Life outside work was relatively easy to get into. I was on no income but had come away with about £4K in my savings account, which yes, could have gone on a holiday but it took the initial financial worry out of being unemployed.
And I had Bassalot, husband #2, to look out for me.
Husband #1 hadn’t worked out so well. It wasn’t a complete disaster, more like a practice run.
We were both first years at Portsmouth Poly and had met a couple of times through a shared interest in music and alternative nights. At first it was great, as relationships should be. I unusually approached him, my leg in plaster as I’d had a collision as a pedestrian with another student in a car a couple of weeks before, and we spent approximately the first 6 weeks in bed. As far as the other people in my halls of residence knew I might as well have just disappeared.
We moved in together pretty quickly and it was a time of parties, gigs and festivals, the smell of crimpers on hairspray, and generally discovering the alternative scene in Portsmouth. Our friends became less student centric and we got in with ‘the locals’ and learnt words like squinny and mush and dinny. He dropped out of college and I saw my course through and at the end of four years of a Business Studies course we applied for a Princes Trust loan to open an alternative shop in Portsmouth called Snakebite.
I don’t remember a particular time when we stopped paying attention to each other. There was an afternoon, fairly early on, when, lying in bed, he said he wished I looked like Debbie Harry. It just kind of slipped out but I guess the rot may have set in then. He also got quite angry and would throw things about proper violently and smash them. I’m fairly easy going and said well fine, just don’t start throwing my things about. Mostly he didn’t but then one day he did break a small pine make up mirror and I thought right, here we go then. I certainly wasn’t perfect. I remember becoming a right nag. Not about anything in particular, just everything. And the fact that he was frustrated and stroppy brought out those feelings in me.
We stopped putting any effort in to make it work. If we’d been having a fantastic marriage and looking out for each other as we should have been (and I’d looked more like Debbie Harry), obviously slagwhoreworm wouldn’t have got a look in.
We were preparing for an August bank holiday camping trip to the New Forest. A drive and a campfire later and suddenly there it was – epiphany moment number one. I was sitting around the campfire swilling cider with mates while slagwhoreworm and husband #1 had gone off into the forest and I suddenly knew that he and I no longer had a connection and our marriage was over.
We had all the usual conversations, the make up sex, the break up sex and finally he moved out.
After splitting up from husband #1, a peacock in our social circle had caught my eye. He had bright coloured hair, was a glam metaller, went to art college and, for some reason, women confided in him.
Hanging out in predominantly male company, a suddenly unattached female was quite interesting. Mr Peacock had called round one day to see if I was doing ok and, his words, my sofa was like a waiting room of guys who’d all popped round to see if I was ‘doing ok?’.
I did like him a lot but was also hurting from splitting up with husband #1. Although it hadn’t been true love, we hadn’t worked at it and in reality the marriage had ended long before whatsherface came along. The hurt was nonetheless very physical, surprisingly so. Luckily, I’ve never been kicked in the stomach by a horse but that’s what it felt like. It was actually a very physical pain, partly I think because he had gone off with someone else and that doesn’t do anyone’s self esteem any good. I couldn’t eat, I lost weight, I stumbled over my own feet, and generally wasn’t engaging with much at all.
Luckily there were the practicalities of sorting out the flat and our belongings, finding somewhere to live and opening and running Snakebite every day. I’m good at practical stuff. Our past and the flat was fairly easy to deal with. We didn’t have a mortgage or kids or a complicated financial portfolio. I think our double duvet caused the most controversy and obviously there were rows but basically it was sorted.
The present, the shop, was weirder. As a couple, it just about provided an income for us, but as two individuals there was no hope. For now we spent different days in there and kind of waited for a solution to come our way.
Mr Peacock was actually in the process of leaving Portsmouth. Disillusioned with England, he had purchased an inter-rail ticket to travel around Europe and was off to find himself a future abroad. A leather clad biker (female) had turned up one day from Germany and visited. I knew she was on his ‘to visit’ list in Germany and completely assumed he’d stay there. He wasn’t a biker but he was tall and had a leather jacket – surely they were made for each other.
I was in the flat on my own the night he was leaving when I heard the door go. A small note had been pushed through the door. I unfolded it and drawn in pencil was a picture of a glam rocker with a speech bubble and the words ‘GOOD BYE’ in it. He was wearing glasses, like Ray Bans, and reflected in the glasses was a small cottage style house with a little path leading up to it and I kid you not, a small but perfectly formed white picket fence around the garden. I looked at it for a long time. Fairly obviously he was saying good bye which is pretty final. He had glasses on so I couldn’t see his eyes but was the reflection he’d drawn in the glasses a reference to the life he hoped he was heading to in Europe or … was he hinting that that’s what he hoped in his inner soul to share with me? He was quite into tarot cards and symbology and was at art college so this was right up his street. I decided I had to do something. He’d come round to mine to put a note through the door so I must have been in his thoughts. I opted for posting a note back to him although I can’t draw or do anything as creative / filled with obscure meaning as he’d done for me. I decided simply to write ‘Au revoir’ I was secretly thrilled with myself. I felt the goodbye had been final, which I was expecting but ‘au revoir’ was just opening that door of a possibility of a return. I posted the note through his door at about 11pm and that was that.
Fast forward a couple of months and I was working my shift in Snakebite. Martin of long dreads and few teeth had been in with his heavily pregnant staffie called B.T. (or Bloody Thing). She was about to drop a litter of puppies at any minute and it might as well have happened at Snakebite as anywhere else.
A girl came in who I knew from being a Snakebite customer and swung up the front half of her long skirt to show me her new piercings. No pants and a row (in fact two rows) of maybe 8 (per row) of stainless steel ball closure rings adorning her labia. Marvellous!
Third through the door was a guy we called Gosport Shaun. Gosport Shaun had recently split up with his girlfriend and in his mind, as I had recently split up with my husband, we were obviously destined to get together. He’d given me a long explanation which I tried to keep up with, the conclusion being that what we both obviously needed was a hug. From each other. I obliged and instantly regretted it as I realised in his mind that this had sealed the deal. He was a geezer and where I’d seen my fair share of deals going down I wasn’t sure I wanted to be involved with the kind of deals he often had going down. Maybe it was all talk but in the end I did get a badge which read:
SOMETIMES NO DOESN’T MEAN NO IT MEANS FUCK OFF
And hoped he’d get the message.
The fourth person through the door that morning was Mr Peacock, back from his travels. He spoke really differently, his voice is so deep and really gutteral in that Germanic European way. Pompey speak is all helium and through the nose whereas the noises he now made were from the very bottom of his lungs. I was basically hooked!
He had a bottle of something called Ratzeputz with him. This was a German spirit of about 58% proof which comes with a health warning that you mustn’t inhale before you drink it as the fumes can literally collapse your lungs.
Gosport Shaun was still there at this point and as a geezer had a lot to prove, constantly, every day and obviously, presumably was trying to prove a lot to me that day too. Mr Peacock poured a shot and gave it to him hypnotisingly repeating the do not smell instructions at which point Gosport Shaun took a massive sniff of the shot glass and downed the lot before keeling over on the floor, bright red and gasping for air. For fucks sake! We got him up and, it took a while, but gradually his rosacea paled back to his recognisable pasty Pompey complexion. His manhood in tatters though, he left the shop without saying much more.
Mr Peacock and I worked out pretty well – 25 years and counting. The Peacock is less strutty now and the flowing rose red and alpine locks have gone. Yes, he has a receding hairline and decided, as cool as Bill Bailey is, he didn’t want to go down that road as a hairstyle so a few years ago had the whole lot clippered off and it suits him. And he is now called Bassalot or B. Like Lancelot, because he is my absolute hero and he also likes Bass – a lot.
He runs a charity called Music Fusion that he believes in passionately. It provides a safe place for young people to come and express themselves through music and lyric writing. Many of them are dealing with stuff that most adults haven’t had to deal with and may have reached the end of the road as far as school and counselling goes. At MuFu, they are shown respect and tolerance and get to work with amazing music leaders, eventually producing some incredible music and performing or becoming music leaders themselves. But most of all, believing in themselves as human beings.
And this is where I got to smash the hell out of a practice drum kit.
And realise I was a drummer.
About the same time, Freya was moving back to Portsmouth having been away for 6 years. She’d had gigging experience and we started jamming, she on vocals and guitar and me on drums. After a few get togethers B, surprisingly, poked his head around the door and said “Can I be in your band?” Freya was happy to hand over the guitar and one drunken night in a pub, we convinced another friend to play bass. Toxic Rabbit was born!
We managed to play about 8 gigs in our entire existence which incorporated wigs, launch nights, recording albums, a million fluffy rabbits on stage, audiences (unbelievably), Lawnmower Death wearing one of our t-shirts when they played Download. Did I mention t-shirts? Toxic t-shirts, toxic pants, that tricky second album, a battle of the bands punk night, a letter from Richard Stilgoe and I quote ‘… may Toxic Rabbit thrive (Richard fucking Stilgoe!)), RGMs (Rabbit General Meetings) and finally the inevitable demise of Toxic Rabbit. Bad romances, lack of rehearsals and Toxic Rabbit left the stage for the last time.
But it had been brilliant and I had the bug. I looked for bands seeking drummers and found Shooting Fish, a post-punk band in Portsmouth desperately seeking a rhythm section. They thought maybe I was too metal (result) but I tweeked my style and punked it up and landed the gig. Bring it on!
Being a drummer isn’t exactly a paying day job though and having left the corpo’rat’e work race, I started helping out at Music Fusion. Decorating the studio, going up and down ladders to replace high bulbs (my special powers) and helping to organise a fund raising evening.
A chance chat with a friend, and I landed a part time job helping her with an ebay site. Her employer also owned another shop where he needed temporary Saturday staff. This coupled with another friends shop (The Emporium for Fabulous Shit) and I was up to about 20 hours a week which would pay my core expenses. Perfect. I was back in the game!