"Rock ‘n’ Roll Rebellion" may seem like a cheesy name for a bona-fide concert in aid of Working Class pride and the abolition of unnecessary taxes, but the event itself in no way was. To be honest, I don’t think anyone cared less about the name. Before the concert, no one cared about the cause either. With the exception, that is, of the musicians taking part. And the organisers, of course.
I was only twelve at the time. It took place on a dirty hot August Sunday in 1989, in the middle of a badly-drained field at the back of Ingham Swimming Baths. Posters had been up for weeks, promoting the musical extravaganza that would not only ‘kick the Tory government in the balls’, but be a good laugh to boot. I had gone along with my brothers and sister, but when we arrived I was quickly told to get out of the way and do my own thing whilst they did theirs. They were smoking and drinking, and it fast became clear what this occasion was to them.
The occasion to them was the same as what it was to everyone else. It was the peak of Summer, and young people couldn’t give a shit about music. If I would’ve been gifted an abnormal amount of cynicism for a boy of my age, I would’ve said: “Rock ‘n’ Roll Rebellion my arse! These idiots are doing little more than sitting around smoking draw!” and I would’ve been right. They didn’t give a shit about music, or politics, or music in politics, or anything else for that matter. They just wanted to get leathered, and who could blame them.
It didn’t take yours truly long to get bored, having no company of my own age and thinking the music to be little more than drivel. I wandered around in trees and talked to myself, and thought of people on the toilet and all that silly palava. Like a true bighead, I often amused myself by laughing at how other people looked, or how stupid adults were for going camping with kids who did nothing but piss them off. All these distractions gave me hours of endless pleasure where other kids would go home and cry. Today was no exception, and I was enjoying my own company as usual.
I was busying myself getting worried up a tree, leaving the shout for help as late as possible to avoid embarrassment, when my radar sensed a ‘change’ in the crowd. I say ‘change’ in ‘commas’, because physically there was no difference in the multitude of sweaty juvenile wreckheads who littered the grass. ‘Sensually’, or even ‘spiritually’, however, something was going on. I pulled my foot off the young girl’s face and jumped to the ground.
The Jungle Monsters had made their entrance, with Mal Bellis, the frontman. Now the crowd had something to shout about. At first, and to the untrained eye, this glorious reception would’ve seemed to be down to the fact that he, Mal Bellis, was a friend to a great many people in the crowd; the mate who they’d come to give their support to. But there was more to it than that. All of a sudden, the indifferent revellers seemed to remember what they had come for. He strolled onto the stage like a matador, and the crowd remembered that they had come here to protest. And so did he, warrior that he was.
As I took notice of the audience shutting their mouths for the first time all day, the music began. But I stand corrected, for it didn’t begin as music. It began as rhythm, just as it had two million years ago. Some primitive being had tapped on a rock in a way no other had before; there was a pattern to his banging. As all infectious feelings go, his nearest peers clocked on to the vibe and then the entire community picked it up. Gradually, early humans began to realise that sounds could be made in different ways, with different objects. These sounds could be assimilated with the existing rhythms, and so melody was born. Before too long, the ancient peoples could tap a beat, play instruments, and sing. Music was made, many many thousands of years ago.
The ‘progress’ of humankind has a parallel with that of music. Animal instinct made someone hit the rock, but somewhere between rhythm and melody came some sort of desire to communicate. Communication, after all, is one of the many aspects that differentiate us from other animals. Dogs can communicate, of course, but not to the high-tech level that we can. Within the human race we have an endless amount of languages, and within those languages an endless amount of words. Communication starts wars. It makes peace. It is the basis for ‘The Internet’.
Like music, communication benefits us because it takes away loneliness and lets us harmonise with others. On a deeper level, however, some ‘musicians’ are better than others. By ‘better’, I mean more apt at communicating; at being heard. At some stage, someone came along and confused us. Music was an expression of the ‘soul’, but it was an expression of ‘the soul’ long before the concept was created in the mind. Once the soul was recognised and made concrete by human minds, the rules and regulations which we cannot help but have made it something that could be argued about. It became a human idea, rather than a spiritual reality. As such, it became something that more intelligent men could manipulate. We have the dominant and the dominated in our ranks, and the dominant can convince the dominated that the soul is whatever they choose to say about it. If there is a God, it was also around long before we knew it. Just as with the case of ‘the soul’, once it was recognised it was pinned down and given restrictions. Those that gave it those restrictions did so with human skill, not divine interpretation.
So what has all this got to do with anything? I’ll tell you. Behind the swimming pool on that hot afternoon, a crowd of dominated people gathered. They did not know it, but they had never heard music before. They had only heard what had been selected for them, just as they had only been told what the powers that be had wanted them to hear. They came indifferently, because the contradiction in politics and religion and music and anything else they could think of had turned them off caring. What they did not know is that politics, religion and music were not human inventions. The good politician is someone that fights for justice, so that we can live in harmony. The good priest is someone that offers up our prayers to God, so that we can live in harmony. The good musician harmonises with his fellow musicians, so that we can live in harmony. The Charlatans in all these fields have caused the dominated to believe that it is politics, religion and science themselves that are to blame, when in actuality it is the fault and evil of the practitioners in these fields. God was put in a straightjacket by the very people who claimed to be closest to ‘Him’.
Mal Bellis, marching out like a toreador, was nothing more or less than ‘the good musician’. Major personalities of the music world have come and gone, inciting the people to riot and take up arms against their oppressors like modern-day Joan of Arcs, but they haven’t realised that that is exactly what the dominators want them to do. All of them have attacked ‘the system’ as if it is the system’s fault, when it is actually the fault of those that screwed up the system and are still doing it. The real System is in our hearts, just waiting to be woken up again. What Mal Bellis did is take the crowd back to a time before the concept of The System entered our minds and got screwed up. He made us forget all the shit which followed, being that sole caveman banging on a rock and inviting his friends to do the same: not through any act of rebellion or statement, but simply for the purpose of harmonising together as a unified group. That is what Love really is. Pure, unadulterated, instinctive music-making.
The faceless powers saw no threat in a ’Rock ‘n’ Roll Rebellion’, because they knew that it would be just like all the rest. They knew that the average Joe sees the contradiction and shallowness of such events, even if he denies it, and so subconsciously loses faith in such causes and then, ultimately, in the potential of real peace ‘n’ love coming about. The ’Rock ‘n’ Roll Rebellion’ may even have been the idea of the Tory government! What they didn’t realise, however, was that Mal Bellis was no ordinary lower-class whinger. He had no designs on performing on stage other than playing music and wanting it to be heard – and felt. They couldn’t in their wildest paranoias have predicted that a musician at a ’Rock ‘n’ Roll Rebellion’ wouldn’t really give a toss about ‘musical rebellion’. He gave a toss about rebellion, sure, but music in his eyes was an entirely different thing. And he was right, because it is. Music is the daddy, and the daddy doesn’t protest against his children, because he doesn’t need to. When that bassbeat began, Mal’s presence said ‘Haven’t you forgotten something?’. And they had, too. The dominators had forgotten about the original beat; the rhythm of the soul. And so, more importantly, had the dominated. They had come to take the piss; to be let down once again. The toreador on stage, the court jester to the monarchy of manipulation, was a hero in a way they had never seen before. He was a true hero, in fact, simply because he was trying not to be. The crowd were remembering that good old and ancient primal scream, all because of him. More importantly, they had remembered what their oppressors had forgotten. They had remembered that they had never been the sub-class in the first place, for they had the Music that is God of all.
Of course, I knew of Mal Bellis and the protest thing through my brother, Jon. He got me into things at that age. At the turning of the new year when I was 13, he was knocking about in a bizarre disused building that had apparently been a youthclub, with Carl Rainer, who was the same age as Jon; his younger brother, Pete; and his girlfriend, Alicia, who was a year younger. A mad loon liked it there too. He was called Brian McCobbery, and originated from Glasgow. He was the definitive Scotch baghead; a loveable conman with the survivor’s cunning and stereotype ginger hair to boot. He was only a year older than me, and for that reason liked to have someone his own age around to compare himself with.
I started following the bunch into the place one Sunday morning, after Church. It shocked me more that they were on disused and therefore private property more than what they actually did in there. They were smoking weed, although I didn’t know it then. I had built dens and the like with my friends, and we had sneaked into small buildings and never returned to them, but the size of this place was immense. It struck fear into my heart. It had been some sort of factory in the past, relics of its history hiding behind cobwebs and contraptions we dare not touch. It had a bizarre pulley system on the 1st floor (upstairs), that could be lowered through a trap door in the floor, straight down to the bottom of the ground floor below. On this we would take turns to sit and be lowered down by someone else. We loved it, and it was dangerous. The whole building was dangerous and should have been condemned; broken glass was everywhere, along with uneven bumps in the surfaces and sharp blades in the walls. The dust alone made it so hard to see clearly, but the fatal machinery and debris that the same dust obscured made the whole scene a death trap. We shouldn’t have been there, and I least of all. If suitable and enjoyable venues for youngsters were available at nondescript times such as Sunday mornings, then lads such as us wouldn’t have gone to places such as that.
Jonny, Carl and Alicia had decorated the building with their artistic prowess. Pete and I had no such skill and so stayed out of it. Before too long, the ex-youthclub was no longer an adventure playground, and had become more like a home. Some of us had even crashed out there on some nights. The walls were adorned with the most glorious and trippy colours, the tags and slogans of Jon and Carl plastered all over the show. They said things like, ‘WELCOME 2 THA MAGIKAL MYSTERI TOUR’, and ‘CANNABIS HEAVEN’. Jon and Carl were and are great artists, to be without any bias whatsoever. They were even good academically, finishing 1st and 2nd respectively in the entire district at GCSE level. Alicia wasn’t bad either. The smell of spray-can was consistent as they let rip for a while, making the alien territory familiar. We made it ours; the manifest escape.
The paradise wasn’t our secret for long, however. Pete made the mistake of bringing in some lads of Jon’s age one night, when he was pissed up and no one else was there. One Saturday afternoon, awaiting Final Score, a guy called Revs piled up the stairs with three mates. It was awful. I had just begun to feel cosy with my brother’s crew when the gang was rudely interrupted by impostors, who just wanted to make noise. They made me feel nervous and intimidated, although Jon seemed to like them being there. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t protest as they started to mess the place up and make a racket that could be heard from the street outside. They were not only a threat to our bliss in the building, but also to our being there unnoticed.
As time went by, however, we adjusted to their company. They told others of the secret, and before too long we were some twenty strong. The seedy smoking sessions became loud and hectic drink binges, jumping and ballooning and generally being clowns. For some deprived reason we assumed that having a good look around on the street outside (which was Ingham’s main road) before climbing through the obscured hole in the door, was enough to keep the public in the dark as to our activities. How wrong we were. On one occasion, some tit called Skeet let a little fire get out of hand, and before too long he ran into the main ‘parlour’ shouting, “Shit! Fire! Shit! F**k!”. We ran to the little room next door to take a look, and found that black smoke was bellowing through the window into the no-so-private street below. We made a run for it with no debate, thinking our little dream to be over. When we returned sheepishly the next night, however, we were surprised to find no signs of adult entry. The fire must have gone out of its own accord, as the obscured hole had not been dealt with, the assorted mishmash of decoration and home comforts was how we had left it, and no authority figures had occupied the building. Somehow, no one had reported the all-too obvious smoke. We were in the clear. Or so it seemed.
How stupid of us to think that even adults of our manor were apathetic enough to fail to act on the sight of black smoke bellowing from a disused building. A couple of nights later, during yet another loud session, someone (luckily) clocked a blue light from the other side of the road. We called for hush whilst he discreetly checked it out. It was a police van!
I bricked it, as did everyone else. We panicked and legged it downstairs, hoping beyond all hope to get us all out before they got in. The building had a backyard, and this was our only escape route if any. One at a time, we scurried through a different, backdoor hole of obscurity that ripped our clothes and skin as we cursed and squealed. Someone yelped as he scraped his balls on a brick or a nail or something, and we couldn’t help but giggle furiously even at this bad time. I was fourth or fifth out of nine or ten, and the panic heightened as I heard the Police finding and fondling the obscure hole at the front. Jon grabbed me roughly and shoved me toward some sort of hut at the back; a hut I hadn’t really noticed before but now saw the relevance of. We piled in, trying to find personal hiding places. I kept standing on people’s hands and feet, them yelping and screaming, ’Fuck off!’s and ’Do one!’s in a whisper. It was very funny, even then, but superbly anxious and intense as we willed the last of us into the hut before the cops saw him. He made it, and just about made it into the hut and out of view before we saw a man in a uniform shining his torch, through the back window in our direction.
We were each of us in extremely uncomfortable positions at this point. My own legs were contorted around the head of suchabody and the knees of someone else, whilst my torso was completely upright and my head was twisted round. It wasn’t funny anymore. We couldn’t let it be, for fear of being audible and being caught. The torch lit up the yard, and then the hut. If any time invited laughter, then it was now. The scenario was ridiculous, identical to that of Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, when the entire Roman army march into a small room full of rebels and find nothing, twice. After having a good look and turning away, the copper shone his torch at us again, and still saw nothing. We were incredibly relieved when they finally left.
I didn’t return for a good while. When I did, it was because Pete had stormed into our house and said we had to go see ‘what some twats had done’. From the outside, it looked no different; the only exception being that the obscure hole had been covered with metal only for another, more obvious hole to be put in its place. This new hole gave me a sinister feeling; the knowledge that our secret was a thing of the past.
Inside, the place was a complete wreck. Someone had doused as much area as possible in petrol, and burned the place out. The walls had suffered too, but where the arsonists could not burn the artwork away, they had bizarrely spent time and energy scrubbing paint and marker pen off. It was ridiculous, for this was obviously not the work of the authorities as the carnage was done in a vandalistic, childish way. Whoever had done this was out to frighten us. In my case, it worked, but Jon and Carl put on a show of ferocity. They wanted to kill the culprits, before considering who they may be. They were out for the blood of an unknown quantity.
Myself, Pete and Alicia sat down in an attempt to put our thinking caps on. Alicia was from another area, and so she had no clue whatsoever as to who it might be. I was too young to know many people, and so was quite clueless also. Pete, on the other hand, had a catalogue of suggestions, but they were ludicrous: the types he mentioned were either in prison, dead, or didn’t really exist. Whilst we wild-goose chased, Jon and Carl steamed off to find Revs and the boys. I called it quits.
I was about to go home, when Pete suddenly bellowed from another room. He read something aloud, before I had the chance to see what he was reading:-
“ IF YOU... DO NOT LIKE…WHAT YOU SEE…NOW YOU KNOW…HOW IT FEELS..”
It was written in blue paint, high on the wall near the pulley. I read the rest myself:-
“PRIVVY PARK…FRIDAY…11PM…BE THERE.”
This was too much. Who were these maniacs, and what had we done to them? We told Jon and Carl immediately, and although they couldn’t hide their shock, the first words to come out of their mouths were, “Right, let’s do it then”, and, “We’ll kill the bastards!” The poor boys would not show their fear, but it was blatantly obvious. They were too young too know it is only human to fear the unknown, and no one thinks any the worse of you for it.
Privvy Park was always busy on a Friday night in those days. It was awash with youngsters, drinking and smoking and fighting and shagging and all the things that youngsters do. We were in our separate gangs, but the park was the centrepoint for us all. Too young for pubs, this was our pub, and better than a pub as we could do whatever we wanted - as long as we were home before midnight. The scene is no doubt the same across the world, or country at least. Build a park with a bowling green and it satisfies all members of the nuclear family. Grandad takes the dog for a walk on a Saturday morning; Mum and Dad take the kids to play on the swings and slides on a Saturday afternoon; and the eldest son takes acid there on a Saturday night - whilst his best mate takes his sister’s cherry. It isn’t mentioned in the same breath as the parish hall or community centre, but the park and surrounding area really is the centre of local life.
Anyway, this particular Friday night was as busy as any other. On the bandstand sat Rog Berry and his boys and girls, smoking reefers. The hectic activity was aroundabout, but Rog was the nucleus of an intimate and chilled circle. We were looking for Revs and the others, but he hadn’t seen them. We checked the monument and bowling green, where all sorts of frivolity was going on, with no sign. It was only half-ten, but eleven was only half an hour away and where could they be?
A few girls closer to my age were on the bowling green, and I wanted to stay with them, but our secret rumble was going down and I had to be there. As the time neared, however, there was still no sign of Revs and we didn’t like the thought of facing the enemy without him. I was tempted to hide in the bushes with someone I wouldn’t mind hiding with; it would be a good excuse for not showing, but curiosity as well as loyalty forced me to stay. Amidst the debauchery of this Igginham night, I stood with my brother, Carl, Pete and Bri in powerless anticipation, fearing the worst but refusing to run; wanting to know who it was more than anything.
When eleven eventually came, there was still no sign of the enemy. We began to think that our challengers may actually be people that had been on the park all night; people we already knew well. This prospect was all the more daunting, as it meant we could be leaped upon at any time in a surprise attack. We surveyed the scene feverishly, looking for any signs of potential enemies in the faces we knew so well. It was futile. They were each of them drunk and preoccupied, and we couldn’t realistically imagine that they were merely acting that way as a trick, as Igginham people could surely not be so wily (?). I began to entertain the thought that maybe, just maybe, the whole thing was an elaborate hoax. I was just about to come to that realistic assumption when Pete, the messenger, made a panicked cry:
“Oh…my….LOOK! OVER THERE!”
In the distance, beyond the rolling hills that rolled to the river, were the silhouettes of six or seven men, and that is exactly what they were: men. The fear that had made our spines tingle was replaced with a sensation that was a blend of bafflement, wonder and sheer excitement; the reason being that they were not walking toward us. For all we knew at this point, they may have had nothing to do with the challenge written on the wall. The sight of them was effective enough merely because they were clearly grown adults. What were they doing on the park? Why weren’t they in the pub, or in forbidden houses doing forbidden adult things? They had to be there for a reason; a good reason, other than Friday night frolics.
We watched them disappear behind the lowest hill, and shimmied after them. A few of the revellers clocked us going and tagged along. Bri smacked one of them, asking where the f*** he was going. We caught sight of them as they entered the marshy, walkable part of the river at the end that we called The Swamp. We tried to get a good look, but they were out of shot like cats, scurrying over The Swamp like grown men surely couldn’t. We took cover behind a hill, and watched them appear on the wasteland at the river’s opposite side.
One of them shouted. “COME ON YOU C***S!”
They separated, and looked around. We were baffled as to who they were looking for, as it couldn’t be us. Our challengers had clearly stated the Park as the venue, and we were on it and had been all night. The posse before us had nothing to do with us, or so it seemed.
They suddenly spotted someone and gave it legs after him. I could just about see that the figure they were chasing had failed in his attempts to hide behind a tree or something, and his flee was followed by the appearance and flee of a number of others who had been inside a hole. We ran also, now more excited than ever. We bolted across The Swamp with complete abandon (it was usually a terrifying experience, strict caution needed when using logs and pieces of metal as stepping stones), and in our giddiness Pete fell in. His brother did the loyal thing and helped him out, but we just kept on running. I made it out of the swamp first, and scurried up the hill to the wasteland edge, but Bri pulled me back by the feet and raced on ahead. The wasteland was a maze of hills and holes and overgrown shrubbery, and the main chase was now out of sight. I kept on running, Jon now alongside me and Bri up ahead. We tumbled once or twice, caring nought for those that had fell behind us, and eventually reached the wasteland end. Ahead were the lights of the canal.
The hunters had caught two of their prey, and they were dragging the terrified souls across the rickety bridges over the canal. As we approached with caution, the words being screamed at the captives became clearer. As the words became clearer, the sound of the voice – the one heard earlier – became more familiar. It was someone we knew. It was someone I even knew. It was the unmistakable thick, passionate voice of someone very close to us. It was Mal Bellis.
Mal had one boy by the scruff of the neck, and was screeching: “HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU? WHEN WILL YOU LISTEN? STAY-A-WAY! STAY-THE-FUCK-A-WAY! STAY-A-WAY-OR-YOU-ARE-FUCK-ING-DEAD! DO-YOU-UN-DER-STAND?”
The guys around him were trying to calm him a bit, and the boy was pleading for mercy, swearing that he did understand and that he would do as told and never return. But that was not enough for Mal. Obviously, he had heard these excuses before and did not want to hear them again. His method of making sure that he did not here them again was simple: he made the boy fear for his life. He separated himself from the rest of the group, and ran with the boy to a small jetty over the water. A wall stood between them and the murky, rancid waters of the canal, and he lifted the boy over the side of it. This boy was very small, perhaps only thirteen or fourteen, and now his pleading became screaming. Even Mal’s friends had now become quite nervous, and perhaps too frightened to reason with him in case he decided to prove just how serious he was. He was deadly serious, and I was terrified. Who was this boy, and what in God’s name had he done?
After two or three minutes that seemed like intensely painful hours, he pulled the boy back over and the relief from all quarters was literally audible. Mal gave one last warning before letting the poor little mite go:-
“I will kill you, your family, and especially your crew, if you come to this town again. UN-DER-STAND? Now you know who you’re fucking with, and you can give the news to Sharp. My boys won’t be touched coz I won’t let it happen. Who do you think you are, writing threats on walls, the fucking Mafia? You think that ‘Sharp’ prick is worth knowing? He’s not, and you can tell him I’ll find him one day and BREAK HIS FUCKING NECK. Keep away from Igginham, and my younger friends. Ok?”
With that, the boy scarpered, and we knew who our challengers were. Funnily enough, we were more in the dark than we had been to begin with.
Jon knew Mal the best out of the bunch of us, but when he asked what was going on he was shrugged off. Mal didn’t even come out with an elaborate tale; he just said, “Oh, it was just some little idiot”. When told of the challenge written on the wall and asked about the ‘threat’ he had mentioned at the canal, he said that the boy had written something on a neighbour’s wall, but didn’t go into detail. He clearly wasn’t going to reveal anything. We would have to wonder.
We didn’t go back to the building that Summer. I started knocking about with kids my own age again when my mother started worrying over the ‘bad influence’ Jon and Carl had become over me. It wasn’t that I did what I was told, you understand, hell no, but that our going in separate ways merely coincided with the beginning of my mother’s worry. She still worried anyway, as all mothers do, but now it was about school and sex and those kinds of ordinary things.
I had always felt protected by having an older brother who was quite ‘hard’. But now I was quite perturbed for being in that same situation. I realised that he was not ‘old’, as I had always believed, but that he was a child too in a vast and hostile adult world. For some unknown reason, members of this vast and hostile adult world wanted to harm him, and perhaps me too. We had Mal on our side, but what if these sinister forces were bigger than him? Even him. It may have been paranoia, but throughout that Summer I felt like strangers were watching me. When I was introduced to new people, they would nod reservedly and eye me up curiously when they thought I couldn’t see them doing it. This may have been because I looked silly with centreparting curtains, and with hindsight probably was. Or perhaps I was experiencing the hard-faced bravado of types I hadn’t previously been used to. For whatever reason, I became quite edgy around this time and got into a few scrapes.
One of these scrapes was with an Asian lad called Joachim Nusam. Nusam was the original tyrant: small, domineering, gobby, and fiery as f***. He was the leader of a crew of twenty-odd kids, all fourteen and fifteen but with big brothers who ruled the town. In actuality, however, they ruled the town for they could do what they wanted and get away with it. Their brothers could have done the same, but they had grown up and had manners which stopped them from going so wild. Nusam and co. held a reign of terror the likes of which I have never seen since. In their vast numbers, they would batter smaller groups of young men who were twice their age. They would smash up cars, set fire to buses and attach fireworks to cats’ tails. They probably even raped women. They were unstoppable little devils.
One night, Pete Rainer had been having an ‘organised’ fight with one of the gang, Jimmy Johnson, or Jonno. I hadn’t seen much of Pete at the time, but apparently he’d got the better of Jonno the night before and he’d wanted revenge. On this night, Jonno had been winning, but had run out of energy and Pete had the upper hand when I arrived on the scene, to see Pete kneeling on his chest and slapping him about a bit. I showed my support and encouraged him audibly. Nusam didn’t like this. He let me know that Jonno had been in front, and I said, “Whatever”. He let me know in no uncertain terms that “Whatever” was not good enough. Suddenly I was in the spotlight.
I had heard all kinds of stories about how hard Joachim Nusam was. I believed them, too. Now this monster of a fighter had turned his attention to me. He pushed me, and I started walking back. I didn’t want any of it. He pushed me again. I wondered why in God’s name I had gone there. I put up my hands in surrender. He punched me full on in the face.
I didn’t fall, although I did reel a bit. I carried on walking back. He punched me again. I started to panic inside, but was also quite delirious and didn’t think that it was actually happening. I knew that it was actually happening when he punched me once more, and now figured that I was going to get my face kicked in anyway, and my attentions turned to survival. He swung once more, I dodged it, and then heard Alicia, who I didn’t even know was around, say, “SMACK HIM LEO!” And so I did. To my amazement, he hit the ground straightaway, and I jumped on him and shoved his face in the mud. I was quite pleased with myself, seen as though he was so ‘hard’, and therefore I must be even ‘harder’. I didn’t have much time for pride, however, as he was up again like a shot and throwing more punches. He missed in each case, and I repeated the first action and he went down again. I wanted him to stay down, as I was running out of energy and I could see his mates joining in and I didn’t want this to go on all night. He got up once more, but this time his shirt was all ripped and he looked very angry indeed. He jumped up like a little pitbull, and ripped off his shirt like an American wrestler. I gave the last punch my all, and when he hit the ground this time I made sure his evil little face was well and truly breathing in nothing but dirt, and that his rabid teeth would be chewing on nought but the soil and the maggots in it. “Stay down you little fuck. you smelly dirty little fuck. grrr.”
Knowing now that Joachim was out of commission, I was dragged off by his comrades, and Pete walked me away. At this point, another little pitbull called Mike Gray came in for the challenge. I was a bit tired now, and could not be arsed with him, but he was just as pushy as Nusam and so I had to do that same old knackering shit again. After rubbing his face in the mud, I didn’t wait around and was off like a shot, knowing that the boys would not let their night end on a downer. Despite my fatigue, I outran them all. Apart from one, that is. A lad named Simpson caught up and grabbed me. He was more my size, and I expected more of a battle and would’ve had one too if there’d been more time, but he swung, I dodged, leathered him one in the stomach and scarpered to the entry at the back of my house. Within seconds, I was home and dry.
I was in the kitchen, checking my nose out, when Pete rapped on the back door.
“Quick, let me in!” he said, “They’re going round the front!”
I went to the window, and they had amassed around the front gate. It was ridiculous. For not one moment did I consider that they would attack my house and family, and sure enough they didn’t. It was my sweet mother I feared now, for she in her bizarre fearless way took this as another naughtiness on my part. She moaned at me as she would for not doing the washing-up: “Oh Leo, when will you learn? Silly boy!”, whilst I had been fearing for my life.
When she approached the rabble outside, I saw one of those most noble of human interchanges between a mother and those that, somehow, are the sons of mothers. These riotous maniacs; these lawless piranhas; these future gangsters and murderers; sulked, turned and walked away when Mary Pallace smiled patronisingly at them and whispered: “Go home. Leo won’t be fighting tonight. He’s got homework, and he has to be up early in the morning. And you do, too.”
I watched that motley crew shuffle off down the street in disgrace, and could have sworn I heard my dad laugh hysterically in the room beside me.
The pittance I lived on in those days, earned from tidying my room and doing odd jobs as all teenagers do, was somehow enough to buy me a happy and carefree existence; smoking, drinking and spending long hot days on green fields and country lanes. Igginham is a great place to grow up. The great city of Manchester is but a busride away, but unlike the other suburbs we had more than concrete and crime to make us happy. We had vast wasteland to make dens in; canals; and the magic of Chat Moss. We had history at our fingertips, not the bulldozed remains of old buildings that are now commemorated with a worn and vandalised plaque. These things made us unique artists, and when such things are eventually taken away this town will be like any other: an industrial or service-industry offspring of the great Northern city that tourists may notice and say “Oh how quaint” if they take their eyes off the map when making their way into town after visiting The Beatles Experience in Liverpool. Such tourists do not want to experience reality, or know that the true meaning of history is life and love. They just want the status of being able to say, “I’ve been there”. Those that do want to experience that reality will, one day soon, have no chance of finding it in Igginham, unless they search for it in the dirt and stone. It will be lost to the children of those who at one time contained it.
Areas fight different areas for different reasons. Ingham, for its being so unique and separated from the city, fought purely in defence – usually. We didn’t leave the area for much more than shopping, school and drugs. At night, we had plenty to keep us occupied, whereas kids from Elswick had nothing to do and were frustrated. These frustrations were taken out on neighbouring towns, like ours. They barged in with their stolen cars and skinny, warped faces, trying to take over. Sometimes they would get into scrapes and get twatted. To save (warped) face, they would go back and tell all their friends that the two fifteen year olds that had done the deed were a furious mob of fifty or sixty with axes, chainsaws and perhaps even guns. Ingham eventually earned the name of ‘a place to be dealt with’, and the bigger fish would come down. All this was the result of juvenile boredom.
Nusam and co. left me alone after the bother, which added to my paranoia about someone looking after me or watching me or fattening me up for the kill, or whatever it was. Now they treated me like the chap with temper, laughing at me behind my back and goading me discreetly as if there were some unwritten contract that if I lost my cool they were welcome to kill me. This was ridiculous, I thought, as I was afraid of them and so would not be losing any temper. Their behaviour actually gave me license to laugh back without consequence, and I had a great deal more to laugh about as they were stupid and mong-faced and smelt of shite. I could take the piss as much as I wanted! They should stick to fighting, I thought.
One night, a member of the crew called Poom was hospitalised by some Elswick lads. It was all the more infuriating that the deed had been done in Ingham, and not only boys but men too were out for blood. The problem lay in finding out who it was, as Elswick is a bigger place and not all Elswickers could be guilty. The hunt didn’t take long though. The leader of the culprits was a lad called Wayne Ross, who apparently had ‘a big family’. Nusam and the boys were warned about repercussions of doing anything silly by their older friends and brothers who knew well of the Ross family. They chose to ignore these warnings, and in this way actually earned some of my respect. Until this point, I had thought them all to be cowardly bullies who could be nothing without their brothers’ reputations. They were now becoming truly fearless – or just stupid.
Pete Rainer had got it into his head that Wayne Ross was responsible for the bizarre challenge upon the wall, several months earlier. I didn’t know why. He wanted to make friends with Nusam and Tommo and ‘join forces with them’, but I thought this idea ridiculous as, secretly, I entertained the possibility that it was they who had made the challenge in the first place. Besides that, we would probably end up in hospital or even dead. When Carl got wind of Pete’s intention, he soon put him to rights, letting him know in no uncertain terms that he ‘could not cope with having to identify the charred remains of someone who used to be his brother’. The image worked on Pete. Nonetheless, he was still intent on at least witnessing the action, voyeur that he was. He asked Nusam about where and when the ‘rumble’ would take place, but was rudely told that it was none of his business – as one would expect in all seriousness.
Of course, the clash that eventually came was in no way the result of organisation. Chat Moss, at the northern side of Ingham, was a popular place for dare-or-die teen stayouts, like the traditional graveyard at Halloween. It was a place of thrillful fear; a scary movie in which the kids advance reluctantly into the dark ahead through dark tunnels that necessitate single file creeping. To be first or last in the line is to be the most terrified, and we all know that feeling as we battle for position and, in a play-cum-reality sense, survival. On this particular night Pete, Bri, and myself were in a part of the Moss close to the Elswick border, if there were ever such a thing, on a dirt track overlooking the trees of Brookview cemetery. We had gone there, as we often had before, for no other reason than boredom relief and the smoking of weed. It was late summer, and so dark by around eight, but warm enough for shorts and T-shirt. Ideal weather.
We knew that kids knocked about in the graveyard sometimes, for we could hear them, but we knew not who they were and cared less. They sounded like complete dickheads. We didn’t bother them and they didn’t bother us, although they might have if they’d known we were there. They were a disrespectful, mindless bunch who were responsible for the heartless vandalism to headstones and plaques that had made the local papers. Shockingly, to us more traditional Ingham folk, a great number of these delinquents were girls. They made me sick.
On this night, sat on the track, we noticed a sudden drop in volume and wondered if they were gone. We edged closer to the trees, and found that they were not, but were attempting to be silent for some reason. We edged closer, and found that they had caught sight of people or persons elsewhere in the graveyard. It became apparent that the imposters they had seen were not adults or Police, for they weren’t making the usual escapes and flutterings. They were planning moves, whispering “Is that them?” and “Do you think they’re looking for us?”. They were getting ready in different ways. As we edged closer still, we began to see their figures in increasingly clearer definition, and distinguish between different voices. As we reached the closest position bravery would allow, Bri announced that one of the kids was none other than Wayne Ross.
Ross, for it was clearly him that was the leader, pulled out a large weapon I made out to be a golfclub. Some of the girls began to panic as he strode out from the obscurity of the trees to wage war, but the boys followed suit. Some little muppet at the back of the pack shouted something like ‘Come on you fuckers’ and the game was on. The other boys had weapons too, albeit smaller ones, and they meant business. Admittedly, this was exciting to see. When the imposters heard the warcry and saw the mob advance, they stopped dead for a second. They had either come for fight but had second thoughts, or were innocent wanderers who were in no doubt utterly baffled. As I wondered who they might be, I saw a little figure leap out from behind the bunch with an unmistakable voice that screamed, “It’s them! No way! Come on, let’s fucking do ’em!” I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was Joachim Nusam. What he was doing on Brookview cemetery I’ll never know, but now I was about to see he and his boys get thoroughly mashed up.
The little terrier shot into the thick of it all, fearless as ever. Wayne Ross was at the front of the oncoming traffic, and he was at least five times his size; a crazed, mindless, lunging beast who was also fearless. He didn’t even need a golfclub, but he swung it nonetheless. Joachim, rapid as the wind, escaped all such swings and made it to the body of the beast, clutching onto him and somehow wrestling him over. I wondered why he hadn’t done the same to me months before, and how in God’s name he was doing it now. He was a different person, actually managing to wrestle the monster to the ground. Ross had a firm hold around his head, but the blows Joachim applied to the stomach were loud and lethal. The golfclub had disappeared in the furore, but Ste Simpson had picked it up. Both sides gathered round the scrap, but as yet no one joined in. Nusam may have been on top, but Ross’s boys could not see this lasting long and so merely gave verbal encouragement to their beastly boss. They heavily outnumbered Simpson & Co, who were probably praying at about this time. I too began to get nervous.
Before long, Ross actually began to squeal. One of the Elswickers gave Nusam a kick in the back, and someone else followed this up with another. As it became clear that outside involvement was imminent, the Ingham boys knew that bravery was called for, but were reluctant – nay terrified – of doing what they had to. Only one, Ste Simpson – who had a club in his hand and was mad enough to use it, was able to put loyalty and bravery before common sense. He waded in with the golfclub, seriously hurting a good number. If at any point it seemed that the lads could escape their misfortune, it was now. He really did show his mettel, and if the enemy would have been smaller in number then he would have been the master of disaster he desired to be. It wasn’t long before the rabble overwhelmed the poor guy, however, and he disappeared beneath them. Even the girls joined in, venting their anger on he responsible for messing up the faces of several of their puny little darlings.
At this point, I seriously began to worry, and actually itched to help out. Pete had changed his tune, laughing at the proceedings and revelling at this potential massacre. It disgusted me to see this sick attitude, and I almost wished him to be a recipient someday. Bri was less vocal, but still clearly enjoying what he was seeing. He was right, however, in assuring me that we were completely powerless to help. The nearest phonebox was miles away, and jumping in would be not only futile but extremely dangerous too. I was forced to watch the demolition; forced – you must understand – because human instinct, that most evil of conditions as it is the most beautiful also, insisted that I could not walk away. Before my young eyes, animals tore away at defenceless prey, their motives being no more than assertion of an authority they did not need or understand. Mankind has its leaders and its hierarchies, and within these the want for order and justice: the assumed difference between animals and humans being that we want a ‘fair world’ in which harmony can be obtained. For we have all earned, through our intelligence, a situation in which survival can be achieved without killing fellow humans. We do not need to do it. It was in watching this barbarism, however, that I realised that not needing to kill does not stop people from killing other people. It is the desire to kill for pleasure, and not animal survival, that sets our race aside from the animal kingdom as a corrupt and twisted race; a race that will destroy as willingly as it will create. We may own the Earth, but we do not deserve to. We are the enemy of the Earth, and I became ashamed to be a member of such a vile and loathsome crew.
I had never been relieved by the arrival of the Police as I had on this night. After a while, even Bri had had enough of what he was seeing. We started to believe that it would never end. A couple of arrests were made, but typically enough Wayne Ross escaped the clutches. The Ingham lads had been thoroughly trounced. Nusam had a broken nose, damaged ribs, severe bruising to his face and eyes, and needed something like forty stitches in his head. Ste Simpson, the loyal companion of the hour, had innumerable injuries that I could not be at all bothered to go into. It would be enough to say that he was in hospital for months. Some say that the extent of his injuries went as far as brain damage even. Knowing him in later years, in seeing what the likeable lad became, I would not be in the least bit surprised if this was true.
After that long hot summer of staying out late and getting told off, I returned to school. Ingham didn’t have a Catholic High school, so me and the other church cats went to St. Peter’s in Elswick. Pete’s was an odd and supreme place: unique in its proud history and strict, peculiar rules. For different reasons, it developed a lot of interesting characters. It was an amalgamation of kids from a variety of local areas that didn’t have Catholic schools, but some parents would send them there for Religion’s sake, whilst others for the firm organisation and therefore high success rate that possibly came as a result. Therefore, we had the sons and daughters of wild Irish fistfighters; stereotype Catholics who wanted their offspring to keep in touch with their ancestral roots, mixing with the well-to-do, middle-class stock exchangers of the future. My siblings and I were a funny blend of both, being scally in some origin but debutante in another. Over the years, a lot of kids could jump from one category to the other, or somehow be in both. I was one of these strange people. That is why I write this potty tale now.
Each year group was divided into, roughly, four groups. The Swats were the quiet, arselicking, academically successful. The year was divided into five sets, according to ‘intelligence’. The Swats were usually in Set 1, although a number of Swats were not actually clever so were in 2 or 3, or even 4 if they were really sad. Then came The Mutants, who were at the opposite end of the scale academically (sets 4 and 5), but were bullied for different reasons such as for being scruffy or for looking strange or for being known to have incestual relationships. Then we had The Mainstream, which is self-explanatory. They were neither too clever, too smelly, nor too amazing. They just ‘fit in’. They could be in any set, although they were mostly in sets 2, 3, and 4.
I was in the final group, which I would like to call ‘The Smokers’ Corner’. We were an exclusive bunch; an elite of minor criminals and daredevils. No one f***ed with us, for we were quite simply the best even if I do say so myself. Yet I also happened to be in Set 1, with all the Swats. I would go into lessons stoned off my box, but unlike the other Smokers (who were usually in 3, 4, or 5) I’d have no one to buzz with. Even my appearance was different; my shirt was all ragged and my tie was torn and often missing, and I didn’t even bother to wear my motheaten green jumper unless it was beyond freezing. My hair was the epitome of Indie, whereas theirs was the epitome of Spandau Ballet or New Skids on the Block. It really was a funny sight, to behold my rugged and rebellious figure sat amongst the blessed candlebearers of Catholicism in our new computer world. I listened to The Doors and The Happy Mondays; they listened to Bonjour La France! throughout the night.
A couple of my smoking corner mates, Matty Gibson and Kev Woodbridge, were from Elswick. Until the September return, I didn’t even know that they knew Wayne Ross, let alone that they were friendly with him and even in his ‘crew’. I found the whole business quite daunting, knowing the disgust Ingham had felt at the Brookview incident and how the older generation had vowed revenge and were looking for him. When I discussed the events of that night not so long ago with Matty and Kev, they had a picture in their heads of one or two little muppets getting a little kicking, whereas I had witnessed a carnage that could potentially pit one whole town against another. I knew them to be naïve, as they had not been present that night, and had not witnessed any other such incident as they were not really in Ross’s ‘crew’ at all, but pangs of Ingham patriotism did actually well up in me slightly. ‘Do you know what’s brewing here, you little tadpoles?’, I thought. But I did not speak. I thought it best not to.
Pete Rainer didn’t much like Matty and Kev to begin with, but when he found out that they were in ‘cahoots’ with Wayne Ross, he took it upon himself to tell the whole world. Considering that it was my fault that he knew in the first place, I saw it my duty to warn them. Not completely, as this would defy my hometown, but a hint that ‘Pete will not like you for it’. They laughed it off, and this was an ignorant mistake.
Pete told Carl and Jon, who in turn told numerous big brothers and nutters about where comrades of Ross could be found. The ball was rolling, and I had unwittingly started it. The forces of revenge were far beyond my young and innocent comprehension; faceless, nameless plotters who I dare not come across or even want to see. Jon was closer to their circle, but he didn’t know them either. Mal Bellis was someone who liked him, and even looked after him from afar, but he was on a different level and would not tell him any secrets. And there was, somehow, a big secret that still had not been resolved.
As usual, the unexpected came at the most unexpected of times. Each afternoon after school, I had been anxiously yet excitedly awaiting the arrival of a posse outside for the unprepared Matty and Kev. It didn’t come, and perhaps subconsciously I had given up the idea that it would - on the day in question. We had just finished ‘Games’ (Physical Education) on a Wednesday, and I was feeling lively and jovial after the football antics and shower frolics. A lot of the time, I walked around with the classic rebel face, spitting and ignoring people and defying society, but on days like these I was a joker and prankster, thoroughly involved with the innocent silliness of my age group. Whilst I was putting cheese or something into a nervous girl’s bag on the way out of the main gate, one cuddly boy remarked that a large number of men were gathered nearby. I thought nothing of it, and carried on with my prank. As the nervous girl caught me in the act, flapped, fell over and the giggling erupted, I viddied in the corner of my eye the figure of Pete Rainer leading the men across the path. I had not looked at them before, but these men were obviously from round our way as I recognised them and knew that I should know them. Pete was clearly showing them Matty and Kev, who too had just had Games and were faffing around. I stopped dead in my tracks, and had no time for thoughts as the action started.
With efficiency and speed, the boys were surrounded and marched away. I saw two different responses from them. Kev was terrified, and didn’t say a word. Matty protested, but in the way a pupil protests to a teacher; not giving threats like ‘Do you know who you’re fucking with?’, but whingeing in the style of ’But I haven’t even done ‘owt!’. The other schoolkids simply watched in amazement. A couple of the Smokers attempted to tag along, but were pushed away. It was a rather Mafioso-time affair. Quite scary, but not as much as it should have been - for the sheer absurdity of it.
They were take to a quiet place and interrogated. The poor little idiots knew nothing really, but the interrogators probably knew tricks to delve into the subconscious mind to get the answers. After all the trouble, it turned out that Wayne Ross was actually in jail. A few of his buds were rounded up and given severe beatings, but it seems that he was the culprit they were seeking and the beatings were actually just the venting of frustration, and not revenge. Jon told me about all this; Matty and Kev were off school for a week or two, but when they returned they were traumatised and could not say a word on the subject. Jon told me that I had to be careful in Elswick now, and deny being from Ingham. I didn’t know why, having thought the situation to be fully under wraps. Even if it wasn’t, what harm was little old me to anyone? Jon had a very wise answer to this question. “Leo,” he said, “A grenade looks like a harmless lump of hardened turd. But take the pin out and it is a lethal bomb. Do not underestimate yourself.” I thought he was a right c**t for saying that. A grenade looks nothing like a ‘hardened turd’.
After the trauma, Matty and Kev seemed somewhat wary of me. Not only they, however, but a number of their fellow Elswickers. My friends Cauley and Kingy, also from Ingham, got the same treatment. We never discussed the matter, but the boys weren’t as open with us and didn’t invite us to come round to their houses as they used to. It was weird, because we were all of the same breed and got on so well, but a troubled situation clowded our friendship. The intertown divide was escalating, and at times it got nerve-racking. One night, Cauley, Kingy and myself had been barred from the Ingham school bus for setting fire to bus seats. We were forced to walk into the heart of Elswick to catch the public bus. At the bus stop, a big posse of local lads clocked us and knew where we were from. They ran over and started hassling us. One skinny ratface tried to pull my bag away, whilst someone else tried to tear Cauley’s coat from his back. Luckily, the bus came in the nick of time, but we had trouble getting on. A few old ladies and men (and fortunately the boys had respect for them at least) helped us out, but I was last in the queue and, as I was paying my fare, the ratboy jumped on the bus and tried to drag me off. I kicked him in the balls and then the driver sorted him out, but it was a close one.
Back in Ingham, the Nusam gang had simmered after the battering. Poor old Simpson had suffered a great deal and didn’t come out much. He hung around with older types, and sat in houses smoking weed all the time. For my own part, I spent more time at home as the winter drew in. It is good to enjoy the company of solitude every now and then, especially if a recap on a mad year is needed. If my mum drove me round the bend at all, then the park or youthclub was only a stone’s throw away. In those days, I could find friends in minutes as I wandered along scavving cigs. Nights were never hit or miss, for my wanderings would take me to bores for one hour and hilarious mischief or beautiful girls the next. Rarely was a night ‘good’ or ‘bad’, although they could be ‘memorable’ or ‘forgettable’ in some cases. When I have spoken to characters of such days in later years, they have fond memories of our meetings that are as vivid, if not moreso, than my own. When we strip ourselves of details such as status and occupation and look old friends in the eye, we find that we have not changed in the slightest. We speak and act, to newer strangers at least, to be accepted, impressive and helpful. The rest of our life is dedicated either to the advancement of our positions in society (be it for the self or common good), or sheer gluttony, but the interchange between acquaintances is unique as no one is taken for granted and/or boring. That is, at least, the truth as I see it, and the truth that is believed by anyone else I come across when I have that truth in the forefront of my mind.