Friday, 29 May 2015

Worst Album Covers Evah

Queen Jazz (1978)
Look at that. It's just a round thing. What the fuck's that supposed to be then, eh? It can't be a record because as something of a music fan I can assure you that the grooves on one of those old time vinyl albums go inwards instead of round and round so if you played this one it would just sound like the Aphex Twins or something like that. Maybe they were trying to be Coldplay because it's a bit like that one they did, whatever that was called. I wouldn't mind but the fucking thing don't even sound nothing like Jamie Cullum or Frank Sinatra. Jazz, my arse. There's a song on there about riding your bike - very rock and roll, I don't think. When was the last time you heard Razorlight singing about riding your bike? There's also some song about how women have got big arseholes which is like really sexist and I am offended by it, but then I'm not surprised because in the song about riding your bike the singing man says he don't even like Star Wars. I reckon he's probably a bit funny, if you know what I mean.

The Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
Everyone knows the Beatles were the best band ever, so you would think they would have the best album covers, wouldn't you? Well if so, then maybe you'd like to tell me what the hell this is supposed to be. Last time I listened to this record there was definitely some guitars on it, not just trumpets and a big fucking drum, so I have no idea what's meant to be going on there. Also, whilst I suppose it's all well and good having famous mates, this just seems like they're showing off to me. Even if Tarzan and W.C. Fields really were Beatles fans, they don't need to go on about it. That just makes them big-headed in my book. Oooh look at us with all our famous Showbiz pals like Richie Cunningham from Happy Days and Alf Roberts from Coronation Street stood just behind Paul; except if you look closely, they're all fucking cardboard cut-outs, not really people at all. I bet Tarzan never even heard of the fucking Beatles what with living in the jungle and all that. It's no wonder they run out of ideas and stopped having hits if this was the best they could come up with.

Sex Pistols Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols (1977)
Well for a start, I'm no graphic designer but is it just me that's noticed how all the letters are different fucking sizes, and the name of the band isn't even straight? I suppose it's all right if you really can't afford to pay some bloke to take a picture of the group for the cover, but you would have thought they might have made a bit of effort to not screw up something this basic. Of course, that isn't the only problem with this lot, and I don't mean the song. The name of the band is a bit dodgy because it's sex which means like women's tits, having it off, and jumping out from behind a tree in the park with your cock out and stuff like that; and then there's the bollocks. Did they really have to call it that? What if some kiddies saw it and went round saying bollocks?

'What is the capital city of France, Johnny?'

'Bollocks, Mrs. Jones.'

I know it's just a bit of fun but they should have called it Never Mind the Bollards because at least it would be clean, and when you said it there would be a moment where people look at you going like ooh he almost said you-know-what, and that way everyone could join in with the fun, not just the punk rockers. They just don't think of these things, do they?

ELO Out of the Blue (1978)
Now I know what you're going to say, but honestly I have no problem with this record, it being one of the greatest rock albums ever recorded on the strength of Horace Wimp alone. If you've not heard Horace Wimp, you need to buy this album, because it's a really clever song about a weedy bloke who has probably never had it off and never goes to the gym or nothing so the birds probably think he's a bit of - well, you know - that he's a bit funny. Anyway the song is all about how he sorts himself out, and they've given him the name Horace Wimp because that's what he is - a wimp! Do you see? Anyway, it's a fantastic record with a great cover. ELO were brilliant and they sold so many records that they probably actually have got some great big jukebox space station up there. My problem is with who built it. The state of the British aviation industry has been fucking shocking since it was destroyed by Labour and the unions in the seventies and Lockheed was sold to the Germans so if you have an ambition to work in the aviation industry, as so many young people do, you had better get used to the taste of sauerkraut; and Thatcher weren't no bloody good neither. I expect ELO had their space station built over there somewhere, on the continent. I can't see no Union Jack on the thing, can you? So fuck 'em, bloody Communists.

Phil Collins Face Value (1981)
So let me get this straight - no-one had the balls to say 'Jesus, Phil. You want to fucking step back a bit?' The fucker's so close you can't even see his ears. In fact all you can see is Phil Collins, so whatever else he had arranged for the album cover, like - I dunno - maybe a load of monkeys all bombing around in toy cars, you know the kind you buy for your kiddie with the pedals; whatever else he had sorted out for the album cover you can't fucking see. Whatever he had set up may as well not be there at all so he's just chucked his money down the fucking toilet, the stupid cunt. Mind you, when you used to see him on Top of the Pops playing the synthesiser and singing with a tin of paint on the top of the synthesiser for some weird reason, he always used to pull faces when he was singing like he was sat on the bog trying to push out one of those tough ones you get when you've eaten nothing but egg sandwiches for a couple of weeks, so maybe that's what happened here. Maybe the dam was finally bust, so to speak, and there's poo all over the photographer's studio, and obviously Phil wouldn't want any of us to see that. It makes sense when you think about it. That's probably what happened.

Nirvana Nevermind (1991)
The first thing here is obviously this being a health and safety nightmare, unless the kid is the son of Aquaman or something, which is unlikely seeing as Aquaman is a cartoon character and therefore not real. I see what they're trying to say with this picture, but the message is a bit lost when you notice it's fucking foreign money on the end of the fishing line. I mean even if the kid manages to avoid drowning and get hold of the money, as soon as he goes into the shop for a packet of Toffos or whatever, the bloke's just going to look at him and say 'what the fuck is this? Ain't you got no English money?' You would think someone would of spotted this but no - typical stupid fucking Americans. Half of them think France is really the capital of Spain, you know? Maybe that's why it's called Nevermind, because that's what the bloke in the shop would say when he got fed up of trying to talk sense to a baby trying to buy stuff with a dodgy note. I suppose you might argue that the baby is a keen numismatist or something, but personally I'm not buying it.

Bob Dylan The Times They Are A-Changin' (1964)
You would think he might manage to crack a smile what with Columbia Records just having released his new compact disc, but no; and what's with ye olde worlde stylynges? Nobody says a-changin' unless it's some old film or something, and nobody has put all the names of their hits on the album cover since about 1940, so my first thought was that Bob, lacking any fresh ideas of his own, is trying to tap into some of the Mumford & Sons magic, playing a banjo and pretending they haven't invented telly yet, that sort of thing. As I usually like to look into things a bit more than most people, I did my homework on this one and can reveal that the cover of Bob's album is actually a wholesale rip off of an album put out by some other bloke called Bob Dylan back in the 1950s and who is probably dead by now. The cover is the same. Even the name is the same. Not very original, is it? I suppose if the first version is dead then Bob figured he wouldn't mind and no-one was going to notice. Typical, isn't it? Justin Bieber makes some joke about that Jewish girl who got caught by the Nazis and everyone goes mental, and yet Bob Dylan pulls this shit and there's not a fucking peep. There ain't no justice.

Pink Floyd Atom Heart Mother (1970)
How come they put a cow on the cover? They ain't farmers. What's going on there? I've listened fairly close to Pink Floyd and can reveal that they are all druggers. The clues are in their songs, like In the Air Tonight because air is drugger slang for the smoke when you take some marijuanas, and also in You Can't Hurry Love because love is what druggers call it when they take some drugs so what the song is really saying is you can't hurry taking drugs, you just have to wait, taking drugs don't come easy, it's a game of give and take. So that is why they put a cow on the cover of the record, I think, probably because they got the pictures all mixed up after they took some drugs or something. That also explains why the record is called Atom Heart Mother because it's the sort of weird thing you would say if you took some drugs. It could just as easily of been Molecule Kidney Uncle or Neutron Leg Cousin. At least I hope that's why they put the cow on the cover, because if it was on purpose then that's worse because the cow is looking back with the cow version of a come to bed look, which I suppose would be come to shed or something. Of course Pink Floyd might like that. After taking all those drugs I'll bet they hardly know what day of the week it is, the silly fuckers.

Morrissey Meat is Murder (1985)
I know it's a bit hard telling this lot apart, and Morrissey's singer has an Elvis Presley hairstyle which makes it extra annoying that they made him wear a hat, and the same hat as the other three, so fuck knows who is supposed to be who. They're even all pulling the same face like they're doing an impression of Richie Cunningham out of Happy Days, although I don't think they really are because if you listen to the record you will know that happy days are pretty low on Morrissey's list of favourite things. Mostly he just likes to talk about not having it off with anyone or going to the school disco and getting called names by some bigger boys. I have noticed that if you look close you can see these pictures look like they might be the same bloke. I'm not sure who it is but I think it's the drummer, whatever his name was. Putting the pictures all on their side so you have to turn the cover around to look at them properly is all very clever, and maybe they thought no-one would bother and so they wouldn't notice, but I've bothered and I have. It also seems a bit cheap just writing the album title on the drummer's hat, if he is the drummer; and what does it mean anyway? Hot dogs ain't murder because they ain't even alive, and they're definitely meat. I suppose Meat is Murder Apart From Hot Dogs wouldn't have sounded so catchy. What the fuck are they on about, the stupid cunts?

Sonic Youth Goo (1990)
For starters, if you really have just done a bunk with your sister's boyfriend and then got her to help you kill your parents, it's probably a bit stupid to admit it on the cover of your new album. For a start, when your sister sees it - and if she's your sister it's not like she ain't going to be at least a little bit interested in what you're doing with your pop band - and when she thinks hang on, I haven't seen that feller of mine in a week, at least not since mum and dad got murdered, then she's going to look at your new album and put two and two together, and she'll probably do her bollocks when the penny drops. This is why I think they probably just made that up to put it on the cover so everyone would think they was something special, but you can tell that's what they want you to think from the drawing of them with their sunglasses like a couple of Roy Orbisons or Dave Lee Travises smoking their fags but probably not inhaling, you know like when some little skinhead kid down the recreation ground has a fag and pretends to be a tough nut, even though he's never smoked one before. Sonic Youth, who are all at least seventy, should have spent more time sorting out a good cover, and less time hanging out in Starbucks with Debbie Blondie and Andy fucking Warhol.

Friday, 22 May 2015

On Being Ill in America

Amongst the initial differences I experienced when moving from England to Texas in 2011 was the food; not major differences, but small variations from what I knew. For a start, it's a great deal easier to eat out in San Antonio than it ever was in either London or Coventry. There seems a greater variety of places at which to eat, the average meal tends to be considerably cheaper, and the chances of finding anything genuinely disgusting on one's plate appears greatly reduced.

Shopping for ingredients with which to cook for my wife and myself is also a quite different experience. I'd been told that you simply can't get decent cheese or bread in the United States - to name but two from the list - which isn't strictly true. It's more the case that it's easier to buy tasteless cheese or unpleasantly sweet, mushy bread over here than it was in England, so I take care and shop around; and it's probably worth noting that here in San Antonio I am able to buy a wide range of weird and wonderful Mexican cheeses, none of which I could ever find in London, not even in the most balls-achingly pretentious delicatessens of East Dulwich. I also have to be careful about what milk I buy, because I find that the ubiquitous Oak Farms brand tastes like ass in both tea and coffee.

True to the received wisdom, there are indeed some things I simply can't get without a serious headache, or in a few cases, at all. Lamb is unpopular here for some reason, and the few stores carrying liver paté only seem to carry a fairly unpleasant brand, prompting me to make my own. I've found a place which sells Argentinian black puddings, which are delicious, although my wife views them with extreme suspicion so they have become a rare treat because when I cook, I tend to cook for the both of us.

I've acclimatised to the bacon, which is uniformly streaky. Ordering what was described as an English-style fried breakfast in a local theme pub, I was so surprised to be served what I would term proper bacon that I had the waitress ask the chef about his supplier. It turned out that he had it shipped from North Carolina.

Marmite is freely available, if a bit pricey, although I'm one of those people who quite likes Marmite, despite the mythology. I can take it or leave it, so its availability or otherwise has never troubled me. Pork pies are unknown, and the closest I've come to getting my hands on one has been with an online supplier who would have charged me a few dollars for the pie, but asked for something in the region of $70 shipping - which would be eccentric for something which I eat on average once a year. Then there's fish and chips, but we have a fast-food chain called Long John Silver's which gets it close enough for me to not care about the minor details, paradoxically meaning it's actually a little easier to get decent fish and chips in San Antonio than in London. I miss steak and kidney pie, and will probably have to get around to making my own at some point; and I occasionally crave a proper doner kebab served in pita bread and newspaper with a half pint of chili sauce dribbled across by a bloke who speaks English fine but doesn't feel like doing so, and is probably going to thump the next drunken arsehole who calls him Stavros.

So, there is the minor inconvenience of a few items I can't get or can only get with some difficulty, balanced against all of that which is available here but which I would be unable to find in England - decent Mexican restaurants, Jim's diner, chicken fried steak, and so on and so forth; but it's a minor inconvenience and only a fucking idiot would move to a different country with an expectation of everything being exactly the same as it was in the one he's just left.

There is a purported truism of the American diet being generally overly reliant on salt, sugar, fat, and everything that's bad for you; and that this explains why everyone in America is fat, and they all carry guns, and they all believe that the Earth is only six-hundred years old and that the capital city of France is Poland or one of those places, and they're all in the Klu Klux Klan, even the black people and the Mexicans...

Being as I had no plans to base my diet around the nearest branch of McDonalds - a chain which has a much lower profile over here than English people seem to realise, possibly due to the stiff competition of rival chains serving meals which more closely resemble actual food - and as I never intended to sit on my arse watching Jerry Springer for ten hours a day, I assumed this wouldn't be a problem; and it hasn't been a problem. I've filled out a little, but then I'm nearly fifty and I no longer smoke, so it would be stranger had I remained the same size. Nevertheless, I've had some sort of trouble with indigestion over the last couple of years, something which comes and goes, which hasn't been so bad as to keep me awake at night but which has left me tired and uncomfortable some mornings. The condition was so infrequent that I assumed it to be just one of those things, something unidentified which had disagreed with me as can happen from time to time. Occasionally the discomfort was with me almost every morning for a couple of weeks running, but still nothing so definite as to inspire concern; and even more occasionally I would worry that I simply wasn't built to digest American food or that I was developing some sort of allergy.

Finally, a couple of Saturdays ago, whatever it was came back with such force as to make me doubt it could really be anything so innocuous as an undigested taco. It wasn't quite pain, but it was certainly unpleasant. Now beginning to worry, my wife went out to pick up Pepto-Bismol from Walgreens predicated on the idea of my simply having terrible indigestion. I sat at the computer, looking at pictures of cats on facebook as I awaited her return. After about thirty minutes, beginning to wonder where she had got to, I stood and realised that I couldn't stand because I was now in serious and unambiguous pain, and I knew that I could no longer put off taking whatever I had to the doctor.

Had I still been living in England, I would almost certainly have wandered down the road to the medical centre to get myself checked out some time before, but the process appeared less straightforward in America and I'd been hoping to avoid it.

The popular model of England as home to a wonderful free health service whilst Americans have to pay for everything isn't quite true, or at least it's a gross oversimplification. For example, in England I was unable to get free dental treatment through the NHS, and lacking either health insurance or a means of paying for the sort of treatment I needed, I was pretty much screwed until I came here; and I've experienced fairly shabby treatment at the hands of the NHS in respect to other medical problems. None of this has really been the fault of the NHS, or of socialism - as some of my more moronic adopted countrymen would have it, apparently without feeling any strong need to actually understand what the fuck they're talking about. Rather it is directly the fault of those forces which would prefer that healthcare in the United Kingdom were more like the American system. Cutting funding and thus disabling the system whilst pointing out that the system is disabled and therefore needs to be scrapped in favour of something else is the act of someone who shouldn't be left alone in charge of a pan of hot water, let alone be allowed near any sort of office; but that's politicians for you, and it's not like they're any better over this side of the pond.

Contrary to received wisdom, if you happen to come a cropper in America, there are places you can go without having to worry about the expense or health insurance, namely the military hospitals. I had been told these are places you would not wish to find yourself in the event of an emergency, waiting rooms creaking with coughing and spluttering characters from a New Yorker cartoon patiently waiting for somebody to come along and sew a severed head back in place, impromptu surgery performed with rusty cutlery in the corridor and so on; but Bess and I visited her late father in a military hospital after his last stroke. Regrettably he didn't come back from this one, which has been tough all around, but it was pretty clear that the medical staff did everything within their power, and there was no obvious evidence of underfunding, lack of training, or anyone being overworked. The place appeared clean, efficient, and conspicuously lacking anything I'd been led to expect from the aforementioned horror stories. If anything, the military hospital made King's College  back in Camberwell seem decidedly ropey by comparison, which I suppose might be due to its military credentials, that being one aspect of American social infrastructure which never seems to experience any trouble with funding.

In any case, I'm covered by the health insurance which comes with my wife's job, or at least I'm mostly covered. Thus far I've only had to whip out the magic insurance card for dental treatment, some of which has been pretty expensive. Health insurance covers most of the costs, or in certain cases will meet you half way depending on various esoteric stipulations; so while I haven't necessarily had grounds to live in fear of a huge bill should it turn out that my arse is about to undergo gravitational collapse, it has tended to encourage discretion, meaning you visit the doctor only when it's pretty certain that ibuprofen and a nap isn't going to help.

Something is throbbing in my lower gut. It is painful and obviously sufficiently so to justify medical attention. I call Bess, getting through after the usual round of swearing at the phone, my wife's messaging system, and the button which somehow served to turn the fucking thing off because the battery was low whilst I was trying to get to the text message function, which is apparently how these things work. Eventually I get through, and at least save my wife the cost of a bottle of Pepto-Bismol. She is home within minutes and rushes me to the emergency clinic on Broadway.

I sit groaning in the waiting room clutching my stomach for a couple of minutes, taking care to sit in such a way as to avoid exposing myself to other patients. I'm still in my dressing gown. I had been in too much pain to face the suddenly gargantuan task of dressing myself. My wife fills in the forms, copying down numbers from my insurance, social security, and green cards whilst I distract myself with People magazine, reading up on the royal family and Kim Kardashian's stepfather who is, I suppose, now Kim Kardashian's  stepmother.

We are ushered into a cubicle by a nurse who asks, 'what seems to be the problem?'

'It began about two years ago,' I begin, describing a career of suspected  poor digestion, eventually swinging around to the statistics of the pain. I hear myself embarking upon a detailed monologue describing that morning's bowel movement, and how it hadn't really seemed to represent anything out of the ordinary.

'He has stomach pains,' my wife interjects.

The nurse chuckles, a little embarrassed, still writing on her clipboard, and I realise this was all she had really needed to hear. Through the haze of my discomfort I have effected full transformation into Mrs. Brady, Old Lady from Viz comic. It's me back body, doctor. I've been getting dizzy spells when I pass water ever since 1947, and as for me number twos - oh my goodness...

We wait another minute and the doctor arrives, an amiable man who begins to prod my stomach, seeking to locate the source of the pain. 'So where are you from?'

It always strikes me as a peculiar question, but apparently the Texan ear has difficulty distinguishing between English and Australian accents to the point that I've had conversations in which people have made references to tinnies and down under before I've set them straight. 'I'm from England,' I tell him.

'Whereabouts in England?'

'London,' I say, because as a default point of origin its easier than listing the places I lived prior to London. Sometimes I'll say Stratford-upon-Avon because that was the nearest large town to where I lived when I was growing up, and everyone has heard of Stratford-upon-Avon.

'So you're in some pain here?'


'So painful you couldn't put on a pair of pants?' He seems amused by this, the fact that I have arrived in just a dressing gown and slippers.

'It's because I'm English, and we're related to the Scots, and you know that whole thing with the kilt...'

He laughs, then tells me that I almost certainly have something called diverticulitis. The pain is in the wrong place for it to be anything else, and my urine sample shows no evidence of kidney stones. Diverticulitis is the infection and inflammation of small pockets which develop in the wall of the intestine as a matter of course in later life. The problem is usually brought on by tiny particles of food becoming trapped within these pockets, and my doctor lists sesame seeds, broccoli, and - oddly I think - Brussels sprouts as the most common culprits. The previous evening Bess and I each had a burger at Jim's, and the buns were of course covered in sesame seeds. The evening before that I had prepared salmon with broccoli, and on Wednesday it had been a roast dinner including Brussels sprouts. I've ticked all the boxes.

I have a prescription for antibiotics and codeine, and before I leave am given a preliminary injection of a painkiller. I am specifically given the injection in the arse, which is a first for me. I'm not sure I even realised it was a thing, something occurring outside of sixties comedy films in which Kenneth William bends over and pulls that face whilst Hattie Jaques stands behind with a cruel smile and a hypodermic syringe the size of a bicycle pump.

For three days I'm on a diet of clear liquids only, meaning just iced tea and broth. It's a bit boring, but the pain has gone and in any case my appetite is greatly reduced. This is followed with a month on a low-fibre diet, meaning no seeds, broccoli, or Brussels sprouts, and I'm going to have to peel potatoes before I cook them. This will be followed with the resumption of a high-fibre diet which will apparently somehow, cure the condition. It's awkward, but not as awkward as a nut allergy would have been, or any of the other conditions I've worried over these past couple of years. I speak to my mother on the phone and it turns out that both she and her father before her have suffered from diverticulitis. There was probably a certain degree of inevitability to my getting it too. I'm just glad it was nothing worse.

Friday, 15 May 2015


I spent the first thirty-five years of my life furtively sidling towards the year 2000, running from one bush to another with a bit of twig held above my head like an inept spy in a Spike Milligan drawing. It was difficult to deny the symbolism of the numbers, much as I knew it was ridiculous. Way back in 1977, during my final months of junior school, Paul Moorman had told me that the world would end in 1980. This, he explained, had been predicted by someone called Old Mother Shipton, and she was usually right about such things. I spent the next three years doing my best to not think about it, knowing that it was almost certainly going to happen exactly as predicted. The numbers alone seemed to support Paul's hypothesis - the eerily tidy 1980 rather than the somewhat messier 1979 or the incomprehensible 1981 on either side.

Ultimately, this has taught me to avoid placing too much stock in numbers or dates on the grounds of their appearing pleasantly or even uncannily rounded in the fairly arbitrary context of the decimal system. Even so, it was difficult to avoid feeling something about the approach of the year 2000. As a child I had regularly read a science-fiction comic called 2000AD, so named as to evoke what then seemed like a distant and culturally remote future. The same deadline had generally been recognised as signifying the point at which everything would be different to the present day, and this had been the standard in films, books, and television for a long time, most of the twentieth century, and certainly the years during which I grew up. Tomorrow's World would wheel an unconvincing and glacially slow domestic help robot around the television studio - always a disappointment after the robots of Star Wars or Doctor Who - and James Burke would look to the viewer and explain this is how we will live come the year 2000.

Even as we counted down, as the future approached and we began to realise that it would probably look at least a little like what had become the present, the numbers had taken on too much meaning to be ignored. Millenarian cults popped up left, right, and centre proclaiming that it would be the end of the world, civilisation, or both, or that the spaceship was coming to take us all to Heaven - all the usual bollocks which comes around whenever someone who isn't very bright starts taking their mathematics far too seriously. On a seemingly more tangible note there was the Millennium Bug by which everything containing a microchip would reset itself to the year 1900, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil would return to office as Prime Minister, and everyone would be thoroughly pissed off with nothing but coverage of the Boer War on telly. I asked my friend Andrew if it was serious. He worked in the city as a programmer for Cazenove, and he seemed to know about such things. He didn't really know about this one, he told me, but said it seemed significant just how much money his superiors were throwing at people brought in to solve millennial problems before they happened.

My friend Tim was meanwhile laying an egg, although thankfully he was laying an egg a hundred or so miles away, thus at least affording me the possibility of hanging up and blaming it on a bad line when I'd heard enough. He had a computer and as usual had imagined himself to number amongst an elite group of five or six individuals distinguished in this way; he became an expert, finding it difficult to conceive of anyone else having experience equal to or even greater than his own, because at the root of it all he really needed to feel important, to be someone other than the lonely boatsman with just one oar rowing himself around in a circle on his own social and cultural oxbow lake. He'd probably read an article about the Millennium Bug in the Daily Express, something which had impressed him at least as much as Paul Moorman's testimony had initially impressed me.

'Anything could happen, Lawrence. It will be a free for all for computer viruses and all the computers will think it's the year 1900. You should be careful what you download, you mark my words.'

I had been using a PC for about three years. At the time I had not yet found good reason to hook it up to the internet, and so I was using it purely as a word processor.

'I can't see it happening. I'm not actually online.'

'You don't know, Lawrence. Some of the viruses that are around these days are incredible.'

Maybe they were. Maybe they were so incredible that they could now build themselves physical bodies with which to perform home visits on people with isolated computers and no internet access. Tim seemed to know more about it than I did.

I thought about it and decided the worst that could probably happen would be a temporary loss of either gas or electricity, maybe some disruption to the phone system. In any case, there didn't seem to be a lot I could do, aside from follow Tim's expert advice and buy the most expensive antivirus software I could find for a computer with no actual internet connection. There didn't seem much point in worrying.

Since moving to Lordship Lane in 1995, I'd generally spent New Year's Eve with my friend Eddy. We often seemed to be the only two of our social group who never had anything planned, and so would generally end up in a pub on the south bank of the Thames, followed by watching the fireworks across the river as December switched over to January of the new year. Sometimes there would be a few more of us, Neil and Rachel or Carl and Christine; sometimes it would be fun, or sometimes it would be pissing with rain as we stood shivering amongst assorted Time Out readers trying their hardest to have an experience that would justify paying a million quid every three days to rent a glass cube just past the Victoria Bridge. I nearly always enjoyed the pub, but could never quite work out what I was supposed to get from the postscript with all the explosions and cheering. It being 1999, everyone I knew had planned in advance, Eddy included for once, paying tickets for ringside seats at this or that spectacle. Of course everyone knew that 2001 would be the first true year of the new millennium, but please...

It being 1999, I had at last found something resembling a calling, specifically something geographically orientated in the direction of central Mexico. I'd been gripped by Mexica and Pre-Colombian culture since just before I'd moved to Lordship Lane, and had spent five years reading up on the subject. In May, 1996 I'd dug out a bag of acrylic paints which had lain more or less untouched since the end of the eighties - when a really lousy portrait of the poet and author Bill Lewis had convinced me that painting just wasn't my medium - and I began painting images of Mexican Gods and Goddesses. I wasn't entirely sure what I was doing or why, but the composition of each painting gave me a point of focus around which to base my reading. I told myself I was putting a book together, twenty-six paintings of Mexican Gods with a lengthy written piece on each; but I couldn't quite condense the pantheon as I understood it into twenty-six individuals, so it became fifty-two, then finally 104 - these all being theologically significant numbers in the Mexican triskaidecimal system which uses thirteen rather than ten as a base. My painting ability was ropey, but I had decided I could teach myself and fake the rest, and never mind if one or two of them ended up looking a little like X-Men fan art. I was still technically a better painter than Rene Magritte, I told myself.

It seems an absurd undertaking given that some paintings took days or even weeks to complete, but by 31st December 1999 I was working on a representation of Ixpuztec, or Broken Face, a minor Death God. It was sequentially the ninety-eighth painting I had done in the series, and as part of a larger undertaking for which I still had only approximate plans.

As evening drew in on the very last day of what the great majority of people, rightly or wrongly, regarded as the twentieth century, I was perched on my couch with a board on my knee working at a painting. The television was on in the background, and the gas fire was almost certainly turned to its highest setting. My figure work had never been what you would call outstanding, but for once it was looking okay to me, shortfalls compensated by tricks picked up from all those years reading superhero comics. The sky was drawn from a painting by Czech artist Zdeněk Burian which I had known since childhood from a book called Life before Man. I suppose the composition was all a bit cobbled together, but it felt as though I was at least doing something vaguely meaningful, in the context of having spent most of my thirty-five years producing art which aspired only to the appearance of meaning.

It was five minutes to midnight. I set down my board, picked up my glass of tequila and orange, rolled myself a cigarette and went outside. Lordship Lane slopes downhill just past where I lived, meaning that I was stood upon a slight rise looking north towards the River Thames and the newly constructed London Eye, just visible and all lit up on the skyline. I recall the comet Hale-Boppe as a vivid splash of milk in the heavens to the north-east, but according to Wikipedia that would have been a couple of years earlier. I sipped my tequila and smoked my fag, and thought about the twentieth century as the sky filled with fireworks.

It felt as though I had come a long way.

A few months earlier, back in September, I had been to Mexico City. I went alone, and it was the first time I had ever been out of the country. The world had come to resemble something very different to the one in which I had grown up, something I could never have predicted. I had come to view the paintings as something akin to a ritual act, hence the culturally specific count towards which I was working. They were a catechism of sorts, an act of naming by which something was brought into being, specifically brought into being as living rather than dead ideas; and I never really cared whether that made sense to anyone else or not.

It was 2000. The future was here and everything was, as promised, different. Stood alone outside in the freezing cold, paint all over my hands and a ciggy on the go would have been a poor New Year's Eve by the standards of most people, but for me it was magical. We had escaped the twentieth century, and the future had become mutable once more. Almost anything could happen from this point onwards, as indeed it eventually did.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Adolf Bunter

'Lawrence is okay,' McArbuckle muttered as he sat. 'He's one of us.'

'Huh?' I was trying to work out if he'd really just said that.

'I was just saying that you're okay. You're a decent guy.'

Adolf Bunter sat smiling, giving no response, a great human dome of flesh in a black polo-neck occupying the corner of the pub as though recently dolloped out from a catering spigot in the ceiling, Satanic goatee arranged neatly around a mouth in a configuration suggesting sea creatures, and the eyes wobbling left to right in that massive head. I had the impression he was on his guard, and my apparently necessary introduction as someone who could be trusted did nothing to dispel this. He had an oddly craven look to him, like one of the more pathologically uncomfortable characters played by Roy Kinnear.

He had seen my cartoon in a fanzine, possibly Gneurosis, and now he wanted more. It was kind of a relief that he hadn't taken offence given how the point of the cartoon had been to extract great quantities of Michael out of him, his previous band, and their pal, the one resembling Jasper Carrott. In some ways it was also quite flattering, even encouraging to know that purveyors of such stentorian gloom had a sense of humour - if that's what it was.

Adolf Bunter was busily reinventing himself as a man of culture, some sort of patron of the arts, the sort of guy who eats paté whilst listening to that Pavarotti. To this end he was putting together a magazine of some description. It would be square-bound and would look reet classy, and there would probably be a compact disc with it too. It sounded pretty much like Re/Search or Rapid Eye from what he told me, the usual routinely outré subjects and suspects. He was after a cartoon strip and would be happy to pay.

Of course, I had to ask about the group of which he was once a member, the group I'd had such fun taking the piss out of in the pages of Gneurosis. 'So what happened? How come you split up?'

'It was three people in a room, each trying to be loudest.'

He talked a little about the past, about poor decisions made whilst young and stupid. This I took to be a reference to his having once been a member of the National Front, concerning which I hadn't asked because I wasn't sure I really wanted to know, and it hadn't helped that we had been discussing Coventry, the city from which I had moved just a few years before, the city in which my parents still live. He'd said it was terrible what the Luftwaffe had done to Coventry during the war, although of course what Dresden had suffered was many times worse. I observed that Coventry City Council had pretty much finished the job Hitler started during the fifties and sixties, tearing down a great number of old buildings which really could have been left standing. He seemed to warm to this idea, I suppose enjoying the notion of Hitler as the lesser of two evils.

This was not the first time I had encountered representatives of the extreme right, or at least a person with such vile politics lurking in his past like the turd that just won't be flushed. One such individual I had already forgiven on the grounds that he'd seen the error of his ways, learned from the experience, grown up, and was somewhere to the left of Tony Benn by the time I met him. The other had been Nick, whom it was incredibly difficult to dislike. I suppose he became our pet Nazi skinhead because everyone had already been endlessly entertained by his wit and charm by the time anyone realised. He was funny, seemingly very intelligent, and strangely disinclined towards the sort of racist remarks you would expect from someone who regularly attended No Remorse gigs dressed as Alex from A Clockwork Orange. The only truly awkward moment I recall was my mentioning having recently watched the film Romper Stomper, which Nick said he had also seen, happily reporting that he and his friends had chanted filthy yellow monkey at the screen whenever one of the Vietnamese characters appeared.

'Charming,' observed Andy without any obvious sincerity. Andy was also present in the kitchen, and was then a volunteer at Hackney Chinese Youth Centre and therefore regarded Nick as an idiot. With hindsight, the anecdote had almost certainly been forged for the sake of aggravating Andy.

I say Nick was our pet Nazi skinhead, although it's not like I was particularly in a rush to hang out with him for reasons which are hopefully obvious. He lived in a squat with some of my friends, none of whom had bothered to enquire as to his views on who should have won the second world war, and it can be quite difficult to get rid of somebody when you've already been their mate for three months.

Eventually he moved out of his own accord, which solved the problem. We all had an anthropological root through the cardboard box containing his record collection just before he vanished - all of those horrible bands: Skrewdriver, No Remorse, Skullhead and weirdest of all, what appeared to be a Chas & Dave rarities and out-takes album.

Nick's story became weirder still when in later years it emerged that he had been the son of some Lord or other, or at least someone with a country estate, and had moved to Italy to marry a woman of Indian descent. Either he had renounced his brief flirtation with racism - as claimed - or it had all been some peculiar put-on for the benefit of a father whom he apparently hated.

Adolf Bunter was somehow different. There was about him, for want of a better word, an unpleasant vibe I hadn't noticed in association with either of those mentioned above. It didn't help that his band just happened to fixate on north European imagery, Odin, runes, laments about the death of culture which never quite seemed to name any names of those apparently held responsible, and very little in the way of covers of ska, bluebeat, or reggae standards. Having grown accustomed to extending the benefit of the doubt to the sort of musicians who might slap a picture of Hitler on the cover of a record and then explain how they are simply exploring controversial images and ideas, I likewise extended the benefit of the doubt to Adolf Bunter.

Besides, I'd explored my own fair share of controversial images and ideas going right back to the Good Old Hitler cassette album recorded with friends at school as Eddie & the Ogdens. The cover showed Stan and Hilda Ogden along with their lodger Eddie Yeats from Coronation Street stood upon the podium at Nuremberg, each with Hitler's face. The music was as close an approximation to Oi! as we could manage on acoustic guitar and cardboard box drum kit, which was actually surprisingly close. Week after week we had howled with laughter at Garry Bushell's reviews of skinhead bands in Sounds music paper, particularly the occasional weedling attempts to pass off a few genuine bad lads as being not so much racist as simply proud of something or other. Good Old Hitler was our addressing this unpleasant phenomenon by trying to make ourselves laugh, specifically by seeing how offensive we could be if we tried really hard; and we succeeded in producing something that was pretty fucking offensive. Then of course later came Do Easy, my own flirtation with badly recorded industrial music and the increasingly predictable exploration of controversial images and ideas, and mostly for the sake of upsetting the sort of people who would be upset by controversial images and ideas; see also most major art movements since 1909; none of which is to say that recording a song called Exterminate All Weaklings and slapping a picture of Dennis Nilsen on the cover of the tape isn't necessarily an extraordinarily retarded thing to do, only that it isn't always indicative of where the author's true sympathies may reside. Personally I draw the line just this side of the point at which fans turn up to your gigs dressed in full SS regalia, and this doesn't cause you to take a long, hard look at what you're doing with your music and how it's presented. Anything short of that can probably be justified as art, if not necessarily great art. Anything beyond will most likely be either straightforward horrible bullshit, or horrible bullshit reliant upon being given the benefit of the doubt because it's simply exploring controversial images and ideas blah blah blah...

Adolf Bunter seemed to like my cartoon. He came to my home to pick it up, occupying the entire width of my couch much as Hitler's forces had occupied the Rhineland in March 1936. I showed him my paintings assuming a mutual interest in mythology, but he flicked through with the speed of someone searching for a specific image, something familiar. So much for patron of the arts boy. Maybe he was looking for Odin, or something a bit more Caucasian in spirit.

I met Adolf Bunter on just two further occasions in a pub near the Imperial War Museum in London. McArbuckle, whom I knew a little better, had invited him along as we went for one of our laboured Saturday evening drinks.

The less said about McArbuckle the better, but he was Scottish and he fucking loved his pies. Whilst he didn't really appear actively racist, it sometimes seemed dependent on who he was with and what mood he was in. He would go on at length about how much he loved his Public Enemy albums, oblivious to Public Enemy often being the choice group of those who otherwise hate rap but wish to appear open-minded - those for whom Public Enemy represent socially responsible black people, not like those gangstas with their sexism and glorification of sex and violence. He loved Public Enemy, but hated that awful Snoop Doggy Dogg, seedy little man that he was and not much better than some dope dealer; and then next week he'd always had time for good old Snoop - a genuine entertainer in the traditional sense of the term if ever there was, and could I burn a couple of CDs? I don't think it was that McArbuckle was so much a racist as just a complete prick.

The two of us were sat drinking with Adolf Bunter in some pub near the Imperial War Museum when a black man entered as though the universe was about to illustrate some point for my benefit. He came over to us and asked how to get to Borough tube station, which was at about ten minutes distance from the pub. Adolf Bunter politely delivered a series of directions, pointing and smiling. The man left and Bunter and McArbuckle sat chortling away like Beavis and Butthead. I looked out of the window and saw our man heading off in entirely the wrong direction.

'Borough tube is that way,' I said, pointing, initially confused.

'I know!' Adolf Bunter's many, many chins bounced happily as though someone had emptied a dustbin of ping-pong balls onto a squash court. Whatever the conversation had been, I found it difficult to return to our subject, and so the evening descended into idle observation of red London buses passing by the pub or waiting at the traffic lights just outside, mostly with some commentary on how you never see a white man driving one of those things any more.

The final encounter, another one of those meetings which just seemed to occur for no good reason, was in the same pub and served to introduce us to the surprisingly unpleasant Mrs. Bunter, whose contribution mostly seemed to comprise smirking, occasional comments which you couldn't quite work out whether or not they were meant to be insulting, failing to buy a round, and then requesting cocktails which cost as much as everything that everybody else was having added together. Happily I fell out with McArbuckle soon after, and was no longer subjected to either his peculiarly toxic friendship or his peculiarly toxic friends.

Years later, I noticed one of the cartoon strips I had drawn for Adolf Bunter had turned up on his website testily credited to some closet queen from South London. Elsewhere the site carried a notice protesting that Adolf Bunter deeply regretted certain political affiliations held in the past when he was young and stupid, adding that if people weren't going to believe him then they weren't going to believe him and there probably wasn't much he could say to change anyone's mind. My take on this, being older and hopefully less gullible, is that what you say is more or less irrelevant if you can't pass the fans turning up to your gigs dressed in full SS regalia test; and that like McArbuckle, he probably wasn't so much a racist as just a complete prick.

Once in the town of Guildford fair, a rotund minstrel he did strum,
Songs of liking not the foreigners written mostly with his bum,
On the stage in old Valhalla, that silly fat fucker I did hear,
and listen to those songs I would, but that in this world is too little beer.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Leave Home

On Sunday the 23rd of September, 1984, my parents drove me to Leeds with a few boxes of my crap, the bare essentials of records, tapes and Doctor Who books. This was Leeds, the village in Kent rather than the northern city wherein the Who famously recorded a live album. Leeds village was a few miles outside Maidstone, and I was about to begin a three year degree course at Maidstone College of Art. I'd just turned nineteen, I was moving away from home for the first time, and I wasn't entirely happy about the fact.

I recall the first few minutes of my very first day at Ilmington Junior & Infants School fairly well. I had started at the school in the village of Alderminster which had closed down due to there being too few kids to teach in that corner of rural Warwickshire - or something along those lines - and so I'd been relocated to Ilmington. My teacher was Mrs. Daglish. She wore horn rimmed spectacles, perhaps unsurprisingly, and we sometimes referred to her as Mrs. Dagger-bum, because that's how it works.

'This is Jeremy,' Mrs. Daglish told me at the very beginning of that first day, indicating a small wide-eyed boy with a brightly coloured jumper and tidy hair. 'You can sit next to him.'

So I did, and we became good friends, and I believe we remained in the same class right up until we finished secondary school, by which point we'd developed some shared interests, not least being industrial music - for want of a more dignified term. By the time I was halfway through my art foundation course at the Mid Warwickshire College in Leamington Spa, Jeremy had acquired a girlfriend called Sarah, and she too enjoyed industrial music.

I'd been recording tapes of my own weird abrasive sounds on the family double tape deck music centre - which was the closest any of us came to having access to a recording studio - and Jeremy had been over to record his own version of Throbbing Gristle which, annoyingly, actually sounded somewhat better than mine, at least to me. Jeremy's girlfriend was also quite keen to visit and have a go on my recording set up, and when she did come over, I realised I was quite keen to have a go on her.

Of course I knew this could never be, despite which it eventually was, and mainly due to our writing letters to each other and the fact that she'd been meaning to sack Jeremy from his position as boyfriend for a long, long time but had never quite worked up the courage to do so. Naturally I felt quite bad about all of this, but not quite bad enough to refrain from entering the somewhat indecisive girl when the opportunity arose. Being eighteen and having not yet done it with a nude woman, my hormones had accrued sufficient explosive force to destroy most of central England, and Sarah helpfully insisted that she would tell Jeremy it was all over just as soon as the time was right. Thus did we give in to our most biological desires, or at least we gave in to our most biological desires as much as was practical on a busy Saturday afternoon in the graveyard of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, which delicate readers may be relieved to discover wasn't much at all - sadly not even enough to get you thrown out of a cinema. Even more frustrating was this occurring on the day before I was about to be driven to Leeds with a few boxes of my crap, the bare essentials of records, tapes, and Doctor Who books.

My education had generally taken me in an artistic direction. I already recorded my own music, drew cartoon strips and painted, and by the time I was seventeen it was probably obvious that I was effectively useless where the job market was traditionally concerned, and art seemed to be the way to go in lieu of any better, more coherent idea about what I wanted to do with my life. Nevertheless, I was then just as sceptical of what I regarded as the art establishment and its support system as I remain today, and I had agreed to pursue the fine art degree because I couldn't really think of a reason not to. Furthermore, much as I disliked Shipston, the rural market town in which I'd spent the previous seven or eight years, I was scared shitless at the thought of moving away from home. I had no experience of the world out there, and from what little I knew of it, it sounded terrifying.

So to summarise, I was passing up the opportunity for sexual intercourse, an opportunity which had for the very first time been presented to me as definitely on the cards the previous afternoon, and I was doing this in order to take a course wherein I was fairly sure all that I enjoyed about the process of producing art would be discouraged for reasons I wouldn't even understand, and I was leaving what few friends I had behind, going to live amongst complete strangers and fending for myself; and I also understood that I had no choice in this matter. I was doing this whether I liked it or not. More depressing still, my parents' marriage had imploded earlier in the year and they were already separated. I no longer quite had a home to which I could cling even had it been an option, just one unhappy pappy hanging around in the place we once lived like a sad, confused ghost.

So there I was in Leeds village at the door of a house in which a room had been allotted to me by the student accommodation offer. I couldn't get in because I was the first to arrive and I had no key. My parents drove me into Maidstone, to a house in Terrace Road at which my friend Pete lived and entrusted me to his care. I knew Pete from school back in Shipston, and by absurd coincidence he'd started at Maidstone College of Art a year before me, taking a graphic design course. We were already friends, and it was an accident of fate that we should now both end up in the same county, but lucky for me given that I needed somewhere to stay for just one night. It was a piss poor start to the first evening of the rest of my life, although I guess it could have been worse.

Next day I began college. It was a bewildering experience. I knew a sum total of three people - the aforementioned Pete, then Martin de Sey and Jason Pierce, both of whom had been on my art foundation course back in Leamington Spa. Like myself, Martin was signed up for time based media - film, video and sound as it was then termed. Jason was taking painting, not that it made a whole lot of difference as we'd barely spoken more than three sentences to each  other during the previous year, and he was quite interested in heroin and hippy music, neither of which held great appeal for me, so we had very little in common. Over the months that followed, my contact with Jason was limited to my asking him if he had the money he owed our mutual friend Howard for the leather trousers.

'Just tell him you haven't seen me, yeah?' Jason suggested with characteristic lack of charm, before dropping out and becoming famous with Spacemen 3 and eventually Spiritualized, allegedly pausing only to allegedly mug my friend Carl with an alleged knife in an alleged effort to allegedly raise funds for more of that yummy heroin. What a lovely man.

Thankfully as evening came I was able to insinuate both myself and my belongings into the house in Leeds village. I was sharing with a painting student and a sculpture student, Kevin and Reuben respectively. Kevin was mellow, worldly, and he liked jazz. Reuben was handsome, square-jawed, and apparently abrim with confidence. They both seemed to have a good idea of why they were here and what they wanted to do, and when they opened their mouths, intelligent, witty remarks and observations emerged without any obvious display of effort. I felt conspicuously like an awkward schoolboy, and that the boxes I had brought with me might as well contain an Action Man, a stack of Beano annuals, and a pair of Rupert Bear pyjamas.

Being last to arrive, or specifically last to arrive with a front door key, I ended up in the smallest room of the house, which was fine being as I didn't have a lot of stuff. At last unpacked and settled but nevertheless shell-shocked and still completely out of my depth despite having spent more than twenty-four hours out in the big, bad world, I followed my housemates to the Ten Bells, the village pub. I had discovered pubs whilst taking the art foundation course, and had worked my way up to drinking three pints of whatever was cheapest without throwing up. I liked pubs because I was young and able to get drunk fairly easily, and I was usually more entertaining when drunk so far as I could tell. Alcohol was a great way of levelling the social playing field, I had decided.

In the pub I learned that two houses in the village were rented out as student accommodation, the one at the Square, in which I lived, and Milstead Cottage, a half-timbered dwelling down the road near the shop. Milstead was home to Jim, Steve, Bill, and Jane. In addition to this, a girl from the printmaking course named Lynne rented a room in the home of some big cheese in the psychiatric profession who lived opposite the pub. I quickly discovered that the pub jukebox contained both When Doves Cry by Prince and Desmond Dekker's Israelites, my two favourite songs by which to get drunk and attempt to pass myself off as much cooler than I was, which I hoped to achieve by appearing unconcerned as to whether or not anyone considered me cool. To this end I took up smoking.

I had thus far in my life had two curious puffs of borrowed cigarettes and become fanatically opposed to smoking with the sort of passion of which only the very young and clueless are capable. Then, at the end of the art foundation course, Howard - who is probably still awaiting payment for those leather trousers - introduced me to a special kind of herbal cigarette favoured by the sort of musicians enjoyed by my housemate, Kevin. The experience was weird and euphoric and kind of enjoyable, leading to the relaxation of my attitude to smoking in general.

'Fag?' Jane asked, referring to the packet of Marlboro cigarettes she held towards me rather than questioning my sexuality, given that this was England. We had only just met, and she hadn't realised that I didn't smoke.

'Don't mind if I do,' I like to think I said, and proceeded to smoke as my fellow students offered hints and tips about inhaling so as to get the full benefit, reassuring me that yes, this was a normal cigarette and was thus entirely legal in response to my passing comment on the euphoria of the initial rush of nicotine; and as I smoked I noticed that the combination of a fag and a pint seemed particularly pleasing. I realised then that contrary to received wisdom on the subject, and despite the numerous drawbacks of which we are all pornographically aware at this stage of western civilisation, smoking actually does make you cool, or at least makes you less of a berk. Smoking means that you have other more important matters to worry about, even if you don't.

'Sorry,' Jane later apologised with some amusement. 'I thought you were a smoker.'

'Well, I am now.'

I had my pint and my fag and When Doves Cry had just come on the jukebox again. Maybe things were going to be okay.

Lacking conventional domestication, at nineteen I was not yet fully schooled in the art of throwing stuff away, and often had no understanding of why you would even want to. By December I'd glued all of my empty Marlboro packets into a tower to form a monument to my new hobby. It comprised four individual towers glued together, side by side, and stood on my bedside table about four foot tall.

'I see you've started smoking,' my mother observed when she arrived to drive me back up to Warwickshire for the Christmas holiday. Like Jane, she seemed amused, as though recognising the comic inevitability of my newly acquired habit.

I regarded the monument standing in overwhelming support of my mother's hypothesis and squeaked, 'oh I just found them laying around,' hoping that it would be obvious that this was the sort of thing I did now, gluing old fag packets together because I was an artist or whatever; but I'm getting ahead of myself...

Meanwhile back in September I had survived three nights, and on the Wednesday evening I strolled down to the village payphone and called my dad. 'I'm coming home,' I said. 'It's not working out.'

'Is this about that girl?' he asked, not unreasonably, his tone making it fairly clear that whatever answer I gave was quite likely to further piss him off given how much he and my mother had been looking forward to my flying the nest for a long, long time.

I said I would stick at it a bit longer, just to be certain, and then caught a train back to the Midlands on the Thursday evening.

My diary entry for Saturday the 29th of September reports:

I spent today in Stratford with Sarah, although Heaven would have been a more appropriate name for any place where I'm in her company. I sold her my Psychic TV records. She insisted on paying something for them.

I returned to Leeds on the Monday, put in a couple of days of shuffling listlessly around the college, and then spent the second weekend of my degree course back in Warwickshire. Needless to say the train fare was prohibitive, but it seemed worth it given that I would almost certainly be having it off with a girl any weekend now. My grant cheque for the term had been the full wack, six-hundred pounds or thereabouts of the taxpayer's lovely money, five-hundred and fifty pounds more than the largest amount of money I had held in either my hand or bank account up until that point. I was fairly sure it would last no matter how quickly I spent it.

By the third weekend I had succumbed to malnutrition and was so ill as to be unable to make the pilgrimage back to Warwickshire and Sarah's knickers; well, maybe not malnutrition, but it seemed possible that the acute tonsillitis and mouthful of ulcers may have been linked to recent changes in my diet, specifically a change from  a diet of actual food to one of mainly beer, cigarettes, cheese and onion crisps, and the occasional box of Mr. Kipling's Bramley apple pies when I felt like treating myself.

Sometimes I would buy a tin of baked beans and cook it up, having added a shake of every herb and spice I could find in the kitchen. A pinch from one particular jar of dried herbs might improve a meal, I had reasoned, so all of them would logically render it fit for a king. Eventually I learned how to heat things up, even to combine them based on what I could recall of my parents' culinary efforts and what I saw Reuben and Kevin doing when they got hungry. Instant mashed potato was easy, I discovered, and so I went through an instant mashed potato phase, then gradually developing a new kind of dish which I generously termed my pies, expanded from a crude understanding of shepherd's pie being just baked mashed potato and other stuff. I would fill my Pyrex oven dish with whatever I'd bought from the village shop, choices usually dictated by whatever was cheap and therefore less impactful on funds otherwise earmarked for beer and fags. A diagram of one of my pies drawn in cross-section in my diary shows geological strata of baked beans, cheese, and a cocktail layer of tomato ketchup, soy sauce, and every herb and spice I could find in the kitchen, because that was a lesson I was still to learn. I also recall one pie incorporating layers of hard-boiled eggs and vermicelli, which might eventually have become an acquired taste, but developed a premature fuzz of grey mould inside the fridge before I had the chance to acquire it.

I made another couple of expensive weekend pilgrimages to Warwickshire and was eventually rewarded with sexual intercourse, but by November it became clear that six-hundred or thereabouts pounds of the taxpayer's lovely money was not so limitless a resource as it had initially seemed. The relationship switched to a long-distance footing, which coincided with Sarah and I finding ourselves rumbled by the unfortunate and justifiably displeased Jeremy. He communicated this to me in a series of terse and yet surprisingly reasonable letters, and so the friendship facilitated by Mrs. Dagger-bum's introduction roughly fourteen years earlier came to an end, or at least to a low from which it never fully recovered.

Thankfully, I still had the pint and the fag and When Doves Cry, and I found I was beginning to enjoy the company of my fellow students more and more, and so much so that the appeal of escaping back to Warwickshire had begun to diminish, regardless of the boobs awaiting me at the other end of the journey. Having come through the initial euphoria of having a girlfriend, even a geographically distant one, I began to find that I enjoyed the time I didn't have to spend thinking about how horribly complicated it was, whether Sarah would ever get around to telling Jeremy, and what it said about me that I could do this to my friend of so many years standing. In the case of this last one, it said that I was possibly a bit of a knob, or at least someone with pronounced knob-esque tendencies, so of course I didn't want to spend time thinking about it; and it helped that my new friends seemed for the most part either unaware of my knob-esque qualities, or else were unconcerned.

Bill, Kevin, Lynne, Jim, and Jane at least seemed to think that I was okay. I'd heard Lynne praise one of our colleagues with the words at least he isn't stingy with his fags, and as I too made a point of offering the packet around whenever sparking one up, I aspired to this same category. I seemed to get on well with Steve at least some of the time, although I found him occasionally abrasive, as did the others it later emerged. Reuben and I seemed to get on very well. We liked the same music, which immediately united us against Kevin with his love of jazz and all of its folksy workmanship when the domestic situation became strained, as it often does when two or more people find themselves having to chip in to pay communal bills.

Kevin grumbled some gruff parting shot and shuffled off.

'Synthesiser!' Reuben spat at his back as though it were the magic word which would exorcise our grumpy technophobic demon. 'Drum machine!'

Reuben's father had once received a visit at their home from Brian Eno for reasons I forget, and whilst there, Eno had autographed their coffee table. This impressed me no end, as did Reuben's record collection - including DAF, Chakk, Heaven 17, Shriekback, Cabaret Voltaire and others - and the tape he lent me of some group called Nagamatzu whom he had known back in Ipswich. We also shared a similar sense of humour, and after one particularly disappointing drink at the Ten Bells, chose to express this in song, improvising with a tape recorder as we sat shivering and laughing around the kitchen table. I hammered out tunes on my acoustic guitar, and Reuben improvised lyrics about people we knew. The song about Bill was just a riff with the name Bill repeated at the end of each bar, because we couldn't think of anything bad to say about him. The increasingly abrasive Steve Coots fared less well.

Wanger Coots! Wanger Coots!
People laugh at him but I don't give two hoots!

It wasn't exactly Peter Gabriel, but it did the job. Steve was outgoing and could often be very funny, but it was difficult to really like him. He combined a cloying, needy quality with a bitter and vindictive side which would emerge whenever he suspected that you would rather he piss off and leave you alone; and so he seemed to be forever cycling through some complex psychological resentment of whoever had deigned to spend time with him. Worse still if you were female and found yourself on the receiving end of his oleaginous charm offensive, not least because the level of charm involved was entirely subjective.

He slimed Sarah during one of the weekends she came to visit me. A year later, once I'd moved to another student house in a neighbouring village, he dropped by on the occasion of splitting up with some girlfriend or other, then left a note for Gill - my younger, conspicuously pretty housemate - explaining that he wanted to see her because he really needed a shoulder to cry on. He'd met Gill on one previous occasion amongst mixed company, and they had spoken for about five minutes. Gill hadn't expressly told him to fuck off, which was as good an invitation as any in Steve's world.

Since my arrival in September, our local group had expanded to accommodate Mark Hodder and Sasha Rosen. Mark would have been in the third and final year of the course I was taking, but had concluded that he'd had enough and had thus dropped out, continuing to live at Milstead Cottage whilst he decided what his next move would be. Initially he was a strange, brooding figure who lived with Jim, Bill, and Jane. He didn't seem happy, and I had no idea what to make of him. The ice broke one evening when one of my hard boiled egg and vermicelli pies expressed itself as a series of violently noisy farts erupting from my nether regions during a drunken after hours game of Monopoly at the cottage.

Mark offered some surreal, incredulous, and justifiably appalled observation about the sound of fish being slapped together, which evolved into a monologue about me keeping fish in my underpants. The more it amused him, the more he warmed to his theme, and I couldn't help but enjoy the finely crafted thrust of his mockery despite being its target. It is of course this same vigorous imagery and razor wit, once wielded so harshly against my own sphincter, which has made Mark Hodder the best-selling and Philip K. Dick award-winning author he is today, and I am only glad that he still remembers his old pals from those days, and that he has in addition stopped addressing me as Slapfish.

Sasha Rosen was American, Jewish and therefore exotic in terms of my then quite limited experience. She wasn't a student, but something or other in the psychological profession visiting the family with whom Lynne was lodging. She joined us in the Ten Bells and we all found her fascinating. I believe her speciality was some form of art therapy, and so she offered us free art therapy sessions because I suppose she found us just as fascinating as we found her. My session entailed my forming a picture from coloured plastic shapes on a tray. Sasha interpreted the image as a horse, and discussed it in terms of a fear of horses from which I wasn't entirely sure I suffered. It looked like someone falling from the top of a tall building to me, but the food Sasha prepared was delicious, and there was something very enjoyable in being psychoanalysed, albeit in a purely recreational capacity.

Christmas came and was a fairly miserable affair, my parents having become separate entities with only myself occupying the intersection of the Venn diagram. I was overdrawn at the bank, Sarah had downgraded our relationship to a purely platonic arrangement, and the place in which I had grown up had become strange and only partially familiar. It was a relief to get back to Kent in January.

The new term brought a fresh grant cheque - of which only a little was swallowed by my overdraft - and a letter from Sarah reporting that we could once again resume our relationship if I was still interested. In the name of keeping everything open and honest, this being the way forward following the confusion of the Jeremy situation, she admitted to having spent a portion of the Christmas period boffing some fanzine writer. I was upset, but also fully aware of the irony.

Does she make a habit of this sort of thing?, I asked myself, then wrote back to confirm that I would be glad to resume our relationship, such as it was, being still to receive any better offer. She yet again visited me in Kent, but it soon became obvious that neither of us should have bothered, and so whatever we'd had fizzled out of its own accord. My diary notes how when I met up with her for a drink the following Christmas, she had somehow acquired a strong Mancunian accent, inspiring me to wonder what I had ever seen in her in the first place.

A dramatic overnight freeze burst the pipes of our house on Monday the 11th of February, 1985 - just over a week after Kevin had moved out for reasons best known to himself. I discovered this as I returned home following a day at college. Our house was in a terrace with four others, and was now distinguished as the one with icicles the size of inverted fir trees suspended from upper floor windows. It was like Disney's magic kingdom carved in ice and viewed upside down. I stepped from the bus and approached the house, surrounded by locals from the pub, most of whom had brought along either a camera or a sense of humour. Admittedly it was pretty spectacular as disasters go, and peculiarly, the pipes had burst drenching the interior of the building in such a way as to leave my own small room at the back unaffected. The kitchen and front room, recently vacated by Kevin, were fucked, and Reuben was screwed, as was his record collection and his clothing. Reuben stayed elsewhere, and I stayed put as the landlord made the necessary repairs over the next few weeks, and by Spring, everything was back in shape.

Jane from time based media - as distinct from Jane who lived at Milstead Cottage - moved into the newly refurbished house, meaning unfortunately that Steve became an almost permanent presence. This had the effect of further reducing Reuben's attachment to a house in which the sum of his worldly possessions had recently taken the form of an ice sculpture, and so he and Steve swapped rooms, with Reuben moving down to Milstead Cottage. To give Steve his due, he had redeeming qualities. He was often funny and helpful, but was almost completely unable to take even the mildest criticism. Politely telling him to piss off was therefore never an option had either Jane or myself even been capable of such directness. It seemed crazy to allow him to move in, but Jane reasoned that with his own room in our house, he no longer had justification for sleeping on her floor when it just happened to be really late. No longer being a guest, we could not be expected to entertain him as we had felt obliged to do on previous occasions. I suppose some of this must have worked out as hoped given that we didn't end up burying his body in the garden, but I have a stronger memory of forever finding myself drawn into his passive-aggressive universe of bullshit.

He would hang around your arse all day like a lost puppy delivering speeches on his philosophy of what a wonderful world it would be if the rest of us were more like him, if the rest of us could only be induced to give him a bit of space every now and then. He wrote shitty poems about people failing to do their share of washing up, just like some character from The Young Ones - and with himself very much a less than shining example on that score. He wrote shitty poems which read one hell of a lot as though written about me, seemingly in direct response to comments he can only have read in my diary whilst I was out. He wrote shitty poems about how fucking some unidentified female was like an escape from a sunken helicopter during a bewildering attempt to turn himself into Billy Childish, and he seemed unusually pleased with assumptions of the sex in question being something which had occurred external to his imagination and which had occurred specifically in relation to Jane, who was significantly less flattered by the insinuation.

A couple of times he drove off in a tremendous huff late at night, usually in response to Jane spending time in the company of friends without his approval. The implication of his dramatic exit was usually that here was a man who had been pushed to the edge, who could take no more, but he would always be back next morning angling to find out just how worried we had been. Never in my life have I encountered anyone with such a burning need of martyrdom, and accordingly he formally changed the spelling of his surname to Kütz - as it had been with his Latvian forefathers - and under this name began publishing booklets of poetry about the rape of his homeland, which struck me as funny given that I'd known him for a year and this was the first time he had mentioned it at all. I suppose it was one of the many cuts running so deep that he himself hadn't even known about it.

By Monday the 23rd of September, 1985, one year after I initially left home, I was living in Hollytree House in the village of Otham and had begun the second year of my degree course. I'd spent the summer holiday in Leeds village, mostly avoiding Steve, and making a sort of living from drawing the kind of pictures of people's homes which look good framed above the fireplace. My overdraft had peaked in July at about ₤700 in debt, and by my own impetus I had managed to pay this off and get back in the black.

My entire understanding of the world had changed in just twelve months. I was still single and would remain so for some years to come, and my cooking wasn't up to much, but I had survived more or less without a safety net. Reading the diary I kept at the time, I am reminded mainly of the cold, and of being hungry and miserable. It was probably the hardest year of my life, but of course it had to be done. My mother later admitted that she didn't necessarily have any particularly high hopes for my future as a great artist, but art college had been a means of getting me to leave home and to fend for myself when I most needed just such a push, before the rot set in. Knowing at least one individual who never had that push, a contemporary who remains in the house in which he grew up, and who somehow considers his inexperience equal to the experience of those of us who have had no choice than but to grow up, I am eternally glad that my mother knew exactly what was best for me, even when I didn't.

If the best days of your life occurred during your early twenties at college, I tend to suspect that you've probably been doing something wrong; and if my diary recalls mainly the misery, then the attendant memories have mostly gathered around the details that were worth remembering - the friendship of Jane, Reuben, Mark, Lynne, and others, the fags and the lager, the fart jokes and When Doves Cry, my introduction to the world of having it off, and the fact that I became marginally less knob-esque than I had been the year before.