What’s been going on: Episode 4

So much changed between 1976 and 1986, both personally and in the world I occupied, that I can’t describe November 1986 without a run-up.

Post-student life was one uphill marathon of career ambition, marriage, parenthood and separation. It could be called growing up, but that would infer some sort of maturity which wasn’t there before. Compromise and loss maybe. You start your adulthood with principles, ideals and a sense of freedom, all of which are pooh-poohed by older people as naivity of youth or the result of an unsustainable cosseted upbringing, and then it’s all downhill into the mire of conformity and materialism. I’d rejected the extreme left, after Iz disappeared to Portugal with a communist thief, who didn’t just steal her, but many expensive items from the shops of Sheffield, to work in a Portuguese tomato canning factory. I worked my way through The Milk Round to end up in a market research agency as a trainee, and from there to Esso as a market analyst and then a refinery planner. By 1984 I was looking at climbing the multi-national’s corporate ladder as my square peg was being hammered to fit into their round hole, when Carol asked for a divorce. She’d met her first husband at 13, married him at 18, divorced him at 21 (for me) and now, at 25, wanted freedom to find her lost youth. I woke up to my own freedom from marriage, and to a terrible grief associated with non-custodial fatherhood. Though I had open access to visit Emma, and we met every weekend, I began to wonder whether this was not helping her settle into her new family life, as well as not helping me to handle my own break-up adequately. 50% of non-custodial fathers stop seeing their children within two years, and I was going to become one of them.  I started PATCH (Parents Away from Their Children), by putting posters in local libraries. I did that because Families Need Fathers, which was patronised by Bob Geldorf among others, made me feel guilty because I had visiting rights, while most of them were accused by ex-wives of being child molesters, and refused access. Of course they weren’t interested in the psychological issues of being a weekend dad… PATCH quickly attracted non-custodial mothers, many of whom had left their marriages for other men, only to find their access to their children taken by the courts. It was a deeply depressed and ostracised group, and one I felt inadequate to host. Once I met Val, I no longer attended my own meetings.

When I started dreaming product codes for Brent Crude and the workings of oil refinery pipestills, I realised the inappropriateness of Esso to my view of life, and left to become head of research for PolyGram, the largest record company in the UK, something which Esso attributed to my divorce. For half of 1985 I partied, staggering from gigs to bars, picking one-night-stands over long term relationships, till in September I went on hoiday to Greece and met Val. I’d moved from a semi in Croydon to a ground floor flat in Stockwell, right next to Brixton, which was an Afro-Caribbean melting pot. The Brixton Riots in 1985 were all about police brutality , but in Thatcher’s Britain, and in the context of the ‘Loadsamoney’ culture, they spilled over into Mayflower Road, where we lived. My friend of the time, Gordon Pincott, worked for Saatchi and Saatchi, boasting of champagne breakfasts every day. Helived in a flat round the corner in Oval above Nigella Lawson, but between my place and his, on the Clapham Road, Val witnessed six police beating up a black man at eight on a Sunday morning, as she walked to the tube. She had to put her head down and walk on, because her Irish accent might have led her to ‘disappear’ into custody for up to a week, since The Brighton Bombing was still fresh in everyone’s mind.

But by 1986, she’d given up her life in Ireland to live with me in London, just as I was left the music industry for a job in Mass Observation, a sweat-shop of a research agency, housed in the vacated social security offices of Acton Town. Why the come-down? The record industry prided itself on intuition and inspired gambles, not on market research, and some sense of dedication prevented me joining in. After all the upheaval, the new life was a wonder. Stockwell became a haven, a nest in which, despite the damp and cold, the blaring reggae and loud neighbours, we found and lost ourselves in one another.

Thirty seemed old then. The Millennium seemed like the end of time.

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