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 6

Updated: Nov 25, 2018

Days passed as they do, filled with the endless minutiae of life - shopping, cooking, laundry, animal care, the bloody housework. I have zero interest in housework past enjoying a mad clean up sometimes, but it has to be done or you end up wading knee deep in crap and being one of those poor people who die crushed to death by a hoarded mountain of back copies of the Telegraph & Argus. I often wonder, when you read those biographies of famous rock stars, who did their cleaning. Someone had to. They never write about lugging their laundry to the bagwash and sitting in the warm fug of dryers, pulverized detergent and in those days, fag smoke, reading partial copies of Women's Own for hours as your clothes creak round and round because you put too much stuff in the washer to save money. My life was mad, but it wasn't glamourous.

At the flat I wrote and wrote, poetry of very dubious quality filling cheap notebooks one after the other. I have what they used to call 'big handwriting' at my school, I was lucky if I got four words on a line. There was no one to read this stuff and talk to about it. Obviously there were people I hung about with, mad, clever, ruined Davey from the North East and his beautiful, Pre-Raphaelite doomed sister, assorted paranoid gun nut conspiracy theorists who hung about on the fringes of the Slaves, the kind of people that you're not sure how you got to know, but there they are, making free with your teapot and the digestives. But they weren't the type to be interested in my writing even if like Davey, they were readers. They had their own problems. I did know a poet, a somewhat older guy who went on with my encouragement to dress up as a nun on roller skates and front a band. I say encouragement, but I doubt you could force a bearded hippie to get himself up like that if he hadn't wanted to. I used to help make his props - a giant bible that was really a box to hold a whip, that kind of thing. He wasn't interested in anyone's poetry but his own. I once asked him who he thought the Shakespeare of our age was and he replied - himself.  He wasn't joking. He had a deep seated and unshakeable belief that he was a genuine undiscovered genius. It turned out to be an attitude I'd encounter many times in male poets. Poetry is like meth to them. It destroys the part of their brain that keeps their egos under control.

I'd tried attending the local college at one point, scraping in with my less than desirable O Levels - not much you can do with Religious Instruction - to do a course aimed at going on to get a teaching qualification. It wasn't a success. In Sociology I got told to stop reading the books because I had read far ahead of the other students and it threw the lecturer off his stride and was once strictly forbidden by the head of the course to ask questions when a visiting lecturer came. I just didn't bother going to the talk. It was rivetting, according to my fellow students, ever quick to ensure I was made aware I'd missed something, quite the social event of the year and drinks afterwards. It was a proper gloatfest. I didn't like to tell them I'd  taken a shed load of acid instead with assorted bikers and had a demented trip that put me off it forever, in scenes reminiscent of the trippy bit in Easy Rider. They'd already complained about me enough to the tutors. I wasn't really commited to college life apparently.

Soon after, the English tutor pulled me in 'for a chat', which turned out to be a critique of my fashion sense and one of those 'what do you intend doing with your life and are we wasting time having you on this course' things. He was the square black framed glasses, tweed jacket with elbow patches, bearded holy anorexic intellectual sort. I'm going to be a poet, I said. He nearly fell off his chair laughing. Don't be ridiculous, he said,  when he'd recovered somewhat. People like you aren't poets. You'll be lucky if you get a job in a petrol station. Ridiculous. I can see you aren't taking this seriously so I'm going to have to discuss your future with the Head. Oh for fuck's sake, I thought. Up in front of the Beak. So I just dropped out. It seemed pointless going on, as frankly I'd rather have stuck pins in my eyes than be a teacher and the constant low level bullying by the other students was getting tedious.

Now, if I was the proper rebellious rock star of the pulp biographies, I'd have flung myself out of the English guy's room with a flourish and gone on to prove the bastard wrong with no intervening struggle. I was not. I was in fact, deeply hurt by his comments. Yes, I was. I was a lonely, messed up girl with no one to talk to, no one who took my work as a writer seriously, no one to have a good rant with, eat a pint of ice cream and smoke a consoling spliff with. I hugged the pain to my chest and went home. It was ridiculous. Who was I kidding? Sure, I'd been a child poetry prodigy but only at my school, in my little town. Sure, aged 16 or so I'd travelled about a bit with a crew of somewhat older poet lads calling themselves Krax doing the odd reading, and being inappropriately dressed for a lady poet (blue lurex glam maxi, pink fringed Spanish flamenco shawl - the business, seriously) but when I'd started with the Slaves that had all gone out of the window pronto. Now I knew no one poety except the mad hippie and he wasn't interested as being the new Shakespeare took up what remained of his brain.

I found too that the girlfriends I'd had  - not that they were interested in writing or art, despite being on the Foundation Course at the Art School - had fallen by the wayside. To be fair the Art School had been more shoes, Biba, who was shagging who and let's dress up like girl Bowies than anything else. And in my case being heavily groomed by one of the tutors, a louche married Beat type called Ray who once memorably drove me out to the country after an afternoon drinking in the Alex, got even drunker in one of those pubs where they go you ain't frum round 'ere, then drove us back, or rather he stamped on the gas and had me steer through the pitch black winding country lanes while he fumbled at my clothes and his dick saying things about how talented I was. Yeah. I was 16 or 17, no, I couldn't have reported him it was the 1970s. Everyone would have said aside from the drunk driving, which was possibly a bit on the naughty side, I should be honoured a real artist took an interest in me. Like all the other grown men who tried it on. Married men. Or just chancers. I did have regular boyfriends too but I never told them about anything that had happened to me in case they thought less of me. Even the one who I caught being extremely amourous in a bedroom at a party after the opiated hash oil joints had gone round with a very large bearded guy. It had been a fancy dress gender swap do. I'd gone as Marlon Brando in The Wild One, naturally. I did wonder why he'd insisted so vehemently on going as Marilyn Munroe. Lovely blond hair he had. Really looked the part. Still, I would no more have confided in him or any of the others than published it in the Harrogate Advertiser.

I could have told a girlfriend I suppose but our friendships weren't like that. If anything darker than ordinary boy troubles  happened to them, and to be honest I'll bet it had, like me they kept it quiet because we never, ever told. You may as well have walked round the cenotaph stark naked carrying a placard with SLUT written on it. It was always the girl's fault. Always. Even now I cringe to hear young girls today saying they feel guilty about being assaulted. Like, no one ever holds a fucking gun to to some guy's head and screams rape that girl or woman, call her a fucking bitch, bully the fuck out of her, make her life hell or die, motherfucker. They don't need to. Abusers do it because they want to. And they looked at me and so many others like me and thought, game on.

So the Art School girlfriends had gone on to Uni to do sensible things like graphics and fashion, away from our area and they'd never looked back. Some got married and started a family, or didn't get married and got caught out, or just plain grew out of being seen around with someone like me. I realised I had been their token rebellion. The eponymous bad crowd they could hang around with safely. I say safely, because I was extremely over-loyal. Due to a lifetime of being told I was stupid, socially inept, ugly and annoying, being mishandled, hurt and blaming myself, I was always so grateful anyone would lower themselves to be my friend, I'd have ripped the throat out of anyone who fucked with a pal of mine. It must have been like having the Gatekeeper Of Gozer as a mate. No wonder they all drifted off. I'd had a couple of biker girlfriends but they too vanished when I became a Punk. It was a step too far for them, and they hated the music.

So basically I was on my own, which I hate, havering over the ending of my brief but eventful marriage to the blessed noodle, and basically trying not to think about it as it filled me with a dreadful feeling of failure mixed with the fear of a very uncertain future.

I spent more and more time with X. I'd had other boyfriends before despite being married as I said. I certainly wouldn't paint myself as either the faithful type back then, or a long suffering martyr forced by a wicked husband into a consolatory liaison with a passing lothario. My husband didn't understand me, that much of the old cliche was true, but then I imagine Einstein would have had problems that department. I just had absolutely no sense of self worth and considered myself damned already. If a guy I liked flirted with me I was amazed. Mostly of course they didn't, because they were terrified of my brain, but I didn't realise that and fell back onto my default grateful setting if they did. This made me very easy to take advantage of and to justify doing so.

Naturally we'd all like to go back and advise out younger selves that if you see a man with 'trouble' written all over him, possibly in neon red, it means he's a lying, cheating, often violent son of a bitch, not a daring, romantic bad boy. That if something seems, even for that fleeting moment before the vodka sets in, too good to be true, it generally is. But I had no best mate to warn me, no mother or sister to confide in, no brother to protect me so I flung myself headlong down the path to Hell. Well, I was going there anyway, why not go at velocity? Better to burn out than faaaaaaaade away, and all that absolute socking crap. No one who lived as I did would recommend it.

X, in comparison to the grim flotsam I usually fetched up with was a definite cut above. I remember being bored at 2.00am one snowy night and getting on my bike riding the 5 miles or so to his house, parking up and going to knock on the door only to find it was open. Naturally I walked up to his room and frightened the living crap out of him because I hadn't taken my full face helmet off. When he recovered we thought it would be an hilarious dare if I gave him naked backie round the block in the sub zero temperatures. Big up to him he did it, always game, that lad. He had no self consciousness about himself and the disregard of his body was the  legacy of an upbringing that put considerable emphasis on ignoring discomfort, since the body was simply a device to carry the mind around. That has its advantages, and its disadvantages. It's good for endurance without complaint and the ability to carry on despite being ill, or in pain, or broken hearted. It's crap if you're looking for sympathy for that horrid  snuffle or poorly fingie. He'd just look at you, blankly. But he never asked the men to do anything he wasn't doing himself. That's the point, really.

He suffered considerable pain on a regular basis. Because his parents refused to acknowledge any of their kids needed proper dental care, they got sent to the village dentist who by all accounts was a butcher. When X's older brother accidently kicked him in the mouth during a game of footie shattering his upper teeth and damaging his upper jaw, he should gave had specialist repair work done. But no. His parents thought that would be excessive, unnecessary, vain even. So the Butcher had at him. After that he had huge recurrent dental abcesses that would have driven most people to hard drugs and despair, but he just bore them uncomplainingly.  They must have been fucking agony. When people jeered at or made fun of his teeth it used to drive me mad. I'd seen how bad the pain was. They should have been fucking glad they didn't suffer as he did.

When I first met him, he also had the remains of dysentery from his overland drive with a convoy of transit vans from Bradford to Pakistan. It was a bit of a thing, then. Four or five vans full of fridges, scooters, TVs, flip-flops, assorted sundries as they used to say, would drive to Pakistan then the vans would be sold off too and the drivers come home by air. X's iron constitution and ability to carry on regardless, plus his absolute disinterest in personal safety, love of travel adventures and lunatic driving skills made him an ideal candidate for this more than slightly dodgy enterprise. He got to Pakistan more or less ok, but then, not wishing to offend by refusing when offered a glass of water in the convoy leader's home village, got dysentery. When I met him he was nearly over it but there was literally not a spare ounce on him. Gaunt, would be the word. If not actually skeletal. Such beautiful bones. One day he might tell the details of that adventure himself, but it's not for me to do. That's his story.

Eventually I just moved in with X. It was gradual but inexorable. The blessed noodle wasn't surprised and I fancy he was even a bit relieved - but that didn't mean we weren't sad. I loved the noodle and I believe he loved me. I was just too much for him. He didn't hate X or anything stupid, they quite liked each other. He got X a nice pair of steel toe cap boots from the works catalogue for fetching the remainder of my stuff from the flat in a hire van. I left the truly beautiful pine dinner table my father in law had made for me as a wedding present though. I knew It would be ruined at X's. And I left Tigger and Queenie. X already had a cat living with him called Septic. Septic puss, hilarious. Possibly from being given a dumb name she shit and pissed everywhere on everything and tried to kill you in your sleep. I don't know what happened to Tiggs and Queenie. It still bothers me. Eventually I got a divorce on the grounds of two years separation. After coming round for his dinner and to show off his new Harley a couple of times, the noodle drifted off. I don't know if he's alive or dead. If you ever read this, Kes, I'm still grateful. Thank you for saving me from the asylum. Thank you for being kind.

The general filth, damp, cold and unsanitary state of the house X was in can't have helped his health and it played merry havoc with mine. It was a good thing X had an iron constitution because  it was absolutely horrible. People always smile when I say we were dirt poor in those days because they appear to think we sprang up as fully formed rock stars like Venus on the half shell. But dirt poor is exactly what we were. I had one home made dress to wash, one to wear. I sold all my wedding and family jewellery, books and records to fund X's budding music career. Sometimes we ran out of food money, even though we only had the very cheapest of everything - some weeks we were down to fabulous cuisine like vermicelli spaghetti (on offer at the corner shop), mint sauce (left over from another offer) and something that was called cheese but bore more resemblance to grated ear wax. We didn't mind. It was funny. We were young and mad and standing on the brink, we firmly believed, of changing the world. Of making amazing things. Our blood sang with it. Going hungry didn't matter. Well, it didn't matter to me as long as I had tea. There's a limit, after all.

Glory beckoned like a witch fire raging on a dark mountain top. I saw it and I vowed I'd give it to X whole and entire, blazing in my unburnt hands. We would love each other forever, we would never be parted. He promised by everything he held holy. I believed him utterly.




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