June 6, 1976
37 years ago, on a very hot and sweaty day, during the longest, most memorable summer this country has ever offered up, a kid called Steve Gibbons and I got on a train in Northampton and went to London. We were both 14 and our parents were a little concerned that we were going off to The Smoke with £15 in our pockets - that was a King's ransom in those days and both mothers had visions of us being mugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery. I'm sure my mum secretly hoped the last of those choices would happen; I was never the most acceptable of children.
My memories of this day are quite vivid, although where we went never quite seemed to tally with later memories I had of the same place. I was attending one of four events being held in the capital that year - I was going to the quarterly comic mart at Central Hall in Westminster, which I said never seemed to tally with my earliest memory of the place when I returned there many times during the 1980s and 1990s.
|A marks the spot where the comic mart was held and that triangle of green in front was where I sat and went through a huge carrier bag of more comics than I'd ever had at one time. It was about 90 degrees.|
I remember despite the temperature being in the high 80s my mum insisting I took a jacket with me. I remember sitting in a park, adjacent to the hall, which appears to still be there, sort of. I remember seeing a Silver Surfer #1 on the wall behind a stall for sale at £25, which, of course, was £10 more than I had in my pocket and that £15 was also supposed to pay for tube fares, lunch, drinks and any incidental costs. Oddly enough the comic was being sold by a guy called Mike Conroy who would later become a friend of mine despite him stealing my job and treating me like shit for the last 12 years because I suggested he wasn't whiter than the white that everyone thought he was. He's still producing a comics magazine, after a fashion.
I'd been into comics for a couple of years by that time; I mean seriously into collecting rather than just buying whatever took my fancy at the local newsagents. But this was the thing that started me falling for it big time. I'm still not sure who to blame...
37 years ago I was still a virgin; I'd probably not drunk any beer because my parents still hadn't gone into the pub business (although I had got drunk the Christmas before and got into very serious trouble for smashing an empty bottle of vodka on the doorstep of our Standens Barn home). The people I associated with I have no links with whatsoever now. I know one of them lives down in the Portsmouth area (well, did about 15 years ago); but the others, Steve Gibbons included, could all be dead. Odds suggest one of them probably is. It might be Derek Paisley, who I have not seen since I was 16; or Sara Bradford (who always had the most phenomenal tits) who I saw four years ago and had barely changed. It could be Denise Bertram, who I actually haven't seen since 1977 (and hadn't thought of until just now, when I remembered her surname like it was yesterday and there are some girls I slept with in the early 1980s who I can't remember the names of), or Michael Plummer, who apparently went to prison (or his nerdy brother, who looked like he would either become a geek or a serial killer). The wife bumped into a relative of one of the people I used to hang with who still lives in that part of Northampton's Eastern District and some people I did know in in 1976 are no longer with us.
37 years ago I still abhorred smoking and used to campaign at my folks about them stopping and this, at a time, when the dangers of smoking were only universally being made public. I went to Lings School and was already developing a reputation - as the guy who could put together a magazine, or knew about comics and films and geeky stuff and while I never, ever thought of myself as a geek, I suppose all the girls who I fancied did.
One of my favourite stories, one I tell teenagers who have just started smoking or want to stop, which is also quite tragic now I have a COPD diagnosis, was the real reason I started smoking: to get in some girl's panties...
It was early in 1978, I was 15, nearly 16, and was going out with this girl called L, who was a year younger than me and not at all like her 16 year old sister C, who smoked, talked about blow jobs and obviously put out. L was Chastity Belt Girl compared to her sibling and C had a friend, S, who unbeknown to me fancied the pants off of me and as she appeared to have the same policy about sex as C did, my pants would have been gone pretty quickly...
Logic, when kids use it to their own devices, is a fucking odd thing. Take this 'logic' for example: "C quite fancies you but you don't smoke..." So I started smoking because C was 7 months older than me and as fit as fuck compared to her sister L.
L continued to not put out, while C started to canoodle with me behind her sister's back; S all the time looking on wishing it was her. Now, trying to avoid the minutiae of teenage sexual shenanigans of the 1970s, you'd think that I would be happy because C was more than happy to get into my knickers, but she seemed reluctant for me to reciprocate (yeah, I know...), but it all boiled down to the fact she was a 5th former and I was in the 4th form (that's years 10 and 11 to you modern people) and she probably didn't like the idea of someone younger seeing her front lady bottom. Anyhow, I never really got to go out with her and I'd started smoking and I heard that S really fancied me, but she turned me down because I stunk like an ashtray and she didn't go out with boys that smoked (although she changed that opinion about a year later...) and I ended up with a habit and no notch on the bedpost (we did things like that in the 1970s; it was a primitive time).
Just because I fancied a shag I have cut short my life span. See? Sex is unbelievably dangerous in a vast array of ways. I'm amazed the human race is still alive.
Oddly enough, just to tie the two things above together a little better. By the time I got to be 15, I'd stopped telling people about or talking about my comicbook interests. For some strange reason I'd noticed that girls seemed slightly put off. I couldn't understand why... But I soon learned not to talk about it. At the time there was a relatively high profile comics person called Alan McKenzie, who I got on quite well with at that stage of my life - Alan was about 6 years or so older than me and was young, trendy and loved the girls. He came in for a lot of criticism from comics nerds for admitting that he never tells girls what he does for a living or that he was involved in comics. His argument was quite simple; by hiding this fact he was getting much more sex than the rest of them put together. I saw myself as someone who should follow that specific McKenzie ethic. Neither L or C knew about my comics habit and S only learned of it because she spent a lot of time in my bedroom in 1979 (nudge nudge, wink wink, you know what I mean?) by which time she didn't care and neither did I.
Had I discovered something else to devote my time to, there is no doubt at all that my life would have been completely different. I sometimes reckon comics kept me alive - not directly, but because it was something that allowed me to focus my energies (of which there were lots) and kept my imagination working. Had I decided to, I dunno, pursue a career as a basketball player or a mechanic, maybe I would be dead by now and not from having smoked myself to death.
Oh, incidentally, on Monday I will have been packed up smoking for 10 months and while my lungs are never going to be 100% again, I feel healthier, much healthier than I did and oddly enough the sex is fantastic...