In my last year at primary school I was a bit of a rebel. I just didn't treat art seriously, preferring to draw cartoons rather than the serious painting my classmates were doing. I was developing a political mind, my dad's bible was The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist and his beliefs were rubbing off on me. He hated the Tories, so did I. Ted Heath was an idiot and I entitled one cartoon '3 Eyed Ted From Number 10'. Ted Heath with his big toothy laugh and three eyes, one in the middle of his forehead. I didn't know what political point I was making, maybe that the Tories were aliens and should head off back to their own planet. I have a suspicion that Steve Bell somehow saw my cartoon and somehow made a career out of portraying Tories as monsters. Tories are not of this world, though. There's something inhuman about them.
I gained another friend who played David Bowie and Alice Cooper to me and his mum gave me tea. Tea always included baked beans with something, fish fingers or sausages. Tea away from home in my primary school days was accompanied by Blue Peter which I hated and Wacky Races, which I loved.
The Alice Cooper boy also supported West Ham and one day he planned a trip for us. We were to get a Red Bus Rover and visit every London football ground in a day. We got as far as West Ham, Leyton Orient and Arsenal before having to turn back as it was getting late.
The way to West Ham was the 96 bus from Crayford to Woolwich, Woolwich Ferry to Canning Town and 101 bus from there to East Ham Town Hall. Big bovver boys got the 101 on a Saturday and walked through the Woolwich Foot Tunnel. The ferry was much more romantic, second only to the Mersey Ferry with its Gerry & The Pacemakers' romance. Maybe the Woolwich Ferry should make itself more of a tourist attraction by playing some Cockney Rejects or something.
Apart from cheesy Top of the Pops albums with their scantily clad girls next door on the covers and abysmal cover versions of the days hits and my groovy K-Tel albums with the wonders of glam rock and Python Lee Jackson, my first real musical purchase was Tony Orlando & Dawn's Tie a Yellow Ribbon in 1973. OK, it wasn't bought with my earned money and I think my mum had some say in the choice of record as I immediately asked her to take it back to the shop. I was embarrassed by its mawkishness. It is not even one of my guilty pleasures today.
Now and again I heard a tune called Sylvia by Dutch rock band Focus. I loved it and wanted it. I saw a Focus LP in the music shop in Crayford and my mum kindly went to buy it for me. Unfortunately what she bought was not the LP but some complicated Focus sheet music including yodels. Another embarrassing return to a shop ensued.
I didn't make the same mistake twice. I got the Focus compilation album from the same shop and played it to death. And so my prog journey began. Sorry, not very punk, is it?
I started Big School in 1973. Having passed the 11-Plus I had the choice of a grammar or a technical high. There were two other boys in my class who passed their 11-Plus and they were going to the technical high. Having somebody I knew going to the school, including a boy I had been to tea with several times, overrode the opinions of my parents that a grammar school would be better for me. Of course the grammar would have been more suitable but all I could see at the grammar was nobody I knew and lots of girls.
So, without an interest in science or technology or making things, without an interest in Doctor Who or science fiction or Tomorrow's World, I decided to go where the boys went. The boys who were shy of girls.
I turned up on the first day in full school uniform, one of only two boys wearing a cap. The other was called Cheeseman. I was assigned to the same class as Cheeseman and sat next to him as the seating plan was alphabetical. Two little boys with two little caps. It breaks my heart to think of the naivety of it and the potential for piss-taking. But this was a nice school. Bullies were few and far between and didn't pick on me for some time. I settled into certain classes with ease. English, maths and French. Everything else, I hated.
Physics. Nice teacher, yes, into his trad jazz, but what the fuck was Physics all about? And why those tall stools, why the long benches? So uncomfortable. I liked a desk with a chair, a stool and bench were so uncivilised.
Chemistry. Teacher a bit distant. And there we were in the lab again. I didn't belong in a lab with its tall stools and long benches and bunsen burners. I didn't want to be anywhere near fire! Physics, Chemistry, how things worked. I couldn't give a bollock how things worked. Never have done, never will. I want to take it all for granted. I want to turn on the telly and let magic happen. Magic is what it's all about.
Technical Drawing. Dull teacher. And even that fucking desk was too big and not flat! It was on a fucking incline! I didn't want to be on an incline, I wanted to be parallel with the ground. And the pencil was too hard. 2H! I was making indents into the paper. I am just not interested in how things are designed, whether by God or by man. God designed this little green apple. Let God draw the fucking thing. Nuts, bolts, screws, not interested. Give me a pencil and paper and I want to draw silly things. Paper's there to have fun with.
Art. Vicious one-armed teacher. Expert at throwing things at naughty boys. More inclined desks and high stools. And so serious! Yes, I wanted to draw and paint better but I wanted to do what I wanted to do. I wanted to enjoy myself. Who in our class was going to become a serious artist for Christ's sake? Come on, let's be honest. Just how many artists has this school produced in its history? I bet it's none. Then why in God's name were we doing this? We might as well have been having fun, taking the piss out of things. You never know, there might have been some budding cartoonists.
Geography. Big, booming friendly teacher, cricket fanatic. But really. I wasn't interested in the earth and what it's made of and why weather does what it does. Why couldn't it just be a mystery? Couldn't we just be surprised by things? '5, 10 and 21, Winter, Spring and Summer Sun.' That's all I remember from Geography. What about the world's resources and why they're owned by cunts and not by everyone? Why is there poverty, hunger, genocide?
Woodwork. Oh dear. Nice teacher, old school Jack Hargreaves type and if I had my grandad's carpentry genes, maybe. But I haven't got a clue and I couldn't care less. Someone's got to make chairs and tables and desks and fucking high stools and benches I suppose, but that's not me, buster! I wasn't put on this earth to make things. Hammers, planes, chisels. I am not an artisan.
Metalwork. Oh dear, this teacher's a bit, how do you say, let's just say he runs the Railway Club which over the course of my school days was a front for middle-aged men and young teenage boys to get away and experience a nature of sorts. Days out photographing impressionable boys. That didn't float my boat nor did drilling and cutting metal. Bollocks to rivets.
History. Incredibly dull young teacher. And we're starting from the very beginning of humanity. What do we actually know? That's not history, it's speculation. Who's to say the earth wasn't run by aliens who kept us for their entertainment as we hunted animals and cut them up with our primitive utensils? The aliens pissed themselves laughing for years until they got bored and pissed off to their own planet.
PE. Psychopathic teacher in white shorts. Ex-army. Made us shower before, after and during Games and PE. Took glee in our failure to climb ropes, jump horses, pull ourselves up on the rings. One day the cunt brought in some shitty 50 year old pairs of boxing gloves. What did he expect us to do with them? He thought he knew it all. The healthy life. It was his dream to go to America. When he retired he landed at the airport and dropped dead of a heart attack. We were in mourning. Mourning, I tell you.
So Big School was all work, no play, cramming in subjects till they came out of our ears. We were exam machines, there to get good results for the school's reputation.
My favourite subject was English Language. And I was Best in Class. I sat in the corner, furthest away from the teacher because I was the best. The worst at English sat next to the teacher and they would get hit regularly. Nice. The school had an annual anthology and a couple of us from our class got something in there. Shit poems, you know the sort. Teenage boys' poetry is the worst. Especially when you throw in some prog rock lyrics.
French was enjoyable, too. The teachers made it sound so easy. First we had a nice yet violent teacher who could turn on you if you were being disruptive in his eyes. Once I dropped a chair off the desk by accident and he brought his knuckles down on the top of my head with some force. The only time I was ever hit by a teacher and I still feel the sense of outrage. But other than that he was nice.
We soon got another French teacher, a young attractive woman who got us eager to get near the front of the class. Not only was she good-looking but French seemed to get easier. This beauty was magical. She just made it seem so easy. We were having tests and getting percentages in the late 90s. I got 99% in one test! You can't imagine the self-confidence eye contact with a beautiful woman, a smile, a 'congratulations' for being damn near perfect in her tests gave us. French was a wonderful language, the language of love and success. It wasn't until we got a proper French teacher that we found out how far behind in the syllabus we had got. She was teaching us baby stuff.