Portrait of the Artist as a Borderline Juvenile Delinquent
The Male Trailing Spouse has cause for celebration. I have just finished my first book. Not a moany old novel with a thinly disguised, smart arsed protagonist; no, a work of non-fiction, about a very serious subject indeed. I won't propose to bore you with the details. Or go on about the blunders and triumphs that went into its making. Authors talking about the sweat, pain and despair of their own work are as interesting as mothers who talk about their children. Suffice to say, it is a worthy tome. And not for the fainthearted.
Instead, I am going to tell you a tale that I really shouldn't be telling you at all. A mad story and the first (in an intermittent series) about my life and times in Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove. This is all true and I have not bothered to change any names. Cue ripple dissolve.
"I am the Terminator in the movies, but Sam Williams is the Terminator in real life."
Aged 16, Sam Williams was an iguana collecting, weightlifter with a taste for guns and Dutch pornography. He was also a big fan of violent movies like the Terminator and Rambo. One Monday after school in January 1985, he joined me on an ill-fated shopping-trip to the Fulham Armoury on Fulham Palace Road in West London.
Sam bought a .357 Magnum. I settled for a .38 Colt Python with a ventilated rib. Bang-bang-blinged we test fired the shiny phallic toys and did a few forward rolls on the cobbled pavement (we were big fans of The Professionals) of a side street on Notting Hill Gate.
David Hockney composite polaroid of Albert and George
On the way back to mine, we bumped into two brothers from the neighborhood, Albert and George Clark, the sons of fashion guru Ossie Clark and textile designer Celia Birtwell.
Sam, the equally bourgeois son of Scottish fiction writer Gordon Williams, whipped out the Magnum from his waistband and shoved the muzzle into Albert’s neck.
“Sam,” Albert shouted, “you’re mad!”
"That sounded like gunfire..."
The sound of gunshots, and the teenager showing off the handgun, had caught the attention of a passing undercover police officer. He grabbed muscle bound Sam by the scruff of his £12.99 Leo Gemelli jumper.
“Hey,” the Cop said, the accent was thick, guttural and very, very Scottish, “what the hell do youse two think you’re playing at?”
Sam melted like a chocolate soldier. His father was an irate Scotsman. He knew the tone all too well.
Jock Cop started to hassle Albert and George.
“You can’t nick me and me bruvver,” shouted Albert, in an early form of mockney dialect, “I’ve got homework!”
(Albert did not declare that it was a school assignment on Charles Manson and the Family).
Being a good cowboy, I told him that Albert and George had nothing to do with us. Jock Cop wanted names and addresses. Adrenalin suddenly filled my eyeballs to the ankles like a hot water bottle. Naturally, almost instinctively, I answered falsely and told him that my name was “Sean O’ Casey” and that I lived on Elsham Road in Holland Park (a good mile and a bit from my house).
Jock Cop turned to Sam. He asked where Sam lived but the knucklehead pointed at my house and nervously spluttered, “No, that’s not his real name, he lives there and so do I.”
The no-good fink!
Luckily, Albert and George were streetwise. They had hung around to see if I could blag my way out of this jam. The brothers heard me supply a false name and knew that I was planning to escape and evade Jock Cop and double back home. But now, thanks to Sam Williams, I was well and truly nicked.
Notting Hill Police Station on Ladbroke Grove
Jock Cop glared at me. He knew where I lived because my accomplice had ratted us out. So I gave my real name. After I did so, in terms colloquial and most explicit, he ordered me to cease talking. Then he marched us through the frosty black night to the Police Station on Ladbroke Grove. The Duty Sergeant asked us to empty our pockets. Sam had a huge, stainless steel, marjacq knife hidden in the front flap pocket of his grey C&A jacket.
“I can explain that,” he said.
“Oh aye,” Jock Cop said, “I bet you can. Regular one-man army, ain't ya? Right, get in that fucking cell!”
Sam was thrown into a holding cell and left to stew. I, being a year younger, was not locked up. The Cops told me to sit on a bench and keep my trap shut. Various Cops streamed through to see me, asking questions.
Was I going to rob an off-licence?
A betting shop?
A Building Society?
Didn’t I know that armed Cops patrolled my neighborhood?
“I know now,” I said.
One of them, a crusty Dixon of Dock Green type, looked at my .38 replica and shook his head with dismay.
“I’d have creamed my pants if I’d seen this, creamed my fackin pants, I would”. Then his eyes locked mine with sudden impact and his tone dropped, “But not before I’d have creamed yours.”
A plainclothes officer came in to bollock me. He had a weird looking Beatles style mop top and a bog brush moustache. It turned out that he was an armed cop. “You’re lucky you didn’t get killed,” said Mop Top Cop. “If I’d have seen you waving that about, I’d have shot you dead.” I felt like telling Mop Top Cop that I was not the one who was flashing it around. My partner in crime (now having a noisy wank in the holding cell) was that clown.
Mop Top Cop heard the odd sounds from the dungeon and shouted at Sam.
The best lesson learned at Holland Park School was the ability to wind up figures of supposed authority. Like Teachers. And Cops.
“What do you carry?” I asked Mop Top Cop.
“I carry a .38 Smith and Wesson,” he snapped.
“Not much stopping power, maybe you should flash out on a 9mm or a .45…or does your budget cover that?”
Embassy of the Czech and Slovak Republics, Notting Hill Gate
A look of utter incredulity overcame his wan face. Then he remembered that I was just a hapless punter, a teenaged fool and he informed me that because the Russian, Czechoslovakian and Israeli embassies were opposite my home, armed undercover officers like him, and Jock Cop, patrolled the area on a regular basis.
At this point I had learned the lesson well. If I wanted to play with firearms, I may as well join the Army and get paid to shoot and/or legally kill people. But right there and then I conceded to fate as stoical as Sitting Bull at Wounded Knee. This was a first offence. All we’d get was a lecture from the Cops, a clip round the ear.
And this is the thrill of being a juvenile delinquent. Being a minor one has incredible power. Society somehow understands and tolerates moderate rates of bad behaviour. Even if they catch you it is a memorable experience. You know the punishment won't be harsh and consider it excitement.
I could hear the echo of Sam groaning. Was he having a wank or doing press ups? I was not sure. I ran over events. The boy child had gotten us pinched showing off the gun to Albert. The false moniker was cue to do a runner. But he lost his bottle. I put it down to Sam being a posh kid from London.
Jock Cop returned to the booking area. He was volcanically angry.
“Ya fired ‘em,” he shouted, “I could have killed ya, d’ya understand, laddie?”
He said this over and over, stuck on a loop, and there were seconds when I didn’t honestly know if he was talking to me or to himself.
“Ya fired ‘em, I heard ya, I could’ a killed ya!”
Then he let Sam out of the holding cell.
“And you,” he barked, spitting phlegm into the teenager’s spotty face, “you fired ‘em n’all!”
Sam turned around and silently mimicked Jock Cop. There was humour in his eyes. I put it down to the curative properties of a holding cell wank.
The Cops formally took our names, ages and addresses. As Sam was 16, he was “obliged” to tell his parents that he had been arrested. I knew they'd call up and drop Sam in the proverbial. He was just about smart enough to know it, too.
The Cops separated us and I was led to a moody looking room for interrogation. My old Mother was in there, stern faced but not too mad. Albert had called and told her about the pinch. Jock Cop was sat opposite. Next to him was a Fat Cop with a red face and greasy, porridge bowl hair.
They wanted to know where we bought the guns and how we had paid for them. I had stolen the money but didn’t offer that detail. I told them that I'd sold a pair of bongos at the Record and Tape Exchange shop on Notting Hill Gate, instead.
Like many interrogators the Cops demanded answers.
“Why’d you give a false name?” Fat Cop asked.
I said that I did not want to get into any trouble.
“Have you been arrested before?”
I said that I hadn’t. Which was true.
“I don’t believe you,” Jock Cop said.
“Well,” I replied, “I could have carried on lying the first time we met and told you that Sean O’Casey was my alias, but I didn’t.”
My smart-arse manner caused Jock Cop to explode into “but you fired em, I could’ a killed ya,” once again.
I took the opportunity to tell him that I heard it the first time in the booking room.
“Hey,” he said, waving a hairy fist in the void, I noticed a “Scotland Forever” tattoo on his forearm, “you’re lucky I don’t make you sit up straight in that chair and put your hands on your knees.”
“Then it’s a good thing my Mother’s here. All the boys at school complain about you beating us up, especially my black friends.”
The Fat Cop laughed but Jock Cop turned beetroot and fell into a silent rage. Slouching back in my chair, arms folded behind the head and legs crossed, I, the accused, manipulative, teenager, informed them that I had cooperated and answered all questions truthfully and to the best of my recollection. Jock Cop grumbled. The Cops gave me the statement to read through before signing and left the room for a couple of minutes to let us review it.
My Mother scanned through Jock Cop’s scrawl.
“Good God,” she said, “that Scottish policeman’s spelling is simply appalling!”
This was 1985 some time before Police interrogations were taped.
I was in a receiving and discharge room when they interrogated Sam. My Mother sat in on his interview. Then he got his bollocking, signed his statement and we were free to go home. Sam returned to our house to pick up his bag and homework. It was late. His parents would be suspicious and he was already concocting a plausible cover story – helping me out with French homework.
“They would believe that,” he said confidently, “after all, I am in the year above you.”
"Don't mention Straw Dogs!"