On Saturday I had lunch in a Chinese restaurant. The waitress brought over water, a napkin and chopsticks after I’d ordered what I wanted. I sheepishly asked for a fork when the meal arrived. (Insert Jerry Seinfeld bit about chopsticks and forks here. Okay, I’ll do it for you.) For whatever reason, a childhood memory barged its way to the front of my brain, pushing aside any chance I had of focussing on the page of the book I was reading (“Elliot Allagash” by Simon Rich. I’m a big fan of his two previous collections, and this, his first novel, is great: if you want something to read that is quick and very funny, I thoroughly recommend it.)
We had these forks at home that were only brought out when we had Chinese takeout. They were forks that, I assume, were designed for British people to eat rice with. Chinese takeout was a treat. Whatever my parents had, my sister and I invariably had chicken curry and chips*. Chunks of chicken in that strange MSG-laced, cloying, mucus-y curry sauce, and chips. Big fat chips. Chips that were different from chip shop chips or my Mum’s awesome homemade chips**. And there would always be a brown paper bag of prawn crackers too. It was a kid’s dream: crackers and chips in one sitting!
* How depressing must it be if you move your family halfway around the world to make a better life for yourself, you open a takeaway place and the locals order chips?
** Once, when I was a teenager, and it was my turn to wash the dishes — my sister and I took turns to wash or dry — I thought that I’d be nice and wash out the chip pan. So I poured the still-warm chip fat down the plug hole, washed the pan, and felt incredibly proud of myself. Until my Mum, rather vocally, pointed out my error.
The forks we had were kinda like spoons with a U-shaped notch cut out of the apex to create two prongs. (Actually, they were probably sporks not forks.) The memory of those forks set off a lightning-fast slideshow in my head of other childhood memories…
I lived really close to my school. I could see the sports field from my bedroom window. It was across the street. My school was on the same land as the local sports centre. So we were lucky: we had enough space for four or five soccer or rugby fields in the winter, and space for cricket and athletics in the summer. Inside the sports centre, we had access to badminton, squash, and swimming. The gymnasium was also used for roller skating on Saturday nights. I used to go there when I was around 14 or 15 years old. I only ever learned to skate anti-clockwise. So at the point in the night when the DJ announced that it was time to go the other way, I would sheepishly move to the side and take a break. It was also the place where I learned the power of perfume. There was a girl there who wore Poison by Christian Dior. It was like teenage boy catnip. I’d skate in her wake, constantly in a cloud of mind-bendingly lovely Poison. Later, in my late teens and early twenties, Calvin Klein’s Obsession had the same effect, so much so that I had one of those smelly magazine pullout adverts, (the kind with the smelly strip folded over) Blu-Tacked to my bed head. It didn’t hurt that it had a nice black and white picture of Kate Moss on it. I’d give it a wee sniff before I went to sleep on the nights that my then-girlfriend didn’t stay over, (she also wore Obsession and was fine with me liking Kate Moss). Most of all, though, was the smell of dewberry. I guess dewberry was a Body Shop thing; and to this day it makes me weak at the knees whenever I pass someone on the street and catch a whiff of it.
The nearest part of the school/sports centre to my house, though, were the tennis courts and the gravelly area that was used for five-a-side soccer, and car boot sales on Sundays. I remember one time, some friends and I entered a five-a-side competition, and we chose the team name Cosmos because we thought New York Cosmos and the other NASL team names were really cool. We never saw them on TV, of course; I guess we must’ve seen them in football magazines like Match and Shoot. And we also used to call it soccer. We really, really thought it was a cooler word than football.
In the winter, I guess it was in the month or so before Christmas, they put an artificial ice rink on top of the nearest three tennis courts to my house. I never skated there, though. I would have done, but the first year they did it (1983) I fell ill. I was thirteen years old. One day I had a cystitis-like pain when urinating. It was either later that day or the next day, I don’t remember that clearly. I’d been into town and got the bus home. There were two buses that serviced my suburb of Lincoln: the 24 and the 27. The 27 stopped outside the school, but the 24 went another direction that meant a fifteen minute walk home. On this particular day, I got the 24. Shortly after getting off the bus, I felt like I’d need a poo quite soon. But, y’know, I was only fifteen minutes from home: no biggie. I broke wind. I broke wind with extras. I had a fifteen minute walk home with sludge in my pants. I was a 13 year old boy who had shat his pants, who had a fifteen minute walk home. It wasn’t fun, I don’t recommend it. The next morning my alarm went off as normal. At that age, I was very much a get-up-and-go kid (at least, that’s how I remember it). I got up, and fell over. My legs were useless. Couldn’t move them. My parents were both at work. My sister must have already gone to school (not entirely sure why that would’ve been the case, but my memory is of being alone in the house). I don’t remember much of what happened next. I was taken to see the family doctor, and whatever happened there, I had this horrible chalky medicine to drink. For the next few days my sister and I switched bedrooms. It’s likely that that happened because her room was closer to the bathroom. From her bedroom, I could see the ice rink. From my room — which was slightly set back from the rest of the house — I wouldn’t have had a good view of it. I saw kids skating, I could hear the music, but I couldn’t skate myself. In fact, to this day, I’ve only ever ice skated once in my life, a couple of years previously in Weston-super-Mare, a seaside town with an awesome name in the southwest of England. That time was on artificial ice and I remember being very bad at ice skating. Christopher Dean’s professional relationship with Jayne Torvill was entirely safe.
Some time later — I have no idea how long it took; a few days maybe — an ambulance came and I was taken to St. George’s Hospital. I had this weird thing, and I would have to have it seen to in a hospital. Thankfully, I was thirteen years old and thus was admitted to an adult ward. (A school friend subsequently spent some time in the hospital for diabetes, but he was twelve and had to stay on the children’s ward with the wailing six year olds.) I basically had an arthritic problem, and my legs were Velco-ed into these plaster bandage splints. I only took them off when I needed to use the commode. My memories of my teenage years are kinda hit and miss. I don’t remember much about certain things; a lot about other things. Unfortunately, my memories of my time in hospital aren’t very full. Mostly just bits and pieces. I remember having a crush on a nurse. I remember that I was terrified of injections. I remember enjoying ticking the boxes and choosing the food off the menu that was brought around at the start of the day. I remember my parents would go to a record shop and buy 7″ singles for me with my pocket money. I remember my iron deficiency meant having to drink iron medicine daily, and it being the foulest tasting thing (even typing the words brings back a sensory memory of the taste). I remember the guy in the bed next to me was an engineer with the Red Arrows, which was very very cool. And I remember after several weeks of not seeing Tessa, the family dog, my parents and nurses organised for my bed to be wheeled into the day room, up to the edge of the doors that opened up to a garden, where my parents were waiting with Tessa. I was so happy to see her. And I remember when I was on the mend, and ready to leave, the doctor and nurses helping me stand up. Six weeks in bed wastes away your muscles. I couldn’t support my own weight. When I returned home, I distinctly remember the lounge was hot. All the bars on the gas fire were on. And I arrived home in time for “Diff’rent Strokes.” And, I don’t know if this is true or not, but it’s very easy to convince my memory that we had Chinese food for tea that night.
Back at school, I had special treatment. I was allowed to spend breaks indoors, out of the cold. My mate Tim — the kid with diabetes — was allowed to spend his breaks inside too, to keep me company. For some reason, I used to have a Khmer Rouge-esque relationship with things from my own past. It’s always Year Zero. When I went to art school, I threw out all of my school-era artwork. When I got to university, I did the same with my art school stuff. When I got a job in London working in the music business, I threw out all of the university stuff. I really really wish I had all of that stuff now. Thankfully, I’ve kept everything since the mid-Nineties. But, if I had the stuff I was doing back in those indoor school breaks, I’d have a diary of an invented Craig Robinson. A Craig Robinson that was a pop star. Every year we were given diaries at school. I guess they thought — rather optimistically — we’d use them to keep track of our homework assignments or tests. I used mine to record the day-to-day events of my life as a pop star. I’d record an album in two days, and it would be released a week later. I’d be on the cover of Smash Hits soon afterwards. And every Monday — the pop charts were revealed on a Monday lunchtime back then — my single’s progress up the charts would be recorded. I would have several singles in the charts at the same time for most of the year. I would go on tour quite a lot, too. I’d play in London, New York, Los Angeles, and Tokyo all in the same week. I was BIG NEWS! I was bigger than Nik Kershaw.
Tim and I… Well, as school went on we became more casual friends. I remember we had an argument about something and it was never the same again. Our music tastes changed (we were both into Dire Straits, Eric Clapton, Huey Lewis at one point) but when he got a girlfriend (who, I believe, became his wife) and I got into the Mission and the Sisters of Mercy, our separate lives were complete.
But back in the early to mid-eighties, as well as the pop star diary, I made miniature record sleeves. I’d take graph paper and make a record sleeve about two inches square. I’d also make an inner sleeve, and I’d use a pair of compasses to draw a circle and carefully cut it out. I’d draw the front and back cover with felt tip pens. I’d do the same for the inner sleeve (mostly thin horizontal lines to recreate the printed lyrics) and I’d colour the circles black on both sides, with an appropriate coloured centre to make a tiny paper record to slip into the sleeves. I made quite a few of them. I’m not sure how many, but I distincly remember doing “Thriller,” Wham!’s “Fantastic,” and Duran Duran’s self-titled debut and “Rio.” I really wish I still had them. It’s funny that I made miniature record sleeves as a kid, and ended up with a website based around miniature portraits of pop stars.
Beer glass is empty. That’ll do for now.
I typed the above words into my iPod, sat in my local, sat at the bar, over the course of three pints of Stratford Pilsner. The guy who sat down at the empty stool next to mine while I was outside have a smoke, was drinking whiskey and had a really strong smell of feta cheese. Like, really strong. Anyway, what I wrote about, and what I wanted to write about here are two different things. I guess if I’m drunk and in the mood to type, I’ll get around to writing more about what I wanted to write about.