Pain Gain

I got my nipple pierced in the final year of my twenties, stood-up in a makeshift tent with a smiley long-haired man who declared that I had nothing to fear with regard to the impending pain as he was ‘very fast’. On the word ‘fast’ he hastily passed a needle through my nip; a creaking-popping noise, a lightning bolt of searing agony then a wobbly rush of endorphins. Done. Gary next.

Gary and I spent the day walking about the Milton Keynes bowl with our right hands suspended over our smarting teats for fear of physical contact with a fellow reveller, there were dozens of other people striking a similar pose on account of their recent surgery, eye-contact would solicit a nod, a cheer, even a beer from one especially lubricated out-patient.

We’d made the trip from London with a few mates to see Black Sabbath, I’d never seen them live despite being a fan from a very early age, nine to be exact, after my friend Gavin* gave me a tape that he’d borrowed from his sister. I remember he was very amused by one song called ‘embryo’ so I’m guessing it was Master of Reality.

It was a big deal they were performing, I don’t think any of us thought we’d ever catch them live, so we’d brought along plenty of provisions to ensure we’d be suitably annihilated when they came on stage. Apart from flashes of us all laughing our heads off and one of us throwing up on the train journey home (it may have been me) I can barely recall the day, save noticing that I wasn’t the only one having a little cry when they opened with War Pigs, and my being pierced, of course. I still have the piercing, unlike Gary who, after jumping in a swimming pool in Turkey, learnt that the valve from some inflatable animal had arrived in between his jewellery and chest as he descended into the water. The ring was ripped clean out of his flesh and the pool had to be evacuated.

Until relatively recently I’ve never really analysed this desire to look a certain way, especially when it’s physically painful, and I suppose by looking a ‘certain way’ I (somewhat ironically) conform to a stereotype of what people expect a ‘headbanger’ or ‘biker’ to look like. On the one hand, it’s probably a sign of something insecure (of course, you don’t need to look like a rocker or a punk to be one) but it could just as easily be the reverse. Back in the 80’s, before Nirvana and Guns and Roses taught the prols to rock, people that looked like me weren’t just targets for the media, we had a more tangible threat: groups of young white men that liked to drink pissy lager and listen to jazz-funk. I was beaten unconscious on a night out with my girlfriend in a pub close to my parents by three bastards who starting smashing me in the face before I’d had a chance to pint my pint down, they pulled out chunks of my hair after I’d passed out for good measure.

I didn’t go out for a year after that, because it’d been an unprovoked assault my brain couldn’t process the right way to deal with why what had happened and I became really paranoid. But despite the huge toll it’d taken on me psychologically it had an uncanny effect of reinforcing my identity, it was almost as if I felt I’d earned the right to my long hair and black leather because someone had beaten me up, not for something I’d said but for the way I looked. If anyone was going to inflict pain on me, it was me.

A tattoo was somewhat inevitable. I waited until I was thirty before committing the design I’d been working on for five years to flesh. I guess that’s the difference between now and two decades ago. Tattoos are passé these days, people get ink for the sake of itself, some (but certainly not all, so don’t write in) want to be associated with the having of tattoos to the extent that the aesthetics are secondary; take the faux-tribal craze that took place relatively recently where you could have miles of ink slapped on in a couple of hours, right out the book. Once upon a time tattoos used to be the preserve of sailors, criminals and outlaw bikers, ink, by association, was with loaded with unsavoury connotations -not millionaire football player or that nice Ed Sheeran. Tattoos found their way onto rockers and punks and, as far as I’m concerned, legitimised them for the likes of me. The fact that I’m a devotee of all things ‘motorcycle’ it’d almost be rude if I didn’t have tattoos, mum.

I can no longer contain the ingredients of the stuff that makes up the self so the excess pours out leaving traces of ink and hair in its wake. And it’s not just ink, it’s the rest of the garb, the leather, chains, skull-rings, studs… And a pram with a beautiful little boy sitting there, watching the world go by with his proud dad pushing him along.

*Gavin died of a brain tumour when we were in our early twenties, around the time I got that kicking. A week after he passed, his mum came around to my parents’ house and wordlessly dropped off two dozen heavy metal tee-shirts for me, many from shows we’d seen together. It blew me to pieces.

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Disc Go

I first rode a motorbike at Dave Taylor’s Trial Park over 40 years ago and haven’t looked back, though obviously I did just then, and while I’m here make a note of ‘back’ as well.

Dave, who for the most part has been consigned to history, was a prominent figure in the 70’s. He was a vociferous road safety campaigner having become famous for, ironically, pulling huge fuck-off wheelies; the dude even rode the whole of the TT course (37.73 miles) on his back wheel. My hero, though, was Barry Sheene. In the 70’s he was mega famous, and for most kids growing up in that decade part of the cultural landscape along with strikes, flares and Spangles. He was vivacious, charismatic and cool, he shone through the brown and grey of the decade and made other sports and their protagonists look prosaic and banal.

The 70’s was also the decade when the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers started to make serious headway into the UK market. As the British motorcycle industry dwindled to virtually nothing, streets and TV’s rung out with the scream of high-revving two strokes. In comparison to the British stuff, the Japanese bikes were faster, lighter and oil-tight. If the British bikes were Black Sabbath then the Japanese upstarts were the Sex Pistols and I loved both. My fate with all things motorbike was sealed.

By the time I was 10 I was doing motocross at a place near Slough. Dad got hold of a burnt out caravan that he converted into a trailer, onto which was loaded my stolen-recovered YB 100cc Yam [that my dad had] converted for off road use. It wasn’t really up to the job but I couldn’t have cared less, I lived for Saturday afternoons. Age 12, when my parents realised this bike-thing wasn’t a fad, and after dad convinced mum that I was learning important skills for when I was on the road, because I would be (he was right on both accounts, I could provide actual examples but this isn’t all about me) I got my first proper MotoX bike, a Yamaha YZ100e. The bike was pretty old by the time I got hold of it, they came with some stinking second-hand leathers that were so baggy around the arse that you could’ve fitted Hazell Dean’s chin in there, but as far as I was concerned I was living the dream, even when I broke my ankle on a post and wrecked all the tendons in my wrist after I hit the deck and a bloke on a CCM stalled and then started his bike on my arm.

For five, occasionally painful, years, I couldn’t have been happier than when I was riding my bike, until that day I was hit in mid-air by another bike, it knocked my front wheel south west so when I landed I was catapulted over the bar. I vividly recall hitting the ground and thinking ‘where’s my bike gone’ before it came crashing down onto my lower back. I don’t remember much after that save the hospital.

A month later I was back on the bike, as far as I was concerned I’d dodged serious injury and made a full recovery, but something had changed. Because the accident hadn’t been my fault I started to become wary, then paranoid, of other riders. I couldn’t ride with impunity as I was too busy checking to make sure someone wasn’t about to smack into me. One afternoon, after an hours riding, I rode into the paddock and told dad that I was done. Six months later the bike was gone. It was dreadful.

A quarter of a century passed, one totally normal day I was walking across the road with my bro when, all of a sudden, I went down like a sack of the stuff (I mean shit) and my bro had to scoop me up and carry me to the pavement before I was hit by an Iveco lorry. I was diagnosed with a perforated disk and required to hobble about with a stick for a while until a combination of the NHS, a chiropractor and some good old fashioned exercise sorted me out.

Until recently this was just fine, I had the measure of the condition and despite seizing up after Slayer at Sonisphere five years ago (my two dear friends had to drag me all the way out of the venue to get a cab, right in the middle of Metallica’s headline set) I’ve been pretty much okay.

But not all was well in lower-back land. The perforated disc was having an adverse effect on the disc below; having been charged with undertaking the additional task of managing a colleague’s injury it was somewhat inevitable that it would file a complaint. Sciatica isn’t as agonisingly painful as the perforated seizure (which would make a great name for a black metal band) but the constant pain running up and down the leg like a cow in heels wears thin after a while. I mean it never bloody stops and nothing over-the-counter relieves it apart from Co-codamol. The prescribed Naproxen merely manages the injury but it does cause agonising stomach cramps that the prescribed Omeprazole, designed to suppress the agonising stomach cramps caused by the Naproxen, fails to curb and all of this amounts to even less sleep than we weren’t having before the Sciatica kicked-in.

I ruminated on all of this lying awake one morning at 3.30 with my left shin and buttock on fire waiting for the umpteenth cody to kick in… Actually, this is bloody Dave Taylor and Barry Sheene’s fault, bastards, my innovative dad should’ve listen to my told-you-so mum and I should’ve stuck with Judo. Even if Brian Jacks was a monumental arsehole with the personality of a bread board.

Then I remembered, the only other time I wasn’t in pain, and this was true of both the perforated disc and the more recent Sciatica, was when I was riding my bike. Sure, I may have had an issue getting on and off but once there, the pain was gone. I guessed it must have something to do with the way the body is positioned on a sportsbike, you lean forward so the spine is relaxed, all the weight is taken by the limbs, bingo.

So there you go, another excellent reason to ride a motorbike.