:: Article

Cabinet of Curiosities #1 – Steve Finbow

Curated by Darran Anderson.

As soon as I could walk, my grandfather taught me how to trap, pass, dribble and shoot a football – with both feet. The problem was, my grandfather was an ardent Sunderland supporter. We’d get the Pink (newspaper) on a Tuesday morning, sent from relatives in Whitburn, the cartoon ball happy, sad or neutral depending on Sunderland’s result the previous Saturday (mostly sad). If Sunderland was playing in London, my grandfather would drive his light-blue Ford Popular to Cold Blow Lane, Brisbane Road, or we’d watch games from Chelsea’s North Stan, or sometimes the old Clock End at Highbury. Despite three of my great uncles playing for the club in the 1930s, and a relative of mine – Jimmy Montgomery – a legendary Sunderland goalkeeper, for some reason I rebelled and started supporting Liverpool. There is a dubious photo of me aged eleven sitting on steps outside the flats where I lived, dressed in a West Ham away kit and holding my Siamese cat Benji on a lead but, ever since 1968, from the age of seven, I’ve supported Liverpool. My mother found this squad poster in the attic and I’m going to have it framed and hang it on the wall in my new Walthamstow Village house.

Sometime around 1974, my life changed. I’d always read books but was more interested in playing football or listening to music. As I moved into my fourth year at Feltham Comprehensive, I was lucky enough to have three teachers who introduced me to writers and artists who still have a profound influence on my work and lifestyle. After reading my English compositions (heavily influenced by HP Lovecraft and WH Hodgson), Mrs Straker gave me Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Other Stories to read – it blew my mind, it still does. Because of my interest in the Chartists, my history teacher Mrs John slipped me a copy of The Communist Manifesto. I don’t think it was a political act, just a little intellectual nudge. Mrs Price allowed me to attend art classes twice a week rather than going to car mechanics (her husband taught that pointless, begriming class) and left this Magritte book on my desk. I borrowed it, then ransacked the local library for anything on Surrealism. In early 1976, prompted by Patti Smith’s Horses, I visited Compendium in Camden and bought the Rimbaud – I still have it, dated in the inside front cover – sadly, it’s the only survivor but it holds the ghosts of the others between its yellowing pages.

This is the nappy from an original pair of bondage trousers bought from Seditionaries in early 1977 (thanks to Paul Gorman for confirming this ad if you want to know anything about street fashion in that era and others, visit his blog). I also owned a white leather zipped No Future tie (red satin inside), a Sex Pistols mug (which I dropped on the way home after a drunken Saturday afternoon running away from Teddy Boys on the Kings Road), and a number of T-shirts, including the gay cowboy one, which my mother used to turn inside out before hanging on the washing line. I’ve no idea how this piece of punk nostalgia remains in my possession – but it is my one item from that era that I still wear. A hard choice between the nappy and my CBGB’s T-shirt I’ve owned since 1989. A few years ago, I found a facsimile of the fantastic Karl Marx shirt (as worn by Glen Matlock) in the 666 store in Harajuku, Tokyo. Could I get it on? Could I fuck.

My rings – my bling. The one on my pinkie finger (which is upside down for some reason) is an antique-silver signet pill ring inset with black jade. I bought it from Paul Smith back in the early 1990s. The Celtic band is a replacement wedding ring for one from Hatton Garden that became discoloured after a week but not as much as the eye of the guy who sold it to me, who, when I complained, helpfully told me, “Let me explain something to you, gold comes out of the ground.” Thwack! Pow! The third is my favourite – not a demon but a gargoyle – and again antique silver from Paul Smith. I don’t feel dressed without them. Each has its own memory attached – the first, of someone I miss and may never see again; the second for a place I lived for a long time (and, yes, where they’ve destroyed all the decent pubs); and the third, because my left middle finger would be bereft and powerless without it. I also have a silver necklace my current girlfriend gave me that goes well with my denim shirt, and a gunmetal inverted crucifix on a silver chain I bought from a stall in Ameyokocho in Ueno, Tokyo.

In February 2003, I collapsed at work and was rushed to hospital where surgeons discovered I had pancreatitis. My gall bladder – full of sludge – had been rubbing against my pancreas for years and, finally, it erupted. That evening, doctors called my then wife and told her to get a taxi to UCH; I wasn’t going to last the night. I did, obviously, thanks to the heroin addict in the emergency ward who pissed me off so much – I think anger got me through that one. I stayed in hospital until June, losing half my body weight and nearly dying on five occasions, one of which saw me on a wooden bench in a treatment room while my surgeons chased around my arterial system burning off the ends of arteries to stop poisonous enzymes stripping them down – sort of a reverse Body World. You know you’re in trouble when your usually dour and tight-lipped Scottish surgeon shouts, “Fuck!” I have five metal coils inside me much to the mystification of Japanese doctors and X-ray machine operators. My pancreas is now a stub and I’ve had so many organs removed I rattle when I walk.

Steve Finbow is the author of Balzac of the Badlands, Tougher than Anything in the Animal Kingdom, Nothing Matters, and Allen Ginsberg – Critical Lives. His work has appeared in many anthologies and journals both print and online. He has just moved to Walthamstow Village.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, August 25th, 2012.