If you’re lucky/unlucky to live as long as me(55)life changes dramatically. You realise that the half a stone of girth you’re carrying is either going to go now, or forever hold it’s place. You realise that no longer do you attract most women that you meet, and that perhaps the younger ones may even think you’re an old fart! You realise there are three generations below you that are far more employable than you. And you realise that really, when you don’t have a function, there’s little point to life anymore…..
“Youth is wasted on the young” said Oscar Wilde. Well, I certainly spent my youth getting wasted, playing Rock’n’Roll, and romancing as many women as would allow, and that was quite a few. I rarely gave a damn about the future. As Dennis Leary once said “yeah, smoking takes ten years off your life, and those are the wheelchair bound, colostomy bag wearing years!” So why worry? Except when you see people around you dying from Cancer, you think that perhaps you shouldn’t have had that seventy-millionth fag, or drank that second swimming pool full of Whisky. There’s nothing like a near death experience to clear the head! And these are mine……
When I used to perform with the Rats, on the nights when the wind was blowing the right way, the chemicals were in balance and especially when the moon was full, I left my body whilst I was singing, becoming the song, and not Terence Ruffle, he just vaporised. Some people think performing is mostly about ego, how odd that my best performances envolved my ego dissapearing. Rock’n’Roll suicide!
For your entertainment: A series of anecdotes relating to all* of my close shaves with death. I am in no way endorsing the behaviour depicted here, I’m simply writing this for entertainment purposes. I should also like to state, I’m now a non smoker of almost 6 years standing, and no longer drink to excess. Now my conscience is clear……
And please……don’t try any of this at home!
1) The first near death experience I had must have been 1962, and my Ma and Pa had just bought me a “Budgie”die cast Supercar toy, a model based on the then current Gerry Anderson tv show, which I adored. It was Gerry Anderson’s 1st foray into space/hi-tech fantasy, an amazing craft capable of flight or travel on land, or under the sea. And of course the puppets were the primitive precursors to the Thunderbirds.
My Ma worked as the ladies bathing attendant at the changing rooms beside the Prom lake in Maldon, in the 1960’s. A chap called Mr Harmen worked on the gents side. He was a tall, lean man, with a no nonsense attitude, ideally suited to dealing with the “young ruffians” that occasionally disturbed the usually peaceful and well ordered atmosphere of the lake.
The bathing huts were where I first met Hughie Mitchell, a pretty hip cat in the 60’s and the first person to be arrested for possession of Marijuana in Maldon. I think he turned me on to pirate radio. He’d stand in for my Ma or Mr Harmen when they’d take a break or the occasional day off. I can see him sitting on the counter of the reception area, chilled out and loose limbed. Best make that stoned! Dudley Thunders, as Al is wont to call him. I remember going to see my Ma one day and he was there, listening to Radio Sutch, broadcasting from the old gun turrets on the Shivering sands off the Kent coast. He’d tuned into the station on a “Transistor” radio, in a brown leatherette case. The Walkman of its day, it was a small transistorised medium wave radio.
And that day, all Lord Sutch played was “They’re coming to take me away” by Napoleon the 13th!
Those were the days of blue wool swimming costumes. For a small fee you could hire one. They were like the “Hair Shirts” of Victorian times, except they housed your genitals!
I shudder when I think back and remember wearing one.
I’d sometimes be with my Ma, and on this sunny summer’s day I was walking by the lake, near the ladies changing rooms, with my lovely new Supercar.
There were lots of kids swimming and frolicking, and lots of families sitting in the sand around the lake enjoying the sun.
I was singing what I thought was the Supercar theme song, “lands in sea, in the air, it can journey anywhere!”
Hmm, I thought, lands in sea ay? I think I’ll give that a go, and without hesitation(hey c’mon, I was only five!) I threw it into the lake. You can imagine my deep shock when my Supercar did not reappear. As the water was reasonably clear that day I thought, no probs, I’ll grab it from the bottom of the lake. As I leant over to try and see my Supercar, I fell in. And of course at that point in time I couldn’t swim, so I promptly started to swallow much grubby lake water as I sank to the bottom. It was deep, maybe 6 or 7 feet. I could see the sun above me through the water, it was beautiful. And before I could seriously panic I was aware of someone diving into the water and grabbing me, and putting me down on the edge of the lake.
I vaguely remember someone raising my arms up and down, as if to pump water from my lungs, but I don’t think I’d breathed alot in, just drank lots of the ghastly stuff! After a couple of minutes it was status normal for Terence. I explained to my rescuer that my Supercar was somewhere on the bottom of the lake, but despite a couple of attempts, salvage did not occur, big boo hoo!!!
2) The next time I can remember being close to the Reaper must’ve been when I was 17, and asking my then girlfriend Chris Langley to “acquire” me a bottle of Courvoisier brandy, as the Faces and Keith Richards drank it, and yeah I wanted to be as Rock’n’Roll as them.
I’d seen pictures in Sounds and NME, Rod would nonchalantly walk on stage, bottle in hand. And just like I’ve said in my Dennis Wilson article, in the early 1970’s it was cool to be wasted, on drugs or alcohol or both, a dreadful example was set by the Rock stars of the time, some of whom paid the price with their lives, Thankfully I never got to be ultimately cool, i.e. DEAD. Though I tried really hard!
So I decided to try and drink a whole bottle, at a party we went to, at the Labour hall in Church street, Maldon, which is now a mosque. No doubt Mohammed would be rolling around Heaven if he knew the heathen debauchery that took place in that building.
Around the Punk era many bands made their debut there. The Accidents played lots of gigs there, along with the British Legion hall(opposite the Carpenters Arms in Gate street, now a private residence) St Mary’s hall (long gone, in Mill Road, just prior to Maldon museum, now a a small block of flats. A preferred party venue and rehearsal room for the Accidents,) and of course the much missed Jubilee hall, now the “town” hall.
So there I am, top off the bottle, drinking it straight from, and probably got a whole third of a bottle down my greg, before the evil mistress nausea got hold of me. I can remember vomiting so ferociously I thought my internal organs were going to exit my body via my throat! Gad, it was BAD! I think Chris must’ve gathered me up and took me back to Veronica’s house in Beeleigh road, and from there on in I was treated like some seriously ill personage, and given much nursing and sympathy. My first foray into serious drinking, but sadly not my last!
3) The next brush with Sante Muerte was in Colchester, must’ve been just prior to Punk, around early summer 1976. I was with the brother of my dear friend Abraham, a Sudanese chap and a thoroughly nice bloke.
I was at Colchester Art school in 1975 as it was then, and there were many foreign students at Colchester institute, which was nearby. Looking back, it was the first time I’d met black people, or indeed seen so many.
And Colchester still had a lot of mystique and intrigue for me. There were lots of venues and clubs and pubs, all teaming with good looking women.
Abraham was a sweet, gentle soul, a handsome fuzzy bear faced fellow. His Brother and I were waiting for him to return to his flat and he suggested a tipple and pulled out a bottle of Teacher’s whiskey. Good taste would’ve ordinarily prevented me from partaking(Jed and Tom had taught and shown me many times, good whiskey MUST be single malt) but as I had no wish to offend, I imbibed a glass. And another. And another. And another. There was a large coffee table between the two armchairs we sat in, glass topped and rather grand, and this was where the bottle and our drams sat. After pretty much draining the bottle I was well fried, and asked Abraham’s bro where the toilet was. He told me and I stood up………..and promptly fell head first into the coffee table, totalling the glass with my cranium. I can recall becoming quite sober as I realised I’d fallen through the table and managed not to cut my throat or somesuch, and that I was still actually alive, all be it in a ridiculous position with my waist bearing my weight on what remained of the table, essentially a wooden frame, with my face on the floor in a carpet of shattered glass.
I managed to haul myself up and started to laugh heartily, probably more a nervous laugh than any other. Unfortunately Abraham’s brother didn’t see the funny side, and called me all the so and so’s on the face of the earth, and demanded that I pay to have the glass replaced!
I can recall poor old long suffering Alfie having to sort the re-glazing, no doubt at his own expense……………sorry Pa!!!
4) The next time I nearly got the full pine overcoat was again in Colchester, at the notorious Colne Lodge. The Lodge was THE best bar in Colchester in the 1970’s, choc full of gorgeous women, some local but mostly from the Institute or the Uni.
It had an odd entrance, a big wooden door, which you could miss if you didn’t know the delights within. There were two bars on the ground floor, separated by a walk way, either side the walls were glass so as you came in you could see the action in both bars.There was some live music, indeed I can recall playing there, the last time I believe on a Sunday lunchtime with the Flying Heroes. It was exotic for its time, the bar staff were great and the alcohol cheap and off the map. The jukebox was really cool, lots of Punk and credible 70’s Rock. In 1977, post rehearsal, if we weren’t gigging, the Accidents, that is me, and my Droogies Will and Paul would blast over to the Lodge in Will’s Citroen van, eye up the female exotica and drink a few pints of the “reassuringly expensive” Stella Artois, a new beer on the market around that time. It was really cold, tasted totally different to the disgustingly monikered “wife Beater” of today, and after 3 of them, one would start to feel quite squiffy.
However, on this particular occasion we weren’t drinking Stella, we were drinking Foster’s, another new brand of beer on the market.
The boys and I had become aquainted with two Aussie guys who drank at the Colne lodge, very funny, intelligent chaps.
Of course Alfie loved all things Aussie, its culture, people, and most of all the country its self, having visited the place many times in the 1950’s. He often told the story to any one that would listen, that I should’ve been an Aussie beach bum, cos he really wanted to emigrate there in the late 1950’s, but when my Pa suggested it to my Ma, she said “what about me Mum?”
So anyway, Alfie’s endorsement of Oz was all I needed to become drinking buddies with these guys, and on this particular occasion we were standing at the top of the stairs of the first floor bar, 15 steep steps, then maybe half a dozen more in the opposite direction, which led to the basement.
We’d had a few, these guys could really tip it down their necks. Will and I weren’t slouches but crikey it seemed like every 10 minutes these guys ordered another. So after maybe 3 or 4 I’m draining the last remnants of Fosters from my glass, with my back to the stairs, when suddenly I loose my footing and tumble all the way down the stairs backwards. To this day I wonder how the hell I managed to fall down those stairs and not break my neck, a feat surely Hollywood’s finest stuntmen would find hard to replicate! When I hit the bottom, there were smashed bottles and glasses lying on the floor, a very large shard of which punctured my back. Fortunately my trusty bike leather saved me from further injury from the glass. I believe Will helped me to my feet, and up the stairs, whereupon I removed the lump of glass from my back and checked for further injuries, of which amazingly I had none!
I don’t recall drinking with the Australians after that evening……….
5) In October 1989 I had probably my closest encounter with the Angel of Death.
It was at a gig with the Surf Rats in a pub called the Queen’s Head, in Heybridge street, now renamed the Heybridge inn. The Queen’s was run by a brilliant character, Paul Taylor. It would take a whole other article to fully explain his idiosyncrasies. He was almost a John Cleese doppelgänger, a master practical joker(he’d break open small fireworks and empty the gunpowder into the pub ashtrays, so that the first people in the pub late morning, usually well hungover, alcoholic types, would stub out their cigs and produce pyrotechnic flashes and bangs, much to their great fright and Paul’s great delight!) a music lover of some taste, an outstanding cook and generally all round good egg and mad bastard.
The Surf Rats played many, many gigs there, and this particular evening I’d come back from Florida several weeks previous, under a very dark cloud as I’d split with the then major love of my life, Emma Dickison. It had been Emma that had taken me over to Florida to live, in January 1987, tho’ we started dating shortly after meeting up at a Flying Heroes reunion at Woods in Colchester, late August 1985.
We’d been through hell and back, a thoroughly harrowing break up for me, Emma was my world, a huge influence and inspiration, probably the first actual grown up woman I’d had a relationship with. She was drop dead gorgeous, blonde and leggy, intelligent and feisty, sexy as hell, and losing her simply broke my heart.
In those days I played more electric guitar with the Rats, mostly a Strat copy, through Roy Saywood’s Peavey Bandit, tho’ I was wont to pick up E’s Burns Double Six when the mood took me, a beast of a 12 string, a green sunburst beauty.
I don’t think we were very far into the 2nd set this particular Saturday when I decided to put the Strat down and pick up the Burns. Going into my usual rant and dedications I grabbed the mike, whilst holding onto the Burns with my left hand.
It’s really hard to explain the next sensation, but I could feel the electricity flowing from my left hand, through to my heart, and into my right hand. My heart felt like it was cramping, a thoroughly horrible sensation, probably how a minor heart attack feels. I was receiving a massive electric shock!
But it was what was going on in my head that was really strange. Firstly, my vision was completely tunnel , no peripheral sight what so ever. And the world went slow motion, like a video tape that had been slowed down, real time. I told myself that I probably wouldn’t see Emma any more, and it was because I was an asshole. Our years together seem to be playing on fast forward in my memory, the proverbial “Life flashing in front of my eyes” experienced by people in near death scenarios.
But after what seemed like a few minutes, my vision started to fade to black, as did my thoughts, and I suppose at that point my heart was ready to give out, and I began to die.
The next thing I knew I was lying behind the drum kit with a big fellow standing over me who said “Christ I think he’s dead!” I opened my eyes and said “No, I’m not!”
Bill Legend, our drummer, was laying opposite me, I’d hit him flying backwards over the drum kit, and the shock from me had knocked him out. I felt battered, but worse still I had no flesh on the knuckles of my right hand, I’d bashed them on the drum kit as I flew through the air, tho’ the electricity had cauterised them, I could see sinews and bone, it was ghastly. And my left hand was burnt, especially my finger tips, I’d literally left my fingerprints on E’s Burns, skin and all. Thankfully Jem had kicked the mike out of my hand and broke the circuit, then E had shut down the power. It seems someone had come to the play area in the break between sets to talk and inadvertently stepped on the power lead of the p.a. amp, causing the earth wire to short on the live.
Somebody had called an ambulance, and luckily a Nurse(Tina, a lovely Welsh woman and Rats devotee) was in the audience. She stopped me from going into shock by putting a wet tea towel on my back, it sounds daft but it worked! And I told Paul to cancel the ambulance, hey I was alive!
I was “friendly” with a Scottish gal at the time, June. She was concerned about my wounds and wanted me to go and get them checked at the A&E the following day, I declined assuring her I was fine. However when I woke on Monday morning my right hand was 3 times it’s normal size! I felt awful and happily agreed to visit the hospital.
When I got there, after the Doctor had examined me, she explained that she was glad I’d visited the hospital that day, as Gangrene had started to set in on my knuckles. Great, I thought. And after a shot in my bum and my wounds dressed I was sent home, tho’ for a month I had to go to the Doctors every 3 days to have my knuckles redressed. And because there was quite a lot of flesh missing, the nurse filled my wounds with what looked like rubbery Polifilla! It took an number of years for my hands to return to normal, and what did Paul Taylor have to say to me?
“Oi Sparky, me bloody meter spun round like mad whilst you were getting your shock! Any chance of a couple of quid for the bill?”
6) The next time my toes nearly went “up” was at a party that Jem and I attended, with Clive(Lib), sometime in the early 1990’s. I say around this time because I was dressed head to toe in leather. A leather trench coat, leather trousers, leather riding boots, not sure about the shirt, probably black with a collar and a bootlace tie, with leather gloves, of course, courtesy of Clive. And a leather waistcoat too no doubt! There’s a pic of Al and I in Sweden with me in the same outfit. I look like a Hitler youth.
Anyways, for some reason Jem had been invited to this party in a bungalow somewhere outside of Maldon, Woodham Walter I believe. There was a band playing in the garden, which was of no interest to us as it sounded like what Alan would term “Indie wank”, and we were the mighty Surf Rats for God’s sake. No, we got on with the serious business of drinking as much gold foiled Merrydown strong cider as we could wind down our necks.
The memory is quite obviously hazy, I seem to recall us making our base camp in the hallway, which had a small shelf, jolly handy for bottles of Merrydown.
Jem suddenly grabbed the smoke machine from the stage area, and decided to attempt to gas the entire occupants of the bungalow, running around the house laughing like a maniac, thick chemical smoke billowing everywhere.
Everyone started coughing, the white smoke from the machine was particularly toxic, it was like the swamp scene from “Apocalypse Now”!
This was just too funny for me, and I started laughing hysterically, staggering around in a haze of weed and cider. And in another one of those “Oh fuck, I’m staggering backwards” moments, unbeknown I had come into close proximity with a plate glass door, and proceeded to fall through said door backwards!
The glass must’ve been pretty thick cos I seem to recall my head hitting it with a fair clunk, but then my whole body followed and made pretty short work of it. As I lay on the floor, seriously dazed and confused, both Jem and Clive started laughing their asses off. As I tried to get up, the bottom panel of the door with the last remnants of the glass, seemed to be caught behind my knees and I simply couldn’t move. This just increased the mirth factor for Jem and Clive, tho’ finally Clive came over and helped me up, all of us still laughing(and coughing) madly! Thank God, Elvis, Gene Vincent, Marlon Brando, the Ramones et al for making black leather the ultimate Rock’n’Roll cool, cos it sure saved my life that night.
But we were still coughing as a result of that bloody smoke for several weeks afterwards…
7) The last time I almost met my maker was around 6 years ago. At the time I was with Barb, and on a Friday we’d end my working day with drinkies at the Mill Beach pub, with our friends Lee and Liz. Lee and Liz took the pub over in 2002, and we got on with them like the proverbial house on fire. They were funny, smart, laid back and ballsy and we adored them. The Friday drinkies had actually started whilst I was still caring for Pa, we’d pop in for an hour or so prior to Pa’s return from day care.
It was major respite whilst I was a carer, anyone who’s been in that situation will tell you a few hours away from the person you’re caring for are precious, like drops of water to a very thirsty man.
And of course I go back so far with the Beach, Ian says the Surf Rats first played there in 1986, I think it was ’87, either way I’ve played literally hundreds of gigs there, had huge amounts of fun and lifted the roof off many a time. It’s home turf for me.
This Friday, as had become the norm, we were drinking copious amounts of lager, with our usual Glen Morangie chasers. I love Glen Morangie, love that burn and the chocolate after taste, yummy! I think that’s down to years of drinking with Jed and Tom, God bless them both, they were whisky connoisseurs really, I spose they’d drank so much whisky they really knew what was what. We’d drank Glen Fiddich at the Queen’s Head on the quay when I was barely out of my teens, and enjoyed that. But when I say Glen Morangie is the most popular single malt in the Scottish Highlands I think you’ll know where I’m coming from. And let’s not forget the old Highland adage, oft quoted by Jed, “Whisky when you’re sick makes you well, whisky when you’re well makes you sick!”.
Barb and I as per were on our bikes. Sometimes the journey got a bit surreal on the way home, depending on our consumption, but I do recall Barb chastising me many times for cycling on the wrong side of the road!
After our usual couple of hours of boozing, Karaoke and merriment, we hit the trail homewards, probably around 7. I don’t recall being super Stomridged(a term first coined by Clive Grizzel, it’s Dutch for laundromat, a description he uses for being out of it) but our first stop was Tesco express, tho’ I know not why. There was a promotion for Ritz crackers that intrigued me, and as I leant forward to read the blah unfortunately I lost my footing and fell head first into the display. Crunchy biscuits all around, legs and arms flailing. Barb and the gal serving were none too impressed, and I recall being virtually frog marched out of the shop!
When we got home Barb cooked up a delicious steak din dins.
As was our norm, we ate in bed, so as to watch Jonathan Ross’s chat show. Barb turned and asked me if my steak was good, drunkenly I replied yes, and promptly sawed off a huge chunk and popped it in my mouth, smiling wanly, like Buster Keaton.
Unfortunately, somehow, the steak went down my windpipe, and not my throat.
I tried to cough it up to no avail, and realised I simply couldn’t breath! And not only that, I couldn’t talk either! Hooray I hear some of you cry!
So I got up and went into the bathroom, attempting to dislodge this massive piece of cow from my throat. Barb obviously sensed something was wrong, and asked me what was happening, I could only reply with throaty grunts, worthy of some Death Metal singer, like the chap from Sepultura. Thankfully Barb realised I was choking but couldn’t manage the Hinelich manoeuvre, so she just punched me as hard in the middle of my back as she could, and sure enough the offending piece of meat popped out of my windpipe, and with minor effort went down my throat. I was shaking like a leaf, I had shed more tears in that couple of minutes than I ever had in my whole life, and the blood had drained completely from my face, and Barb said I had a dreadful blue tint. Thank God Barb was there, otherwise good reader, yours truly would not be recounting this. A truly dreadful way to die. And it’s funny, it’s one of my sister Helen’s biggest fears, choking on food, in the absence of any one to save her.
It’s been quite scary reading this piece back. All the times I could’ve killed myself. And my poor parents, it would have destroyed them had I have managed to succeed. I guess someone up in the great beyond must have been keeping an eye on me. Whoever you were/are, thanks a lot!!!
MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY!!!