1 June 2011

Angry? Moi?

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.

My mother.
 I’m was told by my girlfriend, as she walked out of the door, that I’m ‘an angry and nasty man’. 'Speak when you are angry - and you'll make the best speech you'll ever regret' is so true (4) The name calling was only one of the things that distressed me emotionally and made me angry. 

Anger causes a loss in self-monitoring capacity and objective observability. It ended up in shame for me most of the time. It’s not a character assassination of my girlfriend; far from it. I thank her deeply and love her ‘to bits’ because she has made me reflect on my behaviour and when I do that I can hopefully see myself as others see me and improve my perceptions and behaviour.

The accusations of anger are, of course, well justified as I’ve been an angry person most of my life. My anger was controlled most of the time as I have grown used to using anger as way to achieve things. To channel it towards some concept rather than a person. Anger is a primary, natural, and mature emotion experienced by virtually all humans at times, and as something that has functional value for survival. Anger can mobilize psychological resources for corrective action. Uncontrolled anger can, however, negatively affect personal or social well-being. I can move in fluid flux between these two worlds.
I was mobilizing psychological resources by being angry when my mother left me and brother when I was 5 years old. Why did she do that I used to ask? I blamed myself. As any child would. It must be something I’ve done surely? I was sad, and angry, for a long, long time.

Retrospectively I found out it wasn’t my fault at all. She’d fell in love with a new man, a body builder who later competed in Mr Universe in 1971. His brother is the father of Jimmy Nail, singer, actor, or ‘Wor Jimmy’ to the family. In an ironic twist of fate when I was 23 years old in 1984 in my first week at University 'Auf Wiedersehen, Pet' was entering its third season. I think. I got in with a disparate crowd of beautiful misfits; Amazonian American girls (‘you wanna suck on my bwong?’), Irish terrorists (‘we all grew our beards when Bobby Sands went on hunger strike’), Welsh separatists (‘Taff’ could just do the best Mick Jagger impression ever. ‘My ambition is to blow up the Severn Bridge’), disabled militants (Him: ‘help me get a can of drink out of the machine’. Me: ‘Get it yourself. I’ve seen you do it before'. He laughs. It's the first time we had met. We became friends), spikey and drunk girls from the home counties. We were all angry. And pissed. Anyway, they decided I was like Oz from Auf Weidersehen, Pet; a lovable lunk with an impenetrable Geordie accent. (What?) Little did they realize I was his step-cousin in real life. I never mentioned it. ever.

I have since forgiven my mother and given myself permission to feel good about it. It took a long time. We get on well now.

We talk, a bit, well, a lot, on the phone now, she lives in Canada, but I’m still a bit angry, maybe mildly cross, at her. She should have been there for me but wasn’t. She should have taken the time and explained what was happening to me properly. Help me through it. She was in love and I now understand that love conquers all boundries. Even your children's needs for a mother. We never talk about the past only the present and the future. I’m afraid that if I did talk about it I would snap the tenuous thread that connects us over the vast ocean. I'm a slow learner.

She ended up putting my brother and I in a children's home. My father climbed up to the top of the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle and wouldn't come down till they let him see us. He was a steel erector by trade so it was not that dangerous for him to do that stunt. I'm angry about that too. I'm angry we were treat badly in the children's home. My brother started pissing the bed. I was his brother and couldn't protect him; couldn't stop him feeling bad.

'For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness' said Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American lecturer, essayist and poet, who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century and never a truer word was spoken. I have lost years of happiness. I'm angry about that too.

Feeding my abandonment issues from an early age it didn’t help that my father had, right up until I was booted out of the family home just as I turned 17, a string of step-mothers for us. He used to call them by numbers. “Well, that’s number three gone”, he’d say as she walked out the door. 

Anger is only a natural reaction; one of the mind's ways of reacting to things that it perceives to be wrong. While anger can sometimes lead people to do shocking things, it can also be an instinct to show people that something isn't right. I learnt not to get too attached to women. They walk out the door. I just knew calling a woman by a number was wrong.

I think it was number four, or June as I knew her by, I’m not sure, about whether she was number four or not, but when I was 9 or 10 she took an overdose of some pills and I found her virtually unconscious on the living room floor. In the St John Ambulance at the time I knew what she had done. She said so. Pills by her side. I tried to keep her awake and walked her round the living room, her arm slung round my shoulder talking to her all the while. “Leave me alone” she kept saying. I rang 999. They took her away. I never saw her again. 

More layers to my abandonment issues; or so they told me later in my life when was in couples treatment with another ex, Nicky. She was gone one day when I returned home from work. I haven't seen her since and neither has any one else. I flashed back to my childhood. My blood ran cold. I sobbed for days. It fed a deep seated fear, a real fear, of people leaving me which I still have, literally, today.

I don’t do breakups well.

'A man is about as big as the things that make him angry' said Winston Churchill. Number 7, Suzanne, or Sue as she liked to be known was introduced into my life when my father took me to Jarrow one Saturday. We always went to Jarrow on Saturday. On the bus. All of us as a family. Jarrow home of the famous crusade march against unemployment and extreme poverty suffered in North East England. 'Red Ellen' leading the way.

My brother and I were put into the all day picture show for children with instructions not to leave till 4pm. Funny, I did my degree in film and have always loved the cinema. I wonder if this time was the roots of it? We’d often watch it twice through while my father and number whatever number she was at the time went ‘shopping’. This meant going to the club and getting seriously pissed with his friends and brothers. Colin, my brother and I, used to sit outside waiting for them with the proverbial bag of crisps and a half of lemonade in hand getting 10p’s from the drunks as they came out.

I once saw my father go into a gift shop and put a copper flower vase under his coat and walk out without paying. He was drunk. My brother and I were taken round to meet Sue. He left us with a record player and pile of 7”s while they went ‘for a rest’ upstairs. 

I used to love playing them records over and over again and as his trips to see her became more frequent he used to let me pick out one or two tunes that had appeared on Top Of The Pops that week and buy them for me. I played them things over and over till I knew every word. At last I had something in my life that I could rely on; that I could trust. I had music. Aretha Franklin’s ‘Say a Little Pray’, The Four Seasons first album, Freda Payne’s ‘Band of Gold’, Jerry Lee Lewis. ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’. The Beatles. Joy to a young man’s ears. I didn't know who these people were. They happily took a place alongside my K-Tel albums, funk, Rod Stewart, George Harrison and 'The Runaway Train'.

Sue’s husband worked in Kuala Lumpur and I guess she was lonely. She worked in a bar and was from Yorkshire. She didn’t like my brother at all and used to slap him around the face and head every time he walked past her. Me too if she felt like it. I was later diagnosed with a detached retina but couldn’t quite think how that might have happened. Father would come home and the litany of crimes we had committed that day would be expunged and the belt would come out and punishment administered. If it wasn’t pain it was indifference. Both hurt and both made me angry. 

Videbeck (2) describes anger as a normal emotion that involves a strong uncomfortable and emotional response to a perceived provocation. Them fuckers really provoked me and felt my anger was if not justifiable then at least explainable and understandable. 

DeFoore in 2004 describes anger as a pressure cooker; we can only apply pressure against our anger for a certain amount of time until it explodes. When you’re being hurt physically and can’t do anything about it that cooker is going to explode at some point.

Some view anger as part of the fight or flight brain response to the perceived threat of harm. What happens when you can’t take flight if the cause of your anger is there every day, in the house you live in committing acts of violence upon you? Anger becomes the predominant feeling behaviorally, cognitively, and physiologically when a person makes the conscious choice to take action to immediately stop the threatening behavior of another outside force. One can only fight. Fight against the bastards that grind you down. 

I joined Rock Against Racism; I could now be angry and express it through political means, the commies I hung out with had all them fancy arguments to justify violent revolution. I was bang up for that. At the time. My anger was not used as a manipulation strategy it was always more in the psychological dark corner. The corner where political anger lives.

“What is genuine is proved in the fire, what is false we shall not miss in our ranks. The opponents must grant us that youth has never before flocked to our colours in such numbers ... in the end, one will be found among us who will prove that the sword of enthusiasm is just as good as the sword of genius.” (3)

Luckily I had discovered reading and new ideas and began to realise that there were other ways to live. Sue was always encouraging me to read more. But not comics. I had film. I had music. Later, when I was a young punk, I met new, alternative people, who had different ideas outside of the staid, confining working class ethic.

I used to hang out with a band called ‘The Noise Toys’ from the Newcastle area 78-79 period. They only recorded 1/2 a single called 'pocket money' with Arthur 2 Stroke 'The Wundersea World Of Jacques Cousteau' on flip side, released on the Anti Pop label. It demonstrates the strength of alternative music at this time. The Damned, the Clash, the Sex Pistols had us all hooked and convinced we could fight for change.

The Noise Toys were an excellent live band of this period, a total miscarriage of justice that they didn’t go further. A few mates and I formed a punk band called ‘All Enquiries’ and used to warm up sometimes for The Noise Toys. We practiced in the same room where I used to go to St John Ambulance. None of us got anywhere but I had an outlet for my anger now, the punk scene, my guitar, my music and dancing. We were all punk musicians and we were all gnashing our teeth; it was genuinely fun to be angry, expressive, it was who we were; angry with ourselves, with our violent, uncaring, drunk parents, with our exploitational capitalist employers, with the government, with the pigs head we used kick around the room at Angelic Upstarts gigs. It was ok and normal to be angry. Really; it was. It meant you felt, you were a human being, you engaged with the world. At last I felt wanted and part of something.

Bands like Penetration, also around at the time but not in our corner of the scene, went on to support The Clash on tour and released a great album, ‘Moving Targets’, in 78 and a stone cold classic punk single with ‘Don’t Dictate’. "A pulsating punk song. One of the best in a year of many gems. It’s anti-authoritarian message was ideal for 1977." (1) We followed them everywhere. When they supported the Clash in Newcastle Richard Hell opened the back door and let a bunch of us into the venue. It was so punk. To us punks Pauline Murray was the new way women were representing and presenting themselves. I remember seeing Ari Up from The Slits when they supported The Buzzcocks and thinking 'who is she and where did she come from?'

Now, my anger is an emotion related to my psychological interpretation of having been wronged and I had a tendency to undo that by verbal retaliation. I was a defiant, questioning, surly, ‘fuck you’ kind of teenager. I lived with five mates in the roughest part of Newcastle in a shared house. I had no one to control me now. No one to batter me senseless. I worked on computers and made good money which I spent on gigs and records and beer and taxi’s. I had a motorbike, a Kawasaki KH250. I needed no one. Everyone could go fuck themselves. I was young and had the greatest super power any human being could ever possess; independence. I could look after myself. 

Typical girls try to be
Typical girls very well

Can't decide what clothes to wear

Typical girls are sensitive
Typical girls are emotional
Typical girls are cruel and bewitching
She's a femme fatale
Typical girls stand by their man
Typical girls are really swell
Typical girls learn how to act shocked
Typical girls don't rebel

Who invented the typical girl?

Who's bringing out the new improved model?
And there's another marketing ploy
Typical girl gets the typical boy

Slits - Typical Girls


(1) Joynson, Vernon (2001). Up Yours! A Guide to UK Punk, New Wave & Early Post Punk. Wolverhampton: Borderline Publications. p. 269.

(2) Videbeck, Sheila L. (2006.). Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing (3rd ed.). Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

(3) Engels, Anti-Schelling (1841)

(4) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurence_J._Peter