Monday, January 22, 2007

November 1953

Billy Beckforth was his new best friend.

Billy was clever too and sat just in front of him in class. Billy had straight black hair combed forward into his eyes. He had freckles and buck teeth which meant he had to wear a brace. He had a posh voice too because he was adopted.

One afternoon after school he went round to Billy’s house to play. They played soldiers in the war. Billy was the Germans and Chris was the British paratroopers with their own armoured personnel carrier which they could parachute into enemy territory. All the paratroopers had machine guns. He took his own soldiers with him because they were his favourites and they played up in Billy’s bedroom. Nobody really won, they just made up the rules as they went along. In the proper world the English won the war. After they finished their game Mrs Beckforth gave them lemon curd sandwiches and Ribena to drink. Then it was time to go home. He said goodbye politely and thanked Mrs Beckforth for giving him a nice tea. Mrs Beckforth was really nice and sometimes he wished she was his mum instead. Then he thought his own mum was all right really. She just suffered from nerves, that was all. She worried too much, that was the problem. She couldn’t help it. Most of the time she was all right, especially when she laughed. It was great when she laughed.

When he went outside it was much darker than usual. Normally it was only five minutes walk to his house. When he ran home it only took about two minutes. Tonight he couldn’t run because it was so foggy. As soon as he moved away from the street lamp in front of Billy’s house it became pitch black. He held his hand out in front of his face but he couldn’t see it. He looked down at his feet but he couldn’t see them either. There was a funny taste in the air and it hurt to breathe. He started coughing. He tried to turn back but Billy Beckford’s house had disappeared in the fog. He felt a bit dizzy. He started walking in what he thought was the direction of his own house.

After a bit he realised he was lost. It was the fog. It was so thick you couldn’t see nothing. He walked into a chain link fence and scratched his face and then he grazed his right knee when he bumped into a wall. He started crying. He wanted to go back to Billy Bickford’s but he didn’t know which way it was any more. He started to scream but no-one came. The fog muffled his screams.

Then he tried to find the edge of the pavement but it wasn’t there. After a bit he stood on a cat’s eye and realised he was walking in the middle of the road. Very slowly he edged back across the road until he came to the pavement. He sat down on the edge with his feet in the gutter and started screaming again.

“Mummeeee! Mummeeeee!” But no-one could hear him and no-one came.

He didn’t have a coat and he was getting very cold. His jumper was damp. His teeth started chattering. Suddenly a car went past very slowly, its headlights blazing dimly like lights in the sky. The car was about a foot away from him but he could hardly see it. He yelled out but the driver didn’t hear him.

He got up and started walking along with one foot on the pavement and one in the road. When he came to a drain cover he fell over and grazed his other knee really sore. He picked himself up and kept going, limping along. There was nothing else he could do.

Eventually he came to another street lamp. He couldn’t see the top of the lamp, it was just a dull yellow haze like the moon when it went behind a cloud. He clung onto the street lamp and started crying again. He had wet himself because he was so scared and his trousers and pants were cold and wet. He started praying in case he was going to die. “Our Father who art in Heaven…”

He had no idea where he was. He started to think about what might happen to him. A gang might come along and do him over. He might get abducted. He tried not to think about it. Instead he repeated the prayer over and over again. “Our Father who art in Heaven…”

Then he heard a man’s voice. “Blimey, it’s a kid.”

A man and a woman appeared out of the fog. “What’s the matter, son, are you all right?”

“I can’t see where I’m going. I want to go home.”

“It’s a real pea souper, all right,” said the woman, “It’s that London smog come down the river.”

The man asked him where he lived. He told him his address. The woman said, “That’s just round the corner. Here, hold my hand and we’ll take you.”

Her hand was warm and soft. She put her arm round him. He clung to her waist.

When he got home his mother said, “Where have you been all this time? I’ve been worried sick about you.”

He had his tea and went early to bed. He hung his underpants and trousers on a chair so that they’d be dry in the morning. He was exhausted and had a headache. In the middle of the night he had a nightmare about being buried alive in a coffin and scratching at the lid and almost suffocating. After the nightmare woke him up he had to get up and be sick.

Before he climbed back into bed he knelt down and thanked God for saving his life. He also promised God that he wouldn’t ever stay out late again and that next time he went to mass he would light a candle to God as a token of his gratitude for saving his life.

Forever young

For some reason I found myself checking out Friends Reunited the other day. I guess I was hoping to find more of my old friends who had recently enrolled. I didn't have anybody specific in mind, it was more a question of feeling a little nostalgic, a little bit sad at the passing of the years.

In the event no-one new had joined since my last visit a couple of months back. Out of curiosity I started reading through one of the message boards. A rather unusual surname caught my eye. It turned out to be that of a young man whose mother had been a near contemporary of mine at school. I remembered her well.

She was a year older than me, extremely pretty and I had once gone out on a date with her. She had contacted me through her younger brother who was in the same year as me. To say I was flattered by her interest was an understatement. Young ladies at that time didn't go out with younger men.

We went to the cinema together. In the bleak little town where I lived there was no-where else to go. I don't remember what we saw or much about what happened afterwards. I do remember standing under a street lamp outside her home and bending towards her to kiss her goodnight. As I stared into her eyes a terrible thing happened. I saw her brother's face. It turned out they had exactly the same eyes. I hesitated, and then did the decent thing and carried on and kissed her, as briefly as I decently could. It was the first - and last - time I've ever kissed a man. I remember the look of disappointment, hurt even, on her face as I said goodbye without arranging another date. Actually, I was almost as upset as she was - she really was a sweet and beautiful woman. I felt as if I'd been cheated. If only she hadn't reminded me of her brother, how different things might have been.

Very, very different in fact. Reading her son's post on the message board I discovered that a few month's after our abortive date she had gone out with one of her classmates, fallen in love, and got married a couple of years later. She had two sons and apparently the marriage was idyllic. She was also a wonderful mother. When she died the church overflowed with mourners at her funeral. She seems to have been universally loved by everyone who knew her.

Her death was painful but quick. Lat summer she had complained of aching bones and was diagnosed with bone cancer. Within three months she was dead.

Naturally I was shocked and upset when I read the story. To me, in my memory, she will stay forever young, standing beneath that street lamp, looking up at me, smiling, unaware of the ludicrous thoughts that were going through my mind.

In hindsight I'm so glad she reminded me of her brother. Thankfully, our paths crossed only briefly, and she went on to find, and create, so much happiness in her tragically short life.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Gee. There's been a party here all right. All those Comments. All these empty bottles too. Nuts. Crisps. Party poppers. Someone's swept up though, and nothing seems to be broken. It could have been worse I guess. At least there wasn't any fighting.

Right. Lower myself gently into my chair in front of the computer. Flex the fingers. Been a while. What will I write about? So much happening in the world. Got to get the brain into gear again. Start posting. See if there's anyone out there.

Right now I'm a little lost. Lacking confidence. So much to say but everyone's shouting these days. I doubt if anyone will hear me. Somehow in my absence the world seems to have become a less friendly place.

I've had a quick look round the other blogs. Skint's stopped. Sand Storm too. I find that sad somehow. Maybe blogging isn't important after all. Maybe the party's moved on.

I'll just go and have a look and see if there's any whisky left. Time for a bit of quiet reflection. Through the bottom of a glass. Darkly.