It’s Monday, 23rd October 1978. I’ve recently turned 14 and I’m in my third year at St Michael’s School, Garston. I like books, football, music and girls – but not necessarily in that order.
I’m upstairs in my L-shaped room. I say ‘my room’ but I share it with my younger brother Chris. He has the long light side by the window; I’m tucked away in the cosy dark corner.
We quite like each other, when we’re not hitting each other. He’s 10 years old and getting stronger by the day. He’s starting to win at wrestling, and it’s me who screams “Submit!” when he pins me to the floor. He’s worried this evening as Newsround reports a battle between the Rhodesian Army and guerrilla bases in Zambia. He thinks guerrillas are gorillas.
My older brother Steve is 15 and has his own room. He’s been there for some time now. It’s my turn but he’s not having any of it. He’s bigger than me, stronger too, and a big hit with the girls. Even Piroshka, my step gran, calls him Fonzi – the cool one from ‘Happy Days’. Fonzi stays in the single room.
At 5.30, Dad gets home. He works at Watford School of Art as a technician. I spend time there every holiday. Once, he told me there was a nude model behind a white closed door. The students were life drawing but I wasn’t allowed in. I think about her almost every day. The naked beauty behind the door is even more enticing than the crumpled poster girls I’ve hidden under my pillow. There are thumbnail pictures of them on the beach in little or no clothes. There’s even one playing tennis, she’s scratching her bottom, and, get this, she’s not wearing any pants. At all!
This evening I’m trying to revise for a chemistry exam. It’s not my best subject and I’m just not that interested. The teachers in white coats smell of sulphuric acid and Bunsen burners. The tougher boys in the class threaten explosions. I keep my head down.
I have a list of questions; prompts by Mr Gough to help us pass and make him look good. I’m reading the list:
Is air pollution harmful to me, or my environment? (Yes, I think so. Pollution is a bad thing, surely? I wonder if this is a trick question?)
What chemical reactions produce air pollutants? (Chain reactions cause nuclear explosions, which in turn cause pollution.)
Why are chemicals deliberately added to food? (To make it taste better. As a treat we get taken to McDonalds in Golders Green after visiting Granny Forbat and Mini Papa. It’s like Wimpy, but loads better. No plates, soft burgers, orange cheese and thin chips – they call them French Fries. Mum says the food is full of chemicals.)
I have a large, heavy Chemistry textbook on my desk and half an hour before tea. It’s Monday, so we’ll be having Spaghetti Bolognese. I just settle down to doodling when Dad walks in. He doesn’t knock and there’s no lock, so it’s lucky I’m not doing anything that Father Maloney warns against. ‘A season in hell for a few seconds pleasure’, he says. ‘Did Our Lord succumb to temptation by Satan in the desert? No. He held firm.’
Dad has a record under his arm. There’s a picture of a light ray passing through a triangle then turning into a rainbow. Other than that it’s completely black. No mention of the band, or the title of the LP. It’s Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ and it’s not an LP, it’s an album – a concept album in fact. Dad thinks I might like it but I’m not so sure. Some of his students love it, but all The Clash fans laugh and sneer at them.
He leaves me to it. I open the lid of my music centre. The needle connects, but nothing much happens at first. I listen carefully, slightly impatient, then, I can just make out a heartbeat. It pumps rhythmically, then builds in volume, a wheel turns, cash tills ring and a woman screams, the sound builds until, until – bloody hell… it’s like the whole band have dived into a crystal-clear blue ocean, like a huge whale, which comes up, blowhole above the surface after a deep, deep dive and… “Breathe, breathe in the air, don’t be afraid to care”. Wow. I’m hooked. The quality of the sound is amazing, and the songs actually mean something. In this one glorious moment I feel like a grown-up.
The next two tracks have ticking clocks, alarms, synthesizers, chases, crashes and explosions. There’s even a guitar that sounds like it’s being played in outer space. Then things slow down with a soothing lullaby.
Typically, Mum comes in just as a woman starts wailing, ‘‘What’s this rubbish?” she mocks gently. “Is she being tortured, or just giving birth? It’s time for tea.” It is indeed, time for tea. I lift the needle carefully. I didn’t like that last one much to be honest. Still, every LP has at least one bad track, take ‘Mud Rock Vol. II’ for example…
I eat quickly, slurping the spaghetti and spotting my white school shirt. I’m keen to get back up to my room to hear side two. My favourite track is ‘Brain Damage’; “The lunatics are on the grass… got to keep the loonies on the path”. My friend John Lawrence thinks grass is Marijuana. He’s from Australia, his Dad’s a doctor and once smoked it, so he’s probably right. The album eventually fades back into heartbeats and a deep-voiced man says, “There’s no dark side of the moon really, the fact is, it’s all dark”.
Back to my chemistry revision…
Why does it help to know about the molecular structure of materials like plastic? (Because in the future, everything will be made of plastic; even milk bottles, people parts too.)
Why does what we eat affect our health? (Surely this is a Home Economics question? I enjoyed that; I baked shortbread and cheesecake in first year and tried to flirt with the girls.)
Girls… I’m aiming to get my first proper girlfriend by the end of the fourth year. By that I mean snogs, you know, licking teeth. There are three on my current short list: Mary Marney, Jane Timothy and Sally Smith. I have an ever-changing league table in my head based on who I like most at any one particular time. Unfortunately, all the pretty girls fancy the older boys playing the equivalent of First Division football. And just like my local team Watford FC, I’m messing about in Division Three.
It seemed a lot more straightforward at St Cath’s, my primary school. There were two girls that everyone fancied. Come summer, we’d chase them through the playing fields like a pack of hungry wolves. Inevitably, they tired and we pounced on them, a big bundle of four or five boys, sometimes six if the weather was good. If you were lucky your lips touched skin; usually a red flushed ear, or the back of a head – mostly you got a grey sweaty jumper.
I’m thinking about girls when Chris bounds into the room and punches me on the back of the head. My passion sinks, I rise up, he charges into my stomach headfirst, winding me. I submit. “Chris! I said I submit! MUM – I’m trying to do my homework and Chris won’t let me.” He shuffles back downstairs shouting, “See ya’ later Microphone Head”. He’s right. My mini-Afro does look like a microphone. And, my hair is still mostly on my head.
How should we manage the wastes that arise from our use of materials? (Put them in the bin. The bin men come on Wednesday. Mum says Steve will become one if he doesn’t start making more of an effort at school.)
It might help if I listen to the album again, this time on headphones. I lie down on the bed in my corner, the dark side of the room. I close my eyes, smile and drift away. All is well. Thank you Pink Floyd, but most of all, thank you Dad; nodding off to Corrie downstairs, no idea that you’ve rocked my world…
by Andy Hayes