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Archive for the ‘second world war’ Category

I was a kid at school in Portsmouth just after the Second World War. I grew up amongst burned out buildings, bomb craters and houses that clung to each other attached only by the wallpaper so far as I could see.  Like many post-war kids I attended not one but many schools around town because my mother had  ‘itchy feet’, as they called it back then – either that or she couldn’t always pay the rent and we had to do a moonlight flit out the back window in dead of night before the current landlord caught us.  We lived in one room at the top of some dark creaky stairs inhabited by ghosts and cockroaches, or in a basement ‘flat’ lit by gas-light, or an old house with an outside toilet reached across a cobbled court-yard and took baths on a Friday night in a wash-tub in front of the coal fire.  We lived in the slums sometimes and the better neighborhoods as interchangeably as our fortunes ebbed and flowed like the evening tide.  Now and then we had money and I was as likely to attend a posh private school with gardens one month as a rough back-street school with wall-to-wall concrete the next.  It was always necessary to fight to survive.  At the private school I had to fight off the stigma of the slums, at the back-street school the stigma of my recently acquired ‘accent’.  One minute I would be taking riding lessons dressed in my second-hand too-big jodhpurs and the next I would be thumping some backstreet kid before he could thump me.

 

Make no mistake about it –Portsmouth after the war was a rough place.  Many families had been displaced; entire tracts of housing had been razed by the bombing and in their place rose massive apartment blocks that resulted in over-crowding, crime and vandalism.  If you think graffiti covered walls and urine smelling hallways are a modern phenomenon think again.  Young men roamed the housing estates wearing their ‘Teddy-Boy’ outfits – long draped jackets with velvet collars, ‘drainpipe’ trousers and thick soled ‘brothel creepers’.  Many of them also carried ‘flick-knives’ and some even carried lengths of pipe and chain, the better to sort out their rivals on Brighton beach in the summer.  This was an annual event or ‘rite of Spring’  that was happening as far back as I can remember and may have been happening in the stone age for all I know – except in those days they probably used rocks and stones instead of blades.  Gangs of young men blind drunk on pints of lager and Watney’s Red Barrel would spill out of the pubs on a Saturday night and have at each other on the beach at midnight.  

 

If you’ve ever seen the old movie ‘Quadraphenia’ you will be familiar with the Mods and Rockers.  On the one side they were the sharply dressed Mods – who drove around on Vespers or Lambrettas and wore shiny tailored ‘skinny’ suits and ties with ‘winkle-picker’ toed ankle boots and short styled hair – and on the other they were the ‘Rockers’ who drove enormous Vincents and Goldwings.  They affected motorcycle gear, long hair and bandanas – something like Hells-Angels without the guns.  They would face-off on the beach amidst the scream of wailing sirens from the police-cars arriving from all directions.  Of course the policemen were also young guys and surreptitiously enjoyed the ensuing punch-up just as much as the rival gangs.  Much fun was had by all punching the shit out of each other down in the sand while the lights of the pier twinkled merrily and the music of the Stones drifted out over the water.  In Portsmouth of course it was British Sailors versus American Sailors, the Mods and Rockers having taken off to the more exotic climes of Brighton and London.  The fight was the main thing in any event.  What is it about young men and aggression?  There must be some sort of tribal ‘violence’ gene that compels them to give each other a good kicking at the first opportunity.  Some sort of cave-man ritual that still echoes in the genes many thousands of years later.  Nowadays this violence gene may perhaps be sublimated in iterations of Doom and Warcraft – either that or the police force of today fails to see the joke and are liable to get out the riot gear.

Too bad really – as Alex of Clockwork Orange fame might have said, a bit of mindless violence is always good for a bit of a laugh on a Saturday night

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