The confessions of a temporary Fascist

IT HAPPENED in Helsingborg, on my first day in Sweden. I had a very severe haircut. I was wearing Doc Martens and army trousers, dyed black, whose waistband had broken, so I'd had to hold them up with braces. I was sitting on a bench next to an enormous medieval tower. I'd intended to go up it, but found myself too afraid of the height; my friend Roger went up to take photographs. I sat at the bottom, cowering, looking at the ground.

Suddenly, they were around me - six young guys, twenty-ish. Skinheads. They wore vests, braces, combat trousers, Doc Martens. Their arms were covered in tattoos.

I said: 'Hello.'

This had a dramatic effect. 'From England?'

This was it, I supposed. 'Yes.'

'Are you a skinhead?'

'What?'

'You are a skinhead, yes?'

Suddenly, I saw what he meant. The short hair, the boots, the almost-accidental braces.

'Yes, yes. I am . . . a skinhead. But . . .'

I ran an apologetic hand through my hair.

'. . . My hair has grown.'

They talked to each other, quite excited by all this. And they smiled a lot. They all had the word 'Sverige' tattooed on their upper arms.

Then one said: 'Are you from London?'

'Yes.'

'Yes? London] For skinheads, London is a . . . a great place, yes? London is . . . is the beginning for skinhead movement.'

I nodded, modestly. 'Right, yes.'

'Are you . . . alone?'

Then I remembered Roger. He'd be coming down soon, with his fawn corduroys, his tennis shoes. 'No,' I said. I explained the situation, trying to give the impression that I'd only just met the guy up the tower, was even rather lumbered with him.

Roger appeared, at first grinning, the camera swinging round his neck. He had a check shirt and centre-parted hair. I introduced him, pretending to have forgotten his name. And then we said our goodbyes, shook hands, and walked back down the hill. One of the skins shouted: 'I go to beat up . . . grannies]' We laughed, falsely.

Later that day, we were walking across the town square; a group of skins were loping about. And then two of them were running towards us. This was becoming irritating. We stopped and turned around; it was two of the skins from the tower.

'I have a question. In London, are skinheads . . . Nazis? Are you Nazis?'

I said: 'Some of us are, and some of

us . . . aren't'

'Are you?'

'Well . . .' I shrugged, trying to convey maximum ambiguity; a serious philosophical question in the balance.

'Fascists - yes. But not like Hitler.'

'Do you hate Jews?'

'Jews - no.'

The others were drifting over, kicking at things with their heavy boots. We stood there until somebody suggested going to a cafe on the seafront. And 10 minutes later, there we were, drinking Coke and discussing the issues that were most on our minds - race relations, drinking, fighting, the purity of the white race, a rock band called Skrewdriver, who were

universally admired.

They knew nothing, these people. They didn't even know if they were Nazis, or even exactly what Nazis were. They were plugging me for ideas on how to think. They didn't seem essentially to be bad people - in fact, they were pretending to be Fascist almost

as much as I was. Just like 90 per cent of

the right-wingers you see on television and

in the newspapers, they had no philoso-

phical foundation to their beliefs - they didn't have much of a clue. You could sense that if a left-wing gang of thugs came to Helsingborg, these guys would go for that instead; they'd just have their tattoos changed.

We were wondering how we could lose these ridiculous people and get on with our holiday in Sweden. The conversation duly swung round to the subject of Swedish nationalism - the 'Sverige' tattoos. Why, I asked, was Sweden better? They shrugged. Not just Sweden, they said - Germany was good, too. And England. They nodded, clicked their glasses together and shouted: 'Sverige]'

'You stay with us tonight, yes?'

'What?'

'You stay with us tonight - we show you Helsingborg at night. The . . . the night life, yes?' The night life was great, he explained. It included going to bars on the seafront, getting into fights, breaking beer glasses.

'Not like London. But it is good.'

I shook my head. 'Unfortunately, we have to catch the boat back to Denmark in an hour.' Good ruse, I thought.

'We will say goodbye to you. At the docks.'

'What?'

'We will come to the boat to say goodbye.'

'There's no need for that.'

What could we do? We talked for a while, then left the bar and wandered towards the quayside, the Swedes rowdy, kicking things in the gutters. We exchanged addresses, mine false (and I often wonder if there is a Bishops Avenue in Chichester, and if the family at No 9 have ever found themselves answering the door to a gang of Swedish skinheads).

We embarked, and stood on deck. I'd been a Fascist for three hours, talking the boring and idiotic talk of Fascism; I can see how, if I'd been a bit thick, I might have carried on talking this talk for years, possibly a lifetime. For certain people, this is something, rather than nothing, to think about. It makes you friends, gives you enemies. It would make a hopeless life much less hopeless.

And I remember taking a photograph of them on the quay. A photograph I still have: five Helsingborg skinheads in a line, their arms outstretched in a Hitler salute. As I moved away, I remember wondering: should I salute? Or just wave? Or do nothing?-

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