A Brief Autobiographical Treatise in 3833 Words
I was born in 1970, just 361 days after Concorde had taken to the skies for the first time. This meant that, in my mind, I was a child of the modern age, born into the white heat of the technical revolution. Of course, I knew none of this at the time and spent my formative months lying in a cot whilst my parents watched Alan Whicker on a television rented from DER.
Although I didn’t feel it then, I’m very proud that I was born whilst Harold Wilson was Prime Minister. I liked Harold Wilson. He was a good man, and even though the pipe smoking thing was just PR, it still stood him out from the others. I miss Mike Yarwood impersonating him.
My earliest memory is the time I cried on a beach in Dorset when my father told me that I couldn’t have an ice cream. It seems that from an early age my love for a seaside Mr Whippy was deeply ingrained. Having spoken to my mother at great length about this since, it seems that I did actually lead a rather active life well before that first memory. Indeed, I have been reliably informed that when I was 2 years-old I sat on a Chinese man’s hat in a barbers shop and giggled.
The next thing I remember is being whipped into hospital to have my foreskin removed. I have since gone over this event many times in my mind and have always come to the same conclusion. IT DIDN’T NEED TO HAPPEN. But I’m glad it did, and I’ll tell you why.
One evening, I was splashing about in the bath and my father was over by the sink keeping an eye on me. You have to remember here that I was four, so there was nothing weird about this. Anyway, he looked down at my dinky-dido (my pet name at the time for a penis) and said to me, “Does that hurt?”
“Yes,” I replied. Not because it did hurt, but because I thought a strong affirming ‘yes’ was the answer my father wanted to hear.
“Right,” he said, “we can sort that out. If you agree to go into hospital I’ll get you that Dinky police van you want.”
At four years-old this seemed a very good deal to me. I lose a bit of loose skin I saw no point in for a toy van that had a lifting rear door. I duly agreed. And that’s how I ended up without a foreskin. It is also why, on the rare occasions when I do see another man’s penis (like when I saw Former Prime Minister Edward Heath’s in 1999), I always think they look very odd compared to mine. Of course, statistically I’m the odd one, but as we all know, a world view can only be determined from what is regularly laid out in front of you.
Soon after I lost my foreskin I started primary school. It was all quite normal. There were some obvious high points, like the long hot summer of 1976 when Craig Adam broke his nose and got a Rolo from the dinner lady to placate his pain. I became very jealous at that and wanted a Rolo for myself. I considered banging my head on a brick wall in an effort to receive one, but was stopped in my tracks by the realisation that the Rolo given to Craig was the last of the pack. In fact, I survived a further 22 years before I broke any bone in my body. When I did, it was a shoulder blade, cracked when falling from a skateboard whilst hurtling down a disused runway wearing only a pair of yellow shorts and a single flip-flop.
Around the time of the broken nose incident I gained an intense dislike for my local Co-op and started The Anti Co-op Society. I had about five fellow members and we all made a solemn vow to hold our breaths every time we walked past the evil shop. I took my aversion a stage further and would cry loudly if I found out my mother had been shopping in that ‘retail temple of discord’.
It was during these early years that my love of writing nonsense first developed. I remember hosting a special lunchtime classroom rendition of a story I had written about a spaceman. The highlight of the story was when his lunchtime fish fingers flew out of the spaceship window because of zero gravity. The marvellous reaction of my classmates to this story set me on the road I try my best to follow now.
THIS WOULD BE A GOOD POINT TO HAVE A BREAK AND MAKE A CUP OF TEA. I REALISE THIS IS A LONG PIECE OF WRITING
In 1981 I moved to senior school where, for the first few months, I was teased for having a briefcase. I quickly gave into peer pressure and got my parents to buy me a blue Adidas bag. This was later replaced by a red Puma one. It was probably the Puma bag that got me my first date at 13. I took the girl, let’s call her Diana, to a local fete and she tried to make me go apple bobbing. I refused, so she took the mickey out of my Dunlop Greenflash. We didn’t date again.
Around this time I started doing homemade tape-recorded shows with my good friend Simon Rhodes. We would pretend to be Laurel and Hardy and other assorted characters. On one occasion we were recording the song ‘Underneath the Mango Tree’ from the James Bond film Dr No, and when we reached the final note I broke wind. This provided hilarity for many months.
Writing, though, was never far from my thoughts during this time. I embarked on a series of books called ‘Big Phil’s Books of Bumper Fun.’ In all there were five volumes. They contained numerous childish jokes and parodies of TV shows and adverts. I must say they were very well received amongst my fellow pupils and I was greatly pleased. Unfortunately, one day my English teacher found a volume and read it. I think it was volume 1 (which was always the best). Although she laughed, I was warned that if any other teacher had found the book I would have been in trouble. She was a good teacher Miss Lloyd. There were rumours amongst the boys that she had once posed naked for Playboy, but I always thought that was unlikely because she had a rather wide head. Although, on reflection, she did regularly wear leather trousers, so who knows?
I left school in 1986 to go and do my A levels at college. It was there that I had my first proper girlfriend. She was Greek like Prince Philip and went on to become an architect. I made up for not being Greek by devoting time to my writing. I also started The Bruce Forsyth Appreciation Institute, which was a roaring success with 68 paid up members. Everybody got a membership card and a monthly newsletter outlining all the current Bruce Forsyth news. This was an easy task as those were the glorious days of Play Your Cards Right and Bruce’s second stint on The Generation Game.
It was whilst at college that my ‘fashion’ sense was radically overhauled. Growing up in Middlesex meant that I was surrounded by suburban casuals who I took my clothing cues from. Many a time I was to be seen out in a pair of grey slip on shoes, white terry towelling socks, a pair of grey Farrah slacks and a red Slazenger jumper. By the time I got to college I was wearing skin-tight Pepe jeans (with attached complimentary key ring) and a pastel coloured jumper (usually green or pink). When I left college I was wearing black turned up Levi 501s, suede shoes, a roll neck sweater, waistcoat and tweed jacket. I was, to quote Norman Tebbit, “a jumped up twat.”
But, back to college. Firing my creative juices further than The Bruce Forsyth Appreciation Institute, I started to note that the blank walls around the college could do with a bit of cheering up. Together with my good friend Steve Adam we drew 300 A4 pictures of Dougal from The Magic Roundabout and went in early one morning to put them all up. For good measure we also drew an 8-feet by 6-feet giant Dougal and popped that up in the reception area.
We couldn’t have been more pleased with the results. At one stage there were even copycat pictures of other classic TV characters going up. The whole place was awash with art. The college authorities, however, took the whole episode very badly, viewed it all as vandalism and declared their intent to destroy all traces of the offending dog and attendant supporting cast. Fortunately, a vociferous revolt against this by some kindly Dougal supporters meant that our drawings survived. There is an unsubstantiated myth that at a college board-meeting the head of maths stood up and made an impassioned speech defending the Dougals. I left college shortly after and never found out if the myth was true. But like all good myths, we choose to believe them because they make the world a better place and give our lives some meaning.
PROBABLY TIME FOR ANOTHER SHORT BREAK NOW
I spent the next three years at The University of Kent in Canterbury doing a political theory and philosophy degree. Lowlights included living in Herne Bay without a phone and splitting up with my long-term girlfriend after she slept with a bald chap from Skegness called Mike. I considered Mike’s advances to my girlfriend particularly inappropriate as we had both gone to a David Sylvian concert just two months before the foul deed AND shaken hands at the end of that evening. It taught me the valuable lesson to be wary of follicly challenged boys from rundown seaside resorts.
When the obligations of study and essay writing were over in 1991, I took to the big world of colours and shapes with glee, spending the majority of my time signing on the dole and walking up and down Richmond Upon Thames high street talking to window cleaners. It wasn’t long before I enrolled in a drama course and met a girl who lived in a tower block. This excited me no end because I’ve always been a fan of tall buildings. Fuelled by the knowledge that my friendship with the girl from the tower block would lend itself to me visiting a tall building regularly, I cultivated the relationship and we started to write poetry together. There is little that can beat the thrill of writing poetry on the 13th floor of a badly designed 1960s council tower block, although I was a little disappointed that she didn’t live right at the top like Mary, Mungo and Midge.
Eventually we both ended up on the stand-up poetry circuit in London and I had a fine time doing that for the next few years. I always enjoy playing to audiences of fellow performers and 3 Swedish tourists who stumble upon the night by accident and leave during the interval, so the poetry circuit suited me just fine.
During that time I was lucky enough to start getting my work in a few low circulation magazines and a couple of cheap book collections. I was also fortunate enough to win a poetry Competition in 1996. It was nice to win something because, up until then, my only achievements were a green 20-metre swimming badge and a BAGA gymnastics stage 4 certificate. (I could never get to stage 3 as I was unable to do the required cartwheel. I still can’t now – not with my knees).
As much as my live work and writing were a joy, the money I generated wasn’t really enough to keep up with my outgoings, so in 1997 I took a deep breath and decided to get a ‘proper job’- my first since leaving university six years previously. I joined the music retailer HMV in their telephone mail order department (because I liked the little dog on the company logo) and promptly started dating my boss. I also started to do grown-up things like commute and buy a flat near Slough.
HMV soon moved offices from metroland and I went with them to central London. My favourite memory of this period is being slapped in the face by a girl in a nightclub whilst standing next to Lauren Laverne. All good things come to an end however, and I moved to a large retail internet company. I didn’t enjoy that much so I left and took up bird watching for a couple of months. To this day I can point out a Great Crested Grebe when I see one, although I am still rubbish when it comes to finches and pipits.
I then took employment with a large motor manufacturer. It wasn’t that I had any great love for cars (I’m not Jay Kay) or desire to work for the company; it was simply that this company had built a nice new shiny building right near my house, and that sort of thing tends to be the way I decide whether to go for a job or not.
I spent five years in that shiny building. The money was good, the perks were ace, I fancied a girl in Finance – what could possibly go wrong? Well, lots really. Having to talk to car dealers on the phone all day was pretty unpleasant for a start. Then you had to factor in wearing a suit all week. On top of that I had to cope with a boss who went to see Shania Twain live – twice.
HAVE ANOTHER BREAK NOW, WE GO A LITTLE DARK HERE
I tried my best to write and do silly projects during those 5 years, but the energy and zest just weren’t there. I felt inspiration was being zapped out of me by having to conform to the corporate life. In the end it got to me and I got very down about it all. I don’t mind admitting it though. I mean, it happened to Alistair Campbell too and nobody dare call him a weak fool.
Let’s skip over the details here and just say I was exhausted and a bit all over the place. So I went to Cornwall. It’s what everybody does the moment they are signed off work.
I found a fantastic hotel there that offered me everything I wanted; peace, quiet, a view of the sea and a nice bar to do my writing and silly projects in. I booked myself in there for a month. At £50 a night though I couldn’t really stay beyond a month and my time in that hotel had to come to an end. Maybe it was the view of the beach, maybe it was my proximity to a very exciting RAF base, but I knew I needed to stay in the area. So I took a stroll up to the local campsite and bought a 1972 caravan with no toilet. It had a bright orange interior. I decided to make it my home for the summer.
This summer lasted one week. On my first Saturday night, fuelled by my state of mind, a bottle of whisky and a £20 bag of Mexican magic mushrooms (which I ate raw) I started to hallucinate in my caravan. I could have coped with the large inflatable Rick Wakeman that was trying to break in through the window, and the cat outside with the head of Selina Scott, but what was to come later made me realise I’d probably not made the wisest choice with my concoction of drink and fungi. I decided it would be a jolly good idea to run around the campsite naked. This I duly did, safe with my belief that the happy campers who were sitting around barbecues enjoying the evening with their young children would applaud me and find the whole escapade to their taste. I darted in and out of all the nooks and crannies I could find and ran around the field with a big smile on my face waving to the campers.
“He’s got no foreskin,” one of the mothers shouted.
“Ah-ha,” I cried, “but I’ve got a Dinky police van.” I gave her a thumbs-up and continued my crooked sprint.
Happy with my work and still believing I was providing much needed entertainment to the campers, I retired back to the caravan where I got hold of my mobile phone and started to call everyone I knew. I was very keen to tell my boss exactly what I thought of him and let him know that I’d once urinated in his desk drawer. I hadn’t actually done that, but why let the truth get in the way of a good story? Unfortunately I didn’t have his telephone number so I was unable to complete this task; something I still regret.
But I did speak to a lot of people whilst sitting naked in my caravan stroking a pillow that I thought was an otter. I guess I must have said a few things that caused my friends concern because it wasn’t long before a paramedic and a policeman appeared at my door. I promptly covered myself with a duvet. It was ok to run around the campsite with nothing on, but I’ll be blowed if an officer of the law was going to see my genitalia.
I asked the paramedic if he was a yellow leopard called Ralph and got very excited in my belief that the policeman was, in fact, Carry On star Charles Hawtry back from the dead. The yellow leopard and Charles Hawtry sat with me for quite a long time and eventually left when I told them that there was no way they were going to take me to the police station or hospital because I had a magic blanket that made me invisible.
I was duly turfed off the campsite the following morning by the owner, who brought his elderly father along as security back-up. As a gesture of goodwill I told them they could have the caravan back. I’m a generous soul if nothing else.
At this moment in time it felt as if the Cornwall adventure had gone a little awry. I decided to hot-foot it back to London and pick up the pieces of my shattered dream. On the way I had to stop off at Newquay police station to identify myself because someone had kindly reported me as a missing person. The policeman assured me that I didn’t look much like I was missing. I agreed and we both had a jolly good laugh about it. I then left Cornwall and got clocked doing 117mph. The court appearance was a novelty, the fine was large, the ban was 2 months.
It was clear that I wasn’t really functioning that well so the BUPA councillor that my company were paying for suggested, rather forcefully, that it would be a good idea to check myself into rehab. It all sounded rather showbiz and glam so I eagerly agreed. So started my five-week residency at a clinic in Windsor. At £4000 a week I was rather chuffed BUPA were picking up the tab.
Those five weeks were a dream. I can’t speak highly enough about the clinic and how it sorted me out, so I won’t. Suffice to say I got myself back on the straight and narrow and met some wonderful friends.
TAKE A SHORT BREAK. THIS WILL BE YOUR FINAL ONE
Once out of the clinic I decided to leave my job and drive back to Cornwall for another stab at the place. This time it was ace. I didn’t eat any raw mushrooms and just wrote, did silly projects, met lots of lovely people and had a jolly good time.
By early 2006 I’d done pretty much all I had set out to do and decided to return to London for a change of scene. Once there, I sat down and had a think about a few things. One of the reasons I had gone to Cornwall was to be free of the many obligations that face us in everyday life. I was sick of financial commitments like bills, mortgages, council tax, blah, blah, blah; In short, all the boring stuff that we have to put up with just to exist. To this end, I decided that I should sell my house (it was a new build near Slough) and just travel around in my van, visiting lovely places, living from one town to the next and not having to owe anybody anything. By doing that I could write in peace and not be stuck in a system I wanted no part of. So in November 2006 I put some of my more prized possessions (like my collection of sticks and my Concorde model) into storage and sold my house. It was a shame to leave my 82-year-old shaky headed neighbour who lived to the right of me, but it wasn’t a shame to leave the chubby woman and her miserable and rude boyfriend who lived to the left.
The 2 years in the van were fun. I just did my own thing and went where I wanted. It was a good life. You’d be amazed at the number of nuclear bunkers you can visit in a week if you’ve got no job and a motorhome. And, of course, if you’re tired after your visit, you can just sleep in the car park, imagine it’s still the Cold War and pretend you’re involved in ‘the hub of secrecy’ going on beneath you. If you’re feeling really fanciful, you can pretend that Harold Wilson is below you, guiding the nation through Armageddon. I know I did.
Then I met a lovely girl. Because she accepted my admiration for 1960s Soviet architecture and large machines we decided to move to Brighton together. Parking in Brighton is hard at the best of times so I sold the motorhome shortly after arriving. We also got a flat together, so I didn’t need to sleep in the van any longer. We do both miss the motorhome, but as we’ve now got Sky Plus, a ball chair and a Squeaky Ronald Reagan dog toy we’re largely over the discord of it all.
And that’s pretty much it. I live in Brighton, I stand on stage with PowerPoint, write stuff and do silly projects. I love it - the world is good. I’m pleased to report that I haven’t been naked in public for over 7 years and the Dinky police van that was my payment for unwanted circumcision is safe in my parent’s loft. Maybe one day I will dig it out, place it in a glass presentation box and write a little caption underneath in an impressive font explaining its story. I will then donate it to the Science Museum. They will be gracious in their acceptance of it and then send it off to their Swindon storage warehouse where it will never be seen again.