Skinheads: A Short, Sharp Shock…

Foggy Street at NightIt’s well past midnight and the pavement is dusted with a fine sparkle.  The gig was cramped and sweaty; the beer lukewarm; the band cool – the parting of the ways no more than a casual embrace.  Outside a cold that wraps around you like an intimate yet lives beyond the physical.  Intrusive: disturbing… every footstep is amplified.  Even my own solitary notes contain an absurd menace that is measured by the jerk of electrical pulses to ragged nerves.  The emptiness of the early hours arrives on a silent winter chill and my breath shadows me in the frosty air.

In the near distance urban church bells chime the quarter-hour with a towering clarity that shows no consideration for the eternal slumber of their graveyard tenants.  Shouts of indiscretion from those who think they’ll live forever echo like the guitars in my ears yet make no more sense with the repetition.  Happiness is a four-letter word they seem to say.  Swearing comes naturally to this unseen enemy and is easy guerrilla tactics when the streets are deserted.

Traffic drones intermittently on a main artery.  Occasional headlights strafe the horizon: softened northern lights muzzled by the night.  The flickering urgency suggests the search for a quicker way out of town – while I’m left to face the flak.

In the dead velvet blanket of a layered mist a dog barks; a car backfires in a side street and a dustbin clatters.  Lamp-posts stand like watery eyes.  Someone turns on a bedroom light in a flat above a kebab shop but just as quickly extinguishes it.  A warm bed and the urge to not get involved exert a stronger pull than anything taking place outside the window.  That someone knows this town well.

“Tension: muscle tight and stomach churning.  Number one cut scraping my face to induce number twos.”


Anonymous… as inconspicuous as I can be, I head for the last train home.  In a shop doorway a cigarette glows orange in a severed hand; a raking cough is evidence of bodily connection: smoke less of a giveaway as it melts into the consumptive lungs of the night air.

I can still see a teenage apparition with shoulders hunched and chin buried in a turned-up collar.  It’s me: I’m in a hurry.  Then – as before in this nightmare; one that I can still almost taste and hear – I see them and my stomach turns a back flip.  A sick feeling rises with the fog.  A bitter taste from beer and bile and the storm about to hit.

Three burly figures in outsize coats that flap like sails propelled on a coarse wind barrel around the corner… It’s now too late to cross the street to the station and the desperate negotiation between losing self-respect or losing teeth continues loudly in my head.  I curse my highly refined sense of pride – as always both during and after the event.  I walk on enveloped by that curious mix of fear, arrhythmia and resignation that are peculiar to the small hours.

Have they seen me?  Of course they have!  They’ve slowed down deliberately to eke out the pain and possibilities of the moment… it’s all part of the tribal games: the power; the reputation that precedes them and the pose.  They strut in slow-motion and gather up their attitude from its relaxed mode – although it’s a relatively short process – then smile and sneer… it could be indigestion but even if it were heartburn at that time of the night it would still come across as sneering.  Before they get to me they make sure that I know this for a fact.

They’re ‘hard’ in the vernacular of the time although the finer points of linguistics are of little concern when you’re the target; the easy prey.  It’s three against one which is fair odds, Marquess of Queensbury rules where they come from.  Avoiding eye contact I could still see atknuckle hate a glance that they had the full requisite style package: high-laced DMs barely disguised by tight bleached jeans that were in retreat as if the result of an argument to crotches teased by low hung loose chains.  Two had braces; one a crimson-coloured handkerchief that protruded neatly-folded from the top pocket of the open swirl of his full-length coat like some sartorial afterthought: the sensitive fashion conscious one obviously.  Ben Sherman shirts – check – completed the look.  If you’ve simply got to beat someone to a pulp then at least live up to the part while you’re doing it.

Memory and nightmare are awkward companions.  They walk the same narrow road but one gives nostalgia a good kicking.  It isn’t just policemen who look younger and smaller as time passes… These weren’t the two-bit Chav rat boys who terrorise estates now in feral packs of roaming malcontent spreading their four-letter incontinence and lack of education on anyone who passes while abusing the concept of safety in numbers.

These were proper Skins: men in their late-twenties; early-thirties with love and hate across their knuckles and razor-sharp stubble across their skulls.  And grammatically/socially incorrect concepts of bovver agitating their minds.  These three were muscular in an untrained era when work was more physical than a keyboard click: this was down to genetics; nature and nurture and sheer bloody-mindedness where the accompanying hint of a paunch was a badge of honour to the love of a drink.  Their incongruous ‘love handles’ added to the air of unreality.  Reinforcing the feeling of a situation out of control.  The chiselled physiques of today were not the superficial be-all and end-all.

The inevitable stand-off followed.  The what have we here push and shove scruff of the throat-grabbing invasion of personal space… Stale beer and verbal barbs with a glisten of sweat and even staler threats.  Pounding heart settling in my throat.  Unable to speak… even squeak.  Cat and mouse.  Tension: muscle tight and stomach churning.  Number one cut scraping my face to induce number twos.

I can feel the hot pin drop flecks of mainstream lager spittle mixed to a poisonous cocktail with the roughage of indigestible shadowy right wing meetings.  Provincial politics; comments from the marginal outposts of democracy: vacant lots of immigration caps – of them and us – and piles of pamphlets marked dubious.  And the hear a pin drop moments arising out of their total studied disregard.  It was an era when aliens stalked our streets and close encounters were regular and commonplace.

It’s here that I always wake up… truth to tell this is usually as far as it got: threats; pushing and shoving; intimidation: mutual laughter – for them – then if you were lucky you just weren’t worth the trouble.  Pushed out of the way; out of breath at the platform.  Scramble aboard the safe haven of the slam-door: the B-road of transport away from this satellite town.  The rock’n’roll of the tracks the sweetest music to my ears.  Heart rate normal: muted like the mist.  A slow beat until the next inevitable chorus…14 hole dms black


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