Spewing and Wind in the Las Vegas of England
There is so much to like about the depressing Northern English town of Blackpool.
I was born on the eleventh of the eleventh in nineteen-seventy-six at Victoria Hospital in Blackpool, England; the same hospital where my Mum worked as a nurse and my Dad worked as a Painter and Decorator. My Dad complained that I interrupted his sausage, egg and chips when my Mum went into labour right on ‘tea-time’. I didn’t hold them up for long. An hour later, I was born into this demented world without giving any pain to my Mother.
The Doctors said that I had an underdeveloped sphincter — not the anal sphincter, thank Christ — but the sphincter of the throat.
Having an underdeveloped sphincter meant that I spewed a lot. I always spewed when we travelled more than an hour by car. Sometimes, nausea would come on so quickly that I could barely give any warning. I would just start drooling like an old man in a nursing home. The drool was the sign. If my siblings weren’t looking, they would be lashed by a flying tsunami of warm vomit. I often covered my whole family in puke. Not many people can say that.
I also spewed when I felt a strange texture. Jelly-like textures or anything with lumps in would hit me the hardest. I was not too fond of blancmange — an English school canteen favourite — jelly made with milk instead of water. On one occasion, I was at my Auntie Mary’s house when she dropped an air freshener, cracking open its plastic case and revealing a jelly-like chemical stink sponge. Being a helpful child, I picked it up for her but the texture of the jelly made me spew all over Auntie Mary and her nice carpet.
Growing up, I was always contending with Blackpool’s famous horrendous wind.
Those who didn’t know any better would walk along Blackpool Promenade in a delicate handmade hat, only to have it stolen off their head by a mighty blast of wind coming off the Irish Sea. By the time they had raised their arm to catch it, it was already a hundred yards down the street, twatting some pensioner in the head.
Sometimes we would sit on a particularly potent corner and wait for people with hats to come. We would get so excited when an unsuspecting hat wearer appeared. They hit the corner and boom! Their hat would be gone, leaving them standing there, looking around, wondering how their hat had just dissolved into thin air.
Several tragedies happened in Blackpool involving people getting blown into the sea. In one famous event, An intense gust blew a man’s small dog into the freezing, chaotic water. The man leapt in, fully clothed, to try and save his best friend. Then a policeman dived in to try and rescue the man. The world never saw any of them again.
The Irish Sea is unforgiving. People or animals who enter during high tide never make it out. I went skinny dipping in there once with my cousin at 2 am in the middle of summer. The sea was at its calmest, and we were extremely drunk. I developed a rash on my balls that day which I still have twenty-five years later.
Death by weather is common in Blackpool. Another unusual way it occurs is when it snows heavily in winter.
Some idiots say that Blackpool is ‘The Las Vegas of the North’- a somewhat tongue in cheek title. But people do travel there from all over the country in order to get drunk, hit the casinos, watch a show and watch people bleeding outside pubs.
Many get fabulously drunk and then attempt to walk home in the deep snow. All too often, they fall over and pass out. Then, when it snows again in the night, they get buried. The snow can stay for weeks. When it finally thaws out, it is common for partially frozen corpses to appear all over the streets.
I would often fake sickness at school so I didn’t have to go outside in the torturous wind.
I have always loved the snow and the rain. But, I can't say the same about the wind. There was a time when I was faking illness to stay inside during break time at my primary school. The protocol was to sit on a wooden chair and do nothing. I was happy with this. Since I had a good imagination, sitting was never a problem for me, and at least it was warm.
I was busted out of my imagination by the dramatic entrance of a teacher with a fellow student of mine called Andrew Higgins whose head was pouring with blood. His best friend Christina Johnson had been swinging him around, and the schmuck had let go too soon, cracking his head on the pavement. Now his head was pissing blood like somebody had opened a tap.
The sight of it was too much for me. I instantly threw up everywhere, making an even bigger mess. They took me to sickbay, and I got to lie down in a bed and have a nap. Up to that point, teachers never really believed me since I lied a lot as a child. Thanks to Andrew Higgins, after that event, I had more credibility.
My parents bought me my first guitar when I was nine.
We lived in North Yorkshire by that point and they travelled over an hour to get it. It was a hefty, nylon-stringed instrument, far too big for a nine-year-old. That guitar stayed with me for a long time.
When I was fourteen, I waited until my parents had left the house. Then I plugged in my Dad’s power-saw and cut away the corner of my guitar, flipping it inside out and gluing it back into place so I could play on the higher frets like my hero Mark Knopfler. Whenever I played that guitar, I always pretended it was electric. At some stage, I spewed in it and never cleaned it out. For as long as I had the guitar, dried out spew was still in there. I always felt that it added to the sound.
At some point, I got my first electric guitar. I used to take it to school and play it every lunchtime very loudly, much to the dismay of those in the vicinity. I spent the summer back in Blackpool at my cousin’s house, where we formed a band called ‘Psychedelic Sandwich’ with some of our old primary school friends. We spent those sparkling days in a garage — rehearsing, drinking Jack Daniels from the bottle like Slash from Guns and Roses, smoking Marlboro cigarettes and spewing a lot.
The culmination of a whole summer of rehearsal was a gig that we had scored, playing at the local church fete.
We had two groupies and a show now, and our rock-n-roll future was written.
The opening track we played was ‘Eat the Rich’ by Aerosmith. I was singing and playing the guitar. The church hall was packed with older people and parents with kids when we first set up, but they quickly left once we started. I felt that we might hold the record for the quickest clearing of a church hall. The headmaster told us to turn it down, and we ended up playing two whole tracks to a few friends and our two groupies before they kicked us out.
Singing ‘Every Rose has its Thorn’ was a defining moment for me. As I stood there twanging my guitar and belting out the lyrics in my Jack Daniels t-shirt, shredded jeans and aviator shades, I realised that no matter how shit you are, people still admire you if you’re in a band. This was in 1991.
Less than three years later, I was in Waterloo Platoon, trying to get the fuck out of the British Army before my unit was posted to a dangerous part of Belfast in Northern Ireland.
Waterloo Platoon is where the guys go who are waiting, sometimes for years, to get out of the military. Our barracks were situated in an old aircraft hangar right at the back of the base, beyond the football fields.
In two shacks, beyond the eyes and care of the Officers, thirteen guys grew their hair and beards, listened to music and smoked weed. The only work we did was guard duty, wandering the perimeter with a fully-loaded SA80 rifle whilst smoking little joints and talking to the women who walked past on the outside of the fence.
That’s where I spent the most time with Dan. A tall, pale, ugly ex-paratrooper who smoked more weed than Snoop. We had met whilst guarding the base in Scotland where one of the Trident nuclear submarines was kept. Dan was a bit sleazy, always trying to get the girls to give him head through the fence. Despite the responsibility of live weapons, we were rarely sober.
I took Dan out one weekend to Blackpool. We began by taking acid in a nightclub. The night ended up with us stealing motorbikes and racing each other down the promenade. Dan liked Blackpool so much that he ended up living there. I lost touch with him in those pre-Facebook days. I heard later that he had been stabbed in the face outside a fish and chip shop. That kind of thing happens in Blackpool.
I went back to visit Blackpool just before coming out to Australia.
I caught up with some friends in the Tower Lounge — a very dingy cabaret bar underneath the famous ‘Blackpool Tower’ (a somewhat crude replica of the Eiffel tower).
As we sat around drinking pints and reminiscing, a long-haired, pale man in a trench coat came up to our table.
‘What time is it?’ he asked in a thick Glasgow accent.
I’m not sure, but this could have been ‘Glasgow weekend’ — a weekend when many people from Glasgow come to Blackpool to drink and fight, and the locals all stay at home.
The famous Blackpool Tower — often, strangely, mistaken for the Eiffel Tower
We should have stayed at home that day.
My friend Danny politely gave him the time, and another friend Phil was laughing at something random. The man in the trench coat stared at Phil for a moment and then took out a very big knife. He put the knife to Phil’s throat and, with menacing eyes, told him,
‘I could fucking kill you right now….’ After a pause, he began laughing maniacally and then he walked off. Phil burst into tears. Who could blame him? He genuinely thought he might die that day.
Blackpool is full of dangerous characters.