My Future Positively Glittered
"My Future Positively Glittered" consists of two previously published pieces in slightly modified form, these being "My Future Postively Glittered", now divided into two sections ("Global Village Soul Boys" and "Hardly a Wunderkind"), and "Summer's End" (now "The Summer of Fittleton"), whose first drafts were published at Blogster on, respectively, May 26 and May 29, 2006. In September a further piece, "An Evanescent Friendship", first published at Blogster on the 10th of June 2006, was added to the whole. Tentative final corrections were made in January 2008, and then absolute ones eight months later.
The Summer of Fittleton
Throughout 1976 I gradually sidelined my nostalgic super-elegant image in favour of a far rougher one inspired by the decade of Brando, Presley and Dean. Occasionally I'd relapse, but for the most part I affected the classic uniform of red windcheater, white tee-shirt and straight-leg jeans so memorably worn by James Dean in "Rebel Without a Cause". He'd died a week to the day before I was born in early autumn 1955, seen by many as the Year Zero of the Rock'n' Roll era, and the 20th anniversary of his death created quite a buzz as I remember, with Rock stars such as John Miles and Slik's Midge Ure affecting the highschool rebel look, while Punk waited in the wings, poised perhaps to devastate Pop's innocence forever.
I remember one time in particular that I dusted down the old dapper dandy look. It was in the dying days of the long hot summer of '76, and I wore top hat and tails and my fingernails tinted bright red like a ghost from old Berlin to a party hosted by a friend from Brooklands. It was mid-September, and I know this to be an absolute fact because I was supposed to have been at sea at the time, on the minesweeper HMS Fittleton. I think it was only a couple of days afterwards that Fittleton capsized and sank to the bottom of the North Sea following a tragic accident involving another larger ship, the frigate HMS Mermaid. It resulted in the loss of twelve men most of whom I knew personally, given that only weeks earlier I'd spent a few days on Fittleton with more or less exactly the same crew.
HMS Fittleton had been accepted into the RN in January 1955, although she wasn't actually named Fittleton (after the Wiltshire village) until almost exactly 21 years later. She set sail from Shoreham in Sussex on the 11th of September 1976 with the intention of reaching the port of Hamburg on the 21st of that month for a three day Official Visit, but never arrived. On the 20th she took part in the NATO exercise "Teamwork" 80 miles off the Dutch coast in the North Sea, after which she was ordered to undergo a Replenishment at Sea with the 2500 ton frigate HMS Mermaid, and it was during this exercise that the bow waves of the frigate inter-reacted with those of the sweeper to cause the two to collide.
For some reason I'd earlier decided to opt out of the trip by pleading sickness. It was a decision that came to haunt me...despite the fact that had I taken part in the RAS manoeuvre I'd almost certainly have been assigned what was known as Tiller Flat duty, as had been the case on many previous occasions during exercises of this kind. This would have put me below deck, making escape difficult although not impossible. In other words, I may or may not have survived the accident. Of the twelve who didn't survive I knew three quite well, and they were all men of remarkable generosity of spirit and sweetness of disposition, what I'd call natural gentlemen, and it broke my heart to think of what happened to them. I so wanted to comfort my shipmates for their loss, to bond with them and be part of what they were going through. I wanted to have survived like them. I went over it all again and again in my mind, until I drove myself almost insane with regret and grief. Once more I'd taken the easy way out, but this time it wouldn't be so easy for me to forget or explain away.
Global Village Soul Boys
The totemic year of 1977 was in many ways a far darker one than those coming immediately before it, at least that's how I see it. It was after all marked by the inexorable rise of Punk, a musical and cultural movement which could be said to have fatally disabled Rock's uneven progress as an art form with its savage DIY ethic, and which, fused with an extreme and often horrifying sartorial eccentricity produced something utterly unique for the time. From its London axis, and yet with roots in the US, it spread like a raging plague throughout the year even infecting the most genteel suburbs. At first I remained unaffected, although I'd long incorporated elements of the Punk sartorial revolution into my own image, such as short hair, small-collared shirts and straight-leg trousers, but by the end of the year I was a Punk myself.
1977 was a year of endless hedonism for me, as one after the other of my old Pangbourne pals celebrated hitting 21 in houses and apartments in various corners of trendy west and central London. Of all of my college friends I was perhaps closest with Craig, a future mililonaire businessman, but they were all very dear to me, and still are. Craig fuelled my growing passion for the decadent London life of parties and clubs filled to the brim with the fashionable and the beautiful. One of his closest friends was Antony Price who forged cutting edge images for some of the most powerful trendsetters in Rock music, and we went with him to Maunkberries a couple of times.
Soon after the start of the year, Craig had ditched his tired old velvet jacket and flares combo in favour of drainpipe jeans and black winklepickers. Within a short time I too was sporting a pair of cream-coloured winklepicker shoes which I went on to supplement with black slip-ons with large gold sidebuckles, imitation crocodile skin shoes with squared off toes, and a pair of black Chelsea boots, all painfully pointed. By the spring of '78 I think I'd junked the lot as a means of sparing my feet but for a time they were my pride and joy.
Being the suburban greenhorn that I was, I thought the look that dominated London's clubland was analogous with Punk, but I was way off the mark. Certainly like Punk it ran contrary to the long hair and flared jeans that were still ubiquitous throughout the UK at the time, but it was married to a love of sophisticated Soul music rather than primal three-chord Rock. It was the uniform of the so-called Soul Boys, flash white working class kids with a love of black dance music like the Mods before them, although I was not to discover this until later in the year when I was at Merchant Navy College in Kent.
It was through one of the guys at this college in fact that I found out about the Global Village night club under the Arches near Charing Cross. which was a magnet in '77 for working class kids who were into the Soul Boy look, as well as a handful of Punks. Its key elements were the wedge haircut, which was often to be streaked with a variety of tints including red and even green, brightly coloured peg-top trousers or straight leg jeans, and the obligatory winklepickers...or for a time, beach sandals. The wedge was also allegedly taken up by certain hardcore fans of Liverpool Football Club who'd discovered a taste around '77 for European casual sports clothing while travelling on the continent for away matches. So, the Casual subculture was born, together with a passion for designer sportswear on the part of British working class youth which exists to this day, being visible in every high street and shopping centre in the land.
For most of '77, it was the Soul Boy look I affected rather than Punk, not that I knew the difference. However, strolling along the Kings Road in what I think was the January of that year, I became confronted for the first time with the incredible vagaries of dress being adopted by Punks about that time, and it'd only be a matter of time before I too aspired to astound others the way they'd done me. By the end of the year, I'd effectively become a full-time Punk and was happy to remain so until the Mod Revival starting drawing me away around about the summer of 1979. But that's another story.
My Future Positively Glittered
By the summer I was working as a sailing instructor in Palamos on Spain's Costa Brava. For a time my cousin Rod was around with Lucy, his lady love, although I can't remember whether Rod taught for the school or not. My dad stayed in Palamos for a while too, as did my brother Dane, although for the most part I was alone. Rod and his sister Kris, and my uncle and aunt, Peter and Marge, had lived more or less opposite us in Bedford Park in the sixties, and we'd holidayed together at my grandmothers' house near Montroig. A spellbinding guitarist since his teens, Rod recently revived his playing career.
After a few months I lost my job, but stayed on in Palamos for several months afterwards, idling by day, while trawling the city's bars and discos by night. These nightly revels had an almost Sisyphian quality to them, as if I was eternally drawn by what lay just beyond my reach, moving on once I'd secured it. Perhaps this passion for what I couldn't have was initially at the heart of my longing to be famous. After all at the time, I was still hopelessly ill-equipped for fame. I certainly didn't have the necessary mental toughness to push my way to the top. I had the pretty boy looks, but very few actors, or indeed musicians, become truly successful on the strength of looks alone, and this was especially true of the seventies I think it's fair to say. I'd not yet appeared in a single play, except for a handful at Pangbourne, and my acting had attracted some positive attention it has to be said. My roles included two elderly women, one of whom had to remain completely mute for a few minutes and that was the extent of my time onstage, this being in Max Frisch's "The Fire Raisers". The other was as a maid in a one-act play by George Bernard Shaw called "Passion, Poison and Petrifaction". Clomping around in a dress with studded military boots I can remember bringing the house down with that one. I also played a society beauty conducting some kind of illicit relationship with one of my best friends, Simon Miles, who went on to found his own cabaret club in the nineties called the Cupboard, but the name of the play escapes me. My only male role was in "The Rats", a little known Agatha Christie one-acter, and my perfomance as effeminate psychopath Alex showed real promise if the praise of the college nurse was anything to go by. In short, I was hardly a National Youth Theatre wonder kid. I'd penned a few simple songs, but my guitar playing was still desperately limited. I wasn't a natural player like my cousin Rod, but I went on to become a pretty good songwriter with my own playing style. My voice was good though, and incredibly versatile. As a budding writer, I'd filled countless pages with scribblings which I'd endlessly corrected, but there was nothing show for my efforts. In short there was precious little evidence of any kind of artistic talent on my part...and it could hardly be said that my future positively glittered before me.
Incident in Ostend
My final voyage with the RNR came towards the end of the summer. My best RNR pal Colin was sadly not onboard, but other friends were, such as Adam, a tall red-headed man of about 26 who looked something like the actor Edward Fox, with a trace perhaps of Damian Lewis, or at least that's how I see him in hindsight.
Like me Adam loved music and fashion and clubbing, and we hit it off from our very first meeting back at President. He later confided in me about his early life which'd been marked by one tragedy after the other, and his warm and courtly manners masked a troubled inner life which he kept almost entirely to himself, together with remarkable fearlessness. I remember one time in a bar on the south coast when for some reason a drunken sailor took a strong dislike to me, Adam put himself in harm's way to save my hide. It was typical of him. You overestimated his refinement at your peril. I can imagine though that there were those who wondered how he ended up serving as a rating, as they would have done me. I'm thinking in particular of some of the young guys of a certain RNR Division liaising with us to and from the port of Ostend in Belgium in that year of my final spell as a military man. There was one incident when some of these hard young seamen were grouping in an Ostend street for a scrap with some locals who'd offended them in some way. Adam and I made it clear we had no intention of joining in, and one of their number, a waiflike young sailor of about 16 or 17, previously something of a pal of ours, turned to us with a look of utter confusion on his beardless face and said: "What's wrong with youse guys?", before joining his pals for the gathering riot.
Adam just didn't see the point in fighting unless it was absolutely necessary, but he was far from being a coward as I've already made clear. What's more, according to what I observed and what he himself told me, he was more than averagely successful with the opposite sex, unconsciously infused like me with the poisonous playboy values of the times. Yet, for his own reasons he chose to conceal his true nature beneath a show of gentlemanly reserve, and even languour.
This secret inner strength would eventually see him being commissioned as an officer in the Royal Navy, which'd been his destiny all along. But not mine. My time with the London Division, RNR came to an end in late 1977 with an incredibly positive character report, for which I remain grateful to this day. The RNR did all right by me and I honour them for it, and if military life had never been for me, it's a part of who I am whether I like it or not. My life story would be all the poorer without it.
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