A pale blue spring sky afternoon, cold clear air on a quiet road between Welsh market towns in the early eighties. Bob’s dusty red Citroën 2CV, it’s meagre horses pushed hard, the top rolled back to let out the skinny rollie smoke. My ears freezing. I’m waiting for my man from the beaten beatbox on the back seat competing with cacophonic road noise and our sweary, boisterous chatter. The Velvet Underground in our corduroy world.
A Wednesday off from the thrilling, enriching art school that has zapped our minds with a potent brew of culture, ideas and opportunities. Vital, vibrant, life affirming, valuing taste above all other senses, life is art, art is life. Loving it, laughing at it, arguing about it. Nineteen years old, just left home and desperately trying to live it.
Kerouacs for the day, we riff on girls and art and music and film, outdoing each other with obscure references. Virginia trumps Amelia, Sun Ra trumps Joy Division, Kokoschka trumps Hockney, Eraserhead trumps Apocalypse Now.
We wear too-big-coats with the collars pulled up, not against the cold but against the mundane. 50p Oxfam specials from a previous generation when Burtons meant quality. Doc Martens, rugby socks and loving-mother knitted arrans. We talk about Black Uhuru — Sponji Reggae, Marcus Garvey, Cruise missiles and the Falklands war, bloody Thatcher, bloody tories, bloody hell I’m enjoying this.
His parents’ house, imposingly large, neat, detached, a leafy garden at odds with his mannered lefty leanings. This is no council estate boy, however much he’d like to be. Flicking his record collection making judge-mental notes on coolness, naffness, oddness, familiarity. Nosing his deliberately, artfully untidy book shelves. Nodding to Kundera, Orwell and Camus, impressed by crackle spined Kafka, Burroughs and Beckett. For no good reason he DJ’s the afternoon with a Berlin theme, Einsturzende Neubaten, DAF, Nick Cave and, for me, an introduction to Lou Reed.
Molten cheese toasties cause a Breville lip, a Belisha blister shining in the orange sodium light that gives the evening a filmic grain.
We drink tepid pints of draught Bass and play pool in ancient, low ceilinged pubs - The Three Tuns, The White Horse, The Angel. Chat to dark eyed sixth form Goth girls in excitingly torn fishnets, revelling in my borrowed art school cool.
Back in the jalopy, tiny headlights rake blackout country hedgerows following the flooded, liminal river. The roof up against the cold air, bugger the smoke.
A late night takeaway curry, my first ever. I fold back foil edges from cardboard lids to expose the crack cocaine of ‘foreign’ food. Korma, Bhaji, Popadom, Pilau, a whole new fragrant vocabulary enters my orbit. I devour it and dash back out to buy another before they close.
Thirty six years later I can still feel this day, this ordinary, extraordinary day encapsulated, forever gilded in time. A fond memory elevated way above its relative importance in my life.