Before another gardening tip, here’s another council story.
One lunchtime in 1986 while working at St Stephen’s Gardens W11, I was enjoying a cheese and onion sarnie in the park’s hut reading the NME when I heard what I thought was the foreman’s lorry pull up outside. Thinking I’d fallen asleep and lost track of time, I brushed off the crumbs, flung the music paper into the corner and jumped out of the shed ready for an afternoon’s work.
Outside, I realised there was no foreman’s van but saw the back of a large car zoom off into the distance. I then noticed a very familiar figure in a coach-driver’s blazer wearing a pink beret with orange hair sticking out at the sides and realised it was John Lydon. As a one time Sex Pistols fan, I was well excited, the last time I had met him was when I was fifteen, after their gig in Coventry where he said to me “hello, hello, hello, hello” in that funny voice of his. What should I say now, something corny like “your band changed my life” to which Lydon would reply sarcastically “to what, a council gardener?” No I don’t think so.
With some quick thinking, I said “excuse us mate, got any idea of the time?” which he initially ignored, so I said it again a bit louder and pointed to an imaginary watch on my arm. He looked at me with that mad stare of his and replied in classic Johnny Rotten style “ten to one”, before walking off into an old man’s pub for a pint. Excellent, I had just met Johnny Rotten! When the foreman did turn up (he was of similar musical taste) he was well chuffed but we had to go to an estate to pull out a large Pyracantha or he’d have popped into the pub to see him. Work always seems to get in the way.
That’s one pistol, here’s another. Later that year, one of my jobs was maintaining the flower beds outside Maida Vale library where I’d sometimes see the original pistol’s bassist Glen Matlock wandering past. At a gig at ULU by Boys Wonder (who were trying to mould themselves on the early pistols at the time) I was introduced to him and he seemed a down to earth guy.
A few months later, I bumped into Matlock again, having recently read an interview with him about the early days for some article about “10 years of Punk”. Being at the time, one who took things a little too serious, I though celebrating “10 years of Punk” was a load of old rubbish, as wasn’t Punk originally supposed to be against nostalgia?
I was walking down Shirland Road with my petrol mower on my way back to the shed for a cup of char at 3pm when I saw him. He didn’t initially recognise me from the ULU gig in my council gear but soon got talking. After a while I mentioned the 10 years of Punk article and got a bit steamed up (What do I know, in 1976 I was 14, wore patch-pocket baggies, had on spoon shoes and rode a racer with drop handlebars, not that punk eh?).
The situation must have looked ridiculous from where he was standing, a council worker in a donkey jacket with green twine around the waist holding it together (as the buttons had fallen off earlier that year) following him down the road pushing a lawn mower ranting about Punk. He made a swift exit into a nearby pub leaving me outside unable to follow him in with my mower and the pub’s “no overalls or work boots” rule. I do feel a prat now and I bet you he probably felt a bit shaky whenever he saw a council worker for a few months after. Not good…