‘Have I told you how much I’m in love?’ Tony Brogues is shoulder-nudging Fay, sending cider slopping over her pint glass. His bare knees are pressed together, swaying coyly like a little girl’s. I tune in to Tony’s industrial jangle: the coins, keys and Zippos churning in his pockets.
The three of us are sitting round a small battered table in the raised corner of The Black Lion. It used to be the stage and feels insecure and spongy under our feet. Moving the stage has sorted the problem of the audience obstructing the door. Now the regulars – punks of all stripes and assorted misanthropes – block the bar instead.
‘Once or twice,’ says Fay kindly, wiping her dripping hand on her duffle coat. In contrast to Tony, we’re both wearing coats. The pub will warm up later. A pint of Thatchers and a roll-up will fix everything meanwhile. She smiles at me as Tony hides behind splayed fingers, fingers tanned from a lifetime of avoiding office work. Faux-bashful is a Brogues speciality. There’s also the strong sideline in comically-horrified.
‘It just feels… special. Know what I mean?’
From his ankles up, Tony is a typical Gen X anarcho-punk. There’s a handful of them around. His close-sheared blond hair is fringed by a row of matted dreads at his nape, recalling the tasselled dhurrie in my last houseshare. Tony’s all-season uniform is a black band t-shirt, featuring some beautifully apocalyptic imagery, coupled with loose-fitting combat shorts. Below the shorts, Tony is heavily inked. A tattoo of a pyrocumulus mushroom covers his entire left calf.
And then there are the shoes: tan leather Brogues. An anomaly. Tony used to be in the Northern Soul scene and still keeps the faith with his record collection… and his shoes. You can hear all about it should you carelessly refer to him as a punk (‘I’m a fucking mod.’). It’s an emotive subject.
Tony is the lead singer of crusty punk band God Lobber, whose other members include my boyfriend. He is also the provider of the band’s transportation – the all-important Man with Van. Said van is equal parts taupe paintwork to dents, scrapes and defamatory graffiti.
It’s late morning. We, the other band members and W.A.G.s, are hanging around Southampton, hungover and fragile. We’re waiting for a lift back to London. After locating Tony’s van, we yank open the door to find him sprawled on the floor. He looks like he’s been stashed there in a hurry. The only sign of life is Tony’s hand twitching on his mobile phone and the distant twitter of a Sunday morning DJ.
‘How’s it going, Tony?’ the bassist enquires.
‘My phone says, ‘not charging’,’ is all he can muster.
Tony wears an expression of gentle bewilderment. The Ketamine is ebbing away, leaving him high and dry. Without his taupe metal casing, he seems vulnerable and we like dubious voyeurs. We slide the door closed and leave him to wrestle with the foibles of technology.
An hour later an irritable Brogues walks into the pub where we’ve been killing time. He downs a pint of shandy and announces it’s time to leave. The drive back is fast and bone-jangling: less like the angular riffs of The Jam blaring from the stereo, more like a God Lobber set.
Yes, Fay and I know about the new girlfriend. Tony’s been swooning around for a couple of weeks. Amber is half Tony’s age but mature enough for the both of them. She has a large, beautiful face framed by a mane of golden dreadlocks. People mistake her insecurity for standoffishness.
Amber does a good trade in antique jewellery. Tony works too but it can sometimes end in conflict. When Tony leaves a job, his hatred of The Man is rekindled (‘Coz I dared to have an independent fucking thought. Know what I mean?’). Listening to him talk about Amber is refreshing, endearing.
But Amber likes to watch QI with a nice cup of Earl Grey, content in her own company, and Tony prefers Special Brew and noisy guitars amongst the hordes. Recently, at a punk weekender, he decided it would be liberating to crap on a hill. Unfortunately he misjudged the incline and toppled over – in his own faeces. More worryingly, when Tony relayed the story two days’ later, it was clear there’d been no opportunity for a wash.
Amber spends her days handling objects of beauty, and her nights handling Tony. They plan to set up house and buy a Goldador. I wonder how it’s going to pan out.
A few tumultuous years roll by. Everything changes. All the couples surrounding the band split, followed by the band itself. One member of God Lobber is on the run. The remaining ones aren’t speaking. Sometimes I see Amber walking the Goldador. I hear she and Tony are trialling joint custody. I wonder if the back and forth unsettles the dog and try to feel lucky that my son seems okay with a similar arrangement.
A new love comforts and delights – lets the light in again – but I’m in a state of agitation as we work out the logistics of being together. Parental worry and work stress are wrenching me in opposite directions. Something has to give before I crack into pieces.
This when I start seeing Brogues everywhere – one day befriending refugees at a bus stop, the next, galloping across the cinema screen to a chorus of tutting, a can of lager and middle finger raised in reply. Even as I anticipate him, he surprises me, looming out of implausible corners, always on some mission.
Brogues becomes emblematic of my flux: the painful memories barely over my shoulder, the need for something akin to closure. When he appears in the guise of the delivery guy for my office block, it starts to feel like a cosmic prank. Colleagues are enjoying chats with this charming punk-mod-postman but I struggle with our new context. I struggle with this denial of my need to compartmentalise. And I struggle, still, with conflicting identities: forever the fish flopping from one shallow pond to the next.
You are doing your swimming routine. It’s reserved for the band’s ponderous, instrumental bits when you have nothing to do. The rest of God Lobber do not care for the swim-miming – it detracts from lyrics about greedy capitalist fucks – but you are in your element (water, apparently). You part the crowd with a gentle fanning breaststroke, a daft grin plastered across your face. The guitarists scowl into your back, but you are oblivious, egged on by the God Lobber hardcore.
Tony Brogues – the Peter Pan of mod-punk – it’s been ages, but I still see you: black tattoos on tan skin, dad socks rising up from brown leather shoes, that mischievous bloody grin.
You: the anarchist jester and perpetual flirt – a nudge and a giggle like it’s Carry On Punking.
You: the best traits of all The Young Ones – but especially Rick and Vyvyan – rolled into one improbable hybrid.
You: the sometime agitator, spitting your boozed-fuelled vitriol into the chaos-hungry crowd.
That steady pivot from enthusing to bellyaching; the failed exorcism of some tightly-held gripe looped in perpetuity: no, you are not bowing down to any-fucking-one.
And here: here you are pointing out that I look unwell (I was).
And here again: hinting that I should break away, reclaim myself before I erode to nothing (I did).
Tony Brogues you may be the only one of your kind – and certainly you’ll be the last.
And, Tony, thanks, I really do know what you mean now.
Lucy Goldring is a Northerner hiding in Bristol. She has been shortlisted by the National Flash Fiction Day (NFFD), Flash 500 and Retreat West and won Lunate Fiction’s monthly flash competition in 2020. Lucy was nominated for Best Small Fictions 2020 by both NFFD and 100 Word Story. Tweets @livingallover