Thursday, 14 August 2014

As It Is When It Was

I cut my head against the wall...

More of which later.

My heartfelt thanks to the handful of people who have spoken to me about some of the subjects raised in these serialisations over the last few weeks. It's been a blessed relief to come across at least a few of you who remember me back then and recall what actually happened, which sits some quite some distance from the conventional wisdom that's applied retrospectively. You know who you are and the least I can do is take the time out to say...thanks so much, I love every single one of you.

I explained to one of those people a few weeks ago that the main purpose of this was not to pour out a “woe is me” tale of misfortune and disaster, although there will inevitably be times when it comes across that way. What I sought to do was join the dots between the various issues and complications that existed at the same time and provide a clearer picture of how all those dots joined together. Mindful of the fact that I'm only going to do a couple more of these for the sake of everyone's sanity, I'll try and wrap a bit of context around a period in the late 1990s and leave you to make up your own minds.

It's a Saturday morning and I'm walking through the park. I don't know what I'm going to do because I've (inevitably) got no money, but Gazetta Football Italia has long gone and potential highlights of the next 48 hours look somewhat thin on the ground. It beats the hell out of being stuck in the house with them anyway. Past the pond, past the football pitches and I'm another ten minutes or so from town. Then, out of nowhere, three lads jump out from behind some trees. Three lads I recognise. Before I know it I'm tackled to the floor. One of them has got me pinned down and another is repeatedly booting me in the ribs. I'm outnumbered, ambushed and defenceless. I curl up in a ball and go into damage limitation mode but the kicks keep coming and this is starting to really hurt. One of them, who fancies himself as a prizefighter, is working the body.

Fortunately, he punches like a girl but I dare not tell any of them that.

They mention something about a motorbike. What the fuck?

I'm in pain and in shock. I lie on the ground for a few minutes until I know they've gone. I carry on walking but looking anxiously over my shoulder, still not knowing what I'd done to deserve the pre-meditated and unprovoked attack that had just taken place. Three of them, jumping out from behind trees and ambushing a guy on his own with his head in the autumn clouds. Self-proclaimed hard men who can only operate as members of a gang, preying on those not used to violent altercations and who are not expecting them. Yeah mate, you hard bastards. Later on, the leader of this unfortunate trio would claim when pushed that I had broken into his garage and revved up his motorbike. Of course, I had no idea he owned one and anyone who knows me would laugh themselves silly at the prospect. I have enough difficulty riding a bicycle with my high centre of gravity without resembling Bambi on ice.

And I've never ridden a motorbike to this day – I may on occasion attempt to ape James Dean's haircut, but believe me that's where the similarity ends.

Being on the receiving end of random violence was something with which I was familiar, although I'm not disputing for one second that there will have been others even within my peergroup who will have endured worse. In all honesty, it was always more likely to take place at home than anywhere else, although one or two incidents stand out. One took place on a midweek morning where three little shits (trouble always comes in trios, doesn't it?) collared me and took turns to tee off on any part of my anatomy that wouldn't leave a visible mark. One would tie me up and the other two would fire away with impunity. Then teacher turns up and it's all Sunday smiles, as if they were so excited about physics 101 they'd turned up early. Oh, puh-lease!! I never gave any of them the satisfaction of knowing I was hurt, but be assured, punches in the kidneys from lads bigger than you take their toll and do a cumulative damage.

Why exactly did they do this? Absolutely no reason whatsoever. For kicks, I suppose...

There were other instances of casual violence, and, not being the type to initiate force myself, my record in such contests was pretty fucking pathetic. But worse was the psychological abuse, raised to the factor of about twenty eight after limerence had begun to eat it's cancerous way through my self-esteem in 1996. I was well aware that I resembled the lovechild of Adrian Mole and Penfold, that I regularly looked exhausted and like shit, that I had bags under my eyes and wore a broken, defeated expression. Already fragile and sensitive to nastiness, needle or negativity, you can be assured that hearing about this ad nauseum was the last thing I needed. I got enough of this shit at home, where there were ample reminders of how worthless, unwanted and insignificant you were. It really, really did not need re-enforcing in any way.

But it was, again...and again...and again. And it slowly broke my heart.

The Milanese catwalk was always an unlikely career destination.

But then, I'll let you in on a secret - the reason I had bags under my eyes and permanently looked knackered was because of a little thing called insomnia, you fucking moron.

There were fifteen terms at school, which nicely mirrors the fifteen rounds that made up a championship fight back in the days before the medical profession had them cut to twelve. This seems highly appropriate, since not only do I recall my school days as some sort of bloody war, I can identify somewhere around the eleventh or twelfth round as the point I completely changed tactics and started swinging back. Socially, I withdrew completely and became a sort of self-imposed angry loner, applying the old Vietnam War mentality of “trust nobody and regard everyone as the enemy unless you have reason to believe otherwise”. I was in the full grip of mental illness and suffering a very gradual but very real breakdown, but couldn't put such weakness on display for fear of being utterly destroyed.

So...I started to fight back, with my tongue and my brain, not my fists. I discovered I had a sense of humour that could be cutting, incisive and sometimes downright cruel. Anyone who so much as looked at me in a perculiar way got both barrels back. Contrary to the conventional wisdom of the time, there was no discrimination on the grounds of race, sex or anything else. I was equally off-hand and rude to everybody. The alternative was opening up, admitting to an inability to cope with what life had stuck on my plate over the previous few years and inviting personal armageddon on myself. Of course there were innocent people caught in the crossfire, guilty of nothing worse than trying to befriend someone who had lost all faith in humanity and therefore could not let anyone in.

The harder they tried, the snappier and more unpleasant I got. Ostensibly, I was a complete bastard.

Two of you stand out like a sore thumb and I hope you know who you are. I'm really sorry and hope you understand you caught me at a bad time. The aim of this book was not to excuse every last thing or to portray myself as an angel, because I certainly wasn't. The only commitment we should all have is to the truth.

Lying to ourselves is easy, but this can only stifle our development as human beings.

To every last person who might have caused me pain (physical or emotional), heartache or any other negative feeling in that period I want you to know something – I forgive you. You were but children yourselves and I've learned from personal experience how being bitter and twisted, holding grudges and storing up hatred ultimately hurts ourselves more than it does anyone else. To that honest soul who took a few hours out of his life to go through some of this and remember it as it actually happened, thanks so much. You're right, I did put on a brave face for a long time, but I'm a human being with a heart and feelings, not a robot. I couldn't keep doing it forever, because like you and everyone else, I'm deeply flawed and merely mortal. To the two people I referenced above, thanks so much for being my Facebook friends. It may mean very little in real terms, but it's more than I deserve and means so much on a personal level. God bless both of you.

When the 'ban' came into effect a couple of months ago, I felt a mix of emotions. Part sadness and sympathy for whoever felt insufficiently able to move on, part a sort of hubris at having my ego stroked and my continued existence acknowledged. Perhaps the reason that it provoked the spontaneous reaction that it did is it stirred up memories of how I was remembered, specifically as some sort of bad guy or pantomime villain, when the reality was way, way more complicated than that. I've spent so much of the years since feeling guilty, that the first word I should say to someone from back then when I ran into them was sorry. For fuck's sake, sorry for what? For having a nervous breakdown? For being unable to cope with abnormal levels of shit and stress at a ridiculously young age?

Look, I'm not going anyway and the last thing I want to do is cause any (more) upset or harm to anybody from back then. Just nominally re-instate me and end the fucking childish games. Whoever you are, you're dealing in issues way more complicated than you understand them to be.

I'll leave you with the album that inspired the title of this post – As It Is When It Was is the third track on the record, about eight and half minutes in.

Thanks as always, and tonight is a double so see you soon.



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