213. Northern Exposure

“Keep the change.”
I push the crumpled tenner into the mini-cab driver’s hand and climb out of the battered grey Toyota Corolla into the battered grey afternoon, silver drizzle drifting in soft sheets across the rocks and puddles of the unmade road.
I light a cigarette and lift the collar of my cheap black suit before picking my way down the road to the cottage.
The funeral service was… well, they’re never good, are they? I can’t recall a funeral that was a blast. I suppose if it’s a laugh-a-minute the vicar is probably in the wrong job. Still, there’s a part of me that wishes it all was a bit more light-hearted.
This one was cancer.
Cancer is never light-hearted.
A lass I’d grown up with, it was her mother. A lovely woman. I’d known the family all my life so hearing of her illness, slow decline and eventual passing was a grim, drawn out affair.
She left three daughters.
The father lives in America now and has little contact, so the girls are on their own, but they’re a tight clan and fiercely loyal to each other. They’ll be ok.
But the cottage…
Their father has decided to sell it, the family home they’d grown up in, and this has caused an unforgivable rift in the family.
He wasn’t at the funeral.
He was not welcome.
The eldest daughter is taking the youngest into her family home and the middle girl, my friend Janice, she ‘s got plans.
They’ll be ok, but it won’t be easy.
I half expect to see a ‘For Sale’ sign outside the cottage, and if there was one I might well have kicked it down, but thankfully it’s not gone that far yet.
The mourners cars are parked up the grass verges and along the rough gravel drive. Beyond the house, the arthritic fists of apple trees contort themselves in the mist, the remnants of their crop rotting amongst the yellow leaves on the wet ground between their moss-clogged trunks.
A plume of smoke drifts amongst the trees and I see a figure in black standing there, hunched, pulling on a cigarette between his lips.
The lights are on in the house, warm in the chill afternoon, and figures in black clothing pass too and fro in the kitchen carrying paper plates, cups of tea, glasses of sherry.
The figure in the orchard looks familiar.
As I get closer I hear running water, then he gives a little shiver.
I say, “Is that you, Dave?”
Fucking Amazing Dave jumps and spins around. “Fuckin’ hell, Luci! Don’ be doin’ that, man! I nearly shat meself!”
“Well, in for a penny, in for a pound.”
He grins. “There’s a right queue in there for the bogs. It’s all them biddies drinkin’ tea. Goes right through ‘em.”
I say, “More to the point, Dave, what the fuck are you doing here? I didn’t know you knew the family.”
“I do an’ I don’t,” he replies. “Me mam knew their mam, like, through church. When I were a nipper I’d go over an’ play wi’ Janice, like, while us mams ‘ad a natter. I’ve not seen ‘er in donkey’s years but I always ‘ad a soft spot for ‘er.”
Dave sniffs and inspects the glowing tip of his cigarette. “If things ‘ad been a bit different, an’ us paths ‘ad crossed again at some point, like, well, y’never know ‘ow things might ‘ave turned out, wi’ Janice an’ me. I never said nowt at the time, like, but mebbe I should ‘ave, mebbe.. y’know…”
Dave suddenly looks a bit lost. I reach into my pocket and find my hip flask and pass it to him. He nods at me, unscrews the lid and takes a slug.
I say, “I think we’ve all felt that way about Janice at some point or another, Dave. Not taking anything away from you, mind, just that she’s a fine lass.”
Dave nods and takes another swig. “Aye, she is, mate. A fine lass. There’s somethin’ about funerals that gets you thinkin’ though. Time wasted, opportunities pissed away, all that stuff. If I got… I dunno… arse cancer tomorrow, I’d be well naffed off. All that shit I plan to do but keep puttin’ off. Sometimes y’just gotta seize the day, yeah?”
I nod. “Yeah. You’re not wrong, mate.”
We are looking off into the mist when the front door opens. “David? Are you out there? Come in and say hello to everyone!”
Fucking Amazing Dave rolls his eyes. “Fuckin’ hell, it’s me mam… I hate all this shit, Luci…”
I say, “Me too, mate. Let’s get it over with and maybe we can sneak a couple of pints after?”
Dave grins. “Ace idea, Luci!”
We go inside.
I give Dave’s mum a peck on the cheek and she tells me she wishes I’d have a word with Dave and get him to sort his life out and Dave mumbles uncomfortably under his breath.
I shuffle through the house, meeting people, passing on condolences, listen to obscure aunties telling Fucking Amazing Dave how much he’s grown.
I’ve never seen Dave so far out of his comfort zone. He keeps pulling at his collar and messing with his tie. Every time we make eye contact he looks like a dog reluctantly performing humiliating tricks for it’s master. He’s behaving, but under duress.
He nips over to me while his mum is talking to someone.
He says, “I can’t take much more o’ this, Luci. Quick, give us another nip.”
I slip him the flask and he takes a discreet pull on it.
He smacks his lips and glances around, then his eyes widen.
“There she is,” he whispers.
I look over.
Janice is moving through the room, pale faced but dignified, looking beautiful in a figure hugging black dress.
Fucking Amazing Dave is transfixed. I can see a little shine in his eyes, as if he might shed a tear.
“Ain’t she amazin’ Luci? So brave! So strong! A fella could go places wi’ a lass like that, y’know. Some blokes just need… need a bit o’ guidance, someone to show ‘em the way…”
He takes the hip flask off me and takes another pull on it.
He says, “She’s comin’ over, Luci! Quick, how do I look?”
I check him out.
An ill-fitting and obviously borrowed suit, fake leather shoes, scruffy hair streaked with grey, nicotine stained teeth, blood shot eyes.
I sigh. “You look fine, Dave. Just… fine.”
He takes a deep breath. “Cheers man.” He’s looking at Janice with a determined expression.
I feel worried.
I say, “Now listen, Dave…”
But it’s too late.
Fucking Amazing Dave steps forward.
Janice’s face lights up when she sees him. “Davey! It’s so good of you to come! I haven’t seen you in years!”
He grins sheepishly at her. “S’good to see you n’all, Janice love. I mean, it’s rotten an’ all that, like, under these circumstances, y’know, but it’s good t’see you, yeah?”
She smiles. “I know. It’s always the way – funerals and weddings! Still, you find out who you can depend on at times like these. The people who count.”
I see Dave’s chest swelling with emotion. His lip is trembling a bit.
I think, ‘oh fuck, don’t say anything, Dave, not now…’
Fucking Amazing Dave steels himself, then plunges in. “Listen, Janice, it’s sad n’that, but sometimes, like, these things, they can bring folk together, like, coz they ain’t seen each other for ages, like an.. an… y’know…”
As he stumbles on I notice something.
I look down.
When Fucking Amazing Dave had gone for a piss he hadn’t zipped up his flies.
On top of that, Fucking Amazing Dave doesn’t own a single pair of underpants.
So now, as he talks to Janice, the moment seems to get the better of him, the excitement of seeing her is just too much, and slowly but steadily his increasingly erect penis noses it’s way out of his trousers and into the daylight.
I freeze.
I am unable to react.
Time stands still.
Then suddenly Dave’s mum is there.
She hisses, “Bloody Nora, David!!”
She grabs him by the cock.
Dave yelps.
She spins him around using her handbag as cover, and, still gripping him by the offending member, drags him unceremoniously from the room.
Janice looks confused.
She turns to me.
I snap my gaping jaw closed.
She says, “Is Davey alright? He was acting… strange!”
I say, “He’s fine, Janice. I just think he was a bit… overcome.”

An hour later, I bring fresh pints to our table in the pub.
Fucking Amazing Dave is still ashen.
I repeat what I’ve been saying. “Honest, mate. She didn’t see it. No-one saw it. You’re in the clear.”
“But what if… what if she’d… but…”
“She didn’t so don’t worry. Now drink up.”
We take large gulps of our pints and stare out of the window.
The drizzle is turning to sleet.
After a while, Dave says, “I suppose if she didn’t see it… if no-one saw it, then it might be ok to talk to her then. Maybe call her in a bit, go for a drink or summat…”
I don’t say anything.
I don’t say that Janice told me she’s moving to America, that she has a son already. I don’t tell him that by the time he tries get in touch she’ll have gone.
Dave smiles out of the window. He says, “If she had seen it, Luci, it wouldn’t ‘ave been the first time, y’know?”
I’m shocked. “Really?? You and Janice? I mean… when? I had no idea!”
Fucking Amazing Dave grabs our empty glasses and gets up to go to the bar.
He winks at me. “Aye. When we were five, naked as t’day we were born, in an’ out of ‘er paddlin’ pool in ‘er back garden! I seen ‘ers an’ she saw mine! We didn’t care! I still remember. Happy days. Y’never know, Luci! There might be chance yet for another look!”
He goes to the bar and I look out of the window.
The sleet has turned to snow.

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212. Flinching at Volvos

I shift the battered leather suitcase from my left to right hand, take the half smoked Lucky Strike from my lips and exhale, walking, cowboy boots kicking the litter that blows across the oil-stained bus station forecourt from the stinking, shouting maw of Leeds Market.
People are shuffling.
They shuffle looking up at bus numbers, terminal numbers. They shuffle looking down at tickets, coins, notes, purses.
I’m walking, striding out, boots making a satisfactory click and clack across the cracked tiles of the bus station, head and shoulders taller than everyone else, confident, young, cocky.
I am in my pomp.
Just turned twenty one, thick dark, curly hair falling over my shoulders, leather jacket, tight jeans over cowboy boots that cost me two weeks wages, their heels pushing my height close to six foot six. I am an exotic bird compared to the dull bus station plumage, a peacock amongst pigeons.
I am would wear sunglasses but even I can’t pull them off in an early nineties Leeds. Sunlight is a rare visitor, the North being smothered by constant cloud and the last remnants of two century’s of smog. Wearing sunglasses in such low light might end in an ugly demise beneath the wheels of a National Express coach destined for Darlington – a most un-Rock ‘n’ Roll way to die.
With unhindered vision and a sense of purpose I find what I’m looking for. Gate 3, the 9.45am National Express Coach to Newcastle.
I check my watch.
It leaves in twenty minutes.
I think about refreshments, then I think about coffee and the effects it might have on my notoriously fickle digestive system, then I decide to pass.
I shudder.
I don’t want anything to go wrong.
I climb onto the coach, slide my case into the overhead compartment and settle into my seat.
As I stare out of the window I hear a wheezing and mumbling in the isle. I glance up at a young couple, a similar age to me yet somehow infinitely older.
Heavily anoraked, matching haircuts from a market barber, dumpy and dull, they shuffle and mutter and mumble their way into the sets across the aisle from me.
Carrier bags bulging with clothing and tat are squashed overhead before they ease themselves into their seat with faux-octogenarian groans.
She says, “Are you alright, love?”
He says, “Ooh, I think so, love. I think so.”
She says, “Is it your back, love?”
He says, “It’s my feet, love, my feet.”
She says, “Ooh, not your feet, love. You’re a martyr to your feet.”
He says, “I know, love, I know. But what about you, love? Are you alright?”
She says, “Yes, love, I think so, love. But my hips, love. Ooh, my hips…”
He says, “I know love. You and your hips. You’ve suffered, love.”
She says, “Eeh, love, what with my hips and your feet…”
He says, “I know, love, I know.”
These people are Nana People, brought up by their nanas. I know the type. They’ve spent so much time around OAPs they’ve become weird young-old hybrids, possessed by the spirit of the pensioners who looked after them throughout their childhood. They are infused with an odd mixture of infirmity and Dunkirk spirit, both feeble and stalwart.
Wincing then sighing, treating one other to slightly pained but affectionate smiles, they each produce thin carrier bags, filled to bursting, half transparent with thick blue and white stripes.
Market bags.
In the market bags are market biscuits, market snacks, broken things and food just past Sell By, familiar crisp brands in Arabic script, bottles of lurid green pop that look as palatable as Paraquat. Before boarding the bus they browsed the stalls of Leeds Market for cheap treats and now they settle down to systematically plough through them.
A steady barrage of rustles, crunches, pops and fizzes begins.
“Fucking Hell…” I mutter under my breath.
There’s a loud hiss, the doors of the coach close and the heavy diesel engine kicks into life. With a beep..beep…beep the coach reverses.
Across the aisle, He says, “Ooh, we’re off, love!”
She says, “Yes, love, we’re off!”
He says, “Are you alright, love? Are you?”
She says, “I’m coping love. Coping.”
He says, “Get comfy, love. Get comfy.”
She says, “Yes love, I will, love.”
The smells of salt and vinegar, chocolate and cola are joined by a new odour. Ripe and pungent.
I glance across.
They have taken their shoes off and the thick reek of unwashed feet gently permeates the back of the coach.
It’s going to be a very long trip.
I decide that I hate the Nana People in the seat opposite. I hate who they are and what they represent. Wallowing pigs, content in their own shit, snuffling though bags of leftovers.
I’m not them, I’m better than them. I want more. I’m young, I’m good looking, I’m going to Newcastle to have sex with a beautiful woman.
I get an electric tingle of excitement, a stirring of the loins.
I rummage in the pocket of my jacket and take out a torn envelope. Inside, two pictures and a note.
The first picture is blurred.
It is me and a blonde girl. We are smiling. We are laid on a bed in a hotel room, our hair spilling around us.
We had met a few hours before the photo was taken in the Mayfair nightclub in Newcastle, a legendary Northern rock club that I’d save up to visit every month or so. My mate and I would stay in a half decent hotel then go out on the town, prowling the rock bars and clubs, chatting up the lasses.
This particular night was a little hazy.
Drinks, pubs, clubs, dancing, drinks, then…
The blonde girl was there in a dress with fruit printed on it, which I thought was a bit strange. Her hair was long, all the way down her back, and she had… well… there’s no subtle way of putting it, massive tits.
You really couldn’t miss them. They were like a dead heat in a Zeppelin race.
She said her name was Tanya.
We danced, we drank, we went back to my hotel room.
Get in.
But… I didn’t get in.
We made out but Tanya said she’d never do it on a first date.
I was left wanting.
Badly.
I took a picture of us together on a disposable camera, a blurred photo of a blurred night.
we talked on the phone and she sent me a letter, along with another photo.
A sexy photo.
In the picture Tanya is scantily clad, showing lots of cleavage and stocking. Her long hair cascades down her back.
This picture is slightly blurred too, but clear enough.
The letter is a saucy letter.
In it she describes what she wanted to do to me in great detail, and asked me to visit.
Naturally I accepted.
That’s where I’m going.
I’m going to Newcastle to have sexy time with a girl I met at a rock club.
I cannot wait.
I lean away from the fetid reek of the Nana People’s feet and look out of the window as the streets of Leeds become dual carriageways, then motorways, the houses become fields.
It’s going to be a long journey.

About four hours later the coach wheezes into Newcastle Coach Station.
The Nana People put on their shoes and sweep thick drifts of crumbs from their cardigans onto the floor of the coach.
“Are you alright, love?”
“I’m alright love, I think. Bit stiff. Are you alright, love?”
“I’m alright, love, I suppose. Bit stiff.”
Etc.
I stand up, grab my case and stride down the aisle of the coach, down the stairs and into the cold Newcastle air.
I light a cigarette, take a drag, look around.
It’s a similar scene to Leeds.
Shuffling, shuffling. Two people hugging, someone’s mum waving, a tramp looking through a bin.
I look again.
The mum is still waving.
Waving at me.
I squint.
Do I know her?
She looks vaguely familiar.
Oh.
Oh no.
Tanya comes clip clopping across the car park on impossible heels, her massive tits bouncing alarmingly under her sweater.
People stop and stare.
I want to crawl back onto the coach.
Her hair is scraped back into a messy ponytail and she has no make up on, which is absolutely fine, but it reveals that she is older than I originally thought.
By about twenty years.
“Yoo hoo! Luci pet! Over here!”
An old man wheezes behind me. “You lucky wee cunt!”
“Yeah…” I reply.
Now, I know it’s a popular fantasy – the older woman, Mrs Robinson, Milfs, cougars – and I’m definitely up for it, but something doesn’t feel right. I knew she was older than me, but I’d thought by five or six years.
This woman is over twice my age, and she looks hungry.
I gulp, stepping forward.
“Now then, love…”
She lunges at me, pressing her tits against my chest and pushing her tongue down my throat.
She tastes of chips.
She pulls away and grabs my bag, swinging it around as if it were empty, and pulls me towards a battered Volvo parked illegally in a bus bay.
“Safe journey, pet?” she asks, grinning an impossibly wide grin. “All good? Y’eaten yet, pet? No? Y’need y’strength, y’know?”
She winks at me.
Everything she says is a double entendre. I find it confusing, not knowing wether to drop into the Carry On vibe or just answer honestly.
So I say, “Erm…”
I’m not often lost for words but I’m all at sea.
She winks at me again and licks her lips, bats her lashes.
It just looks ludicrous.
There’s food crumbs on her sweater. A coffee stain.
She giggles, “Hey, me eyes are up here, cheeky!”
I realise she thinks I was staring at her tits.
I feel myself blush. “Oh, no, I was…”
“Don’t worry, pet. I’m used to it!” She winks again, slides a hand behind me and nips my arse.
I accidentally let out a rather camp, “Ooh!”
She giggles again, opens the Volvo and slings my case in the back.
“Hop in, pet!” she says, climbing into the drivers seat.
I get in, and barely get the door close before she floors it.
“Fucking Hell!”
I fumble with the seatbelt as the Volvo lunges into traffic, screaming brakes and beeping horns coming from left and right.
She presses a cassette into the tape deck and hair metal blasts out, Mötley Crüe or Poison or some other shit.
I shout, “SLOW DOWN A BIT!”
She winks again and shouts back, “I’LL SHOW Y’THEM LATER, CHEEKY!”
I give up.
We hurtle over the Redheugh Bridge and I can see the Tyne Bridge in the distance out of the passenger side window.
We are leaving the city.
I shout, “WHERE ARE WE GOING?”
She just grins and winks.
She changes gear, leaves her hand on the stick for a moment, then moves her hand over onto my thigh.
Her hand creeps, finds my crotch and begins to gently rub.
Despite my worries I’m instantly hard.
I see this as terrible treachery on my penis’s part.
There are problems, things occurring that are out of my control, yet my cock behaves like a stupid lap dog, panting and wagging at the slightest attention.
Bad dog.
We are now on the A1.
I still don’t know where we are going.
I wonder if I’m being kidnapped.
She’s still rubbing my crotch.
There’s a little wet spot of pre-cum soaking through my jeans.
I feel wretched.
Without slowing, we veer off onto a slip road.
I grab onto the door handle to steady myself and attempt to hit brakes that aren’t there with both feet.
Tanya nods at something up ahead. She shouts, “THAT’S WHERE WE’RE GOING, PET!”
I blink at the horizon.
Oh, good, I think. We’re going to IKEA.
I’m a bit past caring anymore.
I wonder if I’m going into shock.
The car sails past IKEA and swerves hard left.
We shudder to a halt in a parking space.
She kills the engine and the stereo goes quiet.
My ears are ringing. My heart is hammering and I feel like I can’t breath.
I manage to stammer, “Where the fuck are we??”
Tanya giggles again. It’s already getting right on my nerves. Middle aged people shouldn’t giggle. It’s creepy.
She says, “Open the glove box.”
I pause, shake my head, then open it.
There’s a photo inside.
I take it out.
It’s blurred photo of what looks like a valley, taken from over head, maybe from a plane.
I look puzzled. I say, “Where’s this?”
More giggles. “It’s my foofee, silly.”
I say, “What… what’s a foofee?”
She waggles her eyebrows and winks. Again.
I look at the picture again.
I sigh. “It’s your fanny, isn’t it?”
She laughs loudly. “Yes! You can have that, pet!”
She get out of the car.
I sit a moment longer and look at the photograph of a woman’s fanny I just got out of a Volvo glove box and wonder if I have in fact gone mad.
I reluctantly put the photo in my pocket and get out of the car.
It’s freezing cold.
The wind moans over IKEA and hits me side on.
We are stood in front of the Marriott Hotel.
Tanya is already walking towards the doors. She shouts, “Grab y’bag, pet!”
I do as I’m told and trot after her.
I ask, “What are we doing here?”
She says, “It’s where we’re staying tonight, pet.”
I say, “I thought we were stopping at your house.”
She says, “We can’t stay at mine!”
I say, “Why not? Wait… you’re not married, are you?”
She laughs. “No! I live with me parents!”
She says it in a way that suggests she’s far too young to have moved out yet, but this is clearly bollocks.
I say, “Oh.”
We enter the hotel lobby.
It’s warm, and for the first time since I got off the coach I feel a little less tense.
Tanya says, “Wait here, pet.”
I do as I’m told.
She walks over to the desk and talks to the receptionist.
She is given a key.
She walks to the lifts and beckons me over.
The doors open.
We get in.
The doors close.
As the lift rises I’m suddenly slammed against the wall.
She is on me.
Kissing, grabbing, mauling, I feel like she’s trying to eat me.
I reciprocate as best I can but it feels like it wouldn’t matter if I fought back or went limp, it was going to happen anyway.
The lift stops, there’s a pinging noise, the doors open.
She releases me.
She takes my hand and pulls me towards a door at the end of the corridor.
We go inside.
I look around and say, “What the fuck is going on?”
The room is… ridiculous.
It is decorated like a Bedouin tent, with tasselled ropes and swags of embroidered cloth covering every inch of the room. The huge bed has an enormous canopy of sheer white material over it, and all the furniture is ornate and gilded.
Tanya is delighted. She skips around and twirls, laughing. “Isn’t it MAGICAL, pet! It’s the Arabian Nights room! It’s like a scene out of a FILM or something! Isn’t it AMAZING!!”
It’s ridiculous, but I also imagine it’s very expensive, so I don’t complain.
I say, “Yeah, it’s quite something.”
Suddenly she’s on me again.
I think, here we go.
She mauls me for about ten seconds then jumps up.
“Right!” she says. “I’ve got to go but I’ll be back in a bit. Bye!”
She runs out of the room and slams the door.
I get up, confused.
I open the door and check the corridor, wondering if it’s a joke, but it’s deserted.
I go back inside.
I look out of the heavily draped window onto the wind blasted car park and see the Volvo racing away to the main road.
I let go of the curtain and mutter, “What the fuck is going on?”
I light a cigarette, tap the ash into Aladdin’s lamp.

She is gone for hours.
I have no way of contacting her.
I am abandoned in an strange, twilight existence of Sahara indoors, Siberia outdoors.
I contemplate raiding the mini bar but I worry that,
It will be exorbitantly expensive, and
I won’t be able to get it up after a dozen miniature Jack Daniels & Coke.
I prowl the room.
I’m considering fucking it off and getting a taxi back to the station when the door suddenly bursts open.Tanya staggers in, but now she’s transformed.
She has poured herself into a skintight minidress and her hair is down. She has full warpaint on, expertly applied, and I can see how – after a skinful – you might mistake her for someone considerably younger.
She is laden down with a ridiculous array of items so I rush to help, grabbing armfuls of equipment and paraphernalia.
I say, “Where have you been? And while we’re at it, what’s this lot?”
I notice a cloud of annoyance pass over her face, a slight iciness in her perma-grin.
I take note.
In a slightly brittle tone she says, “It takes time for a girl to look this good, y’know, pet.”
I say, “Sorry, yeah. You look fabulous, by the way.”
She brightens instantly. “Thank you! And all this is my camera equipment!”
She proceeds to erect a tripod in the middle of the room and lock a large camcorder to the top.
I frown. “Camera equipment? What do you need camera equipment for?”
She turns to me with what is supposed to be a smouldering expression.
“To record our love, of course.”
I feel a terrible lurch in my stomach.
I say, “Beg… beg your pardon?”
She slides a mini cassette into the side of the camcorder, snaps it closed and presses a button.
A red light goes on.
She whispers, “To record… our… love.”
She pushes me backwards onto the bed.

Two hours later I’m in the bathroom, catching my breath.
I’m exhausted.
I look at the face in the mirror and struggle to recognise him.
I’m trying to get my head around what has just happened.
Tanya had started by stripping me down to my pants before stepping back, turning on a CD player she had brought with her, and, to the sounds of Madonna’s ‘Justify My Love’, she performed a striptease.
It was very awkward.
I lay there on the bed and watched, glancing occasionally up at the red light on the camera, as a woman in her mid-forties performed a dance she’d probably learned in her mid-twenties, but now she’d become somewhat heavier than she once had been.
The furniture rattled as she thundered around the room and I wondered what the people downstairs thought was happening.
I wondered what I thought was happening.
The camcorder bounced on the tripod alarmingly and I imagined the ‘recording of our love’ would probably resemble shagging during an earthquake.
The dance finished with her naked at the end of Madonna’s ‘Justify My Love’ which was immediately followed by Madonna’s ‘Justify My Love’.
At the third playing of Madonna’s ‘Justify My Love’ I commented on this.
It turned out that she really really liked Madonna’s ‘Justify My Love’, and as such she’d recorded it onto a CD, over and over, for a full ninety minutes.
After the dance she told me she was going to give me a sensuous massage.
With her tits.
To the dulcet sounds of Madonna’s ‘Justify My Love’.
She made me lie down and she poured essential oils over her truly titanic tits.
Then, starting with my feet, she rubbed her oily tits all over me.
It wasn’t unpleasant, but it was a bit odd.
I lay there, face into the pillow, as her huge orbs slithered up and down my back.
Then I had to turn over and it all started again.
Yes, it was lovely and everything, but it was still bloody awkward. She kept grinning at me, then I’d kind-of smile back, then look at the camera, then look at her again. Her huge tits kept creeping closer and closer to my face, up my body, until her grinning face loomed over mine, then went past, and suddenly the lights went out as the tits arrived.
It was a bit like being in a carwash.
With tits.
After that we did all the other stuff.
To the sound of Madonna’s ‘Justify My Love’.
Whatever we did, no matter what position – and please brace yourself for this – she kept putting her fingers in her own fanny and slurping her fingers.
It was pretty grim.
I know they do it in porn films but when confronted with the bleak reality of someone incessantly pushing their fingers into their own fanny before slobbering them, it’s a bit stomach churning.
I lost my rag. I said, “Do you want me to call room service for some bread to go with that?”
She said, “I love the taste of my own foofee!”
I thought, ‘You’re Radio fucking Rental’ but kept banging away.
Every position was performed.
It was very orchestrated.
It’s the reason I didn’t climax sooner, what with all the moving around, lifting legs, putting THAT just over THERE, no, not THERE, I mean THERE, yes THERE now DO IT!
When i did finally finish after a full hour, none stop, it was with a sense of exhausted relief, more surrender than triumph.
I lay there, a sweating, wheezing, trembling mess, and I feel her whisper in my ear, “How long before you’re ready to go again?”
I said, “Wha…?”
“How long before you’re good to go again, pet?”
I said, “Dunno… maybe a week.”
She laughed. “Ha ha ha! You’re funny, pet! No, seriously. We haven’t even started with the toys yet!”
She pointed to a black hold all on the floor.
I make a worried croaking noise.
She walks across the room to the mini bar and pulls out a bottle of champagne.
She pops it and pours me a glass.
“Get this down you, pet.”
I neck it.
She pours again, and as I drink, she reaches down and slips a finger up my arse.
I blow champagne everywhere. “Fucking Nora, love!”
She wiggle her finger, and I get an instant hard on.
“There we go, pet! We’re off!”
I’d been hot wired.
I stare furiously at my erection.
‘You fucking Judas,’ I thought, as Tanya straddled me and lowered herself…

So now I’m looking at a pale shadow of my former self in the bathroom mirror.
There’s love bites all over my body, my back is a mess of scratches and my cock looks like it’s been trapped in farm machinery.
“Serves you right,” I whisper at it.
I could cry.
There’s a tap on the door. “Run us a bath, pet! I need to get ready for tonight!”
I forgot that we’d probably be going out to the bars and clubs, Trillions and The Mayfair.
I wearily put in the bath plug and run the taps.
I just want to go to sleep.
The door opens and Tanya is prancing around, naked. She looks as fresh as a daisy. I look like I’ve been in a car crash.
She adds bubbles to the tub and slips in.
She bats her lashes. “You joining me in here, pet?”
I look back at the mirror. The bedraggled, haunted person looking back at me shrugs, climbs into the bath, and it all starts again.
An hour later and I’m dressed, smoking a cigarette, waiting for Tanya to emerge from the bathroom.
I’m wearing standard rock regalia, mostly black, band t-shirt, leather jacket.
I look sharp but I don’t feel it.
I’m exhausted.
She comes out of the bathroom wearing a skin tight cocktail dress that finishes only just below her knickers, fishnet stockings and six inch heels.
I complement her.
She beams that insane beam of hers, and within minutes we’re in a taxi.
Heading away from the city.
I say, “Where are we going?”
She giggles. “My surprise, pet!”
In the darkness of the back of the cab she fumbles with my fly, unzips me, and goes down.
I’m thinking she’s flogging a dead horse, but no.
She does something, I don’t know what, and I’m instantly hard.
It hurts.
I catch a glimpse of the taxi driver waggling his eyebrows at me in the rear view mirror.
I mouth the words, ‘fuck off’ at him.
He goes back to watching the road.
I stare out of the window with an empty gaze until it’s done.

We arrive at another hotel.
There’s a function on.
Men in smart suits escort women in frocks through the main doors where they are greeted with a glass of bucks fizz.
I say, “What are we doing here?”
She says, “It’s my company dinner dance. That’s my surprise!”
“Dinner dance?” I hiss. “These people are suited and booted and I’m dressed like Jon Bon fucking Jovi! They’ll never let me in there, and even if they do, I’ll look like a proper tit!”
She grins that huge, mad grin.
“You’ll be fine, pet! Trust me!”
It isn’t fine.
There’s an argument with the door staff and if it wasn’t for Tanya’s gigantic tits they would never have let us in. The bouncers are mesmerised by about a foot of incredible cleavage, and when they drop their guard I hustle in.
Tanya appears with two glasses of fizz.
I neck mine.
Then I neck hers.
I say, “Where’s the bar?”

The evening is a long, slow nightmare.
No matter how much I drink I cannot get pissed.
Tanya drags me around all her friends and colleagues, introducing me as her ‘Toy Boy’. She doesn’t seem to notice the pitying glances.
They seem to think I’m some sort of rent boy.
At one point, at the bar, a drunk man in a suit nudges me and asks, “Come on then – how much is the old tart paying you?”
I pick up my drink and empty it. “Not enough,” I reply.
I decide I’ve had enough.
I try to slip over to the reception desk to get them to order me a cab, when suddenly Tanya is there.
She hurries me along a corridor, then into the bathroom.
I know what’s coming.
Me.
Before I know what’s happened she’s bent over a toilet with her skirt up.
She’s not wearing any knickers.
I say, “Woah, now wait a minute…”
But it happens anyway.
As I kick her back doors in I wonder if I’ve actually been trafficked. Maybe this was it. My days would be spent mindlessly shagging until I’m all done in, like a knackered race horse, and I’ll welcome the man who comes to pitch a tent around me and finish me off with a shotgun.
From the other toilet cubicles I can hear stifled giggles.
I realise she’s told her friends this was going to happen.
I finish the job, pull up my trousers and head back to the bar.
There’s a buffet on the go but I’m not hungry.
Tanya, however, is insatiable. She keeps going back for more, ploughing through quiches, scotch eggs, piles of rice and pasta, cocktail sausages, cheese. More and more food disappears down her gullet and I feel queasy.
Then she starts on the cake.
I’m morbidly fascinated. How can one human being eat this much?
I say, “You do know that’s the eighth slice of cake you’ve had, don’t you? You’re going to fall into a diabetic coma at this rate.”
She just laughs and takes to the dance floor with another drunk executive, who’s wife glowers at her.
I realise the mood of the room has changed somewhat.
She’s been doing this all night, dancing and flirting with all the men, but now their wives are a few glasses deep they’ve started to get fired up. Some are muttering together and I fear there might be a lynching.
Part of me wants this to happen.
But…
When the song finishes I grab Tanya’s arm.
I say, “I don’t want to be a party pooper, but it’s time we left.”
She grins. “I know what you’re after, you randy sod!”
I grimace. “Yeah. That.”
We take a cab back to our ridiculous Arabian tent room.
I sit on the toilet for a while, just to get a bit of peace, but when I come out of the bathroom I see she’s dressed as some sort of mad dominatrix and she’s pressing the record button on the camcorder.
I say, “Oh no.”
She says, “Oh YES!”
I think about locking myself in the bathroom, or bolting for the corridor, but it’s too late.

I little while later I catch sight of myself in the wardrobe mirror shuffling around on all fours as Tanya rides me around the room and whips my arse with a riding crop.
And of course, Madonna’s ‘Justify My Love’ is playing for what feels like the one hundred and thirty seven thousandth time that day.
Tanya was having the time of her life.
I was dying.
I wonder how this happened.
What went wrong?
I had done things in the last twenty four hours that I would never have consented to in a sane world.
Everything was sore.
All I wanted to do was sleep.
Eventually I did sleep.
It was the sleep of the dead, interrupted only by occasional dark dreams of bizarre sex and by Tanya waking me up for some more bizarre sex.
She was utterly insatiable.
I was utterly spent.

Dawn filtered through the tent flaps of our Arabian encampment, and I winced as the dried blood from the scratches on my back pulled away from the bedsheets.
“Morning, lover!” Tanya is sat at the table devouring one of two gigantic Full English Breakfasts.
Bile rises in my throat.
“Hungry?” she asks.
“No,” I reply. “You have it.”
Waste not want not!” she giggles and pulls my plate towards her.
I mumble, “I’m going for a shower…”
“Oh, good!” she says. I’ll join you in a min…”
I slam the bathroom door and lock it.
I take a long, long shower.
I hear her try the door handle a couple of times and shout my name, but I ignore her.
When I open the door she is pretending to sulk.
In baby talk, she says, “Why did you lock the door? Have you fallen out with me and foofee?”
I dry my hair with a towel, mutter, “Sorry, I thought I’d left it open.”
I see both plates are empty, all the toast is gone.
Tanya has no make up on. She looks her true age. Talking baby talk… it just seems ludicrous.
I walk over to the window as she heads for the shower.
“Don’t get too dry, pet!” she shouts as the water starts to run. “Why don’t you join me and you can… scrub my back?”
“In a minute,” I reply.
I start to get dressed.
She keeps talking. “I thought this morning we could go to the aquarium, maybe a pub lunch afterwards? I’m already starving! We’ll settle the bill here first. I’m happy to go Dutch, unless you feel like being the gentleman and paying? I don’t mind! Ha ha!”
I freeze.
Did I just hear that right?
She is still talking in the shower, planning our next date.
But I’m thinking, Dutch, on a room I didn’t know we were taking? Dutch, on a penthouse suite? An Arabian Nights themed penthouse suite, at that??
I spot the empty bottle of champagne from the mini bar and flinch.
Dutch, or do I feel like being the gentleman?

My boot heels clatter crazily across the hotel car park and my wet hair feels like it is freezing in the wintry air as it whips behind me.
I run past the Volvo, vault a low hedge and keep running, my leather bag swinging in my hand and banging into my shins.
With my other hand I try to zip up my jacket and soon give up, preferring the biting cold to the prospect of being caught by Her, the succubus.
I’m exhausted but adrenalin drives me on, dashing blindly across the slip road and around the side of a huge shopping centre, just trying to get as much distance between me and Her as I possibly can. I run and run, gasping and wheezing, checking behind me every few paces to make sure I don’t get mowed down by a speeding Volvo.
Up ahead I see a row of buses.
I run faster, almost sobbing, legs buckling like a boxer on the ropes, just wanting to get away.
I stumble along the row of buses, trying to fathom numbers and street names, then I give up and just jump onto the one that is about to pull out.
Heaving and coughing, I gasp, “Anywhere near the coach station, mate.”
He nods. “Aye. Two quid. Here, you alreet?”
I say, “Yeah, why?”
He say, “Well, y’cryin’, like, an’ y’ look like y’been in a feet.”
I shake my head. “Rough night. I’m alright, thanks.”
I get a ticket and go to the back of the bus.
All the way into town I keep my head down, occasionally glancing out of the back window.

My ticket back to Leeds is for four o’clock.
I’m six hours early.
They don’t mind, there’s space. The driver asks me if I’m alright. I say I’m fine. He gives me a tissue anyway.
I find my seat, pull the curtain half closed and shut my eyes, but jerk awake as the engine fires up.
The coach slowly pulls away, but not before I see a blur that could have been a Volvo heading into the coach station.
Or I could have imagined it.
Then I realise I’m being watched.
From across the aisle, he says, “Hey, love, are you alright?”
She says, “Yeah, are you alright, love? You look shocking, love.”
He says, “He does look shocking, love, doesn’t he? Are you alright, love?”
“No,” I sniffle. “I’ve had a bit of a bad experience, and, and my back hurts.”
The Nana People look at each other. She says, “Ooh, not your back! My hubby’s a martyr to his back, aren’t you love?”
“Ooh, I am love. Nothing hurts like it. What have you done to it, love?”
I say, “I girl rode me like a donkey and put things up my bum at two o’clock this morning.”
She says, “Ooh, not your bum as well, love. My hubby’s a martyr to his bum too!”
He says, “But to be fair, you don’t put stuff up it, love.”
She says, “Only your ointment, love.”
He says, “Oh yes, there is that, love. Only my ointment.”
She says, “Listen love, you look shocking. Would you like a biscuit?”
I nod my head. I reach into the market bag and pick out a broken biscuit and I take a bite.
It’s wonderful.
She says, “Have another, love.”
I take two.

Leeds.
Sunday afternoon.
I say goodbye to the Nana People and they head off to catch another bus.
I loiter for a minute, look round, then reach into my pocket.
I find the letter and the photos and I tear them up into tiny little pieces, drop them into a bin.
Finally I take the little camcorder cassette from my pocket, drop it on the floor and stamp on it over and over again with the heel of my boot until it is utterly shattered.
I carefully collect all the bits and drop them in the bin.
Then I walk through town, heading for home, feeling tired, weak, and flinching at Volvos.

Posted in The Stories. | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

210. Dave’s Best Christmas

I’m watching a large black man wearing a hi-viz vest and a Santa hat as he shovels stacks of freshly folded leaflets from a hopper, snaps an elastic band around them before piling them neatly on a pallet.
He’s been doing this for hours, days, weeks.
It’s tedious work but he cracks on, resigned to his task as a stacker and sorter, the same minimal movements repeated over and over again every eight seconds or so, his expression never changing.
He’s from Africa.
It’s a strange thing to be able to declare this with such certainty, but the factory is a white factory, the bosses almost unashamedly racist, and the agency staff taken on in the run up to Christmas are all immigrants of one sort or another, poor souls.
I can almost imagine a half deflated dinghy washing up on a grey beach near Folkestone, depositing it’s half-drowned payload of terrified immigrants onto the freezing sands, only for them to be greeted by a grinning Agency employee in a cheap suit and a hi-viz vest, wafting his clipboard to show where to pick up their own hi-viz vest and heavy work boots, distributing the one-size-fits-all Santa hats, before herding them onto mini buses to head North, where it is even greyer, even colder, to stand in a factory for twelve hours at a time, to snap elastic bands around leaflets that nobody wants, and I wonder if it’s what they imagined when they started their perilous journey.
Safety and security come at a price – a cold, grey, boring price.
Looking around the factory I see very few familiar faces. A lot of the long term have given up, just faded away after weeks on long term sick with stress or knackered knees or a fucked back. Whenever they go, the space is filled by another bewildered Agency worker, then another, and another.
Everything changes, I suppose, nothing is constant.
But…
A rumble of pallet truck wheels heralds the arrival of Fucking Amazing Dave, head crowned with a giant elf hat complete with pointy ears. He’s stood astride the two forks of the pallet truck as it thunders along and he steers with one hand as he crams a mince pie into his face with the other.
Perhaps some things never change.
“How do, knobhead!” he shouts, spitting crumbs. He rams his boot into the concrete leaving a slightly smoking streak of rubber and the truck shudder to a halt.
I shake my head. “How do, Dave. How you been?”
He takes another bite of pie. “Busy as a BASTARD, Luci! Got all these African lads to look after, see? Trained ‘em up miself! Not easy, like, what wi’ them not speakin’ no English, an’ me not being too familiar wi’ the finer points o’ Swahili, like, y’know?”
I say, “How do you cope then?”
He shrugs. “I just got the knack, yeah? We get on! I show ‘em what to do, I show ‘em a bit o’ respect, an’ they do it! Everyone’s happy. Anyhow, what you doin’ just lurkin’ around, watchin’ people doin’ a proper job?”
Fucking Amazing Dave never counts a job where you sit down all day as being a proper job. To him it’s all just taking the piss. A job to him involves a lot of noise, clattering machines and moving the goods the machines produce from point A to point B.
I say, “We’ve done our bit. You’re working on the stuff that we worked on a month ago.”
Dave shakes his head. “Weird that, innit? Y’know, makin’ all Christmassy shit months before Christmas, an’ Halloween shit in Summer. What you workin’ on now?”
I wince. “Artwork for Easter mailings are just coming in. Bunnies and Eggs. Daffodils.”
Dave whistles. “That must be wank. Bet you don’t feel Christmassy at all!”
“I don’t really. I’ve been looking at this crap since mid-September so the novelty has worn off. I just want to get it over with, to be honest.”
Fucking Amazing Dave winks at me. “I’ll get you back in the mood, Luci. Hop on!”
I look at his team of Africans, working hard. I say, Don’t you need to…”
“Nah! I ‘ardly ‘ave to do fuck all anymore! These lads do it all! They’ll be reet. Come on!”
I hop on the back of Dave’s pallet truck and he kicks off with his boot.
Leaning into corners around deafening machines, stacked pallets of brochures, rickety towers of racking piled with forgotten yellowing paper, Dave thunders along like a demonic Santa on a self-propelled sleigh. By the time we stop I’m laughing my head off.
“Fu… fucking Hell, Dave! I thought you were going to kill us both! Where we going?”
Fucking Amazing Dave pulls a battered printing plate away from a wall to reveal a square hole. “One of me dens, Luci,” he says. “Got to ‘ave a few places to get hiddy, y’know, should y’need a little kip or some such.”
The hole leads to a low space behind a breeze block wall. Pipes and ducts run overhead, intertwined with fairy lights plugged into a long, tea-stained extension lead that snakes away into the darkness.
Fucking Amazing Dave points me to a grubby cushion on the floor while he settles himself on another near by. He rummages behind some ducting and retrieves a battered Quality Street tin, an electric hot plate and a dented aluminium pan.
I say, “Ooh, you brewing up?”
Dave grins. “I can do better than that.”
He reaches back again and this time he produces a bottle and two tin mugs. He pours half the bottle into the pan and puts it on the hot plate. The smell of mulled wine fills the air.
I say, “Lovely, but is it a bit risky?”
Dave grunts, “Fuck ‘em. It stinks o’ glue ‘n’ ink ‘n’ meths ‘n’ blocked drains ‘n’ sweaty arseholes out there, so none o’ the cunts will smell somethin’ this nice.”
He prises the lid off The Quality Street tin and offers it to me. “Go on – ‘ave a mincey.”
I take a mince pie. Home made with a flakey crust. I take a bite. It’s beautiful.
“Me mam makes ‘em,” says Dave. “She don’t cook much n’more, but come Christmas she alway knocks us up a couple dozen minceys. Fuckin’ beautiful they are.”
Dave pours warm wine into the battered mugs and we sit in silence, sipping and eating by the glow of the fairy lights.
After a little while I say, “So I’m guessing you’re a Christmas fan then, Dave?”
He tilts his head. The bell on his hat tinkles. “I weren’t always so fussed, but then I ‘ad me best Christmas ever, an’ ever since I’ve loved it!”
I say, “Best Christmas ever? When was that then?”
He takes another sip and a bite. “It were that time I went off to Thailand. You remember?”
I nod. “I forgot about that. I didn’t realise they celebrated Christmas over there. It’s… is it Buddhist, Thailand?”
He nods. “Aye, but to be honest, everything is celebrated over there, in one way or another. Every…thing. Well, remember I sold up and decided to travel, but only made it to Thailand. y’know how it is…”
I laugh. “I can guess!”
“Yeah, well… Anyhow, it were December over there an’ I got matey wi’ this backpacker. Hippy dude. I’d sorted ‘im out with a bit of smokey smoke when he were in a bit of a fix so as a thank you he gave us this tatty envelope. He told us that the things in the envelope would give us a real taste o’ Thailand, stuff that you wouldn’t normally see, like. He said to just show ‘em to people an’ they’d get it. In this ‘ere envelope were three things: a postcard showin’ a lovely beach, a little black business card an’ a phone number on a bit o’ paper.”
Dave takes another sip of mulled wine and rinses it round his mouth. Smacks his lips. “So, a few days later I packed me bag an’ set off. I got the postcard out an’ showed it this ‘ere
Tuk Tuk driver. He nods, like, then speeds off wi’ me in the back. He drops us off at the harbour. I shows this postcard to a bloke there, an ‘e nods too, points us to this queue o’ locals lined up on t’jetty, all wi’ bags o’ rice an’ chickens in cages. One wi’ a fuckin’ baby goat! Lovely little goat it were. I always wanted a baby goat after that. Mebbe one day… So I join this queue wi’ t’locals an’ t’chickens an’ t’baby goat, an’ soon enough this boat rocks up an’ we all pile on. Captain comes ovver an’ I pay him an’ show ‘im me postcard. He nods an everythin’, an’ we’re off!”
Dave leans in. “This boat chugs on for fuckin’ hours, stoppin’ off at islands, droppin’ off t’locals an’ t’chickens an’ t’baby goat, like, then we go further out to sea, for a few more hours, then we get to this island an’ it’s all jungle, nowt on it, just a jetty, an’ the captain calls us ovver an’ says for me t’get off. So I grab me bag, get onto this rickety little jetty, an’ t’boat fucks off.”
I say, “Shit. That sounds a bit dodgy…”
Dave nods. “Aye. That’s what I reckoned too. So I sat on me bag on this jetty an’ I just waited, like. There were nowt else I could do! I reckoned if the boat came back I’d get on it, but the boat didn’t come back.
“Sun were goin’ down, so I got a bit freaked, but then I ‘eard this noise. A put-put-puttin’ noise. Then out o’ the jungle comes this ‘ere ancient geezer, looked about a ‘undred year old! Never seen owt like it! An this geezer were ridin’ a fuckin’ Monkey Bike!”
I frown. “A Monkey Bike? What’s one of those?”
Fucking Amazing Dave waves his hands around. “You know, a fuckin’… fuckin’… Monkey Bike! A little motorbike, like, wi’ big handlebars. All them paedos used to ride ‘em on stage during the Radio One Roadshows in the Seventies an’ Eighties. They look pretty fun, to be fair… the Monkey Bikes, I mean, not Radio One paedos.”
“I guessed thats what you meant.”
“Aye, well, this old geezer rocks up out o’ t’jungle on one o’ them. I shows him me postcard an’ he nods, then points for me to climb on the fuckin’ bike wi’ ‘im! I mean, I’m twice this old fucker’s size AN’ I got a great fuck off rucksack, but he kept insistin’ like, so I got on, an’ we were off!”
Dave shakes his head. “Man, we blasted down this tiny jungle trail, me clingin’ on to this tiny old bloke, an’ I shit you not, Luci, there were these fuckin’ SNAKES kept darting their heads out o’ the trees at us from above! This old bloke just dodged like ‘e were dodgin’ rain drops, but I were shittin’ it that they might spit venom or some shit, or just fuckin’ BITE me! I mean… they’re snakes! I seen Indiana fuckin’ Jones, I seen what nasty cunts snakes can be! But we dodged the snakes an’ I didn’t fall off the Monkey Bike, an just it were gettin’ to dusk we appear out o’ t’jungle an’ onto this beach, THE beach from me postcard! I couldn’t fuckin’ believe it! All the locals came out o’ these little straw ‘uts an’ started singin’ and puttin’ flowers round me neck an’ that, then they showed me to this straw ‘ut o’ me own… aww mate! It were fuckin’ amazin’!”
Dave looked all dreamy. I said, “It sounds like paradise! So that’s where you spent your best ever Christmas?”
Dave shakes his head. “Nah mate. It were awesome, like, proper chill. I just swam in the sea an’ chilled on the beach, an’ this tribe just looked after me! They fed us grilled fish straight from the sea an’ the spring water were just beautiful, like nowt I ever tasted, an’ when I tried to pay ‘em they just laughed an’ shook their ‘eads! It were paradise, yeah, but if I’m ‘onest, paradise gets a bit dull!
“So I packs up me bag an’ the little old bloke suddenly re-appeared, an’ I ‘opped on ‘is Monkey Bike an’ waved g’bye to all the tribes people an’ off we went to the little jetty, dodgin’ them fuckin’ snakes all the way. I tried to pay the little old geezer too but ‘e wouldn’t ‘ave it, ‘e just waved an disappeared back into t’jungle. Ten minutes later that boat came back, wi’ t’locals an’ t’chickens an’ who else were back there? Well, it were only my mate t’baby fuckin’ goat! Aww, it were a great trip back. So when I gets back to the city, I get into a Tuk Tuk an’ I get that card out an’ I shows it to the driver. He nods an’ off we go.”
Dave pors more mulled wine into the pan and gives it a stir with a grubby finger. He sucks his finger, gathers his thoughts.
“ So this ‘ere Tuk Tuk driver, he races through all the city streets at top speed until he gets to this dark doorway. It were painted all black. I pays the driver an’ I go up to this ‘ere door. A little window appears an this bloke peeks out at us, so I show ‘im me little card, an’ ‘e nods, an’ ‘e opens the door, an’ I goes in, an’ I goes down these stairs, an’ there, on t’stage o’ this place, these two lovely lookin’ birds are muffin each other out on whilst a load of people sit around watchin’.”
I shrug. “Standard, I suppose.”
Dave nods. He tops me up with mulled wine. “Yeah, for some corners o’ Thailand. I’ve lost count of ‘ow many lasses I seen muffin’ each other out on stage. Comes a point when there ain’t a couple o’ lasses going at each other’s fannies like a pair o’ Rottweilers eatin’ hot chips then y’ feel a bit short changed.
“So I gets meself settled wi’ a beer an’ a bowl o’ cashews an’ watch the fun, but it dawns on us after a bit that it’s a bit more than just a fuck club, y’know? I mean, most places y’just watch, like, but the punters in this gaff were a bit, I dunno, gimpy.”
I take another mince pie. I say, “Gimpy? How do you mean, gimpy?”
Dave has a think. He screws his face up and sticks out his tongue. “Well, there were lots of rubber an’ shit. Lasses had their tits out an’ stuff. Blokes in bondage pants wi’ their arses out. Gas masks. All that. It’s never been my cup o’ tea all that stuff, but, y’know, when In Rome…
“Well those lasses on stage stopped squirtin’ all ovver the shop and a little bloke nips on an’ gives it a quick mop down, and then half a dozen lasses come on stage pushin’ this big fuck off frame thing wi’ a massive wheel on it wi’ straps an’ shit. So they start shoutin’ to t’ audience, askin’ for a volunteer, but it seems it were a bit early in t’night for this lot, an’ no-one were stickin’ their ‘ands up, so I thought…”
I feel my mouth open, showing half eaten mince pie. I say, “You didn’t.”
He grins. “I fuckin’ did. I sticks me ‘and up an’ this lovely Thai lass dressed as an angel comes an’ gets us. Crowd’s givin’ us a lovely big round of applause. All these lasses on stage are dressed up different – one were angel, one were a devil, one were a sexy nurse, all that shit. They were all fit as fuck n’all! Well, before I knew it they’d stripped us off, full nuddy, an’ they straps us to this fuckin’ wheel!”
I shudder. “Ah, shit Dave! You had no fucking clue about that place! You could have been a human sacrifice! They could have pulled back a curtain and half a dozen blokes could have come marching out!”
Dave shrugs. “You pays yer money, yer takes yer chances. Anyway, they starts spinnin’ this wheel an’ the lasses get cracking. One sticks her tongue in me gob an’ another puts a close peg on me knackers, one lass tweaks me nip nips an’ another starts suckin’ me toes! I almost lost me shit when the angel lass pops me cock in ‘er gob – just imagine spinnin’ round an’ round wi yer John Thomas in a beautiful lass’s grinner! It were mind bendin’! Then one lass starts whippin’ us, another drips hot wax off a candle on us, one starts suckin’ me ear while another wanks us off like she’s tryin’ to start a knackered petrol mower. I’d get close to shootin’ me muck then they’d do summet that brought us back down again. It went on an’ on, an’ the crowd were cheerin’ an they all start shaggin’ an’ I’m spinnin’ faster an’ faster, an’ then I can’t hold on no more an’ I shoot me load, an’ it were like a fuckin’ Roman candle goin’ off. I’ve not shot me bolt like it before nor since. It were fuckin’ spectacular. The crowd all stop shaggin’ an give us a standin’ ovation.
“so they unstrap us, like, an’ I thank the lasses, cos I’m a gent, like, an I collect me clobber an’ make me departure. I walks out into the night, pickin’ dry candle wax out o’ me chest hair, an’ smellin’ all the street food, an’ lookin’ at the lights an’ ‘earin’ all the mad city sounds an’ a painted elephant walks past, an’ I don’t know I’ve ever felt so alive, y’know?”
I sit back, slightly astounded, and take a big gulp of mulled wine. “Fuck me, Dave. That’s quite a Christmas you had there!”
Dave shakes his head. “It weren’t Christmas yet. I still had one thing left in me tatty old envelope. A few days later I’m just walking down the street, like, an’ I remembers that phone number. There’s this pay phone across the street so I gives it a call. It rings, an’ this lass picks up. I tells her about the number an’ how I got it, an’ she gets all animated, like. Says we ‘ave to meet up. So we arrange t’meet f’dinner that night.
“I got no idea what this lass looks like, so I make a proper effort, like. Y’know, ‘ave a shower an’ a shave, iron me best shorts, polish me flip flops n’all that.”
I say, “Very debonair.”
Dave says, “Thank you, I think… Any road, I rock up at this restaurant an’ get sat down wi’ a beer an’ I wait. I’m all nervous, like, an’ I look up whenever the door opens, an’ suddenly she’s there.”
I say, “How do you know she was the girl on the phone?”
Dave leans towards me. He stares me right in the eyes. “I just knew, Luci. I just knew. She were t’most beautiful lass I ever saw, hands down. Fuckin’ stunnin’. An’ when she saw me, man, she just lit up! She knew too! She sits down an’ we get chattin’. She got ace English, better than half the lasses I know in England, but that’s not sayin’ much, if I’m ‘onest. She’s clever, funny, she’s…”
Dave thinks a bit, then snaps his fingers. “Sci… scintillatin’! That’s what she were! Scintillatin’!”
He rocks back and forth on his grubby cushion, eyes reflecting the fairy lights. “She just… lit up the room, y’know? It were one o’ the loveliest meals o’ me life! I decided that we was gonna be together forever. It were love! An’ y’know what? She paid for t’meal! Wouldn’t hear a thing o’ me payin’, not even ‘alf!”
I say, “Bloody Hell, Dave! Sounds like you met the perfect woman.”
Fucking Amazing Dave frowns a bit. “Well, yeah, that’s what I thought. It were only when we stood up after t’meal that I noticed how tall she were. Taller than me.”
“Oh. Oh no. Oh mate.”
He nods. “Yeah… when summat’s too good to be true, it usually ain’t true. But y’know what? I thought about it. I thought, ‘can y’make it work, Dave? Can y’spend the rest o’ y’life wi’ the most beautiful bloke on t’planet?’ An’ I almost said ‘Yeah, go on then’ but I knew It wouldn’t work, like. I mean… I like me own cock an’ that, but I’m not sure I can be as devoted to another one.”
I say, So what did you do?”
“Well, when we got outside where the lightin’ were a bit better I spotted a few other bits an bobs. A bit o’ stubble. Adam’s apple. Hairy knuckles. What looked like a head o’ broccoli hidin’ in ‘er leggin’s. An I thought, ‘y’know what? Its bin a lovely night, let’s call it a day.’ So I thank ‘er an all that, an’ make a few excuses, an I say g’night. Well, she fuckin’ turned pretty sharpish. She were NOT ‘appy. She starts callin’ us all t’names under fuckin’ sun, cunt this and bastard that, a right fuckin’ potty gob she ‘ad on ‘er. So I starts walkin’ off an’ she’s followin’, screamin’ all this filth, an’ people are startin’ to notice, stoppin’ an’ starin’, so I think ‘fuck this shit’ an’ I start to run, but fuck me if SHE doesn’t start to run too! So I’m belting down this fuckin’ street at full fucking tilt, feet flappin’ around all ovver the shop and this huge lass in six inch fuckin’ heels is fuckin’ gainin’ on me, all the time screamin’ that she’s gonna stab me up an’ that I’m a son o’ a whore an’ that I eat wi’ me gob open like a pig which is fuckin’ SLANDER, to be honest…”
Dave has been telling me all this with a mouthful of mine pie, but I let it ride.
“So me mind’s racin’ faster than me fuckin’ flip flops an’ I almost throw meself on ‘er mercy an’ beg forgiveness an’ maybe even ‘ave to marry the massive male maniac, when suddenly a speedin’ Tuk Tuk races by an’ without a second thought I throw meself in the back an’ scream at the terrified driver to get ‘is fuckin’ clog down. For about a mile or so this lass keeps up, but after a bit she loses gas and disappears.”
“And was that Christmas then? Because if it was I wouldn’t call it the best one ever!”
“Nah,” says Dave. “It were still a couple o’ days off. But it got me thinkin’. I mean, what were it that I were lookin’ for? I mean, paradise islands an’ shaggin’ fit lasses is all very good, an’ beauty ain’t always what you might think it is, y’know? So I came to a decision. I bought a ticket an’ jumped on the next plane ‘ome.
“I got back Christmas Eve. Took a Taxi back to me mam’s ‘ouse. I were a bit sheepish, like, imposing like that at short notice wi’ no warnin’, like, but y’should ‘ave seen the look on me mam’s face. She were ovver t’moon! She grabbed us an’ gave us a big kiss an’ then she bust our cryin’! It turns out she were gonna be alone that year an’ I never knew. She hadn’t got nowt in, she decided it weren’t worth the fuss, so I chucked me bags in t’hall an’ we went down Asda before it shut. It were all scrag-end stuff, Bernard Matthews Turkey roll, manky parsnips, frozen spuds an’ a Vienetta, but next day, man, it were the best Christmas ever. Just me an’ me mam an’ the overdone sprouts, but fire were on in t’lounge an’ all the usual shite were on telly an’ there were nowhere else in the world I’d rather ‘ave been. That were me best Christmas ever.”
Dave looks up at me. “Wait… are you fuckin’ cryin’, Luci?”
I rub my face. “Fuck off, Dave. Anyway, that does sound like the best Christmas ever, mate. You did good.”
Dave finishes off the last of his wine and the fairy lights reflect off the pipes and metalwork in his hidey hole. He says, “Well, I break up today an’ in a few days I’ll be ‘aving a Christmas just like that one. Me an’ me mam. It’ll be grand. I’ll be ‘aving a proper turkey though, cos that Bernard Matthews Turkey Roll gave us both the shits on boxing Day. When do you break up, Luci?”
I say, “Today. I’d forgotten that it was my last day, but yeah, only a few hours to go! I reckon we can get through it, mate.”
Dave nods. “Feeling Christmassy, yet, Luci?”
I smile at Dave. “Yeah, I am actually! Cheers for that. Sorry I drank all your mulled wine!”
“It’s for sharin’ Luci. That’s what it’s all about. Merry Christmas, mate.”
“Merry Christmas to you too, Fucking Amazing Dave.”

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209. Where Nobody Knows Your Name.

We shuffle off the bus like industrialised penguins, damp boots turning discarded tickets to a grey mulch littered with tab ends beneath our feet, making the boards slippery as we gingerly alight.
I’ve finished my shift. It’s four fifty in the afternoon, or is it evening?
it’s December, 1993.
It’s nearly dark.
It has rained but it stopped some time mid-afternoon and there is no sign of the sun.
I can’t remember when I last saw it.
Brake lights and headlights and street lights reflect off filthy puddles that shiver as feet and wheels disturb them, little windows into the world above, shattering and reforming every few moments.
Hands in pockets, face muffled by the high collar of my Army Surplus greatcoat I slip through the crowd along The Headrow and the crowd thickens, quickens, people joining the flow from office buildings and shop doorways and restaurants and pubs, and with them comes the cooking smells and the sour reek of wet bar towels mixing with the sweet blue fumes of the grumbling buses, heavy with lead, and the dog smell of wet coats on tired bodies.
The Christmas lights are up, twisted jumbles of bulbs and tinsel vaguely resembling a robin, some holly, a candle, an angel, but there are no leaves in the city, no birds, the lights are all electric and there’s certainly no angels.
No birds…
The daily screaming overhead begins as a million starlings sweep in, chirruping and bubbling, swirling in thick black shoals across the indigo sky, rising in towering columns, rippling like a storm lashed sea. They dance every night, a confusing kaleidoscope of life until, with a final shriek, they land en mass on the Town Hall, the courts, the art gallery and library, where they perch and argue with each other in the darkness.
I walk on quickly, slipping past old women with heavy bags hauled from the market, men with brollies and briefcases, young women with macs and headscarves smoking menthols and laughing about everything and nothing.
Slade and Wizzard and Lennon and Yoko blare from tinny Tannoys in the shops, competing with the brass band of the Sally Bash on Dortmund Square, dark uniforms arranged around the fat lad with the barrel, but I pass by unnoticed, push on, keep walking.
I’ve been living on my own for a few months now.
I come and go as I please, stay out, go home, no-one to answer to. I have a room in a run-down house for twenty five quid a week, cash in hand, and I love it.
After work I wander around for a bit, rummage through book shops, check out who’s playing at The Duchess of York, explore.
I find myself walking along Boar Lane with it’s pawn shops and discount clothes stores, tired and faded frontages half boarded up, crouching beneath sagging stone cliffs of the soot-blackened Victorian Gothic facades that are prevented from toppling into the streets with stacks of rickety scaffolding. A martial arts shop, second hand gold, a shop declaring
WE BUY OWT in filthy letters overhead.
I breathe it all in.
I love it.
Freedom is exploring the places that terrified you as a kid.
Being alone in a city at night is a child’s worst nightmare, but as an adult it is totally different.
It’s a matter of perspective.
The looming black dome of the Corn Exchange crouches ahead of me. To the right, an evil looking alley plastered with National Front posters ends in a pub door.
The Whip.
It’s a skinhead hangout, a pub I don’t go in. I’ve got long hair and while there’s a strong Goth and Rock scene in the city, you have to watch yourself. There’s been a little craze for kicking people to death round these parts of late, gangs of skins or casuals jumping people in dark alleys and giving them a good hiding, just for fun.
You have to be careful.
You have to keep on your toes.
I cross the street, round the corner, past The General Elliott where a bloke with a dog once made me buy ten lighters for a fiver or ‘he’d kick my fuckin’ teeth out’.
I don’t go in The General Elliott any more.
It’s now fully dark, the shops are shutting, the crowds are thinning out.
It’s quieter, colder.
I head for the pub.
Briggate, buses nosing slowly up the street, growling and wheezing like angry tramps, the lights of Marks & Sparks and Wimpy and Ratner’s reflecting off their wet, grime-streaked windows.
I duck into a narrow alleyway lined by high brick walls. There were dozens of these yards branching off Briggate, back in the day. Fishmongers, slaughterhouses, tanneries, hotels. The stench must have been overwhelming. Some were converted into smart arcades lined with shops, some sealed off by expanding businesses, but the best yards had the ale houses and they’re still there now, if you know where to look. The Ship, The Angel, The Pack Horse, Swan’s, but most famous of all, Whitelock’s.
I push through the Whitelock’s door into the previous century.
Polished copper, cut glass, ornate mirrors and low beamed ceilings. Soft light reflecting from every surface, shining in pools of spilled beer. Discreet booths with cracked red leather seats and punters nursing pints, smoking fags, talking in low tones. The ceiling is as brown as the inside of a teapot from decades of nicotine and the sticky carpet clings to your boots like an over eager lover.
I’m home.
I order a pint and find a corner.
Light a fag.
Inhale.
No-one notices me.
I’m not there.
It’s complete freedom. Nobody even wonders where I am, no-one is waiting. I could go for days and nobody would miss me, sink to the bottom of the Aire and it would be a week before anyone noticed I’d gone.
I spent a lot of time alone as a kid. I didn’t get on at school, I didn’t fit in.
Because of that I spent a lot of time by myself, my own company the only company I could get, but it grew to be my favourite company, the only person I was truly at ease with.
And that’s how I prefer it now.
I can please myself.
I’m smiling, genuinely happy. I suck on my pint and take a pull on my fag, rummage in my canvas satchel and find my book, one of my favourites – Dubliners by James Joyce. I’ve been trying to read Ulysses for years and always failed. It beats me every time, but Dubliners is easy, and it’s beautiful.
I read in my corner, drink my bitter, smoke fags.
Soon I get hungry and place an order, then settle back down with a fresh pint.
And then it arrives.
A giant Yorkshire pudding filled with savoury mince and onions.
The steam rises to join the fug of cigarette smoke drifting lazily near the ceiling.
I tear into my meal, washing it down with mouthfuls of beer, and I honestly can’t remember being more content.
As I eat I listen in to other conversations. It’s a grubby little habit but I don’t give a fuck.
The old couple bickering over housekeeping money.
The solitary bloke telling his life story to a disinterested barman.
The four well dressed women perched primly amongst their expensive shopping bags, sipping nervously at glasses of a questionable red wine.
I fork some mince onto a soft strip of Yorkshire pudding and push it into my mouth.
The blonde woman says, “It’s a crying shame.”
The woman with the choppy hair says, “I know. You just don’t realise, do you?”
The blonde nods, sips her drink.
The other blonde, the shorter blonde, says, “If I knew my son was… well… I’d be heartbroken.”
I take a gulp of bitter, push a thick curl of hair away from my ear, listen a bit more.
The women are quiet for a moment.
Then choppy hair says, “My Dominic is around the same age and I worry. He’s at Cambridge, and we send him, you know, enough, but I still worry.”
The dark haired woman speaks up. “You just don’t expect it, not in this day and age. I mean… where are the parents? Don’t they care?”
The shorter blonde says, “Sandra, there might not be any parents…”
All the women gasp a little. There are sympathetic tuts.
Dark hair sighs, “There but for the grace of God…”
My curiosity is really aroused now. I glance up.
They’re looking at me.
They quickly look away.
I suddenly realise that it’s me they’re on about.
They pity me.
At first I’m angry. Furious.
How dare they? How dare they… presume?
But then I stop. The women are gathering their bags, checking watches, muttering about children and husbands.
They have to go.
I watch them, they do not watch me.
I light a fag and blow smoke and the ladies tiptoe from the pub into the damp night, back to their houses where they are expected, back to their gilded cages.
And I pity them.
I grin and push my plate away, pick up my pint and drain it.
I think about having another.
I can, if I like.
I can do anything I like, go anywhere like.
So I have another.
And another.
Later, I don’t know when, I walk out of the alleyway, onto Briggate.
It is almost deserted, except for the idling buses at their stops.
The rain falls silently, illuminated by the brake lights and headlights and street lights, by the green and the red of the shop windows and traffic lights.
I can hear the starlings high above me, talking in their sleep.
I walk down past the dark International pool, it’s warm chlorine breath misting the air, and cross the river, just walking, walking.
I look down at the river below and I’m happy, happy in the cold and the rain, happy that no-one knows or particularly cares.
In my own world I can do what I want.
I light a last cigarette.
I can go where I want.
So I go home.

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208. LIDS, LIDS, LIDS

My bike wheel cuts through flint coloured puddles, crunching over wet diamonds of shattered glass kicked from the crumpled carcass of the 229 bus stop by glue-fuelled youths during the night.
It is half past five, Saturday morning and I’m nineteen years old.
1992.
Leeds is still.
I cross the bridge over the River Aire, it’s black surface slowly swirling with the thick rainbow eddies of a thousand different spills and leaks from cracked pipes and overflows that seep out of the foul arses of the soot-blackened factories squatting on the riverbanks.
I cross the canal. It is no prettier.
A sluggish wind stirs litter and leaves, a dull clunking pop can trundles over gutter cobbles.
A withered prostitute with sunken cheeks stumbles to the kerb, tries to flash me some tit that she doesn’t have and gives the universal sign for a blow job, offering to stick my cock where she’d once had teeth.
I shake my head and pedal on, head crouching closer over the handlebars.
Under pylons, under train lines, over silent dual carriage-ways, over the dead beck.
This part of Leeds – Holbeck, Hunslet, et al – is a shit hole.
Hunsbeck is what Peter O’Toole called this neck of the woods where there are no woods. It’s where he grew up. He almost got sucked into the print trade too, albeit as a reporter on The Yorkshire Post, but the draft took him to the Navy and good sense got him the fuck out of Dodge and into RADA, alongside those other lovvies with mucky fingernails, Albert Finney and Alan Bates.
Not everyone got out of Hunsbeck.
Almost no-one did.
I’m amazed anyone brought up round these parts can make it. Nothing is alive. Weeds struggle, rats die, poisons from a century of unregulated heavy industry leech up through the soil.
I flinch as gulls suddenly rise screaming from a skip crouching in the industrial estate to my left, filling the grey sky with their shrill protests. Beyond, the rickety terraces of Elland Road football ground tower over the red brick terraced streets that march away to the horizon in dark ranks, weak wisps of smoke leaking from a few chimneys signalling the start of a new grey day for the early risers.
And here’s The Factory.
I get off my bike, catch my breath.
I push through the battered front doors, lean my bike against inky bricks and push my card into the clock machine.
A heavy clunk punches a hole in the card, stamps a date and a time:
05.57 17.OCT 92
I’m here for a twelve hour shift and I already feel exhausted.
It’s my first ever twelve on a Saturday.
It’s considered a privilege but I’m not fucking stupid. Yeah, the money is ok but money isn’t everything. It’s not a privilege to drag your sorry arse to this forgotten hole in the world, not for any money.
It’s like going to Hell because you like a tan.
I can hear the print presses hissing compressed air, then the motors firing up one by one as the printers get organised. The assistants walk carefully back from the hot water boiler holding half a dozen mugs of tea in each of their already inky fists.
Everywhere in The Factory there is a common shout.
LEEDS LEEDS LEEDS.
I’ve always hated this chant, I still do.
It’s so fucking mindless, a purposefully aggressive bellow that’s meant to somehow transform the shouter into a hard man, someone who might know someone who might be in the Service Crew.
It sounds like they are saying ‘Lids’.
LIDS LIDS LIDS.
Lids Uni’ed.
Fucking moronic.
I’m filling up my own tea mug when Hugs and Flint sidle through the front door, giggling.
They don’t clock in.
I remind them, “Don’t forget to peg in, lads. You’re a bit late so you’ll get quartered.”
If you’re three minutes or more late you get a quarter of an hour knocked off your wage.
Hugs shakes his head. “Nah. We were getting a lift in with old Fudgey and got ‘im to clock us in. We’re safe.”
I say, “If you were with Fudgey, how come you’re late?”
They start giggling. Flint says, “We saw Stacey the Brass down Holbeck. We stopped off for a quick nosh. Sets you right up on a mornin’, that does.”
I wince. “Is that her name? Stacey? I saw her earlier. She… she’s got no teeth.”
Hugs nods approvingly. “That’s how I like ‘em. That way she can’t bite yer bell-end an’ nick off wi’ yer wallet while yer screamin’ on the floor!”
Hugs and Flint start giggling again. “Besides,” says Flint, “If she ‘ad a full set o’ choppers she couldn’t ‘ave give us two fer one!”
I frown. “Two for one… how do you get… oh. Oh no.”
Hugs and Flint are roaring with laughter now. Flint says, “Yer should ‘ave seen her, Luci! It was fuck funny! She looked like a fuckin’ gerbil wi’ a gob full o’ nuts! I could hardly shoot me muck fer laughing so ‘ard!”
Hugs says, “Looked like an over filled letterbox, she did.”
Flint chuckles, “She ‘ad to go ‘ome after that. She were a mess, poor lass. So much yoghurt on her face, looked like she’d bin run ovver by a fuckin’ milk float.”
Hugs wipes his eyes. “Yeah, best tenner we ever spent!”
I shake my head. “A tenner? Poor cow. All that for a tenner, at her age…”
Hugs says, “Her age? She’s twenty five!”
They walk away, laughing and thrusting their hips, talking about what they’ve just done.
Twenty five.
There’s no way she’ll see twenty six.
I sigh and get to work.
Cutting. Pasting. Measuring. Glueing.
As I work the shouting continues over the hammer of the presses.
“LIDS LIDS LIDS LEEEEEEDS UNI’ED!”
“WE ARE LIDS LIDS LIDS!”
“LEEEEEEEEDS!!!”
I grind my teeth.
An hour later Jock pops his head around the door. He says, “I didn’t know you were in, Luci! You wanna dustbin lid?”
I blink. “A what?”
He says, “Dustbin lid. A sarnie. I’m off to the sarnie shop. Takin’ orders.”
He waves a list at me.
I say, “Oh. Yeah, please. What’s a dustbin lid?”
He winks at me. “You’ll see.”
I sigh. “Ok. Listen, Jock, are those cunts out there going to shout all day? It’s doing my fucking head in.”
He thinks, then nods. “Yeah, they probably are. Leeds are playing at home today so they’re all excited.”
“What time’s kick off?”
“Three.”
I check the time. It’s seven fifteen. “It’s going to be a long day…”
I get my head down, do some work.
Dark room becomes light room with a bang of bright halogen and a whirring ticking of the timers. The dark room becomes a warm room from the heat of the bulbs and I squint at the artwork laid out in the painfully bright glare of the lamps, then another bang and the light room becomes a dark room once again, a cold room.
In the red glow of the safety light I peel the huge sheet of film away from the glass plate and feed it into the processor rollers, sensors kicking the machine into life, giving off a piss reek of warmed chemical.
I wait, staring into red darkness.
There’s no computers in 1992.
In reprographics it’s all piles of film and sheets of red rubylith, sticky tape, scalpels and a steady hand.
We photograph artwork onto film then cut the film into pieces, carefully paint out bullseyes and hickies in the negatives, splitting the components into Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black.
It’s a long process.
There’s a lot to learn.
The apprenticeship is seven years.
Seven fucking years.
At the end of those seven years, maybe a month after I complete my apprenticeship, a manager will bring three boxes into the studio containing three beige Apple Macintosh 9500 computers.
From that day on, everything I’ve learned over those seven long years will go instantly out of the window.
But that’s four years away.
for now it’s a large table with fluorescent tubes inside covered in a thick sheet of glass, the knife, the film and a lot of time and patience.
I hate it.
I hated it then, I hate it now.
But I did it.
An hour passes, a long hour.
A fresh shout goes up on the factory floor as Jock staggers in with a cardboard box full of sandwiches.
Everyone gets dustbin lids.
I grab mine.
“Fucking Hell…”
Jock laughs. “That’ll put hairs on yer tits, Luci!”
I take my dustbin lid back to my workbench and tear open the damp paper bag.
There’s a breadcake fourteen inches wide inside, filled with at least two full English breakfasts.
Out on the shop floor, the presses fall quiet.
The shouting stops.
Everyone focusses on getting their greasy monster inside them and keeping it there.
I have a good go at it but give up half way.
The congealed lump of bread and greasy meat sits in my gut like a bowling ball.
I suddenly think of Hugs, Flint and Stacey.
Nope.
I make it to the bogs just in time.
I wipe my mouth and splash water on my face.
I feel better. I check my watch.
Quarter past nine.
I groan.
it’s going to be a long day.

The bellowing resumes around ten.
“LIDS LIDS LIDS LIDS!!!”
“LEEEEEDS!”
The hours pass slowly.
midday comes and goes.
As the clock grinds closer to three o’clock the shouting gets louder, more co-ordinated.
Boomed songs of loyalty to their beloved club, threats to fetch their father’s gun to kill various teams they seem to think of as scum – Manchester, Chelsea, Millwall.
I’ve never understood this hate.
It always seems to come from some sense of being badly done by, of favouritism shown to other clubs at Leeds’ expense.
There’s never anything tangible, specific, just a general grumble that has become an incoherent roar.
It could be the story of the North as a whole.
To a certain extent the North does have a reason to be angry – entire towns died alongside the steel, coal and manufacturing that had been their lifeblood.
There’s ex-coal miners bellowing on the end of some of these print presses who starved on the picket lines and howled at the coppers who would burn ten pound notes in their faces.
But football clubs…
Are they just a place to focus this feeling of being badly done to?
Is that why bacon-necked men in Harrington jackets line up to kick fuck out of each other on the terraces of a Saturday? A chance to even some deep-seated cultural grievance, settle a few scores?
I haven’t got clue.
I’m still working when I hear the print presses fall silent once again.
I check my watch.
It’s three o’clock.
A dozen men march past the grimy studio window that looks out onto the factory, clad in Leeds United hats and scarves.
LIDS LIDS LIDS WE ARE LIDS.
They march past the clock machine. They don’t clock out.
WE ARE LIDS WE ARE LIDS WE ARE LIDS.
I suddenly notice something catching the light.
They all carry lengths of steel.
Some print jobs need perforations, to create coupons and tear-out pieces. To make perforations we use serrated metal strips, like thick steel rulers, only with a razor sharp edge. They are slender swords.
All the lads have lengths of this steel and they now hide them down jacket sleeves and inside coats.
They march out of the door.
LIDS LIDS LIDS WE ARE LIDS.
I mutter, “Fucking Hell… oh, fucking Hell…”
I follow them out, keeping my distance.
The street is transformed.
Where it was once deserted, it is now crammed with cars, hundreds and hundreds of them. The entire street is full of cars, the dead grass verges are crowded with cars, the car park (For staff use only) is filled with cars.
They all seem abandoned, hurriedly dumped wherever possible.
LIDS LIDS LIDS WE ARE LIDS.
The chanting is coming from a side street, a filthy industrial estate that ends at the railway line. The side street is also choked with cars and the lads march past.
At the end of the street is a rusted iron bridge that crosses the railway line, and beyond, the towering terraces of the football ground.
A heavy roaring is in the air, distant whistles and a great bellowing of thousands and thousands of voices.
WE ARE LIDS. WE ARE LIDS. WE ARE LEEEEEDS.
The stadium.
That’s where the lads are headed.
I return to the factory, shaken.
Jock is brewing up.
I say, “Fucking Hell, Jock! I’ve just watched half the workforce heading towards Elland Road armed to the fucking teeth! They’ve got fucking… fucking swords!! They’ll kill someone! We have to do something!”
Jock takes a careful sip of his hot tea, winces, takes another sip. “Don’t fuss, lad. It’s why they come to this shit hole on a Saturday. The pay’s not good enough an incentive! They need a bit o’ fun to make it worthwhile. Don’t fuss…”
He wanders away.
I’m left with the idling machines, hissing, awaiting the return of the lads.
I try to do some work but my hands are shaking. I imagine the six o’clock news, scenes of riot and bloodshed and shameful naming of our city, Leeds, a nest of thugs and maniacs.
I’m not particularly proud of Leeds. I’ve no reason to be. I don’t follow any sport, I don’t have a tribe to speak of. Leeds has always given me a kicking n one way or another, it’s no land of opportunity. It’s a fucking filthy hole, to be honest, all soot-blackened stone and empty shops and a shitty maze of abandoned precincts.
But still…
An hour passes.
Suddenly the factory door is kicked open and the lads march back in, laughing and shouting. I expect to see signs of bloodshed, injuries and violence. Instead they seem huddled with hidden burdens under their jackets, secretive and excited.
I see Jock. He beckons me over.
He says, “Look.”
He opens the factory door, leads me outside.
I see Flint hurrying up the street, coat bulging. He pauses by a car, stops. Looks inside.
Suddenly the steel is in his hand, sliding down the gap between car door and window.
Then he’s inside.
He emerges with a wallet, sunglasses, a pair of leather gloves.
He hurries on, winking as he passes us to disappear into the gloom of the factory
I shake my head. “Is that… Is that what they were up to then? Nicking?”
Jock nods. “Aye. They never go see the match. They’ll shift that lot in the pubs early doors this evening, then piss what they make up the wall in the night. Bit of a bonus, y’know?”
He goes back inside.
I hear the presses fire up again, one by one.
The fun is over, back to work.
LIDS LIDS LIDS WE ARE LIDS.
Leeds.
They are Leeds.
So that’s what it means to be Leeds.
Take what you can from who you can and fuck the rest.
Crime pays.
I go back to the studio, feeling depressed.
A couple of hours later I’m shuffling down the queue of men clocking out.
I’m last.
I get my bike and let the factory door slam shut behind me.
The last of the knackered cars putter out of the car park and the street is as deserted as it was that morning, an age ago.
It is dusk.
I’m knackered.
My eyes ache and my mouth is a thick carpet of tea and grease.
I get on my bike, push away from the kerb, pedal slowly down the street.
The gutters are filled with fluttering chip wrappers, polystyrene cups, football programmes, fag ends. A diesel train honks and clatters slowly across the railway line, hauling battered carriages of aggregate, billowing black fumes that hang in the air like ink in water.
There is a strange pause, a tilt from day to night, the flicker of streetlights turning the blue grey to lurid orange, illuminating the early girls on the corner, their silhouettes sliding across the red brick walls of an abandoned mill like obscene shadow puppets.
I ignore them, ignore everything, concentrate on getting home and going out, meeting mates and getting drunk, smoking fags, necking pints, getting fucked, throwing up, going down, getting up, get knocked down, get back up, because we are Leeds,
we are Leeds,
we are Leeds,
Lids.

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207. The Shower of Love

I’m stood in the plate room, watching water piss out of the printing plate-processing machine across the cracked linoleum floor.
I take a slurp of hot tea.
I say, “Looks a bit fucked.”
Jimmy the Plate is sliding around on the wet floor waving a spanner ineffectually whilst Wobbly Steve shuffles nervously on the periphery of the spreading pool like a trapped rambler in a Devonshire cove.
“Fucking Nora,” he mumbles, looking genuinely in fear of his life.
I say, “I’d get up on a desk if I were you, Wobbly Steve.”
Wobbly Steve nods, starts to weakly climb up but he hasn’t the strength. Eventually he just rolls on and lays there, wheezing like an asthmatic seal.
“Fucking Nora,” he mumbles again.
“You’ve stripped the thread, you stupid cunt!!” Soulless Boss struggles from under the machine, drenched, a jet of water hitting him in the face like some kind of industrial bukkake.
I take another mouthful of tea.
Soulless Boss slides out, soaked clothes stained blue by the decades old crust of spilt developing chemical that hangs beneath the the plate machine like ominous stalactites.
He’s screaming incoherently, absolutely furious, unable to function properly. He reminds me of a character in Das Boot, fathoms deep, desperate to stem the flow of high pressure sea water as it bursts through the split rivets of their depth-charged submarine.
I chuckle to myself.
Soulless Boss sees me.
He looks like he wants to murder me, his face twisting and contorting, fists clenching, unclenching.
I reach for a flat headed screwdriver.
Soulless Boss’s eyes widen and he flaps his hands.
“Oh… now wait a minute…”
I say, “Keep your fucking wig on, Elton…”
I walk over to the plate processor and slot the blade into the rusty screw sticking out of the isolation ball valve in the copper downpipe and give it a couple of turns.
The water flow slows, stops. The room falls silent except for a steady dripping.
Wobbly Steve says, “Fucking Nora.”
“Why didn’t you do that ten minutes ago??” screams Soulless Boss.
I say, “Because I didn’t notice it ten minutes ago, did I? Plumbing isn’t my thing. When I noticed it I gave it a go. It worked. You should be thanking me.”
I turn and start to walk away.
Soulless Boss shouts, “Where the fuck are you going?”
“Maintenance,” I reply. “We need an engineer. None of us have a fucking clue what we’re doing, we’re just wanking off. Let’s just get Pob down, he’ll have it sorted in ten minutes and we won’t all drown.”
Soulless Boss stamps his foot in two inches of water. “I can fix this myself!!”
“No you can’t. You’re making it worse. I’m going to fetch Pob, so try mopping some of this water up, for fuck’s sake…”
I walk across the factory to the Maintenance department.
I like it here.
Stacked clutter of broken bits, things on their side with their electrical guts hanging out, the smell of solder in the air, swarf crunching underfoot.
I’m not a particularly practical person so I have an admiration for those who have a knack for fixing things. I don’t like it when they rub your nose in it, mind.
That mechanic who grins as he wipes his mitts on a greasy rag whilst shafting you for tinkering under your bonnet for a couple of hours, just because he thinks you’re a soft cunt because you don’t have shit under your fingernails… that bloke can go fuck himself.
The lads in Maintenance don’t question my sexuality just because I work in an office. I’ve known them for years, been out on the piss with them, drank tea and muttered in dark corners with them whilst skiving.
I’ve earned a small place at the workbench.
Bernie is sat in the corner, pulling at the blue and brown and red intestines of a fucked motor, whistling through his teeth. He’s long limbed, huge hands and massive boots. He rubs the side of his nose and leaves a sooty carbon smear.
“Now then, Luci. What can I do you for?”
Bernie is from Bradford, proper Bradford where it’s pronounced ‘Brrratfud’.
I say, “Aye up, Bernie. I’m looking for Pob. The lads in the plate room have been fucking about with the plate processor again and managed to half drown themselves.”
Bernie rolls his eyes. “Ah, fuck. Not again. That daft little twat Soulless wouldn’t have a hand in it, would he?”
I nod. “He’s up to his nuts in it. Got soaked. He’s wetter than Katie Hopkins at a Far Right Rally.”
“Serves the cunt right. Shame he didn’t get ‘lectricuted n’all.”
Bernie reaches for his tea mug and take a slurp. They drink more tea in Maintenance than the rest of the factory combined. I don’t know how they do it. I’d be pissing my trousers by eleven.
I say, “So yeah, I’m looking for Pob. Is he around?”
Pob is a reluctant engineer. I say reluctant – he knows his stuff, and can tell you what’s wrong and what needs doing and how to go about doing it until the cows come home, but when it comes to the actual task, the nuts and bolts of tightening nuts and loosening bolts, that’s when Pob becomes reluctant.
He grumbles and grizzles, curses under his breath as though it’s an unreasonable favour that’s been asked of him rather than it being his paid job, and he’ll do it this once but never again.
Pob is the physical opposite of Bernie, with short legs, round cheeks and bulging eyes. Seeing them walk down the factory together pushing their tool carts, Bernie walking slowly for Pob’s benefit, Pob skipping a little to keep up for Bernie’s benefit, is like watching a Laurel & Hardy sketch.
Bernie looks up at me with a raised eyebrow. “Pob?” he says. “He’s not in. Didn’t you hear?”
I perk up. “I didn’t hear. I want to hear. Go on – give it here!”
Bernie shakes his head, muttering. “Yer a fucking fishwife, Luci. Right, it’s like this. You’ve met Pob’s missus, yeah?”
I think back. “Yeah. I think so. Short. Bit dumpy. Big glasses and big tits. Laugh like a zebra?”
Bernie snaps his fingers. “That’s her. Well, her and Pob were always at it. Shagging all the time. Whenever Pob wanted it, his lass was up for it. Christ knows why – the idea of that fish-faced git grunting on top of me fills me with fucking horror. But y’know, horses for courses and all that. So, Pob and his lass had been on the ale all day and they come home with a curry, and after they neck that Pob’s missus starts to get a bit frisky on the sofa. But our Pob, he’s all full of bitter and Bhuna. The last thing he wants to be doing is getting jiggy on top of Mrs Pob. So he tries to put her off, let her know he’s not interested.”
I say, “How did he do that? He’s not the subtlest isn’t our Pob, is he?”
“That’s putting it mildly,” says Bernie. “Rather than saying he’s full of ale and trying to shag her would be like pushing a marshmallow into a moneybox, he says something different.”
“Oh God… what?”
“He says he don’t fancy her no more ‘cause she’s got fat.”
I flinch. “Fuck off! He said that? What was he thinking? And anyway, talk about the pot calling the kettle black! He’s a right tubby little fucker these days! Got a proper belly on him!”
Bernie nods. “Couldn’t agree more. Well, his lass got the hump big style, and quite rightly too. She took her bat and ball home, withdrew all privileges.”
I say, “He won’t have liked that. A bloke gets used to having it on tap. He takes it for granted. Turn off the tap, so to speak and… well…. I don’t really know where I’m going with that metaphor. It paints a pretty horrible picture…”
Bernie shudders. “Yeah. I don’t like thinking of that…. Anyway, she stops putting out and he stops asking, as a matter of pride. Stalemate. For five years.”
I jump. “What? Five years?? They haven’t done it for five years?? Jesus Christ, he was at it round the clock, back in the day. He must be pretty frustrated. He must be wanking his knackers flat to keep up with demand!”
Bernie shakes his head. “Nope. He won’t wank. He reckons it’s her job, and besides, he reckons wanking is a bit gay.”
I say, “A bit gay?”
He says, “A bit gay. He reckons it’s a bit gay to sit around yanking on a cock until it cums.”
“But it’s his own cock. He’s not yanking anyone else’s cock, which would arguably be a bit gay. He’s yanking his own cock.”
“He reasons that yanking any cock is a bit gay. Yanking cock is yanking cock, in his book.”
“Well his book is fucked up. But wait… he’s not had a shag OR a wank in five years?”
“Yup,” says Bernie. “Not drained his spuds in half a decade. It messes with your head, stuff like that. Sends you a bit loopy.”
I say, “I can only imagine. His bollocks must be like spacehoppers. Why have Pob and Mrs Pob stayed together then? Surely these are irreconcilable differences?”
“Bloody mindedness, I suppose, same as why they don’t shag. No-one wants to crack first. At least they didn’t, until one of them actually cracked.”
“Oh?” I say.
“Yup,” he says.
“Pob?” I say.
“Bingo,” he says.
“What happened?”
Bernie stuffs some wires back into the motor he’s working on and sits back. “They were on holiday this year, Faliraki or Benidorm or somewhere horrible like that. Don’t matter. So they’re five or six days in and Pob’s been sat by the pool drinking lager and watching lasses in teeny tiny bikinis swaggering past and it’s been sending him mad. He’s foaming at the fucking Speedos. His bollocks are aching and he doesn’t know what the fuck to do with himself, and he’s in the shower and Mrs Pob walks in and he caves. He asks her to help him out, something, anything to help him shoot his load. She tells him to fuck off but he begs her, just asking that she gives it a quick tug, nearly in tears, so she relents.”
“Oh! I wasn’t expecting that! What does she do?”
Bernie grins. “She wanks him off through the shower curtain.”
I blink a few times. “What? You mean… she opened the shower curtain, reached in, and…”
“Nope,” he says. “She grabs his cock THROUGH the shower curtain, a handful of curtain around his pipe, and pulls him off like that. She won’t even touch his cock! It’s just like pulling at a shower curtain for her with some little gimp moaning on the other side of it!”
“Fucking Hell,” I mutter.
I try to imagine the scene.
I wish I hadn’t.
I can’t imagine a Faliraki hotel shower curtain is the most romantic thing in the world, or the most hygienic, for that matter.
What a grubby little scenario.
I babble slightly, horrified. “I bet Pob felt dignified after he’d shot his bolt. Can you imagine how low you’d feel? I’d string myself up from the shower pole. I wouldn’t use the curtain though… God, can you imagine getting that room after The Pobs have gone home? Someone else’s spunky old shower curtain… Horrible.”
Bernie keeps working quietly for a while, then looks at me. “Y’know… y’know how they say that when you’re young, an early sexual experience can set your preferences for the rest of your life?”
I frown. “Erm…”
“Right, say for example, you had this sexy cookery teacher when you were a kid and her tits jiggled whenever she stirred her cake mix. Chances are, you’d get a hard-on every time you smelled cake mix after that. Or you accidentally walked in on your great big fat aunty Julie whilst she’s having a shower. In that case you might be going on the pull in the Bingo halls of the North after that, yeah?”
I say, “I think I get the idea…”
Bernie says, “Okay. So it looks like our Pob hadn’t shot his muck in so long, it’d restored factory settings, so to speak. He was a born-again virgin. Something of a blank canvas. Yeah, he would get fizzy at the sight of a lass in a bikini and all that but it wasn’t an intense experience, something to set him down a new path. But getting wanked off through a shower curtain…”
“You’re kidding me.”
Bernie shook his head. “So a couple of month back our Pob and his missus were in B&Q shopping for a new bathroom suite. She was asking him about what tiles he preferred or some such shit but when she turned round he weren’t there. Next thing you know, there’s a right commotion by the baths. Women screaming, an urgent call for security over the Tannoy, a clean up crew required in aisle seven, that sort of business. Mrs Pob wanders over and sees a right old kerfuffle in one of the baths with some angry bloke knocking fuck out of someone in the bath, half wrapped in a shower curtain with no trousers on. There’s a woman comforting a sobbing teenage girl and there’s a couple of old dears looking like they seen a ghost.
“Oh shit,” I whisper. “Pob.”
Bernie nods gravely. “The very same. The shower curtains had caught his attention. He happened to brush by one and it set him off. Before he knew it he was in a bath with his trollies round his ankles whisking his bell-end against a floral shower curtain shouting, ‘Just give it a quick tug!’ He traumatised some poor lass shopping with her parents for unicorn wallpaper so her dad proceeded to beat the living shit out of our Pob, who couldn’t escape due to his being in a bath, having his trollies round his ankles and also due to being intimately entwined in six feet of patterned plastic. If security hadn’t arrived they reckon the bloke would have succeeded in strangling him to death with a shower hose.”
“Fucking Hell,” I mutter. “I’m surprised that wasn’t in the Evening Post…”
“They shipped him off to a mental hospital for evaluation, so it wouldn’t have been politically correct for the papers to use the irresistible headlines regarding shower curtains and Psychos, so it looks like they decided not to bother.”
“Understandable. So what happened to Pob?”
Bernie says, “Sectioned him for a bit. The trick cyclists got him on the couch and asked him the usual – stuff about fancying his mam, made him look at ink splats, they hypnotised him, all that shit. They reckon they managed to undo all the fucked up shit regarding shower curtains. Said it was a temporary psychosis. He’s fine now, apparently. He’s meant to be back at work soon but these things take time.”
I sigh. “Until he gets right we’ll have to just muddle through. I don’t suppose you fancy having a look?”
Bernie laughs. “Fuck that. I’ve got enough on without crawling about under that ancient bag-of-shit machine. Besides, Soulless Boss is a right cunt. He can prod around in that thing and hopefully get dragged into the rollers.”
I thank Bernie and head reluctantly back down to the plate room.
It’s carnage in there.
There’s rollers lined up on the floor in puddles of dark blue chemical and a sulphurous stench in the air. Wobbly Steve is ineffectually pushing filthy water around with a sodden mop and Soulless Boss is shouting at Jimmy the Plate as he loosens bolts at random.
Without some sort of intervention I reckon the machine will soon be beyond salvation.
So I do nothing, just watch on.
But then I hear a rattling noise.
A tool trolley.
The door opens and the trolley clatters in, followed by Pob.
He’s back.
I can hardly look at him, not after hearing what he did. I’m worried I’ll just piss myself laughing.
He says, “Now then Luci. I hear you got a processor problem.”
I glance at the carnage spread across the room. “You could say that.”
Pob looks alright. He looks… calmer. There’s a hint of a black eye and a healed cut on his lip, but other than that he looks, well, fine.
He nods at the mess. “Soon have this sorted. Jimmy, stop undoing things and pass me that roller…”
He works quickly. I’ve never seen him like this. He gets everything back where it needs to be before he decides to crawl under the machine and check things out.
The floors is still smeared in dirty water and chemical.
Pob squats down and runs a finger through the mess. “Hmm… I don’t really want to be laying in that.”
I say, “I can crush some cardboard flat, if you like. There’s some boxes…”
“No,” says Pob. “I’ve got it.”
He reaches into the his tool trolley and pulls out…
A shower curtain.
New, unopened, still in it’s packet.
Pob winks at me. “Great things, these. Saves me getting all covered in shit, yeah?”
I don’t say anything, I just back away slowly.
He opens the packet and lays the shower curtain on the floor, then slithers across it, grunting, to disappear under the machine.
We can hear him fumbling around.
Soulless Boss shouts, “How’s it looking under there, Pob? Do you know what’s wrong?”
There’s a moments silence, then Pob replied, sounding strained. “Yeah, I can see what’s wrong. It’s a bit tricky though. I need a second pair of hands.”
Everyone looks at the filthy floor. No-one wants to lay on that.
Pob says, “You don’t have to get under here, just reach down, someone.”
I step further back.
Soulless Boss reaches down, groping around.
He says, “Where?”
Pob says, “left a bit. Left a bit. There.”
Soulless Boss says, “Got it. Now what?”
Pob says, “Just… just give it a little tug.”
Wobbly Steve mumbles, “Fucking Nora.”
I leave the room.

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206. Lodger More

I stir a pan of pasta sauce on the hob in the cramped kitchen, look out of the window over the back garden and let the noise in the house wash over me.
Bongo is here.
He stands behind me at the kitchen counter, huge and slouched, dad-bod belly and a Star Wars t-shirt sagging over Fat Face trousers, droning on about his woes whilst his son plays with my kids in the living room, cartoons blaring from the telly as they launch themselves off the couch and tussle on the carpet.
I’m exhausted.
There is a ghost of my reflection in the window in front of me and I can see deep hollows around the eyes, my cheeks pasty and puffy.
I’ve been working ten hours a day on four hours sleep, drinking to numb myself on an evening, woken two or three times a night by my nocturnal son, up at four thirty for work, hangover hitting around ten in the morning, coffee and Cokes and teeth grinding sweats, working through it, then home to wash clothes, collect children from nursery, cook dinners, wipe tears and arses, run baths and read stories and tuck into bed, then repeat, repeat, repeat…
How does that hollow-eyed puffy-cheeked fucker in the window do it?
Why does he do it?
Why not just chuck it all in, kid? Why not wave the white flag and fuck it all off?
Because that’s not how it works.
You keep going.
Endure.
I touch the glass and he touches my fingers.
Keep it up, kid.
Fight another round.
“What are you doing?” Bongo booms through a mouthful of something.
I say, “Some muck on the glass.”
I stir the pasta sauce. It’s almost done.
He says, “Right. So anyway, it’s really hard at the moment. College is messing me about with my lecture times and I have to fit them around my shifts at the care home, and don’t get me started with noise from my house mates…”
Bongo has split up from his missus. It’s very fashionable these days, it seems. Everybody’s doing it. Irreconcilable differences, apparently, but the way I read it, Bongo is a lazy cunt who is unwilling to grow up and is never going to change.
He’s an eternal student.
What grown man is still bumbling through endless lectures and courses and minimum pay shifts in his mid-thirties when he has a wife and a son to support, rent to pay, student loans, commitments and promises, responsibilities?
The hollow eyed bloke agrees with me.
Bongo spent almost all of his twenties at one university or another, studying art at various levels and disciplines, courses he did for fun with no intention of translating those qualifications into something that might earn him a living.
He went and worked in a call centre after eventually qualifying, never to lift a paint brush in anger again.
There he met a girl who became his wife.
She wanted more from life than a call centre so they saved up and quit, travelled, saw the world, came home, then she came up with the teaching game-plan.
Bongo had made this agreement with his missus – she’d work, he’d go back to school again to study to be a teacher. Then, when he qualified, he’d work while she did her teacher training. A long term goal that would eventually reap rewards. Hard work. A commitment and a promise.
Responsibility.
So he studied, he attended lectures, he took a part time job to help out a bit, and eventually he qualified.
He got a teaching job, but…
It was hard work.
Stressful.
It wasn’t all mugs of coffee and banter in the staff room with laid-back academics in tweed jackets like Bongo had imagined.
It was late nights marking papers, lesson plans, Ofsted and teenage lads calling him a fucking cunt in a noisy overcrowded classroom while he shat himself in fear in front of the blackboard.
In less than six months he decided to quit and he proudly declared to his wife his intention to go back to school yet again, study something vague and unfathomable over a three or four year period that might or might not result in the possibility of a job at the end of it.
She would keep working a while longer, support him, and when he qualified (again) she could then study to become a teacher.
but his wife decided to quit too – she quit him.
Somewhere along the way they’d had a child and now that child was in my front room whilst he moped in my kitchen.
To save money while he studies – because he has no-one to support him anymore – he lives in a cruddy bedsit.
Not a place to take a kid when he’s got custody.
So he trawls around friends and family, dropping in unannounced to use their facilities and raid their fridges.
He’s always done this, before he had kids, before he was married.
He’d turn up to stay the weekend, watch movies and drink beer, but conveniently forget to bring any beer, gratefully accepting the offer to have a few of mine before hoovering up a dozen cans and emptying my cupboards and fridge, like a far-from-charming Tiger Who Came to Tea.
It’s an act that grows tired pretty quick and it takes a proper brass neck to keep it up, year upon year, with friends who’ve always been there for you.
And now he’s complaining about his digs.
He says, “I can’t possibly bring my son to where I’m staying, y’know. It wouldn’t be right! It’s cramped and although I can use the front room whenever I want to, it’s not always possible, what with all the lesbians and that.”
He takes a long pull on his beer bottle and crams a handful of peanuts into his mouth.
I say, “Lesbians?”
I imagine some curious sapphic infestation.
I imagine what sort of trap you would need to ensnare an unwanted nest of lesbians.
He nods. “Yeah, the woman who owns the house. Lesbian. Lesbian landlady. It’s her rules, y’see. She calls the shots. She said I can have access to the front room except when she’s ‘entertaining’, but it seems she’s always ‘entertaining’. Christ, it goes on constantly, day and night. Lesbians coming and going all hours, mostly coming, by the sounds of things. I’ve walked into the living room before now with my morning bowl of Shreddies and seen things squirming and groaning on the hearth rug that would blow your mind. Believe me, it’s VERY demoralising for a single bloke to lay there in a cold and lonely bed listening the howls of ecstasy coming through the partition wall.”
I say, “That sounds like a fantasy scenario for a lot of blokes.”
He grimaces. “She’s butch. Very butch. Big back, like a polished oak table. Big hands. The girls she has over are all quite pretty though, funnily enough. I don’t know what they see in her. She’s very gruff, ordering them about. Put this here, put that there, open wider, go faster, slower, that sort of thing. She’s very bossy. If I tried that sort of thing with a lass I’d be out on my ear.”
I say, “I can only imagine.”
I start to serve up my kids’ tea.
Bongo clears his throat. “Any chance my little lad could…”
I take down an extra plate, load it up.
He says, “And when are you eating?”
I say, “Later. My wife’s working late tonight so we’ll eat later.”
Bongo looks crestfallen. I go through to the dining room, set the table, call the kids through to eat. Bongo sits next to his son to help him eat.
I go through to the kitchen and open the fridge, reach for my last beer.
It’s not there.
The empty beer bottle sits on the counter, next to an empty bowl of peanuts and a half empty jar of gherkins that had been unopened an hour earlier.
I go through to the dining room.
My kids are eating happily.
Bongo’s son, a notoriously slow eater, has finished.
Bongo says, “He loved it! Is there any more?”
I sigh, refill the lad’s plate, put it in front of him.
Bongo grins innocently. He has sauce all around his mouth.
He says, “So… do the kids still share a room?”
I nod. “Yeah, they prefer it. We asked if they wanted to have their own rooms but they said no. It’s nice. We have story time all together and…”
“Yeah yeah, sounds great. So, what have you got in that spare room then?”
I shrug, say, “It’s a bit of a dumping ground at the moment, some boxes from the last move, that sort of thing…”
Bongo is nodding encouragingly.
I pause, close my mouth. Then I say, “No.”
He leans forward. “Think about it! You got in the shit a bit back with money and stuff, I need a place to stay, we’re all mates, my lad could kip with your kids every other weekend, all in together! It would be great!”
And I consider the reality: getting rent from him would be like getting blood from a stone, he’d eat me out of house and home, he’d nick my beer, bog roll, deodorant, toothpaste, food, washing powder, the breath from my lungs and the very last dregs of my will to live.
I imagine him sat there, in the living room, between my wife and I, changing the telly channel to yet another war documentary whilst drinking yet another bottle of my beer…
He can see the flat refusal in my eyes.
He starts to plead.
“Look, that lesbian has given me notice on my digs! Less than a month! I’ve got to find somewhere reasonable that might let me have my lad over every other week. All this roaming around, it’s doing me in! All I want is something steady, I won’t be a fuss, I’ll pay my way and keep my head down, you’ll see.”
I could almost relent, but I’m not fucking stupid. I know him too well.
I try to think.
There’s something in the back of my mind, an alternative, something that might work out for everyone and get this big daft parasite off my back.
I remember.
I say, “Wait. I might have an answer.”
I dial a number, wait for them to pick up, then I say, “Hi mate, it’s me. Listen, are you still thinking of renting out your spare room? I might have someone who’s interested.”
“Yeah, man!” says Fucking Amazing Dave. “Sounds fuckin’ amazin’, man! Send the cunt over an’ I’ll show him the pad!”
I hang up, scribble the address on a scrap of paper and give it to Bongo.
I say, “Go round and check this place out. I reckon it’s perfect.”
Bongo gives me a big stupid grin, his eyes tearing up a bit. “Ah, cheers Luci. You’re a mate!”
I grunt.
I just want him to go.

I don’t hear anything for a few weeks.
I know that Bongo has moved in with Fucking Amazing Dave and that they’re getting on like a house on fire.
I know that Bongo can’t steal food From Fucking Amazing Dave because he never has any food in the house other than an impressive shelf full of hot sauces and condiments in his fridge, but the low rent means Bongo has money spare for take aways, which are Fucking Amazing Dave’s main food supply. Besides, the spare space in the fridge makes room for cheap lager which they chip in for on a weekly basis.
The other things they have in common is a love of movies, computer games and spliff.
A match made in Heaven.
Bongo doesn’t darken my door for a couple of months, and that suits me just fine.

I’m walking through the factory when I see Fucking Amazing Dave.
He’s frowning, taping up a split box of envelopes with masking tape and muttering to himself.
I walk over, say, “Now then Dave. How’s it going?”
He turns, scowling. Then he sighs. “Well, not too good, to be fair. I don’t reckon it’s your fault, but that Bongo… man… what a pain in the arse he can be!”
I wince, feel a bit guilty. I can’t deny that I’d basically off loaded Bongo onto Fucking Amazing Dave. In my defence I’d carried the fucker for over a decade and I was knackered, maybe I thought it was someone else’s turn to take him on, someone with a bit less on their plate.
I say, “Look, Dave, I’m sorry about that. I thought you guys had a lot in common, what with you both liking a smoke, and gaming, you know…”
Fucking mazing Dave nods. “To be fair, he can be a decent bloke! He’s a good laugh, like, pretty easy going, he’s not playing music at three in fuckin’ mornin’ like some folk! It’s just… I mean, yeah, he’s a bit slow wi’ the rent, but who ain’t? And he’ll neck more than his fair share o’ tinnies, an’ yeah, he does hog the spliff… he’s a taker, y’know?”
I sigh. “Yeah, I noticed that…”
“An’ fuck me, he likes the sound of his own voice!” Continues Fucking Amazing Dave, warming up. “He’s quite the mansplainer, is our fuckin’ Bongo! Shit alive, he’d talk me through a wank given half a fuckin’ chance! Always over me shoulder, tellin’ me what I’m doin’ wrong an’ how I should be doin’ it! I tell ‘im, ‘You fuckin’ do it then!’ an’ he get’s all huffy an’ slope off to ‘is room!”
“Sounds like Bongo.”
Fucking Amazing Dave leans closer. “Listen. Our Bongo… does he ‘ave some sort of issue… y’know… wi’ his… y’know… arse?”
I frown. Try to remember. “Hmm… arse… I don’t think…. Oh, wait! Yeah! He’s got a really spotty arse. Bacterial infection I think he said… ha ha! Massive spotty arse! God, I’d forgotten that. Fuck me… Oh, it’s not contagious, if that’s what you’re thinking!”
Fucking Amazing Dave glowers. “If that cunt gave us a spotty arse I’d kick ‘IS spotty arse to the back of ‘is cuntin’ throat, big fucker or not! Well, that explains somethin’. There’s this great tub o’ powder he keeps in the bathroom, an’ every mornin’ I come in there after ‘e’s been in an’ there’s all this fucking dust in the air, an’ on the bog seat there’s this fuckin’ silhouette o’ ‘is massive fuckin’ arse cheeks, like a fuckin’ arse ghost. I don’t like thinkin’ o’ other people’s arses on mi own pot, like, no-one does. Y’don’t go lookin’ at y’bog seat thinkin’ ‘wow, there must a bin ‘undreds o’ arses on that seat!’ No, y’try keep those thought right out o’ y’mind. But Bongo, that cunt leaves a fuckin’ arse ghost, every mornin, just to remind me that HIS great spotty arse was there before me own, peachy behind! It fucking irks me, y’know?”
“I know. He’s left an arse ghost round my place a few times. It’s like those shadows on the walls at Hiroshima… it creeps me out…”
Fucking Amazing Dave snaps his fingers. “Oh. while we’re at it, there’s somethin’ else! A few week after he moves in, he starts shiftin’ all this old furniture in. Not into ‘is room, mind – into the front fuckin’ room! There’s this big fuck off chair, like a Shackleton’s high seat off the telly ads back in the eighties, remember?”
“Shackleton’s High Seats – they’re lovely?”
“That’s the ad. Fuck me, we’re showin’ our age now… Well, one o’ those, an’ this big fuck off desk! I don’t want a big fuck off desk sat in the middle o’ me fuckin’ room when I’m playin’ Wii Golf! It fuckin’ inhibits me swing! It’s right in t’road!”
I say, “That’s taking a liberty! Do you want me to have a word, Dave?”
Fucking Amazing Dave grins. “Would yer, Luci? I’d appreciate that! It’s just a bit awkward, y’know? Bit ‘ard to bring up arse ghosts, shit furniture an’ ‘im being a greedy nosed cunt without sounding like I’m ‘avin’ a go, y’know?”
I nod. “Don’t worry. I’ll ‘ave a word.”
Fucking Amazing Dave looks relieved. “Thanks Luci. I’ll tell you what though – ‘is mate’s sound. Really nice bloke. A bit clean cut for me, not drinkin’ or smokin’ or nowt, but a top lad. If ‘e ever wants a room ‘e’d be more than fuckin’ welcome!”
I frown. “His mate? What mate?”
“That mate ‘o ‘is that comes by every couple ‘o weeks. Little bloke. Crashes over. Loves a bit ‘o gamin’ too. Top bloke. Y’know ‘im?”
I say, “Dave, that’s Bongo’s son.”
Fucking Amazing Dave shakes his head. “Really? Fuck me, I never knew that! I though ‘e were just one ‘o ‘is mates!”
I say, “Dave, he’s eight years old.”
“Seems mature for ‘is age.”
“Next to you two, maybe so… Dave. Leave it with me. I’ll have a word.”

I get home from work.
There’s a car parked on my drive.
Bongo’s car.
He gets out as I’m unlocking the house door, booms, “LUCI!” in his usual over the top greeting and gives me a bear hug.
I say, “Bongo.”
He follows me in, trailing after me as I pick up the post, kick off my shoes, flick on the kettle.
I say, “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
He laughs. “Oh, nothing, just a social visit! We’re practically neighbours, now, remember?”
“I suppose so. It’s about, what, two miles?”
Bongo shrugs. “Something like that… So, how you been?”
I say, “Fine. you?”
He shrugs. “Not bad! So so. Getting by, yeah?”
He wanders around my kitchen nervously, opening cupboards, looking at packets and tins. He goes to the fridge and rummages around.
I say, “Are you sure it’s just a social visit?”
“Hmm?” Bongo merges from my fridge with a celery stick and a pot of hummus. He offers me a dip.
I shake my head. “Very generous of you but I can’t stand the stuff. It’s my wife’s.”
He crunches and gulps, nodding his approval.
“It’s good! Hummus is good! You should get into hummus!”
I don’t say anything.
He clears his throat. “Look, I wonder if you might have a word with Dave…”
I raise an eyebrow. “About?”
Bongo looks uncomfortable. “It’s fine and everything, Dave REALLY likes me and we get on GREAT, but there’s just a few things that get on my nerves just a tiny bit…”
I say, “Go on…”
“Well,” he begins, “Did you know just how much weed he smokes?”
“I do, actually, but that’s his business. It’s his house.”
Bongo says, “Easy for you to say, but I’ve got lectures! I’m almost permanently high! I can’t study when I’m off my face!”
I say, “Don’t smoke any then.”
He rolls his eyes, “Oh, mate! Listen to yourself! If it’s right there, under your nose, you can’t help it! It’s one toot then before you know it, it’s three in the morning and we’re fucked, eating pizza, watching Apocalypse Now! I can’t keep that up!”
“I don’t know what to say, Bongo. It’s his house, his rules. If you don’t want to get fucked up, stay in your room for a bit, study up there!”
“But my desk’s in the front room!”
I say, “It shouldn’t be! The desk should be in your room, with the rest of your stuff! The living room is Dave’s space. It’s Dave’s house. You pay for the room so keep your shit in your room! Don’t fuck him off, Bongo. You need this. It’s this or you pay an extra hundred a month to listen to a butch lesbian banging chicks, or worse. And another thing. Keep your dusty arse to yourself. Have a thought for other people.”
Bongo looks shocked. His mouth falls open. He scoops a great dollop of hummus into it and begins to chew, looking wounded. “He… he told you about my bottom powder? That’s a very intimate medical problem! I’m hurt!”
“Your intimate bottom powder is making it’s way into Dave’s lungs and that’s fucking bleak. You leave your intimate bottom powder wherever your bottom goes and other people don’t need to see that. Mate, you’re thirty fucking five. You’re a father, for Christ’s sake! Grow the fuck up and start thinking of other people.”
Bongo’s eyes start to tear up. His lip wobbles. He scoops more hummus into his mouth.
He says, “This last year… it’s not been easy…”
I sigh. “I realise that. That’s fair enough. But you have to try! Just keep your head down, study, qualify, and for fuck’s sake, get a proper job!”
He sniffs and stares longingly into the open refrigerator.
He says, “Dave’s fridge smells funny. He only keeps beer and condiments in it.”
He reaches inside for a bottle of my beer, but I close it before he can take one.
“At least he’s got a fridge. Get your shit together, Bongo, and one day you can have your very own fridge and keep what the fuck you like in it.”

This goes on like this for weeks.
I feel like the fucking U.N.
Fucking Amazing Dave complaining about Bongo, Bongo bitching about Fucking Amazing Dave. Bongo introducing more random furniture into the house and leaving arse ghosts all over the place, Fucking Amazing Dave getting wasted and disturbing Bongo’s studies.
I’m getting phone calls in the night.
Bongo is raiding my fridge with increasing frequency.
It gets to the point where Bongo and Fucking Amazing Dave stop talking altogether.
Fucking Amazing Dave leaves a note on Bongo’s in-the-way desk informing him that he has to move out.
Bongo moves out.
His furniture, however, does not.
My phone rings, I pick up.
It’s Fucking Amazing Dave.
He screams, “Where’s that big stupid cunt o’ yours fucked off to, Luci?? Is he up there wi’ you??”
I hold the phone away from my ear. Then I say, “Shit, Dave, I’ve never known you this pissed off! He’s not here, I promise. What’s he done?”
“He’s fucked off without payin’ me rent for a month, taken all the fuckin’ beer from the fridge and the bathroom looks like Keith Richard’s fuckin’ sneezer! There’s arse powder all over the cunting shop! An’ on top o’ that, the bastard’s left all his fucking shite old furniture! I can’t fuckin’ move! It’s like tryin’ to play Wii Golf in a fuckin’ charity shop! Help us out, Luci! Call the cunt! He’s not picking up for me!”
I hang up, call Bongo.
He answers, bright and breezy. “Hi Luci! You’ll be glad to hear I’ve moved. Got myself a lovely place in Kirkstall, great housemates, a fully stocked fridge! Really easy going and laid back… it’s all cool!”
I say, “It’s not all cool. You left Dave’s place a right shit hole, you nicked his beer, you owe him money and there’s more old furniture round there than an episode of fucking Bargain Hunt! What the fuck are you playing at, Bongo?”
Bongo laughs. “Oh, calm down, Luci! I’ll sort it out! I’ll have a van there by the end of next week to pick up my stuff, I’ll drop off the money at the same time and I’ll leave some farewell beers too. I was in a bit of a rush leaving so may have been a bit untidy, but come on, Luci! You know Dave – his house is no palace! It wasn’t tidy when I got there!”
I grind my teeth. “Whatever, Bongo, just make sure this shit is over by Friday. I’m sick of it. I feel like Judge fucking Rinder, sorting all your domestic shit.”
He laughs again. “Don’t worry! Anyway, got to go – we’re playing a Mario Kart Tournament and I’m paired with a lovely girl called Sally and…”
I hang up.
A week goes by and I hear nothing, then on Saturday, Fucking Amazing Dave calls.
He says, “Where’s this fuckin’ van, Luci? I waited in all day yesterday an’ today, but no fuckin’ van!! No van, no money, no beers! He’s one cheeky cunt is that Bongo, Luci! He’s muggin’ us off, you ‘n’ me both!!!”
I sigh, yet again. All I seem to do these days is sigh. “I’m sorry, mate. I really am. I’ll call him.”
I call Bongo. Again. He picks up, laughing. “Ah, Luci! It’s my old mate Luci on the phone, everyone! I’ve got you on speakerphone – it’s a game we’re all playing, a forfeit. Whoever calls you, you have to put on speakerphone! Ha ha ha!!”
I say, “Listen here, you stupid cunt. You owe rent to the poor fucker you used to live with and he’s getting ready to set fire to your fucking furniture if you don’t pay up…”
I hear the phone go muffled, some hurried footsteps and a door slamming.
Bongo whispers, “There was no need for that, mate! You made me look a bit silly there in front of my friends!”
“And you’re making me look like a total cunt in front of mine!!” I snarl. “Where’s that van?? Where’s that money? Where’s that fucking beer??”
Bongo whines, “I got let down last minute on the van. It’ll be next week, I promise!”
I say, “Right, see that thing in your hand? Not your cock, your fucking phone. Next time something comes up, use it, yeah?”
I hang up.
The next week goes on forever. I’m as busy as usual, too busy, but all I can think about is that lazy twat, Bongo.
I just know the van isn’t going to show.
I just know it.
And sure enough, no van.
Fucking Amazing Dave loses his shit. I’m trying to talk to him on the phone but he’s incoherent.
“THAT’S IT!! THE FUCKING FUCKING FUCKER!! THIS SHIT IS GOING TO THE FUCKING SKY GODS!! HIS FUCKING CHAIR, HIS FUCKING WII GOLF WRECKING BASTARD DESK, THE LOT!! IF HE DON’T WANT IT THE FUCKING GODS CAN HAVE IT!!!”
He hangs up.
I groan.
My phone rings.
It’s Bongo.
I answer. “Where the fuck are you?”
He snivels. “Sorry, Luci, it’s just my grandfather died this week. It’s all been up in the air.”
I roll my eyes. “Do me a favour. I don’t want to hear this shit. Grandfather? Give us a break. And what’s your excuse for next week? And the week after?”
I’m about to tell him it’s probably too late but he breaks me off.
“It’s true!!” He sobs. “It’s his funeral today! We’re going to the crematorium in twenty minutes. Listen, my dad has hired a van for tomorrow. We’re driving up to collect all my grandfather’s furniture around lunchtime, so don’t worry. His things are very precious to us. It’s all we have left to remember him.”
I say, “So are you going to Dave’s after that?”
Bongo says, “What do you mean?”
I say, “Are you going to collect your stuff after you’ve collected your grandfather’s furniture? Shall I tell Dave to expect you mid-afternoon?”
Bongo says, “All my furniture IS my grandfathers. I took it for safekeeping when he went into a nursing home six months ago. I’ve been trying to find space for it and now I’ve got it sorted. We’ll be there tomorrow.”
I hang up.
Oh fucking Hell.
I run out and jump into the Punto, floor it down the road.
I hope I’m in time.
All the while I’m phoning Fucking Amazing Dave, trying to tell him to leave the furniture alone, but he doesn’t answer.
Ten minutes later I pull onto his street.
Fucking Amazing Dave lives on a funny old road. It faces onto a stretch of waste ground near a scrap yard. Not a pretty place, but It’s where he calls home.
I see the smoke first.
Then the flames.
There’s a stack of shattered furniture piled high on the waste ground, burning fiercely, black smoke climbing into the sky.
Fucking Amazing Dave is leaping around the fire, whooping and howling with his top off, taking swigs from a bottle of knock-off Jack Daniels. There’s an empty petrol can nearby.
I park the car at a safe distance, get out, walk wearily towards the fire.
Fucking Amazing Dave sees me and comes running over, eyes wild.
He screams, “See?? See?? THAT’S what happens when you fuck wi’ Dave! No-one fucks wi’ Dave or you gonna BUUURN!!!”
I say, “Yep. You’re not wrong there.”
We watch the flames leap higher. I take the bottle from his hand and take a small swig.
I take my phone out of my pocket, check the time, realise that Bongo will be at the crematorium.
I leave him a voicemail message. “Hi Bongo, It’s Luci. Don’t bother with the van. Dave has just delivered all that furniture to your grandfather’s new place. Don’t bother calling back. Bye.”
I hang up.
We watch the fire a little longer but Fucking Amazing Dave starts to shiver.
He says, “Fancy a quick game of Wii Golf, Luci?”
I shrug. “Fuck it. Why not. You’ve plenty of room now.”
We go inside.

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