence the popularity of the “square-cut” amongst mods, in which the hair was cut square just above the collar, remaining quite thick without tapering. Failure to comply resulted in the offending boy being sent home to get a haircut and / or shave. If on occasion Pete fancied taking the day off, he would deliberately flaunt the rules. That’s when he would turn up wearing a purple shirt, “gold” tan flared trousers, white corduroy shoes, and bright red plastic mac. And this before any of us had even heard of a Monterey Pop Festival. Knowing full well he’d be sent home, Pete would arrange in advance to be meeting up with a girl in town. Legend.

The girl’s grammar school was situated at a safe distance on the other side of the sport’s field, and never the twain shall meet. We weren’t even within shouting distance. Nevertheless, news of “the one called Pete” quickly spread, and my social life soon broadened its horizons beyond a black and white T.V. screen. Instead, I would now follow Pete down the afterschool steps of the town’s coffee bar where his new-found girlfriend, complete with her own entourage, would already be in-waiting around the seat specially reserved.

I was a stone-cold virgin in my late teens. Pete was often teased about his choice of girlfriend, but it wasn’t too difficult to see just which of her glamorous attributes he’d been attracted to. One weekend he and his girl came out to visit me at my parent’s house. We all sat around on the bed, listening to Donovan albums, before going for a walk and writing a terrible song called “Sitting in the Country with My Friends”. (I can play it still). Then he promptly took his girl into our upstairs toilet and screwed her. That was Pete. No-one else had an audience in the town’s coffee bar, and certainly no-one else was having full sex in our upstairs toilet.

In our final years at school the powers that be were never going to make Pete and I Prefects. True, we lacked the muscle power. But more to the point, we were no longer judged to be responsible. So, by way of compensation, our blazer lapels in need of some kind of symbolic enamel badge embellishment, the headmaster put us in charge of the library and the tuck shop. We were happy with that. Firstly, it gave us an excuse to be inside, drooling over the mysterious delights of a well concealed Sgt Pepper’s album cover, rather than face the bleak winds sweeping across the school grounds where, regardless of the season, everyone else was compelled to stay at break time as if in some kind of dubious character-building exercise. Secondly, the profits from library book fines, (overdue or not), and tuck shop ice cream portions cut wafer thin, were most acceptable. Teachers never asked for a proper accounting when we handed over their share of the takings.

My last year with Pete was our first year together at Art College. It was his idea we enrol on the Foundation Course. Otherwise, it is quite possible I may not have even thought of art as a career option. My teacher wanted me to go paint roses on tea trays at the nearby Metal Box factory. The only other semi-creative friends I’d made at school were bound for architecture or, more likely, “draughtsmen” in some local industry. Whatever that meant. I certainly had no specific ambitions of my own. Then as now, it was typical of me to simply pursue what I enjoyed.

It was Art College which defined Pete as the Fine Artist and me the Graphic Illustrator. That was a bit tough to take, but I accept the lecturers’ opinion held an undeniable truth. Whilst my work would always stubbornly adhere to a readily decipherable figurative approach, Pete’s ideas could develop and take flight to an entirely different place. He was always one step ahead of me. Also, I had started to find other distractions: A desire to play music as well as just listen; a girlfriend who tasted of tobacco; and the small night clubs opening in small rooms above the town’s pubs. Pete never chose to socialize in that way. For all his rebellious spirit, he preferred to stay within clear parameters. He was either doing art or doing his girlfriend. During that Foundation Course year his art blossomed. We would work together throughout the day, take a brief juke box café break in the late afternoon to replenish our creative juices, then go back into college to work until early evening, before a last pint at the local pub and a last bus home. Next day, more of the same. At the end of that year, we went our separate ways. Separate courses in separate cities. I dutifully took the graphic illustration route, he, for a while at least, pursued Fine Art. We would meet again, purely by chance, one last time.

I was home from Liverpool for the summer holidays, out shopping, a rock album under my arm, when our paths crossed. He now owned a small terraced house. I think he may have “done the right thing” by his pregnant girlfriend and got married. I think he had dropped out of college and was hoping to sell his art and craft-work to local shops, much as he had to his teachers some short years previous. It was all a bit unclear. I do remember the album we listened to that day: John Lennon singing “I don’t believe in Beatles”. We both laughed at the boldness of the lyric, shocking at the time, and smiled at the irony of it: The band whose life span had been in perfect synch with our teen years was no more. The song said “the dream is over”. I think for Pete it perhaps was.
But I hope there was more.

All text copyright ian g craig

Nightclubbing in the 70's. Part 1.

 

Night Clubbing 1.

He’s late. Again. He’s always late. It’s just his little game of one-upmanship. Middle class parents and all that. Assume the higher ground. True enough he has the wheels for this evening’s entertainment, but we both know when it comes to pulling the girls, I’m the one expected to go in first.

I use the time to go over my choice of wardrobe for the evening, Roxy Music playing in the background. I’m so vain I actually make fashion style sketches of my outfits for every time I visit a club. Each sketch is dated and bears the name of the club underneath. This way I’m never seen in any establishment wearing the same combination twice. I check what I’m wearing now against the chart: Light double breasted Paul Smith jacket; two-tone platform shoes; dark brown Oxford bags; broad tie (it is a Sunday after all), yes, the striped one I think. Everything checks out. I’m looking good. If we don’t pull at least we’ll look like Robert Redford and Paul Newman in “The Sting”.

We show our membership cards at the door. We have ALL the membership cards necessary across two counties and some as far afield as Leeds and Liverpool. We check our hair in the Gents. We sip our Dry Martinis and check out the crowd. They’ve noticed us but don’t yet know us. The dance floor is small and tight. The music is bliss. Stax soul and late Motown, with a side dish of Brian Ferry for seasoning. I love to dance. I’m actually good at it. Not many guys in here can say that.

Two girls are stood on the other side of the small dance floor, all summer dresses and blonde. Surely out of our class? He doesn’t think so. He wants to give it a go. I’m dubious. If they turn us down, and I think they will, every other girl in the place will do the same for fear of appearing second choice. Or third. Or fourth. Fourth choice is not an unusual scenario. We’ve gone down the scale a lot lower than that. Many times. No pride in the heat of the night. I also have other reservations about these two. Because even if we do pull them, the evening is only likely to be one of conversation, expensive drinks and Goodnight Vienna. Too classy.

He’s still keen. Okay, I go in. Polite, attentive, charming. Leave no awkward silences. Style is more important than content. And separate them as soon as possible. As it turns out, no worries. This pair are way ahead of us. They’ve already decided who’s going with who before I even reach them. Refreshing. We’ve clearly met our well-matched match.

After a few Marvin Gaye’s, her polka-dot mini dress flirting in all the right places, she asks the usual: “What do you do?” That old line. I never use it. But I’ve known the words “art student” to loosen miners’ daughters’ knicker elastic at a hundred paces. And some of their wives. “You don’t look like an art student”. She’s right. These truly are my schizoid years. Mild mannered art student by day, dance hall dandy by night. She tells me she’s a secretary. Later in the relationship she will tell me her boss chases her around the office. Such fantasies are a turn-on for some boyfriends. It’s all Benny Hill to me.

The four of us have a great evening. We really do. I will even write a dumb song about it when I get home. Come closing time we walk them out to the car park, splitting into couples, hopeful of that goodnight kiss. There’s even a full moon. She kisses great, not always the case on such first meetings as this, and suggests I sit in her car for a while. Hey, no problem. Polka-dot mini-dress inside a mini-cooper is my favourite décor.

My hand settles above her knee. A little too soon? Maybe so. But I don’t necessarily always go through all the bases in numerical order. The tips of my fingers slip just inside the very rim of her knickers. She kisses back harder, settling into her seat, ready to enjoy herself, knees slightly parting. I take my time. Some things are better not rushed. She doesn’t touch me in return. Very classy.


 All text, pros, photos & artwork, copyright Ian Gordon Craig.

20 Jul 2015

Nottingham.

 
Nottingham.

Nottingham,
Did your undiagnosed industrial tumour
Cause the cancerous death of the Sherwood?
The ghost shells of your factories are still beautiful
As the hollow husks of ancient oaks to me.

Nottingham,
Did you pave old market square for the price of a hospital?
The overfed footless pigeons now have no place to laze.
The flowers have no beds on which to rest homeless heads.
Council step cool kids are expelled and moved away.

Nottingham,
Your chemistry Boots Were Made for Walking,
And that’s just what they did,
But lose no sleep over deceased Players, Please.
It kept the job figures up, and the population down.

Nottingham,
Was Mansfield Bitter during our four year separation?
After-hours’ puddles of forty percent proof piss
Now converge where intoxicated pigeons dance the Bolero,
And Home Ales are never home when I knock.

Nottingham,
Your pub house musicians are made to play for free.
Strumming mostly 4 x 4 time, they know nothing of picket lines.
Alan-A-Dale hangs his head in shame.
Jake escaped.

Nottingham,
Are you still Lonely as a Long Distance Runner?
Meet me tonight by the Left Lion.
Wear something red. But don’t mention Liverpool.
I did, but I think I got away with it.

Nottingham,
I missed you, I doubt you missed me.
I came back to teach your children, but can’t reach them anymore.
Their student accommodation skyline blocks the view
Of their life in the clouds.

Nottingham,
Did no one Raleigh ‘round when your bicycles were taken?
I went to the factory but found only supermart specials.
Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, they all taste the same,
And two for one lunch time deals won’t carry me as far.

Nottingham,
I have traced the footsteps of your patron saint outlaw,
Placed an armistice poppy on an ancient Scarlet grave,
Once persuaded Chatterley’s daughters
To disrobe of your Lace.

Nottingham,
I now hear the skeletal hooves of abandoned pit ponies
Still roaming the haunted mine shafts below
Retro-brick alleys and sandstone made caves,
Looking for a way out.

Nottingham
I am here for life.


All text copyright ian g craig.