‘An Unusual Life’, London & Summerhill 1975

Chapter 7

His mother brought him a sister

And she told him we must attend to her needs

She’s so much younger than you

Well he ran down the hall and he cried

Oh how could his parents have lied

When they said he was an only son

He thought he was the only one

Oh, what a lonely boy

Oh, what a lonely boy

Oh, what a lonely boy

(Andrew Gold)

St. Ann’s Villas, at the bottom of Holland Park Road, would be the sight of many drug deals, stings and raids by the flying squad and it was where dad and I would eventually come into conflict over how crazy our – his and by extension my own – life would become. But that was later, after we’d gone to Summerhill. And after my brother had left to live with our godfather Peter in California and Sally and the new baby, Buddy, had been extracted to the country by Sally’s parents.

In the mid 70s, with the end of the Vietnam war, the hippie era was coming to a close. Often what was left of all the dreams were some pretty hardcore addictions. Meaning heroin, which for anyone unable to deal with too painful emotions was an understandable choice. If you really wanted to get lost, as Chet Baker might tell you, that drug was your ticket. It took away all the pain.

Because so many of the white freaks had gotten into harder drugs and the black musicians were mostly into weed, black music was in the ascendancy at the time. A few of those musicians became a source of grounding and frankly imparted wisdom for Jake and me at the time, to help try and make sense of our unusual world. We occasionally saw Osibisa – the band that Tommy had managed and funded the first recordings of – but we stayed in touch regularly with  Wendell Richardson, the original singer from the band who dated our aunt Lulu for a while. Our grandmother Pamela painted a very abstract and cool picture of what I think was Lulu and Wendell dancing. In the picture you can clearly make out the black and purplish figure of an African, dancing with a white woman. Around this time, after he left the band and their new singer, Teddy Osia, took over, Wendell released his own album, with one or two love songs about aunt Lulu. Osibisa were based in Harlesden and Northwest London – but there was a lot of good West Indian music all over London at the time, mostly dub. This was a time when Island Records was booming and I got the chance to catch a glimpse of Bob Marley, who was playing at a big right of passage music place in Fulham, called The Nashville, where the Clash also played. When dad popped in to do a bit of business and I was too young to go in because it sold alcohol, I was waiting outside, bored as usual when waiting for dad to do his deals. Suddenly I was blown away by the sound and energy coming from inside the venue. I didn’t know them before, but it was Bob Marley and the Wailers. I peeked through the door to catch a glimpse. Apparently for a while Tommy was tipped to be manager for Bob Marley, but I think the word from people like Chris Blackwell and Mim Scala, who was the head of marketing at Island for a while, was that Tommy was ok until he got into smack. According to Greenfield’s research Marley and Tommy at least had a few meetings about the possibility. 

A lot of people ascribe the exact turning point, when everything changed and this young culture was forced to address adult themes – as opposed to singing about flower power and boys and girls – to the recording and release of Exile on Main Street. In its epic gospel ballads, ‘Shine a Light’ and ‘Let it Loose’, you can almost feel the need to exorcise the demons, having lost so many friends and family around the end of the sixties. For years I associated those tracks with mum, because they were recorded around the time she died. If you can personalise music it’s always a mark of good art. In fact, Shine a Light had originally been penned by Jagger for Brian Jones. However, there was a sense of a need for change, something new in the air and along with Punk, black or mixed race music, reggae and two-tone was on the rise. Although I often think I can be a bit harsh on dad for getting so deeply into junk during this period of his life, a lot of it was because I idolised him and it was hard to watch. I gather Tommy and Sally felt like they were ‘communing with the gods’. To Jake and me, watching, the experience was anything but heavenly and an emotional minefield to navigate.

Life was very much hand to mouth around this time. We lived with dad and Sally, dad’s new partner, in the living room of her little flat at the top of No. 6, St Ann’s Villas. There wasn’t much money and we would feed ourselves with whatever we could find in the kitchenette, but were not allowed to touch anything for the cat, which was our running joke. When things were tense in the flat with Sally, who was unwilling to acknowledge us as part of Tommy, we’d get sent to stay with dad’s former racing mechanic, Mike, in the World’s End council estate. Mike was still a huge motor racing enthusiast. He would take us to classic car race meets and regale us with tales of wild antics on the track – the gist of them being that, while dad was fast, he did come off the track a fair bit. On one occasion this was caught on television, when dad’s car left the track and a wheel, which had detached itself, went bouncing down the road smashing through the billboard advertising Goodyear Tyres – for better grip. This made Mike laugh out loud. He also said dad could be bad-tempered when working on the cars or in the pits. 

Dad was genuinely saddened by Sally’s unwillingness to see us as a family. Her expressed wish for us not to live in the flat was impossible and caused a rift that over time only got worse – on at least one occasion it reduced dad to tears outside St. Ann’s Villas – which can be a pretty frightening sight for a kid. All he wanted was for the four of us to live together.

I don’t know how Sally got into heroin, I know that – according to Dad – she was already using when they met and that she moved in pretty wealthy and hip circles. Her ex-boyfriends had big houses and drove Porsches. We didn’t get out of the house much, but when we did it might be to visit one of those ex-boyfriends or an old friend of dad’s, like Michael Pearson – a phenomenally wealthy property tycoon and owner of Cupid Productions, which made ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ directed by Godard and ‘Vanishing Point’. At one of Michael’s parties, we dined at a Moroccan restaurant in Chelsea and afterwards went back to his place to look at the rotating ceiling of constellations and sun signs above his huge bed. We caught a lift back from there, courtesy of one of Sally’s exes, where Jake and I crammed in the back and Sally sat on dad’s lap on the passenger side. We experienced the pull and thrill of driving in a Porsche. You definitely got a sense that the tight fraternity that had been alt-culture was dividing, with many of the wealthy and not addicted going off in their own direction and back to their social strata. For me, subconsciously, it was an awkward and slightly painful reality to deal with and that was aside from the difficult dynamic with Sally, around whom we had to be aware not to make any noise. I suspect Sally just didn’t really like children until her own son Buddy came along. He was a sweet kid and a great bouncing baby. Ironically he would go on to become a highly skilled and decorated soldier, following in his maternal grandfather’s shoes, who had also been a successful military man.

Godfather, Peter Van Gerbig

The first time my brother and I saw a punk in real life we were walking up Holland Park Avenue to visit our godfather, Peter Van Gerbig, at the posh end of Notting Hill. The punk had the full on mohican haircut and studs and safety pins attached to her face. My brother and I both wondered what the hell we just saw. We’d heard they hung out in the Kings Road, especially on the last Saturday of the month, when a parade of classic cars would cruise down there. Our godfather was the only son of a very wealthy and eccentric American heiress from the Gatsby era. He was a friend of dad’s, was an amazing cook and had a wicked sense of humour. A fair amount of their friendship was built around their opposite natures, but also around their common ground: cars. Dad liked to drive them as fast as possible. Peter, on the other hand, was a bit of a connoisseur and liked to collect them. The two famously went to an auction with the intention of buying the car from ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ – the film based on Ian Fleming’s book. 

When they returned we were crushed that they didn’t get the famous flying car. Apparently they were outbid. Instead Peter had bought one of the huge open topped Mercedes limousine staff cars, I think it had belonged to Himmler. 

An invitation to Peter’s house was always welcome. At first we’d go and visit him at his house in Campden Hill Square, usually for a decent meal and sometimes just to have an outing. Dad and Sally would also be invited. On one of these visits Sally fell asleep in her plate of food and then protested that she wasn’t hungry because of the junk. After that they weren’t invited again. At that time, around 1976, Peter lived with his new wife Brookie. 

Peter Van Gerbig knew mum well and felt for us. He was aware that we’d had more than our fair share of rough breaks and we had heard it said that, after the two or three occasions when she’d tried to take her life, he had promised mum that if anything happened to her he’d make sure we were ok and try to take care of us. In the sixties Peter married Sarah, a friend of mum’s and they – mum, dad, Sarah and Peter – liked dining out in London in the swinging sixties. Peter was best man at mum and dad’s wedding and would follow dad’s racing career, stand with mum and watch dad race his little wooden Marcos or his Lotus around Brands or Crystal Palace. He was, as I mentioned, a keen and discerning collector of cars and at the time, apart from having acquired the Mercedes staff car, had a BMW 5 series and a Ferrari Berniletta Boxer parked on the square. The Boxer was a state of the art Ferrari but it did have a nasty tendency to burst into flames when cornering at high speed. Although I had sat in it, I had not had the chance to ride in it before that happened to Peter and Brookie, who had to jump over a wall to shield themselves from the potential blast and the fire until it was safe to come out. Peter picked up what was left of the car – the prancing horse – and, knowing how much I loved the car, gave it to me as a keepsake. 

By the mid to late 70s London had become too chaotic for Peter and Brookie, on a couple of fronts. The first was the IRA, who’d been planting bombs throughout London and two of them were really too close for comfort for Peter and Brooke. One was inside Harrods, where Brookie worked as one of the stylish jewellery and make up ladies. The bomb literally blew up half the famous department store and she only narrowly avoided being killed. The second bomb was planted in Campden Hill Square of all places, presumably to target some high ranking  government official. And then there were the strikes, which were earning the UK a reputation of being a dysfunctional state overrun by unions. So Peter and Brooke decided to move. They bought a nice little villa with a pool in Hillsborough, not far from Patty Hearst’s place, about half an hour outside San Francisco. Peter promised we would follow him out there, as he had his mind set on helping us out. 

Summerhill School

Summerhill School, they say, is the happiest place on earth. It is also the most famous democratic school in the world, founded by the Scottish educator A. S. Neill. Exactly why it works so well can be hard to define in standard pedagogic terms. It has a groundbreaking approach. It seems that, growing up with an authoritarian Scottish Calvinistic father and in a strict schooling system, both as a child and young teacher, Neill had noticed how damaging the treatment of the kids was, how a large part of education was based on teachers using children’s fear to control them. The source of the aggression, he believed, was from the teacher’s fear of being unable to control groups of kids and of being made to look foolish in front of them. Neill believed that nearly all kids were by nature good beings. He made sure that in his own school the relationship between staff and children would not be based on fear, but instead the children would be in an environment based on trust. And that they would have the freedom in which to develop their own natures by playing as much as they wanted. In the introduction to one of his books Neill quotes Blake: “Children of a future age, Reading this indignant page, Know that in a former time Love, sweet love, was thought a crime”.

Mum had put us on the waiting list for Summerhill School at some point before she passed away. In October 1975, about a month after the start of the autumn term, Dad took Jake and me to the school, I presume having persuaded mum’s trustees to let him use what was left of her once sizeable fortune to pay the school fees. According to the society magazines both she and her mother Priscilla had been among London’s most eligible heiresses of their day. However, that fortune was down to about twenty or thirty grand each, held in trust for Jake and me until we reached adulthood. Some of it had been used on our travels, when we needed something which the trustees found acceptable. 

L to R, Mim Dwek, Chris Holmes, Patrick Clancy and Charley Weber. Photo – Jean Collin.

Neill had a socialistic outlook and there was a participative structure to Summerhill – the weekly meetings, at which all staff and children were present and together made decisions about the way their community should be run. At these meetings people would raise concerns about any issue, big or small. The votes of staff and kids were of equal value. If it was agreed that some action should be taken, the solution would be discussed. This could be to set up a committee to watch over the kitchen which had been robbed; it could be the task to clear up the litter in a certain area or to fill the potholes on the sports field. Should a child show antisocial behaviour a solution could be where a problem child would be asked to sit in the middle of the floor in one of the meetings and then the other children would remark on the problem child’s good qualities, to show them they were loved and trusted. Although most of us at first seemed sceptical about this approach, it worked more often than not.

The ‘House’, Summerhil. Photo – Boris Manke.

In spite of the fact that mum had chosen this school for us years ago, before she died, we did have a slight feeling that we were being farmed out and that Summerhill was a way to get us out of Sally’s house. However, after a short while, once we knew we would be safe, fed and have a roof over our heads, we really didn’t mind and got on with life, making friends, studying – we were still behind on the basics of English because of all the travelling – playing and just embracing whatever the days would bring. All the crazy people and schemes belonged to the outside world. Once we were at Summerhill we breathed a sigh of relief that we didn’t have to face it for another three months. 

Besides, at this school it seemed we might have found our tribe, as the kids all seemed a bit like us, slightly wild longhaired ragamuffins, which was promising. And how much worse could it be, three square meals a day, hanging out with a bunch of like minded kids? Compared to walking on eggshells in the flat in London and be accused of lurking because we were too nervous to disturb Sally or dad if we had a question. 

Debbie, Charley, Jake, Olivier and Charlie Maths (far right)
Photo – Jean Collin.

On the day dad took us there we were still looking around and taking it all in – the solid old Victorian house, the sports fields at the back and, most exciting of all, the Big Beech that the kids climbed up the fifteen or so feet, lodged themselves into a crutch and then jumped off on a huge rope which was knotted at the bottom – when dad introduced us to Ena, Neill’s widow and the headmistress, who smiled at us with her twinkly thoughtful eyes.

Dad left that day, probably feeling a little emotional having dropped us off, but knowing we’d be ok and that this was the best solution for Sally and for us. 

For the first five weeks or so we’d fluctuate between engaging with our new world and feelings of missing dad, who, being our only parent, we were strongly tied to. But we were told that this was normal and wouldn’t last long by the kids in our rooms, who seemed to us surprisingly open and supportive.

It took some getting used to, the weekly meetings and the sense of being part of an actual community that worked. It is hard to describe, but you subconsciously started to feel like you could trust the world, the way you would in a ‘normal’ well adjusted society. And we had the sense that there were supportive people around and if you hurt yourself or sprained an ankle – which I did in the first term playing football – other like minded kids emerged who genuinely cared.

Although at Summerhill Neill tried his best to create an environment where there was no pressure to be the best at anything, in reality kids just are competitive. Although some more than others. While by the end of the first year or so we could have put together a team of skateboarders to take on any of the local schools, when we arrived at Summerhill everyone joined the football team, which was the only league we competed in regionally. Our kit and colours looked great – orange and black, chosen by Neill as the anarchist colours for mutualism – but our team, I have to laugh, was honestly the most undisciplined and chaotic thing I’ve seen. We had one or two good players, an Italian older kid called Andrea, or ‘Jesus’ as he was known because of his skills on the field, was the best.

Barnim, Andreas and Charley. Photo – Boris Manke.

So even though when we played the local teams they would usually beat us, we did show some form on the field. However, at being happy and less uptight, I dare say we excelled as we’d spend most of our summer days in the pool, winter days in the woodwork shop, skateboarded till dusk, played games and created secret hideaways in the woods.

A couple of terms in and some of the kids, including my brother, were gettting more and more argumentative over football. So, although I suspect not consciously, the less competitive and more chilled amongst us peeled away from football. Certainly I did, after having come to the defence of my brother, or come between him and some bigger player, probably Olivier, both of whom for some reason felt that the fact that a ball was two or three inches to either the right or left was enough to ruin a game, friendship or afternoon. In the end I just thought, there’s got to be a better way of having fun and took up skateboarding, which was absolutely in line with Neill’s less competitive ethos.

I will first mention the older kids – who went up to around sixteen and O levels – as they were the ones we pre- and early teens mostly looked up to. After sixteen Neill felt the children needed to move into the open world, away from his observation.

According to Stephen Schmidt, one of the older boys at the time, my brother and I were credited with bringing backgammon to the school, which then became a craze. But the kudos most of the kids earned often seemed to be as a result of bringing to the school some unusually good music, by way of an LP. 

School Meetings in the Lounge. Our Principal, Ena Neill, in the centre. Ollie, our much loved house mistress, left of stairs.

One of the older kids we looked up to was Malcolm Hachemi, who brought a singularly unique piece of music in Bohemian Rhapsody – and so we all afforded this slightly suave and intellectual looking sixteen year old a certain amount of respect. 

Gilles was a likeable and clever French kid immersed in Parisian culture who brought Supertramp and Dr. Feelgood, which were huge hits with everyone at the time. 

Another older kid of note at Summerhill was Johnson, who was probably the oldest and most earnest, with short cropped blond hair. He brought the album ‘Animals’ by Pink Floyd, which we all listened to seriously in his room untill I accidently spilt a coke over his record player and the Animals record. I was mortified at my clumsiness and apologised profusely. Johnson dated the most beautiful girl in school, Claudia, until, unexpectedly to me, I started dating her. Claudia was practically a woman at 16 and I was all of 14. It just happened one evening. We spent some time in her room where she was finishing her neatly organised homework in their folders with funny stickers on and on a whim we decided to go downtown to the local visiting fairground, which had been set up for a few weeks. We were just kids experiencing life and corny as it sounds, the lights and smells of the fair ground rides must have got mixed in our heads and we fell head over heels in teen love. I’d never been so happy in all my life. Although it ended too soon, probably because I returned from messed up home to school one term feeling depressed and unable to deal with my emotions. That sounds really stupid but it’s a strange age. It was a pure love and unlike with my first girlfriend, where I was a bit shocked at the deep feelings of desire during an encounter in the woods, it was nothing to run from. On the contrary, it was a whole new better world to embrace.

My brother, who by nature is a good student, got into English literature, in which he later took a degree, as well as football and acting in plays at school, one of which was Shakespeare. Besides skateboarding, which absorbed most of my non-work time, I took up piano and guitar. I think because of my love of music my slightly earnest bearded woodwork teacher, Chris, who I got quite close to because of all the time I spent in the woodwork shop, wrote a play for me to perform in. The repeating catchphrase was ‘But papa, I don’t wanna make a de pizza, I wanna be a pop a starra’. 

There was a big mix of international students, particularly from Germany and Eastern Asia. One unusual but pivotal arrival while I was at the school was Taku, a Japanese student who introduced the whole school to baseball, which to me was a far cooler sport than football and a stepping stone to my great passion of skateboarding. Roger Dwek, now more spiritual and a masseur, was also a pretty good sportsman at the time. He was good at baseball and softball. 

Music, dancing and the gram were a big part of life at Summerhill and kids would gather to dance to Dr. Feelgood, Deep Purple, Chuck Berry and Ten Years After. To the latter we did a sort of country line dance. At the end of term a committee was formed to decorate the lounge for the end of term party and choose a theme like comic book art, Atom World, Narnia or a particularly good band or album cover. I would usually be part of the committee. For my brother and me it also was a time of building up stress and dread as it meant facing the outside world too soon. 

All of these were normal, but hugely important activities to develop and grow up within a healthy and functional environment. We took part in as many activities as we could, including studying for O levels.

My brother Jake, left front. I’m just right of centre, next to Roger Dwek

This time of life was one of extreme contrasts. On the one hand was the balanced and happy time at Summerhill and the holidays we spent with our godfather. On the other hand, life at the junkie pad at St Ann’s Villas, which was difficult, with the adults walled off in the bedroom, only occasionally emerging to prepare some food.

Around the second year at Summerhill, my brother and I started to fly out to stay with Peter van Gerbig and his wife in San Francisco at least twice a year and get spoilt rotten by the lifestyle, Peter’s cooking – he was a good cook and made the best cheesecake in the world, a recipe he’d gotten from The Times – and by Brookie who’d drive us to Saks Fifth Avenue and fit us out as preppy Lacoste kids, while the sales guys would flirt and try to pick me up. The nearest town was called Burlingame, where I’d go roller skating at the local skate park. Peter and Brookie showed us an amazing time, we were taken to Marriott’s Great America – a huge theme park past San José – and Peter took us to see the San Francisco baseball match at Candlestick Park, in the middle of which my brother and I got the shock of our lives when a message flashed up on the scoreboard in huge twelve foot letters that read ‘The Giants would like to welcome Jake and Charley Weber from London England’. We thought we’d died and gone to heaven. We had in a way. From a junkie pad in west London to that. Incredible. 

While during school terms we were taken care of and felt safe, in the holidays, unless we flew out to see our godfather in the States – a skateboarder’s paradise – we never knew where we were going to stay, either uncomfortably in the front room of the flat or, if he had the money, dad might rent a room for us somewhere locally, with our mate John’s mum at number 1, St. Anne’s; with Mike the mechanic, or on one occasion with an old Australian auntie type with a broad accent who looked like Dame Edna Everage. The old girl had a good heart, but slightly faded and plastic covered antipodean artefacts and 50s furniture. 

This was where my brother and I had our knock down drag out fight where, because we were mostly the same size, neither of us ended up getting the better of the other, although it seemed to last for hours. Until, finally exhausted, we embraced each other and burst in to tears. Although boxing and competitive sports were not a big thing in my life, being a skateboarder and a guitar player – there was one notable incident when my brother and another older kid – Olivier – discovered a pair of boxing gloves in the tea room, a spare room usually used for play. We were just playing around and without really meaning to I discovered I had a heavier punch than I thought. There was no anger or effort involved, but somehow, unintentionally I chipped one of my brother’s teeth. This would be very expensive to fix, he said when he left for the States at the end of that term of 1977. More consequentially, I had somehow at the same sparring match surprised Olivier with a similar punch – a completely unintentional one. This would have serious consequences as, unbeknownst to me younger kids started to whisper that Olivier – who was a high energy ball of muscle and sinew and a year above me – was possibly not the toughest kid in school. None of which I was aware of. But without knowing it some tension begun to build up. Something that would come to a head in the next term, when a challenge was thrown down to me in the middle of the meeting room, surrounded by screaming kids. Suddenly our little sparring match had become a real thing.

Around this time Sally and dad had a baby on the way. I think dad was earning and supporting them mainly by dealing and also by selling a large consignment of old French Art Nouveau prints in the Portobello Road Market. Prior to the antique dealing and print selling Tommy went through a bunch of different cars, one of which was an old Grand Cherokee wagon. If we were tight for cash, we would go to the market and he’d drop the back door and sell openly on the market without a seller’s license. Tommy also got an old Ford Consul, which we thought was a big step down from the cars he’d had, a big old boxy fifties thing, probably worth a fortune today. He claimed it was a collector’s car and once, in a ‘character building’ exercise, made us polish the dreary old post war wheels until they were gleaming. I think this was about the time I was starting to see through the illusions kids have about their fathers and I started talking back and even swearing at him. Jake said it was wrong of me to do so, but I thought I saw through the anger projected at us to a shame dad was covering. The cracks were beginning to appear in my idol.

Playing Tennis. Photo – Jean Collin.

In the holidays at St. Ann’s Villas we made friends with two of the local kids, John, whose family owned the house at No. 1 St. Ann’s Villas – who we’d occasionally board with, when things became  too tense with Sally at her flat – and Spencer, who we’d play cricket with in the big crescent opposite the Hilton. To me cricket still is an unfathomable game, but we’d obligingly hit a ball when asked to do so. John and Spencer knew the game. 

Spencer was a Jack the Lad, a bit older than us. He was into acting and went to Latimer Arts College, where Phil Collins had studied acting and music.

The area of west London borders on the traditionally slightly wild and Jamaican feeling Ladbroke Grove, which is where they had several Notting Hill Carnivals that got out of control during the 70s. On one of those occasions dad dressed as a Bedouin and walked Jake and me through Notting Hill Carnival in full uproar – another one of the adult male character building exercises. I dare say Neill would not have approved of them at all, as all these exercises seemed to do was traumatise us.

To the north was Latimer Road, the skate bowl, a couple of junkie houses – one with Sid Vicious’ mother – and a tougher area of what was then urban wasteland beneath the western flyover.

 There one day my brother, John and I met a gypsy boy who challenged us all to a fight. This gypsy kid, although younger, had a punch that could break your arm, like people say about the fighting skills and strengths of the Travellers. And sure enough, he sent us packing one after the other and from then on we tended to avoid the council houses and flyover area and not go much further than the shops by the council estate.

Another area we learnt could be rough was White City stadium. It was the home of the local football team, Queens Park Rangers. John, Spencer, Jake and I went there to watch a football match. We were then chased by a group of guys in their 20s, for no reason, all the way through Shepherd’s Bush and back to our friend John’s door, on which we banged frantically in the hope his mother would let us in in time, before the thugs appeared around the corner, charging up the road from the Sikh temple.

The association I had of football with aggression was the main reason I began skateboarding and got quite good. The skinheads and hooligans were a nightmare in the UK when I was growing up and although I was a fan of Liverpool Football Club and played on the football team at Summerhill for a time, the fighting and flared tempers  seemed more than it was worth. So as I said, at a certain point a whole bunch of us – myself, George and Patrick, in particular – seemed to give it up and switch quite seriously to skateboarding, which had an entirely different effect on people. Making them mellower and generally more cool about life and positive relationships. That’s what I thought, anyway. 

This seems to be a current shot of Peter and Brookie’s pool in Hillsborough, CA

The two realities of being in London or in Hillsborough, California, were like night and day. My brother and I flew out to visit a couple of schools with Peter, to choose which one we would like to go to. One was Thacher, a sort of free school, which focused on sports and where everyone learned to look after a horse. The other one was Cate, the most amazing school with music studios, football fields and a skate bowl. It was paradise. As potential students we stayed there for a night as guests of some of the kids. Breakfast was pancakes with maple syrup and then we spent the morning with the children. Of course we chose Cate, it was astonishing and the most well equipped prep school in the States, just up the hills and among the orange groves of Santa Barbara. It was also one of the most expensive schools in the world. 

In exchange for our holidays in paradise, all we had to do was bring out some slimming pills, available over the counter in England and apparently illegal in the States. In 1978, my brother took his six or seven O levels and then went out to live with Peter and Brookie in California and start as a boarder at Cate School in Santa Barbara.

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Gérard Mosiniak Meets Tommy

One of the main pubs in our area of London, Ladbroke Grove, the five or so square miles between where the musicians gathered and where we settled is The Prince of Wales. Around 1978 Gérard Mosiniak, the cook from Nellcôte, saw Tommy there and was shocked by his appearance. ‘Tommy was someone I admired, you know, he always looked really good however stoned he got, with his clothes and hair. But this time he looked like a tramp and he kept telling me about his girlfriend and a child’. The girlfriend was Sally, the child our half brother Buddy. Tommy first met Sally in Marbella. Not long before that we had visited an old Spanish fortune teller, who said Tommy would meet a girl with long blonde hair. The relationship would be troubled, but they would stay together for most of his life and have a baby together. 

Gérard had left Nellcôte and the Stones when his wife became upset because Anita would get high, give his wife clothes and then the next day not remember doing so and accuse her of nicking them. I think another reason he left was because he was sick of slaving away in the kitchen while everyone one else partied and had a good time. ‘I saw John Lennon and Eric Clapton and wanted to be a rock star too’. When Gérard mentioned some of what was going on in his head to the manager of the Stones he was asked to be a DJ at the Playgirl Club in Cannes. 

One thing led to another and Gérard went to another gig as DJ, at the manager’s club in Mallorca, where he met and fell in love with Claire. Together they went to London to pursue his dreams in music. She would later leave him for the Clash guitarist, Mick Jones. Gérard by then was well and truly ensconced in the scene in London, where at one point he dated the girl who would later marry Johnny Rotten. At the Prince of Wales pub Gérard met his future wife, Luby.

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Tommy seemed to be becoming increasingly unpredictable, more and more manic and caught up in set-ups, rip-offs and dealing. We’d do the rounds on whatever bit of business dad had, to Sid Vicious’ mums  place in Westbourne Grove – I’ve yet to see a scarier pad full of what looked like crackheads – or if we were lucky we’d go to see Malcolm and his son Peter. While dad and Malcolm got together for smack in the kitchen, Peter would be a gracious host to me and we’d hang out in his room where he’d regale me with all kinds of weird and wonderful tales. I don’t know if good story tellers are aware of this or just enjoy talking, but they take you away from yourself and the difficult realities we are all often facing as part of the rough and tumble of  life. Peter was a big weed smoker, he was maybe two years older than me, so around seventeen already, seemed a man of the world. He had already been hooked on junk at an early age, but all of it seemed ok when he spoke about things like the junkie world. He explained how he’d kicked it and gone to Ireland, I think.

In 1978, I was fourteen and at Summerhill, one morning walking into breakfast I was handed a letter. It was from Peter Van Gerbig and it stated that unfortunately, because of the unexpectedly heavy strain on his finances resulting from having to give a big settlement to his ex-wife, putting his kids, Camilla and Christian and now also Jake, through expensive schools in the UK and the States – not to mention having started a new family, he regrettably had to inform me that it would not be possible for me to follow Jake to the States and for me to go to Cate School. In the span of time it took to read Peter Van Gerbig’s letter my whole future changed. It felt like I was receiving a prison sentence or worse. I went from looking forward to paradise to knowing I had a future of doing my best to survive in the junkie flat at St Ann’s Villas, which I barely did, as I’ll write about in the next chapter.

With a father heading for prison, as he was slipping further and further into dealing escapades and a stepmother who didn’t want me around, from America and my brother there was no further contact. Why it was handled in that way, without any further discussion, I couldn’t say. Probably because it was too painful. It’s maybe not how I would have handled it, but my godfather and my brother wouldn’t discuss anything to do the disintegrating state of dad’s mental health and addiction and the precarious state of my life in London.

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London St. Ann’s Villas and Summerhill. Mid to late 70s

Published by weberc65

Author: Altgenerations

I'm a creative and worked mostly as a freelancer editing commercials, film, documentaries. Increasingly I am writing and developing New Media. I do voiceovers, music, writing and production. Have had some music in film and representation through Getty's Pump Audio division.