As a kid I never went far at all,probably the farthest I went was wales on some ill fated holiday which lasted for all of 3 days,it probably took us the same amount of time to get there in my dad’s Morris Minor,laden down with 4 people,food and clothing it was never going to be troubling speed cameras or achieving maximum speed limits, in fact I’m sure we got overtaken by a car pulling a caravan,there was always a rather large tailback of traffic whenever my parents ventured out in this slow moving embarassing excuse for a car, oh and it rained,and rained and rained, and we came home and went to good old Chapel St Leonard’s, where it also rained. So March 1980 and again the head of the school youth club organized a day trip to London, at the age of 16 this was going to be the furthest I had ever been without my parents,and there was always an ulterior motive with howard,he was a big united fan, with them playing at southend this was his plan,2+2 did make 4 and his plan was to drop this various assortment of punks,teds,mods rockers and skinheads in the centre of London for a day of sight seeing, museums, art galleries and culture,whilst he shot off to Sunny Southend, it turned out to be More like getting chased around London by skinheads,getting ripped off on the kings road,spending most of our money peeping thru letterboxes at rough as fuck slappers showing a bit of tit and getting chased out of various ‘adult themed’ shops in Soho,getting lost on the underground, crap beer and coming home with nowt apart from a dodgy Carnaby Street sticker.
The day started out full of expectations, destinations where going to be carnaby street and the kings road,we all agreed we where coming home laden down with Ben Sherman’s, Fred Perry’s, proper sta prest, hard to find records, back in Sheffield we where going to be the ‘Ace Faces’ but the skinheads of London had other ideas, we stuck out like a sore thumb, just there for the taking, or so our baldheaded cockney cousins thought.
Saturday morning,We all piled into this dodgy looking Comma mini bus,the type with no front end as such, with the engine between the front seats,a noisy uncomfortable bus obviously built to induce all types of back and leg pains on even the shortest journeys, a suspension that every time it hit a bump everyone left there seats and hit there heads on the ceiling, in time you could anticipate it,and just like joining a skipping rope you got into the rhythm before making your move, “right lads,pick you back up here at 6” as we spilled out on to the streets of London “carnaby street is just down there” says Howard pointing across to a narrow street as he pulled out in front of an oncoming bus ,and with a wave and a wanker sign to us, and a reply of a mass “fuck off holmesy ” he was gone, A former resident of London, H had taught in a couple of schools and had given our chosen leader for the day Craig, various scribbled information on bits of paper, Chosen as Craig was a year older then us, street wise and could handle himself, Howards info was only used when we got lost ,or landed ourselves in shit,which was most of the day as it turned out.
In 1980 this part of London was quite different from how it is now, Soho was even more so, parts of London that are extremely desirable now,back then they where very dodgy, Carnaby street was way past its swinging hip sixties place to be, little alley’s and courts away from the main street where very lonely and frightening places, it wasn’t the place it is now, we make our way to Carnaby and we have been in a couple of shops and a young kid about 12/13 asks the time and once he gets an answer he floats off,the next shop we are in, the same kid walks in with 2 older kids, looks at us and walks out, “that’s 3rd shop he’s followed us into” says Craig, whilst we have been floating about, Craig has had one eye on what’s happening around us,whilst we are all fucking around and being as loud as possible,next shop 4/5 older lads come in, all Skinheads, the leader/main man picks out Craig ” we will leave you alone if you give us £5″ (lot of dough back then ) ” have a think about it” and they walk out, there’s 8 of us, Craig ain’t having none of it ” they can fuck off, if we give him money,they will all want money ” now Craigs a teddy boy,leather jacket,quiff the lot, and the skins have him as our “leader” so potentially he’s on a kicking, the plan, if we had one as such was we all leg it out on to regents street, and whatever we do we all stick together and head in the same direction, there might be 5/6 skinheads outside,then again there might be 15/20, we walk out and the skins are on the opposite side of Carnaby, On your marks go! On our toes and we are off! I’m that quick I overtake Linford Christie, well if he was there i would have,we are hammering it down carnaby with shoppers moving out of our way as quick as they can with a bunch of skinheads chasing, who ever was at the back launches a bin at there front man and smack in the face he’s down, we are catapulted out on to a busy street and manage to disappear rather quick into a wimpy and a quick head count and all present and correct.
We sit there and get our breath back, there’s a tube station across the road we brave it and venture out and down into subterranean London, somehow after studing a map of the underground,and none of us knowing which is north,and which is south,we ask someone to point us in the right direction for the kings road,only for us to get on the wrong train!
we finally make it to the Kings Road,which at the time was the fashionable place to shop for clothes, No skinheads, No marauding ‘Gore blimey guv’ cockenees this time, as we where about to find out it was the shop assistants who where after robbing us this time,Johnsons was the shop for all things mod at the time and they had some really great button down shirts, myself and john picked out some great checked shirts and asked the price “£4 son” wow bargain to a 16 year old mad on clothes! So I picked 3 shirts out and went to the counter with a rather grubby ten pound note and a load of silver,guy checked them in “£36 please” “what? You mean £12 they are £4 each?” ” no Sonny £12 each” so we have jumped from £4 to £12 on a shirt that clearly has a £4 price tag on, “wrong price on them” is the answer we get back, so I ain’t paying it and neither is john,so Craig wades in explaining that the guy has said £4, he replies he can charge what he wants so “either take it our leave it” so my answer is “fuck off”.
An argument ensued and I’m sure someone kicked something over in the shop, hence the assistant chasing us out of the shop. We have been in London 2 hours and have spent most of that time getting chased,this is fastly turning into the day Kirk Douglas was having in the film ” Falling Down” only it’s London town rather then Los Angeles,I’m sure there was some washed up film director sat in the last chance saloon desperate for an idea and he spies us lot charging round London looking like a collective of Frank Spencer’s trying to find the Frank Spencer Convention, anyway i can also remember we went in a huge second hand clothing shop it was full of 50s/60s american clothing, really great college jackets and vintage Levis,it may have been Flip or Acme Attractions,there was some really great clothes shops around the kings road at that time, we decide to find the nearest pub,in we walk and with it still being early we have it to ourselves, none of us are legally old enough to drink,so the oldest lads who obviously have the most experience of “getting served” go to the bar, lager’s all round and we settle in, we are just about to have another and the landlord comes across, ” supp up lads,none of you are old enough to drink” Craig has a go back at him telling him that he is,and again a few choice words are exchanged but the landlord stuck his brakes on and was having none of it, ‘out you fucking go’.
Now where? We end up in Trafalgar square sat on the lions after we have messed about in some cheap gift shop,another visit to a wimpy, there’s no chippys whatsoever, London Calling? You can fucking have it! we end up back in Soho, sex shops all over the place, and we dare each other to go in one, finally we all go in and there’s a scruffy bloke behind the counter who just looks up at us and Carries on whatever he was doing, there’s a few older men flicking thru mags, I’m totally gobsmacked,lost for words, I’m used to spending Saturdays in record shops or Harringtons,or at my mates house playing records, I’m surrounded by shelves full of magazines displaying naked women,fat women, thin women, women in leather, women tied up, old women, young women, blokes in leather touching each other up, I’m that fucking Nieve, that I’m wondering why The Village People seem quite popular in a certain section of this shop, I just thought they where in fancy dress, now I know! we all dare each other to flick thru a mag,not sure who picked one up but suddenly we all pushing each other out the way to have a look and we are giggling and making out we have seen it all before.
” OK lads, you are either buying or if you’re not its £10 to look ” that shuts us up and we make our excuses quicker then when we left Carnaby street 5 hours earlier, we end up in another shop, this time it shows films! There’s small cubicles and the idea is you go in and sit down shut the door and start feeding money into a coin slot and the porno film starts up and its projected over your head and on to the door, of course me and john get it completely wrong and we stand with our backs to the door whilst the film is projected onto our chests! Huge grumbles of ” it’s fucking crap this” and various obscenities and then we realise what we are doing wrong,only by this time we have shovelled loads of coins into the slot, once the film gets to a good part it starts shutting down so you have to shovel more money in, seasoned regulars skilled in the art of using one hand whilst the other hand is engaged elsewhere in the trouser department area would have a little stack of coins at the ready to be fed in so as not to be fumbling about and finding the film shutting down just as they reach the “point of no return” and it all goes “Tits up ” to coin a phrase.
So after a while we get bored of this and end up in another shop, this time with what’s called a “peep show” again more feeding money into a box, we are in a room with a hexagonal box in the middle and as far as I can remember there was a revolving floor inside it with a woman on it and you viewed it through a slot the size of a letterbox which opened and closed depending on how much money you put in, we are all looking thru these slots and someone gets brave and shouts ” show us your muff” so she teases us by pulling her trolley’s to one side, then a shout of “let’s see your tits” and the bra comes off, then it all goes downhill rather fast when someone shouts ” that dirty fuckers having a wank” which is aimed at a bloke over the other side who’s facial expressions can clearly be seen through the viewing slot, he’s now the centre of attention and realises all eyes are on him, he shouts something and the slot closes and he’s gone, 30 seconds later there’s banging on the doors and we are being ejected rather quickly from yet another Establishment.
We are now wondering where to go as pick up time is fast approaching, we are wandering around Soho slowly but surely drawing attention to ourselves, we need to make our way back to our pick up point,which isn’t far away, every time ive watched the film Warriors it always reminds me off this day out! “Let’s go back to carnaby street” is suggested and on viewing our map its just around the corner, surely the gang from earlier can’t be there now,so we go for it and its safe! Its early evening and its quite full and looks safe so we end our day passing thru and settle in a pub and wait for holmesy, we get served with no trouble and relax for the first time that day and eventually the mini bus pulls up across the road, as we leave the pub the unluckiest skinhead in London happens to come round a corner and walks straight into us, his face is a picture as a fist lands bang in the middle of his nose and he wobbles and drops to the pavement ,to this day i don’t know who’s fist it was but a cracking punch! We all run down the centre of the road dodging traffic and dive in the bus just as half a dozen skinheads appear to help there fallen comrade.” Come on Howard let’s go” we are all shouting and laughing as we slip into the evening London traffic, all up at the windows giving the pursuing skinheads the rods and various obscenities, poor Howard he’s not got a clue what’s going off, we escape London town and head slowly north back to Sheffield empty handed,skint,knackered, and with mixed feelings about London
I’ve been to London loads of times since and I always remember this first trip,as at 16 I was crossing that line from school to work, boy to man and entering into the real world, I went again in 1985 with a girlfriend and the London I had been chased around was very different or was it just that I was older and making my way in the world?
One thing I did learn from this outing, and I got it from Craig,was that even to this day I’m always aware of what’s happening around me watching my back ,so to speak I’m always taking note and observing where I am and what others are doing its come in handy over the years!
I love Soho, its the place to head for every time we go, Bar Italia, Princi’s on wardour street, Ronnie Scotts, loads of bars,restaurants, theatre Land, Covent garden,and Chinatown all within walking distance!!! Go and have a long weekend there!