Cousin Joan and Val 1965
I was very inebriated when I had my interview for The Royal College of Art. I’d got there two hours early and consequentially spent time sat on the steps of the Albert memorial working my way through a couple of very large bottles of cheap cider. From my point of view the interview seemed to go well. All twelve tutors sat and laughed at my answers. As I left the room though, a sudden instant drunken gloom descended and I thought, “Shit! I’ve really messed that up”. I knew that they knew that I was pissed.
I passed. This is the story of my life. I always pass.
There were twelve tutors in the room and perhaps because I’d been spotted in the loos putting my make-up on, I later found out that the rumours had started straight away that a drag queen was applying for a place at the prestigious Royal Collage of Art.
Side by side two black and white television sets are switched on in the living room. There aren’t any lights on in the room. My Mother and Father are watching a set each tuned to different channels. A space of around four or five feet or so exists between the television sets. The sound volume is loud on both sets. I sit inbetween my parents, sitting cross legged on the carpet, watching “All our Yesterdays” and “Play for Today” alternately. I told my Mother I wasn’t sure if this image was a dream or a real memory. “Yes” she said, “that’s right, he liked his sport and I liked my programmes.” It is no wonder I grew up strange.
Duality is the key to every aspect of my life.
Cover photo for The Techno Twins single 1980
Gail, my wife has this to say.
There are two keys to understanding the mind of Val Denham. There is the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and the duality. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder has a major impact on her day-to-day life and her creativity, (how’s this for irony? She’s just dusted the screen as I type about her brain!) Val believes that the creative process is in itself a form of neurosis dependent on Seritonin levels. To begin to understand his or her duality do this; if she takes an attitude and you cannot understand it, then find it’s opposite, for then you will begin to understand. Duality runs through every aspect of his/her being. Born a boy, but for many months after her birth, even her Mother was confused. Not knowing whether to dress him in male or female attire. Sometimes she thinks it’s her fault that she is like she is. It isn’t,
It’s biological, something to do with an influx of oestrogen whilst in the womb. This has the effect of the “brain-sex” not developing as it should. A female brain in a male body is the result.
Baby Val with Dad.
I was born on November the fourteenth 1957. Sarto Place in Leeds, Yorkshire, now demolished.
My first memories are of my Dad leaning over my pram to blow smoke in my ear. He later told me that this was a cure for earache, how did he know that I had earache!? I couldn’t even speak yet! I remember the stuffed Panda bear and the lemon yellow duck.
As I grew older I realised that I preferred my own company. Other children seemed a bit rough to me, climbing trees, getting dirty. Fighting each other. Best to stay indoors, watching the telly or drawing. Reading Batman and Superman comics or just dreaming.
My best friend was my cousin Joan who lived next door to us. She was older than me, but a true best pal. We would make tents out of bed sheets, or light fires, go nicking sweets, exciting stuff!
I hated school! It was a big old Victorian building. One afternoon playtime I thought I saw a green turquoise tinge to the sky. It was just like the hot soft crayon between my fingers.
Other boys really like football! I wrote L.U.F.C on my rucksack, all the boys had that on their bags, it means Leeds United Football Club, now I know what it stands for, but for years I wondered what this “lufc” thing was! I swapped something for a football annual, just to appear normal, and then threw it under my bed.
I wasn’t unpopular, other kids liked me to draw cars or naked women for them and I could tell very scary ghost stories. It’s just that I didn’t really fit in. I was a weirdo.
In 1965 my Brother arrived on the scene, I was eight, he’s now taller than me!
My favourite programmes on the television at the time were, “The Outer Limits”, “Dr Who”, “The Twilight Zone” and “The Munsters” all weirdo fodder, I know.
I’m in my fifties now and I find that I’m becoming rather nostalgic about certain things that were important to me in my early childhood (that’s why I’ve re-discovered my childhood passion for monster magazines). I long to reclaim certain objects and feelings from that period of my life. Artistically, I was fascinated by colours as a child, but as I grew up this colour fixation was replaced with subject matter and eventually my own psychological symbolism.
Val in school photo. The flash was too bright!
The beginning of my lust for colour was a series of events, one of which I remember quite clearly, it concerned a book. I was at school, Whingate Primary School in Leeds; I must have been about seven years old. It was winter, grey and dull. Everything seemed dull and grey. I wore grey shorts and grey socks, pulled up to my knees. Sometimes though I wore a bright orange V-necked jumper, which my Mam had knitted for me, but other than that everything was grey; even the television or televisions, at home were black and white and GREY!
In the dining hall at Whingate, running the length of the two longest walls were glass faced book cabinets; their height was lower than an adult. The bookcases were locked but I could see the old books inside, some looked ancient behind the glass doors. Every time we all went into the dining room for lunch I would gaze at the book cabinets. We had aluminium jugs in metallic green, red and blue colours and scratched glasses filled with water by the water monitors, (children especially picked by the headmaster Mr. Taylor for the job of dispensing the water).
One day for some reason I wondered into the dining hall alone. I was standing by the bookcases when Mr. Taylor walked in, “What are you doing?” He asked, “I was wondering what all those old books are Sir?” Mr. Taylor liked me, I could tell and he went to his office to get the keys and then he opened all the cabinets, he said he would tell my teacher that I would be busy for a few hours in the dining hall! He was a great headmaster.
I think Mr. Taylor had always been impressed by the day I was sent to his office by my teacher for never smiling or something. He asked me my favourite joke. “Why is your dog wearing brown boots?” “Because his black ones need polishing!” Ha Ha, I didn’t think it was a very good joke but I didn’t know many others. Probably the weakest joke ever?
Then I pointed at the only picture that he had on his wall and said, “That’s a self portrait of Vincent Van Gogh when he cut his own ear off.” I’d read this information in a magazine for children, so I wasn’t that clever, but Mr. Taylor was very impressed. He asked for my Mother to come up to the school, she had to take the afternoon off work to sit in his office and be told; “Val is different” she was a bit annoyed.
Back to the cabinets, the old books were boring, no pictures, they must have been there since the school was built in the nineteenth century. Then I noticed one with a lovely blue cover and gold writing on the front, “HERALDRY OF THE BRITISH ISLES.” When I flicked through this book I was dumfounded by page upon page of illustrations of shields, banners, Heraldic crests, red lions, yellow stars, gold armour, green grass, endless page after page in colours so vivid that I can never forget them. The thing that truly amazed me was the flat method of printing, there were no dots or half tone modern printing methods involved, just five or six bright colours which were: a French Ultramarine, Golden Yellow, Vermillion or Pillar Box Red, Chrome Green, Black and real Gold ink!
The effect of the blue juxtaposed with the red and the gamboge type golden yellow astounded me; and this combination fascinates me still.
Not long after this experience I remember painting a large mural with the help of my artistic lieutenant in the narrow corridor outside Mr. Taylor’s office. It was of St. George and the Dragon, painted with just four colours, blue, red, yellow, green outlined in black. I complained that my assistant wasn’t good enough. Mr. Taylor allowed me to fire him. I finished it myself. Properly.
The other thing I remember clearly from school took place a long time after. I think that I was ten or eleven, but I got some books from a jumble sale and one of them had wonderful illustrations in of cruise liners up to the 1930s or thereabouts. I had no interest whatsoever in ships but I had to get the book just for the illustrations, not of the ships, but of the skies! THE SKIES! Those skies were unbelievable, dark violet blue at the top gradating in the space of five inches into a fantastic pale cobalt blue at the bottom with maybe a hint of yellow.
I’ve always loved the gradating effect in the sky, when it’s very clear of clouds and the sun has gone down below the horizon for half an hour or so and night is almost upon us. Two of the most beautiful words in the English language belong to this time, twilight and dusk.
When the stars start to show against the cobalt blue fading sky or especially Venus, The Evening Star appears, it’s a sight I know has had a profound influence on me. These skies are much more prominent in Yorkshire* because there is less pollution from exhaust fumes and street lights and the horizon is so much lower and wider than in built up London.
The book of ships was for me a book of abstracts that dealt with colours and shapes; sometimes I would look at the illustrations upside down or from the side. I would also do this with “The Beano” and “Dandy” comics.
Well that’s just two occurrences that I can recall both to do with old books, I still love books, but then so did my Dad. I have a hell of a collection of art books. Now I’ve found that old excitement in colour again and more or less the same colours! The bright ultramarine French blue colour is there again and the golden yellow and bright red are all there and I think maybe some of the shapes I use now possibly derive from coats of arms? The flowing feminine devices? The sharp manly red spikes of stars? Who knows? But one thing is for certain the colours I use are the same as the colours in that old book hiding in the cabinet at school.
* I lived in Yorkshire for the first 21 years of my life. When these notes were made I had been living in London for 16 years, and would do so for another 5 before returning to Yorkshire where I live currently.
In 1970, I went to Harrington High Secondary School in Leeds, an all boys’ school, wow, was that a shit hole. Still, the art teacher (Mr. Butler) suggested that I apply for art college when my time at Harrington High was over, so it wasn’t all bad. I did rugby once (and once only) NEVER AGAIN!!!! Kicking my lovely legs! Bastards! and such a dirty game. Very unpleasant, don’t ever try it. Bloody dangerous.
My last memory of Harrington High (or Cow Close as it was really called before they changed it’s name) was of the teachers calling my friend Mick and myself back on the last day. We put two fingers up. Forever. Bye bye.
I broke my leg, a double fracture when I was 15, roller-skating, don’t ever try it. Bloody dangerous.
Both Jacob Kramer Art College and Bradford Art College accepted me. I was that good at art.
My entire life is constructed brick by brick upon a single whim, a single choice. This way or that way? Both choices are right and both have their own merits. With myself it was the architecture of Bradford College that decided for me. My first wife, my children, my homes, my jobs and my evolution teeter upon the architecture of Bradford College. The pretty entrance to Grove Building was so much more attractive than Jacob Kramer in Leeds. Perhaps it’s just that the sun was shining that day in 1974 when I met the building walking up that hill. I just liked the entrance. So I chose Bradford College.
That’s when I went funny really, art school. I met other people like myself who were also rather odd. We had some real eccentrics in those days.
Photograph by Don McCullin 1977.
I was pathologically shy, Gail took me under her wing and for the first time I had a real girlfriend. She finished with me when I started to change into Caligula.
I dyed my hair, I wore make up. Students and tutors told me that I was a genius.
Who was I to disagree? My parents kicked me out of home when I was 19.
Boy was I a handful. I can’t say that I blame them for it now.
When I left Bradford College around 1978, I went to live in a house that we called “Kipper Villas”. “Hit The Ripper with a kipper” was our motto. There was Antal, Fiona, Kim, Elita and myself, all living in an alternative family. The girls went out to work, whilst Antal and I did our make up and made strange music. It was pretty wild I can tell you. Ah, the drink, the drugs. You know the story.
Shortly after, I was back at art college, but this time in London at The Royal College of Art.
I got a “Master of Arts” degree, a lot of good that did me. I mean what do you do with it?
At the RCA, I did painting, printing and perfomance art. “Coum Transmissions” and my old friend Genesis P.Orridge inspired the performance art bit that I did there. Yup, I was the poor mans Coum.
I met Genesis in 1979, when I went down for my interview at the RCA.
It was at the RCA that I first formed a band with Mike Wells, later of “Greater Than One” and “Tricky Disco” fame. The band was called “The Death and Beauty Foundation”
I got married in January 1980 to Elita; we were married for 21 years until our divorce.
She finished with me when I started to change into Caligula on acid.
My wedding in 1980.
I left the Royal College of Art in 1982 and embarked on my freelance artist phase. That’s when I did all those record covers for Marc Almond, Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, etc.
I had a job for a year as an archivist, photographing graveyards and churches.
I also learnt about the joys of alcoholism.
My colleague Peter taught me about physics and God.
We watched as a vicar came toward us shimmering and undulating in the heat from the grass burning between the gravestones. The sky so cobalt blue, the fire orange as it parted the waves. “Why is the grass on fire?” we enquired, “Lawnmowers are too wide for these narrow strips of grass and weed” was this dark vision of a holy man’s reply. This wasn’t a dream either.
“The Death and Beauty Foundation” eventually became “Silverstar Amoeba” a group that had Oli Novadnieks and myself as the only permanent members. We became known simply as Val and Oli. (Clever!)
Then after the archivist job, I got a proper job with the Council. Consumer Protection Services, Welfare Benefits Unit. I was the only graphic artist. That lasted 13 years, until the bastards made me redundant. Walthamstow Council it was. I spent most of the time drawing my own Tranart as they were paying me to sit there from 9 till 5.
In 1987 my daughter was born, that forced me to grow up somewhat. An Angel sent from Heaven above.
I was painting and recording on four-track tape all the time, sometimes with Mr. ace guitar Oli and sometimes just solo. We did many gigs, supporting groups such as “Psychic TV”, “Einsturzende Neubauten” and even “The Virgin Prunes” at The Hammersmith Palais.
In 1990 my beautiful son was born, that forced me to grow up somewhat. That boy will break so many hearts, without a doubt. He probably is, even now. He’s very clever and making quite a name for himself.
During the mid 1990’s I went mad. I saw a psychologist called Loretta, and discovered that I have a severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder problem. I also have a gender identity thing going on, no kidding?
Yes, I clean and tidy and straighten things a lot. I’m incurable, and basically do I really want to be cured? Would I still be me? I kinda like being who I am.
Gail loves me just as I am and the house is nice and tidy. It influences my art. Ahhhh………….who wants to be normal anyway? A square, no thanks.
I got divorced in 2001. I came back to Yorkshire after two decades in London. The prodigy returns.
I’d lost my job with the council, I lost my kids, wife and home, I was as redundant as it’s possible to be and to top it all I was a man! Why not top yourself Denham?
Sod it. I was going back to my roots.
Gail and I live in Bradford near the countryside and cows. We love it here.
I live as a female now and I seem to be accepted by almost everyone. I’m so much happier with my life. I think that I may have missed out some important stuff in this biography? Never mind, I’ll add it as I remember.
Our Life (July 2004)
The house is always very, clean and tidy and as Val is only comfortable about himself doing the tasks involved, it means I NEVER EVER have to do housework. Fantastic!
I do the driving and the cooking and am sometimes I am allowed to wash up, which is a bit of a treat as it is something I quite enjoy; I wash up as I cook to get round this. I love cooking and don’t mind driving so it works out quite well. Val doesn’t drive because she lived in London for so long and you really don’t need a car down there, as public transport is so good.
In Yorkshire, you need a car; the transport system isn’t as good. There are lots of gorgeous places and pubs to visit that are not easily accessible by bus. Sure you can get into town but it’s not somewhere we want to go at weekends as its far too rough. We like to go to the cinema in town on a Tuesday, (tickets half price).
One of our favourite activities is painting together. We are both passionate about art. We have such a fantastic time sitting companionably at the table, taking it in turn to choose the music, and painting our pictures. It is hard to over estimate how much fun this gives us.
We are introducing each other to our tastes in music, expanding our listening repertoire. I love classical music, Vaughan Williams, Elgar, William Walton, Satie, Debussy etc., Stephen Sondheim (whom I adore), The Beatles, Velvet Underground, Louis Armstrong, Sammy Davis Junior, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Burt Bacharach, (Aretha Franklin singing “Say A Little Prayer”), music from musicals, and most other music with the exception, for some unfathomable reason, of Rhythm and Blues and Folk Music (I loath Morris Dancing bitterly too. Honestly, if the English must have Folk Dancing why does it have to be so cringe makingly atrocious? Please don’t answer the question is rhetorical and any hate mail will be ignored).
Val loves The Residents and she’s turning me into a fan, The Velvet Underground (which I introduced her to when she was 17), The Beach Boys, Dionne Warwick singing Burt Bacharach, Satie, Joe Meek, Outkast, Red Hot Chilli Peppers (who doesn’t like them?), Nick Drake, Marvin Gaye, Arthur Brown, Bernard Hermann, Syd Barrett, Iggy and The Stooges, The Carpenters and Tiny Tim. When we are painting it is perhaps the quietist that we ever get, the rest of the time conversation is practically continual.
We do spend a lot of time talking; we are both inquisitive and interested in many things. One or the other always knows something the other doesn’t, sometimes we explore our ignorance together, sometimes alone. Val’s more likely to read non-fiction than me, (the exception is newspapers); so sometimes I read fiction to her. Val’s a very funny person and laughter is rarely far away when I’m in her company.
There are certain things we like to do and places we visit on quite an irregular regular basis. Some of them are Book Fairs, second hand bookshops in lovely old country towns like York, Harrogate, Knarsborough, Hebdon Bridge and Haworth and antique complexes, We are also very lucky to live a quarter of an hour away from Salts Mill in Saltaire, a U.N. World Heritage Site. A fabulous Victorian wool mill converted into various things such as a Home shop, a super restaurant, two excellent bookshops, an art gallery for David Hockney etc. We love going down there to eat and potter.
We like staying in too. We’ve done quite a lot of that this summer, as the weather has not been so good. (I am wearing winter clothes as I type this!) We both enjoy films and reading.
If the weather is fine we’ve a very good pub only a mile away. The last half of the walk there is through some very pretty countryside. On Mondays we go to a pub quiz in a beautiful old country pub that’s only an hours walk away (if we feel energetic). There’s a group of eight of us who do the quiz together, and sometimes we win, depending on the questions! It makes Monday fun knowing that you are going out in the evening. Tuesday we quite often go to the cinema. We like eating out with friends, we’ve a couple of goods tapas restaurants nears us. We like Chinese and Indian (but rarely have it, as there are so many calories in it!). Val always says that if she were going to be executed she’d like her last meal to be Hot and Sour Soup, Prawn Toast and Crispy Duck Pancakes. We both like fish, salads, fresh fruit, lamb and beef. Val could eat pizza until it came out of her ears (what a hideous thought?); she’s a big fan of all Italian food. We’ve recently discovered Elizabeth David’s recipe for Spaghetti Bolognese sauce, it has chicken livers in it and no tomatoes to speak of; it tastes very rich and is filling. We love banana and half fat Crème Fraiche for breakfast; this is good with little extras added e.g. raspberries, strawberries or apricots. As it is crumb free we can have breakfast in bed at the weekends with the newspapers.
Val with Mam and Dad in Blackpool 1963.
The results of three years of hormone treatment.
It’s now been three years this January since I started my hormone treatment.
I take 3 mgs of oestrogen tablets and I have an injection of testosterone blocking medication every three months.
At first the only thing that I was aware of were that my breasts felt tender and a little painful. However after three years, the transformation has become very obvious. My breasts are still growing. They are a little painful if I bump into things and they itch as the skin is stretching. The full impact of hormone therapy won’t be seen for four to five years. I have practically no hair growing on my body now. Even the hair on my legs has become much finer. I only shave them once a week out of habit. I could really leave them for about a month. My old jeans no longer fit, as they are too big on my waist. My bum has got noticeably larger and my skin seems to have developed an extra layer of fat making me much softer. I’ve been told that my skin is very soft. The muscles in my arms have somehow disappeared. The result is that I’m not nearly as strong as I used to be. I can’t lift heavy stuff like I used to do. Several people have told me that my face has changed. It is rounder and softer. To be honest, I really think that it has made me look a little younger! I’m now 51 and sometimes people are surprised by this fact. I’ve been told that my voice has gone up a few octaves; I’ve noticed that my singing voice is somewhat higher than it was. I always liked to sound as though I had a deep rich voice in the past. Now it seems a bit shrill! But mostly the effects of the hormones have been wonderful. It’s just as I would have wanted it to be. When I step outside the house now wearing jeans and a sweatshirt with no make up on, I’m still called “Miss” and “Love”.
The psychological effects are a bit more complicated. I can get very angry at the slightest provocation. I tend to fly off the handle quite easily. I’ve been told that I can be somewhat “waspish”. I cry much more. I even cry when it gets very dramatic on television programmes such as “Eastenders”!! I cried thinking about the brave pilot who managed to land the plane in the Hudson River saving all those lives. Having said that, I don’t feel as neurotic or nervous like I used to. I feel less stressful now. I’ve never suffered from depression and I still don’t, thank goodness. I’m just as cheerful and excitable as I always was. I’m fortunate in that I have small hands and feet (size 7). I never had an Adam’s apple anyway.
So, what is the downside? Well, my libido has dropped considerably. I used to be randy a lot of the time, now it’s much more subtle. I still have orgasms but not as often and they’re not nearly as powerful as I don’t produce sperm only seminal fluid. My testosterone count is just 2 and my oestrogen is stabilized at 300.
I read a lot of crap about the results of female hormones on the male body before I took them. I read that “they are very weak nowadays and you won’t get any real results”. Well, I think that I’m living proof that this statement simply isn’t true. It was the best thing that I ever did. I really should have started on hormone treatment years ago. I will take them for the rest of my life now. If anyone were thinking of doing the same thing, I would say go for it. Try them. Ask your GP. You can always come off them if they don’t suit you.
But as far as I’m concerned God bless oestrogen.
Saturday 16th April. 5 -15 pm.
I always have such difficulty starting things that I intend to be masterpieces.
It has taken me one hour, thirty-four minutes to get this far.
Now exhausted, I rub my eyes. My jaw aches because I’ve been chewing gum for a long long time.
Time. Why not write about time? I have often flirted with time; it burns the walls and scars my face.
Today’s time has not been wasted though; I have used it to the limits.
I did some small gold things which I won’t bother to explain, mounted a masterpiece………….oh, I have the radio playing by my right hand and there is a record on by The Damned, don’t know what it’s called, but I like it. I even mention it in my diary. It’s weird the way that the last six months have seen The Sex Pistols for example, rise and fall, weird that Sid Vicious’ name should be known by everybody, old and young, via the front pages of our National Daily Dirt.
Punk rock / rock / New Wave is it here to stay or perhaps just change things? Good music doesn’t necessarily equate with technical proficiency. Now that we’ve established that this “Punk rock” has proven a definite plus in the overall quality of this music lovers life, maybe it’s time to stop being complacent. Things need to change, that’s what such movements are all about right? Anyway, it’s not the music. The music is only an excuse. Goodbye anti-mind expansion. Hello quick contraction. Languorous psychedelic lovemaking disappears if you can’t afford to get high. Here comes the Summer of Hate.
What else have I done today?
Polished a new knife.
Enough of these trivialities, why should I have to do this! I’m just not academic! You probably won’t even read this will you? Just skim your eyes across each page to see if it has words on it. I’m bleeding blue blood on the paper. Where was I? All the hippies fade away into rainwashed Bob Dylan posters hanging off the walls. So what, I hate everything. I will ring Christine (Christine Head)soon. I love her. Don’t worry my writing always starts off badly, I don’t mean the handwriting, I mean the words. It will pick up I promise.
Time. Oh yes, that’s it, never enough of it or far too much for comfort.
Looked at my Wrangler jacket hung on the white door of my room. It looks so perfect, so clearly outlined, each thread seems so sharp, it hurts my eyes. A blue shape against a white rectangle. A marriage of soft and hard, of straight and irregular, lovely. Faded cobalt blue denim. Just lovely.
I am now trying to squeeze into clothes that I had when I was eight.
Outside my window the flowers are whispering “mutiny”.
6 – 55 pm
Donald Duck burns in Hell.
7 – 45 pm
Earlier on this afternoon I had a rather embarrassing experience in the small V.G. store, just over the road from where I live. A woman that works there on Saturdays was serving behind the meat counter at the far end of the shop. She must be about thirty or there abouts? I don’t really know, because I’m very bad at guessing peoples ages. Anyway she always seems to treat me in a strange manner, or at least I think she does. Either she fancies me or she thinks that I’m a homosexual. Well, walking up to me she said “Hello”. I quietly replied hello back to her. She didn’t hear me, so she stared at me as if she had been offended. Then she smiled this huge grin and she repeated much louder “Hello!” I forced a giggle and replied again with the same. Then I said “Mrs. Denham’s bap loaf please”. They keep the bread behind the meat counter, ordered bread that is. She fumbled a piece of wrapping paper from under the counter. “Er, it’s already wrapped” I said seeing mothers bap loaf on the shelf. Her name written on its side.
“Oh it is” she said handing me it, Then she took it back and said “I’ll just wrap it again because it looks a bit loose”. All the while she stared at me. So much fuss I thought. She eventually gave me the loaf and I felt that I should say something because she was still smiling at me. I didn’t though. I just gave her a polite smile back and walked straight the cash counter with my much-wrapped loaf; I also picked up a normal cut loaf and a bottle of milk. At the cash till, I made a rather silly grab at some chewing gum and horror of horror, I dropped the bap loaf! I ruined its glorious wrapping. I quickly turned to see if she was looking at me. Yes she was still smiling at me a lot. Too much smiling in my opinion.
Thursday 21st April 8- 55 pm
Fuck off world (In your own language)
Saturday 23rd April
Today an atom bomb was dropped on Leeds.
I was the only survivor, because I was sat on the toilet at the time wrapped in silver foil. I didn’t know, I wasn’t aware.
I pulled the foil from my eyes to observe a dead city. Crispy babies in their oven prams. The flowing slush of molten flesh flowing around my feet. Burning tulips. Doggies on fire. Birdies scorching all the leaves on all the skeleton trees. They fall faster than the people do.
Even the clouds look burnt.
Outside children were playing in the sunshine. Such innocence. They are playing with their darkest toys today. Out there amongst the most deadly flowers lurks the answer. Out there the trees are black against the blue sky. The children can’t laugh and the birds can’t sing. Not today.
Such a hot day.
A flower is wilting, it needs water.
But not a raindrop in the sky.
So I piss on it.
Wednesday 18th May 5 – 55 pm
I have almost completed my black box. This is a black box, which I have neatly constructed from thick black card with gold card covering the inside. The box contains several poems, a few manuscripts, some hand painted etchings, two lino prints, some screen prints, one watercolour etc. All on various types of paper, ranging from newsprint to expensive hand made papers. The subject of all the documents and prints in the box is “His Arm Was Her leg”, based on a drawing, which I did some months ago. I liked the title of the drawing and I decided to take it further. Hence the black box idea. Everything in the box is to do with the line “His arm was her leg”. Today I did a piece for the box entitled “She flung herself into his arm”, which involves the first etching cut out and pasted on some paper. The etching is of a man lying down with a woman metamorphosised into his body, with her leg as his arm. I have turned the etching around so that the woman with her hands in the air appears to be jumping into the mans arm, hence the pun “She flung herself into his arm”. I will do one pen and ink drawing and the box is complete. The box is inspired by a box made by Marcel Duchamp called “The green box” which he filled with facsimile notes and images concerning his project “The Large Glass”. I am obsessed at the moment with the work of Marcel Duchamp and I’ve taken out all the books relating to him from the library that I can find on him. I’m especially keen to learn about his large glass, which has been a tremendous inspiration to me a lately.
I then go on to fill 33 pages about Duchamp’s Large Glass Also entitled “The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors. Even”
Sunday 9th April 1978.
5 – 25 pm
On Wednesday I didn’t do a thing all day because I took some heavy duty L.S.D.
I will explain what I felt like and what my experiences were, simply because I will enjoy remembering them and writing them down on paper as I remember them.
The thing is of course that it’s difficult to explain your own trip, because it is never the way that words try to explain it.
My dad was at work until 7. 00 pm and my mam went off to work at 1. 00 pm. My brother was at school, so I had the house to myself.
As soon as mam went out of the door to work and into the world of reality, I popped this tiny piece of black shit into my gob. Then I sat on the carpet in my bedroom and listened to some records. I played Devo a lot.
I waited for a sign that would tell me that I was across the universe.
Nothing happened, I’d been done.
It was 4 o’clock and my brother was home, wanting his tea already.
So, disillusioned I decided to make my tea as well, seeing as how I felt as sober as a judge. I was having some fried pigs liver, because mother said that I was looking a bit “peaky”, so I need to “get some liver down me”, she said.
After the fat had melted in the pan, I dropped the two red pieces of liver in.
Shhhhhhhhhhhh! Went the liver, as a multitude of golden bubbles clung to their sides. I made a pot of tea, put some lettuce on a plate, did some mushrooms, looked at the liver, just to check that it was that it was cooking nicely, when, I noticed to my surprise that the two pieces of liver were climbing out of the pan, one after the other like giant black slugs trying to save themselves from the heat. Well, I just had to smile, as I stood there wide-eyed and frozen to the spot in my slippers. My brother became suspicious, “what ya looking at?” He said puzzled at my strange behaviour.
“Oh nothing, eat your tea” I replied without turning my eyes away from the liver monsters.
I then somehow managed to kill the liver twins with a fork. The tea tasted lovely. I thought I should finish with a doughnut. I took a bite of the doughnut and chewed. Then I took another bite and chewed……….and chewed. This operation seemed to last for hours. It was endless! It seemed impossible to get to the end. I presume that my doughnut experience lasted around 2 years or so. It was like doing a college degree. I mastered in doughnut chewing. Eventually, I gave in and took the doughnut outside and threw it under a passing car.
It suddenly dawned on me that I must be tripping. My spine began to feel very tight as if it was pushing its bones together, as if I were very tense or excited, rather like the feeling that you get in your back when going down a helter skelter (na! na! na! na!) or going forwards on a swing. Very clammed up.
I washed the dishes then I watched the television. I watched a programme called “Pop Quest”; a pop music orientated quiz show for kids. This programme lasted for half an hour, but seemed to last for hours. The colour was simply too much, I couldn’t tell if certain bits were filmed in solarized trick photography special effects or whether it only appeared that way to me alone.
I could see the embarrassment and red blushes of the young trendy quizmaster. I could detect every tiny nervous twitch, every thought.
Eventually this pop programme did end and after the adverts and a few very fast programmes came the news. Boring. Switch off.
I was stood there in the living room. Semi darkness had fallen fast. Twilight.
I looked at the clock. My mother had asked me to meet her off the bus with her heavy shopping bags. Wednesday was her shopping day. It was 6 o’clock. I had to meet her at the bus stop just down the road.
I went into my bedroom and stood in the twilight, my back very tense, looking at the big piece of brown wrapping paper that covered the A2 drawing pad. I saw millions of tiny swirling figures, symbols in the brown paper. Swirling slow then fast. Cartoon men and women. Embossed in the paper. A moving relief print, painted in delicate colours, green, pink, orange. Interlocking symbols like Escher, perfect, beautiful. I picked up a small piece of white paper and a pencil. I tried to draw, copy the shapes. But when I looked at the white paper and touched it with my pencil all I saw were more of the little men and women with Mickey Mouse heads, swirling in spirals. I crouched down with my face one inch above the paper, looking deeply like a microscope. Looking into the very structure of the paper. Deep down there were even tinier embossed symbols, hundreds and thousands. Fucking hell it was too much. My eyes drifted up to the clock, a quarter past six, I put on my Levi jacket fast. I walked out of the house. I walked past my brother, he said something but I didn’t hear him. I was walking in a lovely silence. I became deaf. Only the gentle wind was rushing past my ears. My body hovered; my feet didn’t touch the ground. A slow ride down the road. The journey took a long time (only three minutes in reality). I pass the next-door neighbour washing his car, he said something and I just replied “yes, hello”. I was floating down the street. A silver car turns Day-Glo orange. It was so beautiful. My eyes were straight in front. The perspective was immaculate. Then I found myself at the bus stop. I wait for mother’s bus to arrive. The giant bus stops at the giant bus stop. “Hiya mam!” I grabbed both of her bags, heavy heavy. I stared at her face! Her make up ran riot, flashing blue eye shadow, fluorescent lipstick, blushing blusher!
“What are you looking at, have I got something on my face?” she asked.
She was talking about something on the walk back? I only understood bits.
Back home, I had a cup of tea and a Mars bar. The telephone rang, brrring brinnng!! I answer, “Hello this is Val Denham”. It was my girlfriend Christine. She talked words. I tried so hard to listen. I tell her that my Mars bar is alive. Christine asked me a question, I giggled like a moron. She suspected that I had taken something and she was angry with me. I tried to explain. She wasn’t angry now. She told me that she loved me and I told her that I loved her. I hung up.
I went back into my bedroom to entertain myself with magazines, my tape recorder, photographs and the walls.
I went into the bathroom to wash my hair and it looked so orange.
I really quite liked the orange hair.
Dad went to bed, as he had to be up early the next day. I went into the living room and my mother was watching television with her feet up. She had “Arena” the arts programme on. It was about the sculptor Carl Andre of the controversial bricks in the Tate art gallery fame. He’s fat with long hair and a beard.
My mother looked at me and said, “How do you get famous making rubbish like that?” She looked at me for a reply, but I found it really hard to talk. I wanted to sound sensible. “Er………..well………because if he was an artist or if he is a sculpture………….then his bricks would have a cohesive aesthetic property that could hold its own ground, then people would push him up to a status where money is equal, indeed worth more than his art or his fame………..see?”
I was talking total shit. She had a puzzled look on her face. “Oh” she said.
We watched a play as I slouched in my armchair. I felt knackered. The television kept freezing. I looked at mam to see if she said anything, but she didn’t so it must have been in my mind. When the television closed down at midnight, I went to bed. I went into the bathroom for a wash. I looked in the mirror. I was very tired. I looked so ugly, red spotty face; bloodshot eyes and my roots needed doing badly. I looked awful. I somehow managed to clamber into bed at 1 am. I turned off the light. I needed to sleep so badly. I felt as though the trip was over, I could relax now. But I couldn’t, it went on and on. Black shapes. Green clouds moving about in my room. Oh fuck off now! I closed my eyes but I could hear noises. Animals were in the attic. Squeaks. My family were snoring so loud! Someone shouted my name and my eyes opened startled. Oh I wanted to sleep. I crouched into a foetal position under the blankets. My back was still tense. I fell asleep hours later to a cacophony of noises. The next day I was depressed.
Wednesday 12th April 1978.
Now this is what happened this afternoon about half past two. It will sound like I’m making it all up in an effort to make interesting reading, but I can assure you that every single word and detail is absolutely true. The incident that happened this afternoon does resemble a scene in Woody Allen film called “Everything you ever wanted to know about sex, but were afraid to ask”, if you have seen the film then you will know which scene I’m referring to.
Well, as with the mental LSD trip that you’ve just read about, today is Wednesday and I missed college again. Mummy and Daddy were at work; my brother was at school, leaving me to run a mock yet again. The house all-empty but for me.
Well, half past two I decided to do a spot of shopping. I stepped out of the house. I was only going to the shops just up the road, so I thought it best to leave the door unlocked. I shut the door then checked to make sure it was open. It wasn’t. I’d accidentally left the Yale lock on. Shit.
The problem was that I was stood there on the doorstep wearing a pink polo neck jumper that belonged to my mother, Black velvet skirt, black stockings, wedge sandals A navy blue jacket of my mothers A red and white woolly ladies hat pulled over my ears and forehead. I had a shopping bag. I wore a padded bra and two tons of make up.
I stood there wondering what to do.
I went around the back of the house to see if the French windows were locked. They were. I tugged very hard at the aluminium handles on the French windows and pulled both off. I panicked, thinking that I might be seen. I went around to the locked side door and then I looked around and saw a very big boulder in the garden painted white. I hurled it through the glass section of the door. I put my hand through and released the lock then I was back inside. I quickly changed then went back to observe the damage.
I managed to hammer the aluminium handles back into shape and screwed them back onto the French window. They looked okay. Then I got a sweeping brush and shovel and solemnly went to clean up the mess, just like Norman Bates and the bathroom in Psycho. I stood there looking at the annihilated door from inside the house, brush in hand. The sky grew overcast and very dark. It began to snow furiously. Here lives surrealism. A Magritte painting, this great gapping hole in the door, with snow whizzing into the house in a diagonal angle and a lot of the snow beginning to settle on the carpet in a neat area the size of a rug. I cleaned all the glass up and then I looked for some cardboard or even hardboard to cover up the hole. There was none, so I looked for a newspaper, there was none. So I used this weeks “New Musical Express”. When my brother came home from school he stood outside. I thought he was looking at the hole for far too long, but he was reading about Patti Smith and Elvis Costello.
When my mother got home she was furious, “What a stupid thing to do” she shouted, “There’s a spare key in the green house!” I didn’t know that. So why didn’t you just give me a call at work? To give her credit, she told my father that she’d done it, as I’m not getting on at all with my father these days. I was just so worried that my parents might come home and find me stood on the doorstep dressed in ladies clothes!
Note: Some years later I did tell my Mother and she found it all rather amusing.