This was written the day that David Bowie passed and is my tribute to the great man.
Today was not starting well, I wasn’t certain right now if it would end well.
Just after seven this morning the radio news reported the passing of David Bowie. The irony was that I’d been playing Hunky Dory last night, and was expecting the brand new CD in the post later this morning.
David had been much more than a musical artist to me, and my parents; I’d been named Ziggy when I made my first appearance in the mid seventies. Of course, most kids at school assumed it was a nickname, as did the teachers. We would go through the same routine every time a new Head arrived at my secondary school every six months, under the inner city rotating door policy:
“What’s your name, boy?”
“Ziggy Marrs, Sir.”
“Your real name.”
“Ziggy Marrs, Sir, that’s what it says on my birth certificate.”
“A fake one, no doubt.”
“With respect Sir, you’re the one taking the piss out of me.”
That usually led to suspension and a few days off school. My mum would try to see the Head but he was always too busy to be proven wrong. My discipline record was therefore appalling, even though not one teacher had ever complained about me and my work was always on time. My last day at school had affected me in more ways than I could have imagined.
Punk had been and gone by the time I was sixteen, the New Romantics were the idols of the time. There was a grudging acceptance that boys could wear make-up, so long as it was on the stage or in a TV studio. The girls, however, would compete among themselves to create the craziest current pop star look, in school, in the street, or anywhere they chose. I was content with a haircut that almost shouted “rebel” – it nearly reached my blazer’s collar.
On my last day at the school, June 1989, we were to be treated to a local covers band in the school hall. School leavers were also excused uniforms that day as we’d finished our exams and lessons were a distant memory. One of the drama teachers, Miss Thompson, didn’t look much older than us sixteen year olds and was a breath of fresh air compared to the crusty old teachers. She decided there would be a musical-themed fancy dress competition half-way through the band’s two hour set. She didn’t even bother telling the latest Head, our first female Head had only just arrived at the school and was still settling in.
I had a few days after the last exam to decide what my costume would be. That was easy really, Ziggy Stardust. Mum had a silver jumpsuit I could borrow, but the legs were slightly too long for me. Mum’s solution was to borrow a pair of her heels. Her sister had been a hairdresser before having children so agreed to style my hair for me, after dyeing it red. A little flashy makeup and I would be set.
I hadn’t been one of the popular kids at school so just kept my head down, at five foot eight that was easy. Even my name was, by this time, not regarded as extraordinary. Therefore no-one was even expecting me to turn up to the gig.
The gig started at three, just as the school day ended, it had been suggested that all the school leavers met up half an hour beforehand, there was also some administration to deal with, following a phone call the previous evening.
“Hello Ziggy, it’s the school office.”
“Hello, has the concert been cancelled?” Ziggy’s hair was already bright red – had the effort been wasted?
“Oh no, it’s just to remind you to bring a self-addressed envelope with you tomorrow if you want your exam results posted. Are you going to be at home for the summer?”
“Probably not, I guess I won’t be able to pick them up.”
“Okay, don’t forget, will you?”
At two I was dressed and made-up. My mum was still at work so aunt Claire had been over, and had since gone. There were now two problems; it was raining and I realised that the jumpsuit had no pockets; I didn’t have a plan B so tried my best to work around it. None of my school bags seemed suitable so I went looking for one of mum’s spare bags that didn’t scream ‘girl’. I found a small silver shoulder bag that seemed to go with the jump suit and decided that was the less-than-ideal solution.
I didn’t worry about emptying anything of mum’s out so a pink lipstick and waterproof mascara stayed in there, with a packet of tissues. I put my wallet, keys and a brush in the bag then remembered a small camera, first checking if it had a film in it.
While going around the house I realised I was a little uncomfortable. I’d put a white t-shirt on but this was not working, my shoulders were rubbing every time I lifted my arms. Back to mum’s room where I found one of her vests. That fitted better and was more comfortable, at least no-one would see it under the jumpsuit.
I slipped my feet into the shoes mum had left for me, these were higher than the pair we’d originally settled for – at least a two inch heel – but were silver. The hem of the leg would cover much of the shoe, and how many people look at feet anyway? I needed a coat but none of mine came below my waist. Mum came to the rescue again, or at least one of her raincoats. This was knee length, even if it was almost completely clear.
I put my house keys in the bag, slipped it over my shoulder and put the raincoat over the top. Finally I was ready to leave. I hadn’t even stepped out of the door when Hazel, one the girls in my English and Maths classes, stopped and did a double take.
“Woah, Zig, is that you?”
I was suddenly very aware of how I looked. “Err, yes Haze.”
“It looks great, come with me as Louise’s mum is giving us a lift. There’ll be room in the car for you, walking in those heels on these pavements is a non-starter, girl.”
Girl? I wonder if anyone ever called David Bowie a girl? I decided not to answer anything more than “Okay” and followed Hazel along the street. I knew Louise from school but had never really spoken to her, however her mum recognised me.
“Get in Ziggy, you’ll be soaked before you reach the school.”
“Are you sure? I don’t want to …”
“Just get in!”
I slid in the back with Hazel and grunted a hello to Louise who was trying not to giggle. I felt myself going red, was this all a bad idea?
Ten minutes later we pulled into the school carpark and the three of us walked into the school main entrance. A sign directed us to the fifth form common room, I became very aware of my heels as they clicked across the tiled floor, although I noticed Louise was also wearing heels, Hazel was wearing boots. So, I was checking out their feet – so much for me thinking …. I started to panic.
“Ziggy, what’s up?”
“I’m going home, Hazel.”
“No, you’re not. You’ve put a fair bit of work into that outfit.” Hazel took my arm and guided me into the common room before removing my raincoat.
I wanted to slide into a corner but the two girls seemed to have other ideas. Fortunately we were first in the room.
“Come on Ziggy, come with us.”
“I need the loo, I’ll meet you back here.”
“That’s where we’re going, bring your bag – I presume you have some make-up in there?”
“Mum left some, why?”
I followed them along the corridor and they held the door of the girls toilets open for me.
“I can’t go in there!”
“In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s no fly on that outfit of yours, so you’ll have to almost strip to use the loo. Are the locks on the cubicles in the boys’ still broken?”
“Yes, how would you know?”
“Never mind, I guess the mirror’s still broken too?”
“Since Christmas. Last year.”
“Come in, before you’re noticed. We’ve got twenty five minutes.”
In my five years at this school I’d never once stepped inside the girls’ loos so had no idea what to expect. In practice, apart from the lack of urinals and a dispenser on the wall it looked just like the boys’ – so long as you ignored the graffiti and damage.
I stood looking around when one of the girls opened a cubicle door and pushed me in. “We’ll be waiting for you when you’re done.”
I hung mum’s, my, bag on the hook and started to disrobe, trying to keep the jumpsuit clear of the pan. A couple of minutes later I was at the sink washing my hands.
Hazel was going through my bag that I’d dropped on the vanity.
“This lipstick is a different shade to the one you’re wearing, where did that go?”
“My aunt must have taken it, she did my hair and face. I don’t think I need more lipstick.”
“You must have brushed your face just now as there’s a streak up the side of your mouth. It looks like plum and I don’t have anything close, Louise?”
Louise was in a cubicle but swung the door open.
“I don’t think so Hun, I’ll check tho.”
I didn’t want to look at my new friend who was sat on the loo just a few feet away. If I looked uncomfortable the girls didn’t mention it. A minute later Louise was stood at the vanity.
“Okay Ziggy, that pale pink isn’t really suitable. I have a tube of cherry in here that I won’t use, an ex boyfriend bought it for me.”
“I couldn’t take it.”
“It’s still sealed, I was going to throw it away but you can take it.”
“I can’t do it myself.”
“You wouldn’t be the first girl I’ve sorted out.”
“You don’t think a boy would be in here, would you? Stand Still and purse your lips.”
I felt like a real idiot, but figured Ziggy Stardust wouldn’t have given in. I kept trying to look in the mirror but Louise pulled my head back towards her.
“If you won’t stand still I’ll have you looking like Coco the Clown.” I stood still.
Finally the three of us made it out of the loo and back to the common room. The room that had been empty was now filled with eager sixteen year olds, some had even made an attempt at a costume, although I couldn’t see any boy that had bothered to make an effort.
“Ah, Ziggy, Hazel, Louise. Good. I’d like to introduce the new Head, Mrs Garnett.”
All eyes were upon the three of us, although I guess Hazel and Loise were enjoying the recognition. I wasn’t.
“Thank you to all of you who have come back this afternoon. I only started here as Headteacher last week so won’t have met any of you before today. Anyway, I have read your files and know that the little urchins who started here age eleven are leaving here as young adults. Having said that, your files do not always make sense when confronted with the student him or herself.” Mrs Garnett was looking straight at me, smiling.
“Anyway, I’ve been informed that a few of the adjacent schools may try to get into the concert so we’re using a little sensible security this afternoon. Boys will get a blue wristband, girls a pink one. No wristband, no entry. The caretaker, Mr Pentecost, will be checking the boys for booze, cigarettes and interlopers. Miss Thompson will be checking the girls.”
While the Head was talking, the drama teacher was moving around the room, reaching me last – she handed me a pink band.
“Firstly, I’m out of blue bands but I think you’ll be safer with the girls anyway.”
I didn’t know what to say, but Hazel intevened. “We’ll look after her, Miss.”
“Now, we won’t have any booze in the hall and anyone found with booze will be ejected. But, to prove I’m no grouch, there’s a few dozen bottles in the corner that I brought back on a duty-free trip recently. Put the empties in the box please, the bottles do not leave this room, understood?”
I wasn’t going to have any lager but someone put a bottle in my hand, the cap was still on it. A moment later Louise had whipped the cap off. “My Dad told me to always carry a bottle opener to a party.”
By half three when we moved to the hall, a few dozen bottles had been downed and everyone was relaxing. Louise and Hazel pulled me into the girls’ loo again.
The concert went well, even though the band weren’t brill. I stayed with the girls, plus their friends, until six when the gig finished. Of course I knew all of them by sight but I’d never talked to any of them before, I mean really talked. I’d joined in with the herd mentality and even told some gossip about two of the boys in my science class.
Mum was waiting at the entrance for me.
“I see you borrowed a few things?”
“So long as you didn’t lose anything, or leave it behind? Get in.”
“Can we give Hazel and Louise a lift? Louise’s mum can’t pick them up.”
“Of course.” I waved the girls over.
“Now, who won the fancy dress?”
“She did, Mrs Marrs, I mean Ziggy.”
That day in 1989 had been an eye-opener to me. I’d experimented with clothing, hair and make-up from that moment on but when I heard the news this morning my world stood still. Only last night I’d been playing one of his albums, the vinyl was still next to the player. Bowie had been my inspiration, so did my aspirations die as well?
No, from today I make my own way in the world, except isn’t that what I’ve been doing since I was sixteen?