When I left school, 1979

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Part one:- My first job

When I left school I had only just turned 16, I didn’t realise I wasn’t going back at the time, but things just turned out that way, which was quite appropriate really, as I’d never given a moments thought to life after school during my time there. Except for the fifteen minutes or so where I was obliged to sit with the careers officer and invent some fictional ideas to convince him I had in fact given the matter some consideration.

The reality was that I treated those fifteen minutes the way I’d treated my entire school life, get out as quick as was possible. I seem to recall he asked what I wanted to do, and I can only presume my blank response must have prompted him to help things along, so he asked me about what my father had been.

As I walked out of the office, I was now armed with application forms for officer cadet positions in the Royal, and merchant navy. Only problem with that was that I needed a minimum of four O levels just to make an interview, and I had none, plenty of near misses, or C.S.E’s, which were worthless, so if I wanted to make a career out of the Navy, which 20 minutes earlier had never even occurred to me, I’d have to come back for another year and retake my exams. This kind of blind, unthinking, action was typical of me then, and to a large degree often still is. Throughout my life, the only things I’ve ever been really sure of, have been the things I didn’t want to do, for everything else, I pretty much couldn’t have cared less, suck it and see, like it- carry on, don’t like it- ditch it, for the most part.

Now, all of us as kids had worked at whatever we could to earn spending money, doing paper rounds, helping the milkman with his rounds, washing up dishes at restaurants, (I got the sack from that gig after soaking the manager with a pale of water), car washing. Personally, I’d learnt a few scams to add to the coffers, stuffing newspaper up the coin return shutes in phone boxes, then coming back a few days later to pull out the paper and watch with glee as the trapped coins dropped out, also, remembering where customers left the milk money, and on which day and getting there before the milky bar did, often at 3 or 4 in the morning. Basically I was a scurrilous little shytehawk, but I wasn’t work shy.

So having fired off the interview applications, and received encouraging responses, all with the proviso that I go back and secure the results required, I went back to Cardinal Newman RC for the induction day into the sixth form. I honestly have no recollection whatsoever of what I did there that day, but it didn’t matter because I never set foot in the place again afterwards.

A family friend offered me a holiday job while I waited to go back to school, boat building in a barn up at Coombes farm on the Sussex Downs, at Kingfisher Yachts for £25 a week. Working in the old barn, fibre glass laminating, laying up hulls and deck tops, fixing deck fittings, all fairly easy stuff, and I enjoyed it. After a few weeks there, they relocated to a boatyard next to the river Adur, on Shoreham Beach, much bigger and better suited to the job than the cramped space the barn offered us, and much closer to home for me.

Before I was due to go back to school, the boss gave me a pay rise to £35 a week, and asked me if I wanted to stay on full time, I think I might have taken a few seconds, but not long that’s for sure. It was the summer of 1979, a five minute bike ride from home, building boats by the river, and with a weekly wage. I was happy.

A lot of other stuff was going on at that time, the music scene had witnessed punk morph into New Wave, while Ska was going strong, and the Jam were waving the flag for the Mod followers. Life for the adolescents then was awash with Parker coats, Lambretta or Vespa scooters, and eye liner for the Mods, Two Tone, stay pressed, drain pipe trousers, pork pie hats, Fred Perry shirts, and red braces for the Ska mob, while the remnants of the now fading, oh so short, punk era continued with their zips aplenty ripped jeans, safety pins, spiky Mohican hair cuts, and general air of menace.

I was in none of these fancy dress groups, my particular passion was for match day on the terraces of the Goldstone ground watching Brighton and Hove Albion, behind the goal in the North stand, and that year we’d just been promoted to the old First Division. While still at school, me and my mates, Shane and Tony, had raided the old Ice Cream van compound next to the Norfolk Bridge, our booty from the raid was a couple of boxes of crisp packets, and a shit load of copper coins. We rocked up at Poole Valley bus station in Brighton, and paid for our coach tickets, all in coppers, for the final away game of that promotion season, at Newcastle. They made us count it out for them, £27 in half pennies, pennies, and two pence pieces, our efforts of scaling walls and barbed wire had rewarded us with the most prized asset of the season.

In the programme notes for the game, they mentioned that not as many fans from Brighton would be expected as Man City had brought for another big encounter up there. How we smiled as we surveyed the ten thousand Brighton fans in the seventeen thousand crowd, we beat them 3-1 to secure promotion. There may have been a bit of divine intervention as pay back for our thieving exploits, our coach got bricked as we passed under a bridge on the way through Durham coming home. We eventually got a single decker Durham bus to take us home, arriving back in Brighton at about four in the morning, and had to walk the five miles back to Shoreham too.

Well now that I had a proper paying job the world was my oyster, everything changes and all of a sudden you can afford the things you used only to be able to look at. My record collection increased in size massively, clothes shopping now meant getting togged out from top to toe rather than strides this month, shirt another, cinema, fairgrounds, and above all, Brighton away games, all within reach of my wallet. It’s a heady feeling of empowerment as you go through this time of life, how chuffed I was with my first record player with tape recorder. Now I could compile my singles onto tape, and have Madness, Squeeze, The Jam, Blondie, et al, together, and to this day most of the singles I bought back then have only ever been played the once, to record to tape and then listened to over and again back through that medium.

About halfway through that first year of work at Kingfisher yachts, we had a new employee join us, Barry, a mechanic. With him came my introduction to the pleasures of weed. By this time I had already become aware that Kingfisher yachts was being very badly run, the bloke running the place, Graham, was an absolute idiot, whereas the man in charge before him, Colin, who knew his onions, had lost patience with the owner interfering, and defected to the much bigger boatyard next door, Watercraft. Once I’d seen the writing on the wall, even I in my tender years knew that the time to jump ship would not be far off.

It’s hard to explain really, but when I lost respect for the firm, and the way it was being run, I lost interest too. It was about this time that Barry invited me back to his houseboat for lunch break, and I had my first introduction to weed, smoked through a bong he’d manufactured from a marine engine condenser, up at the front of his houseboat. When we’d arrived, everything was normal, just a slight tilt of the floor where the boat lay in the river mud, I said hello to his wife and young children as we passed them on our way through the boat, then there was the fascination of this smoking contraption with its glass case, metal top and bottom, and brass tubes emanating from it, from which we smoked the herb.

Getting back out of that boat was a whole different ball game. What had been a slight list to one side, now seemed like a 45 degree tilt, I was hanging on to whatever I could to stop myself slipping down the slope, or so I thought. It got no better once we made it to the riverbank towpath outside, which is only about three feet wide. As we zig zagged our way back to work, I lost count of the amount of times we fell down the banks, laughing ourselves into fits of stitches as we did. I have no memory of the rest of that day, but my time there was almost up anyway, and soon after I handed in my notice, a little short of a year after starting.

The year I left school 1979:-
Part 2

The last couple of months at Kingfisher yachts were rapidly becoming a farce, the guys that knew what they were doing had all left, mainly because once Colin had been replaced by Graham, it was clear to the rest of us left that the company was now like the metaphorical chicken running around after it’s head’s been cut off. Lots of energy and noise being created, but nothing acceptable actually being achieved.

A succession of lads were interviewed and given a start to work with me, each lasting a few weeks before realising the writing was on the wall for this place. There was Martin, didn’t come across as the sharpest tool in the box, a nice lad, but left once he realised he was being used as a maintenance monkey, painting the building, making general repairs, when he’d actually joined because of his love of boats, and wanted to get into the marine industry. Then came a mate of mine, Shane, far too volatile for Graham, and some of the things we did to Grahams tea still make me shudder now when I think back. We’d been school friends on and off, but it was becoming more off than on after leaving school, he wasn’t cut out for boat building so it suited all parties when he left.

The last of these was Dez, a Mod, he turned up for his meeting with Graham on a Vespa scooter, wearing his long green Parka coat with a bulls eye on the back and The Who in big letters across it, smart drainpipe trousers, ten pin bowling alley shoes, and with smartly cropped hair, short but not too short, for Mods, image is everything. The ten pin bowling alley shoes had there own story too, part of the Mod look were these flat soled, half and half black and white shoes, much favoured by Paul Weller and co of The Jam. It just so happened that the bowling alley shoes were almost identical, and as you only had to check in your own shoes for a pair when you went bowling, once the penny dropped, kids all over the country were digging out their worst pair of shoes and heading off ten pin bowling, and walking out with a smart pair of bowling/ Mod shoes. The bowling alleys caught on eventually, but not before they’d supplied half the Mod youth with their footwear.

Me and Dez hit it off straight away. While I loved music, I’d never before considered why anyone would ‘follow’ a specific style of music like I did my football team. I suppose it goes back to the days of Mods and Rockers from the 1960’s, panelling the crap out of each other with deck chairs on Brighton beach over Bank holiday weekends, and making national news at the time just created a legend, something for later youth generations to live up to.

There seemed to be violence everywhere in those days, football violence we took for granted, it was as much a certainty as the game itself, either in, or around the ground, in or outside the railway stations, at service stations on the motorways going up to away games, anyone was fair game on match day. But with all these different musical genres and their distinctly identifiable uniforms, youth clubs became battle grounds too, Punks against Teddy boys, Mods v Rockers, Ska boys and Skinheads against pretty much anyone not like them.

And now I had a ‘Face’ as a mate, not that it occurred to me at the time, we just got on. Soon I was spinning around on the back of his Vespa, listening to his impressive record collection, virtually every Who album made, and strumming on one of his electric guitars round at his Grandads bungalow. Dez had what I’d call a ‘quiet authority’ about him, he’d been one of the top boys in his year at school, not because he picked fights, but he had a reputation for going doo lally when picked on, then battering the shyte out of whichever idiot had miscalculated by starting on him. The Dez I knew was more interested in music and girls, can’t fault that.

His mum and dads place was an old Victorian style terraced town house, the front door opened straight onto the pavement, behind the front door, the staircase up to the first floor, and kitchen, lounge, and parents bedroom, and Dez’s room upstairs from there, in the attic. I hardly ever saw his parents, and they rarely spoke when I did, but I could sense this was something Dez was quite happy to keep up, young as I was, they did seem a little odd to me. There was a stale, musty aroma about the place, something I’d come to recognise later as ‘old people’ scent without heating, like the human smell had fused with the bare floor boards and old papered walls. Back then it wasn’t at all uncommon for the only source of heat in a house to be the fireplace, that’s probably why Dez preferred to go round to his Grandads bungalow, much warmer, no stairs.

For a couple of months we knocked about together, left Kingfisher yachts and entered the world of unemployment, fortunately for me, Dez had been down this route before, and walked me through the whole process, which was just as well, because I’ve always hated form filling whatever the reason for it. It was about this time that I got to know a new group of friends, they were a year or two younger than me, Dez began dating one of them, Mandy, a diminutive Punk girl with short spiky, dyed red and blue hair, and not a bit shy. They were at it like rabbits for a while, until, Dez confided in me later, he split his foreskin during one of their sessions together, ouch!

Mark and Flo seemed to be the leading couple in this group, mainly because she had access to a beach hut, it was early summer 1980, and one of the unforgettable memories of that year was of, on more than one occasion, the two of them shagging in front of us under a blanket in the beach hut, with the doors flung open so Mark could carry on a conversation. We’d all sit around chatting, drinking, and smoking, like it was perfectly normal, other times we’d be round at Flo’s parents place, but the format didn’t change, just the location, and the fact that they only seemed to shag in the bath when at Flo’s. Because we were all so young, it didn’t seem odd that Flo was still at school, just mildly amusing that she was a 14 year old at a Catholic girls school. She dragged me into a few rooms for some passionate encounters during that summer, but never for long enough for us to go too far, more was the pity. She was a gorgeous looking free spirit, funny how girls from girl only schools and vicars daughters often go that way, rebelling through promiscuity.

That summer of 1980 saw the tailing off of Ska, and Punk, and the beginning of the New Wave, with Human League, Heaven 17, Duran Duran, and Spanday Ballet among others filling the airwaves. It also marked the first year of my apprenticeship as a boat builder at Watercraft LTD.

To be continued:-- at the 'Watercraft, my Part in its Downfall' page on this site

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