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 8

Updated: Nov 25, 2018

My relationship with my family during my separation and divorce from the blessed noodle were at an all time low. Never exactly what you'd call loving and supportive, shortly before I left the flat for good they took a massive nose dive.

My parents had just celebrated their Silver Wedding with one of their legendary parties at the house in Burn Bridge near Harrogate. It was the usual middle class version of a knees up involving copious amounts alcohol and Songs For Swinging Lovers - my mother's favourite compilation vinyl album of crooners, not a sex party tape - on the big old radiogram. Naturally my mother was attired in something resembling Cleopatra on a casual day off and my father was as humorous, charming and kindly as ever, the perfect host.

But something was off. Ma was obviously highly strung and being gaily brittle in an antique 1950s kind of way. And drunk, of course. I did notice vaguely she was flirting with a lanky, dark haired cadaverous guy who looked like a cartoon undertaker, but as she always had one beau or another I paid no attention. I did my speech about how marvellous their marriage was, how grateful I was for such amazing parents, congratulations etc etc and left after a discreet interval. I have no siblings so there was no one there around my age.

A week later my mother rang the flat from a phone box. She had run off with the undertaker and was in the village. She wanted to bring the guy up to meet me. I have no idea even now why. Did she want me to approve of her deserting Dada? Was she showing off and wanted me to play the devoted daughter, foil to her charming maternal love? Whatever it was, I wasn't going to do it. I'd been manipulated and abused by her my whole life and I knew the dreadfulness of trying to get her love and approval by doing whatever she demanded. But it was my flat. My scruffy, ragetty little home. Trembling, I said no.

Of course all hell let loose, as she was not a woman to be thwarted. But she was also not entierly stupid. She waited. Her dangerous liason lasted about a week in a  hotel in North Yorkshire somewhere and then the undertaker's wife told him to come back pronto, which he immediately did. Ma returned home and complained long and loud that Dada was 'being very cold' towards her. Time passed. Eventually, I had to go somewhere and wondered what best to do with the cats. As Dada loved cats, though my mother wouldn't have any pets, I though it might be fun if I took them over for a couple of days holiday with him. I phoned my parents and Ma answered. X was at the flat and heard the conversation. I asked her very carefully - everyone always had to be careful with my mother - about the cats. I heard in the background Dada ask in his Edinburgh accent if that was wee Joolz on the phone.

Suddenly my mother changed. How dare you talk to me like that, she screamed. Oh, oh Ronnie, oh - the language! She's swearing at me! You awful girl! No, I don't know - she was demanding I take care of her pets, then I said I didn't know if we could manage and she just started swearing and shouting at me! Oh Ronnie, I can't bear it, I can't, I've tried to be good mother, god knows,  but....The phone went dead.

I looked at the phone in my hand, and looked at X. I asked him if he heard what happened and he said he had, but he didn't understand. I put the phone down and it immediately rang again. It was Dada. How dare I speak to my mother that way. Swearing at her. She was terribly upset. He might have to call the doctor. I tried to tell him I hadn't...But it was no use. He was like a robot. Don't call again, he said. You're no daughter of mine. He put the phone down.

He cut me out of the family, such as it was for over five years. I tried phoning. No response or the phone put straight down. I tried writing. Nothing. I didn't try going over to see them because I knew what would happen. My mother was an expert what's now called gaslighting. I didn't think I could deal with it without losing my temper and proving her constant commentary about my 'selfish, thoughtless, cruel, behaviour' right.

I knew the awful truth then. When I'd  been about 11, my mother had done the same thing to my father's mother. My father then cut his own mother out of his, and my, life for over 20 years, until just before she died, on the word of my mother over a phone call in which she hysterically alleged my Nana Bunty had disrespected her. At the time I accepted her version without question, now I wondered. Had she done to Nana Bunty what she'd done to me? The unproveable phone call? I could see her playing the wounded dove, she did it often. I knew my father was - what? Obsessed? So in love he put her first above any other living creature? Did she press every button in him marked defend and protect at all costs? Whatever it was, it was a done deal. I was out. I would have stayed out too, until some years later I rang home on an impulse, caught my mother unawares and learned Dada was having cataract surgery. Fuck it, I thought, and went to hospital. Trapped in his bed, he couldn't avoid me. We made out like nothing had happened and chatted about books and how he hoped to be reading again very soon. My heart banged painfully against my ribs. I agreed to 'pop over' the following Sunday. No mention was made of my mother or what she'd done. I understood that was the price I would have to pay to see my father.  It left me with a lifelong dislike of people who like Violet Elizabeth Bott say 'I'll thcream and thcream until I'm thick. I can!'  Until they get their own way, then are protected and never suffer any consequences. As someone who was forever suffering consequences and never let to get away with anything, I imagine envy played a part in my loathing.

So when X had to leave his stinky house due to the other student tenants going home and leaving him as sole rent payer, which naturally he couldn't even slightly afford,  I had nothing stopping me from moving into his new abode, that hot bed of chaos and creativity, 166 New Cross Street.

166 was a large, dilapidated end terrace that would be roundly condemned as unfit for renting out - if not actual habitation - by any authority in the country now. The roof was caving in, the plumbing looked like spaghetti, the midget bathroom was carved out of one of the rooms, it was freezing cold, running with damp, black with mould and the electrics still haunt me. Of course it was filthy and had at one point been painted in luminous shades of pistachio and peach gloss. The only plus points were cheapness and a wonky gas fire in every room except the attic and in the truly awful kitchen, another tiny space robbed from an existing room.

Like all these multi-tenant houses, it was a motley bunch sharing. Nothing whatever like the preppy go-getters in Friends for example. More 'that lad hasn't come out of the attic for 3 weeks and I can hear moaning'. If that had been the case the person holding the Rent Book, aka The Senior Tenant, would have to knock cautiously on the attic door and murmer something about rent. If they smelt anything peculiar they called the police. I love it when young people say they 'can't afford a house' at 21. What do they think we did? Do they think we were all millionaires who moved straight from The Palais Du Mum into a des res? Hardly.

But we were young and it was all a gas. If we suffered we made it into a joke or an adventure. Eventually X became Senior Tenant as the original tenants, the narrow boat bloke and his American girlfriend, the de rigueur Attic Bloke, moved on to pastures new. Then a different type of tenant graced the black and mustard vinyl sofa and watched the two fourth hand tellys, one on top of the other - one for sound, one for vision. Eventually the vision telly got so bad all you could see was a four inch horizontal band in neon pink and orange that made watching anything like an acid trip.  We persevered though, for months. It certainly gave a new perspective to the BBC.

All this sounds like a lot of fun, and it was, but I was not in a good way mentally. Abandoned by my family, divorced from my husband and living in abject poverty with X, a man who gave a whole new meaning to the expression 'fear of commitment'. Every day he was at pains to tell me he could up and leave at any moment, that I'd wake up and there'd be a note on the pillow saying he'd gone back to Mexico, where he'd travelled in the past, to find a girl he once met briefly called Blanca who he saw as his ideal - short, slim, brunette, exotic, mysterious. I used to picture this paragon of girlhood as a fat 40 year old with moustache. It made me feel better for being tall, muscular, English and multicoloured.

I was so used to this kind of behaviour from men I actually believed it was normal. I never fully understood the terror of commitment some men feel, I mean, how shit is it to be with someone you can love and trust, who loves and trusts you, and share a life together through thick and thin? Shocking. Who'd do something as awful as that? Commitmentphobes seem to believe deeply that people, especially women who they see as some kind of 1950s Stepford Wives housewife crossed with Kali The Devourer, are out to change them from their deeply selfish, self obsessed and basically infantile self into a, well, an adult. One guy once said to me he just wanted a life without responsibility, so that he could walk out of the door whistling without having to think of anything except what he wanted to do that day. As if women don't and instead yearn to get the boiler fixed, feed the kids and/or animals, do the laundry and shopping, cook, clean, pay the bills, nurse the sick and fall into bed exhausted where they can be berated for letting the 'spark die out of our lovelife'. Right.

Still, despite him refusing to hold hands with me in public and forbidding any overt displays of affection or mention we were an item - though it was obvious to all - X was still the kindest, funniest, interesting  and most intelligent guy I'd ever met and I loved him more each day. No one's perfect, after all, I reckoned, least of all me. I thought in the end, he'd get used to me and see I was actually a help to him not a hindrance. I knew I'd never be his Ideal Girl but frankly she sounded like a right mimsy arse and he'd be better off without her.

I wanted to tell him about the bad things that had happened to me, but something held me back. I'd once tried telling the blessed noodle, but he'd reacted with anger and furiously said he wished I'd never said anything. It made me nervous to spill it to anyone else. What if I told X and he dumped me out of disgust for the damaged goods I was? I hugged it to myself like a burning coal and spun more and more out of control.

I began to fantasise about heroin again. I'd taken all kinds of drugs since I was a kid, but I loved amphetamines best. Heroin was obliteration but that was what I yearned for at that time. I'd been given it once rather against my will when a lad I knew did the dirty and jabbed the needle into my thigh through my jeans, something that was supposed to be dead cool but in fact gave me a massive boil which I still have the scar from. I didn't enjoy it, as I don't like vomiting even when psychologically distanced by drugs and I was vain about puking into my hair and a wastebin for two hours in front of the boy I fancied. I won't mention the resulting constipation. It was a grubby drug that didn't seem worth the effort when you could take cheap biker speed and instantly be god on a rocket.

Now however,  too terrified to seek professional medical help the world I knew, the outlaw world, called to me. Numbing the constant whirl in my head was so tempting. To go back, rather than carve a new life from nothing seemed reasonable. I knew nothing about the music industry. I was just a music fan like a billion others. I was a girl. It was impossible and I'd promised what I couldn't deliver. Better to find a dealer and zone out forever because, who'd care?

I would. No one else. I'd care. I'd promised. I never reneged on a promise. I was loyal unto death and proud of it. In fact pride, and arrogance, were all I had to save me from the dreadful fall. I clung to them like a drowning swimmer. I would make X a star. I would. No matter what it took.

I got the bus into town and mooched about disconsolately. I ended up in the truly grim Formica cafe in the Arndale Centre and spent lavishly on a frothy coffee. I need a plan, I thought feverishly. Plans are good. They're like lists but better.

I grabbed an empty envelope and a pencil from my bag and started writing. The coffee went cold, grey and got a skin on it but I drank it anyway for the caffeine. I needed to ensure X would never have to have a proper job ever again. He had to be a singer and write his songs and earn a living at it forever, not just for a few years. That meant his band too. How? I thought about what I knew. The Satans Slaves. The military. The hippies. I mushed it all together.

I needed to tip the perceived ideas of the rock music industry on its head. No more of the bloated egoistic rock star despising his fans who grovelled to him as he paraded his fame and wealth about. That was dumb. Pointless. No. The band and the fans had to be in it together. Each playing their role, but equal in the enterprise. Supporting each other. Invested in the longevity of the, well, the project if you like. A family, a gang, a battalion, bound together in a common cause. That way, the fans wouldn't get bored because they'd see the progression of the art and be interested in it and they'd contribute by supporting that art and the band wouldn't have to worry constantly about the future and X would be free to grow and experiment as an artist. Genius. I was filled with a huge, white energy like the winter sun. It sang in my veins and my thoughts ran at a hundred miles an hour. I could see it like film playing in front of me.  I scribbled it all down. I forgot the dreadful lure that had flashed and tempted me. This was much, much better. It was a cause and I was a true believer.

The only thing was, would it fucking work?


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