3 Reality Asylum
Colin’s grandmother hadn’t been as upset about the visit to his grandfather’s grave as he expected, so after they got home Colin checked she was still okay to be left, and when she assured him she was, he got a bus into town. Nobody was in any of the regular hangouts, so he made his way to Stiggy’s bedsit on the outskirts of town.
It was right in the heart of the local red light area, and as soon as Colin entered the street he was approached by a middle-aged woman in a low-cut black top and PVC mini-skirt. She had sunken, staring eyes, accentuated rather than hidden by her liberal use of makeup. She scratched her left arm and picked at a scab.
“Are you looking for business?”
Colin felt his face flush. He shook his head slowly and walked past without speaking.
“Fuck you then,” the woman shouted after him.
Colin entered Stiggy’s front yard and squeezed past a broken washing machine to reach the front door. It opened without a key and he stepped into a communal hall. The boom boom boom of a heavy dub reggae bassline seeped through the door of Flat One as he passed. Colin walked up to Flat Two and knocked on the door.
“Who is it?” Stiggy shouted from behind the door a few seconds later.
“It’s me, Colin.”
The door opened a tiny crack and Stiggy peered out. He grinned and opened the door fully. “All right, Col? What you doing here?”
“All right, Stiggy. Just thought I’d come and see you.”
Damp, decay and stale glue wafted out of the dingy room. Stiggy stood to one side and Colin squeezed between him and an old armchair just behind the door. Inside, taking up most of one wall, was a small unmade bed with no headboard, a single brown blanket strewn across it in a rumpled heap.
Stiggy sat down in the armchair and toyed with a tuft of stuffing hanging out of one of the arms. Colin looked around and sat on the edge of the bed, leaning forward with his hands on his knees. Opposite him was an unvarnished wooden chest of drawers with a battered old music centre perched on top of it. A few dog-eared records stood next to it, propped up by a haphazard pile of hand-written cassettes.
On the wall above the music centre, surrounded by peeling off-white paint, was a black and white poster of a severed hand caught on barbed wire bearing the slogan ‘Your country needs you.’ Colin guessed from the criss-cross of regularly spaced creases it had probably come free with one of Stiggy’s records. The floor of the room was covered by a threadbare carpet that had once had a vibrant pattern weaved into it, but was now just a dingy brown colour, stained and caked in mud and assorted spillages that hadn’t been cleaned up over the years.
Stiggy drummed his fingers on the arms of the chair, completely out of step with the thumping reggae bass-line coming through the wall. “I got the new Discharge album the other day if you want to hear it?” he said, jumping up. He walked over to the music centre and switched it on.
“Not really,” Colin said. “They’re just a load of noise.”
Stiggy grunted as he lifted a cracked Perspex lid up on its hinges. “Are they fuck. What about this one then? They’re new.”
Stiggy turned around and held up a red and black single sleeve. Colin stood up and moved closer, tilted his head to read the band name printed down the side.
“Varukers? Never heard of them, what are they like?”
“They’re fucking smart mate,” Stiggy said. He pulled out the record and placed it on the turntable. He sat down in the armchair and tapped his foot rapidly to the music, mouthed a few of the words, and glanced at Colin for his reaction.
Colin frowned. They sounded even worse than Discharge. He scooped up Stiggy’s records and took them back to the bed, spread them out before him. Most of them were by bands Colin had never heard of, and he wondered where Stiggy had bought them from. Colin certainly hadn’t seen any of them in the local record shop.
“Haven’t you got any Cockney Upstarts records?”
Stiggy shook his head. “Nah, they’re shite.”
“Well if you don’t like them why are you coming to Shefferham with us?”
Stiggy shrugged. “I want to see them throw a pig’s head at a skinhead. It’ll be a laugh. Anyway there’s nowt else to do, is there?”
Colin smiled and shook his head. How could anyone be so gullible they would believe what they read in a newspaper? According to newspapers, punks liked to spit on old grannies and stuck safety pins through practically every part of their body. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Stiggy stood up and walked over to the bed. He pointed at one of the singles. “That one’s good,” he said.
Colin picked up the cheaply-printed wraparound record sleeve and peered at it. A black and white screaming face stared out at him, surrounded by seemingly random images. He tilted it to read the stencilled lettering around the face, then flipped it over. A punk sat before a pile of dead bodies. He unfolded the cover to see what was printed inside, and a Crass single fell out. Colin picked the record up and folded the sleeve around it. He shook his head and tossed it back onto the bed.
“I don’t like Crass,” he said.
Stiggy leaned over and picked up the single. “It’s not by Crass, it’s just on their record label. Like Flux of Pink Indians was.”
Colin looked up at Stiggy and nodded. “Oh, okay.”
Colin had been surprised when he first heard Tube Disasters at one of Twiglet’s parties and been told it was by a Crass band. He had bought a Crass single once, on a whim because it was very cheap. He hated it. There had been no tune to it whatsoever, just a noise with some woman ranting about Jesus. Colin didn’t bother playing the other side, he just threw it in the bin and vowed never to buy anything by Crass ever again, no matter how cheap it was or how many people said how great the band was.
“They’ve got an album coming out soon,” Stiggy said, putting the record on the turntable. “I bet it’ll be fucking great.”
While the song played, Colin looked through the other records spread over Stiggy’s bed. He didn’t care much for the single’s title song, it was too slow and ponderous for his tastes, but he did like the more upbeat B side even though its lyrics were somewhat depressing.
Colin made a mental note to ask Stiggy to tape it for him once he got his cassette player fixed. A Ramones tape Brian made for him a few weeks earlier had got caught up in the mechanism and was now inextricably wound up inside it, having snapped off when Colin tried to pull it loose. He would need to take a screwdriver to the cassette player and open it up to get the remaining tape out, a job he wasn’t particularly looking forward to.
Colin picked out a few more records for Stiggy to play. The Tube Disasters EP, singles by Anti Pasti and The Exploited he was already familiar with, and a few others he chose because their sleeves looked interesting. After playing them, Stiggy picked up an album by Crass with what looked like a blow up sex doll on the cover.
“Oh fuck off, do you have to put that shit on?” Colin asked, shaking his head.
“Yeah, I want something a bit longer.” Stiggy unfolded the cover and took out the record to put it on the turntable. Colin sighed and shuffled further onto the bed so he could lean his back against the wall. He decided the next time he went to Stiggy’s bedsit he would take some of his own records along with him, show Stiggy what he was missing out on.
While the woman on the Crass album screeched through the first song, Stiggy pulled open a drawer and took out a roll of sandwich bags and a half-litre can of Evo Stik. He tore a bag from the roll and held it out to Colin.
Colin smiled. “Don’t tell Brian,” he said, and leaned forward to take the bag.
Stiggy shook his head and smirked. He tore off another bag and rolled down its edges, then balanced it on his knee while he poured a large dollop of glue into one of the corners. He passed the can to Colin and breathed into the bag, massaging the glue-filled corner between his index finger and thumb. His eyes glazed over.
Colin poured a small amount of glue into the bag and lifted it to his mouth. He glanced over at Stiggy as he took a few tentative breaths, saw he was already away with the fairies. He thought about ditching the glue-bag, hiding it under Stiggy’s bedcovers. Stiggy wouldn’t know any different. Then he decided to take a few more breaths, just to see what the attraction was.
Colin closed his eyes and sighed, concentrated on the rustling sound the plastic bag made as it inflated and deflated. It seemed to echo, sounding impossibly loud. Crass echoed too. Their music darted around the room like hummingbirds looking for an escape from Stiggy’s bedsit, the screaming woman chasing them with a buzzing chainsaw. Crass seemed so much better than Colin remembered them being before. Maybe it was because the hummingbirds taught them how to play?
As if they had somehow heard Colin’s thoughts, Crass decided they were going home and left behind just a regular ka-thunk ka-thunk ka-thunk ka-thunk ka-thunk as the hummingbirds pecked away at Colin’s skull.
Colin opened his eyes. Stiggy stood before him, waving his arms around in a blur. Long yellow teeth stretched down from Stiggy’s mouth and curled around his chin. The hummingbirds scattered away with a flutter. Stiggy’s teeth retreated back into his mouth.
“You have a good one?” Stiggy asked.
Colin looked around him, unsure of his location. He shook his head. “Fucking … hell,” he said. He handed Stiggy the dried up glue-bag and glanced at a clock by the side of the bed. An hour had passed that he had no memory of. The Crass record had finished long ago, the record player’s stylus stuck in its lead-out groove. Stiggy walked over and lifted the tone arm, silencing it with a loud thrrrrup. He lifted the record and flipped it over, put it back on the turntable.
“You want some cider?” Stiggy asked over the jangling guitar intro. “It’ll keep you buzzed longer.”
Colin shook his head. “Nah, I feel a bit wrecked as it is, so I reckon I’ll just get off home.”
“You sure? Glue makes you crash if you don’t top it up with booze.”
“Nah, you’re all right. I’ll get a can of beer from home or something if I need to.”
Stiggy shrugged. “Fair enough. See you at The Juggler’s Rest tomorrow then, yeah?”
Outside, the prostitute approached Colin again and asked if he was looking for business. Colin smiled and shook his head.
Continued next Friday.
Punk Faction by Marcus Blakeston is also available in paperback and ebook if you don’t want to wait that long.