Updated: Nov 25, 2018
The first time I saw Punks, we were riding home from Club night and from the back of the Norton and I saw a group of oddly dressed types having a fag outside one of the run down pubs on that canyon of disintegrating industry, Thornton Road. The scene, lit by a solitary streetlamp like a night painting by Van Gogh, sticks in my mind still. But I didn't know what it all meant until the fateful day at the disco in Queens Hall when I told one of the bouncers he was a fucking incompetent. Oh right, he sneered, embarrassed at having been called out by a mere girl, and I suppose you could do better. Yes, I said, I could. Frankly a fucking chimp could, I added just to make sure he got the point. Right then, you can start tomorrow, he announced with a expression of smug satisfaction, if you think you're so fucking clever.
Obviously I did think I was that fucking clever because I was a) combat trained and b) an intellectual snob. Also I still had the WW2 How To Choke A Nazi handbook Dada gave me so I reckoned I could do some research on holds and be on point by the morning. I did not, of course, think that being employed at a nightclub as a bouncer was something a nice girl shouldn't do for fear of her reputation. My reputation was already shredded. I'd been going to that club for sometime with a couple of lasses from the Club and heard the music change slowly from Whole Lotta Love to Psycho Killer and the clientele change from all the random biker, rocker, hippie ragtag of Bradford to a mix of them and the latest thing - Punks.
Previously, some months before, because going to gigs was what every young person did as a matter of course, the blessed noodle - home briefly from contracting - and I had run over to Leeds Uni to see a Yank band called the New York Dolls. It was 1973. I should imagine we expected a pretty standard Rock outfit possibly with a hint of Country and instead we got utter mayhem made flesh. The Dolls were a tour de force of willpower over ability and determination over excessive drug use. I loved it. Afterwards as the exhausted band packed their stuff - the noodle, ever kind hearted, asked them if they'd like a beer. Sure man thanks, the singer replied hoarsely. The noodle brought them Newcastle Brown Ale. As we all sat on the edge of the low stage drinking - I hate beer and I really hate Newkie Brown - a sense of utter bafflement passed over David Jo Hanson's battered face. Man, he enquired, is this beer? It's fuckin wild. The noodle agreed it was indeed wild but it was his favourite. Wow, came the reply, you Brits are somethin else - here's to yer, man. And they clinked bottles amicably. Naturally none of the men spoke to me. I was just a chick belonging to the patch biker guy who bought the beer. I had no part in men's interaction nor did I expect any. I was talked over or across, and at the best I might get a nod if introduced as 'my wife'. But I didn't care. The music those tottering, high heeled, make up wearing men, and they were men and quite butch with it, had made stirred something in me. Something feral. Something big.
I loved Punk from the off. The music, the attitudes, the clothes and the opportunity to dye my hair wierd and unnatural colours. What could be more thrilling. That I was still married to a Satans Slave didn't matter to me, even when I had an official warning from the President that my appearence - cropped pink hair, my ubiquitous khaki parachute suit and baseball boots sprayed silver were causing gossip. I don't doubt it as unlike the modern day when that kind of thing doesn't warrant a second glance, then it was genuinely shocking. The government were concerned about the deleterious effect of Punk on the nation. There were about two pubs Punks could get in in town and being beaten up by straight men, 'Tetley Bittermen' as the late poet Steven Wells put it so succinctly, was a regular and painful occurrence. Punk was a genuine threat, Punk was destabilising and exciting. The music was coarse and energising or strange and dynamic. I went from being someone who liked music to a music fan in the space of one night at Queen Hall. And now I worked at the club and got in for nothing. What could be better.
Well, it would have been better if someone, anyone, had sat down with me and told me not to be so bloody stupid. But of course, they didn't. The noodle was barely ever home, I'd recently hooked up and split up with a vicious and violent guy who masqueraded as a nice hippie type from a family of handsome hippie brothers. His answer to me inconveniently getting flu had been to punch me in the face for coughing 'annoyingly', knocking me over the back of the sofa where I lay semi conscious for a moment covered in blood and snot from my nose, until he pulled the sofa away and told me to cover myself up fuckin whore - my voluminous flanelette 'poorly' nightie had ridden up in the fall - and kick me hard and repeatedly in the thigh to emphasise his point. He left never to return as I was a signal dispointment to him, not having enough money to buy his weed. No one cared what happened to me. Or to be fair, if they did, they didn't say anything or thought it wasn't their business. Another recurring theme in my life. Often people say I'm 'scary' and they'd have been too 'frightened' to say anything to me, something that might have saved me from a dreadful error or making an awful mistake. I have nothing to say about that but I note they're always very protective of other women. Me - whoah. I was beyond the Pale. I still am. It's a very lonely place to be if I'm honest.
So I started working the doors at Queens and as expected, I did my job with a thoroughness bordering on obsession. I disarmed knife wielding boys who really just wanted a good cry, I picked future rock stars up out of the sea of piss in the Gents and stopped people bullying them - don't thank me Zodiac, just part of the job - I separated feuding girls armed with stiletto shoes, punched out a guy bullying Russell The Weediest Punk, frogmarched domestic abusers (Choke A Nazi) out of the venue and stopped couples shagging on the balcony in the name of public decency. I thought I did a good job. I was quite proud of myself.
Until the night I realised they all hated me. The girls played the simpering Poor Little Me I'm Scared Of Horrid Joolz card to great effect and the boys behaved as if I'd personally removed their genitalia and handed it back to them without even gift wrapping it. I was as usual oblivious to this and as I patched them up, listened to their sad stories of teenage broken hearts and prevented them from being marmelised by drunks I thought at least they had someone who genuinely cared about them. The favour however, was not returned as I found out.
It had been an ordinary night. Nothing of note until a straight guy I'd never seen before lurched in and headed straight for the bar downstairs. Again, nothing rang an alarm bell. Then after a while, a lot of shouting from the lower bar. Off I went on my white horse, ta da! only to find the strange guy laying into Russell, the usual victim. I dragged him off and looked around for the other bouncers. They were nowhere to be seen. I hauled the guy upstairs with considerable difficulty unaided and pushed him out through the front doors. He staggered off cursing. I cleaned up Russell and went back to the front. As I mooched about thinking about nothing much there was a god almighty bang on the doors. The guy was there with brick in his hand demented with rage. He started screaming that the first fuckin wierdo that came out would get it in the head. And he obviously meant it. I shouted at him through the doors that I was phoning the police - standard procedure. It made no difference and a knot of Punks wanted to leave. I looked around franticly for the other bouncers. The Punks started moaning about leaving and one tried the doors. That sent the lunatic outside into a frenzy. I tried reasoning with the Punks to wait until the police took him away. They were having none of it. I was 'a facist' trying to stop them doing what they wanted. Then I did the stupidest thing possible. I thought I'd go and reason with the guy and tell him to leg it before he got arrested.
I went outside the front doors. He of course immediately hit me round the head with the brick. As I crouched on the floor dizzy and disoriented I saw all the Punks and the other bouncers gathered up against the glass double doors watching. Some were laughing. No one came out to help. Then fortuitously before the guy killed me the police arrived and he ran off, chased by an officer who managed to take a header on the slippery downhill and smash his knee. He and I shared an ambulance to the A&E. He was nice. He did ask why I went out to the guy which was fair enough, as it was ridiculously dumb. I could only say I didn't want him to hurt any of the kids. The copper paused a moment. Then he said, they left you to it, we saw that. Don't ever do that again. You're not their mam. Of course, I ignored that sage advice. I was always mamming people who didn't want to be mammed. Or who did for a while but then having got what they wanted, fucked off. It's a bad habit but one that's hard to break.
After I recovered from the minor skull fracture, bruising and concussion alone in the flat, I went back to the club to work. No one said anything but the gilt had worn off the gingerbread. I remembered the ones who'd laughed. Still, I had the music and the undying gratitude of Russell. It wasn't all bad. Then one night a woman I knew who's name I cannot bloody remember suggested we went to an after hours drinking hole called Slaggers.
Slaggers was actually called The Champagne A GoGo. Yes, it was. But naturally no one ever called it that as it was a stinky hole in the cellars of a terraced house up by the Uni run by a portly irascible Asian guy called Haig. The whisky tasted like tramp's mattress squeezings and your feet stuck audibly to the floor. Everyone went there. Students, bikers, Punks, the deranged and the degenerate. There was a tiny dance floor and a decent DJ. What more could you want. Everyone smoked like trains. I doubt any of it would be allowed now, not just the smoking. So me and my pal turned up as per and got a round of Old Tramps Mattress in and stood by the dance floor.
My friend turned to me. We're modern women, she said, we should ask some lads to dance. I snorted and said yeah, sure. I was in a funny mood. I felt as if the night was expanded to its limits, tight and portentous. There was a full moon and lunatics all over town were howling. I felt as if my skin would split and a great winged creature made of white fire would rear up out of me and destroy the world. I felt as if I could see in the dark and eat souls. The whiskey didn't help. My pal pointed out two obvious students, a tall lad with a mass of curly hair and a shorter wiry guy with his back to me. I'll tek the tall one you can have the short fella. Oh thanks, I said, god, alright, go on then. She walked up to the men with me trailing behind and to the tall guys utter bemusement asked him to dance. He agreed with an expression like a lamb being led to the slaughter and the wiry guy turned round.
All my life, I had drawn a face in the margins of my school books, in my sketchbooks, the same face, over and over. My Ugly Face, I used to call it, but it wasn't ugly. It was long, bony and compelling. Handsome but the handsome of a different, wilder age.
It was a portrait of the young man who turned to face me on that dancefloor, in that crap club, in that city in the arse end of nowhere. I gasped. It was incontrovertibly recognisable. He looked puzzled. As well he might. What's your name, I muttered to get some breathing space. The DJ was playing Sultans Of Swing. Justin, he said. Oh, I riposted with all the grace of a one legged paralytic elephant - are you a fuckin hairdresser? No, he said I'm a student. Ah, oh, ok, where are you from? We were now dancing on autopilot. Slough, he said. Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough/It isn't fit for humans now, I replied quoting the poem.
I'd insulted him twice in five minutes. He just smiled like he knew me and he always had and I was just being my usual idiot self. We went to the bar. We had a drink. I knew, I knew, I'd found my dead twin, the twin I'd always missed and knew was part of me as I was part of him and he lived and he was this man with his marvellous bony face and black on black eyes and it was my moira, my fate and nothing could change it. Nothing. My old life shucked off like a chrysalis. His did too. We were both born into a new life in a scabby drinking hole in Bradford.
We started a conversation that night that has lasted 40 years.