Sunday, 27 January 2013

Stealing From The Pig

The first time I ever tasted and enjoyed alcohol was when I was thirteen. It was the coming up to the first summer since Long John had packed his bags for Ipswich and a sort of mate of mine at the time, Terry Avis, nicked a couple of bottles of Barking Frog from Thresher’s. Barking Frog was a tequila and citrus fruit drink that came in a purple bottle with a happy green frog on the front. The drink was an instant hit as I became transformed from a shy idiot into a laughing idiot; it seriously was a drink that made me laugh uncontrollably, a fit of giggles, once the magic of the drink was in me. It was no wonder that I fell instantly in love with Barking Frog. Terry Avis clearly didn’t seem to get the same sensation of light-headedness that I enjoyed after drinking that first crisp cold bottle. When I fell apart in a happy fit he said my laughter was that of a girl. Well if I was a girl, then what was Terry? That question soon got an answer.
          CCTV in the shop had clearly identified Terry – I was outside by the front door, keeping watch – and it transpired that someone within the local nick knew who he was. Which was of no surprise really as his family were well known as a gang of petty villains. But Terry Avis certainly did not operate within any gentleman code of villainy. Once his collar had been felt, he folded. He collapsed instantly and grassed; an act that signposted the immediate end of our short friendship. He said I had put him up to it. That I was the brains behind the job, he was merely a victim being bullied into crime. The evening of the day of our crime, I had a visit from the police; or the Dickheads of Dock Green as Long John used to always call them – such dumb words for such a coward. No one but him and his dinosaur associates would know who Dixon of Dock Green was anyway; incidentally I have recently seen the film The Blue Lamp on TV so I do actually know all about the origins of the original Dixon. Evening all and all that. When the boys in blue came calling, Mum was out round her sisters – for some reason I told them she played Bingo – and I was taken down the station and cautioned. I swear to you on my life I said ‘Evening all’ to the desk sergeant; I assumed he was a desk sergeant like in TV land. You must also appreciate how much confidence the Barking Frog had installed in me.
          ‘Evening all,’ I said.
          No reply. I then showed them the bottom lip. Me making out that I was out of my depth, humble. What I did know was the facts. I was young looking for even for my age – most mums in our road said I still looked about ten which I quite rightly took offence to; I had a chip on my shoulder back then, that I looked so young. Which all equates to madness. And in all the madness of being dragged down the station these coppers at least treated me like an adult. I mean, they performed throughout on a level playing field. Much in the same way Long John preferred to behave when dealing with me as an individual. Because of my experience with Long John, they had made me feel right at home, what with their approach to conducting adult conversation with a younger soul. I was sworn at, told I had it all coming on top unless I co-operated and how I should be aware that a night in the cells came with no breakfast only bruises. Bring it on, I thought. Because I thoroughly enjoyed being spoken to like I was an adult. I really did.         
          ‘Haven’t you got anything to say?’ some old ginger cat said to me, leaning on the table, stooping down, his stinking fag-ash breath inches away from my face, him trying to be all intimating.
          He had already threatened me with how both my parents were on their way down – a complete lie as Long John was at that point in time a permanent dirty old devil in Ipswich – and so I just smiled. And then, seeing I was genuinely thirsty, I said:
          ‘Listen mate, you wouldn’t happen to have some Barking Frog in your canteen fridge?’
          He had no idea what Barking Frog was, only that I was in for thieving alco-pops, but he sure looked like he wanted to swing a fist at me. Proper clump me one. But I was ready. This idiot weren’t Long John. I had taken my fair share of beatings. This creep didn’t scare me. To be perfectly honest, he looked upset, ready to burst into tears as I sat there smiling, unflinching. Not such a hard man are you? I thought to myself. I’ve never been afraid of the police from that moment on. Bunch of bully losers. However, I was still clever enough to worm my way out of trouble. My genuine sob story – beefed-up to complement the moment – of how I was trying to come to terms with my parent’s separation surprisingly seemed, considering their lie earlier, to work in my favour. I got a verbal clip around the ear and was told that this was a first and final warning.
          Mum arrived on the scene looking all lost for words. They went through the boring facts and how I was a lucky boy to only be getting a verbal warning. Outside though, mum was outraged. She didn’t hit me, she never hit me, but she sure as hell called me a name or two. Over-the-top I thought at the time. I mean, I really just couldn’t give a damn about getting into trouble. It’s not like I physically hurt anyone.  Looking back now, I do regret that I didn’t take her feelings into consideration by my actions. Mum was still dealing badly with Long John walking out. But back then I was only a young teenage boy. I really didn’t give two fucks. It’s a shame I never maintained that tough mentality into my older years. I sometimes wonder what has happened to Terry Avis these days. Who cares about that stinking grass? Yes, that’s right. Not me.
          A so called gentle and caring society was well pleased with the outcome – the warning appeared to do the job on me. I never drank another bottle of stolen Barking Frog again. But I was hooked and I sought alternative measures to get hold of another bottle of magical potion that was the Barking Frog.
          I skilfully removed nearly a fiver in assorted coins from the giant clay pig that sat by the fireplace. That sacred pig that had only one narrow slot of entry and exit had been sat fat and lazy with coins as long as I remember. No one stole from the pig. A belly full of copper and silver and maybe the odd gold nugget saved by Mum and Long John for a rainy day. Well Long John was history and Mum was at work and I was bored having been the only one as usual to have the bottle to bunk off school. I wouldn’t normally risk it, bunking off and going back home, but as it was pissing down on that particular day, I spent over an hour prizing out various coins from an upturned pig so I had all the justification I needed.
          Fortune also favoured me while I tiptoed nervously bang opposite Londis. No one was about except the exact sort of bloke who I knew would help me out. Stan the Dirty Old Man almost trod on my toes as he startled me. I gave him all of my change and told him to get me as many Barking Frogs as would allow. He smiled, poured the coins in to his Flasher’s Mac pocket and then returned moments later with just two bottles. I knew he had ripped me off but such is life. I downed two Barking Frog’s in the dry warm comfort of my bedroom while listening to a birthday CD, In It For The Money by Supergrass; my album track favourites to this day are: ‘Richard III’, ‘Late In The Day’, ‘It’s Not Me’, and ‘You Can See Me’. I don’t think I have ever been so happy as listening to that album by Supergrass that afternoon, a band that were hitting their peak, and me on my bed, grinning from ear to ear, purple Barking Frog in hand. 1997 was definitely a very good year. Certainly better than the year before and all the carnage caused when Long John finally ditched Mum for good.
          When Mum came back from work she went mental about me drinking; I had brushed my teeth six times back-to-back and resolutely denied all, but she had seen the empties. But even with all that scene and drama, it couldn’t take the shine off of what had been a blissful afternoon’s drinking. If anything was an outrage it was how Barking Frog got discontinued for good just before the year 1997 was counted out. That’s right, whoever manufactured such a wonderful drink had decided no more bottles of smiles. It was crazy. But that’s exactly what happened. It was gone. Dead. Finito. No more Frog. But I’d soon learn that booze is all just booze. It all got you there one way or another. I wouldn’t go thirsty for long.    

Sunday, 13 January 2013

The End

I had had no work today. That’s why when Bill called I was still in bed.
          ‘You working today, Tone?’
          He already knew the answer that’s why I didn’t respond other than throw my eyes around the room. I knew what was coming next.
          ‘You couldn’t help me out for half hour – mate?’
          Bill was struggling on a job and he had no help as his own boss was having an extended Christmas in Kenya. Bill also had been let down first thing this morning by a temporary helper who had called in sick; some young pisshead unfit to work due to an inflamed eyeball caused by drinking vodka in an unconventional way. But I didn’t know any of that yet.
          ‘Just half an hour?’ I groaned.
          ‘Yeah, half hour. Just got three large sheets of glass I can’t get in the van. I’ll pick you up in ten.’
          That meant he was still at home. But Bill was round after five minutes not ten. So he must have been at the shops when he called. Sat in the van hassling me to get out of bed on my day off. Fuck’s sake.
          As I was supposed to be lifting just three sheets of glass into the back of his van, I didn’t bother dressing down. I wore what was on the bedroom floor; what I had on last night down Tripticks Wine Bar. Red trainers, jeans and a blue trackie top; I never name-drop brands.
          Guess I should have read the warning signs though when he said this with a straight face as I got in the van.
          ‘That’s not your best clobber Tone is it?’
          I didn’t answer. So he talked instead, about his weekend.
          Bill’d been on an all dayer Saturday. Brentford v Walsall. Brentford had won 1-0 but you wouldn’t think so what with all his moaning about wasted opportunities. I began to drift off into another far more important world. I began thinking about Eva. And what she would have made of the £20 bouquet of flowers she’d be receiving at her place of work anytime now. That reaction, the astonishment. Joy or pain? Could go either way. I nearly didn’t put my name on the message card. What would have been the point in sending them if I hadn’t done that? I desperately hoped Eva would smile when she saw they were from me. Even if only for a second.
          ‘Here we are then,’ said Bill, pulling sharply right into some private lane, a mud-strewn dirt track and then another sharp right. In front of me, an L-shaped bungalow.
          Where I assumed there should be a garden in the front and on that garden, a skip, there sat a vast and grotesque mountain of debris. Broken slabs of concrete, destroyed wooden pallets, fluorescent lighting tubes, black bags, so many bulging black bags, mostly ripped at the sides, large paint tins, plastic bins, window frames, door frames, internal doors, soggy cardboard, even items of clothing. But there was no three sheets of large glass.
          ‘This the job you’re on then?’
          ‘Where’s the glass?’
          ‘Round the side.’
          The three double glazed units, as they were, each weighed a ton. And it was a struggle to get them round to the van. Bill had gloves on. Kept moaning when I said I needed a rest as the units were slipping through my fingers. I could feel and hear my heart complaining of stress, my whole body soon joining in with the aching disappointment of this morning pain, my facial expression grassing me up to Bill as I struggled desperately with the last of the units; I had to rest five times in all. Bill groaned but that privilege should have been exclusively mine.
          ‘Man up, Tone,’ he said.
          I wanted to retaliate. But a vision of my doomed relationship a while back with his little sister Marion struck me and that’s why I didn’t respond. Bill’s also the kind of bloke it’s occasionally worth investing time in. Having on your side. Bill has got me out of a fair bit of trouble over the years. But still. What happened next – all three units now on board – took everything down another level.  
          ‘As you’re here now, you might as well help me load up all the rest.’

Forty-five minutes later and with my red trainers now camouflaged in brown mud, my tracksuit black and blue, my mood reddening deeper by the second, I somehow also agreed to visit the dump to unload all this filth. And when I say unload all this filth, what I mean is that the back of the transit van was rammed tight with shit.
          ‘Surely,’ I said, strangely trying to remain friendly on route to the dump, ‘everything will fall out when you open up the back doors?’
          ‘That’s the plan,’ said Bill.
          At the dump there were three points of entry into the monstrous waste disposal chamber. Three fifteen foot wide corridors that had partitioning walls some thirty feet high. At the back end of the right side bay we reversed into was a condensed mountain of rubbish that had just been compacted by the bulldozer currently dozing in the yard. In the centre bay next to ours a metallic dinosaur was at work, occasionally its angry large jaws were visible over our heads.
          ‘Can get dangerous here,’ remarked Bill as he opened up the van  doors and unleashed hell – a waterfall of industrial shit fell from the back of the van – and at that precise moment pieces of concrete debris fell from the dinosaur’s jaws above us and into our bay; the peak of the mountain, but still a fucking worry.
          Bill got back in the van and drove a foot or two forward so that we could access what had to come out by hand. We were soon doing just that; throwing shit from the van into the lower regions of the mountain.
          ‘You sure you’ve not got a spare pair of gloves?’
          Bill tossed his head savagely.
          There was no question that I had every right to cherry pick. I began to carefully remove the stack of florescent tubing – there was about a dozen of them – that were neatly tucked upright in my immediate corner; I was by the right side door. I enthusiastically threw them like spears up into the mountain, marvelling when they impacted and shattered. I felt ten-years-old. Bill watched on disapprovingly but remained silent. However the small bout of joy was soon cancelled when a loaded black bag split, spilling its putrid guts of wet muck down my jeans. I then asked myself a question we all consider in moments of desperation and pointlessness.
          What the fuck am I doing here?
          Next I wrestled with and eventually pulled out half of a wooden pallet and as I turned and prepared to throw it hard, fast and high, I felt a tremendous blow on the head – a door had followed through sideways and clubbed me like the blunt end of a falling axe – and I fell, blood pouring down into my eyes, me now blinded in seeping red. Floored and blind the last thing I remember was Bill regarding me, I think he said, ‘Told you it was dangerous here,’ and that’s all I remember about the end of my life. It was over. Simple and boring as that. My life flame brutally extinguished in filthy squalor. Nice one Bill.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Suck It

In the afternoon we went to a Thai restaurant – The Blue Lagoon. Eddie said he was starving and cold. I would have settled for Burger King; which we walked passed on route. Oddly, we didn't eat. We had four bottles of Cobra beer each instead. After an oppressive bout of silence and staring out of the window, Eddie came out with the following.
          ‘I cherish the time I used to come up here to London, to see great performances. I saw the fiftieth anniversary of The Birthday Party at the Lyric in Hammersmith. Never heard of it? Harold Pinter? One of the main characters is a fella called Webber. After the play had finished the actor who had played Webber was surprisingly sat at the bottom of the staircase, in the bar, sipping coffee and trying to project a regular guy sat there sipping a coffee. He might have achieved an amazing feat getting in that position so quick, but I saw through him. What with me being the first one down the staircase to be able to do that. What was he expecting? Me to shake his hand? He smiled at me he did. I just looked at him, all befuddled. Should have told him to fuck right off. His performance was perfunctory. He should have been out the back, sat on the bog, head in hands. Not sipping coffee and expecting praise. On our estate, kids, most of them known to me, would hunt down and attack the weak and the weird. It’s what kids on estates do. Part and parcel of killing time. After it had happened real bad this one time, I got blamed, arrested. Crowned ringleader. I wasn’t even on the estate the day Denis Hudson collapsed without anyone touching him. He had had a heart attack. Further to his own fists being raised, a reaction to kids hanging around outside his house; a window screen wiper on his motor got snapped so the story goes. No one was on his patch of filth he called his land, not one foot entered his private area. Who would anyway? He had grass a mile high. Snakes had been seen crossing the narrow pathway, from one patch of jungle to the other. Rumour was that his snakes ate cats. He was mental though. Always talking to himself. Never opening his curtains. A right state. You could smell him from one end of the estate to the other. I suppose it was wrong. Us always waiting for him to come out, go to the shops. We gave him hell. But we never killed him. All we were guilty of was trying to pass the time of day. When you’re that young and that bored you’ve got to keep an interest in life. Don’t you agree?’
          Eddie got up without waiting for a response and went to the toilet. A while later, when he returned, the bill followed. Eddie paid in full. Said it was his treat. He then said he had some cocaine on him. He passed it to me. Asked me if I had taken any before. I had. Told me to go to the bogs and to help myself. So I did.
          Outside and with both of us grinning Eddie asked me if I was scared of heights. When I told him I wasn’t he patted me on the back.
          ‘That’s what I wanted to hear. You ever fancied going on the Millennium Wheel?’
          ‘Do you mean the London Eye.’
          ‘No, I definitely mean the Millennium Wheel.’
          As we walked along Kensington High Street, a crowd of girlies passed us screeching hysterically. I gathered this was some sort of Xmas office partying. They seemed to sneer at us as we strode right through the heart of their huddled circle. Words were sent to us, hateful spiteful words, words such as worms and dickheads used. I hate that word, worm. Mandy used to call me that in the heat of fall out. And now I appreciate that Eddie doesn’t like the word either. As they moved away he turned and moved towards them, said something. At them all. I did not hear what he said.
          ‘Fuck off, how dare you say that!’ one of them raged, face twisted, fists rising.
          Eddie laughed viciously.
          The girl in question was visibly upset. The partying momentarily on pause as the group regarded us if we were known rapists.
          ‘What did you say to them?’ I asked him when he walked passed me still laughing.
          ‘I told them the truth,’ he said. ‘Now let’s forget about trashy sluts and head to the Albert Hall. It’s not far. I want to see Hitler’s other ball.’
          We didn’t get to see Hitler’s other ball. Eddie walked two paces stopped and turned.
          ‘Nah, fuck the Albert Hall. I saw one of my relations there when I was a kid. Acting the big man like he does and all them lost clowns getting excited every time he plucked a note. He was like a zookeeper feeding hungry seals. I could have gone backstage. Why would I have wanted that? Felt suffocated in there I did. Would have preferred my own company in such a place. No. Fuck the Albert Hall. We’ll take that in another day. Do you know what I fancy right now; among other things. I fancy a butchers at Old Father Thames.’
          ‘Sorry, Eddie, what were you on about, your relations?’
          ‘I’m Eddie Weller, right.’
          ‘I didn’t know that was your surname.’
          ‘It is.’
          ‘So when you say one of my relations you mean as in Paul Weller out of The Jam?’
          He looked at me accusingly; eyes burning, insulted, wounded.  
          Eddie then yawned.
          ‘He’s an uncle.’
          I was certain he was telling the truth.        
          ‘Wow, no kidding?’
          He began picking at a fingernail.
          ‘Eddie, no way, right?’
          ‘It’s no big deal. Not to me. Rarely see him and when I do he’s in a mood about one thing or another. Never had time for his music.’
          ‘Eddie this is mental, mate. I must tell the guys when we get back at work.’
          ‘You’ll do no such thing.’
          We got the tube to Embankment. Time had raced by. We talked endlessly. I cannot recall what about. Definitely not about his uncle. We crossed over the Thames on foot, marvelling at the Houses of Parliament. Once on the other side Eddie produced a small cube of paper with a cartoon picture of Batman’s face on it.
          ‘Darling, place this on your tongue and suck.’
          ‘What is it?’
          ‘My treat.’
          ‘Yeah, but what is it?’
          ‘My peace offering. You see, I really have forgiven you.’
          ‘For what?’
          ‘For that time at work, in the toilets, when you were aggressive and rude to me and also disrespected ‘Left Bank Two’ by The Noveltones. But I have let you off all that. Now place this on your tongue.’
          ‘You haven’t said what it is.’
          ‘Just suck it and see.’
          I placed the tab on my tongue.
          ‘Suck it and see,’ he said again.
          And I sucked.