A tear falls from the pallid, distraught face of the boy, onto the badge of his school blazer.
‘Christus Regnet’ ….let Christ reign….
He stands in the deserted playground, seconds earlier having been deposited there by a friend of the family who’d kindly driven him back to the red-brick institution, haunted by the ghosts of the past and beasts of today.
School, 130 miles from the safety of home, a home still echoing with the untrammelled sobbing of those who remained therein, a week after the sudden death of the hero of the house.
A hero, not just to that house, but every house, for the pilots who flew to defend our island, the ‘few’, had also saved the multitudes as well. He wasn’t just my hero, he was yours too. Those brave boys, who shared their finest hour while many were not very much older than that kid standing, abject and defeated in the playground.
He walked as bravely as his daddy would have wanted him to, bag slung over shoulder, head up, back straight and no longer trembling, you can’t show emotions here, the beasts will destroy you.
Through the red door, it’s quiet aside from muffled noises in the kitchens, a radio is discernible, Dave Lee Travis, it’s time for ‘our song’. Except of course it isn’t, is it?
IT’S NOT MINE.
He wipes his face, DO NOT CRY, DO NOT CRY, DO NOT CRY.
An older boy, a prefect suddenly barrels round the corner and clatters into the kid,
“Oh, you’re back Mason, where have you been you skiving bastard?”
He slaps me hard, on the back of the head.
DON’T CRY, DON’T CRY, DON’T CRY.
BBC Radio 1 is broadcasting to the nation, trying to make them do exactly that with ‘our song’.
But it’s not mine is it?
I’m 11, not old enough to have memories of a romance long gone and there is no song in existence that could adequately express the grief consuming me as I run away from the bully and up the stairs to the dormitory.
My bed is in the corner against a wall covered in pictures of Liverpool players, King Kenny, majestic, Souness, hard as nails, Hansen, Kennedy et al, all conquering, but suddenly, meaningless and unable to help.
We might beat Spurs 75-0 this Saturday, but it won’t matter now, nothing means anything anymore.
I unpack my bag, clothes, trainers, crisps and this week’s edition of Shoot are scattered onto my bed as I perch on the end without the slightest clue as to what to do now.
Will any of the teachers know what I’m supposed to do now?
I doubt it, they all seem to hate being here as much as I do and seem so angry and desperate to hit us for the slightest reason, well, most of them do.
So I cry, there’s another 40 minutes before end of school and the rest of the boys come back to the dorm, that’s 38 minutes of crying and then 2 minutes to somehow try and look like you’ve not been doing so.
My body stops shaking at 3.25, the rest of the occupants of room F16 enter a few minutes later.
“Hello, we’re really sorry about your dad.”
What else can five, uncomprehending 11 year old boys say?
I cry myself to sleep as quietly as possible every night for the remainder of the week, re-reading the last letter my dad had written to me before he…..
The weekend arrives, an abyss that cannot be avoided any more than the compulsory church service on Sunday where we will be reminded how ‘great’ god is.
Fuck god, I believe in King Kenny Dalglish, he’s got more to offer me right now.
Liverpool beat Spurs 2-0, it doesn’t seem to matter though, although I pretended to be happy as it seems to make the bullies less likely to want to hit me, I don’t know why, but it did. McDermott scored twice for the reds, I was slapped in the face twice by a sixth former, just another week really, normal service had been resumed if you don’t include my daddy dying.
I needed Liverpool to win; there was nothing else on the horizon to look forward to each week.
Yeah, I’m a fucking glory-hunter and you can all piss off if you got a problem with that, I NEEDED something to look forward to yeah?
Those 90 minutes on a Saturday when the red machine almost guaranteed me something to be happy about as we congregated in the common room to watch final score.
90 minutes that meant nothing and everything, it was only the result that mattered to me because I wasn’t able to watch it happen, as it happened?
My daddy had promised to take me one day but now…
An abstract event that occurred somewhere in England every Saturday afternoon while I was pretending to be ok at boarding school.
Tosh supported Liverpool too, nobody took the piss out of him though ‘cos he was from there and he’d been to see them play. Tosh and his mate, Adams were my heroes, they didn’t know it, but they were.
They were in the 6th form and I looked up to them because they were nice to me and didn’t bully me or the other kids like many did.
Like the people in charge of the school did.
Double-maths lasted 90 minutes, as did the after-school study period.
90 minutes where nothing happened, nothing I was interested in.
I sat at the back of the classroom for my entire education; I’d lost interest in anything the teachers had to say after being sexually abused by the headmaster. The rest of ‘them’ all knew, they did nothing,
Cunts, the lot of them.
A few months after my dad died, Tosh gave me something that would change my life, I’d go as far as to say, possibly saved my life.
A cassette, a TDK C90 cassette with the word ‘compilation’ written down the side.
90 minutes? A lot can happen in 90 minutes!
Echo and The Bunnymen.
The Teardrop Explodes.
The Sex Pistols.
All taped off the radio no less!
I now know, after many years of trying to, that you can’t ‘fill’ that hole in the soul.
A second-rate, shabby, brutal education was never going to help me in the slightest.
That cassette, that 90 minutes of glorious revelation, put out into the world by the late John Peel, eagerly recorded by kids like Tosh each night, went some way to soothing my shattered existence.
When I had no words to express my feelings, I had that cassette, then I had 7” singles and LP’s and when I was 12, I had The Jam, live in concert at Stafford Bingley Hall. I had posters to cover the institutional drabness of my room at school, I was inspired to read books they never told me about at school; I got an education, I had something that made sense.
My mums cousin took me to watch the reds for the first time a year after my dad died, we lost 1-0 to Coventry City, it didn’t seem to matter, it was fucking ace anyway.
“This is the modern world that I’ve learnt about.”
Indeed! The rest, as they say, is history.
I am being interviewed by Martin ‘Tosh’ Johnson later this week for a new online magazine, watch this space for details.
My 1 man stage-show, adapted from my Memoir, Too High, Too Far, Too Soon, returns to the London stage in July.
Tomorrow, I travel to Liverpool to continue interviewing a musical hero of mine for a book we are collaborating on together.
I have had the privilege of watching Steven Gerrard play for Liverpool on countless occasions.
“What kind of a fool do you think I am?
You think I know nothing of the modern world
All my life has been the same
I’ve learned to live by hate and pain
It’s my inspiration drive
I’ve learned more than you’ll ever know
Even at school I felt quite sure
That one day I would be on top
And I’d look down upon the map
The teachers who said I’d be nothing
This is the modern world that I’ve learnt about
This is the modern world, we don’t need no one
To tell us what’s right or wrong
Say what you like ’cause I don’t care
I know where I am and going too
It’s somewhere I won’t preview
Don’t have to explain myself to you
I don’t give two fucks about your review”
The Modern World, The Jam.