I AM leaning on the very first car I bought, outside a friend's house in England, and I'm a young man with the whole wide world ahead of him. I say England because at the time - 1977 - I was a serving soldier in Germany. Just a basic Joe: Signalman Akabusi 24354835.

The thing about the car is that it's an Opel GTJ which was very rare, and I bought it in Germany before I could even drive. It was something I'd saved up all my money for, all my life almost, because I wasn't used to cash.

I'd come from a children's home, you see. I started with my parents and then I got fostered at the age of three and went into a home at the age of eight and I wasn't used to money, so I'd save. I left the children's home at 16, very insecure, and now in the Army I earned pounds 32 a week and it was such a lot of money. I couldn't fathom at that age how I was worth it; why, for keeping occupied, I should get that. I'd spend a couple of pounds a week on a few sweets and maybe some boot polish, and that would be it, I wouldn't spend any more.

But when I went to Germany, I got liberated from saving. And then I decided I wanted a car and there was no better car than this one, a bright red sports car. It said everything about this new dynamic person I was just bringing out. Yeah]

I'm in town. Nineteen years old, being flamboyant and racy. It's me, trying to find a new identity. For example, on the car you'll see there's a sticker in the window, 'Capital Radio'. Now that's very important. Because, you see, I'd joined the Army and I went to Newcastle, then Catterick, then Germany, and the only sense of identity you had was the region you came from, and I was from London way. So I used to talk about London this and London that. I walked and talked like a Londoner. I realised how important it was.

I'd been introduced to black guys in Germany, you see. When I went to the children's home they put me in suburbia where one in a thousand may be black, and where I went to school there might have been three or four black guys, so I was never exposed to African or Caribbean expressions.

Now here I am in Germany and a lot of the servicemen are black, and they wore hats, and they all had a lingua franca going on . . . 'Waapa' means 'What's happening?', and I'm dressed to say that; I've got the hat to say 'I'm bad'.

Girls actually loved the black guys, you know? And there was a whole way of walking and talking and dancing - and food, it wasn't just fish and chips, it was ackee and saltfish and rice and black- eyed peas . . . I think it was a recognition that here was a culture that I could readily identify with. I felt great. It was like me saying, 'Wow, being a black guy is positive.'

It was a revelation, and it made me reflective. I was very aware that I was African, and yet all the people I was mixing with were either West Indian or American. And so, even though I was identifying a new culture, I knew that I didn't really belong to that culture - it was just nearer to the colour of my skin.

I was quite sure that, wherever I was, whatever my heritage, I had a Eurocentric view of life. But going to Germany made me more proud of my colour and who I was. I was young, black and proud.

I met Monika, my wife, there at a discotheque. I spotted her and made my move and gave her a lift home in my smart car. I was gaining popularity with the British forces in Germany as an athlete, and this all added to my own self- esteem. At school I was never the best at anything. I was energetic, but it wasn't channelled properly. Now this is when I began to gather momentum. Here is an extrovert flourishing. I'm a racy guy, I've come to England as a man. I've got my car, my identity.

At that stage I wanted to make a name for myself. I wanted everybody - all the black guys in Germany, all the girls - to say, 'Aki's in town. This guy's running. He's got the best wheels, he's got the best woman, and he's the best runner]' I wanted to be the don. I'm a wiry young dude with a hat on his head. (Photograph omitted)

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