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 7

Updated: Nov 25, 2018

It does sound like I was terribly resolute and strong minded about leaving the blessed noodle, but the reality of course it was months of indecision and wavering interspersed with insomnia and weeping. As it is with most people, I imagine. But it was inevitable. Growth spurts are painful though.

The run down shared house X lived in at that time and where I spent more and more time was always full of people, like the weird guy upstairs who was also doing Peace Studies. He was one of those wiry black haired men who had to pick a place to stop shaving around about his collar line because otherwise he'd just have to do his entire body. The hair covered soap he left in the vile mouldy bathroom looked like a dead hedgehog. He was a humourless, rather agressive guy who patently thought the likes of me beneath him and worse, hated animals. That meant he treated Septic the cat as vermin and no doubt administered a few kicks if he thought no one could see. Septic however, was not a cat to be trifled with. Hairy was of course writing the thesis to end all theses like these men always do,  in which he would reduce all human behaviour to a mathematical formula. He beavered away at this night and day and it was literally about 4 inches thick, solid typing - no word processors or printers then - single spaced. No copies. It was going to change the world, in his humble opinion, which he voiced whilst eating cold beans out of the tin and smelling like a midden.

One evening, Hairy came back from whatever highly esoteric intellectual gathering he'd been attending and went to his room. Shortly afterwards, we heard a terrible, inhuman cry. We ran upstairs to find that Septic had finally had her revenge. She had shit on his Great Work. And because she was the thorough, precise kind of cat she had daintily moved each page and shit neatly on every one. It was a fecal work of art. I though Hairy was going to have a cardiac as he screamed and thrapped about, cursing Septic and everyone in the house for letting vermin live with human beings. I had to leave room and go into X's room to laugh into a pillow.

Poor Hairy was so despondent at the idea of writing it all out again he decided to walk round the world on a World Passport, which was an idealistic scheme originating in the US somewhere,   involving a made up but realistic looking passport that declared the bearer was a World Citizen. A few years later we heard he'd reached Russia and was being held at the border. I wrote a letter to Comrade President Gorbachev asking I'd they'd do us a favour and keep Hairy and to please note he was a well known cat lover. I addressed it to President Gorbachev, c/o The Kremlin, Russia and put a first class stamp on it. Never heard back, sadly.

Next room to us in the house was a short, determined brunette student and her lanky blond hippie boyfriend. I didn't see much of her but by God, I heard her. She appeared to have taken the feminist ideal that women should participate in their own sexuality and tell their partner just what they want deeply to heart. And in no uncertain terms in her case. Every night we bore aural witness to her sexual calisthenics through the thin wall.  Not like that Dave, no, down a bit, she'd insist stentorianly. Left a bit, not so hard! I said left, left! Move over - that's it, now you put your leg there... I think she was following a manual. Then when I was up late brooding, which was most of the time, she'd come downstairs for a herb tea in a strange old man's brocade dressing gown and tell me all about the boils on her arse. Somehow she must have confused my Heathcliffe expression for my sympathetic one. It was all go in that house, I can tell you.

X at this point, being Student Of The Year was volunteering at a local Youth Club (remember them?).  He'd had previous experience when he'd worked at a mixed faith youth centre in Belfast as a gap year and had had many adventures, not least being beaten up by the future Millstown Bomber when he was merely the cock of the Youthie, leaving X with a huge cut under his eye requiring delicate stitching which fortunately, or unfortunately, Belfast hospital had become expert in. The scar was almost invisible, so beautifully was it sutured.

Given his Youthie credentials, when X had come up from leafy, genteel  Buckinghamshire to attend Bradford University, he'd naturally volunteered at a local Youth Club. It was in a neighbourhood school in the evenings and run by a very short, very fierce bloke who always wore a tight navy blue suit and tie and had absolutely no fear. Once, he got between two 6 foot, muscular young Afro-Caribbean gang lads about to pale seven bells out of each other over a girl they both fancied, but who couldn't make her mind up between them. The club leader put up his hand. OK, he said, OK. You'll have to fight me first if you want to fight each other. True I may be short but hey, what if I win? I might not - but I just might,  you never know. What if you're the lad this shortarse beat the shit out of? Do you really want to risk it? Hmm? No, they did not, and decided to renew their former friendship so disrupted by love. The club leader ran the place with naval discipline and in consequence it was remarkably successful and did a lot of creative things aside from the traditional Friday night Youthie disco, complete with tuck shop. Top ten hits plus sherbet lemons.

X had met his young bass player, who I shall call Gav, at this youthie. It had become immediately obvious to X that Gav was possessed of a rare and almost supernaturally brilliant musical talent that he neither understood nor valued, other than a vague idea he might one day get in a working men's club covers band and earn a few bob on the side. Gav could literally play any musical instrument put in front of him. He was once asked to teach another young bass player the instrument. They sat in silence for a bit then the young lad asked Gav, well, how do you do it? Oh, said Gav, I just think of the song an' me fingers go to the right places. He wasn't joking. He seldom joked. Humour wasn't his strong point.

After the Texile Hall gig they got a drummer who was very sweet, but couldn't be kept off the cymbals and renamed themselves The Hustler Street Band, as there was a Hustler Street nearby and also as an homage to Bruce Springsteen, one of X's favourite artistes. Which is why he sometimes referred to me as Candy in his songs, not that I'm the Candy type but young love is blind. Perhaps he was referring to the sweetie colours of my ever changing hair rather than my personality. In an attempt to help publicise the band, in tandem with a helpful print student I designed band posters on astounding quality paper stock liberated from the Art School and with such a covetable design they failed utterly in promoting the band, as the moment they were put up they were immediately stolen to decorate every student room in Bradford. A lesson learned.

Also running freely about the house were lots of small boys, as X in his Student Of The Year guise believed in letting the local kids live freely off his biscuits and pop. They were immensely funny kids, proper Bradford, full of life and non stop gags. No one ever seemed concerned they were constantly at 'the student house' and staying out until all hours. The other student occupants occasionally like to try and patronise the boys, who then dwelt long and hard on said students sartorial failings, as being staunchly working class, they felt being smart and well turned out in the latest fashion was the ideal, unlike the middle class students who aped poverty in their deliberately scruffy kit. That's why it's funny when solemn pundits nowadays declare Punk was a working class movement. No working class youth at that time would have dreamed of going out after work in torn clothes. It would have been unthinkable. Letting your family down. Showing yersen up. Only the rebellious middle classes (like me and X) got themselves up in raggy outfits.

There were a few equally funny and high spirited girls who hung around too but notably one, who was what I considered at the time, extremely precocious, and had a massive teen crush on X. She would fling herself about on the furniture wearing as little as she could and all the make up she'd nicked from Morrison's at once, giving out at length about how her mum and dad didn't understand her and how she wanted a different life. Given my personal history I kept a weather eye on this pubescent siren. I knew at that age girls often get crushes and like to practice flirting and I also knew some unscrupulous men and lads took them at their word instead of protecting them, largely from themselves. I was concerned she would get into trouble as it was a rough area and she was going through the Sulky Teen Don't Give A Fuck stage.

X seemed oblivious to the damage this girl could unwittingly, or thoughtlessly cause him in such a neighbourhood. One hint that 'summat were goin on' at the weirdo's house and there's be every male relative and family friend round with flaming torches and pitchforks or whatever mobs carry nowadays,  baying for blood. The entertainment value would be priceless. No one would be interested in any explanation or remarks about encouraging child development through free interaction and play. They'd just batter the shit out of every bloke in the house and probably me too when I inevitably stepped in to defend X.

Then one evening turned up late to the house to find the Teen Queen laid out feigning sleep on the sofa covered in a truly foul old sleeping bag. I cornered X. What's she doing here this late, I asked in a sibilant hiss. Oh, she's just staying here while she sorts herself out, she had a row at home and left, said X unconcernedly. No she isn't, I said. She's going straight home, right now. X looked genuinely puzzled. But it's OK, he said, I don't mind her being here, I mean, she seemed rather upset. I bet, I said.

I walked over to the couch where Miss False Eyelashes was pretending to snore in a cute way. Get up, I said, you're going home. Her eyes zipped open like a cornered rattler. Fuck off y'bitch, 'e says I can stop, I'm a nadult I can do what I want. No, you fucking can't, I said. Yes, I know, very wrong to swear at a child etc but whatever. Get the fuck up now. Sulkypants immediately started weeping theatrically,  mascara running in sooty rivulets down her soft, rounded cheeks carving paths through the orange foundation and puce blusher. She was about 13 but suddenly looked 11. It nipped painfully at my heart with unwanted memories. I didn't care if she hated me. I wanted her safe and I wanted X safe and to wake up to reality.

X looked concerned. You're upsetting her, he said. I know, I replied. But she knows full well - yes, you do - that her dad will go apseshit ballistic if he finds her here - yes, thought that might get you up. X looked doubtful as the Teen started grabbing at her jeans and bag and ramming her shoes on. Her expression assured me that had she been in possession of a flame thrower I would be a heap of smoking ash on the floor. Off you trot then, I said callously. The front door slammed behind her with such force several ornaments fell off the mantelshelf.

X looked mutinous. He didn't think throwing a vulnerable young person out was cool and my attitude was harsh in the extreme. He went on at length about how the Teen was trying to improve her lot and reaching, as it were, towards a future that could....I cut him off. I told him in detail what would happen if the girl told everyone - and she would because I definately would have at that age -.she was sleeping at the hippie house because that student lad X wanted her too and in fact, encouraged her to and that he said her family was keeping her down and were wrong and stupid. I told him how quickly her parents would veer from mild disinterest to outrage and how the police and social services would doubtless be called. I was puzzled X couldn't see this.

As X continued to justify himself with all the idealistic jargon of the University in which he obviously believed implicitly, I saw something move beneath the mask. He had enjoyed the girl's hero worship. Her silly, ordinary crush had salved his broken self worth. There was nothing romantic or sexual whatsoever in it: it was the precursor to the satisfaction mass love offered by an audience gave him. It was why every Youth Leader, every Play Scheme worker, every Community Youth Organiser did it. To see a child wake up from the grinding clamp of a future dictated by the Dole, the pub and the mindless slap and see possibilities and imagine education is intoxicating. X had that blinding desire to make a difference, to inspire love and faith. He'd just never, ever thought it could possibly be done via his own creativity. He'd been brought up to think he was not very interesting, not very nice looking, not very clever or talented, not very anything. Boys like him went into social work.  They became teachers or did bloody Woodcraft Folk camps. They weren't musicians. They weren't rock stars. It wasn't possible.

My heart caught in my chest. Nothing, nothing on God's earth would stop me getting him what he needed so badly and I'd get it for him despite himself.

The Spanish have a proverb: God said, take what you want, take what you want and pay for it.


I just didn't know the price I'd pay.


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