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WHEN I get up in the morning I look out onto the estate. What a view!
Two dustbins and a Ford Cortina. Some people have flats right at the top of the
highest buildings. Their view must be amazing. I sometimes imagine them all in
their secure little cells. They stand naked like prisoners. I can see only their
backs. They are all semi-silhouetted against their windows: a little boy
watching the traffic stream past as it builds up under the sunrise; an old woman
like my mother, her skin quite loose, watching the black kids down in the street
as they head off for school; a pretty girl holding up her hair. I wonder what
they all feel when they first get up. On another new morning, they are waiting
for it to sink in that they still belong to the White City. Like me.
I'm married to a girl called Alice. We split up when I got out of order. I
drink quite a bit I suppose, that's what comes of being brought up in a pub.
I'm not a brutal person. I just lost my cool one day and broke the bed. My
wife got very frightened and left me, I also hurt my back. First thing in the
morning I go swimming for therapeutic exercise at the White City Pool. The pool
is like a church for me. There isn't much else to do. There used to be an
athletics stadium that doubled as a dog-racing track, but that was knocked down
last month. The young kids have got roller skates, bikes end an adventure
playground: the adults a pub. The rest of us worship at the swimming pool.
A week or so ago I was wandering around the streets after my swim. Sometimes I
see my mum looking Out of her bedroom window at The General Smuts, that's our
pub. At other times I see Alice taking some of the kids she looks after to the
swimming pool. Alice works for a battered women's refuge. I'm glad for her.
I really am. it's worthy work, But she's not working there because I beat
her up. I didn't. She once said what I did to her mentally was just as bad,
it's preoccupied me a lot, We're only in our thirties, our whole lives
before us really. I suppose you could describe me as a bit of a miserable sod.
But I'm not really violent.
I met Pete Fountain that morning. He was wearing a long overcoat and a scarf
even though it was the middle of summer. He looked his age, but healthy. He told
me I looked terrible. Bloody nerve. He was in a group called "Deep End" that
got pretty big. He left to travel the world. When I was a kid I used to see him
playing in our pub. I think he even went out with Alice once or twice. Good name
that: Fountain. There's another Pete Fountain. He was a jazz clarinettist.
People still go up to Pete and say. "Are you the famous jazz-man?" When he
tells them he is the famous guitarist they are usually quite disappointed.
What did he want? Why had he come back? I don't think he had even lived on the
estate proper - he came from nearby Acton. He told me he was looking for his
roots. He remarked on the kids we saw going to school: black and white walking
hand in hand; what an irony that White City still bears all the legends of the
old Empire: South Africa Road; Canada Way; Australia road. It started me
thinking. There are a lot of Caribbeans living here. They live alongside the
Irish and English fairly happily. We've even got an influx of travellers at
the moment, gypsies you might call them, When the Stadium was demolished a lot
of them took over the site with their caravans. Then some of them were found
homes on the estate.
The estate was built in the thirties to contain the New British of a New
Britain. I often wonder whether there are places like it anywhere else in the
world, I suppose there are. In America they describe them politely as ghettos.
Pete seemed glad to see me. In fact he said he'd come especially to look me
up. He had an enormous American car; rich people are so fucking insensitive. He
thought it was very funny to talk about his drummer complaining that the caviar
in their dressing room was the wrong viscosity - for throwing. Spinal Tap is
obviously a true story. Pete wanted to make a film. Not a "Rockumentary",
nothing so pretentious. He called it a "Novel" on video. He said that when
he rang the record company the boss asked. "Has this film got a title yet?"
Pete had to think of something fast. Earlier that day he had taken a short cut
home to his suburban manor in Ealing and had cut through the estate. It was on
his mind. So he said, "Yes, it's called White City." Apparently there was
silence at the end of the phone for a while. Then the guy said softly, "Pete,
I think we have a great movie on our hands."
Of course then Pete was lumbered. He told me his first draft script featured
someone a bit like me who, rising up out of his wheelchair, and dressing as a
woman, seduced his ex-wife in a swimming pool. No wonder he had difficulty
finding the money to make it. Then an Australian film director was found who was
too young to have forgotten who Pete was. He put some jokes into the story. As a
result they got the money and prepared to start. Pete thought to come and visit
us; he was trying to get some ideas for some songs I think.
he kept talking about apartheid. Nowadays these pop stars are all getting so
political. The only apartheid on our estate is between estranged
I took him to the pub to see my mum. Pete greeted her warmly: "Hello
Doris." Very down-to-earth, except my mother's name isn't Doris. I
regretted going: Alice was there with a few of her radical friends. I'm not
anti-feminism, Ijust feel like men should have their own version of it. Maybe
grown men don't need it but boys do. We need protection when we're growing
up. Protection from fathers like mine who spent all his time at the dog-track
laundering money; mothers who spent more time kissing the customers than
cuddling their own kids; dancing teachers who pull your bloody tights off to
beat you in front of a load of sexy little birds in tu-tus. Yeah, that's it
- my life story in three lines.
My mum annoyed me as usual. Told me I could work in the pub to get some extra
money. Bloody nerve. Alice danced around a bit. I kept thinking about when we
were first married. We were very happy really. We tried for some kids but they
didn't come soon enough. Alice is a strong willed woman, Single-handed she
brought up some of her brothers and sisters while her mother worked. She got fed
up when I couldn't get work. We started to argue. I know it's my hang-up,
but when she started to do social work around the estate I felt history
repeating itself - she was spending time looking after other people. But we
did need the money.
With Pete I got drunk in the pub and then went off home leaving him talking to
Alice, To cut a long story short they got on very well according to my mum. Pete
agreed to do a charity gig (the only kind he gets offered these days) at the
pool, and worked up some music for Alice's little synchronised swimming group.
Very cosy; very community-oriented. I decided I wasn't going to sit back and
be cuckolded. Pete had asked me to come and see him play so I did. I dolled
myself up in the Suit he lent me. I felt a kind of strength welling up in me -
it had started when I very first saw him again. You see, he ran away to solve
his problems, I didn't. I stayed and fought at home. The pursuit of heroism,
success and homecomings had given Pete nothing as far as I could see. Being
about five years younger than him I reckon I had the edge. You'd never catch
me in a trench - or on a stage.
Pete kept reminiscing about what he called the Mod-days when they used to run
from pub to pub looking for fights with rivals across the estate borders. He
remembered a romantic childhood. I put him right. He'd escaped having his
teeth kicked in or his nose broken. Alice went all sentimental talking to him,
but even she let him know that it's a hard place and a hard life - he had
had it easy.
It was a good show though - I'll give him that. Pete's band were a bit
tacky looking, but they got the crowd going. Pete's jacket was very Bill
Haley. Maybe that's why he sang everything with an American accent. A guy ran
on from the audience to play the harmonica - he was quite smart. The little
ten-year old swimmers were good too. They made me feel proud to be British. At
least that's what I think I felt. When it was over I finally got to talk to
Alice. She was very understanding. I don't know if we'll ever get back
together again, but at least Pete didn't notch her up. He seems happy enough
now anyway. He's had a look round and made his album and film. He's back in
his office now counting his money no doubt. I sound cynical don't I? Strangely
enough I'm only reflecting his own attitude. But he liked White City. He
seemed to value things I felt were a bit insignificant but it was good to have
them pointed out by an outsider. He also understood the mutually fierce pride
that was keeping Alice and me apart; that neither of us would ever run the way
he once had to. We're different. We're going to face the changes.
Before he left he said to me, "I'm glad I came back. I've learned a lot.
The White City might not be perfect, but it's survived the fall of the British
Empire. Everyone seems to know each other's names, even if they don't
actually get on well. It seems a better place to live than I remembered. Black
and white together."
Yeah - we live together - just. A short-cut gave him the title; the title led
to a song; the music to the film. "I was looking for a faster way home", he
said, "this time I actually found one". I was so moved I gave him one of my
dad's old medals.
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