Thursday, 28 April 2016

Kenny Sharpe




Kenny would stand on the loading bay facing the wall. His armed raised, hand held palm down in a Nazi salute. His lips would constantly move as he muttered Germanic phrases. Upon seeing me he would smile, stop performing his daily ritual, and then greet me. He did this as though nothing odd had occurred as if his behaviour were perfectly normal.

I was in my twenties when I first met Kenny. He approached me as I was reading a Marvel comic. It was Captain America. As a child, I had loved the character unaware of the inherent patriotism that defined the fictional superhero. Ironic, that only a few years later I would challenge such nationalistic concepts before dismissing my own conceited pretensions. Captain America may have been created to represent the United States fight against Nazism, but at the heart of the stories was pure adventure.

Ken had remarked upon the comic I was reading declaring he too enjoyed the superhero before insisting he was much like Steve Rogers, the secret identity of Captain America. I had asked him what he meant? He ignored my question before rolling his sleeve up revealing a Rolex watch. I made appropriate complimentary comments, not knowing quite how to respond whilst pondering what his watch had to do with my comic book. Ken repeated he was like Steve Rogers. That he had served in Korea. That he had been part of the military and that during his time in the forces he had purchased the watch.

I often pondered Ken's watch or rather his obsession with it. Somehow, for reasons that remain unknown to me, it meant so much to him. Sort of a sigil that both protected him while projecting him as of being of worth. As if a watch could do that. Of course, I soon realised Ken had issues, mental health issues, but he was a mate, a work colleague and frankly I didn't care about his odd ways as I liked him.

Later he told me how the military had operated on him giving him strange drugs the better to perform his duties as a soldier. I said nothing. I felt uncomfortable faced with having to converse with someone sociable but patently off his rocker. That sounds unkind but sometimes flippancy hides deeper concerns. I simply didn't know how to respond. 

We worked together for five years. From 1977 until 1982. Ken alongside Jesus Mick on the loading bay, me with Micky Hills and Dave Porter on the packing bench. Everyone accepted Ken as he was though often, as is the way with Londoner's, a black humour was poured on his antics. He never seemed to mind although was never shy of responding in a similar vein. 

We kept in contact after I joined News International. I often used to write a letter to all my old mates, Ken being one of them. He had my telephone number and we occasionally spoke together largely reminiscing about times past. Then, around 1992 he called me one night. It was an odd call, more of a diatribe really. He informed me again how the army had performed surgery on him. He suggested they had made him as broad as he was high, that he was effectively five feet nine tall by five feet nine wide. Having seen him I can categorically say this wasn't the case. He then went on to say how they had employed him to battle a range of God's each of whom he mentioned by name. Apart from this being weird in itself what made it even stranger was that Ken had received no education to speak of so the litany of deities he recounted he wouldn't have known of.

It was an uncomfortable hour spent listening to a man so patently unwell. To my shame, I was glad when the call concluded. To be honest, I cut him short as I felt so uneasy, so disturbed by his rant.

Later that week I learned Ken had thrown himself out of his ninth-floor flat.


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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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