I had just boarded the late night train from Waterloo to Woking when I saw him at the far end of the carriage. He was kneeling on a seat, banging on the window and sticking two fingers up at the passers-by on the platform. He was in his late teens, skinny with a thin face and blue eyes. His hair was a multitude of harsh colours, magenta, neon yellow, blue, red and orange, a starburst of gelled sharp upright spikes like a multi-colored hedgehog. He wore a faded denim jacket crisscrossed with chains pinned to the fabric with safety pins, and large nappy pins with baby blue and baby pink plastic safety locks. Razor blades dangled from the chains, tied on with little twists of rusty wire like twinkling Christmas tree decorations. On the back of his jacket there was a small Union Jack flag covered in swear words written in thick daubs of red nail varnish. His jeans and oxblood Doc Martens were slashed and splattered with glossy orange paint.
As the train pulled out of the station he pogoed down the carriage like a firework with his arms pinned at his sides. A sudden, fierce explosion bursting with brightly coloured punk anthems and swear words, he shouted and snarled and sprayed everyone with a vile aerosol of abuse. His chains rattled with the ghostly resonance of Jacob Marley’s manacles, his hoarse voice sounded like the percussive scrape of sandpaper blocks.
He crashed onto the seat opposite me, curled up with his knees under his chin and fell asleep. He had dark circles under his eyes and his face was ashen and clammy. With his eyes closed he looked peaceful, defenseless, child-like even, as if all his cares had slipped away. He smelt meaty as if he hadn’t washed in a while, and his breathe smelt of alcohol.
His presence was terrifying and energizing at the same time. His foul language repulsed me, yet I was captivated by his flamboyant appearance. He was raw, angry, unpredictable and subversive. It struck me that in some many ways he was like a modern equivalent of the Fool in a Shakespearian play. The Fool who speaks truthfully about other people’s vain and foolish ways, however uncomfortable it is for those on the receiving end to hear his harsh words. The Fool who is often an outsider, free to comment on social and political issues, and someone who, at times, understands the complexities of the world better than those who wield power and authority. As if he’d jabbed me with one of his safety pins, his presence made me sit up sharp, and made me think seriously about the wider problems of the times.
He woke up with a start at Walton on Thames, like a scared child woken by a bad dream. He sat up straight and rubbed his eyes, but fatigue soon overcame him and his head fell softly into his hands. A few minutes later there was a commotion at the other end of the carriage. He stood up, put his hand to his forehead like an old seadog and surveyed the scene.
A female guard stood in the aisle with her hands on her hips; she was speaking in a severe tone to a girl in her early teens. I can’t remember what the girl looked like; she was huddled up in a beige duffle coat with her hood up. The guard wore a royal blue uniform, a similar colour to Princess Diana’s engagement outfit; that shade of blue was everywhere in 1981. There was a problem with the girl’s ticket; she needed to pay another £3.00 to complete her journey. The girl said she didn’t have any money and she started to cry. The guard said she would have a pay a fine. She took a notebook and pencil from her jacket pocket and asked for the girl’s name and address. The girl was choked up and unable to speak. The guard tapped her foot, she said it was a serious offence to withhold her name and address, and she threatened to contact the police.
The punk pogoed down the carriage. Every so often he bent down between the high-backed seats, hid for a few seconds and then jumped up to surprise the girl. Years later, I saw a spyhopping killer whale on a wildlife programme, with its nose in the air, the whale shot straight up out of the sea between two icebergs looking for baby seals on the ice floes, and I remembered that this was exactly how the punk had looked when he pogoed up between the seats.
The guard looked nervous, her belted purse was full of money and she clutched it with both hands. The punk pushed past her, stood in front of the girl and did a funny bandy-legged bow with his right hand held horizontally across his waist, the tips of his hair brushed her coat and she giggled. He rummaged in his jacket pocket and gave the girl the money without saying a word. He pogoed back along the carriage, lay down on a seat and fell fast asleep.