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Pigs' Disco

Pigs' Disco

Pigs’ Disco, by Stuart Griffiths

A review by John Knowles.

The dichotomy of this book is that it’s an easy read that is far from being an ‘easy read’. Stuart’s time in the Paras during what is euphemistically called ‘The Troubles’ is a graphic account of bullying, boredom and bullets, heightened by the inevitable use of narcotics to annihilate all three.  What comes across is the depth of loneliness amongst the comradery – of isolation, where barbed wire is as much a prison for those inside as it is a deterrent for those outside of it. The Paras were, in the pecking order of hatred, just one step below the SAS, and as a target were a prize worth taking. It’s hard for any of us to imagine what it must be like to never be able to relax, to know that one step down the wrong road and your time was up. Few of us who lived through the period of the Troubles can forget the sound of bombs going off in London, nor the images we saw on our TV screens, which will forever linger in our collective subconscious.  But Stuart lived with it daily and within his descriptions, it’s the hell of barrack life, the grinding shittiness of it that comes across – soldiers shitting into stairwells trying to bomb one another, semen burning on hot radiators or used as a glue for pasting up porn, the brain-numbing use of alcohol and the violence. Once out on patrol it was of course a different kind of hell for both sides, visceral and viscous, a grinding confrontational, urban war.

Every war has its drug of choice, Vietnam is perhaps the one we readily turn to, made heady by the Doors and skewed by visions from Apocalypse Now. Stuart’s war/drug of choice was acid, acid on occasions laced with whatever else came to hand, more often than not NAAFI booze. I once drove stoned, I ended up getting out of my van half a dozen times to see what was wrong with it, till I realised it was me that was wrong. So I can barely conceive of what it must have been like to have walked the streets of Belfast, wrapped in a fug of little sleep and at the tail-end of an hallucinogenic nightmare, where faces melt and paranoia kicks in quicker than a joy-riders car.

The ‘Pigs’ Disco’ refers to the weekly Palace Barracks-based discos where local, vetted, girls, were bussed in for the dubious pleasure of all. The rest is an imaginable hell that is reflected in most towns on a Friday or Saturday night – where drink, drugs and animal urges create a melting pot of dancing, fucking, vomiting and semen. For Stuart the way out came through photography. Already known in his company for his constant taking of holiday-snaps on his tour of duties, Stuart took the opportunity to train as an army photographer. This came with its own mix of frontline terror (undercover operations to take pictures of known IRA members) and the boredom of petty jobs and being on hand for regimental events.  And it is perhaps the voyeuristic vision of a photographer that comes across in the book, a book which is filled with photos and his own school-cartoon-like drawings, for Stuart manages to be both in the thick of it and, at the same time, looking in.

All but for a brief episode of ‘E’, the rave scene passed me by, they were not ‘my people’ and I am not convinced that for Stuart they were either. In his sketch book is a spider diagram outlining his future post army life and in it is the word ‘family’. For a while, at 18, his family was the army – dysfunctional, protective and violent – then it was the rave-scene, drugs, booze, uncertain relationships and an aching jaw. Now Stuart has a family and the end acknowledgement in his book, to his ‘wife, son and daughter, for all your love’ is a testament to survival and a resurrection from what might have been.

Stuart Griffiths is a local photographer and writer based in St Leonards-on-Sea. He will be signing copies of his book on Monday 1 July at the Bullet Bar, on the corner of Robertson Street, from  8pm. Pigs’ Disco is published by Ditto Press and is available from www.dittopress.co.uk.

Posted 12:13 Saturday, Jun 22, 2013 In: Literature

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