God, we were cruel kids. But battered and beaten at such a young age in life, what else could we have been? What chance did we ever really have? When life tramps and kicks wearing 21up Steel toe-capped DM boots, what else can one do but kick back? And so we kicked back, but not at an invisible life that as yet we had no concept of, no, our return blows were directed against people, objects and possessions. We kicked, smashed and bottled our way through tender years, and in our wake we spilt blood, teeth and glass. More than just delinquency, vandalism and violence, this post is about friendship and escape. It is about what happens when young kids are united through abuse and face that world together. In a way it is about hope, in another about hopelessness. It is as much about death as it is of life. For as we live so we die, and in those days we died so much. This post is dedicated to the lost and the broken... this one is for Simon & Shelley... As always, this one is for You.
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Simon & Shelley Maudlier were my best friends. It had been that way ever since I punched Darren Marsh in the throat for going “Urrrgghhh” when the Mayor kissed Shelley after she handed him a bouquet of flowers in front of full school assembly. In what should have been her proudest moment she stood there crying as the school jeered her presence - laughed as the Mayor kissed a greasy-haired girl who smelled of stale urine and burnt wood. As Shelley was led of the stage in tears, a pair of oversized brown corduroy trousers sat down beside me and a grubby nail bitten and scabby hand was placed upon my kneecap. That was Simon and it was the beginning of the first friendship of my life.
Like me, Simon & Shelley were the produce of alcoholic and drug addicted parents. For the first six years of their lives they had travelled Britain and Ireland going from flop house to flop house, from one social service unit to the next. Every time they were on the verge of being taken by the authorities the family would flee, until finally settling down in London. It seemed that from the womb all they knew were vile beatings, social services, alcohol and abuse. At least I had had half an hour of innocence before being hit by life. But not for them, they were born straight into the shit. It was all they knew and it had only ever gotten worse.
At the age of eight they were forced by a drunken carer to have sex with each other. This practice had continued over and beyond that, and for the years I knew them they engaged in sexual activity together. It was in their bedroom one day, whilst we were playing, that they confided in me what they did together. I remember Simon touching Shelley, then Shelley kissing him almost as a token of acceptance for what he had done. They fell back on the bed laughing, both looking at me with dark brown eyes. They showed this to me. They were proud of it. Not proud of the sex, but of the adult behaviours they were mirroring. At the time I laughed along with them. I saw nothing wrong with it. It was almost the same as badly smoking a cigarette or knocking back a teacup full of vodka - it was that kind of naughtiness and nothing else. Now it’s a memory which I can’t ever forget, and it’s sad, because they showed me this and then Simon retook up his Space Invaders game which hung around his filthy neck and Shelley returned to playing imaginary families with her collection of cheap naked dolls which she'd pulled from dustbins. And that image of us on the bed, of the broken innocence that it relates, forever reminds me that this is a cruel and unrelenting world, and that our place within it is a hazardous one. But at the time, it meant nothing. Sure, we knew what sex was - the physics at least- we had seen it all our lives, but we didn’t understand the intimacy or the morals... we had no oversight. All we knew is that adults and animals did it and there seemed no laws concerning where or with whom. It was a reflection of innocence, that is all. But innocence cannot always be understood or accepted, and the events of those years would be a 10 year timebomb between brother and sister that would explode and blow them both off the edge of the world.
After Simon & Shelly's confession and me realising that what was going on in their house was the backside of my own mirror, we became inseparable. Our days and evenings were spent together toughening ourselves up, bonding and preparing our offensive. Our first decision was to join a boxing club. We were weak targets for the bullies and in order to walk the streets and parks untroubled we needed to learn how to throw decent right hooks. So one Wednesday we joined Chelsea Boys Boxing Club and on Thursday we knocked each others teeth out. The three of us taking it in turns to square up to one another and direct our anger and pain towards a physical body. But we never hurt one another: we toughened each other up. And as we lay in the park, on the grassy hill with black eyes and busted noses, we joked and laughed as love and friendship throbbed and stung upon our young bodies. We felt tough not just against the other children, but against the adults too. The same adults who had heaped abuse upon us ever since we were born. We were fighting a force much more twisted and perverse than our immediate peers, we were fighting our homes and our histories. We were fighting ourselves.
Not many people realise just how violent Britain is. It’s a cruel, cruel place, especially for a kid in toeless shoes. There is no sympathy and little escape. If you can’t impress with a pair of £150 trainers and a half decent phone, then you’d better be able to impress with something else... and that ‘something else’ is usually violence. So violence became an everyday fixture for a while. Almost every evening we’d return home with some cut or other. Shelley as well. She kicked and punched and bit just as hard as any boy, and aftern when it was finished, we licked our wounds and celebrated our victories together.
Our friendship was an honest and equal one. It wasn’t based on toys or videos or clothes. It was based on understanding and comfort. Apart from that we didn’t have much else to trade. We had nothing alone and even less together. Between us we had half a parent, two pairs of trousers and a dress. My shoes were football boots with the studs removed, Simon’s were leather strapped sandals and Shelley went barefooted - soaking up all the piss, shit and spunk that South West London had to offer. On and off we would spend almost five years in each others company. Five years of escaping the hell which we were born into. With our six fists and our scarred and beaten bodies we used violence and delinquency as a means of escape... as a means to unprise life which had taken lockjaw around our necks. But in escaping one hell we started replicating another: stealing cigarettes and beer and vodka and imitating the actions of our elders. In a certain way we escaped our lives by joining it - we became a part of the hurt and the world that had made us. Instead of fleeing it we copied it, but in our replica world we were the kings of the castle... the abusers and not the abused. We became the enemy.
In the following year we took the beatings but fought back. We’d raise with bloody lips and swollen cheekbones and rally for more. We built up a reputation of recklessness, and if we couldn’t win with our fists, well, there were always cricket bats. There were kids stronger who hit harder, but our relentlessness scared them. When someone screams “Fucking stay down!” it means they’re scared, that they know eventually it will be them running. And we never stayed down. We had mouths and angers that could not be shut. Eventually we instilled fear and terror into those we saw as potential threats: those other cruel kids, with other problems, who were also looking for escape. If we were not strong we would be it, punching bags, the buffer that soaked up our peers domestic problems. We would have become the escape route not only of our parents and their problems but also of the other kids, and that would have been one hell too many. We were on the offensive from a very young age. The bottles and bricks which made up our homes now became objects to throw at the world. And my god, did we throw them.
We threw them at bus stops, policemen and ambulances. We chucked bricks on the motorway and through car windows. We vandalised vending machines, ticket machines and shop shutters. We set fire to post boxes, telephone booths and elevators. We pulled up parks and gardens and demolished garden gnomes. We roamed the streets inciting violence and bloodying the noses of anyone who so much as looked at us. We robbed the more fortunate kids and destroyed the toys of the rich. we done it all. Then we went to bed, woke up and done it all again. We didn’t care for nothing or no-one. Not the living, not the dying not the dead. Everyone and everything was fair game, and that is how we escaped our lives. That’s the exit we took. We were cruel kids preparing to die.
Our lives meandered on like that for the best part of two years and then one morning on going to see Simon & Shelley I received news that they had been carted off by the authorities and placed in a foster home.
“My kids... they’ve taken ma fucking kiz!!!” Bridgette slurred before throwing herself around me and breathing a mouthful of vomit and whisky fumes into my face. And that was it, they were gone, taken away by unknown and distant forces - the kind most children are only ever threatened with. I strolled back home alone and waited for news. I asked at school, I asked my mother and I asked Simon's mother, but no one seemed to know anything. Yes, they would be coming back, but when? well, that was anyone’s guess. Three months later they were back, and the first thing we did was scheme escape plans in the event it ever happened again. And it did happen again. Later in that same year they disappeared once more.
Simon remembered our plan. Within the week a letter was delivered to my house carrying their new address. I was ten at that time and along with my brother we boarded a train to the address just outside London. On finding Simon and Shelley we skipped the wall and all made the journey back to London. We stayed missing for two days, passing the time at a friends house in Shepherds Bush. On the third day we were apprehended by the police on Uxbridge Road and were all taken into custody at Hammersmith Police Station. My brother and I had been reported missing by my stepfather and Simon and Shelley by their foster parents. I wasn't beaten much by my stepfather as a child, but arriving home that day I took ten years in one sitting. I was so bruised they did not send me to school for over a week. I’ve only ever curled my body up to kicks once in my life, and that was it. But of course, in my family that was an expression of love. It was because he loved me that my stepfather kicked my ribs in.
In the following year Simon and Shelley returned, disappeared and returned again. They didn’t seem to mind too much as away from home they enjoyed proper meals, proper baths and proper clothes. We still remained friends but the separations took their toll and as I left lower school and approached my teenage years we slowly drifted apart and spent less and less time in each others company. The final break was when my own family split up and we left west London and was put in hiding from the hands of my stepfather. We were reallocated to the other side of London and Fulham was out of bounds. Contact with Simon or Shelley was impossible and it would be more than twelve years before I saw either of them again.
In that time we had all changed considerably. Our young accepting minds had started examining things, processing all those behaviours we saw, heard and done. Youthful innocence developed into an illness that plagued and ate away at us. We were all sick, suffering from memories and actions that had been forced upon us. With the end of youth and the coming of our real sexual awakenings we realised we had been corrupted... that certain fantasies and shames had been branded into our minds forever. We each tried to eject these, to vomit up our pasts, to reject history, but vomit leaves a very specific taste in the mouth and is a memory all of its own.
So it was, that the events that formed us also repulsed us, and when one cannot reconcile one's history with ones present then the only option left is to split, and that's what we done. But not just friendship and kinship, we split internally: we divided as people and as adults. Shelley became a young prostitute, Simon found his way in and out of psychiatric hospitals, and I ended up trailing them same old streets searching crack and smack and dreaming of the Black House. In the end our youthful hooliganism and cruelty had served for nothing. It was just a natural reaction to a life that was putting the boot in. All it done was deflect the blow - absorb the shock of the impact and delay the consequences for a later day.
More than anything else that is what this blog is about. It’s not about heroin or addiction or murder or abuse, it’s about consequence. But not always consequence of a good or bad decision, more the consequences of independent and external forces which we have no control over. It’s about history and the equation of all our yesterdays... it’s about who we are at this exact point in time. It’s about the consequence of living.
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In 2002 at the age of 27 Simon Maudlier finally found his peace. It seems he died as a result of huge amounts of alcohol on top of prescribed medication. He was buried in a communal grave in Fulham without ceremony. As far as I know Shelley is still alive and as late as 2006 was still working the streets of West and Central London. Neither of them, nor myself have any children, and that is probably the greatest gift we can offer this world.
As always, I wish You all well and thank you for reading and making it all worthwhile. My next post will concentrate on my feelings towards Dennis Nilsen, his continued imprisonment and my thoughts concerning his controversial and as yet unpublished autobiography “History of a Drowning Boy”. Until then, take care & take heart, Shane. x