Sample Chapter

Two Consonants Away

Inheritance is a multi-faceted thing. If your parents are wealthy, there’s a pretty good chance you won’t go short of cash yourself. If they have healthy genes, you will almost certainly acquire a decent selection of those as well. But the only thing you are absolutely guaranteed to inherit is your parents’ surname. And I’m going to stick my neck out and say that a good surname – at least in your formative years – is more important than either money or DNA. Because if you’re born with a cool name, you’ll be cool wherever you go. But if you’re born with an uncool name, you’ll never be cool.

I know all about this. I am a Pinnock.

If you’re born with the surname Pinnock, you are just two consonants away from disaster, and that proximity pretty much wipes out any chance you have of being cool. There are no cool people in my family. There are quite a few strange people, sure, some eccentric ones and possibly even one or two mad ones, but no cool people whatsoever. Frankly, cool is pretty much out of the question, unless … unless … but I’m jumping ahead of myself.

This isn’t to say I’ve never tried. At school, back at the start of the seventies, the cool people would walk around with an LP of impressively heavy music tucked conspicuously under their arm: ‘In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida’ by Iron Butterfly, ‘Watt’ by Ten Years After, ‘Five Bridges’ by The Nice, and so on. An LP was a substantial statement to be carrying around with you: a 12” square signal to the world saying what you felt about it, visible across the whole length of the playground.

Naturally, if you wanted to look cool like them and even be allowed to borrow one of their precious records, you had to buy one yourself. By now you may have guessed that I was the one who went out and bought the King Crimson album. No, not the cool first one with the far out cover; that one was already taken. I went out and bought the frankly rather lacklustre second one. I couldn’t even manage imitation cool. And all I ever managed to borrow in return was Emerson, Lake and bloody Palmer and a couple of particularly pretentious Moody Blues albums.

So short of changing my name, I resigned myself to remaining uncool to the end of my days. Even if I did change my name, chances are that if you cut me open I’d have ‘Pinnock’ printed through my every bone like Brighton rock. There are some things you just can’t run away from. But I still lived in hope.

And then one day everything changed.


In the early eighties I had a plan. I was young, free and single. I had a moderately well-paid job in software development. Life was an index of possibilities. So I decided that this was a really good time to get into the property market.

I didn’t say it was a good plan.

Actually, it was worse than that. If I’d had half a brain cell active I would have bought myself a nice cosy flat in a pleasant neighbourhood. But I had bigger plans: I wanted to buy a house, a house that I could do up and make a tidy profit from. Yeah, this was definitely the eighties.

The problem was that I was working in London, so if I was going to buy a house it would have to be in one of the less fashionable areas of the city. Let’s call this area Peckham for sake of argument. So with the help of a mortgage from the Abbey National Building Society, I did indeed buy myself a property in the unpromisingly-named Bellenden Road, Peckham.

As far as making a profit, it was a disaster. First of all, after seeing the inspection report, which ran to several volumes, Abbey National decided – in a master stroke of counterintuitivity – to withhold a significant amount of the mortgage until I’d fixed all the structural problems with the place. Secondly, the great wave of gentrification that was sweeping through south London took one look at Bellenden Road and the obscenity that was sheltering in its name and said: this far but no further. The final insult came when I sold the place a few years later and a couple of prospective buyers noticed something unusual stuck in the back fence – or, rather, the few nailed-together sheets of hardboard that passed for a fence that I hadn’t got around to replacing. ‘Ooh, look,’ they said, having identified the object, ‘Integral dead cat.’

But I liked Bellenden Road. I liked Peckham. It was diverse. It was full of real life. On the night I moved in, I nipped across the road to the pub and was impressed to observe two separate fights break out. A different pub on a different night was clearly the location for a high-level gangland rendezvous, at least if the selection of top-of-the-range motors parked around the block was anything to go by. By complete contrast, the pub around the other corner was largely frequented by resting film extras.

It also had some excellent junk shops.


One fine Saturday morning, not long after I’d moved in, I was idly mooching around one of these and noticed that they had a selection of scratchy singles for sale at bargain prices. Well, I’m a sucker for a bit of cheap tat, and I had a brief rummage. And on that day, I experienced something of an epiphany. The record was called ‘Take It Cool’, on Venture Records. And the artist’s name was – joy of joys – Dennis Pinnock. I turned it over. Even better, the flip side was called ‘Pinnock’s Paranormal Payback’. How cool was that? It was worth at least a hundred times the 10p that I paid for it.

Much to my surprise, the music didn’t disappoint. ‘Take It Cool’ was a very satisfying slice of that smooth sub-genre of reggae known as Lovers Rock – it was a decent production and the singer clearly knew how to carry a tune. However, ‘Pinnock’s Paranormal Payback’ was wonderful. It was – inevitably – a dub version of ‘Take It Cool’. How much better could this get? I love dub. The central principle seems to be to take the master tapes of the main feature, skin up a two-foot long spliff of Jamaica’s finest and then press whatever buttons come into your head. When it works, it’s fabulous. When it doesn’t, at least you know that someone was having a good time when they made it. And ‘Pinnock’s Paranormal Payback’ was fabulous.

So, Dennis Pinnock, eh? Here, at last, was a cool Pinnock. Unexpectedly, he was clearly also a black Pinnock. So the moral appeared to be that to be cool and a Pinnock, you also had to be black. Unfortunately, what limited research I’d done on the subject had led me to the deeply disappointing conclusion that I have no non-Caucasian blood in me whatsoever. In fact, the nearest I had ever come to West Indian culture was an evening spent drinking Red Stripe in Bradford’s notorious Coconut Club, a place so gloriously stereotypical that the dealers wore three-piece suits and the undercover cops wore Afghans. But that’s another story altogether.

The Pinnock side of my family emerged from the West Country a couple of generations back, and – given the historic levels of in-breeding prevalent in that part of the world – it wasn’t unreasonable to assume that it was West Country all the way back to the dawn of man. This all left a couple of nagging questions. First of all, who the hell was this Dennis Pinnock? Did he make any more records? Was he a big star somewhere?

Secondly, what the hell was he doing with my surname?

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