Simon Smith's Autobiography

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Chapter 16

 

Forgetfulness

 

I wake from a dream, in a moment it is gone. I live with a woman for 10 years and now I struggle to remember our time together. As I drive someone annoys me and I forget the morals I thought I lived by.

 

By the time I was ten I had pretty much forgotten myself.

 

* * *

23 rd July 2008

 

Driving North on the M23 towards London . About 2 miles South of Crawley. I look in my rear view mirror and see a police car speeding towards me, it's about half a mile behind me. I take my foot off the accelerator, and gently move in to the nearside lane, a slight anxiety passes over me regarding my speed and whether they're after me. I notice another car, which is a burgundy colour, just in front of it, its lights are on full beam and as they pass me I look and think they are police too. I'm relieved as they pass me.

 

* *

1975

 

The headmaster, Mr Garriock, requested my presence and duly I found myself standing with two other boys in the dark corridor outside his office. I was amazed to find quite a few incidents that I may be found guilty of and was busy going through counter arguments when he called me in.

 

“Sit down Simon” he took a puff from his pipe. “Excuse me a minute”

 

He went out to the other boys.

 

“So what are you two here for then?”

 

“Fighting”

 

“Well if I find you back here again, fighting'll be the least of your worries, have I made myself clear? Now go back to your class!”

 

He comes back into the room, and sits down, takes another puff of his pipe and looks at me.

 

“Well, well, what are we going to do with you Simon?” He pauses, just like the man in the Condor pipe tobacco adverts. “You're a bright boy, but you let yourself down. You fight, are disobedient and God knows what else you get up to. If you carry on like that you're going to end up in a lot of trouble. Is that what you want Simon?”

 

I nod a small nod of no.

 

“If you don't focus on your education what will you have?”

 

I'm tempted to point out that I have a naturally proficient criminal mind, but having such a mind means I know it's best not to.

 

“After the summer break you'll be doing an exam and the result of that exam will determine which school you go to, so now is the time to pull your socks up.”

 

I'm like a man facing the gallows.

 

“So from now until then I'm going to teach you a few hours a week.”

 

And that's what happened.

 

The fact that he was willing to pay me attention meant I felt indebted to him and so I tried to do well.

 

* * *

 

 

It is a cliché, but the attention I received from individuals who seemed to genuinely care, had an effect, and their actions found a place in my memory a long time after they had gone.

 

* * *

2008

One of my sons has drawn a smiley face in my touchpad.

 

A couple of days ago, a boy from their school had threatened to follow them home and smash our windows. Their crime had been that a friend of this boy had punched my son in the head from behind him and my son had turned around and punched him in the stomach which pushed the boy against as locker. At that point a teacher intervened. The boy then felt the fight had been stopped at a point that made it look like he lost so he set himself on a path of vengeance.

 

A few weeks later the same boy went up to a skinny bespectacled Indian boy, called him a “paky” and then with a well placed coin between his knuckles punched the boy in the eye. The boy collapsed immediately and was unconscious for some time. He was gashed and his vision damaged by this attack. The attacker is still at the school, but apparently receiving “special attention” and his friends are continuing his persecution of my son.

 

* * *

 

From 7 to 10 the changes most children experience are from external sources, but at 11 many children find their environment changes, as in they change schools and maybe even move to a different area to enable that, and at the same time their body and mind starts to change too.

 

* * *

July 2008

 

I'm sitting in front of a video camera, a group of youths are making a documentary on knife crime.

 

 

Did you ever carry a knife Simon?

“From about 11 onwards I had a fascination with weapons and violence, I bought a large “ Green river ” knife and strapped it to my leg and tucked the handle in to my sock. I wore a strap on my arm so I could hold it. I continued to carry it ‘til I was 13, when one evening I was jumping around in a Youth Club and it flew across the floor. One of the youth workers who I liked went ballistic and persuaded me to stop wearing it”

 

Why did you carry a knife?

 

“Because I wanted to create an impression to others that I was hard so people would either leave me alone or would show me some respect”

 

* * *

1981

 

I have cornered a boy in to a porch-way. He's screaming for me to leave him alone, but he's been taking the piss out of me and I know I have to teach him a lesson. I punch him hard on the nose and blood is all over his face. I then kick him really hard in the shin. He falls to the ground in tears. A woman comes out from another house and shouts at me, I walk off.

 

Six weeks later the boy walks up to me, apologises and shows me the bruise on his leg.

 

* * *

 

The police car is now a few hundred meters ahead of me and I can see other police cars further ahead too. There seems to be some kind of incident and the traffic is building up.

 

* * *

 

05/08/2008

 

I walk in to a place I'm working in today and As I do so there's a group of people standing in the corridor. One of them, who always reminds me of an ex gangster who's now gone straight has got a couple of very large boxing gloves. “Hold on a minute mate” he says “I've got an idea, put these on” so he puts them on my arms and I'm standing there and we're all laughing, I do a quick karate kick towards his head.

 

* * *

 

 

23 rd July 2008

 

It's quite difficult to know what's going on ahead. There're lots of police lights flashing, and then I see that the red car is trying to get past the police cars, first he feigns an attempt to drive up the bank to the side of the road but is blocked then he tries to weave between the gap created by the movement. The police aren't having it and four police cars ram him in to the central reservation. I hold back about 100 meters in case the guys in the car pull out any guns. The police however are all over the vehicle, whilst a couple of other officers beckon the onlookers' cars to pass as quickly as possible.

 

As I pass I see an attractive grey haired man, being handcuffed and laughing.

 

 

* * *

2008

 

What do you do if your children are being threatened by someone who's shown they're willing to attack a defenceless person?

 

My kids mum says they should just walk away, but when my son returned from the latest incident he was pale because he knew he was at risk from someone who'll attack even when unprovoked.

 

It stirs in me the characteristics of the kind of person that they are.

 

* * *

 

1975

 

My mother and I were in Paddington Station. She bought a porn magazine from a newspaper stand. I laughed in embarrassment.

 

“When you come back from your holiday I shall let you look at this, I don't want you to think sex or relationships are things you can't talk to me about”

 

She waved me goodbye from the platform holding a bag with a Monopoly game and a porn magazine in. The bag should have been labelled “Your Future”.

 

* * *

1975

 

200 miles and 5 hours later I arrived at Newton Abbot. A man called Robbie met me there. He looked like a wood cutter from a fairy story, well he didn't have a green velvet Robin Hood suit on but he was bearded and had a check shirt on.

 

“Hello Simon, welcome to Devon ”.

 

Robbie ran an outward bound holiday scheme for disabled children on Dartmoor . When we got to the double bay fronted bungalow I was shown to my room. There were 5 beds in it. Next door was the girls' room and up the upside down u shaped corridor there was a kitchen and a play room. There were other rooms but they were mysterious and out of bounds. I unpacked and felt a long way from home.

 

There were only a couple of other children holidaying with me, a boy whose name I can't remember and a girl called Susan. We were called to the kitchen for supper and to my horror we were told we had to wash up. “Hold on a minute” I thought “We're on holiday and we're paying you to make us wash up. I don't think so”

 

Sadly at 10 years old it's hard to remember not to always say what you think and indeed those very words did make their way to Robbie and his wife, Judy's, ears.

 

Needless to say this wasn't a good start.

 

“You may have everyone waiting on you hand and foot but here you'll be treated the same as everyone else, you'll wash up or you'll be on the first train back to London .” Judy said in a not so calm tone. “Everyone works as a team here, is that understood?”

 

“But you're being paid to look after us” I retorted with the same confident tone a barrister would use when placing their killer argument to the accused.

 

“This isn't a holiday camp, you're here to learn. You're here to start growing up and becoming independent” Robbie interjected in such a well delivered manner that I felt they may have had this conversation with others, in fact it may actually be a weekly ritual designed to break any revolutionary attacks before they could even begin.

 

“Well no one told me that” I said

 

“So do you want to go home?” Said Judy, pronouncing the revolution over!

 

 

* * *

1975

 

The next day we were told to put on our swimming costumes then marched out of the main gate, along the road for 1 minute, over a bridge and down to the river side. We waded in, slowly letting the water numb us bit by bit. Sue had an artificial foot which she un-strapped and hopped in.

 

“The fish are nibbling at me” She shrieked

 

“Fish! What fish!” I muttered. I had recently seen the film Jaws and was still scared to get in the bath without checking it was clear beneath the bubbles.

 

Around us were hundreds of little fish.

 

* * *

 

I'm writing this and my legs feel like blocks of ice. It's Christmas 2008, the credit crunch is biting along with the weather.

 

* * *

1975

 

After the swim we walked back to the house and dried off on the lawn. Sue put her towel down on the lawn and told me to lie beside her. She put her arm around me and kissed me.

 

* * *

1975

When it comes to falling in love Billy Bragg puts it most aptly in his song “ Life With The Lions ” when he sings “I hate the arsehole I become every time I see you”. Even at 10 years old, changing how I behaved when someone tells me they like me seems irresistible illogical but, it has to be done. Even with experience and years of self discipline, it's impossible to resist the compulsive urge to do everything possible to be less attractive. And so it was with my first venture in to adolescent love and has continued undaunted in to middle age!

 

* * *

1975

 

“Oi you two, stop your conoodling!” Robbie shouted up. “There's potatoes to peel”.

 

And paw in hand we marched in to the kitchen where for the first time in my life a chore became a joyous activity.

 

* * *

1975

 

Of the many embarrassing traits that falling in love brings out, being overly chivalrous and deceitfully humble are perhaps the most cringe worthy. Suddenly I was no longer a street urchin but had metamorphosed in to an upper class lord, had I been able to acquire a monocle and top hat I sadly would have adorned them.

 

“After you, my darling” and “Please, there's a lady in the room” all need to be dealt with swiftly. Instead of the naughty sexually deviant rascal Sue thought she was getting she got a slightly prudish and coy pseudo-gent who was willing to wait ‘til “we're married” before taking what was offered when the she pulled the sheet over our heads. Admittedly we were only 10 and what was offered was just a kiss but still it didn't look good.

 

* * *

1975

 

Robbie took us canoeing, and taught us to capsize. He taught us how to shoot and how to deal with guns in a safe manner. He taught us to create a shelter in the woods, to climb and safety procedures to do with climbing. We visited local tourist sites and sat around an open fire while he told us ghost stories.

 

* * *

1975

 

In the garden Sue is parading up and down in front of me, pouting and posing whilst I take photos. Without them I know I'll forget how she looks, but with them I'll remember her even if we never see each other again.

 

* * *

1975

 

The boy, whose name and face I can't remember, has a father who's in the metropolitan police and it'll be with him that we shall journey back to London . I should be grateful but instead I sit in silence with the tip of my tongue pushed below the inside of my bottom lip, moving from side to side so as to stop me from crying. For the whole journey he told his son how the policeman who'd popped in to say hello to us at Robbie's didn't know what real life was. How compared to the metropolitan police the Devon police man's job was like working in toy town

 

* * *

2005

 

I've recently ordered 3 microphones from someone on EBay. 2 microphones have arrived but the third hasn't. I've emailed the seller but he'd ignored me. I even sent an email to the seller, as if it was from someone else to see if he'd respond and he did, so I knew he was ignoring me.

 

So I bought a domain name which included the words metropolitan police in it, and emailed him a message using the domain name address and wrote “I'm emailing you from work. As you can see I'm not someone to be mucked about, please can I have my microphone?”

 

Within a few minutes I received a very apologetic reply, including an offer of sending me a microphone for free. I declined the free microphone and received the goods the next day by special delivery. I hadn't broken the law, it was all in his mind, I got what I wanted at a slight extra cost and I felt I'd got a bit of revenge. All thanks to the Metropolitan Police.

 

* * *

1975

 

We'd sat in a 30 mile traffic jam, the heat was sweltering, and the boy's father had taught me how bad an arrogant Londoner can appear but finally I arrived back home.

I was very quiet until my mum asked me if I was alright and then I burst out crying. She hugged me in her arms but when she said “You must have had a good time” I felt an anger which accused her of not understanding. I took no responsibility for not communicating what was really going on instead I was primed to help her misunderstand me.

 

In the 1989 film “ Hideous Kinky ” a guru says “Tear drops are a gift from God to remind us that we are human” and so for those few minutes of crying I remembered the part of me that feels yearning, neediness, love and loss, a part too painful to remember normally.

 

* * *

2008

 

My mother and I haven't spoken for a while. I doubt we both know why the other isn't speaking. It's a kind of agreed state of misunderstanding.

 

 

 

* * *

 

1975

 

I sat down and wrote Sue a letter, it ended with “I love you”. I wrote “I love Sue” on my school books and bought a bracelet with two hearts on that had “Sue and Simon” engraved on it. She wrote back polite newsy letters that didn't end in “I love you” but as Billy Bragg says in “From A Vauxhall Velox”, “Some people say love is blind, But I think that's just a bit short-sighted”

 

* * *

 

When I returned back home there was a porn magazine to distract me, and although I still didn't know what masturbation was, I do declare that there were times when I was so lonesome I took some comfort in the glossy pages of Mayfair . There were models I liked and a few I didn't. I'm not sure if it was my mum's wish but I never felt the need to buy a porn magazine there after.

* * *

 

The 11 plus examination was approaching fast and Mr Garriock saw through his wish to tutor me. And I saw through my wish not to let him down. I passed the exam and was put forward to go to the local grammar school, but after that school's headmaster interviewed me they declined my application because in their opinion they felt I wouldn't be able to cope because of my disability. Instead I was offered a place at another local grammar school.

 

* * *

1976

 

 

Roundshaw community centre was the top section of a rectangular concrete affair, the lower floor was the library. A large concrete slab formed a slope to the entrance. set next to the shopping square this was meant to be a hub of communal life. It was a charmless backdrop to community life.

 

My mother and I sat in the vestibule waiting to meet the local GLC councillor. A tall, heavy set man with greasy black back combed hair came out.

 

“Mrs Smith?”

 

“Miss Smith” my mum laughed.

 

“Pleased to meet you, I'm Mr Phil” {not his real name} he put his hand out and they shook hands.

 

“Please come this way”

 

We entered a side room. Mr Phil sat at his desk, reclined slightly and we sat too.

 

“So how can I help you?”

 

“Well I'm sorry to bother you but I didn't know who to turn to. It's just my son here, Simon, has been refused entry to Wilson 's school on account of him having short arms.”

 

She passed Mr Phil the letter which he scanned and passed back.

“Well” Mr Phil laughed “I wonder why they think Simon can't cope at their school but would do at Wallington Boys?”

 

“That's what I thought too, it's ridiculous isn't it?”

 

“As it goes I'm one of the Governors at Wilson 's so I'll bring this matter up at the next meeting. If you could give me your address I shall get back to you soon with a response.”

 

* * *

1975

 

At 10 years old I had started going through puberty. During one swimming session one of my teachers came up to me in the changing room and said loudly “My! You're a bit of a hairy monkey Mr Smith!” and promptly grabbed my talcum powder and covered me in it. The other kids in the changing room roared with laughter.

 

Along with being hairier I started to become sexually aware. Instead of just playing hide and seek withy the daughters of my mothers friends, we'd end up in cupboards or under beds touching each other. It was exploratory but not romantic, kissing wasn't part of the repertoire.

 

Perhaps for most of us this sex and love split is a common experience but for me I tend to see it as a split that's almost a genetic consequence of my mother and father. My Mother was a romantic, my father a predator looking for seduction and casual sex.

 

* * *

 

2008

 

I'm standing in a bar with Steve. He's introduced me to a friend of his who's just split up from her boyfriend.

 

“So why did you split up? Did you leave him?” I ask

 

“Yeah, we were becoming just friends”

 

“Don't you find that with most of your boyfriends then, that the more you get to know them the less sexually attracted you become?”

 

“Bloody Hell, how do you know that?”

 

“I think most people start off feeling attracted to someone because they can imagine them being everything they want and at that point there's a clean slate when it comes to resentment.”

 

Then she interjects “A few months down the line and you get to see their insecurities”,

 

We look at each other like we both know the end of a joke and I say “Then if you start pulling away they become needy or they bring out needy feelings in you both of which make you feel uncomfortable.”

 

There's a moment of silence and then she says “We're doomed then”

 

I laugh and try to reassure us both by saying, “Maybe not, maybe some people find their sexual feelings tap in to feeling close emotionally to someone”

 

“Now I'm really confused” she says.

 

 

* * *

 

2008

 

I'm at a party, a woman is talking to me, tears are streaming down her face. No one can see but me. A moment beforehand we were chatting casually and she mentioned her husband had been effected by the credit crunch and I asked if she was getting extra stress from him as a consequence.

 

“I don't know what to do, he won't talk to me. I'm sure he's having an affair but he denies it. He keeps telling me how he doesn't deserve me and I'd be better off without him. But I love him and I have for the lat 18 years. We had a great physical relationship now he won't touch me. I feel helpless”

 

“You need to know the truth”

 

“Yes I do”

 

“Did you get married in a church?”

 

“Yes”

 

“Then surely making a vow to God must mean something to him”

 

And here is a point that may people will diverge on. Do you force yourself to abide by a commitment created by a religious regime or do you accept that in reality humans are fickle and can not be forced in to feeling for someone? The sensible answer is to at least try to work it out, to make an effort.

 

“Have you mentioned counselling to him?”

 

“Yes but he won't”

 

“It's like he's determined to destroy the relationship, most of us have a self destruct part of ourselves, maybe that's what going on.”

 

I pass her a napkin from the buffet table, someone says goodbye to me.

 

“Excuse me for one moment”

 

“No please don't let me stop you, I'm sorry”

 

“I'll be back in a minute”

 

But when I come back she's speaking to a couple of women and laughing.

 

I say goodbye to her and we never see each other again.

 

 

* * *

2005

 

Boris

 

“You should remember the five F's” says Boris. “Find ‘em, Follow them, Finger them, Fuck and forget them”

 

I look at him and shake my head in disapproval.

 

“Well it's you who suffers, I never lost any sleep over a woman”

 

“Do you ever feel lonely?”

 

“Listen I've been on my own since I was 12, I like my own company”

 

“Have you ever loved a woman?”

 

He tightens his lips in a “That's not easy to answer position”

 

“Well there was Rebecca, she was euro-oriental. I did have feelings for her.”

 

“So what happened?”

 

“The only way she could stay here was to marry a Scotsman. So I told her to be with him because I knew I wouldn't be good for her. But I did have feelings for her. But you know what that whore in Soho said to me”

 

“Yeah I know, “”Business is business and love is bullshit”” but I don't think that's true. I think love and loss have been central to your casualness.”

 

“Maybe, but there's nothing I can do now”

 

“Well I guess you've had an interesting life.”

 

“It's not over yet. I've still got to win you a million or three”

 

“I won't hold my breath”

 

There's a pause.

 

“You know Boris, I want you to know I'm grateful we met. There was life before meeting you and life after. I've learned a lot about who I am”

 

Boris nods.

 

“You fancy a cup of tea”

 

“Go on then”

 

“Well whilst you're making yourself one I'll have one too”

 

“You're showing you age Boris”

 

* * *

1976 Winter

 

There's a knock on the door. I can see it's Mr Phil. He comes in and mum makes him a tea. He tells us he's made in-roads and thinks he'll get the decision reversed and we'll know in a few days.

 

He stays for hours and after he leaves mum says “I didn't think he'd ever go, anyway he's offered to take you to a sports event at Crystal Palace , do you want to go?”

 

“Yes. Are you coming too?”

 

“No”

 

“I think he fancies me, I don't want to encourage him even if he can get you in to a good school”

 

“Call yourself a mother. You won't even prostitute yourself for my good! I'm sure the other mothers would” – I didn't actually say that bit.

 

 

* * *

1976

 

Only two boys from Roundshaw Juniors got in to Wilson 's and I was one of them. But there's no such thing as a free lunch and Mr Phil came with a price tag that I'd be paying for.

 

During my first year at Wilson 's Mr Phil thought it would be good for me to have him teach me Maths. One day we sat in my room and he said he'd been getting reports of me shouting out to everyone that I was a bastard.

 

“No I haven't”

 

“I know you have”

 

“But I haven't!”

 

“There's no point denying it, I have proof, I have a witness”

 

“Who?”

 

“Never you mind”

 

“I don't know, maybe I did say it but I can't remember”

 

“you did say it. There's no point denying it. Don't let me hear that you've been saying such things again. Have I made myself clear?”

 

“Yes”

 

We then went on to work on converting fractions in to decimals, which is done bt dividing the bottom number in to the top one.

 

I kept on making mistakes – apparently – and finally I was warned if I made a mistake again that I'd be hit. I started to shake.

 

“I want to go” I said

 

“No you don't, you'll stay here and do this properly, I'm not having you bother your mother. Now get on with it”

 

So he set me a conversion to do and very carefully I got on with it. I was sure I'd got it right and beamed with relief.

 

“It's wrong”

 

“What?”

 

“It's wrong. You divided the top in to the bottom. Now stand up”

 

He pulled my trousers and pants down and smacked me ‘til I cried

 

“Now if I find you've told your mother there'll be worse to follow”

 

And I didn't tell her until I was an adult.

 

 

* * *

When I was in my late teens I saw Mr Phil in Sutton Library holding the hand of a very pale and timid looking little boy. Mr Phil nodded hello to me and asked how my mother was.

 

 

* * *

 

1976

 

Because Mum thought I loved the holiday in Devon so much she got me a week there in the Easter break. But this time the weather was bleak and one of our tasks was to sleep in bin liners on the Moors. This time Robbie wanted to push us.

 

Because it was so cold and there was only three of us Robbie and Judy let us sit with them in their living room. They also helped me find Sue's number – technically adding and abetting stalking – and arranged for her to come over for a few hours.

 

Of course I turned in to a blithering idiot and probably didn't make the best of impressions, however she did agree to come on holiday there in the summer on the same week as I'd be there.

 

* * *

 

1976

 

My life was set. I'd got in to a good school and it looked like I'd got the girl.

 

* * *

 

Christmas 2008

 

“Daddy, do you remember when you used to tell us you got coal for Christmas?” asks my son – that actually is the translated version. The original was said in teenage mumble.

 

“No” I replied in proper adult English.

 

“You did!”

 

“I don't remember ever saying that, you must be getting me confused with your grandfather”

 

My other son interjects “No dad you definitely did, ask our Mum”

 

So I do and she tells me I clearly used to tell them that if they were naughty they'd get coal from Father Christmas.

 

So much for having a good memory!

 

* * *

 

If this chapter has partly been about forgetfulness it's also about what is unforgettable. That in our lives there are both small and big details, incidents and other people who touch us enough that we can never forget them.

 

* * *

 

 

End of chapter 16

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