‘For Chelsea Phil’ – the personal message in the book reproduced above is a valediction taking nigh on 40 years, courtesy of the unlikeliest of sources, namely Norman Tebbit, ferocious first lieutenant to the nemesis of my formative adult years, the Marchioness of Monetarism, then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Valediction is putting it rather grandly to be honest, but in the summer of 1970 a boy called Nigel Brown, who lived round the corner from me, briefly ruled the roost as far as the rest of us were concerned. I looked up to him as much as anyone, because he was a few years older than me, & already had a replica Brazil team shirt, a thing of beauty celebrating the sublime team who had recently won the World Cup in Mexico, & with it the hearts of every young football fan around the globe. Later on in life the sight of white, English, footballing arriviste, hipster tossers wearing Brazil ’70 replica shirts would induce a feeling of instant nausea to right minded folk everywhere. I would also come to realise that aside from the odd, honourable exception, people called Nigel are usually best avoided. Neither of these responses presented themselves as relevant in 1970, & in any case nobody ever referred to Nigel Brown as Nigel. He was universally referred to as Chelsea. Chelsea Brown. This peeved me. I had already been to Stamford Bridge & my newly adopted heroes had won the FA Cup for the first time a few months earlier. Why did nobody call me Chelsea? I spent a good deal of the long, summer days of 1970 playing football in the street by myself, an oddball loner even then, pretending to be my then idol, Blues midfielder Alan Hudson, dribbling past imaginary opponents from whatever Brazilian club side the greats of their national team were listed as representing in my cherished but woefully incomplete World Cup 1970 sticker album. Santos had Pele & Carlos Alberto, Cruzeiro the stylish centre forward & future doctor Tostao. Midfielder Rivelino, he of the handsome moustache & ferocious left foot, played for Corinthians. I would regularly check on my shadowy reflection in the sun drenched road to see if my hair was yet long enough to pass muster with Hudson’s impressively flowing teenage locks. By 1978 I would be 16, surely playing for Chelsea, & also lining up with England alongside Alan at that year’s World Cup in Argentina? Ah, the folly of youth. ‘Hold fast to dreams, for when dreams go life is a barren field frozen with snow’ said the poet & novelist Langston Hughes. Ffs Langston, bit rough on me given the dream died while I was barely pubic. England never made it to Argentina. Brilliant as he could be, Mr Hudson turned out to have feet of clay as an idol & by 1978 I was lucky to get the odd 10 minutes as a substitute for my school team. Unlike Nigel earlier in the decade, nobody in the playground ever called me Chelsea either. I would have liked Chelsea Phil as a nickname back then. Chelsea Munday would never have worked then or now, sounds like the lowest of low grade reality TV stars. I have no idea what became of Nigel so called Chelsea Brown, who got beaten up badly at one point around this time, his mother berating me bitterly for not backing him up. As I was a small 8 year old boy & nowhere near the incident when it happened this dressing down seemed a tad harsh then, & still does now. Nigel/Chelsea eventually arranged a match between us urchins & a group of other boys, on Oxford’s South Park overlooking the nearby city centre. Our star of the show was another older lad, Tony Curtis, who sadly lacked the charisma of his film star namesake, but could both play a bit & handle himself in the process. At half time the captain of an overwhelmed opposition approached Chelsea Brown with a proposition. ‘We’ll give you 5 bob for Tony.’ I would have taken it. Sherbert Dips & Bazooka Joe bubble gum all round. Nigel declined the offer. Of course he did. He already had that beautiful, Brazil 1970 replica shirt, what good was 5 bob to him compared to the glory of victory in a South Park kickaround? Tony Curtis later distinguished himself by being the first ( but regrettably some way from the last) of my childhood acquaintances to spend time detained at her majesty’s pleasure. I hope he is alive & well. And at liberty.
The Game Cook was acquired for me, a left leaning pescatarian of 16 years at the time, during a book trade event at Cornbury in 2009 by my great friend Sean. I don’t know Cornbury but am quietly confident it is the kind of place rural Oxfordshire specialises in, all barbour jackets, green wellies, mustard & plum coloured cords & wall to wall Range Rovers. It had become famous in the same decade as the Tebbit event for its popular music festival, aka Poshstock. An awfully jolly, gentrified, comfy chair, strawberries & cream antidote to all those nightmare festivals that I usually (but sadly not always) managed to duck in my long lost youth, involving incessant rainfall & sliding around in the ensuing mud, along with other people’s piss & shit, as inadequate porta loos overflowed, & became inaccessible, while we waited hours for twerps like Bono to award us the dubious honour of gracing us with their obnoxious, self adoring stage presence. A little impromptu snatch of Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall thrown in there eh Bono? Fucking hilarious. Dickwad. Not that I’m bitter. Sean was bored at the book event, & doubtless thought asking Baron Tebbit, the erstwhile Chingford Skinhead, to inscribe a copy of his tome advising us all on the best way to cook murdered animals ‘For Chelsea Phil’ was a pleasing diversion liable to bemuse old Norman &, ultimately, amuse me as well as Sean himself. He appears to have succeeded on all fronts, telling me that the leading ’80’s henchman of our football hating PM of that turbulent decade shot Sean a quizzical look on being given the details of the request before complying wordlessly. I actually returned to carniverous ways shortly after its publication, when, sat in Pret A Manger (with Sean of all people) I unexpectedly went into full on Richard E Grant in Withnail & I ‘I want something’s flesh!’ mode & promptly scoffed down a ham baguette before you could say two faced hypocrite. I have eaten meat since without truly resolving the inner conflict this causes.
Inner conflict is not something I envisage Tebbit struggling with as he tucks into his Roast Haunch Of Venison. Michael Foot once memorably described him in the House Of Commons as behaving like a semi-house trained polecat. Norman responded by including a polecat as one of the symbols on his coat of arms when he was ennobled in 1992. Foot led Labour to a calamitous election defeat in 1983 but I remember once seeing him quietly indulging his lifelong love of books in Blackwell’s years later, & wondering who was the real loser. He was unencumbered by bodyguards or attention while en route to Stamford Bridge I walked past Thatcher’s house in Chester Square for years, with its bomb proofed doorway & omnipresent policemen. Foot would surely have hated that as surely as he loved being registered as an honorary player by his beloved Plymouth Argyle on his 90th birthday. Classy touch there by The Mariners. I am dubious that Tebbit has ever been a football fan. If he had it would likely have been kept pretty quiet in his peak political years, given the Thatcher administration’s innate hostility to the sport, although he did once find himself cornered on a train by Millwall fans, who allayed his fears on being recognised by turning out to be fans of his yobbish, leather jacketed puppet alter ego on Spitting Image & consequently did not give him the rough ride he was anticipating. Unlike them, on that occasion he thought noone liked him &, fearing for his physical welfare, he did care.
Every couple of years or so I take The Game Cook off my bookcase, flick it open at the title pages, smile, somewhat ruefully, at the inscription, & put it back where I found it. It will never be read, but the sight of it takes me back four decades, to the days of Speedie, Dixon & Nevin for Chelsea. The Young Ones. Twelve inch singles. Marlboro Reds finally coming out in 10’s, a veritable boon to this foolish young student smoker. CND & the women of Greenham Common. Guinness at 83p a pint. Simpler times in some ways but also an era when the youthful idealism of myself & many of my generation were crushed by the brutality of the Tory government, one of its leading lights being Mr Tebbit as Secretary of State for Employment (1981-3), Secretary of State for Trade & Industry (1983-5), & Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster & Chairman of the Conservative Party (1985–1977). Norman set his stall out early in the ’80’s, proudly stating how his father hadn’t whined about being unemployed but got on his bike & gone looking for work. This may have gone down a storm in the Tory shires, rather less well among the alarming three million swiftly put on the dole under the less than empathetic watch of the then Secretary Of State For Employment, none other than our very own Norman himself. The many thousands of miners he & his fellow political thugs helped throw on to the job scrapheap a few years later were also presumably supposed to follow Pa Tebbit & get on their pushbikes. A concerted government campaign of widescale pit closures, with no contingencies made for resulting social & economic repurcussions, was an act of wanton political vandalism, leading to wholesale destruction of entire communities whose infastructure depended on the mines. The road hasn’t been built that could handle all those bikes, & there were to be zero jobs available at the end of them anyway. Nobody voted Conservative in those areas so this was of little consequence to Margaret, Norman & the rest of their equally plug ugly, motley crew of absolute bastards. I think of my grandparents moving from London so my grandfather could get regular work at the car factory in Oxford, at Cowley, in the 1930’s, without which my dad & some version of me would likely have grown up as Londoners, even, God help us, Millwall supporters. This move originally involved sterling bike use for my grandad too, as he initially had to cycle the 30 mile round journey daily from Didcot to the factory, earning him the nickname Snowy during one cold winter when he would arrive with rows of icicles neatly perched along his eyebrows. He spent the rest of his working life at Cowley, moving there eventually as well. My dad (like just about everyone else’s dad in my schooldays) also worked at the factory, lining up at the gates on his bike with the many hundreds of others at the end of the working day, though he gravitated to the offices from the factory floor in the late 1960’s. As British Leyland the factory was nationalised in the 1970’s, amidst notoriously troubled times, & is now under German ownership as BMW, producing that ostensibly most English of cars, the Mini, a heavily truncated car plant these days compared to its mid twentieth century heyday. Despite the reliance of the people of Oxford on the by then precariously placed factory (& contrary to the prevalent & inaccurate myth that Oxford was merely a haven for either dreaming spires based intellectuals or carrot crunching yokels) there was little sympathy to be found there for the miners cause in the mid 1980’s. As long as people clung to their own jobs it seemed that the first phase of Thatcherism had succeeded in establishing its predominant edict. I’m Alright Jack & bollocks to anyone else. What is society anyway? From the spirit of the Blitz & creation of the welfare state to this in less than 40 years. Cheers Maggie.
Chelsea were promoted as Division 2 champions shortly after the miner’s strike was called in 1984, & were deep into a successful season back in the top flight when it ended a year later. On their Division 1 return they were joined by Sheffield Wednesday, who became great rivals during this period, courtesy of both the promotion chase & an epic League Cup tie in early 1985, involving two replays, one an epic 4-4 draw at Hillsborough. The same ground witnessed one of the uglier atmospheres, in an era regularly poisoned with terrace violence & malevolence, when Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest visited in August 1984. Unlike their Sheffield counterparts, the Nottingham miners largely failed to support the strike, then in full flow, but, crucially, called without a secret ballot taking place first. Wednesday won the match 3-1 & nobody from Nottingham was left in any doubt what the people of Sheffield thought about events away from the field of sport. I was unemployed by this time, back in Oxford as one of a record number of jobless graduates, having completed my degree in Hull two months earlier. I flitted between Oxford & Hull during the rest of the strike. The North-South divide can rarely have been more glaring. I remember meeting one striking miner, collecting money in a bucket in the Student’s Union in Hull, polite, quietly spoken & clearly abashed at having to depend on the largesse of no nothing berks like me, who had never had to fight for their jobs & families, & could scarcely begin to imagine the hardship industrial action entailed. He certainly bore no resemblance to the thuggish, red under the coal bed, enemy of the state image being painted of miners by the government , a conveniently warped & disingenuous line swallowed all too easily back in places like Oxford. How long ago it all seems now, with fossil fuel now two dirty words & the traditional red wall of the North having collapsed under the weight of Brexit fallout at the 2019 General Election. Not everyone has forgotten though, not even in the South. A few weeks after the last election, in January 2020, Chelsea played Nottingham Forest at Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup third round. The home team were sporting a magnificent 1970 replica kit, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the club’s first triumph in this once vital, now sadly marginalised tournament. However, events around the coal mines of England more than a decade later were still in the forefront of the mind of at least one Chelsea fan that day. A lively Forest following were reminding the home support their team had won 2 European Cups. Chelsea had only one at the time. Fair dos, but they spoiled the impact by following up this chant with that most tedious of away fan anthems at Chelsea, namely the lazy & mildly cretinous Where Were You When You Were Shit? Chelsea have been a good team since the mid 1990’s. Home crowds comprise mostly of older fans who were going to games in less successful times, coupled with many thousands who were not even born when Rotherham United were putting 6 past Petar Borota & the rest of us to shame. Where Were You When You Were Shit? usually elicits a response of bored silence, sometimes laced with a barely audible, gently weary, collective sigh. However, one person sat near me did respond to the Forest fans on this occasion. Quite magnificently. ‘Not sure where I was but I know what you lot were doing. Scabbing down the fucking pits.’ Lest we forget.
It was the fallout from the miner’s strike of 1984-5 that kick-started my disillusionment at the prospect of real, positive & meaningful political change occurring within this country. Two crazed ideologues exploited a tragic situation, playing games at the expense of working people, many of them non-working by the end of the dispute. Arrogant NUM leader Arthur Scargill stupidly exploited his own members in pusuit of achieving a personal & unrealistic goal to help topple a government, fatally blighting the other aim, which should have been his only goal, to stop pit closures & protect jobs. Thatcher, also arrogant but far less stupid, feigned horror in the most nauseating manner imaginable at the calling of a strike she was happily engineering herself. In reality she was delighted to draw up battle lines against a union that had helped bring down her most recent Tory predecessor, Edward Heath, a decade earlier. Coal was strategically stockpiled & imported. Scargill calling the strike as we headed towards the summer must have caused her heart (assuming she had one) to joyfully leap. The government had announced that 20 pits were to close. Scargill, never a stickler for accuracy, claimed they had a long term plan to close 70 more. Predictably he got it wrong, but unusually he had downplayed the government’s intent to crush the coal industry at huge cost to the communities who worked within it. We now know, despite government denials at the time, that the plan was to close 75 collieries over a 3 year period. In the meantime they got on with the immediate business of preparing to throw the first 20,000 miners on the dole, Thatcher infamously referring to them as ‘the enemy within’ in a private meeting with the gin soaked reactionaries on her party’s notorious 1922 Committee. Displaying typical, malignant spite, rather than use the police as peace keeping enforcers of law & order, their usual role in a supposed democratic society, she employed them as military weapons of state on picket lines, most famously at the Orgreave coking plant. By the time the courts were paying out damages to some of the victims of this state sponsored yobbishness, years had passed, the strike was long over & most people’s attentions had turned elsewhere. The miner’s cause was done no favours when two strikers threw a concrete block off a motorway bridge through the car window of a taxi driver, David Wilkie, who was driving a non striking miner to work. Mr Wilkie was killed. Scargill supposedly condemned this monstrous act though I cannot recall the NUM official position being all that resounding at the time. Refusing to call a secret ballot on industrial action meant the strike was proclaimed illegal six months into a year of crippling deprivation for the mining communities who supported the walkout. Thatcher was already well versed in appealing to people’s self interest, brilliantly exemplified by the widescale sale of council houses, a boon to those lucky enough to be in a position to buy them, still a problem to this day for those affected by the inevitable, chronic shortage of available social housing that ensued. Privatising public utilities led to hugely successful promotional drives, encouraging people to buy shares in something all of us had already hitherto owned collectively. It took her until 1989 to privatise water, England & Wales becoming the only countries in the world to have done this. If she could have done the same with fresh air she undoubtedly would have, though the air around her every move was usually heavily laced with a unique stench of shit. The move towards a look after number one society, assuming you believed in the concept of society at all, was all but complete & has largely continued ever since. All this meant that any trade union planning major industrial action were in a tricky position. People were sick of trade unions after years of disruption in the ’60’s & ’70’s. Preaching to the converted at raucous public meetings in Barnsley or South Wales might have rallied the troops there & bolstered Scargill’s always substantial ego, but the failure to hold a secret ballot meant he lost the support of the Nottinghamshire miners before we even get to the rest of the nation. Scargill was undoubtedly a fighter but boxing clever proved beyond him. Admittedly, he did not have council houses to offer on the cheap but the man never seemed to understand the value of extending the appeal of the cause beyond the mining strongholds through calm, reasoned persuasion. The finger pointing, hectoring, transparently politically motivated, doctrinaire ranting did not sit well elsewhere in the country, as it needed to for awareness of the reality of the miner’s plight to communicate itself nationwide. Logically, the miners were never going to win. Thatcher knew this & twisted the knife with relish, but Scargill has a lot to answer for. He should have been intelligent enough to know that the strike was doomed from the outset & that rather than bringing down Margaret Thatcher he was in fact playing calamitously into her hands. Both these monsters should have been ashamed of themselves but clearly neither were, which explains the very real human tragedy that saw striking miners & their families, pawns in a pointless & bloody chess game, undergo a year of hellish suffering before their communities were indeed ripped asunder.
In my late teens & early 20’s I had almost as much passion for supporting the Labour Party as I did Chelsea. Almost. Politics came a close third behind sport & music in my arrogant, youthful, know all quest to educate the rest of the world. Most people who knew me would have that staple of the music bore, the cassette mix tape, foisted on them at some point or other, because my record collection is better than yours, right? How many of my contemporaries would have benefited from the existence of Spotify, the final nail in the coffin for these geekish endeavours, back in the 1980’s! In similarly misguided fashion I truly believed that anyone who accompanied me to Stamford Bridge in these halcyon days would automatically fall in love with the place the way I had on my first visit a decade earlier, back in the days of Peter Osgood & Nigel Chelsea Brown. It took many years to disabuse me of this notion. Annoying though the comparison might seem to many on either side, Chelsea FC & the Labour Party were actually quite alike in the 1980’s, both frequently batshit crazy & with seemingly suicidal tendencies, desperate to alienate unimpressed, non partisan onlookers, sometimes offering hopes of revival with spells of improved performance only for those hopes to crumble into dust as mismanagement & self destructive tendencies among grass root support manifested themselves with monotonous regularity, continually inciting media hostility. Badly dressed gangsters & prats ran Liverpool in the name of the Labour Party at one point. Chelsea had seriously malign elements within their fanbase which, like the conduct of egotistical extremist hypocrites within the Labour ranks, guaranteed many yards of unfavourable, frequently hysterical, newspaper stories. In Chelsea’s case endless negative media fun & games were also whipped up via the arrival of wilfully perverse chairman Ken Bates, the maverick eccentric’s maverick eccentic. Labour had its own football team of colourful characters all too ready to regularly shoot both their mouths off & their party’s fortunes in the foot. Chelsea & mix tapes continued into my 30’s but by then I realised that supporting a political party was different to blind love for your football team. Changing the team you support is unthinkable. Political parties need to earn & retain your trust. We eventually got a Labour administration of sorts in the same month as Chelsea ended a 26 year trophy drought, in May 1997. The FA Cup Final triumph was a glorious & emotional event for me, the main joy of future war criminal Tony Blair’s New Labour landslide a fortnight earlier had been seeing the back of the malign spivs running the show for the preceding 18 years. Gullit, Wise, Di Matteo & the rest of the boys finally gave us a Blue Day, the British electorate, mercifully, having at last chosen, emphatically, to do the opposite. Happy days, but the slippery & mendacious Blair proved to be a predictable wolf in sheep’s clothing, sickeningly in thrall both to Thatcher, & the main legacy of Thatcherism, selfishness & greed, that he inherited. To this day the nation largely appears to remain in thrall to the latter, if rather less to the former with the passing of the years. Thatcher was a wicked but serious, commited, relentlessly hard working politician. Nobody still kneeling at her altar could possibly back the current incumbent at No 10, a lazy, directionless, venal, slovenly slob with a quite unjustified belief in his superiority over the rest of us, the dress sense of a 5 year old boy & a fat, smug, entitled, intellectually barren head, that appears to enjoy regular bouts of backwards journeys through a car wash, topped off with that absurd crop of tatty, tousled, don’t care hair as it is. Could they? They could? God preserve us. Thatcher held us in contempt but not THAT much contempt.
As we left the 1980’s the evangelical zeal & youthful idealism for political discourse that had long left me chomping at the bit for a Labour Government had already begun to wane. The Tories had already won 3 successive elections with handsome majorities by then. This was never better illustrated than my disengagement from the Poll Tax riot in London on March 31, 1990. Estimates vary on the amount of people who joined the protests against what turned out to be Thatcher’s last in a long list of acts of open contempt for the less well off in society, the concept of which she once famously looked befuddled by during a television interview. A later police report on the whole business, which involved over 300 arrests & more than 100 injuries, placed the figure at around 200,000. I was in London that day. What had drawn me to the smoke & distracted me from the widescale uproar over the latest governmental act of malevolent folly? A Chelsea match at Stamford Bridge of course, a dues paying, humdrum 1-1 draw with Derby County alongside 186,00 less hardy souls than were giving it to the man in Whitehall. I managed to spend the entire day (& arrive back home from our fair capital city that evening) still in blissful ignorance of what had taken place, momentous events that effectively sounded the death knell for the leaderene’s 11 year stint as Prime Minister. My memories are rather less earth shattering. Fresh from the slim pickings offered by victory in the previous week’s irrelevant ZDS Cup Final victory, ex Derby striker Kevin Wilson’s opener for the Blues was cancelled out by a late, audacious long range lob over the head of a hapless Dave Beasant by future Chelsea target man Mick Harford. After the match, as the sun shone, I witnessed a posh Rupert wearing a cricket jumper turn left off the Kings Road & drive his open topped sports car into the back of a bus. His car appeared to have come out of it worse than the bus. As Mrs Thatcher had once declared that any man still using the latter mode of transport in adulthood could consider themselves to have failed in life I later viewed this incident to be a neat metaphor for the fallout from the day’s riots, the rich elite finally falling foul of the rest of us plebs. In real time I merely laughed, unkind for sure but nobody appeared to have been hurt, apart from Ruper Cricket-Jumper’s pride. And car bonnet. Hard luck Rupes. Doubtless daddy paid the repair bills. Goals aside, my only memory of the game itself was the appearance of Derby’s 6 foot 7 substitute Kevin Francis. Living in Oxford meant Central TV & Midland football highlights which forewarned me about Kevin’s sheer enormity, but a man nearby was completely taken aback by West London’s first sighting of the big fella. ‘FAAACCCCKKKKING HELL!’ he roared as Francis entered the fray in the second half. It was a pity Chelsea couldn’t have put Kevin in their goal that day. Mick Harford would have struggled to lob him. At the other end of the decade, in the early months of 1999, Francis made another substitute appearance at Stamford Bridge, as an Oxford United player, & was sarcastically cheered to the rafters by the home supporters. It was an FA Cup replay & Chelsea had saved their worst performance of the season for the first match at the Manor Ground. Deservedly heading out of the competition via a Dean Windass header The Blues were handed a lifeline by Mr Francis, now plagued with injury. Having once again come on as a substitute he famously proceeded to miscue a gilt edged chance to clinch victory horribly wide of the Chelsea goal before conceding a much disputed late penalty at the other end of the pitch, courtesy of an injudicious challenge on player manager Gianluca Vialli. I saw it again recently. It would be a penalty awarded without complaint any day of the week now, but within both the context of those times & the balance of play a spirited Oxford team had undoubtedly been robbed on the night. Chelsea were appalling. Francis didn’t stay much longer & his career rather fizzled out, the aforementioned injury problems preventing him from ever again recreating his prolific goal grabbing glory years at Stockport County from 1991-5. The Chelsea game was the last time I ever went to the Manor & the only time I saw Kevin Francis again he was in his civvies opposite Tesco on Oxford’s Cowley Road, on the outskirts of the city centre. He was unmistakable of course, being both huge, & walking with a pronounced limp. I was snubbed by some Oxford supporting work colleagues for several days in the aftermath of the penalty incident & it is unwise to this day to broach the subject with many of that club’s followers. The response will doubtless be short, vociferous, & in the context of the role of Kevin Francis in proceedings, possibly rather familiar. ‘FAAACCCCKKKKING HELL!’
Norman Tebbit left the government after the 1987 election, having fallen out with Thatcher over the tactical approach to that campaign. She had already identified that he was an unsuitable candidate to succeed her, clearly lacking vote pleasing charm & warmth for all his operational efficiency. He also wanted to spend more time overseeing & participating in the extensive care required by his wife Margaret, who had been horrifically injured by the IRA bombing at Brighton during the 1984 Tory Party conference. Even after Thatcher went we still had years of Conservative rule, under the Chelsea fan & greasy spoon fry up enthusiast John Major. Rumours that his much vaunted, everyman love of sausage, bacon & eggs had at one time been supplanted with a passion for curry was a misapprehension based on a fatal spelling error. Major’s administration spluttered on for a full five years after his win over Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party on my 30th birthday in April 1992. ‘The sun’s out & so are The Tories’ proclaimed a beaming Mr Kinnock as he arrived to place his vote that morning. Half right Neil. It was a lovely day. In fairness a politician who could get something even half right these days would be venerated. I got drunk on an unwise mixture of Guinness & Brandy that evening, but at least my hangover passed within a day. Major endured a miserable few years attempting to ward off both incessant & wholly accurate allegations of governmental sleaze & his own crackpot anti-European right wing backbenchers. It is depressing to reflect that these aforementioned lunatics appeared to have taken over the asylum by the time of the Brexit referendum in 2016. Major is still noticeably bitter about these idiots to this day, the one thing aside from supporting Chelsea we share in common. Oh, and the fry ups. Mustn’t forget the fry ups.
While Major clung on to power I was struggling to meet the financial demands of a new mortgage on my paltry bookseller’s salary, & reluctantly had to choose between spending less time in the pub or at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea naturally got the nod & the focus of my evenings gravitated from my favourite boozer The White Horse to Sunset Video, the nearest VHS rental emporium to my new home. The 1980’s boom days for video rental had long gone & it’s fair to say Sunset Video had seen better days. It had a dark, dingy, delapidated look about it. The smell of Golden Virginia & disillusionment hung heavily in the air, both largely attributable to Jeff, the shop owner. I liked Jeff, with his latter period Beach Boys beard & baseball cap, shuffling round in his flip flops with a roll up on the go, grey trackie bottoms usually just about winning the battle to conceal the crack of his anus. The problem was that the bulk of Jeff’s clientele liked the kind of action hero films that I loathed. This was the era of Arnie, Seagal, Van Damme & Jackie Chan. ‘Sex & violence, that’s what people round here want’ was one of Jeff’s two mantras. Jeff’s shop covered the violence with a plethora of the dreaded action & martial arts films, supplemented by scores of low budget thrillers made directly for the cable or straight to video markets, frequently featuring a stable of actors seemingly born to be in these largely humdrum affairs, or others descending from previous highs in better days. Wings Hauser. Randy Quaid. Michael Ironside. Ben Cross. Julian Sands. Erik Estrada off CHIPS. I watched scores of these thrillers. My God, the things I did to stay out of the boozer so I could watch Tony Cascarino & Robert Fleck fail to score for Chelsea. The sex in Sunset Video was covered by a separate Adult film section requiring a walk of shame into its partitioned corridor of sin. Despite being an unrequited lover rather than a fighter I only ever once troubled this section, naturally for research purposes only. At nearby Park Stores, an under the counter service existed to tickle the fancy of connoisseurs of smut . Or men as they are sometimes known. I was not a member at Park Stores but someone I knew who was once thought it a wheeze to accept the opportunity to view some illicit Frankie Vaughan, taking their brown paper wrapped evening’s entertainment home & proceeding to record highlights of that evening’s British Open Golf over all the crucial moments. The dulcet, mellifluous tones of commentator Peter Alliss thus replaced the overheated moans of conjugal ecstasy, & the Pringle clad likes of Nick Faldo & Sandy Lyle brandishing their own wood doubtless proved for future viewers an unwelcome substitution for the original writhing array of sweaty torsos, siliconed tits & absurdly oversized phalluses. One assumes nobody ever complained about this act of subterfuge, the distribution of (then) illegal hardcore material presumably binding both vendor & future borrowers in a mutual vow of silence. Back at Sunset Video Jeff was clearly feeling the pinch, narrowing the range of new titles being introduced to the shop. Any request about upcoming releases would be met with a standard question. ‘Is it an action movie?’ If it wasn’t, in my case it never was, the request would likely fall on stony ground. Martin Scorsese’s masterly & lavish adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The Age Of Innocence? No chance matey. Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven did make the shelves but 4 Oscars, including best picture & best supporting actor (for the wonderful Gene Hackman) cut no ice with its remorseless clientele. The age & relative vulnerability of Eastwood’s character contrasted sharply with earlier, effortlessly cooler & more virile cowboy roles. For me this lent the film additional pathos but not for Jeff or his regulars. ‘No good. It’s not an action movie,’ he told me gloomily. He actually did sell me an under the counter hooky video, not pornography but the magnificent A Clockwork Orange, the film long banned in the UK at the time, as requested by director Stanley Kubrick, following a number of acts of copycat violence seemingly inspired by dimmer members of cinema audiences in the wake of its initial release in the early 1970’s. Aston Villa fans invaded the pitch & held up kick off at a game I went to around that time, quite a number of them dressed in the style of Malcolm McDowell’s Alex & his psychotic gang of droogs from the movie. A stabbing took place in the crowd that day too. Some of A Clockwork Orange was shot in the Chelsea Drugstore on the King’s Road, & a few years ago I tried some night photography around the Albert Bridge, unaware that I was within yards of the scene where Alex gets his comeuppance & receives a retaliatory beating from vagrants. I got politely asked for a light from one of a small gaggle of homeless people during my catastrophically bad photo misadventure but emerged unscathed despite not having any matches. Jeff & I eventually bonded one day over a film called The Rapture, starring Mimi Rogers & David Duchovny, a genuinely intriguing film about a woman who turns her back on her previous swinging lifestyle & joins a religious sect. This definitely wasn’t an action movie but when I raved to Jeff about it his eyes lit up to. He had watched & liked it too, chummily offering me a slice of his recently arrived takeaway pizza in the process. Lamenting that precious few other Sunset Video punters had shared our opinion of The Rapture, he paused, allowing both for maximum impact for the profundity to come, & the chance have another drag on his roll up. ‘One man’s meat is another man’s poison. That’s what I always say,’ he observed somewhat mournfully. You & lots of other in truth Jeff, apparently it’s a proverb that’s been around since at least the sixteenth century. Fair point well made all the same.
Which brings me back, via an admittedly tortuous & circuitous roiute,to the dreaded Tebbit. No, he didn’t nip into Sunset Video & buy one of Jeff’s female mud wrestling videos (though some of his erstwhile Cabinet colleagues were widely thought to have been up to far, far worse a few years earlier). He has continued to prove himself a one man vindication of dear Jeff’s somewhat hackneyed meat/poison proverb. He possesses an uncanny ability to have a polar opposite stance to me (or anyone imbued with the mildest liberal tendencies) on just about any issue you care to mention. Empathy for asylum seekers? Nah. Gay marriage? Not on your nelly. Aid to Africa? Dusappears into a ‘sink of iniquity, corruption & violence’ rather than ever helping the poor apparently. Bit like our taxes under your mob Norm, although he did implore us to eschew the Tories & vote UKIP in the late Noughties, to sate his slavering Europhobia. The racially dubious 1960’s speeches of the brilliant but dangerous Enoch Powell have been referred to approvingly. On the rare occasion he relents he soon relapses into intolerance. With a track record of supporting anti-gay legislation going back to Thatcher’s infamous Section 28 in the late 1980’s, he did, in 2013, concede that his 1998 call for homosexuals to be barred from holding the position of Home Secretary was now an outmoded standpoint. He reverted to type in 2018 though, refusing to attend a church where the dean was ‘a sodomite’ who had entered into a same sex civil partnership, Lord Tebbit, needless to say, disapproving of both these practices. I’m not sure all gay men practice sodomy but doubtless Tebbit has a deeper knowledge on the subject. Or access to a hidden camera in the vicarage. And the cataclysmic outcome for the mining communities following the collapse of the strike in 1985? A quarter of a century later, in 2009, the old bruiser did actually confess to some regrets, acknowleding there had been considerable hardships & societal problems arising from the inevitable mass unemployment. No shit Sherlock. Better late than never? Not really. The fallout in the wake of the dispute wasn an obvious accident waiting to happen. Thatcher’s fervent desire to take any & every opportunity to crush the Trade Union movement always overrode trivialities like compassion, decency & social responsibility. The government was fully aware of the consequences of what it was doing. Crocodile tears decades later from her fascilitators were unwanted, wholly disingenuous & frankly rather distasteful. Norman does didingenuous rather well for a noted plain speaker. In a bizarre 2010 episode he was acused of kicking a child in a dragon outfit up the arse during a Chinese New Year Parade in his home town of Bury St Edmonds. Claiming he was first barged by the dragon before barging it back, he later conceded that he ‘might have done something like kick it.’ Either you did or you didn’t you barmy old nobber. Pushing 80 at the time, he is now 90, so hopefully children in dragon’s costumes are safe from his trusty Tory boot these days. Dear old Norman though. What a charmer. Keeping it surreal to the last.
I still vote Labour, largely due to the happy accident of being based in Oxford East, & have the unusual non-Tory distinction of never ticking the box of a losing General Election candidate in my life. I was living in Hull in 1983, & Oxford East was one of only 2 seats in the South East outside of London to swing to Labour in 1987, who have held it ever since, only once coming close to losing it, in 2005 following the fallout of Tony Blair’s shameful involvement in the invasion of Iraq. I spoiled my paper that time, & would not hesitate to vote for anyone else were they more likely than Labour to deny the modern day likes of Norman Beresford Tebbit another wretched Conservative colleague in Parliament.
I thought I knew everything in the 1980’s. The only certainty I have now is that I know nothing. Or next to nothing. For when I shuffle off my coil I will do so in the sure & certain knowledge that among my meagre selection of possessions ending up in various charity shops, one, a book, dusty & unloved, will eventually be picked up & opened by an unwitting stranger, who will then learn that it once belonged to someone called Chelsea Phil. This will mean jackshit to the unwitting stranger, but in an odd, doubtless rather sad way I find the prospect of this fleeting future moment rather comforting.
Chelsea & me. Together forever.