John Fowler was studying at Ceevic 6th form, like Marni, but in the year above. We got friendly hanging out together every night at The Crown. Regulars called him half man – half bar stool because he was always the first in at 7pm and sat on the same bar stool every night, unless he was doing drugs, when he’d sit in one of the coves at the back of the pub.
“Do you want some mushrooms?” John asked one Saturday night, giggling as he handed me a plastic bag. I took the bag and grabbed a handful of smelly dried stalks and tiny heads of mushrooms. I put them in my mouth and delved in to grab more.
“That’s enough” John said.
“It’s not that many,” I popped more into my mouth.
“You’re gonna be flying”
“Good. They’re fucking disgusting”
I gave him back the nearly empty bag and chomped on the mushrooms with a bottle of Holsten Pils to help get them down. The more I chewed the harder it got as they expanded in my mouth. Four of us sat together around the back table and soon were huddled together in a giggling frenzy. Marni joined us but wasn’t laughing with us, which made it funnier.
“What’s she taken?” Marni asked.
“Shrooms,” John said.
“Oh God” Marni was used to acid: far more experienced in tripping and dealing with hallucinations. The ‘last orders at the bar’ bell echoed around my head.
“Come back to my house.” I ran around the pub extending my invite to all. My parents were away with Jean and her family in Norfolk. A party seemed like a good idea.
“How many are coming?” The paranoia set in as half the pub walked through the house. I couldn’t count or work out who was who! I was more concerned about the insects taking over the living room: flies with bulging eyes, wriggling centipedes and silver fish climbing and slithering up the walls and over the furniture.
“Get them out, what the fuck?” I ran around the room waving a broom upside down.
“There’s nothing there,” John and others laughed. I was screaming and then laughing and then screaming and then laughing. John ushered me up the stairs and into my room.
“There’s a man under my bed. Get him out” I screamed.
“It’s your DM” He picked up a boot that was poking out from under the bed. “Go to bed – I’ll sort downstairs out.” I crashed out.
A few hours later, I woke and came back downstairs. The house looked fine. The bugs had gone and everything was normal, just a few bottles to be got rid of. The Crown friends had found my parents’ drinks cabinet. I put a half-drunk bottle of Martini and a bottle of sherry back in the cabinet; as there was still thick dust on the bottles, (my dad only drunk beer, and mum didn’t drink), they wouldn’t notice. I wondered where John was, and why he hadn’t come to bed with me. Through the patio doors I saw him nursing a can of lager and smoking a joint in the garden, leaning on the flower bed wall. The sun was up and streaming through the patio doors into the living room.
I joined John on the wall and we finished the spliff together.
“Come inside, John.” This time, I ushered him back into the house, where we slumped on to the old green, spunk-stained sofa, falling asleep with my head on his lap, too paranoid to attempt anything intimate with him.
“What’s the time?” John reached for his half-drunk can of lager that I’d put on the coffee table beside the full ashtray of roaches.
“Let’s get some air in here.” I opened the windows, although it would take some doing to get rid of the smell of smoke before my parents came home, at which point I would want to be out of the house! “Let’s do more mushrooms – they’re fucking mental!”
I rang Marni and John, and I met her at the field by Raleigh Weir.
“Don’t eat those ones,” John said, as he pointed to a mushroom that had the same slippery, slimy head on it, but a thick stork. “Pick these instead,” and he picked a magic one out of the ground. Pointing at its spindly stork, he peeled off a blade of grass that had stuck to its head, and then popped it into his mouth. We picked and ate as many as we could find, careful to avoid those near cow pats and dog shit, this was another place where Dad walked the dog. The taste of earth somehow overshadowed the slime of the fresh mushrooms. They were harder to get down than the dried ones that we’d tried the night before, but with the cans of lager left at the house, courtesy of The Crown lot, we managed it.
We walked up the high street and headed towards Rayleigh Mount, laughing at everything and everyone we saw as the mushrooms began to take their hold. There used to be a castle on the Mount, built in the 11th century. Ten years before, Marni and I would take nets and fish for tadpoles in the Moat. We would take them home in jam jars and put them in a bucket, but were never able to get them to grow into frogs like we saw in our biology book.
John, Marni and I climbed to the top of the mount and sat on the only bench. We were enjoying some mutual hallucinating of the view over Rayleigh when a group of young men wearing camouflage army gear ran up the mount towards us pointing guns. I clung on to the bench, paralyzed.
“It’s fucking World War Three” Marni shouted, also paralyzed with a straight back.
“It’s the TA,” John laughed, “they’re training.” John came here frequently to take drugs and pass the time between 2pm and 7pm, when the pub was closed, so he knew that this was nothing to be scared of. As the men drew closer, we laughed at them.
“Fuck off!” Marni shouted at them. “What’s the TA?” she asked John.
“Territorial Army,” John said.
“They can fuck off our territory,” Marni shouted again. “Fuck off!” The TA men ran past us and down the other side of the mount. “They look like fucking Dad’s Army wimps.” Marni was used to taking acid and needed more mushrooms to hallucinate than me. I was seeing pixies having orgies in the trees, and was back to getting freaked.
“You alright?” John put his arm around my waist and squeezed it.
“I’m going home – not doing the gooseberry thing.” Marni marched off to the bottom of the Mount, singing “she’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes, she’ll be coming round the mountain ,” turning around half way down and shooting us with an imaginary machine gun. As soon as she’d gone, John removed his hand.
“Let’s go back to mine,” he said.
I still wasn’t sure I fancied John. He was good looking in the traditional sense, tall, prominent jawbone, thick black hair, and I knew other girls fancied him. He’d always been popular at school, but the mushrooms made me see him differently: his body became gangly and his face contorted. He was trying to be cool and hard, but he wasn’t.
John’s parents were out. We lay down on the single bed in his box room. We had this odd sex, in and out of tripping: one minute he was in, the next he was out, one minute soft, one minute hard. After a while we gave up and read the latest Viz comic together, laughing as Buster Gonad’s incredibly large testicles looked even bigger on magic mushrooms. John and I hung out like this for 9 months, our mutual interest of The Crown, drugs and Viz comics kept us together. Then came the wedding day.
It was uncool to like Princess Diana, but I loved her. My mother had a soft spot for her too, as they shared the same ‘There’s always been three in our relationship’ scenario, her, dad and the neighbour.
Diana first “struggled” (as Andrew Motion’s biography describes) with bulimia in 1981, the same year as me, but I didn’t know that till years later. That same year, as we discovered our internal sense of self-loathing coming out in the form of purging and forced vomiting, Diana was tying the knot on Wednesday 29th July 1981 to Prince Charles. There were celebrations held everywhere, including an ‘anti-wedding’ open air concert at Crystal Palace Bowl, courtesy of Ken Livingstone and the Greater London Council (GLC).
Marni and I had been to see David Essex at Southend’s Cliffs Pavilion, and Rush and Alice Cooper at big London venues, but this event was an all-dayer, free, and everyone had the day off work or college so that we could go.
Most of our Rayleigh friends, including John, rarely ventured into Southend, let alone London, so Marni and I went on our own by train. We got drunk on cider from the beer tent and enjoyed the spectacle of large papier-mâché cut outs of the royal couple being ridiculed by David Rappaport, the dwarf compere I recognized from TV kids shows.
“Arse holes bastards fucking cunts and pricks …” we chanted with Ian Dury, as he jumped into the muddy bowl in front of the stage to join the fans dancing in the water and who were covered in shitty mud.
We didn’t get in the water and left the event with enough time to get back to Liverpool Street station for the last train home. Pubs had a late license as it was wedding night and I had arranged to meet John for last orders and then a walk home and possibly something else. We go of the train at Rayleigh station and walked up Crown Hill towards the pub.
“Oi, punks” a voice came from a car speeding down the hill. Before Marni had finished shouting “Wanker” at them, a carton of Chinese takeaway was hurled out of the car, soya sauce dripped down onto my face and clothes. I put my hand to my Mohican, sweet and sour sauce stuck to the spike as it began collapsing and sticking onto the shaved sides of my head.
“I’d have been cleaner if I’d jumped in the bowl” I said, dripping with the Chinese sauces. We stopped off at Marni’s to revamp my hair, make-up and get the worst off my clothes.
“I can’t be arsed to go back out, I’ll only be doing the threesome with you and John,” Marni said, so she stayed at home. With just a few damp and sticky marks on my shirt and scarf, I made my way up the rest of the hill to the pub. Lights were still on in the houses that I passed, with TV’s flickering, as families watched the hi-lights of the wedding. I was too late for last orders, and John was nowhere to be seen.
The Crown was closing, I’d missed last orders, John’s bar stool was empty and only a group of girls were left chatting in one of the alcoves. I walked up the High Street, and passed the police station, wondering where Diana would be honeymooning and what she saw in Charles. How could she fancy him? How could she have sex with him? I guessed she loved him cause he was a prince, but they looked such an odd couple. I was approaching the post office when I heard voices.
“Slag” I continued walking. I could hear their footsteps behind me, speeding up. Then they caught up with me.
“Think you’re so cool”
I bit my lip and carried on, hoping they’d give up and go away.
One of them pushed me. Another push, harder this time, and I fell on my front, my chin scraping on the kerb as they yanked me up by my scarf and turned me around. The three blonde girls were the same ones that had been sitting in the pub alcove. I recognized them now; they used to go Marni’s school, and were in the same year as us.
“This is for messing with Alex.” One kicked me in the mouth, and then another punched me in the eye, and then in the stomach. I fell again, this time they left me and walked in the direction of my cul-du-sac and the Rayleigh weir, probably heading for the 24-hour burger bar. I lay on the pavement, wondering when it would be safe to get up. I saw a man’s boots and brown paws; for a moment, I thought it might be my father walking the dog. The dog sniffed my face and I could feel its tongue licking at probably blood from my lip. Its owner yanked it away and walked on by.
I waited for a while, and then slowly got up, loosened my scarf, adjusted my still sticky Mohican and followed the road in the direction the girls had gone, before taking the left off the high road into our cul-de-sac. The house was quiet, Mum and Dad asleep, or perhaps Dad was having a sneaky visit at the neighbour’s. I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, mopping up blood with bog roll. I put the toilet seat down and sat on it for I don’t know how long.
“Lizzy,” my sister said as knocked on the door. “I heard them talking down the burger bar; they said they’d beaten you up; said you’d shagged Alex.” I opened the door.
“I don’t know him.”
“Fuck, the state of you. You ok? John was well guilty. He knew they were gonna have a go at you, but not that they’d beat you up. He said he’d ring you first thing.”
“I’m going to work in the morning. I never fucked Alex; I don’t even know him.”
“You going into work like that? What the fuck’s that on your neck?” I hadn’t seen the marks where they’d pulled me up by my scarf. “They fucking strangled you?”
“It’s okay. Gonna throw it away,” I slipped off the scarf which was now draped over my shoulders. “It stinks of Chinese.”
“Do you want me to get my lot to go down and beat them up?”
“Nah, I’ll deal with it tomorrow. You missed a great gig. Ian Dury was amazing.”
My sister went to bed, and I went downstairs and made marmite on toast, peanut butter on toast, jam on toast and raided the biscuit tin. I went back into the bathroom, put a towel under the toilet bowel, forced my right hand down my mouth and puked it all back out. Princess Diana was probably doing exactly the same.
The next morning, I came down to breakfast with my black eye, thick split lip and red strangle marks on my neck. Dad had already left for work, and Mum said nothing. I didn’t feel confident to cycle or hitch hike to my shitty job in the Southend insurance office, but I had to go in as I had an important meeting arranged with the fat mod claims clerk to swap my luncheon vouchers for cash. I got the bus. A girl from the other school got on and stared at me. When I got to work I went to the toilets.
“What have you done to yourself?” asked a woman from the typing pool.
“It’s not what I’ve done to myself, it’s what someone’s done to me.” The woman left and I locked myself back in a cubicle and cried.
Word in small town Rayleigh got around fast. John rang me when I got home from work.
“I don’t even know Alex. I’m not unfaithful, I’m not like that.”
“I know. I’m sorry. Come down the pub and we’ll sort this out.”
I didn’t want to go, but I did, as it was the only opportunity to show the girls what they’d done in the daylight, and to dump John there and then. When I went into the loos the girls followed me. When I came out of the cubicle they were stood at the sinks tightening their blonde ponytails in the mirror.
“I’m sorry,” the taller one said still looking in the mirror “we got the wrong person.”
“That’s ok,” I said, and smiled, demonstrating that my mother’s passive-aggressive genes were truly integrated into my psyche, and that my anger was supressed and installed in bulimia, drugs and my soul. My Dad was always whistling the new Monty Python song “Always look on the bright side of life” that was his way of blocking out his shit.
John fell off his bar stool pissed. I looked at him and walked home alone again, knowing that I would always remember the date when Diana and Charles got married, which would later prove useful, as it would often come up in pub quizzes.