By the time that I reached the sixth form, teenage years at home had become boring. I cannot have been much fun to live with. I remember arriving at the stage where speaking to Mum, Dad or Neil was an effort. Staying in my room most evenings, reading, or listening to music, coming down only to do homework or say goodnight. How did they put up with me?
Did I ever tell my parents where I was going, when the pub and party years began? No recall. Off I would roar on my moped, first a Raleigh and then a souped-up, orange-painted Fantic, which could fly along at 70 mph. Quite regularly to the section of Old Leigh where three pubs – the Smack, Peter Boat and Crooked Billet – would play host to mini-pub crawls. I would often come home when all were in bed. Usually with at least three or four pints of cheap beer in my bloodstream. I lost control of these vehicles on several occasions, through excessive risk-taking. But never emerged with much more than a few scratches.
Paul Seligson held a birthday party while his parents were away. My first time where girls and drink were in equal abundance. What might we chat about? I didn’t have a lot to say to anyone beyond football and music. No thoughts on the IRA, coal miners or handbag colours. A bundle of nerves until a few beers went down my neck. Everybody kopped off. I was never a predator, but the second of two girls that showed keen interest dragged me onto the floor in a bedroom, where we could hear a couple having sex in the nearby bed. A pioneering experience for me, but it never happened enough in the next year or two.
Discos were no help. If only there were some financial claim I could put in for the dreary, endless hours at the Talk of the South, Zhivagos, Zero 6 and God knows where else I wasted my precious time on somebody else’s rituals.
Looking in from the sides, drinking watered-down lager, bombarded by music that didn’t ring my bell but hardly hearing the conversation. Going home early, alone, but at least free.
John Devane remembers me giving him a lift home from one of Alan Read’s parties. That was probably a six-pint job. We laughed as I tried to drive in a straight line. One evening when the Fantic’s engine died I walked the thing about eight miles home, and used the pavement at Bread and Cheese hill, in Thundersley, to freewheel some of the way down. A police car cruised alongside as I reached the foot, and I was admonished for violating the Highway Code. And subsequently taken to court, where I received the first of my four convictions. Eric defended me, highlighting “an innocuous crime” by a “model citizen”. There was a fine to pay.
Another time I was breathalysed by the cops, and was just over the limit. Somehow, miraculously, they let me off with a warning. Wow. They must have been in a good mood.
John Attwell used to throw regular parties. One where I was so drunk that I fell over hanging onto a girl named Debbie Lucas. We crashed through his open front door onto the driveway, hitting our heads on the gravel. Then I drove the six miles home. Laura Parsons held a party, where our history teacher tried to hit on Laura’s mum. A girl called Liz grabbed me, in her extreme drunkenness. Saw me for a drink the next week, and chucked me the next day. Regular girlfriends included Janice, whose surname eludes me, and Tina, who I liked the most, but coupled up with just weeks before university. So she looked elsewhere.
Something better had to be in the offing. I wanted a good-hearted, loving, attractive woman to open up like a flower for me, on a permanent basis. Paul, Al Campbell and Nick Eastwell had all settled into those types of relationships. It looked like the prize. Instead I endured a few relationships, or stumbled into rare, drunken one-offs with people that I didn’t really fancy or even like. Frustrating didn’t begin to describe it. Imprisoned in my own head, with steam let off mainly through a new habit of joke telling.
School was little better. I stopped attending French A-level lessons in my last year. I didn’t enjoy speaking it anymore, and so decided that I was opting out. Incredible that I was allowed to get away with it. My parents never knew. One of a lifetime of unilateral decisions, on which I consulted nobody. So for French A-level I received a second O-level, hardly surprising.
In my 40s, the notion came to me that I would have immensely enjoyed a Steiner school, where students find topics of optimum fascination, and then focus on those. Not sure that Westcliff did little more than mould good corporate material, although others may differ.
While I awaited A-level results I found a job on Southend seafront, next to the Hope Hotel pub. Selling hot dogs and burgers. Shitty pay, which the aptly named landlord, Mr Black, reduced further after a week. I decided to pay him back. Ostensibly agreeing, but pinpointing an evening when he was very busy, and I would be able to shut the stand and take the full money owed. I left him a note explaining the error of his ways, and roared with delight as I ran away towards the pier, free again.
When the A-level results came through, a crushingly disappointing D for History blew any chance of studying the subject at Southampton. The surprise was a B in Russian. Birmingham University offered me a place on that basis, and suddenly it became apparent that I would be heading there alongside my old mucker Paul Seligson. Paul and I had grown apart over the last year, as he disappeared almost completely inside a girl called Jane. But he had bought himself a Morris Minor, and offered to take me and my luggage, the bulk of which was a stereo player and a pile of LPs.
I was ripe for the move. Had to endure six or so weeks of work at Basildon hospital to put a few more quid in the bank. I worked in the laundry, sorting out dirty sheets. Patiently waiting for my life to begin.