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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

January 25, 2006

Nostalgia Bulletin

We haven't had one in a while.

I started my first job in 1982, summer of. It was in the tax office in Luton. My hair had been dyed blond and was growing out, and for some reason this made everyone think I was German.

You could feel the older women bristling as I walked into the office. How dare a German person come to work for Her Majesty's Inland Revenue?

I dyed my hair several colours in those days. Various shades of blond; black; a kind of burgundy colour. When it was black, I used to think it was all falling out because you could see it so clearly against the white bath when it did. That cured me of hair dying.

I was soon - thank god - befriended by Roger the office punk, who was a very funny man, and a brave and cutting-edge performer. He was in a band called The Friction, who personified the punk ethos of doing something, anything, but doing it for yourself. The Friction splintered and morphed into the Anarchist Formation Dance Team, a kind of punk-electronica outfit that used sound effects and drum machines in an often hostile rockist atmosphere. It was the kind of humour exemplified by a name like AFDT that made me admire Roger.

His performance of "Pigs" involved him in crawling around on the floor and making a noise like a pig. It was very impressive. More impressive was the way he swaggered to the bar to get a drink in the middle of another song. I loved this move so much that I copied it, once, when my own band was performing. Only people cleared a path for Roger, such was his charisma. I sometimes wondered if he hadn't started the whole band thing in order to get served more quickly in the pub.

We did a kind of fanzine thing together once, called The AA Book of the Dead. We thought it was very funny. We advised our readers not to write in, but to do it for themselves. I remember Roger nearly got pulped by some bikers who were upset at some of his anti-Thatch rhetoric, shortly after the Faulkland's war.

Later we started a publication for our union branch, called The Conscientious Op. It was a pun on a collection of Dashiell Hammett stories. I can't remember what kind of thing we wrote in it, but it certainly upset the management. We used to distribute it in a kind of rat-run drive around local towns, dropping a pile off at each office. It purportedly got us all blacklisted on some government shit list, too, which was both absurd and a bit scary.

The whole experience taught me that people don't like to be unsettled, and are easily upset. Upset because you look German, or upset because you disrespect authority, or upset because you argue against common assumptions. They'll get upset and sit at their desks bristling, but they won't engage you in conversation. Even when your intentions are the best, and you really are trying to make the world a better place, they'll get upset and wish the world could stay the same.

People are still like that around me. They'll allow something to upset them, file it away as An Upsetting Thing, but won't allow themselves to question why it upsets them, and what it all means.

Roger and I used to go drinking, evenings and lunchtimes. Hard to believe now, but we'd go to pubs and bars where it was easy to get served; there was no piped music, though you could put the jukebox on. You could have a conversation without being drowned out. One pub was built into the base of our office building. Maximum drinking time. Another bar, called the Melson Arms, I think, was so deserted it was hard to see how it stayed open. There were rumours that the landlord had murdered his wife with an axe.

I used to really enjoy the drinking sessions after union meetings. I could never hold my drink. In this era, you could buy cocktails in little silver bottles. I drank Sundowners, because I couldn't handle the volume of beer or lager. Sundowners used to make me sick, but they tasted as good coming up as they did going down. I used to get completely lashed at lunchtime and then cycle home 2 hours later and crawl into bed.

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