I often complain to friends and acquaintances who are salaried and at some point will be able to retire on a large pension, that they don’t have the faintest idea of the stresses and strains the self employed must endure.
I also conveniently forget that a nine to five job with pitiful holiday allocation is perhaps a far cry from my self-regulated meander through life. There maybe benefits and pitfalls on both sides, but while there is any doubt, I’ll continue to complain. The main issue for me is the inability to plan anything, with size of income being an uncertainty, and the annual visit from the taxman, more than a probability, a disorganised creative can fall hard.
Luckily though, for a few years in the late eighties, the government let a major loophole go unchecked, a legal tax dodge of major proportion.
The rules were simple, if you recorded an album outside of Great Britain and then lived outside of Great Britain for one year (save for sixty days, when entry was permitted) then all the income on that album was deemed tax-free. Too good to be true? Well, for a time it was true and those who benefited from it were lucky people. Some time after we tried this, the Spice Girls were sent home, mid term, as the loophole was tightened and then axed. So, somewhere back in 1988 we agreed to leave the country, our families and our friends. Italy was chosen as our temporary ex-pat location, Gallarate, to be exact, a small northern town in the province of Varese. We had come here for two reasons, by now we had developed a passion for Italy and it’s culinary delights, and also our bass player had married a local girl who, it turned out, had some experience in ‘Mud Wrestling’, a common form of Italian style ‘pub entertainment’, at the time. (A pointless digression, but worthy of entry none the less)
Our accommodation was a newly built apartment block, constructed in red brick and from memory, pretty ugly. We were each allocated our own flat and on the top floor was a large room in which we could rehearse. Word soon got round that we had moved in and crowds of kids would gather outside.
The flats were essentially unfurnished and so, with a small budget, we were taken to Italy’s equivalent to Ikea, where we were expected to trolley dash for our contents. I chose a rug, that looking back was not attractive, and from memory precious little else, but compared to my previous Hulme (Manchester’s finest) existence, this was minimal heaven. Because Gallarate was a small town and a good forty-five minute drive to Milan or any other place where civilization could be found, we would each need a car.
Our singer, (and songwriter) had pockets way deeper than ours and promptly invested in a brand new Alfa Romeo Spider (Roadster) in red, naturally. A wise choice and one I was very envious of. I lumped for an Alfa Romeo ‘Alfetta’ (the Italian equivalent to the Ford Cortina) ten years old and in black. It certainly had character and was relatively cheap at one thousand pounds, but the telltale smell of burning oil (which by now I am all too aware of) would render my investment fallow, and sure enough in no time at all I would be spending the same again, when one of it’s pistons decided to wrap itself round the engine. I loved this car though and when in good working order, it would provide me with an escape route and take me away from the band and all things music. I would drive towards the Dolomites until the snow stopped me in my tracks, have lunch in a ‘Trattoria’ and take in the view. Trips to Milan and Verona were regular events and as, for most of the time, there was very little to do, it felt like we were tourists, trapped in a red brick castle.
Although a necessity, driving in Italy was like dicing with death. Traffic lights were rarely observed and when the seat belt law came into play, replica cardboard seatbelts with Velcro attached, became available to buy in some shops. Carefully applied, they could fool a patrolling ‘Carabinieri’ into thinking the new law was being observed: anything to avoid complying.
Great Britain may have been out of bounds but it didn’t take me long to realise that The Republic of Ireland, and in particular Dublin might just be a great place to hang out. As a boy, mainly thanks to my Granddad, I had been well and truly hooked on the art of fishing. Back then I would walk down to the River Nidd and easily spend all day lost in all things nature, distracted from the drudge of school and homework. This would always take place on a Saturday, as Sunday was a day of rest and definitely not a good time to put a hook in a fish’s mouth. It was my ambition though, to catch a salmon, and no self-respecting salmon was ever likely to be found in the Nidd. As I headed over to Dublin for some expat relief, it dawned on me that the ‘Blackwater River’ in County Kerry, was a perfectly good place to start trying to fulfill my ambition.
It had been raining hard and typically, on the day I booked to fish this beautiful stretch of water, conditions were grim and the river had turned to gravy. Undeterred, I pressed on and took some advice from the river keeper.
“Be sure to try the ‘flying condom’ now”
The ‘flying Condom’ was indeed just that. A prophylactic shaped lure with hook embedded, was proving a real hit with the salmon fishermen this particular season. As I cast out my condom into the murky depths with no interest from anything resembling a fish I noticed next to me another fisherman, in full attire and with all the latest equipment. He was wearing chest waders, a waistcoat with flies attached, ‘Polaroid’ sunglasses and had a special device called a ‘tailor’ used to hook round a salmons tail to aid hauling a heavy fish up onto the bank. He was a pro and at first I thought he might not want to talk to me. I had no equipment to speak of and had borrowed a battered old rod from the river keeper. But we got chatting and it turned out that, far from being a stuffy old salmon-fishing snob, as some certainly were, he was a heavy goods lorry driver from Birmingham and a more down to earth chap would be hard to find. He confided in me that he was a none-swimmer and wearing chest waders was quite simply suicide, should he slip, death from drowning would be hard to avoid as the waders filled with water. He had smuggled them out of his holiday home, as his wife did not approve. Cheerfully though we fished on, not giving his predicament too much thought, but then suddenly out of the blue, as I reeled in my ‘Flying Condom’ I felt my line go tight, very tight. My new friend instinctively knew what had happened.
“That’s a salmon, that is”, he declared, and indeed it was. Fooled by the rubber, my first salmon had found me. I had a problem though. The bank was steep and without a landing net there was no hope of getting this magnificent fish out of the water. He sensed my panic and was soon at my side with his bespoke piece of equipment.
“It’s alright” he said in his thick ‘brummie’, “I’ll get her out”.
Relieved, and marvelling at his knowing the fish was a female (as I hadn’t even seen it yet) nothing could have prepared me for what was to happen next. As he bent over trying to reach out for the fish’s tail, he slipped and with a forward summersault, crashed in to the freezing black water. He’d been wearing a flat cap. By now this was the only thing left of him, floating silently on the surface. Seconds turned into minutes and as a non-swimmer myself I was helpless and feeling wretched that this very decent man was going to lose his life, trying to salvage my catch. Rooted to the spot, I knew I had to run and get help, but as I started to move I spotted some bubbles rising around his abandoned floating cap, and then breaking the surface like a river monster, he emerged triumphantly. Hopelessly grateful just to see him alive, I hadn’t noticed what he had in his arms. It was my salmon.
“Didn’t want her getting away now did I”
He promised me he’d never wear his waders again.