Simon Smith's Autobiography
Sometimes a single moment can change your whole life. More commonly though it's a series of incidents that slowly have their effect.
* * *
August 9 th 2007
I am driving to London from Eastbourne . My roof is down, the sun is shining, I'm cruising at the speed limit, for a change. I am on the intersection of the motorway between the south coast (The M23) and the one that circumferences London (The M25). Before joining the M25 there is another intersection which requires I give way to any cars on it, the car ahead of me brakes a bit to give way to a white car and I see another car, a blue one, coming along that could let me in but doesn't. They're going quite fast and accelerating and don't look like they're going to let me in so I brake. I'm slightly irritated but I know they've got right of way. Somewhere in my mind I've already built up a picture of the driver. It's a man, most likely in his 30's or early 40's, he's a bit unkempt, likes to think he's tough, and wants to teach me a lesson because I'm driving a flashy car. – Could be describing myself -.
As we drive on to the main motorway I decide I want to accelerate in to the overtaking lane. I look over my shoulder to check the lanes are clear, accelerate and sweep in to the overtaking lane. I'm going to overtake the blue car that hadn't let me in earlier but as I approach both he and another, car which he is tailgating, pull in to the lane I'm in thereby forcing me to brake. The guy in the blue car has now been promoted in my mind as really aggressive, a bully, someone I want to stand up to. I'm thinking “fuck you, you wanker, who do you think you are?” So given there's room on their inside I pull into it, and decide that I‘m going to pull in to the gap which suddenly appears in front of the blue car because the white car in front of it has pulled away. Without indicating I slowly pull in front of the car, I deliberately want to wind him up, cut him up, fuck him up. As I'm a quarter of the way in to the lane I notice the nose of his car in the corner of my eye, he's accelerated and not given way, I think “fuck he's hard, he doesn't care if we crash, in fact he wants to hit me, he wants to ram me, so I quickly pull back in to my lane. I pull in behind him he sounds his horn and brakes hard. I shout out “That's what you just did to me”. His passenger opens his window and pulls his wing mirror in, I realise the cars have touched, I look at my mirror to see if I can see if there's any damage, but my mirror's been knocked out of place so I pull it in. They decelerate further and I kick down and undertake them I mouth some obscenities as I pass them and drive off leaving them behind, far behind.
* * *
I have spent weeks trying to write this chapter. Slowly it has written itself in my mind, and the incident with the car the other day literally drove me to get on with it. You see there's more to come which I shall reveal shortly.
This chapter is about several issues, the first is about the consequence of violence, and the second is about classic story telling. A few months ago I was involved in a film which followed another painter and I as we produced some paintings together. I got a phone call a few weeks ago at exactly same intersection of the M23 and M25 in which I was told that the editor / cameraman had pulled out of the project because he didn't think we had a good enough story. And furthermore he didn't want any of the film clips with him in to be included.
Maybe the ghosts of the houses that were demolished in order for this bit of the motorway to be built haunt drivers as they pass this spot.
Anyway this whole episode got me thinking about how story structure could relate to a book such as this and whether or not what I was writing could be interesting to anyone else but those who already knew me.
Classic story structure basically follows this path. There's a protagonist, and they're normally the central character, the hero – or anti-hero -, (that's me b y the way, although I'm not quite sure which one I am). Their path normally follows a journey that in someway we can relate to ourselves, and indeed what they tell us about ourselves is often what really enraptures us.
The story of the blue car and my road rage, it may horrify you but at the same time you might recognise this rage as something you feel too.
The shape of story structure is like a line travelling horizontally, then going up or down diagonally to a point then returning to a different level as the initial horizontal line. Along this journey a classically founded story will reveal through its development some background information, some action, a degree of conflict, and in it's end sequences there'll be crisis, climax and consequences. To put it simply you should get to know a bit about the protagonist, then through some action there'll most likely be some conflict, often involving either risk to or suffering for the protagonist, then as you approach the end of the story there'll most likely be more action or heightened drama where matters are sorted out or not, as in a tragedy, and ultimately either the protagonist or at least the audience learn something from the story.
In a long story, such as this, there is a device called an arc, this is a symbol for the development of the protagonist's character. A series of stories lead the hero (ME) or anti hero to a different place emotionally and psychologically.
So why am I writing about this? Well I am just about to reveal my fall to you.
* * *
But first… The Blue car.
I have driven about 4 miles, I see a car about half a mile behind me flash its lights, it looks like the car I was involved with. I don't want to run away but at the same time this could become a lot more violent. My exit junction is less than a mile away. I pull in to my lane, and slow down, I could go on to the next junction but I decide to face them here. The car is catching up and pulls in behind me, only it doesn't look like the same car this one looks newer and cleaner. The driver is flashing his headlights at me so I pull in to the hard shoulder. Then I think it is the guys I had a clash with so I start to pull away and they follow, this time the passenger is pointing at a warrant card. I accept it's probably the police and pull over.
As the passenger gets out and approaches me he puts on a yellow safety vest with “Metropolitan Police” written on it. I get out and walk towards him.
“Do you know why we've pulled you over sir?”
I feel like saying “Why don't you tell me you fascist pig” but I refrain, instead I say “For speeding?”
“Yes and what else?”
“And because of the incident with those guys back there”
“We are “”those guys””
At this point I want to fall to my knees and scream “Noooooooooooooooooooooo” but instead I say “OK”
“Was there a reason for you pulling in front of us?”
“Well I got wound up by the way those guys, I mean you, pulled in front of me”
“But sir does the highway code not state that you should give way on such an intersection?”
“Yes I realise that but it wasn't at that point that I got wound up, it's when you pulled up in front of me”
At this moment the other officer strides up and says
“I just want you to know that I didn't appreciate the way you tried to kill me back there”
“I didn't, I tried to pull in front of you to show you what you'd done to me, I was really shocked when you continued towards me, I couldn't believe it!”
“So it was road rage?”
“You do realise that what you did would easily result in you being banned from driving if we went to court”
“I realise what I did was wrong, I'm not trying to defend it. I'm prepared to face the rap”
I don't know why but at this point I started to try to make the best of the situation and imagined how much weight I'd lose if I was to cycle everywhere and how much money I'd save if I didn't drive.
“Do you have any points on your license?”
“How long have you been driving?”
“What's your zodiac sign?” Ok he didn't really ask that
But then he asked me what I did for a living. The real answer normally goes something like “I'm a painter, a singer song writer, a photographer, a writer, a web designer, a computer consultant – whatever that means -, a property developer, and a teacher”
Instead I just said “I'm a Teacher”
“Well that's a good point for you?”
I did wonder what jobs might have not boded so well. City trader, estate agent, civil rights campaigner, all came to mind.
“Ok we're not going to take this any further”
I wanted to jump in the air and scream “Yehaaaaaaaaaaaa” but I bowed my head and said “Thank you”.
They asked me to gain as much speed as I could on the hard shoulder before joining the carriageway – I did think that had I got up to a 120 mph that might have been a bit too literal. So instead I drove slowly and endured them trundling past me a bit later. I was tempted to wave, but instead the passenger looked sternly forward.
* * *
The next day I drove a co-worker through London and I remembered how he had told me that he'd converted to Islam at a time when he felt he was a bit out of control. That it was a stabilising force for him. I had told him about the incident with the blue car and said that I felt it had a similar significance to me. It was a controlling force that I secretly yearned for. The part of me that is wild leads me in to such dangerous situations that I am scared of it, and want it to be curbed.
* * *
A few weeks ago, Julia, the mother of my sons, asked me to deal with Harry. He had lost his temper and strewn a load of things down the stairs then locked himself in the bathroom. So I walked slowly up to the bathroom and knocked on the door. No answer. I tried the door but it was locked. “Harry, I'm going to come back in ten minutes. If you haven't cleared this mess up by then, then there'll be trouble.”
I walked away and about seven minutes later I returned and said “OK this is what's going to happen if you don't clear up. I am going to return in five minutes and break the door open, come in, grab you by your hair, take you outside the house and call social services to come and get you because you can't live here if you don't abide by the rules. I'm willing to listen to what you have to say but only when you clear up this mess”
I walked away and within a minute or so he cleared up. I came upstairs and thanked him then said I was here if he wanted to talk. But he didn't.
There's a paradox in all of this, as I walked up and down those stairs I was petrified that I would go berserk and beat up my own child. So far I have never hit my children, I've threatened it a few times, but never hit them. I once marched Harry in to his bedroom by his hair when he wouldn't leave the living room after Julia had asked him to and as I left the room I looked back and he was sobbing, and I felt so sorry for the poor little mite, he looked so alone. But now as they approach their difficult teenage years I am worried sick that I will lose it with them in a battle for power and end up destroying the love between us.
* * *
Last night I dreamt that the children were much younger and we were on a road somewhere and Gabriel was playing up, so I threatened to make him walk home alone. In real life Julia plays along with this game, in fact it was hers originally. Her father had done it to her. But in this dream she feels sorry for Gabriel and orders a taxi which they take home.
* * *
I am making love to a woman, her legs and arms are wrapped tightly around me. We are covered in sweat. Our bodies are sliding against each other. The movements are deep, slow, hard ones. She is coming and between her breaths she is whispering “Come, come inside me, I want you to come inside me”
* * *
The sudden twists of fate rarely come after a bout of careful thought. They come from nowhere, out of the blue.
* * *
A few months ago I played around in a virtual world on the Internet called Second Life. It's a three dimensional virtual landscape in which you can build houses, see other people, speak to them, go to clubs, sunbathe, shop, you name it. During my first few days there I frequented a few bars. I was sitting in one drinking virtual orange juice speaking to three beautifully dressed Japanese women, who were actually men in real life. I realised I actually like sitting and chatting in bars. It's a good way to meet people. I was rather surprised to find the other night whilst sitting in a real bar in Eastbourne how much it reminded me of sitting in a bar in Second Life!
Via myspace.com I have met quite a few people in Eastbourne since moving here last November. One such “new friend” is called Steve and he and I have been writing songs together over the last month or so. After a typical song writing session we tend to go out to a couple of the late bars around here, I don't drink, which, Steve says, makes my antics even more inexcusable.
So far nearly every night out has ended up with us at Maxims which is a bar with a night club downstairs. When I dance Steve stands there, rotating his pelvis in slow motion laughing hysterically at me. He says it's good to see the old spirit of Saturday Night Fever is still with us.
Normally as we drive home we take the long way which involves cruising around the town centre about 5 times while Steve shouts out “Free open top taxi, government sponsored free open taxi” to any groups of women we drive past. Quite frequently they'll shout back “Give us a lift”. Well there's always one who'll shout “no it's ok mate, you might murder us”. Steve then puts his hand up and says with an official tone. “It's ok. We're part of a government sponsored scheme. The government are getting local millionaires to give back to the community. So we're out giving lifts. The only problem is we can't give lifts to other millionaires. Are you millionaires? If you are you'll have to get out.” By the end of this spiel they're snuggled up in the back seats saying, “Don't worry mate we live in [whatever road they say] we ain't millionaires…. Oooh I ain't been in a convertible before, well not when its roof was down anyway. I hope you ain't expecting anything for this you two?”
Steve interjects in his official capacity “Oh no we're not allowed to receive any payment for this, that would be against the spirit of the scheme.”
One of them will invariably ask me “How comes you're sitting so close to the steering wheel mate, you're almost kissing the mirror?”
“Shhh Claire he's got no arms” the slightly less drunk one will try to whisper. Normally they go quiet at this point for a second because the one who's just been told to shhh can't believe what she's heard. A couple of seconds later they're waving and shouting hello to strangers as we drive along. By the end of the journey Steve has fallen in love with one of them, and much to my disbelief gets a snog from at least one of them although normally it's not the one he's fallen for though.
I used to think drunken women were a danger to themselves but the other day I was put right. Steve and I had been talking to a woman in Maxims who was so drunk we started to avoid her. A bit later on she approached me and leant forward to say something to me. I could feel her move towards my neck and I thought, “She wants to kiss my neck, I think I'll let her”. I felt her mouth open over the side of my neck. Within a second she bit my neck so hard that I thought she'd cut through to my carotid artery. I couldn't push her away because I thought that might cause even more damage, I couldn't hit her because that might make her bite me even harder. I realised I was close to her killing me, even if it was by accident. I don't know if I made any noise but it would have been drowned out by the music. After a few seconds she started to pull me up off of my feet. At this point I was pretty scared. She then let go and I dropped back down to my normal height – or lack of it -. I put my arm to my neck to see if there was any blood, there wasn't, but then Steve, who'd just come over, looked at me and yelped “Oh my God”. Where she'd bitten me had bulged up immediately and there was bruising straight away where her teeth had been.
Some people pay a lot of money for that kind of thing. Maybe I should be grateful.
A day later we went to another bar. I put my bag on a seat while I put my car keys in it. I heard the guy at the table say “I'm gonna chin the guy behind me in a minute” so presuming he was talking about Steve I said “I hope you're not talking about my mate”.
“Nah it's someone else”
A minute later the guy pushed me and I stumbled a bit sideways. I was holding my drink and nearly spilt it. I looked at him and he was smiling and moving in a drunken motion. I felt confused. There were 5 of them and just Steve and I. I couldn't tell why he'd done it. At first we moved away but then I said to Steve that I was getting wound up by it so I went and stood right next to them again and looked in their direction. I could feel my rage beginning to bubble up. At this point, still out numbered, I thought that if anything was to happen that we might get kicked out and banned. The reasons for not getting in to a fight were stacked up against me.
I eventually thought I'd wait for him to go to the toilet then follow him and while he urinated punch him as hard as possible in his spine with my sharp stump, but the damage I could do might be permanent and isn't really worth it. So realising I would lose too much if I tried to avenge what had happened I concluded I couldn't really do anything.
A bit later we're joined by a couple of friends and I pointed out the guy who'd pushed me to one of the others who looksed at him, as he did so the guy who pushed me looked down.
A few days later we were in the bar and talked to the bar staff about them and they said they wanted to stop them coming in because they were trouble makers and they didn't want to lose peaceful customers like us because of the likes of them.
So where's this going?
Before I show you my fall I wanted you to see the consequences of it. They aren't particular positive ones it hasn't taught me not to be violent. Instead it's injected me with a kind of poison, a darkness that when pushed is ruthless and while at odds with much of my character can inflict violence upon others. And it can come out of the blue.
* * *
I'm driving in London , it's raining hard. A man walks out slowly in front of me causing me to come to a halt. I bib my horn at him. He turns his back to me and sticks his arse up at me. I drive forward and push him over. He falls to the ground. He gets up. I stare at him. “I'll fucking kill you you fucking cunt”. He looks scared. He steps out of the way. I drive off.
Somewhere South of Manchester
Lee and I are sitting in my Saab 900i, we've pulled up in front of a coach. A man gets out and approaches us. “Right you've had your fun, but you better go before you get hurt.”
“I tell you what” I say “When the guy who spat on us comes and apologises we'll go”
“That isn't going to happen”
I reverse around the coach and pull up behind it.
“I think we should go” says Lee
“In a minute” I say.
A couple of guys walk towards us
I speed forwards and pull up in front of the coach again
This time there's about 20 men waiting there. One grabs Lee's door open.
He pulls it closed and locks the door
I spin the car around so we're facing them
They are beckoning us
I drive forward at full speed
I don't know if we hit any of them but they're all sprawled across the road, mostly from diving out the way.
At that point a police car comes round the corner. Its blue light starts to flash. I accelerate off as fast as I can. We're speeding down country lanes. I can see the blue light fading. I take a hard hairpin right turn and speed as fast as possible toward the Pennines . The sun is coming up as we come over the top, it's been snowing, it looks stunning, we're on top of the world.
* * *
I am currently reading “Man's Search For Meaning” by Victor E Frankl, which is the reflections of a psychiatrist who survived the Nazi concentration camps in World War 2. His story makes mine look like a positive walk in the park. A couple of lines struck me in terms of what I'm trying to convey about violence here. “It is not the physical pain which hurts the most (and this applies to adults as much as to punished children); it is the mental agony caused by the injustice, the unreasonableness of it all.”
Perhaps deep down I carry with me a sense of being treated unfairly, maybe being disabled has a part to play, although it's more the unfairness with which people have treated me than the physical limitations of being disabled. Even Shakespeare recognised this when he wrote :
"In nature there's no blemish but the mind;
None can be called deform'd but the unkind.”
Twelfth Night, Act III, Scene IV
Perhaps it was the frustration of the early years, but then my father and my half brother on my mother's side is similar too. So maybe I'll never know why I have this ruthless violent streak, but it was there when I lost my temper at 5 years old and kicked my mother in the head. But from seven years old it took control.
The journey of my descent will have to wait ‘til the next chapter.
End of chapter 13