Friday, August 21, 2009

Stupid Club

Rifling through some old diaries this afternoon, I came upon an entry from November 1983 which, although it tells against me (or my youthful self, at very least), nonetheless makes a good story.

So I’ll tell it.

And, yes, I’ll probably jazz it up a little and throw in a few alien gladiator hordes.

The protagonist of this story is, of course, me — a spaced-out theatre student with only the slenderest grasp of what kind of apparel to don in order not to look like a twat. This was, I think, my pyjamas and dressing gown period, a time when I grew a succession of unsuccessful beards and wore inch-thick motorcycle socks that could stand up on their own when removed with a shoehorn.

My chosen place of study had few of the facilities enjoyed by students of the larger universities. Everything shut down at 11.30pm and most of the girls were made of wood. So on a Friday or Saturday night, the drunken contents of the minuscule bar would decamp to someone’s room in the concrete carbuncle masquerading as a hall of residence, there to smoke ferocious amounts of dope and get wazzed.

Just before closing time on the night in question, a group of us was sat discussing the possibilities for later on when Mack (not his real name, of course — I’m protecting his identity, even though he probably OD’ed on something exotic some time in the 90s) ambled his way to our table and said, “let’s go to Dartmoor!” And as ever, with endeavours that turn out to be disastrous, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Mack, I have to point out, was a hardcore doper. I smoked a fair bit in those days, but would never have been happy with the status of ‘fiend,’ in spite of the apparent cool. Mack consumed hot knives for breakfast (and if you’re unfamiliar with this term, you can Google it, though essentially it means ‘first meal of the day’). At 11pm, heaven knows what melange a trois of illicit pharmaceuticals was masquerading as his blood supply. “Yeah, let’s go,” we said (though not in unison, for we were not any kind of troupe).

There were four of us, I think, and once again I’ll dole out aliases.

First, there was Kim. In spite of hailing from Swindon, his enthusiasm for the world remained undiminished and he was a decent actor.

Next was Maddy, a peroxide blonde who at least two of the senior lecturers wanted to shag and who Mack believed was an angel. Quite how she ended up coming along for the ride is beyond me — maybe her cassette player had bust and she found herself at a loss.

Finally, there was Mattress, a talented musician with a beard as big as his stomach who we somehow managed to accommodate behind the driver’s seat.

Oh, and me — I was there too.

For those of you not familiar with Dartmoor, it’s a vast expanse of heath in the southwest of England where they lock up all the felons from Plymouth. Occasionally, there are ramblers, but mostly, the only living creatures you’ll see are sheep, and occasionally alien gladiator hordes.

So we park the van in a patch of pitch blackness between a couple of similarly hued voids. And the first thing Mack says is, “let’s roll some joints”, producing his stash from a sack. I’m not entirely sure what the plan was supposed to be, or even if there was a plan at all, but by the time we were done with the fruits of two months’ Moroccan child labour, it was clear we had a major problem.

“Mack’s unconscious,” said Maddy. “What are we going to do?”

Half an hour later, I think someone responded, but in the intervening stasis, Mack had come to his senses and confessed to being ‘a little bit stoned’, a fact confirmed by the length of the stalks on which his eyeballs jutted from his skull.

So we were stranded on Dartmoor for the night.

Having matured considerably since then, it occurs to me that the thing to have done next might have been to snuggle together for warmth and sleep it out till morning. But no — clad as we were in full honours Withnail & I regalia and possessed of a similar rationale, we decided to go for a walk. At midnight. On a moor. In November.

So we strode out into the darkness, cross heath and hill and possibly undiscovered body, miraculously avoiding all the pits, cliffs, traps, brambles, electricity substations and other hidden hazards I’ve subsequently discovered pepper the face of Dartmoor like zits on the young Dean Gaffney.

After an hour or so, we grew accustomed to the light: yeah, we can see fuck all. And it’s odd, but none of us was scared. That’s what twerps we were. I’ve no idea what we talked about, my diary doesn’t go into detail, but I guess it would have been something along the lines of discussing the play we were working on or enthusing about The (emergent) Smiths — whatever it was, herds of malevolent sheep constantly interrupted us, bahing menaces. Or maybe the sheep were all around us, and we merely passed through their numbers in a constantly moving sphere of anti-wool protection. Lots of weird sounding birds, too ( though they could have been escaped convicts larking about — or Percy Thrower, as I believe he was still alive then).

As dawn broke, we came across a reservoir, into which we might very well have plummeted had Mack not taken so many wrong turns on our white knuckle ride down the narrow country lanes. None of us had cameras, which is a shame: it was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen, with the mist rolling off the water onto the rocks and birds soaring overhead. We walked the whole way around it, sober enough now to realise that the numbness of drunken revelry was uncannily similar to the onset of pseudo-frostbite.

This was the point at which our thoughts turned to finding the van. We had light, but no bearings; money, but no fags — and with breakfast in the canteen only two short hours away, our quest to find our way home took on an almost Herculean dimension.

We struck out for the nearest tree, and then a herd of sheep, wandering from random landmark to random landmark with less navigational nous than a Sat Nav retailing at £19.99 in the back pages of the Sunday Sport.

What I can tell you is that if you should ever find yourself similarly lost, it’s true what they say: you wander round in a circle. Just at the point when we were contemplating eating our own underwear, the battered hub of Mack’s van appeared over a hillock and we scurried quickly inside.

We made it back in time for breakfast, to slurp up bowlfuls of tinned grapefruit and test the soggy toast for frisbee potential, and despite feeling wretched for the whole of the following week as a result of this mad adventure into the wilderness (and possibly Stanislavski, the useless bastard), I’m convinced the experience contributed to the development of values I now hold terribly dear — most notably a love of snuggly blankets and roaring fires.

Anyone else do anything profoundly stupid in 1983?


Kiersten said...

I was born? I hope that doesn't turn out to be profoundly stupid. It's worked out for me so far.

: )

Still trying to come up with something for your contest, as I know how wonderful your crap crap crap crap etc prizes are...

Whirlochre said...

A world without Kiersten in it?

How an earth did we manage?

Oh, I remember — it was a weary trudge through sullen days, hauling our sorry bodies through the air like slugs laden with sandbags.

Which reminds me — did Timmy Mallet ever conquer the US market?

fairyhedgehog said...

I moved house, got promoted and got pregnant in 1983. I think doing all three at the same time might count as stupid.

JaneyV said...

I have no memory of 1983. I was 16 for most of it and turned 17 in the November (probably as you were being initiated into the Stupid Club). I'm fairly sure I did loads of stupid things like getting pissed regularly and crying for no good reason because on my 17th birthday I gave up the booze. Aside from one celebratory drink in August '84 when I got my results I did not imbibe again til I turned 18. This turned out to be a very good move as in that time my hormones straightened themselves out and I stopped being such a big fat cry-baby. When they went doolally again when I was 19 I wish I'd had the same presence of mind.

As for Dartmoor - I have got lost in its wasty wastelands in broad daylight with a map. Before you dismiss my map-reading skills I should tell you I am an excellent map-reader and have a fantastic sense of direction but Dartmoor is lacking in landmarks, road signs and seems to permanently be cloaked in mist so you can't see any further than 50 feet from where you're standing. I also once drove through it in February (14th, 1994 actually!!) and it started to snow. Hubby and I pulled over to take pretty pictures next to a cute little stone bridge over a similarly twee little babbling stream. We threw a few little snowballs and laughed at the frivolity of it all before noticing that the snowflakes were themselves as big as snowballs and the road had disappeared. It was a scary ride out. Mysteriously the snow stopped dead as we left Dartmoor.....

pjd said...

I think I managed to avoid doing a profoundly stupid thing in 1983. I was on the cusp of 17, at a high school dance, and a reasonably cute girl was hitting on me. We talked a long time, and I drove her back to her house. She said no one was home and invited me in. She wanted to tour all the bases I believe. Which normally I'd have been thrilled with, but I came to discover that she had not yet turned 14. So I gave her a handshake and went on home.

Two years later, with me safely entrenched among college girls on the other side of the country, I heard that she had been arrested as accessory to murder. Also arrested was her boyfriend, a kid my age from my own graduating class.

I remember that night and the dance quite clearly. I can even sort of remember what the girl looked like. I can pretty clearly see her house and could probably find it on a map today. But thank God I didn't get mixed up with that.

Morton Shadow said...

I believe at one point I may have sat in a churchyard with several recently picked bunches of daffodils sticking out of my back pocket. Oh, and then there was the 'serious moonlight' bouffant hairdo...

....I think we should just draw a discrete veil over the *whole* year and move on, personally...


w.v: oblostsh

McKoala said...

There are so many things I could say, including, been there, done something similar, but everything is blitzed by my word ver: cophouse. I'm not kidding. So the subliminal message to me is...never confess.

BTW, pyjamas in 1983 - I've cracked your secret identity, Johnny Fingers.

Chris Eldin said...

LOL!! LOVE this---Wish I were a bit stoned reading it. Think it'd be even more fun.

I was also 17 that year. My word ver is also cophouse (go figure!) so I'm unable to confess anything.

Cophouse Central said...

Up against the wall, you felons! You're all under arrest!

Whirlochre said...

Add 'frequent bunjee jumping weekends' and 'shock purchase of ELP album to reflect on life's bizarre twists' to that list, and maybe you might have ascended to the heights of Stupidhood. As it is, it's an admirable tally as far as I can see.

Valentines Day on Dartmoor? There's a whole new genre of romance novel in that.

Nice to see you, and yes — the What Ifs are an alarming reminder that however challenging the What Ises are sometimes, we might nonetheless have rendered ourselves impossibly stricken, some bit part in another's travail.

Scary Monsters promised a sensational next album from the top-of-his-game chameleon of pop, and when Let's Dance was released, I presented myself at my local record shop with the zest of a middle-aged housewife rocking along to Cliff Richard between the ironing and the return from work of her abusive husband.

An hour later I was in tears.

And into my liquid misery, Frankie Goes To Hollywood subsequently slithered — and that was the end of the 80s.

Nice try, but sadly I was never a member of the Boomtown Rats. Might have made The Specials, though, given the right ill-fitting suit.

Does this mean we're roughly the same age? Have you had that thing yet where your teeth work loose when you're laughing at the latest sitcoms?

Cophouse Central
Your array of bespectacled firepower does not daunt me. But I wouldn't mind a ride in your Jeeps...

sylvia said...

Oh how wonderful! I love it and I bet the morning view was stunning. How else could you ever have seen it, huh?

1983, I shaved my head because I thought it would make me look like a heavy-metal babe rather than just a nerd with black t-shirts.

You probably will not be surprised to hear that it didn't work.

My wordver is maringen. Is that a kind of cookie?

Whirlochre said...

Ooh! Shaved heads! It's like stroking a spherical hamster!

ril said...

Okay, I'm late. But I think I spent the whole of 1983 building a bunker in preparation for the impending doom of 1984, backed by a soundtrack of Eurythmics, Rick Wakeman and Anthony Phillips (in decreasing order of menacingness), while haunted by nightmares of becoming John Hurt.

Incidentally, the thought of the (possibly) four of you treking across the moor being stalked by Percy Thrower who torments you with fake birdsong, just cracks me up.