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By Ian Freeman, Stuart Wheatman
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2004 Ian Freeman and Stuart Wheatman
All rights reserved.
Boyz 'n the Hood: the mischief years
EVERY KID GETS up to all kinds of mad things in the years that they can get away with it. Some people keep doing it. As a kid growing up in Sunderland, I took every day as it came without looking back. If having fun becomes a crime, then only criminals will have fun.
I was born and bred in Sunderland, so that would make me a proper Makem. For those of you who are not from the North-east, a Makem is just a name for someone from Sunderland. You know, you've got Geordies from Newcastle, Cockneys from London and all that caper. It came about many moons ago – back in the shipbuilding days, I think. The story differs so much depending on who you ask, or who can actually remember, but it's something to do with the regional dialect: 'Ships – We Mak 'em [We make them], and you tak 'em [you take them]' ... something like that.
Anyway, 1966 is the year everyone remembers as the year we last won the World Cup – and it will probably be the last year we win the World Cup. It was a good time for England but what made it even better was that I arrived on the scene on 11 October of that very year. Football's not really my thing, though – the idea of chasing after some bloke to hug and kiss him just because he managed to get a ball between a couple of goalposts? Do me a favour. I'm also a Libra, so that means I've got the Scales of Justice on my side, which has come in pretty useful for me in my line of work (no, I'm not a policeman, but I have met a few). One thing I've got in common with my mate Dave Courtney, amongst others, is that I don't care too much about star signs, but I'm forever being mistaken for a Sagittarian. (That'll be fifteen per cent commission for boosting your book sales, cheers, mate.)
I was born with perforated eardrums, which was a real worry for my parents. I only have seventy-five per cent hearing in my left ear and fifty per cent in my right. It wasn't an easy thing to deal with at all, but I had to adapt to it and learn to handle it. At school I mostly had to sit at the front of the class so I could hear properly. I'm sure you are aware that kids can be cruel when they see something they don't understand. I used to wear a hearing aid while I was young and some of the kids in class would sneak up behind me and turn it up to full volume. If any of them are reading this, I'd just like to say that it really was very funny. Hilarious. Imagine yourself in that position ... what a laugh you'd have.
It would have been good to have got support from people in the class, but it's just what kids are like. They target the different ones – the kid with glasses, the one with a speech impediment ... even the kid with ginger hair! Once I got a bit older and into comprehensive school I stopped using the aid. I used what hearing I had, as well as learning to lip read. It was one of those things that I couldn't let beat me. It wouldn't hold me back. I don't think people appreciate the disadvantage that some kids are born with. Something they have to overcome before even starting out in life. Those kids, those people it happens to at any time in their lives, they are the real fighters.
I've got two sisters – Kim, the eldest, and Sue – and a younger brother called Colin, our kid. I think I would have preferred to be the youngest one, though, 'cos you get spoiled rotten but, more importantly, you get away with everything. Then again, when I think about the accidents that our Colin endured, it makes me glad I wasn't the youngest. I was always out to test people. You know, to see exactly how much I could get away with before I landed myself in trouble.
First we lived in an upstairs flat in Townend Farm, but soon moved to a nice big four-bedroom house in a place called Downhill ... which was just downhill: 18 Kingsland Square. It was brilliant. My parents, William and Trudy Freeman, had started a taxi firm up from scratch and later sold it on. After that my dad had a spare parts shop on Coronation Street (no, not that one), and my mam had the café next door.
My dad used to keep pigeons when we moved to Downhill and I loved it. I think it gave me a sense of responsibility helping to keep and look after them. One time my dad said we were going to have to let them out at some point to see if they would go away and come back. I wasn't convinced. They were all my pets and I loved every last one of them. The day came when we let them out and they just seemed to fuck right off. They couldn't wait to get away. For the rest of the day I kept checking and checking, but they didn't come back. I was absolutely gutted. Heartbroken. You know what it's like when you're young. They still hadn't come back when it was bedtime, so I went up and practically cried myself to sleep; I wasn't too chuffed with my dad right then, so I'd only said goodnight to my mam to get at him. Dad woke me up dead early in the morning, long before anyone else had got up. Here's me all grumpy and huffing and puffing all the way downstairs until he took me outside and pointed up to the roof. There they were! They had come back! They were sitting there cooing as if nothing had happened and I was dancing around like Bez from The Happy Mondays. In all fairness, though, from their point of view nothing had happened. They had just stretched their wings for a bit and then come home. No problem. They were probably looking at me and wondering what I was on.
My mates and me used to hang around in the square all the time. There were four coal sheds we used as a sort of gang hut when it was raining. There was Cracker (Neil Jenkins), Punner (Lee Puncheon) and Brian Summers who used to knock around, and our Colin. We did all the things kids did back then: climbed trees, built dens, caught bees, played on bikes, went exploring and generally tormented the neighbours half to death. Without sounding like an oldie, they were great times to be a kid. The problem with kids today is that they have got everything and they still complain that they've got nothing to do! They've got absolutely no imagination 'cos most of them are all sitting about playing computer games. Too much cyberspace between their ears.
There's nothing worse than wasting time. I don't see the point in doing something tomorrow when you could do it today, or in half an hour when you could be doing it now. That's what I'm like. Tomorrow never comes and I've got no time for the tomorrow people. If you've got to do something, do it now – then you can't say you never did it or you never tried. If it doesn't work you've always got another day to think of another angle to attempt to sort it out. It goes the same for revenge: I always want it straight away, though sometimes it has to wait. Circumstances dictate the speed you can react, and sometimes you have to know when to hang back a bit. There'll always be times when you leave things too long and you don't have the same amount of passion any more. For instance, there is someone out there now who was in line for such a serious going over, you wouldn't believe it. But, because it had to wait, the passion to bash that person has died down to such an extent that he will just be knocked out instead of taking his meals through a straw for the rest of his life ...
You made your own entertainment back then and there was always plenty to do. I was a right little tearaway. Our Colin and me were always up to something. Once, he was bought an orange tractor and he absolutely loved it. Remember when you used to get toys one week and they would be the best things in the whole world until the week after when you'd get something else? Well, this tractor was the cow's tits for Colin. It was his toy of the moment. Our dad used to take us camping quite a lot and while we were there he'd take us shooting, so as a kid I had my own air rifle. One day I clocked the tractor in the garden and Colin was nowhere in sight. I thought it must have taken the doctors ages to separate the pair of them, so I didn't want to waste such an opportunity. I tied it to the washing line with a piece of string, bounded upstairs, hung out the window, took aim with the rifle. Ping ... Crack! I was like a fucking sniper. It was the dog's. ('Dogs': See 'Dog's Bollocks' or 'the bollocks': a British term for something that is amazing/the business. Originates from a dog being able to lick its own parts – hence the brilliance.)
Here's me sitting there like Scorpio in Dirty Harry – Ping, Ping, Ping, and there's all these bits of orange plastic flying all over the garden. After a few minutes I heard someone else bound up the stairs. You'll never guess who it was ... His first reaction was, 'You'll get wrong for that', but he hadn't even seen what the target was yet. So I'm going, 'Here. Have a go.' He knew it was a bit naughty, but at that age when you're handed an air rifle and told it's all right to shoot it, guess what you're gonna do? By the time he set eyes on the thing it looked nothing like any tractor I've ever seen, so he aimed and pulled the trigger. Ping, Ping ... he loved it. He was getting well into it and falling around laughing – then he asked me what it was he was shooting at. I couldn't lie: 'It's your brand new orange tractor!' He stopped laughing, for some reason. There was that two-second pause that kids do just before they start to bawl their eyes out. And that's when I knew the little git was gonna shop me when our mam and dad got home.
I mentioned the camping with our dad. Another essential for a kid who's out camping is a knife. This is where I should tell you that my parents didn't go out and get us all these dangerous weapons and then train us in armed combat. They weren't international arms dealers, you understand. They had to draw the line when Kim had set her heart on a rocket launcher for her ninth birthday. The sheath knives we had were the real thing, proper knives for proper adventures, and weren't supposed to be touched when our parents were out of the house ... well, unless you knew where they were kept, that is.
Me and our Colin used to love playing cowboys and all that shit. Everyone did. At home we had the album of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly by Ennio Morricone. We used to play the record and act along to it. We would both be standing there looking at each other at each end of the room with the sheath knives fastened to our snake belts. We couldn't have been any more than eight or nine when this happened. It was all pure method acting, real De Niro shit, we wouldn't go for loads of dialogue, it was the actions we were concerned with. Even when you hear that music now you can't help but react to it. It transforms you.
We'd have both thumbs tucked into the front of our belts, sizing each other up and waiting for the music to take hold of us, and then we'd begin to mosey into the inevitable showdown. Our paths would cross in the middle of the room and we'd greet each other with a polite 'Howdy', as we changed ends. Then next time we passed each other it would be, 'Uh, huh', then next time we would throw a real dirty look. This would be proper Sergio Leone stuff: our eyes would narrow to a squint, I'd blow on my trigger fingers to limber them up; Colin's hand would be poised and dangling by his side.
Then the knives would come out. 'Draw!' Quick as a flash my knife is out and, before we know it, it's sticking out of his leg. Colin's rolling about in agony clutching at it and screaming the house down. And I'm thinking it's just as well we didn't have arms dealers as parents or I'd be scraping him off the walls. All the time the record is still going – it's not really the right music for quick getaways so, instead of running away (as you always used to at that point), I felt myself swaggering away up the street in fast motion like Lee Van Cleef after too much campfire coffee. Great times.
When we were young though, we had a fascination with things like that. Nearly everyone I know has at least one scar from where they were messing around with a knife as a kid. Next time you're with your mates, ask around. It'll be like that scene out of Jaws when the three of them are in the boat comparing all their scars from shark attacks and things. At least I gave Colin something to show people, although the circumstances aren't as heroic as a shark bite.
One time we were out in the square indulging in a friendly game of Pass the Dart. And no, before you ask, I'm not going to explain the rules. We used to start close together and end up drifting to well over thirty feet apart, so each throw became more and more dangerous until one of you ended up doing the old King Harold impression. (Stop reading now if you can't work out who got the dart in his head!) He was lucky actually, 'cos this thing had just missed his eye by a fraction – or, rather, I was lucky it had just missed. All of a sudden this gadgey (Gadgey: according to our friends at The Concise Oxford Dictionary, a gadgey is a Makem term for a man, sometimes of a radgey nature. Radgey: going or gone a bit mental – i.e. getting radged up) came running out of his house and scooped Colin up in his arms. There was blood everywhere and he was really screaming this time. That's when I realised it was a bit more serious than usual. Poor kid. He reminded me of a badly deformed Dalek with the dart sticking out of his head. So I'm following along going, 'It's all right, mister. I'll take him home. He'll be all right.' It's when someone intervenes that you know it's serious. That was one of the first times I was aware of the consequences as well. I knew I'd get it ... an eye for an eye and all that. I was just praying my dad wouldn't come at me with a dart in his hand. I got a right old lashing. Don't try that at home, kids, there just isn't the room.
Colin wasn't always the innocent victim, though; he had this trick he would always pull to land me in the shit. Get this, the devious bastard. He'd spit up into the air and throw his head down so the back was now at the top. Then he would manoeuvre himself so that the spit landed on the back of his head! Next he'd run to my mam or dad and say that I'd spat on him. If that's not the mind of a genius at work I don't know what is. He should have been running the space programme. He had me stitched right up. How the hell can you get out of that? I'd get a right clip round the ear for being a dirty pig and he'd get the poor baby treatment. He would always throw me this sly look as well as he was being led away for biscuits or whatever, and so I'd be shouting that he spat on himself and I would get told off even more for making up stories. Some things you just can't win. I bet he lay there for hours at night plotting that one.
Now if you're thinking that I got off lightly in all this, just remember that I had an older sister who, at the time, was a proper, proper tomboy. We made the washhouse into a gang hut one time with carpets and everything. Our Sue was around fifteen years old and I would have been around fourteen. Within the gang there was a bit of a power struggle going on – we both wanted to be leader. Our egos were too big to be partners, so the scene was set for a hostile takeover. Next thing I knew she picked up a brush (of the dustpan and brush variety) and pounded it straight into my head, handle first. It snapped off, leaving this fucking handle stuck in my head! I think it freaked everyone out at the time. It was the most hostile takeover bid you've ever seen. We had just watched West Side Story that day and what a film that was: the Sharks and the Jets, I think that was my first experience of that kind of lifestyle and the romance and mystique that went along with it. Sue must have been a bit moved by it all as well.
I got my own back a while later when we were having what started out as a fun fight. They never did stay fun for long, though, did they? We were fighting and I chased Sue into the kitchen. She was quick off the mark and locked the door behind her. The door had a glass panel, and without thinking I put my fist straight through it trying to get her. Not one of my best moves, but Jack Nicholson would have been well proud. My wrist was cut and bleeding immediately. This was where I decided to go for the injured child routine. If in doubt, try owt. When you've got an injury, who do you go to first? Your dad doesn't go all soppy, does he? It's not that dads don't care. I am one and we do. But when you want the full sympathy vote you have to make it count, so you make a beeline straight for Mammy and turn the waterworks on at exactly the right time. Not that I had to act hurt – remember, my wrist was pouring blood and, believe it or not, it did hurt. The shops were only a few minutes away, so I found her in the middle of the supermarket and bawled my eyes out. I don't think that Ian bleeding all over the place was on her shopping list that day. But if I hadn't gone for the sympathy vote I might have got a bollocking for breaking the glass, you see.
Excerpted from Cage Fighter by Ian Freeman, Stuart Wheatman. Copyright © 2004 Ian Freeman and Stuart Wheatman. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 Boyz 'n the Hood: the mischief years,
2 What a way to make a living,
3 The day that changed my life forever,
4 Step up to get your rep up,
5 Fuck or be fucked: that is the answer,
6 Bentleys gonna sort you out,
8 Flashing lights, CCTV Cameras ... and action,
9 The only weapons you need are the ones you are born with,
10 Don't take my politeness as a weakness,
11 Top Boy,
12 Going all the way,
13 Men of respect,
14 A Maximum High: skills to pay the bills,
15 Glory Days,
16 Never-ending story,
About the Author,