By Jane Hyphen
I wouldn’t go out of my way to listen to Dire Straits but when one of those songs unexpectedly enters my consciousness it’s rather like a punctuation mark, it shakes you up, breaks up the day somewhat, it changes the pattern of your brainwaves. The dull, hard edged lyrics, the sublime guitar arrangements, there's not really anything else like it and it takes you right back to another time.
In my case this is secondary school. Nobody at my school listened, none of us listened to the teachers, we once locked our art teacher in a cupboard and laughed while she had a panic attack. We were horrible but that’s state schools in Birmingham I guess. And nobody listened to Dire Straits, nobody, but many were passive listeners, subjected to it on car journeys by their fathers and it became hard wired into their young, malleable brains. A group of boys in particular used to sing the lyrics, play air guitar to the riffs and laugh, take the piss about how much their dads love Dire Straits. It was clear that somewhere deep inside they loved it too.
One of these boys was called Brooksy. He was made of glass, slender and elegant with translucent skin like one of those Italian glass animals. He was so familiar to me that we could almost have been related, third cousins or something, maybe we were related, who knows, when you grow up in the same place as your parents and their parents, it’s not all that unlikely. We had the same sense of humour, we could get silly in front of each other quite comfortably. I was prone to getting to the extreme end of silly at times, Brooksy didn’t flinch, as long as we dealt in humour, our friendship was easy. However on serious matters we were awkward around one other and overall we were not close but we just had a sort of invisible closeness which only we knew about.
I remember an incident when one of one of the boys in class mentioned something about the occasion when Brooksy’s father, Mr Brooks was helping him build a bird table for Scouts and something went wrong and he ended up seriously injuring his eye. I observed Brooksy as he became very uncomfortable and obviously felt some sort of guilt over his dad’s eye. I saw during that conversation that he was quite vulnerable beneath all that humour and pisstaking.
Apart from our shared sense of humour my two main memory branches of Brooksy relate to Dire Straits and the story of the bird table and his dad’s eye injury. For this reason, for me, the sound of Dire Straits will be forever strangely affiliated with DIY. Not just ordinary DIY but in the vein of Mark Knopfler’s guitar playing, the music makes me think of woodwork perfection; immaculate mortise and tenon joints, dovetail joinery, faultless carpentry. It’s the music you play when you want to achieve some sort of godly engineering, some divine craftsmanship. If you were going to introduce some sort of artistry and embellishment, maybe a bit of carving then you might listen to the curvaceous tones of the Sultans of Swing. Although that could easily go wrong I think, those bends are sort of distracting, they take you to some sort of edge, you could be tipped off balance, an accident might occur.
The quiet bond I had with Brooksy was shattered when he and I were fifteen and he asked me out, he got a friend to do it for him over the phone. I wasn’t keen on his friend, he was a show-off with a stupid name, Julian, so my back was up as soon as I heard his voice on the phone, ‘Will you go out with Brooksy?’ I said no, ‘I like him as a friend but...no.’
It wasn’t the same after that, exchanged looks were tainted, the humorous banter between us stopped. I couldn’t have gone out with Brooksy because he wasn’t cool enough, I didn’t want to go out with boys I loved instead I wanted to go out with boys who were popular and trendy. We left school, I went to catering college and became an imbecile for a couple of years and then made up for lost time, gave up alcohol, got my head down, engaged in some self-education, learnt about punctuation, got a job, ‘Down in the tunnel trying to make it pay.’
I forgot about Brooksy almost altogether until his name came up in conversation some years later. My mother was talking about a family friend who was in my year at school and how he’d been depressed and hadn’t got over his mate’s death in a motorcycle accident. Then she said I might have known his mate, Brooksy. I muttered something sympathetic while something died a little inside me, the thing is it’s still dying.
Of course Brooksy would love motorcycles, he was just the sort of boy who would relish the relationship between man and machine and the freedom that comes with it. Of course being made from glass he was vulnerable. There was a sort of fate attached to this revelation which I felt somehow guilty for being ignorant of, it was as if I should have somehow seen it coming, maybe even stopped it. I wonder now what were his final moments like, was he speeding, was he drunk? Did he experience that same energy you get from listening to Mark Knopfler’s guitar arrangements while on his motorbike. That fired energy we all crave but we know it will damage us if we take too much at once. Did he take it to the max, take it too far, take risks, was it in some way his choice?
I’ll never know but now that my children are a similar age I feel so sad for his parents as well as myself. None of us expect, at that age for events to conspire in such a way that some of our friends will never get to do ‘The Walk of Life’. Sometimes I think he would have been such a better boyfriend to me than the ones I chose. Sometimes I hold his memory against me, feel his glassy body like a mirror and I can see myself, my own life and try and be grateful for what I’ve had.