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King of the Mods
Is this thing bloody working? I can’t see fuck all. S’all black. What? Which button? Alright, clicked that. Ah, there you are you ugly little fuckers. My God, what do you call that kinda haircut? Your generation really has hit rock bottom, hasn’t it boys?
Who you calling baldy? Me? Shuttit! I got more hair on my bonce than your Pa, that’s for sure. Still, can’t say I didn’t have a few looks back in my time too. You know your old Gramps is getting on a bit. Don’t laugh you cheeky bastards, I’ll still catch a flight over there and knock your blocks off! Truth is though, my memory’s not what it was. We all got stories to tell, ain’t we? And no, I wasn’t no war hero, or at least not in your typical sense. But I did belong to a kind of army. What’s more, I … I lost someone from that army. Someone from my squadron, I suppose you could say. His name was Benji, and we was like two peas in a pod of mods.
What d’you mean, you never heard about the mods? My Christ, your education is truly going to shit isn’t it? Well, let me tell you. The first ‘youth culture’ they called us. Kids, we shone fucking bright. We were special and we knew it. We existed for a flash in time, the first of our kind who had the balls to get together and fuck with the system a bit. I guess we wanted revolution, but what we wanted to put up in the place of the government who fucking knew. Maybe we’d carpet bomb the whole bloody country with Fred Perry and jukeboxes playing The Who.
So you seen some ‘mod’ looks on that Instashit, have you? Pfft, that ain’t the real deal boys. We was the originals. We had everything you needed and nothing more. Telly, radio, landline. Ma had an ironing board and washing machine. Dad had his garden shed. We was happy as Larry, the lot of us, or we were supposed to be at least. The war was over, rationing was a thing of the past and you could even get yourself a decent place to live, unlike your lot. There was talk in the papers of ‘never having it so good’. Thing about ‘never having it so good’, well, it gets fucking boring doesn’t it boys?
I guess that’s where it sprung from, the movement. We wanted to rebel against something, but we didn’t know what. We wanted to look different from the older folks, and so we made it happen. We looked outside the norm, fell in love with soul and jazz music from the States but gave it our own twist. We loved Italian style and French fashion. We wore sharp tailored suits and coats with fur-lined hoods. We was all about looking sharp. Every little thing just so. The RAF targets. The mophead and the shiny shoes. You should of seen our bikes boys. Vespas and Lambrettas decked out with all the bells and whistles like fucking Christmas. If you had less than 18 mirrors flashing back at you then you wasn’t worth your salt as a mod.
Party? You bet your bloody Pokeballs we partied. But we did it with style boys, not like you lot going out and getting twatted just so you don’t have to deal with real life. Nah, we was all about the music. We kept it classy. Steered clear of the pubs and the pints, it was coffee shops and amphetamines for us. I kid you not, your Grampa was a pill popper, no word of a lie. The booze just weighs you down. All we needed was a jukebox and a little white piece of something special to keep us buzzing all night. We wanted our senses sharp as our suits, and our cigarettes thinner than Twiggy.
Don’t s’pose neither of you smoke, do you? What’s that? Speak up mate I can’t hear what you’re yaking on about. Mum doesn’t let you? Pfft mollycoddled, you lot. Wrapped in cotton. Life’s gotta smack you around a bit, that’s how you learn your lessons. I’m not talking about getting lost on fucking Pokemon go. I mean going out and finding your people. Your tribe. The ones who got your back even if you don’t know their fucking name. All that’s disappeared, s’far as I can see. Everyone’s an individual now. Capitalism’s done its bloody job.
Truth is though, underneath all the Nike and the Georgio Armani and the Primark and whatever else, we’re basically just another kind of ape, right lads? I saw this documentary about the apes, you know. Fascinating it was. See, on the one hand you got your chimps and gorillas. Now they’re the fucking nutters. They form troops and wage war. They get blood lust for monkeys and … well they go totally apeshit whenever they get the chance, so to speak. On the other hand you got your bonobos and orangutans. These ones are chill as can be, little vegetarians that… how did this bird put it… “have a liberal attitude to sexuality”. It got your old Gramps thinking it did. Would that work for us? You know, ‘homo sapiens’? Would that bring about peace? Make everyone eat hummus and fuck around with whoever they want? Well if that’s the case then Brighton should be fucking Shangri-La by now, shouldn’t it?
Anyway, when it came to us lot, well, we was reared on meat and two veg and weren’t fucking nearly as much as we wanted to be, so I guess that made us the chimps. Ours was a world of ‘we’ vs ‘them’.
Who was the ‘them’? What they teaching you boys at school? You airheads don’t have a bloody clue about nothin’. ‘We’ was the mods. ‘They’ was the rockers.
They was the ugly bastards who grew out of the 1950s Teddy Boys. Let it be known lads that they came for us first. They didn’t like the way we was, the way we dressed. They said we were effeminate cos we gave a shit about how we looked. Well boys, if soaking your suit trousers in the bath and putting them on wet for extra tight effect is effeminate, then I’m bloody Angelina Jolie. Them lot? Well, they listened to trash and spoke even worse. Chimps dressed in dead cow jackets.
We started clashing in the streets. They’d come for us on street corners, and we’d have a right old barney that’d wake the neighbourhood. On weekends we’d take our scooters down to seaside towns. The rockers clocked on and followed us down there. The fights got worse, more and more brutal. Ever had a gorilla punch you in the face son? ‘Course you ain’t. Well, it ain’t much fun, but boy oh boy does it give you thick skin.
The press had a field day of course. Things had been pretty quiet up till that point. Now they had an ‘us’ and a ‘them’. You see, they need that duality, lads, never forget. Doesn’t matter what’s going wrong or right in the world, that’s how they sell papers. Churchill vs Hitler. Tory vs Labour. Leave vs Remain. Mods vs Rockers. ‘The Youth’ vs ‘Civilised Society’. There’s gotta be some kind of battle going on, something to stir it up. Whether it’s a mop-head teen or some poor bearded bastard from Baghdad, there’s always got to be an ‘us’ and a ‘them’.
Are you still listening to me you little bastards? This is class A fucking wisdom you’re getting here, don’t you forget it. Christ, you can’t spend a minute without your head in the Twittersphere. I pity you lot, you know, I really do. You’re only living half a life, s‘far as I can see. The other half is spent in a place that ain’t really real you know. No wonder you’re all messed up in the head.
Now where was I? Oh yes, Brighton ’62. There was more us than ever on this particular weekend. It was a heatwave, as I recall. The beach was filled with holidaymakers flopped out on deck chairs. There was hundreds of people running around on the two piers, back when they was both still standing. You know, people riding on the carousel or trying to make a quick quid or two. I remember I could smell something in the air. No it wasn’t fish ‘n’ chips you cheeky little fucker. It was something much more sinister.
I was down there with Benji. My best mate he was. He was the ladies’ man and I was the shy-boy, believe or not. I never saw no-one move the way Benji moved. S’like he had music in his bones or something. People couldn’t believe it, the way he went about. ‘Swagger’, that’s the word you’d use now, I suppose. This white kid from Bromley acting like he was bloody James Brown. You should of seen him.
What’s that? Yeah… I guess you could say he was special to me, as it goes.
Anyway, we was looking out to the West Pier. He turns and says to me, ‘this fight’s gonna be the big one’. And just as he says it, there’s a sound of a thousand fucking engines. The rockers riding in to town.
I don’t have to tell you kids that shit kicked off not long after that. I stuffed my pockets with stones and squared up to the lot of them with Benji at my side. There was more of us but they was bigger and older. I can’t say who charged first but I can tell you we charged fucking hard. It was fists and broken bottles. I remember feeling sorry for the holidaymakers caught in the middle; your ordinary Sallys and Sheilas getting shoved off deck chairs and screaming like the fucking seagulls. I wasn’t a tidy kinda fighter boys, let’s put it that way. Whenever I saw one of their ugly mugs I just swung at it and did what I could. Not like Benji. Everything he did was with precision. He fought like he danced, skipping over the pebbles as they lumbered towards him like big ugly zombies. He’d use his extremities, the sharp bits, fling in an elbow or a knee into a debilitating place. At one point I could have sworn he used his bloody jaw to take one of them down.
Then of course the pigs barrel into the fray, being far more brutal than they needed to be as always. Tell you something for nothing boys, put a bloke in a uniform and he becomes a cunt. Tell him he’s important and he’s twice the cunt. Yes there was an ‘us’ and a ‘them’, but don’t underestimate the power of the police, they was the other ‘them’ that day, barreling innocent kids into the backs of vans for beatings the like of which they didn’t deserve. I remember the vans had ‘KEEPERS OF THE PEACE’ written on them. I guess irony was lost on them, as well as justice.
So Benji and I, we decide to scarper. Get out of there before the pigs can lock us up. The whole town’s a bloody frenzy now. Broken glass, deck chairs everywhere, sirens whirring, it’s bloody mayhem. Some poor bastard’s been chucked through the window of a Wimpy. So we ride up to the cliffs but it’s gotten dark, and a bunch of the rockers have followed us. I can still hear the engines now, if I close my eyes. I can still taste the ocean.
Scared? I was bloody shitting myself. It’s one thing taking them goons on on a beach in the city but when the bastards come for you on the cliffs, that’s a whole ‘nother thing altogether.
I… don’t remember much after that to be honest. It all goes a bit dark. We cut off the road, hoping to lose them. But they followed us. I remember realising Benji wasn’t riding beside me anymore. Usually you could see his bike from the moon, what with the lights and the mirrors and all, but… I think he lost control. He always was a better dancer than he was a rider.
Well, boys. Then comes the moment I doubt my old brain will ever let me forget. There’s a rocker behind me. I’m accelerating faster and faster, then something telling me to brake. I stop just a fucking hair away from the lip of the cliff. Just a hair. The rocker goes over. I hear him scream even over the sound of the wind. And then as I look over, I see him. Benji and his bike, broken apart on the rocks below.
Yeah, you can say that again. After that my memory goes hazy, like a dream. I suppose I spent the rest of the night driving round, on them little funny A roads that go nowhere. I knew one thing though—it wasn’t worth telling the fucking pigs about it. What good could they do except throw me in the cell and chuck away the key?
Somehow I get myself back to Bromley the next day, just as it’s getting light. Me Ma is having a fucking fit of course. She’s seen the morning papers. Splat! There we are, all over the front page. ‘WILDEST ONES YET—BEACH CROWDS TAKE COVER FROM MODS AND ROCKERS’.
“What’s wrong with you kids? Why can’t you just behave like normal people?” Screeching like a headless chicken she is. Well, I got nothing to say. No words in my mouth for once. I just go up to my room, put on a record and lie down and stare at the ceiling.
Then, I was just shaking. Shaking at everything I’d seen the night before. Shaking at the thought that Benji’s own Ma was waiting for him to come home, and that only I knew he never would. And shaking with the knowledge that I wouldn’t never be able to tell another soul in my time.
Well, that’s what I thought boys, until now. Time’s a funny old thing, innit? They tell you it’s a healer, but listen to me, you never know how much time you’ll need for this shit to fully work its way out of your system.
Still, at least that’s something I had back then. Time. Time to contemplate all the shit. That’s more than you’d have, if you was in my shoes. I know what you lot are like. You’d be straight on them smartphones, buzzing your tits off on technology. Flicking out your tweets and hash tags and what have you. You’d probably send out an ‘RIP tweet’, wouldn’t you? Nah, it wasn’t like that for us, and I thank God that’s the way it was. All I needed was my ceiling and the work of Old Father Time.
No, you cannot go for a piss you ungrateful little shit! Christ the attention span of you lot. I blame bloody Mark Zuckerberg, that’s who. He might look like a grinning pixie but that fucker is the devil, I swear.
Now, where was I? Oh yeah… Benji. I remember the headline a few days after: ‘MOD’ FALLS TO DEATH ON BRIGHTON CLIFF’. It was gold dust for the papers, but not so much for his family. They never did find his body, though somehow they managed to pull his scooter from the waves and fix it up a bit in time for the funeral. They used it as a headstone, and in place of a body they used one of his Italian suits. People asked me of course if I knew anything. But I couldn’t talk about it. I just kept shtum. It’s an important skill that boys, keeping quiet. You should learn it one day.
After that, the movement sort of lost its magic. The mod scene was swallowed up by the mainstream. It always happens that way. Something beautiful and original shines for a year or two, then some smarmy fucker in marketing figures out how to make a buck or two from it, and it all just gets assimilated. Diluted. Don’t matter whether its hippies, punks or metal-heads, the zeitgeist becomes the new normal. It’s as relentless as human digestion.
Tell you one thing that’s tougher than kids in leather jackets or any other tribe, and that’s the grind of society. Eventually we had to grow up. We got haircuts and jobs in banks. We shoved the badges away in drawers and before we knew it we was wearing clothes from Marks & Sparks just like our dads. Some of us even sold the bikes, though I never had the heart. That was one bird who was too darling to me, that Lambretta. I just tucked her away in the garage out of sight.
Till a few years ago that is. Then I spotted an article about a mod convention. A reunion it was, some 40 years later, back down in Brighton. Well I didn’t think much of it, to be honest. Meeting up with some old fuddy duddys who still pretend to be the rebel youth? Not my cup of tea, lads. But the missus, your good Nanna, well she said it’d be good for me to get the old bike out, take it for a spin again. And you know what, as soon as I laid eyes on it, it was like I was your age again. Just a kid, with all the stupidity and eagerness of youth.
Did I love it? Ha! You couldn’t of peeled the smile off my face when I rode down there, boys. It was the whole gang back together, bonded by music and fashion and an identity beyond any name badge or postcode. We’d forgotten all about varicose veins and enlarged prostates. We was something big again, the lot of us. We was a tribe again, if only just for the day.
Funny thing was though, the rockers were there and all. But this time there was no animosity. Nobody chucked anybody through a Wimpy, or a bloody Nandos for that matter. This time it was all clinking pint glasses together, passing around smokes though we hadn’t smoked in years and chewing the fat like we was old mates remembering the good ol’ times. Funny what age can do to you lads.
Anyway, I take myself down to the beach for a breather. Not much has changed. The stones we used as weapons are still sat there looking all innocent. The seagulls are still fucking terrorists. Except for one thing. The West Pier is a ghost now. Burnt down I don’t know how many times. You’ve seen it lads? A black husk it is, with nothing but sky beyond. Well I’m drinking my pint and watching the sun go down, the swallows swishing this way and that.
And that’s when I see something out on the ghost pier. Something dancing.
And I just burst out laughing. ‘Cos there’s two of them. A mod and a rocker, having a fucking dance out there on the burnt planks with the sun setting behind them. And I know that it’s Benji, ‘cos he’s doing them same moves he did back at the caffs we used to go to, when we was young and high. Then he waves… and despite myself, I wave back. Though I know whatever I’m seeing is in my mind. It has to be. But it don’t make no difference. Suddenly, I feel four stone lighter and forty years younger, and I start dancing on the pebbles, raising a pint for my best mate lost at sea. Benji Buxton. King of the mods.
So here’s my advice, lads. Find your tribe. I don’t care whether you’re a goth or a skinhead or a bloody Jehovah’s Witness or anything else, just find the people who speak to you and throw your weight behind it. Just so long as it’s not the fucking rockers, alright? Then, when you find your tribe, fucking love it as much as you can. Chances are it ain’t gonna last. Chances are the jobs and the law and the responsibilities and the relationships will eat into your life bit by bit. But before they do, take that one little chance to be part of something that feels bigger than anything else. Cos I tell you what, there ain’t nothing like belonging to something bigger than you.
Dan Ayres is a British writer inexplicably born in Uganda, reared in England’s Westcountry and now merrily based in Berlin. A lover of all things surreal and fantastical, Dan is increasingly drawn to writing stories and poetry that wrestle with the momentous impact social media and technology is having upon our day to day lives. He also likes stories with cats in them. You can check out some more of his words here: https://medium.com/@danielayres
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