Read Educating Peter Online

Authors: Tom Cox

Educating Peter (5 page)

Another excellent tactic is eclecticism. Ultimately, it's as easy to impress the Music And Video clique with your hip taste as it is to incite their ridicule with your unhip taste. Moreover, by buying the records the sales assistants consider worthy, you're merely pandering to them and confirming their belief that your life's ambition is to one day be as stylish, intellectual and credible as they are. A better option is to baffle them with your diversity – not the kind of diversity preached by pretentious people who make a point of reminding the world about how eclectic they are on a daily basis, but
real
diversity: an original twelve-inch of Robert Palmer's ‘Addicted To Love', say, secreted in a pile containing the first album by the Seventies psychedelic folk group The Trees, the final four Steppenwolf albums and Living In A Box's
Greatest Hits
. This will have the effect of making their heads spin and their bottom lips wobble as they strive to remain imperturbable while quickly calculating how this pile of records fits into their tapered ideas about musical good and evil.

Peter's selection was far more simple. Coming from a fourteen-year-old, a Living In A Box/Steppenwolf combination might have smacked of sheer naivety. However, the unusual juxtaposition of Blue Oyster Cult (uncool, but not outrageously so, and something of an enigma) and nu-metal (cool, but kind of for kids) would spread just the right level of subtle confusion.

Like a worried father seeing his son through the gates on the first day of school, I watched as my young friend approached the counter, then, from a safe distance, did my best to pick up on snatches of the
conversation. It's difficult, eavesdropping on a teenager and a record shop employee from six yards away, since there's no real telling if words like ‘mmfffuuh', ‘d'njjj' and ‘smrrright' are real words you've misheard or bona fide snatches of an alien – but, in Soho, widely recognised – form of communication. Whatever the case, I took it as a good sign that Peter hadn't burst into tears by the time he received his change.

‘How did that go?' I asked him as we walked up Berwick Street towards Oxford Street a few moments later.

‘Fine,' said Peter.

‘What? You mean nobody put a plastic skull in front of you?'

‘No. Seemed like alright blokes, really.'

‘Are you sure? They're normally dead rude to me. What were you talking about to them? You seemed to take quite a while.'

‘Oh, the bloke with the big stress patches on his beard and the “Patrick Moore Is My Whore” t-shirt was talking to me about this album that I bought by Kitty. He says they're playing tonight at the London Astoria.'

I was baffled, and not just because I didn't know who Kitty were. It had taken me and my friends years of training to build up psychological armour tough enough to enable us to deal with the Music And Video Exchange in-crowd, and now Peter was not only speaking their language but getting invited to gigs with them. Of course, most music-obsessed men tend to have a mental age of fourteen, so perhaps I shouldn't have found this camaraderie so surprising,
but I couldn't help feeling hurt. Peter hadn't talked to
me
about Kitty. He hadn't talked much at all, really, unless I'd spoken to him first. I wasn't even sure he thought I was ‘an alright bloke'.

Later, while Peter nipped off to the lavatory in Burger King, I furtively consulted
Adolescence: The Survival Guide For Parents And Teenagers
. It seemed to contain plenty of advice for adults trying to communicate with sarcastic, unsociable and bullying adolescents, but little on recalcitrance, or at least Peter's specific mode of it. Frantically, I searched for a chapter headed ‘Generally Pleasant Yet Unforthcoming Teenage Acquaintances: Getting Them To Talk To You A Bit More About Rock And Stuff'. The most relevant thing I found was a section on shyness.

‘Don't force painfully shy youngsters into the limelight,' advised Elizabeth Fenwick and Dr Tony Smith, ‘or draw too much attention to them . . . [But] don't let them off the hook completely.' And, slightly later: ‘Eating together straightaway normally helps.'

I closed the book, anticipating Peter's return. Perhaps I was expecting too much too quickly and bombarding my companion slightly. I had, after all, only met him properly for the first time four hours ago. I'd already asked him questions some of his best friends probably hadn't asked him: what were his favourite bands?, what exactly did progressive schooling entail?, was he dating anyone at the moment?, did those metal chains he had hanging off his trousers ever get snagged up embarrassingly on road bollards and tube train barriers?, why was Limp Bizkit's lead singer
on the executive board at East West records? It was hardly surprising that most of the answers I'd received were monosyllabic. We hadn't even had a meal together yet.

As we tucked into our bacon double cheeseburgers, I resolved to cool my approach slightly, and almost immediately – whether as a direct result of this, by sheer coincidence, or because I was sneakily allowing him to break Jenny's No-Fast-Food rule – Peter started to open up. For the first time he began to talk of Raf, one of his friends at school, who had ‘the coolest leather jacket' and could play the whole of Nirvana's
Nevermind
album on guitar. Peter liked
Nevermind
? But that was from
my
era. ‘Yeah,' he said, ‘so?' He liked it a lot – had done before anyone else in his school year. He and his mates were always listening to it; his band, Goat Punishment, liked to cover a couple of songs from it. Peter had a band? Of
course
he had a band. What did I think – that he played the guitar just for the sake of it? In fact, he had two bands, although the other one, Toast Hero, was ‘just a side project'.

‘Goat Punishment are called Goat Punishment because in the quadrangle at school there's a pen with goats in it.'

‘And you want to punish them?'

‘No. We like them. It's just a name. Adam, our drummer, wanted us to be called The Fuckers, originally.'

‘But that's a bit rubbish, isn't it?'

‘Yeah. The rest of us thought so.'

It made no odds that Peter was growing up in an
environment that bore almost no resemblance to the one in which I had spent my teenage years: the protocol of communication was exactly the same. Here, you didn't get what you gave; you got what you didn't give. If Peter and I were going to get on, I would have to fight my urge to fill every moment of silence with inane jabber and interrogative angling. Worryingly quickly, I found myself back in a bastardised version of my 1989 mindset – desperate to impress the cool kids, but trying to hold back my natural tendency towards politeness and inquisitiveness, in the knowledge that I'd be liked a lot less for what I did say than what I didn't. The bacon double cheeseburger didn't help. I was fourteen again, and all that was missing were the Mr Whippy hairstyle, the Campri ski jacket and the Cathy Dennis poster.

Was Peter a cool kid? I'd originally assumed not. Now I wasn't so sure. True, he had disobedient hair, a little acne, a lot of black clothes and a few obvious social problems, but, while those attributes might have lost him a few friends in the adult universe, there was no telling where it put him on the ladder of adolescent popularity. I reminded myself of his age: fourteen, not seventeen. I looked at his clothes: Doc Martens, leather trenchcoat, AC/DC t-shirt, that metal chain thing that I still didn't understand. Did anyone I'd known at fourteen dress like this out of school hours? Highly unlikely. They probably wouldn't have wanted to in an era when Patrick Swayze was considered a fashion icon, but that was beside the point. The point was that this was a pretty advanced look for a fourteen-year-old. At least, I supposed it was. I didn't know for sure.
I'd spent most of the last seven years ignoring teenagers, remember?

Hiking up Crouch Hill back to the car with Peter dragging a few paces behind me, kicking gravel, I told myself to snap out of it. I was a married man with a Ford Focus, life assurance and a perfectly nice group of regular friends. I wasn't here to impress my teenage companion, or even to become his pal; I was here to give him a lesson in the ways of rock, plain and simple. If we bonded in the process, fine. If we didn't, my life would not be significantly altered.

That said, it was going to make for some mighty awkward car journeys.

LET IT TRICKLE

THE STORY, AS
it's traditionally told, begins with a Daimler pulling into a garage forecourt. Eight or nine young men and women emerge boisterously from the car. One of them asks to use the lavatory. The petrol station's resident mechanic, who's come out to see what the commotion is, says no, he won't allow it. Slowly, the gang break into a chant of ‘We'll piss anywhere, man!', as two of the men – one of particularly memorable appearance due to the size of his lips – urinate against the petrol station wall. The group get back in the car and it pulls away with, according to the
Daily Express
, ‘the people inside sticking their hands through the window in a well-known gesture' (it being 1965, you assume this gesture involves double digits as opposed to the later, somehow less swashbuckling ‘flipped bird'). The police are alerted. Three of the agitators are fined five pounds.

It's not, it has to be said, the most scandalous tale of rock and roll hell-raising ever told. Next to, for
example, the story about the Led Zeppelin groupie and the red snapper or Keith Moon driving his Rolls-Royce into a swimming pool, you might even say it was a little on the sissy side. These days, the Shell station on the Romford Road doesn't have a mechanic, but if it did, you suspect that, were you to piss against his wall, he'd barely look up from his copy of the
News Of The World
, where there would be every chance he'd be reading about celebrities who indulged in far more licentious activities than urinating in public. In place of that original mechanic were a couple of downcast Asian men in their mid-twenties, selling petrol, fags and, just occasionally, disposable cameras from behind the safety of a Plexiglas partition. Their generation would still know of the miscreant with the prominent lips, but less because of his music and more because of the frequent stories in the tabloids about his philandering with Latin women young enough to be his daughter.

‘Sorry to bother you,' I said to one of them (the men selling petrol, not the Latin women) as I handed over the money for a disposable camera, ‘but you wouldn't happen to know if this is the garage which the Rolling Stones urinated against in 1965, would you?'

Peter lurked behind me, flicking through a copy of
Kerrang!

The men who work at the Shell station on Romford Road get asked about pissing a lot. At first they look at you suspiciously, as if merely by being in this dodgy corner of London and wanting to make conversation you must be up to no good. But then their tight scowls break into voluptuous grins and they point
you towards the legendary spot, chuckling.

Did they think that the mythical value of their bricks gave them an edge over the Esso station across the road, which only has a normal, prosaic wall? I wondered.

‘Perhaps.' They laughed.

‘Has anyone ever thought of erecting a plaque?'

‘Oh, no. I don't think Mr Shell would like that!'

‘And what about The Stones? Do they come back here much?'

‘Not really.'

‘What about other bands? Do they like to piss here, too? You know, like the way dogs like to piss where other dogs have pissed.'

‘Er. Mmm. No.'

I'd always loved The Rolling Stones – thought of them, perhaps, as the ultimate band – and felt that I'd be a pretty lame teacher if I couldn't find a valuable lesson for my pupil somewhere within their four-decade history. Romford Road seemed a good place to start, since a) Mick Jagger was too busy promoting his latest movie venture to show us around his mansion, b) it was one of the few legendary spots associated with the group that didn't charge an entry fee, and c) it was on the way to Brighton, where we were scheduled to stay at my in-laws' house, before dropping in on Ed The Troubadour in Hastings the following day. I also had a vague memory of a student teacher once using a poem about people pissing on the floor as a disarming device on my fourth-year English class. ‘The Waz' might have been a hackneyed conversation loosener between adults and children, but
that didn't mean I wasn't going to use it to my full advantage.

My original intention had been for Peter and me to recreate the famous piss, but as the day had gone on, I'd become more and more worried about stage fright. Besides, now we'd befriended the petrol station's employees, being rude to them and provoking them to call the police was going to be slightly less practical, especially as I'd asked one of them to take a photograph on our behalf. So, instead, we hunched over and mimed the crime, looking back over our shoulder and scowling like Satanic Majesties as the cash assistant shouted ‘Cheese!' What can I say? It was tacky. It was touristy. It was precisely the sort of thing I'd hoped we'd get up to on our adventure.

For the first time, Peter seemed to be enjoying himself. Fortified by the family-sized pack of Wheat Crunchies I'd bought him at the Crouch End branch of Budgens, he'd begun to open up and relax on the way here, even going as far as to tell a few anecdotes, almost all of which would start with the phrase ‘It was really funny . . .' and involve one of his friends putting a pair of pants on their head. Still, I couldn't help puzzling over what he really thought of the latest stage of his musical education. To me, The Rolling Stones were still untouchably insouciant icons, but that was because I owned twenty-one of their albums and had spent a third of my life pretending I was living in a late-Sixties utopia. To most of my generation, they were shrivelled old skinflints. To Peter's generation – or at least the members of it that had bothered to notice the second biggest band in the history of the
universe existed – they were probably something much more decrepit and embarrassing.

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