Ready to go on

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Sunday - Newcastle to home

Good morning.

I'm back on the train from Newcastle to London, having had a very full week in Geordieland. I don't think I met a single person, all week, who wasn't friendly and helpful? Even the rather menacing hooded youths that I encountered in the alleyway at the back of my digs at 11.30 at night, despite walking towards me with the sort of attitude that would have made me turn and run a few years back, always gave me a fairly cheery 'Night, mate' in response to my rather high pitched, 'Night!'.

I have always felt that the best way to disarm a possible assailant is to get in first, as it were. My uncle told me to do that, but I think he was referring to 'the first punch' whereas I mean the first social contact. If that comes from the possible assailant it could well be 'Give me your wallet and mobile or feel my steel, sir!'. Or something like that? But if you manage to get the first greeting in then it is difficult for them to twist the conversation around, quickly enough, to the subject of wallets and mobiles. I mean, you try going from 'Ooh, it's bitter tonight, isn't it? I shall be glad to have a cup of cocoa!' to 'It is rather chilly so can I have your wallet and mobile?'. You just sound foolish.

Of course, I may be misjudging people? The chances are that only 70 to 80% of the people I regard as possible muggers are, in fact, anything of the sort and my tactic is not actually necessary in 30% of the cases? If that is so then I am glad, at least, to have passed a cheery goodnight with them. But I speak from experience with the rest.

When I was sixteen and first started going to the pub with my mates from school, I was walking home from the White Hart pub in Orpington along the street that runs through the middle of the cemetery. My father is buried in that cemetery now and so when ever I visit him I am, inappropriately I think, reminded of this story. Now, you can imagine that a road that has a cemetery on either side is not the most appealing route home, but it was by far the quickest and I was full of the bravado of youth and beer. About half way along this road I became aware that a group of lads, about my age, were following behind me. They had come out of the alleyway which runs next to the cemetery, between the park and the cemetery. I was glad I had not chosen that route, I can tell you!

Unfortunately, there also appeared, ahead of me, another group of similar looking lads. And their look was important. Back lit by the street light I instantly recognised the lack of hair, the high hemmed, skinny jeans, and the hefty boots. This was the era of the skinhead and my school was full of them. You didn't mess with skinheads. But sometimes, despite all attempts to avoid them, they messed with you.

At this time I was beginning to hold out a hope that I might one day be an actor. I was beginning to do the odd bit of acting with an amateur company and often performed in my dad's amateur Old Time Music Hall troupe. But I had been acting ever since I first went to senior school. I had developed the chameleon ability to be all things to all people; studious and intelligent to my teachers, a dedicated, tough team player to the rugby coach, a cheeky chappy to any girls that might cross my path and a working class lad who was really on their side but was somehow managing to fool the bloody teachers and was therefore 'one of us' to all the thugs and bullies. Particularly the skinhead gangs!

Back in the cemetery street, as I realised that I had a gang behind me and a gang in front of me, I began to contemplate making a dash for it through the gravestones? I was quite nippy and used to dodging about as I ran because of the rugby training. But it was pitch black. I could see myself stumbling, crashing to the ground and being caught and I had witnessed the glee with which these booted bastards would lay in to a victim, particularly when it was down. They were a cowardly bunch of jackals, tentative at first but frenzied when they sensed there was nothing to fear.

I was in a grave situation. (sorry, couldn't resist it). My one hope was to brazen it out and, if that didn't work, be ready to try a J P R Williams side step and run for it. They were by now spread across the road, in front and behind me and I thought I might be able to slip through if I timed it right? But first I would try the to get in the first shot.

'Alright?!' I said, in my most relaxed, very cockney accent. Mine was actually genuine. The local boys had the suburbs mockney, I was from Bermondsey. 'Fuckin' 'ell, I've had some tonight! Where you lot been?'. It made them hesitate. I saw my chance and was about to make a dash for it, when one of them replied, 'Oh, watcha Mick, you bin down the White 'Art then?' It was one of the bullies from school, thick as shit and therefore easy to convince that we shared a conspiracy and that me being good at school and doing well in the lessons and being a prefect and friends with the 'clever posh kids' was somehow a wonderful con that I was pulling off. He thought this was our secret so he left me alone and sometimes took my advice to 'leave it, it ain't worth it' when he was about to set on someone. He occassionally gave me a knowing wink when we passed in the school corridor. Added to this he was in my house at school. We had classes together when we had lessons in houses rather than forms, things like RE and Games.

I have never been so relieved!

'Watcha, Pete.'I replied, with slightly more enthusiasm than was cool. 'D'you know 'im?' one of the lads behind me asked. 'Yeah, 'e's alright.' Pete replied. 'Shall we go back to the alleyway and wait for another one then?' said the weasel behind me. The brazen, bastardy, callousness of that statement! But I was so relieved it was only when I was relating the story to friends some time later that I noticed just how chilling it was. I was free. I had got the first blow in but, unbeknownst to me, I had done it years before.

I walked on past the skinheads, most of whom looked rather disappointed and uncertain that this 'poof' was in any way 'Alright'? I ran the rest of the way home.

I have, as time has removed me from the terror of that incident. wondered who the next person to saunter home from the pub along that road was? And if they were lucky enough to know one of the gang? I doubt it would have worked twice? 'Oh, fuck it, not another one?!' the lad behind would have said. 'Who gives a shit? Let's kick 'is 'ead in anyway!'. Perhaps I could have stopped it by calling the police and telling them there was a gang of skinheads waiting to pounce? Yeah, sure!? They would never have guessed it was me, would they? Look, I may be daft but I'm not, as we would have said at school, 'a fuckin' spaz!'. Fortunately, like Skinheads, this phrase has fallen out of favour.

Have a nice day xx



  1. What a beautiful photograph. It must mean a lot to you. I like his jacket and bow tie! x