AUTOBIOGRAPHY: THE MEMORY BOX

 

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. 

  • Joolz Denby

Episode 16

Updated: Nov 25, 2018

On Friday nights, every Alternative type in Town trogged up to the University for the Communal Building disco. This involved a complex ritual which saw a dip in the Bradford power grid as dozens of crimpers were plugged in simultaneously. It took many hours of preparation if you were me, and a couple seconds of preparation if you were X, never big on the washing or clothing part of life. I would either get home from work and plug the irons in straight away to get them up to a sufficiently volcanic heat or having already had them on for an hour, smell the rich incense of hot mental and melting hairspray bubbling on the plates in that familiar brown sludge. Then I'd have a bath in the new bathroom.

Obviously a new bathroom at 166 wasn't what most people would recognise as such. Our sweet landlord, dear Mr.Sulieman, a man so full of universal love and kindness it beamed out of his soft brown eyes like summer sunlight and caused his long suffering wife, also kind and thoughtful but forced by Mr.Sulieman's almost mystic unworldliness to be the business end of things, to go to amazing lengths to keep her family running. Gossip at the Anita Stores, our corner shop which the White population thought was named after the woman who ran it, but was in fact her family name, said Mrs.Sulieman had been the village beauty, who could have had her pick of eligible bachelors but chose Mr.Sulieman above them all. No one could understand it. He was poor, plain and money ran through his hands like water, he couldn't let anyone go hungry or suffer if he could help it. Plump, kindly Mrs.Anita would roll her beautiful eyes in despair of the headstrong girl throwing herself away on such a man.

I didn't know, then, why she would either. Now I do. Better by far to live with a kind and loving man, no matter how poor and homely, than a rich bastard with no heart to whom you're no more than another pretty trinket. We liked the Suliemans very much. They were, as a team, wonderfully forebearing landlords. They even fed us sometimes, lovely home cooked curries, fragrant and rich. When the Sulieman's poorly little daughter tragically passed away, we sent a condolence card, the least we could do as Mr.Sulieman had often brought the child, emaciated and almost transparent with illness, her great eyes shining with curiosity and the same light of the other world as her Dada, round to 166 when he visited. I remember her little dark red satin fancy salwaar kameez trimmed in gold tinsel loose on her tiny frame and her gold and ruby glass earrings glinting in her soft, black curls. A card was nothing, but we didn't know what else to do. You would have thought we'd sent diamonds. As always with kind people, any kindness you show them, however tiny, is treasured.

However, lovely though he was, Mrs.Sulieman wasn't Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen. Or perhaps he was, in his way. Interior decor was a mystery to him, along with the rest of material world, and when we arrived he'd recently repainted every surface of the house he could in vivid peach and luminous pistachio. The bathroom, in a narrow space stolen from the two adjoining bedrooms, had one good feature, the cast iron clawfoot bath. Admittedly it took up most of the available space but was heaven when filled. Anyway, one day I arrived home from work to find the front door wide open and much banging and dust from inside the house. My first thought was burglars. I marched in saying loudly, right oh, lads, just come in and I'll put the kettle on in the hopes it would scare the robbers away.

I was met by a beaming Mrs.Sulieman, covered in muck and obviously very proud of himself. Lady! He cried ecstaticly, I have fixed your bathroom! Now it is a palace! Come, come, see! I went cautiously upstairs. He'd ripped out the iron bath and installed, on the opposite side, a turquoise bath suite of dubious origins patterned with melty fag burns. Exposed pipes crept across the floor like exhausted copper snakes and he'd built a step up to the toilet area which meant you'd have to crouch on the bog, knees round your ears, as if it were a kiddie sized loo and the mirror cabinet opposite was now at chest height when you ducked to avoid the newly low ceiling. The beautiful old bath was in two pieces in the yard with predatory scrappies already hovering over it like tubercular flat capped vultures.

There was nothing I could say. Oh, thank you, Mr.Sulieman, I faltered hypocritically. It's...lovely. So...modern. I could have cried for that iron bath, I really could. But Mr.Sulieman was in heaven. Sulieman - he always referred to X as Sulieman and was sure they were somehow distantly related - he will be very happy! Oh, yes, I said, Sulieman will be thrilled, Mr.Sulieman, thank you. At this point Ed barreled in and bounding up the stair stopped short, his jaw dropping. What the f...He started to exclaim, but I kicked him hard on the ankle. Ffgug...fahh...He gurgled. Mrs.Sulieman has given us a lovely new bathroom suite, Edward, I said meaningfully. Fugh..urgh...fabulous. stuttered Ed, limping off.

Mr. Sulieman beamed. Such good tenants, he said happily. That one is very good, pointing with his screwdriver at the lurching, quasimodo-like back view of Ed. You are very good, lady and now you have a palace to wash in.  I smiled, because you couldn't not smile when Mr.Sulieman smiled. So after a brief mourning period for the iron bath of dreams, I succumbed to the ratty lure of the new bath, which was like trading your solid, decent wife of decades for an inexpensive person of easy virtue. It was so wrong, but what could you do?

Occasionally I'd crouch down low enough to re-red my hair. I'd just bought a new bottle of Pillar Box Red and remember mentioning crossly that Crazy Colour was very weak these days, they must have altered the formula. Just at that moment Liam, with his newly red Mohican glowing in the dusk, drifted like a pallid, grubby ghost through the room. The penny dropped. He'd been nicking my dye and topping it up with water. Typically of him, rather than just ask, he'd taken it and clumsily tried to cover up what he'd done. This was a theme. He'd use, eat, wear, take whatever he felt he 'needed' without the boring intervening conversational bits. There wasn't any point confronting him as he'd either just walk away as if you hadn't spoken, go up to his room - now Rentokilled - and put the bloody Doors on repeat again, or lie.

The only amusing thing about this, is we all once had a rare outing to a local pub gig together. I went to the bar for some water and the barman nodded over at Liam. Your brother...he began. Excuse me? I said puzzled. Your brother, he's a strange one, int he? He's not my brother, I answered outraged, why would you think that? I was thinking of how particularly not alike Liam and I were. He didn't even look like he might be a fourth cousin 40 times removed. Oh, said the barman, you know, both of you havin' the same hair colour, I thought....Blasted Crazy Colour.

So, having redded up, spent an hour applying elaborate Cleopatra eyeliner and shadow, wrecking my elbows crimping, spraying and backcombing until my hair was a huge halo of illuminous (a Bradford portmanteau word combining luminous and illuminated) electric scarlet, I carefully donned my home made ensemble and pulled on my boot-strapped suede pixie boots, ready to go.

Our ritual was to hang about the bus stop waiting for the bus into town eating a packet of ham from the Anita Stores opposite and drinking neat Cinzano Bianco, the mere smell of which now makes me nauseous. I have no idea how this habit evolved, but we came to look forward to it. I felt I looked quite nice in those days, and though X didn't comment on my appearance I was used to that as men so seldom ever said anything about what a girl looked like, unless she was poured into a little black mini dress with more cleavage than a calving iceberg and heels so high she was hobbled. Then they only said phwoar. So X's silence was, I thought, disappointing, but normal.

What I didn't realise was, he hated the way I looked. Well, hated is probably too big a word, more he found it unattractive. Like so many Punk or punk-leaning men, rock music guys and metal heads, he actually liked conservative looking girls, in X's case, a very definate, very rigid look - brunette, long hair, sweater, tidy jeans, no wierd coloured hair, no facial piercings, no visible make up or tattoos. Casual smart. The sort of country-style girl you'd see in a shampoo ad, her shiny hair blowing in the breeze as she hugged herself in a lovely Aran sweater on the Technicolor moorland.

I just didn't take him seriously when he occasionally mentioned he liked girls in jumpers. I should have done, I should have listened as I sat there in my mad Gothic rags and glitter giggling, because he wasn't kidding, but neither would he say anything directly. It wasn't his way. He let you find out, usually when it was far, far too late. Oh, he'd say vaguely, I thought you knew. How? Telepathy? So blithely unaware X was being decent about being seen in public with Bradford's answer to Leigh Bowery, in his mind, we'd fall into the bus and go to the dance.

I loved the Friday night disco because I loved to dance. I had longed as a child to be a ballerina, obviously a Prima Ballerina Assoluta with the Bolshoi, but I'd humbly start in the chorus of Swan Lake, then be recognised as the finest dancer of my generation, showered with bouquets etc etc. I had it all planned. I attended class. Then one day, the evil old madam who taught us hobbled on her ruined ballerina feet up to me, pulled my foot up behind me and told my mother to take me out of class, there was no point me going on, I'd be 6 foot. I was heartbroken, my mother furious. There were no more classes of any sort after that, she wasn't risking me showing her up in public again.

I couldn't wait to get on the dance floor though. I should imagine dancing with me was a trial, to say the least, as I was, shall we say, an expressive dancer. Now they'd call it Urban or Street. Then they called it being a bloody show off. It was very physical. I stamped and whirled like a dervish on amphetamines. Lots of hand gestures. Hair tossing. Undulating hips. Expressions. You know. I was oblivious to being watched in these displays of terpsichorean pyrotechnics, and was only told decades later I was thought raving bonkers but yet unattainably attractive by many of the boys. I never twigged if lads found me attractive. I never thought myself attractive so why would they? The Catch 22 of low self worth. Had I had more nous about it, my life would have been completely different. I often wonder what my life would have been like if this, that or the other hadn't happened to me. If I'd run screaming for my mother out of that park when I was 14, the guy who assaulted me had been arrested, my family had been outraged and protective, helping me through the trauma. I might have gone to university, become an Art teacher, married, had children, be surrounded by a loving family and social circle now, that kind of thing. People moan about all that, the ties that bind, ungrateful brats, Christ not your mother again. When you have none of those things, you know their value.

Anyway, I loved the dances. And the dancing, as I say. At that time it was the only exercise I got. 166 was filling up with a tidal wash of the lost and the dreamers, some of whom would go on to glory. A lad named Batley came into my life, a kid so elastic, daring and funny he seemed as if he was made of compressed rubber just waiting to explode with sheer cheek. He'd drifted in on a wave of random types, and became a regular. He had a round, brown face with sparkling dark eyes, a mass of soft, shiny curls and a grin that lit up any room he was in, and a marked resemblance to the comedian Charlie Williams. He knew no fear, bowed to no one and had no concept of respect for authority. At the dance one night, he plonked himself down next to Ed, who was attired in his usual smart Fred Perry, red braces, turned up jeans and Docs, with a fresh Number 2 crop and fade, who tolerated Batley but felt he didn't give him the respect he was due as an older guy and a writer. Batley genuinely either didn't notice or didn't give a fuck. Together, they watched the dancefloor in silence for a bit. Then Batley pointed at a lad by the door. Look Ed, he said, a real working class skinhead. Ed exploded and Batley ran off crying with laughter. As usual, I got the sticky end of Ed's tirade against the cheeky little fucker who dared take the micky out of his betters, he was a grubby little chancer and OK, admittedly he was funny but he always went too far, and really, why did I tolerate him?

Because in his way, Batley loved me. He called me Mum. He stole bouquets from the graveyard to give me and nicked Mothers Day cards, inscribing them To Mum in wonky handwriting.  And one night, as the snow fell in thick drifts of icy goosefeathers, I saved his life.


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© JOOLZ DENBY - ARTIST - TATTOOIST - WRITER - POET - BRADFORD, WEST YORKSHIRE, UK - JOOLZDENBY00@GMAIL.COM