Thursday, 25 September 2008

Big Wednesday

Readers of a certain age may remember the cult classic film 'Big Wednesday', originally released, I believe, in the late 1970's. Big Wednesday deals with subjects as diverse as adolescent angst, the Vietnam War and the relentless passage of time, all conveyed through the medium of surfing, partying and being punched in the face through a watermelon. My own Big Wednesday this week dealt with the diverse subjects of belonging, what it means to be a man and expectation, conveyed through the medium of motorcycles, loft conversions and Swansea.

Ever since I was small child, I have harboured within me a desire to belong. One of my very earliest memories of this primal urge was my joy, at six years of age, at being accepted into the Duffed-In Dolly's Head Gang* by the leader of the gang, Christian Barker. I had wanted to be in his gang for weeks, but he kept me waiting. Not, I should point out, for the same reason that Gary Glitter might have kept a six-year old boy waiting for weeks to be in his gang. His gang. His gang, etc. It would, after all, be a very disturbed eight year old indeed who would keep me waiting as some form of perverse foreplay. He just had to be sure that I had the 'Right Stuff', which in the case of the DDH was a willingness to wee on the grass dens made by the Tordoff Way Gang. (Typically, hastily constructed by the TWG in the days following the council mowing the grass in the field at the end of the street.) He'd doubtless heard of my gung-ho spirit from other gang members, who had seen me throwing KP crisp packets, full of urine, over the wall of the Gladstone Infants School's outside toilets, to land, indiscriminately, in the Enemy/Girls' playground. (In many ways this was a late 1970's pre-cursor of the United States Air Force's 'Shock & Awe' tactics.) But here was the rub. I didn't like anyone else in the gang. I wasn't even particularly keen on Christian Barker; he sweated a lot and lived in one of 'those' houses. But I was desperate to belong; to be in the gang. The years rolled by and the cycle repeated, to summarise,

1980-1985 Somerset Road Gang - The SRG hung around the lamp-post outside Sharon Williams' house. Gang activities included hanging around the lamp-post outside Sharon Williams' house and water fights, which I always took too seriously. Consequently, everyone in the gang hated me. But not as much as I hated them.

1986- Dungeons and Dragons Gang - The DDG met in Stuart Beasley's house and 'played' Dungeons and Dragons. Even at 14 years of age I was astounded by the banality of rolling a big dice and 'fighting' other 'players' who, I was convinced, would always be 'virgins', unless, of course, they became 'homosexuals'.

1986-2006 Any Rugby Team I've Ever Played For Gang - The ARTIEPFG was my longest gang affiliation. I loved playing rugby and being part of a team. However, if those teams had comprised solely of me, I would have loved it even more.

The current gang I belong to is the Motorcycle Gang. I started riding a motorcycle when I stopped playing rugby. I had a romanticized vision of hanging around with cool friends, and riding my bike like a mad-man. As usual, my desire to belong blinded me to the facts.

1. I have met precisely no cool bikers. They are either ne-er-do-well mute dwarfs in one-piece racing leathers, 'adrenalin junky', aka, 'tedious' chartered accountants, who regale me with anecdotes relating to the loopholes in speed camera prosecutions, or fat, bearded waistcoat wearing men, with fat, bearded, waistcoat wearing wives.

2. I ride a bike like a imagine a haemophiliac would. I recently caused a four car tailback on the sweeping bend that skirts Cardiff/Wales Airport. The car immediately behind was a Renault 5 Campus Prima 1.0 driven by an elderly lady. I am so frightened of falling off, that I constantly talk aloud to myself whilst riding, reassuring myself that 'any idiot can ride a bike fast, Mike'.

Despite this I remain in the gang, and yesterday I rode (slowly) to Bridgend to have the first 600 mile service on my bike. Prioritising poorly, I had bought the bike new, at precisely the same time that I had started to buy sausages instead of real meat to save money. This was because I'd earned the sum total of £60 during the months of July and August. Until the 600 mile service is completed, a new bike's revs have to be kept low, resulting in a top speed, in the case of my bike, of around 65 mph. After the service I was assured by a grinning mechanic that I could now 'open her up' on the way home. I didn't. And I probably never will.

On the way back from Bridgend I called at my friend Lee's house. He has been converting his loft for the past few months, helped by several other friends. Co-incidentally, they have all been covered in chipboard dust and insulation fibres for exactly the same length of time that I have had a flare up of my 'bad back', which has precluded me from helping them. My coffee drinking abilities have been unaffected though, as has my ability to talk with authority, like a real man should, about a subject of which I know literally nothing about. I have found that if you use enough swear words, you can slot fairly seamlessly into any discussion about manual, manly, undertakings.

When I finally arrived home I did the dishes and cleaned the kitchen, before attendng to the pressing issue of sorting my T-Shirts into 'work-outs' (one would be more than enough), 'lounging', 'going out' and 'DIY'. I currently have two pairs of jeans, three pairs of shorts, six T-Shirts, one fleece, one boiler suit (blue with full length Velcro opening) and two pairs of trainers that I keep for 'DIY' purposes. Since August of 2007, my 'DIY' has extended to replacing a couple of light bulbs and repeatedly ignored one flickering fluorescent tube in the kitchen. But you never know.

In the evening I headed out in the Micra to a gig in Swansea. It was in an upstairs room at a pub and I was told that, whilst not being a big money gig, it would be good for my career, as the room would be full of journalists and media types, which, I'm not afraid to say, excited me. This, however, would have been a more accurate description were the room in question the size of my bathroom. As it was the more traditional 'pub room-sized' room in a pub, the 'full' description was a little optimistic, and all nine audience members looked to have no concerns ,whatsoever, of a claustrophobic nature. I also had a chance to try my new unplugged style as there was no microphone, though to be fair, the back row were sitting less than five feet from where I was standing. To give the nine their due, they were a very appreciative bunch and I thanked them all individually after. It didn't take very long.

I eventually got back to Cardiff at around midnight, and had to prepare my PE kit for the following day. The vast income generated by my comedy career was now forcing me, once more, into the purgatory of supply teaching. After that I took my jeans off, sat on the left side of the big sofa, turned the TV on and thought about death.

* The 'Duffed-In Dolly's Head Gang', were named after the gang's mascot, a dolly's head that had been found by Christian Barker. The head of the dolly had quite clearly been duffed-in at some point.

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