When I left school in 1980, aged 15, just turning 16, everything was shit! Well, not everything, I mean it was great to leave school – I didn’t actually have an opinion about how “everything” was, I was clueless, in shock really, spat out of the school system with a recommendation to “please never come back” – I just wanted to go and find something better to do.
So, I’d got this apprenticeship as a craftsman metal worker, quite lucky really, and I did have an aptitude for it. With the backing of the instructors, telling me I was quite good, and that I would have a good future, I applied myself when I wasn’t daydreaming about other stuff, like girls, music, more girls and music, and occasionally motorbikes, and girls and music, and beer, girls, music, and bikes, and so forth.
So anyhow, that ended after a year, cos the firm went bust, so I had a couple of other useless jobs for a year, then found myself unemployed for the first time aged about 18.
Being unemployed back then wasn’t so bad, they gave you about £50 a week, and a warm handshake every fortnight, and you were free to just chill. I’d walk the streets of the town, where I lived, I got to know those streets, I remember where the home-brew shop was, you could buy enough kit to make 40 pints for the price of 10, it seemed magical.
No one smoked cannabis back then, just old hippies and rockers, I used to get mine off this old rocker, it was ok, some weeks he’d have good stuff, some weeks not so good, sometimes he’d have nothing, it didn’t matter. I was just interested in psychedelia really, I liked bright colours and Pink Floyd music, stories about LSD trippers who thought they could fly, or saw pink elephants or whatever. I liked impossible things like that. So anyhow, I got some LSD off some guy at work and tried that, but I don’t think it did much, I was very drunk at the time that I took it, which was probably why – who knew what was going on from one moment to another? Not me, thats for sure.
Anyhow, getting back to being unemployed, which I was off and on over the next decade or 2 quite often, cos I only had crap jobs, it wasn’t like I was frightened of being unemployed, once in a while. Thing is, a lot of people with the steady jobs thought it was a terrible thing to happen. You would hear of middle class kids taking a year out to travel or whatever, and everyone saying its good for his character, but you never heard people saying:
what’s your lad up to now?
Oh, he’s taking a year out to be unemployed.
Oh, sorry to hear that
No really, he loves it, he’s a full time drug addict now!
Thing was, to me, being unemployed after 10 years of education (6-16) was refreshing. A chance to re-group, de-clutter, find oneself and so on, but being still under the influence of the system, I still thought of it as a kind of a failing, rather than a destination. So I would go looking for work, and find another job to get locked into, working hard for so little reward in these dead end jobs I’d get. My boss would go home to a luxury lifestyle, while I’d be living in a single room hovel in a shared house with a bunch of other losers and misfits.
Anyhow, never mind all that, just my point is, why would I care if I was working or unemployed? If I was working, I could just about afford a slightly better holiday, but then if I wasn’t working, I’d got all day to tootle around town, commune with the pigeons, or whatever.
So yeah, I was just thinking about the marvellous attractions the town of Bedford had to offer a young dumb bastard like me. Well, on a Friday night, we’d all go to the pub and get drunk, sometimes it was quite fun, then on Saturdays we’d do that again. If we had a steady job, we’d do that on Sunday too, sometimes Sunday nights were the best night, cos they’d have a singer in the bar, and girls would come in, but other than that, it was mostly drunken brawling and stupidity,
So, after more than enough of that, I’d venture into the nearby town of Bedford, (before that I was in a village which was a couple of miles out) So we’d go into town, there was a nightclub called Apples and Pears – which was pretty notorious for violence and chaos, but I never saw the inside of that place, they wouldn’t even let me in, cos I was always wearing my Dr Martens, and they liked to keep it classy, with a strict dress code, shirt and tie only. Then there was one called Sweetings, I got in there a few times in my mates spare suit, some sort of cheap garbage he’d got from Burtons, then considered the choice of the nations townie youth. Anyhow, it was all about being able to buy alcohol and drink after the pubs shut at 11pm. So we got in there, lots of good looking people behaving like pretend adults, but really just girls hoping to meet a guy with a big pay-check, me and my pals were just beer enthusiasts, I wouldn’t lie to a girl about that, whats the point? I’m not that stupid, or maybe I’m actually the thick one? Am I missing something? Anyhow, it was pretty shit in there, the music was awful, but the sound system was good, and the lighting fantastic, bit expensive way to waste your money tho.
So then there was another club called The Winkles Club – that was pretty good, a right dive, cheap sound system and hardly any lighting, but it was cheap to get in and they played good music – goth rock, Bauhaus, The Birthday Party, Iggy Pop, Alien Sex Fiend, the Cure, quite a bit of Sweet and T-Rex, you’d hear Marc Almond in there too, all sorts.
Skinheads used to come in, cos the dress code allowed for Dr Martens, nothing worse than skinheads for messing things up and spoiling everyones fun, Quite a few people in there liked to experiment with dress and sexuality, Skinheads would turn up with an anti humanity sort of attitude, their idea of fun was kicking up a stink over anything that didn’t make themselves the most important arbiter of taste, or lack of, but I digress – on the whole, it was pretty good in there. It didn’t last that long tho, one time I went there and it was closed, and that was it.
One time in the Winkles Bar, some skinhead challenged me to a fight, I’d had a few drinks, so I assumed he was being friendly, so I just laughed at him and said yeah! I then walked right past him and he was just stood there thinking – This guy is such an idiot he doesn’t even know when he’s been insulted! LOL
The only remaining option at that time for drinking after 11pm was a particularly dreadful place called Phase 3 – what a dump! We washed up there more than a few times over the years.
I used to go to London quite a bit, but I couldn’t go there every week, I didn’t have the cash, but I did move away from town 3 times, then ended up back in Bedford whenever things didn’t work out. Thing is, its like a love hate thing, it was home really, when all’s said and done.
Later in my Bedford drinking career a club turned up on the scene called Papillons, it was a late night bar, you could stop in there till 2am or so, it was nice, older folks in there than Winkles, and by that time I was one of them, I think I’d have been about 25. They let just about anyone in, mostly the moron element had grown up, so you weren’t going to get your head kicked in for wearing the wrong trousers, as you were back in the old days. There was a small dance floor to one side with a couple of flashing lights, usually a couple of women would be utilising that, while the guys sat at the bar and talked about old guy stuff. I liked that place.
I think I lost another job round that time, and wound up back on the dole, so I didn’t go out drinking, I could get high on cannabis for a much cheaper outlay. I could sit up chatting with friends till morning, sleep all day if I liked, I really got the hang of being relaxed about being a complete loser! Nowadays, I don’t think its so easy, even back then in the 90s they were beginning to really pressurise shirkers or skivers or whatever we were meant to be into finding crap jobs to do.
Now to fast forward to this decade, I have now lived up here in Yorkshire almost as long as I lived in Bedford all that time. It just seems a bit weird to think about it all now!