Thursday, 15 July 2010

Mod-wasm (pt. 2: The Isle of Wight Bank Holiday Weekend)

The 80s were an awful decade for one primary reason: the conspicuous lack of sideburns. Men used to shave the sides of their heads right up to the top of their ears. This meant that even a less ridiculous haircut (a rare thing in those days) was precarious, at best. I’ve always been a firm believer in sideburns. I think you need something to hook over your ears to stop your hair flying off in the wind.

So what did it mean to be a Mod in the 80s? Well, there was a lot of pressure. On the one hand, all you really wanted to do was get extremely drunk, pogo up and down to “Going Underground” and make a nuisance of yourself in the streets at two in the morning singing “We are the Mods”. On the other hand, the Mod scene had bought into this whole French thing about berets and cappuccinos, and all the girls wanted you to have a bouffant, stand up straight and not spill beer down yourself. It became very hip to listen to the Style Council, the James Taylor Quartet and obscure modern jazz records. For the lads – if you wanted to be cool – it became almost mandatory to have a different suit on every time you were seen.  

Well, I’d advanced a bit since I’d first met Ralph and Cathy: I now had a couple of three-button suits (a cheap black one from “the Cavern” in Carnaby Street that I used for work and gigs, and a blue tonik affair that I wore to the “dos”), a handful of polka dot shirts, and a pair of penny loafers. In spite of this I was painfully aware that I was not so much the “ace-face” as the “tatty little herbert”.

Luckily, I couldn’t care less. I was an angry kid, and I liked angry music. I liked long, messy hair. I thought these cunts who turned up at the dos and wouldn’t even sit down for fear of creasing their latest bespoke mohair suits were a bunch of bum-fucking freaks. I found the whole thing vaguely repellent. But I did like the look, and even more, I liked the feeling of belonging.

Well, summer ’87 rolled round, and with it came the traditional bank holiday Mod weekender. We all piled into Cathy’s Ford Escort and headed for the Isle of Wight ferry, with the exception of Ralph, who’d got his Indian Lambretta working for perhaps the first and only time.

            “I’ll see you on the ferry,” he waved cheerfully, as he sped off. “Maybe.”

The Isle of Wight was amazing. The promenade was packed with loudly dressed hipsters and hipsterettes. There were scooters as far as the eye could see. The sun shone down upon us, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I felt part of something, at last.

And so followed three days and nights of extreme drunkenness, drug experimentation and promiscuous sex. I make it sound glamorous, but really, it wasn’t. On the Friday night I picked up what was probably the ugliest girl on the whole island; possibly the entire planet. I’d noticed her when I’d first come in (it was hard not to with those glasses she had, they were like jam jars) and she looked pretty hideous then: but as I drank more and my moral standards slipped further and my sense of the acceptable began to relax she started to look positively attractive. Needless to say, it all turned out for the worst. She shacked up in our B&B for the whole weekend, while her boyfriend paced up and down outside all night moaning and calling her name (which was Gertie). I found it hard to believe that I’d got myself into such a preposterous situation, just by trying to get a bunk up. For the whole weekend I was crucified by feelings of guilt towards the poor bastard outside and the on-going embarrassment of being associated with the nymphomaniac Gertie, who looked like the elephant man with sick all over his face. By the time I’d finished with her, she did have sick all over her face.

On Saturday night I smoked some temple ball in the toilets and ended up collapsing under a table and throwing up all over some bloke’s shoes, for which I got a kicking; Sunday saw us being chased all over Ryde by a herd of neo-fascists and mounted police. A couple of Mods were killed in road accidents after riding the wrong way up the promenade during the scooter parade and there were a of handful arrests by the local constabulary. The weekend had been a roaring success.

Bank holiday Monday was empty, and full of rain. One by one, the scooters began to head off out of town, their parka-clad riders like ghosts in the mist. What had been the point of all that? I thought. Everything was over, and it was as if it had never happened.

Gertie made me promise to write, and I said I would. I didn’t, of course: I dumped her unceremoniously at Ryde train station and got the hell away from her as fast as I could. I was going to have a lot of explaining to do when my girlfriend saw all the love-bites. The journey back from the ferry was tedious: Cathy was still excited and singing along to “The Unsung Heroes” on the car stereo, but for everyone else it was back to reality, to mundanity. As for myself, I just wanted to go home, shut the curtains, swallow a couple of valium and listen to Bob Dylan.

The band split up fairly soon afterwards: Timmy Dingle got into acid house, grew his hair and became a DJ; Derek Riley started brewing his own beer and ended up living in a shed on the edge of the New Forest; and I got a job selling electric guitars and began my descent into alcoholism.

But the whole Mod experience had changed me, in the most fundamental way. Never again would I wear a two button jacket or pleated trousers. Never again would I let an imbecile cut my hair. Never again would I wear a biker jacket or denim waistcoat. Never would I be pierced, tattooed, brylcreemed or clad in PVC trousers. And never – but never – would my hair fly off in the wind.



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