Nick Gerrard writes Gritty realism or social realism or as he likes to say ‘Working-class kitchen sink drama!’ His short stories, flash, poetry and essays have appeared in various magazines and books in print and online. Nick has five books published available on Amazon and elsewhere. His latest short story collection is called Struggle and Strife; fifteen short stories covering the political and personal struggles of today, yesterday, and the future.
Tony was always an Anarchist. From the top hat down to his winkle pickers; he never conformed. He always did things his way and usually this way was the way of trouble of one kind or another.
At school he had slapped a teacher who had hit him, so he got sent to borstal.
At borstal he hated the regimented rules and received beatings and lock downs galore, he was never a violent, hard man; he took his beatings in his stride. He was always just never gonna toe the line, whatever they threw at him, he didn’t care!
When punk happened his dad ran the Irish club and he worked behind the bar, we were all spiky hairs and docs; he dressed as a nun or a jester. He walked round town like this, I mean we got some aggro for looking like punks in the late seventies but Tony got more than most, but as I said he took it all in his stride.
Tony never wanted to work, he took bar jobs but never considered it real work, he saw it as a cheap way to get pissed and he loved to get pissed. He also loved to rob. If it could be stolen he would steal it, anything to make a quick quid.
When we lived in Brum we sold a load of the landlord’s old furniture we found in the back sheds, he grassed us up and we got done for it.
We dealt a little speed and dope as well and rented our flat out to the working girls and we went off to the pub with the money and we got pissed most nights until we could go home.
When the New romantic scene hit, Tony was already in the game, he hung around with the underground designers Kahn and Bell and contributed some of his creations to their cool store.
He featured in books and magazines; his was a face of the scene. It always made me laugh though cuss underneath all the make-up and clobber I knew he was a bad un.
As I said Tony loved a bit of thievery. When the girls were working we robbed the punters cars. If some stolen items came around we took the lot and flogged it to the shopkeepers on the Stratford road. At one drunken party we were at we went downstairs to the chippy and he robbed a jar of pickled eggs off the counter, the cops were called and I got done for it. I never grassed on him, you just didn’t do that.
Our life in Brum was exciting, prostitutes, drugs, clubs and bands. He was once offered the chance to join the Cool posey group Fashion but after the audition he came back.
‘Well. They offered me the job.’
‘But, I turned them down.’
‘For fuck’s sake why?’
‘I didn’t like the singer’s shoes.’
A few weeks later we watched them on the Tube in a Caribbean pub down the Ladypool road.
‘See; look at the state of them fucking shoes!’
You see it was all about the chaos for Tony.
He never read any books on Anarchism; he just lived his life that way. Our lives were hard so he made the best out of it.
We once went to a posh hotel in Brum and pretended to be Siouxsie and the Banshees and he blagged us in to a plush suite and we ordered champagne and roast beef sandwiches from room service. We left in the morning and no one was any the wiser.
He eventually outgrew Brum and moved to London, I went travelling instead.
Once in London he hit the underground squatting scene. Everyone squatted in those days; punks, would be rock musicians, fashion designers; it wasn’t all just druggies and drunkards. Young people couldn’t get flats like in Brum, so a whole sub-culture of squatting developed. If you wanted to meet musicians you met through a squat. These squats often held parties and they were righteous affairs.
I visited him in-between my journeys and stayed for a few weeks or so to collect enough dole money to be off again. The squats were filled with characters. In Tony’s there were some girls from Fashion Designers College who ran little stalls around Camden lock, not the multi marketed mega stalls etc of today. Tony made tee-shorts and I sold them with him outside the Blue Elephant pub. When we sold a tee-short we went in for a beer. He sold more of his clothes on the stalls and his stuff was much in demand; he didn’t make much money from it but enough to supplement his dole money. The guy who had broke into the Queens bedroom, Michael Fagan slept in the squat too with his two kids when they weren’t with their mum in an Indian tepee village in Wales. Tony booked a club and got a Queen look-alike to sit in a bed with Mr Fagan sitting on the bed singing along to God Save the Queen by the Pistols on a backing track.
But the most important person who lived there was Claudia. A real femme fatal. Short cropped bleached bob and a bohemian mix of clothes and a heroin habit brought over from the US. She was so infamous that the Damned had a song about her. Everyone fell for her, including me. But in Tony she had found a soul mate, sex never came into it, even though Tony was Bi. They partied and drugged every day, going to this gathering, this rehearsal session. They hob-knobbed with famous musos’ and artists and infamous characters in the squatting scene. They got onto every guest list. Everyone wanted to know them, to be around them…this sexual bombshell of trouble and this weirdly dressed character.
Artists invited them to their openings. I don’t know what it was but they drew the famous and would be famous artists and musos’ to them. And she got him into smack. The last I saw of him, as I went off to travel for about ten years his habit wasn’t bad, it was just a cool little thing to do, and it went with their personas, their image if you like.
It ended up being 25 years before we saw each other again, we met in Camden of course and I brought my son with me. The old Camden was gone now but a lot of the old faces still remained, others had passed on, either to fame and fortune or to the grave.
He was shaky when I met him, and his face drawn. I knew he needed a little fix but he tried to hide it, so he drank a lot. We sat opposite the lock with a pint and caught up.
He was now a kept man; a Greek love affair between him and an old artist and friend and muse of Lucian Freud. They had a farmhouse in Wales and a villa in France and a grotty little flat in Camden. His lover hadn’t come.
‘He doesn’t like people much.’
We reminisced. He told me he had done proper bird for burglary. Over a year.
‘How was it?’
‘Ah, you know, if you can avoid the violence it’s just boredom that’s the killer but there was plenty of horse to ride it out on.’
‘Claudia that fucking bitch, she fucked my life up, got me this little habit I can’t shake off my back. She went back to the states, married a musician and then an armed robber, and then I lost contact. Hope she’s fucking dead!’
He wanted to take me round some of the super cool fashion stalls under the viaduct. Where he was welcomed by the proprietors and they showed me his designs. His work was still very sort after and I could see he was proud of that. And I was proud of him. He promised to come to Prague and stay but I knew he wouldn’t. But the next day he rang me at a mate’s house and said…
‘I’ll be over on Tuesday, can you get smack over there?’ I knew he was on one.
‘Listen Tone, I don’t want no fucking smack shit going on if you visit, my Missis wouldn’t put up with it, but you are welcome to come please!’
‘Yeah I understand.’ And he put the phone down.
I haven’t heard from him since, and he took his profile off facebook. I wanted to get him to visit, I wanted to apologise for having a go at him about the smack, I wanted, I wanted…I don’t know what. I wanted to cuddle him and help him, and try and have a go at re-living the old days, but with me off the booze and him on the smack we just couldn’t have a relationship anymore.
And this makes me sad.