It’s 1983. Convent-educated teenager Gail dyes her hair blue and escapes suburban boredom in Surrey to live a more exciting life among the colourful punks and squatters of London.
Leaving behind the twitching net curtains and disapproving looks of beige Morden (A.K.A. Bore-don), Gail places a music paper advert to seek out likeminded ‘friends and weirdos,’ and so her adventure begins.
Along the way, Gail meets the good, the bad and the just plain crazy while riding the crest of the anarcho and post-punk wave of music which defined the early 80s underground.
Invited to join punk band the Lost Cherrees as keyboard player, Gail points out that she can’t play any instruments. When the band laugh and reassure her that they can’t play either, she takes the plunge. For two years, the band tours dive venues and releases cult records, and Gail combines the lifestyle of a punk musician with holding down jobs ranging from Camden Market stallholder, to sandwich making and cycle couriering.
Living in squats around the capital, Gail mixes with drug dealers and drunken casualties, at times living life dangerously close to the edge. Encounters with various lunatic personalities leave her nerves frazzled, and a horrific rape at a party leaves her scarred for life, yet she deals with it by campaigning for justice for rape victims.
As Thatcher’s 80s march on, boyfriends and marriage proposals come and go. Mike introduces Gail to motorbikes and before long she is zooming around on an old GT500 which she acquires through ‘cosmic ordering.’
She meets Bill the witch and learns the art of psychic protection and how to read tarot cards, which she finds she has a natural skill for. A new career as a psychic beckons, but although older and wiser, Gail finds she still has a knack for encountering the freaky and surreal.
Soap the Stamps is a true and sometimes harrowing story about a girl finding her way in a London that no longer exists.
Remembered with a sense of humour, Gail’s storytelling has an authenticity that that only an autobiography can provide and a memory for detail that will have you smiling and laughing.
Including snippets from Gail’s diaries you will recognize many musicians and personalities from the underground scene from that period and letters and fan mail that she lovingly kept all these years.
(And the title? A reference to ‘sticking it to authority’ and saving money by travelling on the London Underground without a ticket, and rubbing soap over stamps so the postmark can be removed and the stamps reused. Both popular punk pastimes!)
Having worked at the sandwich bar for a couple of years, and feeling like I really knew and understood the art of the sandwich, I decided it was time to find myself a full-time job that didn’t involve slicing things. To start with, I worked briefly as a bike courier. My calf muscles were already like those of a rugby player having cycled from Morden to Blackfriars – a round trip of thirty miles – every day to the sandwich bar. I rapidly learned the names of the main London streets and areas, after being trapped in a sandwich bar for two years, I enjoyed the job. I was outside all day with the wind in my vivid purple hair. And all the poisonous chemicals in my lungs. The cycling was getting me super-fit meanwhile the pollution felt like it was killing me. I may as well have smoked 40 B&H a day.
The stripy tights I wore beneath my knee-length leggings earned me the affectionate nickname of Pippi Longstocking with the controllers in the dispatch room, although it’s a nickname that only lasted six weeks as my courier days came to a grinding halt one day when I collided with a car turning left in to Wilmington Square off Roseberry Ave in Islington. Little did I know then that I would be living there, less than a year later. I decided to look for a safer occupation instead.
Scouring the newspapers looking for something that would involve less potential death but no sandwiches I noticed an advertisement for a toy tester in Wembley. I had visions of myself playing with teddy bears and Star Wars figures, so I naturally applied and was offered the job.
On my first day I was taken to the toxicity-testing department, and placed in a laboratory where I was issued with a white lab coat and some plastic safety specs. It was like being in Joe 90 but without the strings and jittering limbs. My job was to scrape the paint off toys such as die-cast metal cars or teddy bears’ eyes with a sharp scalpel blade (this is probably against the law now, but at the time teddies still had no rights). I then had to sift the paint scrapings into a small metal sieve then weigh the resulting powder into a test tube ready for the chemists to test with artificial stomach and saliva solutions, to gauge their levels of heavy metals that could be ingested, such as barium, arsenic and mercury. We were imaginatively known as ‘scrapers’ and seemed to be at the very bottom in the jobs hierarchy. The sieve was cleaned with neat acetone in between each paint sifting, so once again I was working with harmful solvents. If any toys failed the tests they would go for retests. Which can be very stressful for a teddy bear, especially the younger ones. The company was part of trading standards and they issued certificates authorising the use of the CE mark and other international safety standard stuff.
One perk of the job was that we could take the tested toys home if they weren’t too mutilated. Sometimes it was just kinder to put them to sleep. I would often arrive home with a disabled teddy who had lost the use of an eye or in more extreme cases, had had an eye completely removed (without anaesthetic). I would give many toys and teddies to Bill the witch’s little nieces who thought I was clearly the best adult in the world as I was an endless source of expensive but physically impaired toys.
My friends soon found out what I was doing for a living and threatened to report me to the teddy bear liberation front for the practice of soft toy vivisection. I couldn’t blame them. I was maiming teddies for money and what’s more, I enjoyed it.
Wow! I just had a peep at the targets and the book is already up to 35% of it's funding- that is OVER the third of the way! So thrilled at everyone who has managed to make a pledge so far.. I'm going to reward you with another snippet.....
6th JANUARY 1983
Flick and I intended to see The Exploited tonight but when we got to Klub Foot the gig had been cancelled so we…
Hello everyone and a huge welcome and Thank You for supporting me. A massive thank you goes to Sharon Brown who was my first friend to make a pledge and help me get started. In fact it was Sharon who found Unbound for me and thought it might be the right place for me.
Today the page went live at 10am. I'm writing this at almost midnight and I already have 11% funding and 20 backers. Not bad for…
These people are helping to fund Soap The Stamps, Jump The Tube.