I first met Ploggy in Spiders. He went with a gang of about ten or fifteen kids from the sixth form college he attended. I was still going with my workmate Sarah at that point.
I first started talking to that group of people after finding that one of them – Dave – danced as daft as I did, so we had a chat and Dave introduced me to the rest of them. As the years rolled on by most of them went back to being people that I didn’t know, but I still saw a few of them: Dave principally, but I shared a house with Balf and Ploggy on Desmond Avenue later.
Before we lived together, Ploggy and I were close. Certainly close enough to be quite rude to each other.
Ploggy’s big thing was to to wistfully comment whenever he saw my mother how he was in love with her. This wasn’t like Matthew Hilton shouting about forcibly bumming my mother and how she’d started to get into it at school, Ploggy’s version was – in a sick sort of way – quite endearing. He was doing it to wind me up, which it didn’t, but he chose to do it in such a way that I’d not heard before that I mildly enjoyed him starting it up whenever he did. When he was looking for a reaction, instead of enjoying the slow burn, he’d turn up the fantasies a bit and give me an inquisitive look. Embarrassingly enough, my response – which always worked – was to sigh and tell him that I, too fancied my mother. Even though I always said that to him when he was pushing it, he never seemed to get used to it and his eyes would widen momentarily in horror at my Oedipal admission. Then he’d go around telling everyone and they’d all say, “Oooh, you don’t, do you?”
Whatever anyone else was doing, Ploggy always seemed to be at least a year behind them. When I met him and his mates, they were all doing ‘A’ levels. Well, Ploggy wasn’t; he was re-sitting his GCSEs. When they were all starting university, he was starting foundation courses because he didn’t fancy being at sixth form without his mates. When his mates were all getting jobs after graduating, he was starting his third or fourth degree course. That’s to get a bit far ahead of myself though.
Once my regular girlfriend of the era had finally dumped me for good, I moved into a shared house with Ploggy and Balf – and others – and hung around with them on a daily basis.
I’ve never signed on the dole, although not for any reasons relating to thinking I ought to support myself or that I value work in some intrinsic way because I don’t. I had mates who signed on and the impression I got from them was that it was more of a pain in the arse to be on the dole than to get a shit job for about five hours a week which meant you never got sanctioned at the whim of the dole office harridans and you permanently got your rent paid because Housing Benefit asked no questions if you weren’t on the dole as well. I worked Friday and Saturday night at The Odeon in town. What that meant was that I could still go out on Saturday night, but it’d be later than normal meaning I didn’t have to have so much time to spend money I didn’t have. There was never any money, really, but because I lacked tolerance for anything intoxicating because I had no money at any point, when I did have something, I didn’t often need much. Dooberage was around, and acid was cheap. Speed too, but I wasn’t into the sort of stimulation. It felt like having iron filings in your blood.
Anyway, the point is that I didn’t really have to get up on any given day of the week until about teatime and even that was only twice a week. I was doing a part time PGCE of course, but as that involved a few weeks’ quite intense work in schools spread out over quite a while so most of the time, I just did what I always did – read, played the guitar and made girls’ lives a misery. There was coursework but, as usual, I was leaving that until the last minute, making it much more of a hassle than if I’d done it properly. In short, I just arsed about most of the time, except for short bursts of ludicrously intense work.
My room was the master bedroom and, as our living room was fundamentally broken, people would congregate in my room, which I quite liked, most of the time.
After we’d come back from Spiders, or Sil’s, or Welly, or wherever we’d been, we’d repair to my room and have a sing song on guitars and various percussion instruments. Our favourite songs to sing and play were – oddly – The Velvet Underground. Not exclusively – we played a lot of The Stone Roses, The Beatles, Love and that sort of thing too, but it always came back to The Velvets. By the way, when I said we’d play guitars and rattle tambourines and what have you, I realise it sounds a bit Children of God, but it wasn’t. I had a couple of amplifiers, guitars and microphones by that point and we used all of them. Balf’s favourite was ‘Heroin’, which we’d jam on for about an hour and he’d go into these strange sort of trances that he was reluctant to start and found virtually impossible to get himself out of once he’d begun. He’d be improvising the most miserable lyrics, but not just singing and chuntering, he’d be primalling. I mean screaming – really screaming – into a microphone at about 4am on Tuesday night down a terraced street. The neighbours never complained. Not once. I have no idea why not. I would have. In fact, I did complain. Often and to no effect.
Ploggy wouldn’t sing, but he did enjoy mocking Balf when he went into his Lou Reed/Shaman trip.
It wouldn’t just be us making a cacophony in my room in those days. We’d bring people back and they’d bring booze and fags and what have you. It was good. Mainly it was good; I lost quite a lot of records through being a bit laissez faire with the door policy. So it goes.
I was the first to move into the shared house – 11 Desmond Avenue – and, four years later, the last to leave the worn out, unloved and knackered property. Balf and Ploggy were the next in, followed by a lad from Preston called Chris, whose mother used to drive over the pennines in order to stand over him while he wrote his essays because otherwise he wouldn’t do them. There was a lad called Charles, who we called Chinless, because he was. He also had psoriasis, which meant there were bits of Chinless left around wherever he’d been. The shower was a frightening and strange place that looked like a wallpaperer’s dustbin after he’d been in it. Finally, there was Gentile Mike, who was the most Jewish looking kid you’ve ever seen in your life, even though he wasn’t actually Jewish, much to my disappointment. He was the loudest smoker I’ve ever met, in terms of inhaling, snapping it out from between his lips and exhaling. Slllluurrrrrrpppppp-pah-fffffwwwwwoooooo. Rapidly.
He was a big fan of The Fast Show and would record it on Friday night – while I was at work – and watch it repeatedly until the next episode. I’d roll into the inadequate living room – which had an aerial socket – with a cup of tea and he’d play last night’s The Fast Show, smoking like a Heath Robinson machine next to me, shouting “Would you say that was funny, Neil?” after every joke. I didn’t and don’t know what that was about. I was at the stage at which I was prepared to ask questions, but he thought I was joking, so I didn’t get anywhere. He was pretty thick skinned, Gentile Mike.
Balf dropped out again – he’d dropped out of a degree at Nottingham a couple of years earlier because he was homesick – and got a job at a sign writer’s. Not the old fashioned sort, the modern sort that uses computers to cut and print onto plastic. He got a car with that job and on Sundays when the weather was nice, he’d drive us out to North Yorkshire – the dales, the moors, Bolton Abbey, Brimham Rocks, Pickering and Helmsley castles. You name it, he drove us there on Sundays. When we got there, we were like a bunch of eight year olds, clambering over everything, rolling around, playing war in all but name. Dead mature stuff, you know. Ploggy used to like to make out that he was some sort of gritty city boy with no appreciation of trees and rivers and lakes and all those wonderful things in the country, so Balf and I would periodically smack him around the head and shout, “Outstanding natural beauty,” sternly at him, like a drill sergeant, whilst pointing at a hill. We enjoyed ourselves. We were harmless.
If it sounds to you like there were no women around, you’d be wrong. There just weren’t many. Well, there weren’t any in the car on Sundays, not often anyway. It tended to get a bit infantile.
Once, my girlfriend of the time, Nicola – also no longer with us – came with us when he took us – I think it was just Ploggy with us, Nicola had to sit in the front with Balf, at his insistence- which I mildly enjoyed – I can find out exactly when that was because Oasis were playing Knebworth on Radio 1: 11th August 1996, there you go, well done the internet – to the seaside. Ploggy and Balf were having a paddle and Nicola were sitting on the beach. She went and picked their shoes up and dropped them into the path of the incoming tide. It was a bit of an odd thing to do and it went down quite badly. In fact, had Balf not fancied her quite as much as he did, he might have been quite upset. I thought it was a bit daft but, hanging around with us lot for any length of time – which she did – no wonder someone could get the idea that doing whatever a four year old would consider acceptable was a reasonable course of action. I had to lend him my shoes to drive us home.
One night out in winter – right around Christmas, so no Gentile Mike, no Chris and no Chinless – we’d gone to Welly which was a bit like Spiders, but a bit less ‘we are weird’ and a bit more ‘we are the beautiful people’. We’d got to chatting to some friends of friends around a table in the bar area where they projected foreign films onto the walls.
Being a bit shallow, I can only really remember two of them, both called Caroline. Both of them very good looking, which is probably why I can still picture them. I say I can picture them, but actually I can’t. Caroline A brings up a picture of Sarah Cracknell from St Etienne, but with a more elongated nose. Caroline A became Nose Chick, because it was an outstanding specimen. Caroline B was – and it sounds bad, but I didn’t mean it that way – Dave Davies. She had a Dave Davies bouffant. She looked good with it and she was a very good looking lass too. Perhaps I had a secret crush on Dave Davies, I don’t know.
Anyway, I was seeing Nicola and making a point of behaving myself, so I was just chatting without having any designs on anyone, even though both of these girls were – it turned out – not dullards either.
Miracle of miracles, Balf actually managed to ask Dave Davies out – he usually just mooned around girls he liked and became bitter about it – and she said yes.
On the afternoon of the date which, bizarrely, was to take place during the day at our house, Ploggy was rubbing his hands together thinking about things he could say that would embarrass Balf in front of Dave Davies. Balf was becoming quite concerned about it. He’d not had a date for years and he was building it up into something. It didn’t augur well.
With about ten minutes to go until she was due to be knocking on our front door, I decided that the best thing to do would be to leave the house and take Ploggy with me so that Balf could balls it up all by himself without Ploggy going out of his way to help him, or me doing it by being an idiot.
We went to the Golden Oldies record shop, which was about five minutes across the road. Ploggy kept laughing to himself as he imagined the ways that Balf was going to be fucking it up. I thought he was probably right, but as Ploggy hadn’t ever been on a date with anyone so far as I could tell, I thought maybe it was a bit rich coming from him.
We then went to the pub to give him a bit longer before heading home as it was getting dark.
Balf was in by himself.
“Where is she, then?” demanded Ploggy.
“Gone home,” Balf said, without taking his eyes from the telly.
“How did it go, man?” I asked him. “Are you seeing her again?”
“Ahhhh!!!” Ploggy crowed, “Told you he’d fuck it up. What did you do? Go on, tell us.”
“Nowt,” Balf said, stoic as they come, “Nowt. I didn’t do nowt.”
I went into the kitchen and made us a brew. By the time I was carrying them into the living room, Balf was half watching telly, half glaring at me and Ploggy was grinning his head off whilst waggling one eyebrow.
“Oh aye,” I said, handing the tea out, and looking at Balf. “I see. It’s my fault now, is it? What’s he been saying, eh? Go on. What happened?”
Ploggy answered, “Well, it seems that Caroline was more interested in talking about you than getting off with poor, lonely Balf here…”
“Well, I brought her in and offered her a drink and all that, but it was hard knowing what to say, you know, getting talking. So I showed her the house. Well, I showed her your records and guitars and that.”
“Anyhow, after that, she was asking, ‘Oh, is Neil going to be in?’, ‘Oh, when’s he coming back?’. So yeah nice one. Cheers, Mid,”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” I said, “I wasn’t even here. I only went out to make sure dickhead here didn’t wind you up in front of her. I bet it wasn’t like that. She’ll have been making conversation over common ground, won’t she?”
Balf didn’t half look pissed off. And he was right, he didn’t see her again. Mind you, neither did I.
A few months later, getting ready to go out to Sil’s on a Tuesday night, Ploggy talked about how much he fancied Angry Chick. Angry Chick’s real name was Alex and she was alright. We called her Angry Chick because, well, she looked angry. Continually. I was off women, having been dumped by Nicola for one of her friends’ mates. That happened in the pub, which I’d walked into to find Nicola and her mate – Jane – sitting in a booth. Nicola said, “I’ve met someone else and I’m really attracted to him…”
I’d gone back to my ‘If they don’t want to know, they don’t want to know,’ philosophy and said, “Yeah? Well you’d better go out with him then, hadn’t you?” and walked out again, feeling like Dolly Parton at the end of 9-5. But not really. It’s not great when your girlfriend tells you she fancies someone else, is it?
A bit later, she told me that I was supposed to respond more passionately than that and failed the test. La-di-dah. So it goes. Isn’t everything complicated enough already?
Anyway, I don’t know if Ploggy had ever actually spoken to Angry Chick prior to that point. Quite possibly not, still. Fair enough, eh?
When Balf came in my room before we went out, he mentioned that Ploggy had been telling him how he was going to get off with Angry Chick and had laughed about it. He’d laughed about it because Ploggy always did the same thing, which was to lift a girl up onto a pedestal which meant he couldn’t bring himself to speak to her, which lead to him getting more and more pissed off as the night went on, before he’d start an argument with whoever was least likely to hit him in the club. Which was usually Balf.
The night went exactly as anticipated, with Ploggy getting more and more annoyed with himself at his shyness, really. As it turned out, we were invited back to a party at Angry Chick’s and a few other mutual friends’ house at the other end of Hull.
At this party, we were all sitting on the floor chatting to a group of people – Balf, Ploggy, Angry Chick, a couple of other people we knew and me – when Angry Chick leaned over to Ploggy and whispered in his ear. I caught sight of him looking at me as she did and I thought – Ploggy’s going to get some. Maybe this’ll be the making of him, and I was really pleased for them both.
Then he announced, “Hey Mid, Alex has just told me that she really fancies you and you know she wanted me to tell you that,”
Angry Chick’s face crumbled, poor lass. She didn’t look remotely like that was what she wanted. Ploggy was only trying to stop himself from showing how upset he was by making out he wasn’t bothered and deflecting the attention from his own disappointment. Bad times.
I didn’t know what to do with that. I didn’t fancy Angry Chick at all. She was alright, but I didn’t really see that we had anything in common. I felt bad for her though.
My brain came up with yet another brilliant plan that I chose to immediately go along with, without really giving any thought at all to the possible consequences.
I said, “Oh, well, that’s funny, because I really fancy her, too,”
Ploggy looked like he’d been slapped with a wet haddock, but he was being a nobhead, and I was being nice about it, through the medium of being a bit of a tart. It was only a snog, it wouldn’t have any major consequences. Heaven forbid.
I stood up, leaned over her and we kissed. In public. She seemed delighted. Ploggy stormed off.
As the night wore on, I began to wonder what came next on the brilliant, “Let’s save Angry Chick’s blushes at a party” idea that my brain had thought up, but it had fucked off, leaving my conscious brain to clear up the mess. Or, as was more likely, make everything even worse.
I couldn’t get away. Everywhere I went, Angry Chick was there, looking slightly less angry, but slightly scarier if you can dig that.
I ended up in bed with her – fully clothed and with other people with us – not sex people, I hasten to add, conversational people – as the early morning wore on and the conversationalists drifted off I found myself alone in bed with her.
We were snogging and rummaging about a bit, but I couldn’t bring myself to feel any enthusiasm for it because – well, it just wasn’t there, was it?
I didn’t do the decent thing and come clean because that seemed ludicrous. Eventually it got to the point of naked genitalia being fiddling about with and the question of contraception sensibly reared up. I had no condoms because if I did, I’d be tempted to find a use for them. You know, like people who can’t stop eating until it’s all gone, so best not buy that much stuff, eh? Like that.
Diversion – My death
At secondary school, every week – so it seemed – we’d be handed out leaflets in tutor period. These were almost always one of two. The first was about the onset of nuclear war and how hiding under a table was going to save you. The second was about how having sex would mean that you would die of AIDS.
There was quite a lot of grimness about at quite a lot of points in my youth – of my generation’s, I suppose- there’s a post about the cinema of my childhood, which was similarly grim.
Anyway, at secondary school, I was convinced I was either going to die a virgin in an inevitable nuclear war or I was going to die of AIDS because I’d have had sex with somebody. It all seemed pretty bleak.
Still, most people I knew were sensible when it came down to johnnies and casual sex. Less so in the 90s perhaps.
End of Diversion
So, no condom meant no sex. I’d been there before and it was what it was. I don’t know how the youth of today see it, maybe it’s the same for quite a lot of them. I don’t know.
Relief was what I felt. All I had to do was wait until she fell asleep and I could slope off, no harm done. Not really, anyway.
It turned out that Angry Chick took quite a lot of speed which meant that she wasn’t going to be falling asleep anytime soon. Unlike me, who fell asleep quite quickly and was woken with daylight streaming dustily through gaps in her curtains, broken by the figure of Angry Chick who, in one hand held a cup of tea – oh wondrous tea! – and in the other, a packet of condoms – oh dear.
So it was that I should have been wary of Angries bearing gifts. And, as is the pattern in general in these posts, I brought further shame onto myself because, this time specifically , I shagged Angry Chick out of politeness.
No reflection on her, she did nothing wrong. That was all my doing.
Oh, but it gets worse of course.
By the time I’d managed to excuse myself and walk home – which took a couple of hours – I found the house empty. I went back to bed.
Later, as darkness fell, Balf let himself into my room and sat down. He told me that Ploggy was immensely disgruntled with me ‘shagging the bird he loved,’
I told Balf the truth – including what happened. He was disappointed in me. He asked all the sensible questions that normal people would have asked themselves before doing all the stupid things that I’d cleverly done. You know, why didn’t you just say?
Balf also suggested that this wouldn’t look good for, in terms of the now regular chestnut at 11 Desmond Avenue, entitled, “The reason we don’t get anywhere with lasses is because Mid instantly gets off with anyone we fancy,”
I told him that was bollocks and he told me that last night probably hadn’t done anything to help me with that particular argument. I told him I did it out of pity for her but he didn’t seem to think that was any better, really.
Then, having behaved dreadfully up to that point, I decided to continue along that path by not answering the phone when she rang up and telling anyone who did that I was out. I was chicken. Poor Angry Chick. Maybe she always knew what was going to happen in some sort of cosmic way and that was why she was angry in advance. Sort of like Hodor in Game of Thrones. But with me being the idiot, rather than Bran.
After a bit longer, when Chris and Chinless had moved out, replaced by others – including the drummer – Ploggy sort of went missing.
The word was that he’d met this girl called Katie, with whom he was staying. This went on for a couple of weeks and we saw hide nor hair of him. I knew a friend of this Katie’s and she assured me he wasn’t dead. I assumed he was just playing it safe by keeping her away from me. I know. I didn’t blame him either.
The first problem came when the landlady – Elaine – came round and told us that Ploggy’s housing benefit had run out and where was he and had he moved out, or what? I told her what I knew and that I thought he definitely hadn’t moved out and he’d sort it out – he was just a bit loved up.
Diversion – Elaine and Tony
Tony was Elaine’s boyfriend. Elaine was alright – she had about a million kids and lived ten minutes down the road in a crenellated, crumbling castle on Ash Grove. If Housing Benefit was playing up, which they periodically did, she’d have us round her house stripping wallpaper, pulling out plaster, which was a bit odd, but I went along with it…
Elaine was sylphlike and very pale, she reminded me very much of Paula Wilcox out of Robin’s Nest. Tony seemed to have modelled himself on John Shaft.
When Elaine and Tony had a baby, she rang me up in tears.
“Neil, Neil, he’s left me. What am I going to do?” I don’t know why she was telling me. Periodically the phone would go and it would be Elaine looking for a shoulder to cry on.
“Tony?” I asked, “Why has he left you? You’ve just had a baby, haven’t you?”
More crying, “Yes, but he says it’s not his,”
“Why does he think that?”
“Well, you know he’s, er, black. Dark. You know,”
“And I’m quite pale. White.”
“Well, the baby’s sort of…”
“Coffee coloured?” I didn’t know what the right expression was, but I did quite enjoy ‘Melting Pot’ by Blue Mink, so I just said that.
“Yes. Coffee coloured.”
“And what’s the problem with that?” I asked.
“Well, she’s got blue eyes. And Tony says that means the father is white.”
“But your baby’s coffee coloured, Elaine. How’s that work? Anyhow, what’s he on about? All babies have blue eyes.”
“All babies have blue eyes, Elaine. When they’re born. I thought Tony was a teacher. How does he not know that? Actually, how do you not know that? How many kids have you got?”
“Well, all my bains have got blue eyes. They’re not coffee coloured though.”
“Do you want me to talk to him?” I offered.
“Would you? He’s coming round yours tomorrow anyway. He says you lot need to buck your ideas up.”
“Oh right, I’ll see him then, then,”
Next day, Tony came round in a vile mood in his pimp sheepskin jacket and moustache. He was telling us what a set of losers we were and how we needed to respect our environment and all that.
I mentioned to him that Elaine had been on the phone and he started shouting about how she was trying to make a fool out of him by sleeping around behind his back with pathetic white men and all that.
I told him about babies all having blue eyes and he looked at me, then straight ahead for a minute and then said, “Are you sure?”
I told him I was and he nodded, stood up and pointed at a tab end on the doormat, saying, “That’s well uncool, that,”
End of Diversion
But Ploggy didn’t turn up and he didn’t sort out his housing benefit either. The result was that one Friday night, I came home from work at the pictures to what smelled like a tyre fire in Ploggy’s room and laughter was coming from within, which told me it definitely wasn’t Ploggy. I knocked on the door and a kid I’d never seen before coughed through black smoke that was fogging the room up.
I asked him who he was and what he was doing and why the room was on fire. He wasn’t very forthcoming, but it turned out that he’d tried setting fire to one of Ploggy’s Doc Marten boots in a blocked off fireplace, which lead to Balf ringing Elaine.
Elaine turned up and turfed him out, but he’d already chucked Ploggy’s stuff either on the fire or out of the window into a wet heap in the back yard, where it already festered.
Ploggy finally turned up with Katie – in a pub, not at Desmond Ave – and accused me of getting all his stuff knackered up and that I should have stopped all this happening.
I told him I couldn’t have done any more, seeing as he’d not bothered to tell anybody where he was and I hadn’t even been there when the interloper had trashed his gear.
And that was it. Ploggy never spoke to me again.
I met up with the Katie who he’d been with a few years later. She used to come and see the band I was in quite often. I asked her about him, but she didn’t have much to say.
Then, a couple of years ago, Welly – who took the photo outside Spiders on another post here – got hold of me and told me that Ploggy, who’d moved back in with his mam, went to bed one night and just never woke up.
He’d been in a relationship with one of the girls we’d go to Spiders with, had a little boy, broken up and he’d gone back home again, a few months later, that was it.
I went to his funeral and met up with the old gang again. I’d sort of drifted away by the time I moved out of Desmond Ave. I’d started to be in bands a bit more seriously by that point and so I tended to hang around with those people I was in bands with.
Fozzy did the eulogy and made a great job of it.
It was upsetting though. The last time I’d seen him, he’d been hurling abuse at me and now he was in a box. I talked about that with a couple of people and they were nice about it, but I was only trying to assuage my own guilt.
Not even guilt about shagging Angry Chick out of politeness or guilt about not being there when he didn’t renew his Housing Benefit.
As usual, I’d not covered myself in glory yet again and yet again, there was another former friend who’d drifted off and floated back face down in the river before I could make amends – or just left it on a less unpleasant note.
At the pub afterwards, I made conversation and swapped some stories with our old mates, but as the afternoon wore on, I didn’t feel like I ought to have even been there, really. I told them I was nipping to the loo and sloped off home instead.
It sounds like all Ploggy and I ever did was antagonise one another – and we did do that quite a lot – but we were also pretty tight for a couple of years. When you’re that close at that age, you cover quite a lot of ground quite quickly and I really enjoyed our time together. We’d argue about books, telly, records, you name it, but we liked it just the same.
And I miss him, too.