My dad gave me some money and a little chef map
I was born in February '62 in South Yemen. Dad was a fifties hippy with very short hair. He wrote essays on communism and stuff when he was sixteen. He joined BP as a filing clerk, not really knowing what he wanted to do. One of the first things he did was redesign the whole filing system so no-one knew where anything was except him, which I thought was a good move.
He ended up taking this post in Aden, which is a bit like saying, 'I'm going to the moon.' It's still miles away, but this was in the fifties. Aden was a British colony at the time; BP had a refinery there and they built a town, roads and a hospital. My mother went out later when she'd decided she was going to be a nurse in Aden. So you had two people separately saying, 'I'm going to go to the fucking moon.' So then they met and got married and I was the second kid to come along.
I have an older brother. His name is Mark: he's a couple of years older than me. We've got a cinefilm of him running round playing football then poking me in the eye. There's a great little scene of him, me and my mother, he keeps poking me in the eye and my mother keeps pulling his hand away...And my dad's in other bits with the moustache he had at the time. Very 30-year-old. We left Aden in 1963. There was a revolution once we left...I've got to go back to Aden. My dad's going to take us and show us everything.
We went to Northern Ireland and we were there until '67 and that was great. BP had a refinery in Belfast and we used to go down there and hammer away on the electric typewriters. That was space age stuff to me. There must have been underlying political stuff happening but I was totally oblivious to it. I was going to primary school and drinking these third-pints of milk and the biscuits you'd get at break times and just drawing pictures of our house, Mum, Dad and stuff, and being in a gang and throwing mud balls at passing cars. Everything was being built then and they were constantly building bungalows, so we used to climb all over the roofs of them and pour water in all the cement mixers so it would all harden.
It was an immensely age-spread gang, from four to eleven or twelve. It was just the kids who lived on that street - Ashford Drive in Bangor. Some of them ended up joining the army. But it was a great time. And my mum was alive. I go back there and I remember it all. Asking for sixpence for ice-cream. Running like an idiot and then falling over and smashing my whole front tooth. There was blood and stuff and a lot of yelling but it was actually quite a neat tooth, with a dunce's hat-shaped root coming out of the top of it. I kept it and gave it to my brother as a cufflink from a Plasticraft set, along with a toenail. This is how sick I could be. A bench had fallen on his foot, and a similar bench had hit my foot several months before, and so we had matching smashed toes. I don't know what happened to my toenail but his was preserved in this box so I thought, I'll put these two, my tooth and his toenail, in cufflinks and give them to him as Christmas presents. He was horrified. I couldn't work out why. I think he's still got them. They're these big chunky Plasticraft, blue-based things, one with a toenail and one with a tooth. I now think it's a work of Dadaist brilliance but my artistic career began and ended there with the horrified expression on my brother's face.
So, yeah. Northern Ireland. I left in '67 and moved to South Wales, near Swansea - a place called Skewn. That was very different to the essential green and rain and running around Northern Ireland. I went back when I was 14. I said, 'I'm going to cycle from Sussex to Wales. I want to lose weight.' But my dad gave me some money and a Little Chef map, which was the worst map to give me. I cycled from Little Chef to Little Chef, eating the maple syrup and ice-cream and orange fruities at petrol stations and going to farms and saying, 'Can I sleep in your field?' They'd say, 'Yeah. Here's a bit of water,' and I'd get woken up by cows who were just looking onto the tent scaring the shit out of me.
When I cycled back the smells were so distinct they immediately hit me. The industrial smells of South Wales are incredibly strong. And there was that bit of the A48 as you go along from Cardiff along the M4 - it used to be a motorway, motorway, motorway, then traffic lights. Traffic lights?! There's traffic lights on the motorway! It just changed to an A road for a stretch then back to a motorway.
But my mum died when I was there. March '68. So that was a killer, and rejigged everything. Before my mum died, they decided that me and my brother should go off to these boarding schools, because I think my dad had just got a career going, Having gone to Aden and whatever, he'd been promoted.
My gran used to work in a biscuit factory and cleaned houses and my granddad drove buses, so that was a very working-class background. They were from north Bexhill, Sidley. I've gone back and done benefits there. No hot water, no bathroom, baths in front of the fire, an outside loo, that's what my dad grew up in. He decided me and my brother should go to boarding schools. A single-parent male, that's how you keep it all going.