“Know thyself? If I knew myself I would run away.”
I love Goethe because it’s The Sorrows of Young Werther that I turned to whenever I was returned to Dumpsville: population Middlerabbit. There’s nothing like a bit of self-pity and moping, is there? Not that this is about being dumped again because it’s not.
I’ve written about my first and third year at university, but not said much about my second. It was an odd time for me in some ways: it felt a bit like being in limbo – neither one thing nor another. I lived so far from campus that I felt even less connected to it than I did in my first year, but nor was I a townie.
Thus continued a pattern of feeling pretty much detached from that which I ought to be attached. It’s been a constant battle in my head for years and I have to keep my eye on my brain – the part that vomits up plans and ideas – because they always need amending by my consciousness. Being a twat comes naturally to me and I hate it.
For one year only, I lived off campus whilst at university. It was still a university owned place, but absolutely nowhere near the campus. It was behind York St. John’s which was seen as being a bit less prestigious – which it is, I suppose. Not that being an undergraduate of a more poncey university did me any favours when it came to schlepping across town on the three days a week I had lectures and seminars to attend which I always did.
Beginning a pattern that was to continue indefinitely, I had made no plans in terms of accommodation prior to the start of the year. The only reason I had somewhere to stay in the first year was because you were automatically allocated a room. This year, I hung around the accommodation office, waiting to see what turned up. What turned up was a house which needed a total of four people in it.
In my first year, I’d made friends with quite a lot of people, but it was those with whom I lived that I hung around most, none of whom were on the same courses.
Andrea was a scouser doing Chemistry who’d been at school with Sonia, of Stock, Aitken & Waterman (minor) fame. Sonia had been dead quiet at school, that’s all I learned. Andrea was alright. She briefly went out with Paul, who was a committed Christian from Croydon who wouldn’t sleep with Andrea, which pissed her off. Once, one of Paul’s Christian leaders came to stay. It was like having a groovy scout leader whose mission in life was to cheerlead and suggest wholesome activities to a bunch of trainee alcoholics. There was a lad from Essex doing Economics, called Ian, with whom I shared houses for the rest of my time at university and didn’t exchange a word with afterwards. When he moved into Tony’s old room at St Lawrence court in our third year, he wasn’t received with open arms by the rest of the girls there. Perhaps he was tainted through association with me. I don’t know. Also there was an enormously posh lad called John, who was doing French which seemed like a con to me because his mother was French and he’d lived there all his life.
Finally, a Welsh lad a few years older than the rest of us called Nijul (sic) who had been raised in a hippy commune in Wales. He’d also spent time living and working on an Indian reservation in America which led him to believe that he had some sort of spiritual connection to the native Americans. He went to see ‘Dances With Wolves’ about twenty times at the pictures. Once, he took us out to the countryside and claimed to be able to navigate by the stars and the sun and all that. After about twelve hours in a burnt out forest, freezing our bollocks off, he was rechristened ‘Eaten By Wolves’. In my third year, Nijul once knocked at my door but I was out. He left me a note that said, “Hello Middlerabbit, Nijul here. I called round for you but you weren’t in. Give us a knock if you fancy going for a drink. PS: Tell the fucking hoity-toity bitch who answered the door to go fuck herself: someone asked who I was and she said, ‘It’s just someone boring for Middlerabbit,’ She’s the fucking boring one, Middlerabbit. Fucking stuck up bitch.” From that, I assumed it was the third year girl who’d not really wanted to go out with me but didn’t want anyone else to either. I didn’t say anything to her because Nijul was a bit boring sometimes. Nice lad though. Didn’t stay in touch with him, either. It would be easier to be clear, really – I didn’t stay in touch with anybody from university. Like I didn’t stay in touch with anybody from school, anybody from college or anybody I’ve ever worked with. It’s a shame for me really because I quite miss some of them. Still, it’s my own fault, so no moaning, eh? Not much, anyway. Pfff.
Andrea was mates with a girl called Katie, who looked a bit like a Womble in a way that’s better than it sounds. Katie was the first girl I slept with at university. I’d slept with a couple of people before, although not very well. Katie didn’t get a much better deal than any of my previous partners. It did set a bit of a precedent because I didn’t really want to do it but it seemed like the thing to do – even though it didn’t feel like that while it was happening. It only happened the once and we had a bit of a pregnancy scare which came to nothing. Fortunately for all concerned, including the inconceived child. Especially them. Later, she went out with a lad called Griff (?) who had a shit moustache. He seemed a bit overtly homophobic when I met him and when I asked why, he said that he was sick of the LGBT society sticking leaflets through his door, inviting him to parties just because he had a ‘tache. I don’t know, it seemed a bit unlikely.
Most of those people ended up living together in the second year at university. I was invited but they weren’t into Ian for some reason, so I felt bad about that and told him I’d share with him next year.
We didn’t sort anything out because what could be less cool than actually organising a place to live before you’re destitute?
Having ballsed that up, we turned up about a week early in the summer holidays and hung around the accommodation office until a house on Neville Terrace turned up. There were a couple of other lads whom we dragged in with us and that was sorted.
Having moved in, in early October, I found that the walk to college took upwards of an hour, depending on the time of year. York’s a pretty big tourist city: mainly Americans from Spring to Summer, mainly Japanese the rest of the time. It depended how busy it was.
On my first walk to college, I managed to get myself run over. I’ve always been pretty good at crossing the road – looking both ways and all that – but it didn’t help because I was stood on the pavement, waiting to cross at a pelican crossing. A van went up the kerb, ran over my foot and walloped my hip with its wing mirror, which broke.
After hurling abuse at the disappearing van, I thought ‘bollocks’ and just went to my lecture. It was a waste of time because my foot began to feel extremely hot. I removed my shoe and sock and pressed it against the cold metal of the seat in front of me and then walked to hospital, which was even further away than my house. I had a couple of broken toes, which at first the doctor thought were more badly damaged than they actually were because my feet are a bit manky. I say manky, but I don’t believe that. I’ve got Greek feet. I’ve got Morton’s toes. My second toe is a lot longer than my big toe. Actually, my third toe is also longer than my big toe. It makes buying shoes that fit a bit of a pain in the arse. Anyway, I learned that Botticelli’s Birth of Venus shows that it’s all fashion anyway because she – a vision of beauty – has second toes longer than her big toe. Apparently this was a sign of ultimate loveliness in terms of feet, so knickers to you, every last girl I’ve ever been out with. And it’s not just her either: Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man has them, as well as Boxer at Rest, Diana of Versailles and The Barberini Faun. I’m not bitter, but my feet do hurt a bit. Anyway, you don’t get your foot put in plaster for broken toes unless you break your big toe, so I just limped home.
Home was a shithole, funnily enough. In fact, it was worse than a shithole because there were things wrong with it that weren’t even our fault. We had slugs. We knew that because when you woke up in the morning, the living room carpet was covered in slime trails, so that was nice. Also, our house had its own micro climate of micro temperatures. If you were first up and you went for a wee, you first had to boil the kettle because the water in the toilet froze every night. Right up to about June.
Diversion – Sesame Street/The Magic Roundabout/Funkadelic connection
My second year was also the only year when I had regular access to a television. There was one filled with valves in the cupboard under the stairs, but I found a colour tv in the loft which did work. I think one reason I don’t remember all that much about the second year is because I spent a substantial proportion of the year sat with the curtains drawn, Sesame Street or The Magic Roundabout on the telly with sound turned off and the first Funkadelic album playing on the stereo, off my tits on acid. From time to time it would synchronise and it felt mildly meaningful, even though I secretly knew it wasn’t. I did that quite a lot. Too much, probably. Thinking about it, doing it at all was a bit strange. I enjoyed myself.
End Of Diversion.
The other kids we shared with were alright to an extent. There was another Essex boy called Smudge – can’t remember his real name, probably never used it or asked for it – who had a car and occasionally gave us lifts to college. He would make himself a cup of tea and drink it from a mug as he drove which struck me as enormously decadent. What I didn’t find decadent, even though it probably was, was the pair of knickers that hung from a nail on his wall. Classy, eh? Like I can talk, I know. Still, I never collected trophies to hang on my wall so I’m sure that makes all the difference. Right girls? Girls?
Smudge ended up moving out because I pissed him off. He would often comment on how I was some sort of fanny because I came from Hull and going to York university wasn’t far enough away for his liking and that meant I was still tied to my mother’s apron strings. I brushed that off because I didn’t give a shit but, as time went on, he seemed to view me as a bit of a whipping boy for him.
One day, I walked into the living room after a day at college and Smudge started on me immediately. The usual stuff – I was a dick, he was fucking great, why wasn’t I more like him, that sort of thing.
I let him finish and then said, as blandly as I could – which is pretty bland – “That’s all very well Smudge, but who gives a fuck what you think about anything?”
Surprisingly, he went absolutely berserk. He didn’t try to hit me or anything. He was still ranting a couple of hours later – not that I was listening to the details. I walked off after my statement – as he slammed the door. Turned out he’d moved out and put a complaint in about me which went nowhere because, presumably, it’s not compulsory to pay attention to southern bigheads who have women’s knickers hanging on their wall.
The other lad, I can remember very little about. He was called Paul and he lived in the attic. He was the one who was into U2 and offended by The Stone Roses’ interview technique.
Despite getting a full grant, I was still looking for a bit of extra cash, so I decided to put my records to work and wrote to various clubs and pubs about getting a DJing job. I got offered a night at The Winning Post pub, in their large back room. I put together leaflets, fliers and posters in the 20th Century (i.e: pre-computer) manner. Artist of the future Pinky who was then a graffiti artist designed me a picture too. I called the night ‘Head’ because: 1. It was the name of The Monkees’ psychedelic, commercially suicidal film, and 2. Because it was rude without being overtly obscene.
I started flyposting for my night and almost immediately, the landlord took me aside and started telling me about the massive fines he’d been getting as a result of my vandalism. Some of my leaflets and posters were still around ten years after I graduated.
I worked out that the best time to go flyposting wasn’t in the middle of the night when nobody’s around because it’s easier for the filth to pick you up and lock you up until morning. The best time to go flyposting is about five in the afternoon, any weekday night. I realised that everybody was more interested in getting home from work than paying attention to a twat with inappropriate footwear and a couple of washing up bottles full of wallpaper paste. Piece of piss.
Most weeks, I had a hardcore crowd of at least seven people – a couple of students who I didn’t then know and a few local girls. A pair of them turned up every week, looking like escapees from Oliver Cromwell who danced enticingly and strangely to The Byrds and Love, which pleased me enormously. They had what turned out to be called batwing sleeves on everything. I got talking to them all. The students, both lads, were hanging around with a local girl called Helen, who was a groovy chick. Into the sixties, that sort of thing.
I got the sack from The Winning Post due to a culmination of several factors. First, and probably most pressing, was the fact that most weeks I only had about ten people in all night. Second, there were quite a lot of complaints: the council complained due to my overenthusiastic flyposting; the law college had complained after the busiest night I ever had, with about 200 celebrating law students turning up to my night of 1960s psychedelia, garage, pop and indie. The law students weren’t into any of that so far as I could gather and requests started coming in.
“Have you got any Luther Vandross?”, “Have you got any Genesis?”, etc.
By the time a girl asked me if I had any Simply Red, I’d had enough and told her that, not only did I not have any Simply Red, if that was what she was after, she’d come to the wrong place because no, I did not have any Simply fucking Red.
After that, I didn’t even bother listening to the requests, and just shouted “Nope. Fuck off nobhead,” as soon as a face appeared at the booth where I stood.
They complained about that and the landlord was very sympathetic and offered them the opportunity to return again to a night at which I would play their requests. He told me about it later that week.
I laughed and said, “Yeah, right. ‘Course you did,”
He looked at me, giving me his deadly serious look. He was a big chap.
“Yes, Middlerabbit,” he said quietly, “I did,”
I laughed again. “Who are you getting in to do that then?”
He just looked at me.
I laughed yet again, “I’m not doing it,”
“You damned well will, sunshine,” he told me, “Those students bring a lot of money in here and I’m not having you pissing them all off so they spend their fucking grants at some other cunt’s pub,”
“Nah,” I told him, “I can’t do it anyway because I don’t have any records that they want to hear,”
“No problem, I’ll get you them and you can play ’em,”
“It’s not going to happen, my man,” I told him.
“I can assure you it is, sunshine” and he glared at me with a Kubrick stare.
“What we have here,” I began to quote Cool Hand Luke, “is a failure to communicate. You can glare at me all you want. You can suck up to law students all you want. But I’m afraid I don’t really give a fuck about either of these things. I’ve been thinking about it: you’re sacked.”
“You what?” he asked, incredulously.
“You heard,” I said, as I stood up to leave, “I don’t give a fuck and you’re sacked,”
“You can’t sack me you dopey twat,” he shouted, “I don’t work for you, you work for me,”
“That’s where you’re wrong. I don’t work for you because you’re sacked.”
“Are you a fucking idiot?” he was screaming by now. “You don’t sack me. I sack you. You’re sacked. And banned. You’re banned from this pub. For life.”
“Yeah?” I said, “Well you’re banned from my house. But only for a month because I quite like your ‘tache. Do you get leaflets from the LGBT society, by the way?” And I left to the sound of abuse. Again.
By the time my part ones arrived, I was going out with Helen but felt a bit awkward about it because she was only 17. I would have been 20, so not that big a difference, but it felt a bit bad. Even though I was worried about being a cradle snatcher, going out with Helen was good fun: we caught the bus to villages on the moors and walked out to the middle of nowhere where we’d do nothing more than snog, smoke doobs and listen to psychedelia on her ghetto blaster. On one of our days out – excursions, we called them – to Pateley Bridge, stood in the sweetshop (oldest in Britain, so they claim) where I was perusing the penny tray, she told me that I reminded her of a dog-eared paperback. In a nice way.
In the middle of my part ones, my brain was so scrambled – by eleven exams in five days – that when Helen knocked on our door and Paul, the kid from the attic answered it, I found I couldn’t remember either of their names in order to introduce them.
We only had it off once and I curtailed that midway because I felt like some sort of pervert. We didn’t really last much longer than that. I never saw her again, either. One birthday, she drew me a card of her and me arsing about on the moors. It was really good, but I think I’ve lost it. I’ll have a rake through my boxes later… Nah, I lost the bastard.
So Helen and I broke up because I was worried in case I was a paedophile even though I knew I wasn’t. I know. I know.
By then it was practically summer and I went back home without arranging anywhere to live for the next year again. I know. I’ve only recently realised, like that film: I’m a runner if left to my instincts. Tragically, my instincts are a bit shit.
“No one is willing to believe that adults too, like children, wander about this earth in a daze and, like children, do not know where they come from or where they are going, act as rarely as they do according to genuine motives, and are as thoroughly governed as they are by biscuits and cake and the rod.”
Goethe – The Sorrows of Young Werther.