Light as Bone
Bone the Mod’s tattoos told the tale of his life, but according to CJ Stone it was the light in his eyes that revealed so much more...
I am writing this column in honour of a friend of mine, Frank Plott, of Renfrew in Scotland, who died on the 23rd of September 2005.
I'd been travelling to and from Scotland at the time, as I was working on a project up there. I won't go into details here. Suffice it to say that it involved gang warfare, sectarianism, football and God (not necessarily in that order.)
Frank just happened to be in the house I was staying in. He was a little skinny guy, as slick as a whippet, with thick, jug-bottom glasses and a nervous leg-twitch, like the piston-shot of a sleek, fast automobile.
He suffered from bi-polar disorder: what used to be called manic depression. Every fortnight the nurse came to pick him up to take him to the hospital, where he was given an injection - or "jag" as he called it. He didn't know what was in the jag, though he suspected it might be Valium. Whatever it was, the consequence was that he spent most of his time asleep in his bed.
He was his mid-forties at the time of his death, and had had this illness since his late teens. He’d never worked in his life.
So far this might seem a dismal little tale. What has Frank Plott got to teach any of us?
Well a lot, actually.
Because inside of Frank Plott there lived another character, someone he called "Bone". And Bone was, by his own measure of things, The Greatest Mod In The World.
It’s all etched in ink in tattoos across his body: along his arms and his chest, and all over his hands. "Bone the Mod," says the tattooed script, "Dec. '82."
That's when he took up the faith, in December 1982. He was second-generation Mod, still keeping to the ancient path.
"St. Mirran," it says, "Mod party, 1983." St. Mirran were his Scottish football team. He also supported Everton. The Mod party was his 22nd birthday.
"Scooter," it says, "1983." That was his pride-and-joy, a Honda, an essential mark of status. Then, "Dorothy 1985," it says.
Dorothy was ten years older than him, a first-generation Mod from the sixties. It was a summer romance. In the end she killed herself, by throwing herself in front of a train.
Did he know why that was?
"I don't really know why that was," he answered, in his rich, melodic Scottish accent. "Depression. She was in hospital at the time, and they let her out for the day, and she walked to the train station and she flung herself in front of the train."
But those were always his girlfriends, the older women who'd seen the first wave go by. And Bone was always there, ten years later, to return them to the source.
"Mary," continues the tattoed script, "86." Another girlfriend, another original Mod. Then, "Brighton '87."
That was December 1987, just before Christmas. He lost all his money in the bookies. So he only had the prospect of a dismal New Year in front of him. No money. No food. Nothing but a half ounce of tobacco for comfort. And, being a Mod, he decided to go out check out the city that blazons like a beacon in the historical mythology. He hitch-hiked all the way there, in the depths of winter, and the journey took 19 frozen hours. He'd never even been out of Scotland before.
He ended up in hospital.
"I thought I was well, but I was nay well. The police picked me up and put me in an English hospital. That's where I met Janet Willers. She looked after me in hospital."
And sure enough, there it is on his hand, the record of an accidental meeting and a passing friendship in an English hospital all those years ago. "Janet Willers," it says. Just that, and no more.
After that he was flown back to Scotland, where he spent another two days in hospital, before he was finally discharged.
And so it goes, the story of a life told in cryptic notes in pin-pricked ink upon the pages of his skin, like the notes a novelist might make for himself, as a reminder of the plot. And that's exactly what it is. Frank Plott, weaving his own plot, as the story of his life, with a central character called Bone, who is The Greatest Mod In The World.
And, well, I'm talking to him in this council flat on a housing scheme in Scotland, listening to the story of his life - asking questions, noting down the details - as he rolls up his sleeves and lifts his shirt to show me his numerous tattoos. "Isabel Blaine," it says, "1990." She was Miss Paisley in 1965, and he was still with her, right until the time of his death. Then: "Freddie and the Dreamers 1992," and "The Merseybeats."
That's when I see it. It's like a light has come on inside of him. Talking about his life in this way has made him come alive. It beams from his face and from his eyes, like an angelic presence in his life: his own story, told to a new friend, as a narrative of pure meaning.
And I think, yes we all have this. However we name it, there is always a presence in our lives: another us, in a story of our own telling, as a light that lights the way. Despite the hardship and the loss and the occasional illness - the tragedy, the poverty, the grinding senselessness of a world that devalues our very existence - we all are creatures of light in the end.
How else do we learn but by listening? And how else do we know the value of ourselves but by valuing other people?
Frank Plott. RIP.