Simon Mark Smith’s Autobiography
2007 Late summer
I’m lying on the beach, just opposite where I live. There’s a mermaid sitting next to me, she looks over her shoulder at me and stares in my eyes.
“Come down here and cuddle up to me” I say
“No” she says, and smiles.
Typical Mermaid behaviour I think.
She continues staring in to my eyes.
I say “There’s going to be something big between us”
She jumps back in to the sea and disappears for a week.
I know she’ll be back.
“One day we’ll marry” I think.
* * *
Theo is sitting in his flat on Roundshaw watching the Sopranos. The draw of the mob is strong. He’s been playing his part too, dealing drugs and trying to get people to work for him. One of his “workers”, who’s been a friend too, has been betraying him.
* * *
After I uploaded that last chapter I got quite a few concerned friends, worried that I might be giving the wrong impression. Jackie a friend since 1990 said “You come over as really aggressive but in real life you have a calming effect” so to prove she was wrong I went round and beat her up. Ok ok I didn’t!
Another person thought I came over as arrogant, maybe I’m not as inaccurate after all!
I think the point I was trying to make in the last chapter was that partly as a consequence of my innate aggressive tendencies, coupled with my lengthy experience of being in a hostile environment means I carry with me a dangerous ability to ruthlessly escalate situations. But I also have a conscience which is what part of this chapter’s about.
The incidents I’d used as examples in the last chapter happened over a long period but written over a couple of pages they seem more intense. I rarely get in to dangerous situations now, but I can.
So what does all this have to do with my “fall”?
Well I’ve been thinking about this chapter for months now and I thought it was important to define what I mean by a fall. It doesn’t end up with me lying in a gutter, well not so far anyway. In a way it doesn’t end up anywhere, because it happens slowly over time and in a way reverberates in me now, such as the incident with the blue car.
The fall isn’t so much about incidents that happen but more a case of a shift in my perception of the world and my reaction to it.
* * *
The Glass Child
When a child is young it’s perception of the world is a magical one, invisibility can be taken on by covering up one’s eyes. A lie can be told but everyone can see it’s not true. When a child is young it’s as if they are made of glass.
The First Casualty
1972 aged 7
Me and Michael are standing near the play ground.
“What?” he says
“Just watch!” I laugh
Two of the playground assistants are walking across the playground.
I run towards them, they look at me, I smile at them.
I run past
I double back, I pull up the prettier one’s skirt and shout out “ooooohhhh” then run back to Michael. He has a slightly shocked look on his face, but he can see what I can’t, that the pretty woman is running after me. She catches up with me just as I get back to Michael.
“What do you think you’re doing Simon?” She yells at me.
“He made me do it!” I point at Michael.
Michael’s look of shock seems to move in to another dimension. The kind of look someone has just as they realise they’re being murdered by a friend.
5 Years later I sunbathed next to the lady whose dress I pulled up at an outdoor pool and thought she was beautiful and then I swam between her legs underwater. She didn’t tell me off that time or maybe she did and I couldn’t hear.
* * *
Many adults yearn for magic in their lives, be it spiritual connection, magic panaceas, or just romance. No matter how much I try to be logical and as “realistic” as possible I’m always encountering the desire for magic in my own life.
One day I was driving to my Father’s place. He was living in Notting Hill Gate, and I was in Fulham a few miles away. Just as I was going to set off to drive I started to see ticker tape numbers flowing in front of my eyes. I knew immediately that they were to do with the Lottery and my father so I wrote them down on a small piece of pink note paper and headed off.
When I walked in to his flat, he was sitting at a table with 3 friends and he shouted “Simon come and put a number on this ticket we’re doing”
I walked over, looked at the ticket and there in front of me were 5 of the numbers I’d just written down. Well actually there were 4 and there was another number 23 which I had seen as either a 23 or 25, it wasn’t clear so I’d written it as 25.
I immediately told them what had just happened and took two of them down to the car to verify what I’d written.
Needless to say we won but sadly it was only £10.
* * *
And so the lies and the blame started. One day in a frenzy of naughtiness I launched my bike down a staircase much to the pleasure of my friends and of course being their host, their pleasure was mine too. By the time I got to my babysitters’ my bike was a wreck. To tuts of disgust I told them how some boys had smashed it up.
What I didn’t realise was that as I lied the more isolated I became.
* * *
The next time we met the mermaid came and sat right next to me, I leant across and we kissed.
As a child I had looked longingly at the pictures of mermaids in books, their half revealed breasts enraptured me, and now I was laying with my bare chest against hers. The books didn’t reveal their beautiful song, but as she hummed I looked deep in her eyes and as I stared her eyes welled up. I closed mine.
* * *
“Ok, so if they don’t want so much this week they’ll be back for more the next, it ain’t a problem. Here’s a bit extra for your own personal use” Theo said to Chris.
* * *
1972 aged 7
About 10 children have encircled me. It’s just like in a film, rage seems to have muffled the sound and the image is broken. Dislocated faces come towards me, then I feel lumps of earth and grass being thrown at me. The kids are spitting, pushing and laughing.
Standing on a staircase nearby I noticed Sally, who was laughing and pointing at me. Sally was one of the nice girls in my class. The thought that even she was laughing at me became unbearable and as if the deepest betrayal had been hurled down on me I decided I would retaliate with a far worse one.
I ran through the blockade and up the stairs. Sally thought I would probably run past but I didn’t, instead I looked at her and screamed at her and pulled my arm back to strike her. She screamed and I thrust my arm towards her stomach, the disdain in my gut exploded throughout my whole body, I felt a sharp pain at the end of my arm. I missed Sally and hit the concrete wall. I was thankful. She put her hands to her face and screamed “I’m sorry”. In that moment I had learnt the value of forgiveness.
It wasn’t always so.
One day in Roehampton hospital a boy grabbed a cane and struck it hard across my back. I lost my temper immediately and went for the boy who pulled the cane back to strike me again, I backed off for a second and noticed another boy who was laughing, he was standing in a special brace which held him in an upwards position because he was in a plaster cast from his waist to his feet. I ran up to him and kicked his legs until he started to scream and one of the adults pulled me off.
* * *
In the good old days there were clear lines upon which people felt they could live, it’s as if when the tram lines were taken up from the roads so too were the rules that people lived by. Even in the realms of fighting at the age of 8 an unwritten set of rules existed.
A boy called Brown and I had got in to a fight. First we rolled around on the ground and didn’t get anywhere, then we decided we’d copy a film and traded punches in the stomach, then I tried kicking him in the face when no one was looking, which didn’t help matters and finally it ended when Stephen Kirby’s mum came over and intervened, at which point I burst out crying, which apparently meant I’d lost.
* * *
The old cliché of “If you can’t beat them join them” may well be at the basis of gang culture. Stephen Kirby’s mum was a force to be reckoned with and certainly wasn’t foolish enough to let him roam the streets. But for the rest of us, left to our own devices, the only way forward was to become part of the group. Possibly because I was an outsider, I’d only just arrived on the estate and I looked different, the internal pressure to conform was very strong and so I entered the realms of delinquency with a vengeance.
* * *
My friends are all crouched behind a wall which is at the end of a row of doors. They’ve sent me to knock on one of the doors and then run back to where they are. It’s an old game known as “Knock down ginger”.
I ring the bell and run.
“Go on have another go one of the boys whispers”
“Yes go on”
I’m really laughing. It’s got the same tension as an army operation. We’re all pumped up with adrenalin. I creep back, my friends’ heads are popping up over the wall. I push the bell and run back.
“She can’t be in” I say
“Yes she is, I saw her go in.” says one of the others.
“OK I’ll do it one more time”
Like some pantomime actor I step slowly towards her door. I reach for the bell, the door flies open an arm reaches out, grabs my hair and I am lifted from the ground. “What do you think you’re doing you little bastard?” she yells
My friends are marching away behind the wall. Meanwhile I’m being lifted by my hair and dangled in mid air. I’ve burst out crying.
“Don’t give me that!”
“They made me do it” I plead
“And if they told you to jump under a bus would you?”
I think about the philosophical implications of this question. “Erm… No”
She cracks her palm across my head and sends me to the ground.
“If I ever catch you doing this again I’ll give you what for” – Listen I didn’t write the script, that’s what she said -.
“I’m sorry” – and I was, for years I was scared of that woman and didn’t ever go back for a retry.
Needless to say I gained a bit of honour amongst my peers.
* * *
Death before dishonour is probably just as much the moto of the mob as much as with any other army. The mafia basis its structure on the Roman army. In Roman times if a unit didn’t fight properly it would be decimated. Every 10 th man would have to step forward and then be executed by his fellow soldiers. If you can’t rule by winning hearts and minds then fear is a pretty effective alternative.
There wasn’t much love between members of a gang, love was for families and most of us were not part of any close family. The gang is a kind of protective shell but it won’t nurture you if you step out of line.
* * *
Sometimes you know something’s wrong, you don’t want to accept it but it just won’t go away, it nags at you, and finally the truth always finds a way of becoming known. Theo watched his friend from a distance double cross him, he was openly stealing his clients and undercutting him, He felt a pain in his kidneys, he couldn’t breath, he leant against the wall and wept.
* * *
School was another world. There were many friendly kind children there but the gang resided here too. School was like a prison, the guard keepers kept the gang pretty much under control.
* * *
My mum bought me a large kite in the shape of a bat. Sevin and I tried to get it to fly but it wouldn’t. We took a lift to the top of a block of flats and launched it from the upper walkway. It swooped downwards immediately. When we heard the screams from below, we dragged it the full length of the building. Then we made our getaway
* * *
Last time I saw Sevin was when I was 19. He was working in a hi-fi shop, but at 8 years old he was heading full steam ahead for a leading part in the real life “Goodfellas”. Within weeks of knowing me he’d spotted my potential and had me begging for money in the shopping precinct. One day, when he came to my grandmothers with me he got me to ask the neighbour Uncle Bertie if he could “lend” me some money. Uncle Bertie told me he wasn’t impressed with my new found friend. I wanted to tell him how much money we’d already made but didn’t think it would go well with needing to borrow money.
Being able to go in to a toy shop and buy a model aircraft with our own hard begged for cash ironically filled us with pride.
It wasn’t ‘til my headmaster called me in to his office to discuss the issue of reports that I’d been begging that it even occurred to me that something was awry.
The threat of punishment seemed to override any logical arguments I had on the tip of my tongue and our begging days came to a swift end.
* * *
As Sevin had developed a relationship with me that had reverberations of Colnel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley, I developed a relationship with a boy called Andy that had similar dynamics to that of Lennie and George in “Of Mice and Men”. Andy was very tall and very strong but he was an archetypal Gentle Giant.
Andy and I walked miles together. Once we walked from where my mother worked to Chessington Zoo along a snow filled footpath. We walked a few miles and when we got there pretty much everything was closed down. The proprietors obviously felt sorry for us and put on a ride, a kind of rocket goes around in a circle one. I wasn’t held in properly and had to stop myself from falling out by grabbing the handrail with both my paws. They obviously thought we deserved a long ride and given the screams to stop, were enjoying every moment, so on and on it went. Needless to say I didn’t fall out and at least I can say it was a memorable experience.
Andy seemed to become my Sherpa, carrying quite a few items for me from the high street to my home. At one point he gave me a piggy back through a muddy field when my shoe got stuck in the mud. His duties at one point even extended to helping me capture girls when playing kiss chase.
For quite a while I saw my self as the brains and him as the brawns of the collaboration but one day we thought that throwing small stones on cars passing below was a great idea. Until a man came up behind us and told us he was a policeman. I believed him and gave him my real name and address whereas Andy saw straight through him and gave him false information.
When the “policeman” had gone Andy looked at me incredulously.
I obviously learned from this experience because a short while later I managed to set a whole field on fire with a match. The field backed on to a block of flats. Within minutes the fire fighters turned up and put it out. I casually walked up to one of them and told him all about how I’d seen some kids do it. We ended up agreeing with each other about how awful some kids can be.
For months afterwards I felt some pride every time I saw the scorched area of grass.
I’m not sure if I just lacked any imagination or compassion for the risks I created for others or if I did it deliberately to hurt people but this lack of empathy became a lot more dangerous later on. Even at 8 years old I would say to other kids “Does this hurt?” and even though they’d plead with me to leave them alone I’d try out some martial arts move on them and feel quite pleased when I saw them writhing around on the floor.
It wasn’t as if I didn’t ever hear people talk about the danger of what I was up to or how bad I was behaving. One day, as I walked back from school, a girl called Julie asked if I wanted to be her boyfriend. I wasn’t too interested but said yes anyway. As we walked I found a match and started trying to get it to light. She looked at me and gave me an ultimatum to stop doing that or she’d no longer be my girlfriend. I wonder if that was one of the shortest relationships ever?
* * *
Theo and Chris would go out together late at night which cut Mira, Theo’s girlfriend, to the bone. When he walked in to the night he walked out on her, his sense of claustrophobia left her feeling surrounded by too much space, she would become overwhelmed with fear, the fear of losing him, the fear of being alone in an empty world.
For Theo going out with Chris wasn’t about rejecting Mira, but instead was a rejection of bearing the humdrum of normality. He wanted to feel special, but being special in another person’s heart wasn’t enough, or it was too much, maybe the real adventure of loving another human being, of getting to know them in depth, of putting their needs aside of our own, of fighting our more base tendencies was too much of an adventure. So the shallower relationships of being part of a gang, or hooking up with others who don’t want to go on deep adventures with soul mates became the aim.
“If you go out tonight, I won’t be here when you come back” She said.
He looked at her, shrugged and walked out.
* * *
I came to the beach and met the mermaid every week, and one day as we kissed I said “I am yours are you mine?” and she said “Yes”
But the next week she didn’t turn up, and the week after there was still no sign. So when she did come on the third week I wanted to know if she truly loved me and she looked hurt that I’d even question our love, and then as she went to go I held on to her tightly and again she looked hurt, but this time she looked scared as well. I could feel the distance between us and let go but I knew it was too late. My whole body filled with fear and trembling as I waved at her as she swam away.
Every week I went back and waited for her, I knew I was in her mind too and felt she would be watching me.
Filled with remorse I came to realise that love has to be free, and even though she couldn’t be there for me as I had wished, that my love was so strong for her that ultimately her happiness was more important than mine. So I made a vow to love her as she needed and to forgo my own selfishness when it came to her.
My friends waved their self help books at me saying “you should never lose yourself to someone else” but I knew that just as I would put my children first I would also put the love of my life first.
Until this moment of loss I had never truly loved another person outside of my children.
* * *
The journey that led to being able to love someone else started from the other extreme. Perhaps being cuddled up to my mother and other carers as a child allowed me a sense of being at one with another but a child doesn’t look after their carers needs, well not in any significant way.
And then maybe at 5 years old there was a desire to feel the warmth of another person against me, and the stirrings of sexual desire, but by 8 years old the connection with being comforted and sexual stimulation was already becoming muddled. Where essentially I wanted to be cuddled and understood I now started to be thrilled by looking at women in flats nearby getting undressed and would hang out my window until late at night to do so.
On top of this I discovered my erect penis was of some interest to some girls and coupled with my ridiculous hole in my trousers for helping to go to the loo I realised that I could oblige any willing spectators.
Even at the school dinner table I called across to Esthel “Do you want to see my willy?”
She laughed and said “Go on then”
I reached in to my trousers to push it through the hole and felt a tap on my shoulder.
“Stop playing Simon and eat up”
It was the woman whose skirt I’d pulled up.
Alas Esthel never got to see my penis and destiny took another direction.
Suffice to say my sexuality was already taking a course that wasn’t aimed towards mutual love and care but was about excitement and using others for my own gratification.
* * *
With every fight that I had, a notch by notch change took place in me, a slow breaking of my spirit that led in time to a typical hardening of the outside and my inner world becoming precariously fragile.
The Sean Slattery, kick in the eye, fight had put me on the map and in the running as a contender in the local fighting league, but given I was a target for kids calling me names I was going to be involved in fights even so, well at least until I realised there were other ways to deal with such attacks.
But Roundshaw was a landscape of violence for me. There was my mother and her psychotic boyfriend Michael, the neighbours shrieking at and fighting with each other and all the other kids on the estate who were vying for the reputation of being the hardest in their year, in the school, in their street, on the estate, in the world and so on.
* * *
Mira had gone, as she had said. And on the phone later Theo begged her to come back but when she said it was either her or Chris he couldn’t bare the thought of being controlled and put the phone down. He phoned Chris and that night they went out in search of oblivion.
* * *
1973 Aged 8
Paul was a kid who, had he lived in the country, would have been promoted to “village idiot” at some point. God knows why but I lost my temper with him and launched a full scale attack. I was on top of him, kicking, him, and I could feel I was winning but when we both stood up at the end of the fight someone pointed at the blood on my lip and declared him as the winner.
The affront to my pride of losing to such a low level contender filled me with shame. The importance of status within the fighting leader board started to set within me. Its stupidity went unnoticed.
* * *
Chris was from one of the rough families on Roundshaw, but Theo wasn’t from the estate and carried with him the notion of being hard because of his foreign roots. He didn’t involve himself with local league tables, instead his hardness was a matter of national pride. So much so that one day when he was convinced that Chris was betraying him he asked Chris what was going on and shoved a knife through his heart.
* * *
The main reason for fighting was just to see who was the hardest, somewhere in a conversation the ball would start rolling and within minutes either an appointment for a fight was made or the fight would just start. And so with a “You reckon your hard do you?” from either me or Colin Styles, the boy who sat behind me in class when I was 10, we marched out to the playground. To the chants of “fight, fight, fight” we eyed each other up, ran towards each other and within seconds we were on the ground wrestling. We broke away and both made our way to our feet but someone in the crowd pushed me over so as I went to stand up again Colin ran towards me and kicked me hard in my ear. The fight was over. I lay in agony crying.
* * *
Nearby to where this fight took place I watched my friend Andrew Wilson collapse 2 years beforehand (He’s not the Andy who walked miles in the snow with me). One minute we were standing chatting, the next Esthel cried out “Andrew’s having a fit”. I looked down and Andrew was shaking on the floor and had turned purple and red. We were used to him having fits occasionally. The teacher, Mrs Gee, picked him up by his legs and ran him in to the medical room where he died.
Maybe because Andrew was ill he wasn’t able to show an aggressive part of himself, so the Andrew we all knew was very gentle and friendly.
When Andrew died a part of me that wanted to be friendly and gentle died too.
* * *
I don’t know what went on in Theo’ mind as he plunged the knife in to Chris, but I do know he’d lost his sense of reality. After he’d killed him he chopped Chris up in to small packages and then put them in to bin liners and left them in his bath. They remained there for several weeks. During this time Theo visited my mum and drank tea and behaved as if nothing had happened, but one day he phoned Mira and told her he was going to jump off of a building. He said he was sorry then said goodbye, disconnected the call and jumped from his window. He landed on his shoulder and tried to get up but couldn’t, he died a few minutes later. When the police came they went in to his house and found the bins full of meat then realised what it really was. He had left a few letters, one was to my mother, but none shed light on what had happened. My mother, Mira, and a police woman were the only “mourners” at his funeral.
* * *
There was a new boy called Darren who came in to our school when I was 10. During his first few days he told me he didn’t like my “style”. He seemed set to make his mark and be the toughest kid in our school.
As we stepped out of class one day he pushed me and I retaliated. The next minute we were grappling on the floor. He sat on me and tried to punch me but I blocked his punches. I then went for my normal trick of bringing my leg up to kick him in the face but he managed to stop it. Left with no more resources to defend myself I gave in. I let him punch me in the face, I screamed out, but not in agony, (well ok I imagine the agony played a part) it was exasperation, it was the madness of this world I lived in. I was screaming for help, I wanted to be rescued and I didn’t want to have to fight anymore. From that beating came a realisation of my limitations.
* * *
I waited many years for the return of the mermaid, but she didn’t come back, so I found a way to become a merman and went in to the sea to search for her. When I did find her she was able to see what I had gone through in order to be with her and she came back to me.
We sat on some rocks and looked in to each others eyes and it was at this point that Ms Lovelight drew us. In her opinion we were to sit opposite each other but not touch, but when the tattoo artist painted it onto Ms Lovelight’s shoulder he had us in a permanent embrace.
* * *
At 11 years old I pointed an airgun at a woman pushing a baby in a buggy walking past our flat. I pulled the trigger and moved back inside the room. That night the lady came around and showed my mother the bruise on her back and asked me what I thought would have happened if the pellet had hit her child.
* * *
I had bought a blow pipe with darts that had suction pads on, but we found that by sticking needles and pins through the suction pads we could make real darts. My friend blew one in to his sisters back and I can even remember thinking “and I thought I was a bit mad!” When he asked me to fire a dart in to his dog I aimed the pipe at it and blew, but the dart just gently landed on the dog and fell to the ground. I wasn’t prepared to fire it properly.
* * *
I went to Dartmoor at 11 years old on an outward bound holiday. During my time there I fell in love with a girl called Susan. When I came home I held off the tears for a while then burst out crying. My mother looked at me and said “you must have had a good time” and I looked at her and thought “you just don’t understand do you?” (well how could she I hadn’t explained matters to her).
* * *
As I lay cuddled up to Ms. Lovelight I asked her about the tattoo on her shoulder. She said “That’s the man I’m gonna marry”.
“It looks like me” I said
“We’ll see” she laughed
“I’ve also got a painting of me I did about 20 years ago in which I look exactly like the merman, it’s even called ““Over Her Shoulder””.”
“Well the thing is my version of the picture has them not touching which means they might not ever get together and the tattoo isn’t exactly as I drew it.”
“Yes but isn’t what’s on your shoulder what’s real, that they do get it together”
“No the original picture’s what’s real” she says.
“I feel like we’re going to marry” I say
“We’ll see” she says.
* * *
If you want to know what I mean by “my fall” and consequently what this whole chapter’s about it’s this. My ability to keep grounded, to know who I am, to know what I truly need, to have some sense of reality was almost verging on non existent by the age of 11. I was psychopathic at times, psychotic, delinquent, sexually detached and basically heading towards a difficult life.
Theo’s fate may have been mine.
I yearn for the romanticism and magic of the mermaid story, and for Ms Lovelight’s tattoo to be of me, and I wonder if I’m psychic or is it just coincidence.
So the fall is about losing contact with reality and even now I find it a struggle to know what is real but it’s a struggle that I know is worth it.
* * *
I had sat at my window with Ms Lovelight for many hours, she lay against me and both of us said how content we felt. But when she was gone I missed her, and one day she was gone and just to sit in the same place made my whole body ache.
In time I realised that she could not save me from this feeling. That our closeness though transitory would be in her mind too and was there for both of us to call when needed.
But the passing of things, it’s in that that my greatest pain lies. Just like the mermaid and merman sometimes I’d like to be held in an everlasting embrace of pure love, and maybe when I die I will be.
* * *
End of chapter 14