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The Memory Box is my memoirs, currently being serialised on Facebook in the Group of the same name, where readers are free to share their thoughts, memories and photos.


This resource will allow those not using Facebook to read the text and will be updated periodically. 

  • Writer's pictureJoolz Denby

Episode 12

Updated: Nov 25, 2018

What is love made of? Is it purely a chemical bonding two people together  designed by nature to ensure the continuation of the species? Is it the embrace of the spirit when twin souls meet? Is it finding safety and a sense of peace and security in the kind supportive care of a person who loves you unreservedly despite your flaws or negative experiences? Is it finding someone who knows about Molesworth and finds your jokes hilarious? Is it finding all your lost family in one person's welcoming smile?

I don't know,  because I'm the last person on god's green earth anyone should ask about love and relationships. I cringe inwardly when anyone asks my opinion on what they should do about their love life. Ever since I walked out of that park aged 14 and knew I had to be a good soldier about being groomed, sexually assaulted and strangled with intent to rape by that older hipster boy, when I decided not to tell, not to scream and run to my family for help because I knew in my heart help would not be forthcoming, my love life has been the relationship equivalent of Chernobyl. The initial implosion followed by strange and often terrible mutations.

I really had no idea what a good, positive and stable relationship was when I met X. The concept baffled me. I'd go so far as to say it almost frightened me, because I wanted it so much I was deathly afraid I'd fuck it up. I'd always been blamed for the problems in relationships, for being beaten, for being cheated on, you name it. Although I did my utmost to keep believing it wasn't all always my fault, I was whistling in the dark. My mother blamed me for everything and anything too - what if everyone was right, and I really was so horrible a person I brought nothing but pain and ruin on everything I touched?

I did know some girls managed it to have stable, loving relationships. OK, they didnt akways last at our age, but on the whole they were happy, they had their ups and downs of course, but in general they were treated with kindness and respect. How they did that though, was beyond me. Every single relationship I formed had either ended in the guy walking out expressing extreme disappointment with me for my unfeminine and hoyden ways, or finished  in violence and psychological abuse. I learned I was either a freak or a punch bag. I never once stopped to think I pitched low in the dating stakes because I'd been convinced I was worthless by my mother from year dot, when in fact I was pretty normal, if a bit arty and chaotic and felt things very deeply. Like lots of people.

I had no model of a faithful, normal, loving relationship to follow. My parents were in an obsessive, co-dependent insular partnership and my mother was serially unfaithful to my father, though mostly her affairs were the intense flirting unrequited type, ending with her briefly running off with the drippy Undertaker guy, and I can imagine my father had affairs too when he was away. My mother certainly believed he did and let everyone know it. Was she justifying her own behaviour by accusing him? I wouldn't be shocked to discover he'd had a few dalliances with willing women. He was handsome, funny and charming - and away from home for months on end with work. It would seem likely.

But X and I were deeply and irrevocably in love. By any standard. He did know about Molesworth. He was a wonder to me and a bafflement. We were inseparable by the time we'd been in 166 for a few months. People laughed at how intensely we talked together - a right pair of Bolsheviks plotting our little revolution. We talked and talked day and night. All night sometimes, huddled in the mattress on the floor of our room or in the front room with the others, making things and talking, brewing endless pots of tea, drinking treacly English Sherry which was on offer cheap at the Anita Stores nearby or occasionally smoking dope if anyone had any. Just talking until the dawn broke ashy and cold and then we'd troop round to the Kolos Bakery and buy a loaf of their amazing Ukrainian bread hot from the oven and eat it with Streamline margarine and raspberry jam. Then we'd sleep until midday and wake up to continue the conversation.

During the week I'd have to go over to Leeds on the train to work and try to resist getting a taxi to the Poly to avoid walking up the hill. X would often get up with me and walk me to the bus stop for the bus to the station. He'd be half asleep and half dressed in a variety of hideous old knitwear with his hair stuck up in lumps. I'd hold his dear little hand, his monkey paw, so stubby, calloused and strong and long to be a millionaire who didn't have to work so we could stay together all day. While I was in Leeds he'd go busking. He busked all over West Yorkshire, belting out folk, pop and reggae numbers in subways and in shopping precincts. He made more money than I did, but all in stinky coins which everyone in the house used to count because they didn't have those handy supermarket coin converters they have now. Sometimes he came home freezing and exhausted, his hands blue and stiff, his voice hoarse. But he never made excuses not to go. Like myself, he was a perfectionist and a born hard worker.

As the gas fire hissed on full knacker, the broken ceramic glowing orange and the room doubtless filled up with a dense fug of toxic fumes and damp Goths and Punks, we'd eat either Red Spaghetti ( nominally Spagetti Pomodoro) or Grey Spagetti (Carbonara  heavy on the carbon from burnt bacon, made with milk and grated cheese). Sometimes it was Angel Hair pasta - another offer from the shop - with mint sauce, tinned peas and cheese. Not recommended, that one. And Lion Bars, which I had a fondness for at that time. You do grow out of some things.

If it was a weekend, Malc might be over and we'd spend hours sewing and crimping. I had some truly stupendous outfits courtesy of Malc, costumes really, because they were so theatrical. I became immune to being stared at and often spat at in the street. Malc and I caused a minor car crash in town once when he wore my Oxfam Shop cheongsam and heels and I had on a pair of baggy pirate trousers, a leather apron with and appliqué pattern of a red sun, a ripped and distressed bodice, kung fu slippers and my now long red hair with black underneath crimped and backcombed,  then held up in a big waterfall effect with black muslin scarves and black chopsticks. Full gothic make up for us both, of course. Just popping out to the shops. The drivers were so busy gawping one ran into the back of the other. We ran like fuck, or at least as fast as Malc's heels would allow, before they got out of their mashed vehicles and beat the crap out of us. Saying that though, under the frocks and camp, Malc was a tall, wiry lad and I always reckoned he'd be far from a push over, if it came to actual fisticuffs. I had such a terror of being hit, or worse, put on the floor and kicked in the head by men I'd have rived their faces off if they tried anything. Fear doesn't make me weepy and submissive. It makes me agressive. But it's still fear. People often forget that. The French have a saying about it: Cet animal est très méchant. Quand on l'attaque il se défend (this animal is very bad, when attacked it will defend itself). I was a bad animal. I still am.

My early years had made me what I was, like everyone. My father had tried to fit me for life in his own way. I knew he loved me but in order not to set my mother off in a fit of jealousy, he had to show it in a sort of code. We weren't allowed to go anywhere without her, but she hated 'boring' castles or the English seaside, or art galleries, board games, or walks - the list was endless. My father and I  managed two outings together while my mother was alive. One was to a slide show and talk at the library about the seige of Masada, the other was to the local farm to collect some eggs. Both ended in my mother having a coniption fit and sulking for weeks about how no one loved her and how we had left her out. Not that she'd ever shown any interest in Roman seige engines prior. She quite liked an egg though. My father gave up with the outings then. But he did other things. He trained me in unarmed combat and weaponry. He taught me how to spot a man who habitually carries a blade and what to do if a man grabs you. He taught me about street combat and guns.  He didn't believe it mattered that he was teaching me 'boy's stuff' because he didn't care what sex I was, all monkeys can climb. He made me into a good soldier who believed fiercely in honour and duty. He gave me Marcus Aurelius. He made me hate injustice. He taught me to always feed and water animals and children before yourself. He taught me to stand up for the weak and vulnerable. He made me think and never just accept. It might not have been the normal upbringing a girl might expect, but without  it I'd be dead now. I miss him everyday.

Well, those evenings at 166 were a tsunami of creativity. If it wasn't talking about art, it was making art, though we shied away from the words art or artist, since we considered them a bit poncey. Lots of things were poncey. Government art grants - being beholden to the government who might conceivably influence your work was definately wrong. Anyone in authority telling you what to do in regards to your work was wrong and to be resisted at all costs.  Selling your art for adverts. Very wrong. Selling out - very, very wrong. Not of course, that anyone had asked us. I often used to say that I never sold out because no one tried to buy me. I wonder what I'd have done, as I counted 10 pences into piles to get dinner with, in my one clean dress, the other being in the bagwash, if some corporate moneybags had offered me a large cheque to write a poem for an advert or a corporate shindig that was on message and nicely suitable. The gas bill, the rent, the cost of getting the band to gigs, the possibility of holidays or pretty clothes, new art materials or a telly that worked... But that was not a choice offered me so I don't know. I could maintain my illusion of purity.

Then two things happened, not at the exact same time but near enough to kick start the revolution. Ed, the live ammo poet, came bounding into the living room, his ears and pug nose bright red from excitement, trailed by Mod Ian with a long suffering look on his pale mug. We're going to start a movement, Ed yelled. It's going to be called Ranting Poetry. I'm in it and Ian is and so are you because we need a girl. Do a poster, organise a gig, this is huge.  He was bouncing off the walls with adrenalin. I looked at Ian. Seems like a good idea, he said laconically. Ranting Poetry, I queried. Yes yes yes yes YES, bellowed Ed. Poster! Now! I got my sketch pad out.

And X, with the stories of my life ringing in his ears, stories so far removed from his own upbringing they must have seemed like anthropology, wrote Vengeance.

The revolution had begun.

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