This is a section that got edited out of Swear Down. In an earlier draft, Carlton and Jack stopped off in Nottingham.
First thing was, we agreed that we should lose the car quick sharp, cos pretty soon it was gonna get reported. Jack was all for getting to the nearest town, dumping the car an getting on a train to Nottingham but I reckoned that was a bad move. If you on a train you got nowhere to run, yeah? You cornered innit. But we had to get off the motorway, we knew that. Only a matter of time before every camera on the road gonna be on the lookout for a silver Ford Mondeo driven by a black boy in a baseball cap with an old guy riding shotgun. So I got off the motorway at the next exit an there was a roundabout saying left or right. I went left, even though I aint never heard of any of the places it’s pointing to on the sign. Toss of a coin, innit. The thing was to just keep moving, ya get me? Jack found a road map book under the passenger seat an figured out a route. He said the nearest town was St Albans so that was where we headed …
We pulled into St Albans around the middle of the day. Jack had convinced me that we were better off getting on a train. If we could get to Nottingham we were as good as safe, he said. I could see the logic in this, cos if we kept jacking cars then we were just making a trail for the police to follow, ya get me? And St Albans didn’t look like no place to be bringing attention to ourselves. It was quiet man, hardly nobody about. We dumped the car on a back street in the centre an walked around looking for signs to the railway station. I was nervy on the street man. I had my cap pulled down low an a pair of shades wrapped round my face an I was on red alert for any foot patrols or passing cars. I kept imagining every person that went by was checking us out. We must have looked an odd pair though, true, me walking along with this scruffy old white guy who kept stopping every few steps to cough and bark like a flipping seal. The man was not sounding too healthy. He stopped at a supermarket an asked for some money. I gave him a handful of notes an he comes out with a plastic carrier bag full of crisps an sandwiches. Got us a few banjos he says. That’s what he called sandwiches, banjos. Man talked a different language half the time, I’m telling ya. He had a half bottle of rum as well, which I weren’t too happy about. Rah Jack, I says, don’t be getting all pissed up bruv. We need clear heads for this mission, ya get me.
So you got on the train to Nottingham?
We found the train station. The next train to Nottingham was at twenty five past two, change at Luton. This meant we had to wait for about an hour. I didn’t fancy hanging about on the platform so I told Jack to buy the tickets an then wait there while I went for a mooch around. He didn’t look up to any more walking. Man had slowed right up an was wheezing with every step. But I was too antsy an paranoid to stay in the one spot. So I told him to have a rest in the waiting room while I went for a walk. I told him not to be sucking on his bottle in there cos they’d just take him for some street trash an throw him off the station. Man wasn’t listening to me though, he was unscrewing the lid before I’d even turned my back. I found a takeaway a few streets away an got a burger an some fries an a Coke. I sat down at a table in the window an turned things over while I ate my lunch. I wanted to ring my mum up but I knew this was a dumb idea even as it entered my head. I knew she’d be worried sick but if I told her where I was then that would be putting her under added pressure innit. Besides, I knew the po-po could trace me from a phone signal. I hadn’t even turned my phone on since we left London. So I kept it deep in my pocket and instead wondered what to do about Jack.
What do you mean, what to do about him?
He was gonna slow me down, no doubt about it. But the fact of the matter was he was not a well man. I could see that. If there came a point where we had to run then he was gonna be dead in the water. If it came to it, I would have to leave the man behind. I knew I might have to get off and fly solo even before that. Question was, when did I do it, sooner or later? I said I’d take him home, didn’t I? I’d promised him that. I was so lost in my thoughts I didn’t see the two police officers come strolling in. They must have walked straight past me. I heard the chat out of their radios and froze in my seat. I could see their reflection in the shop window, two of them up at the counter, a young guy and a lady cop in their yellow vests. Traffic cops. They’d taken their hats off and were ordering their food. My first thought was to jump up an make a bolt for it but I knew it would be game over if I made a move, ya get me? I wouldn’t get as far as the end of the street before they’d called up the cavalry. So I just sat tight with my head down, chewing on my burger. I could hardly swallow it down I was that frozen up with fear. My leg was bouncing up and down and I had to grab hold of it to stop it banging against the table. They got their food an sat down at a table just behind me. I watched them in the window. They were huddled together chatting away like some young couple on a date. They weren’t even paying any attention to me. I swallowed the last of my burger an fries an I got up an walked out as casual as I could. I didn’t look back, just walked straight out onto the street an picked the pace up as soon as I was out of sight. Then I realised I was walking the wrong flipping way back to the station so I crossed over the road an walked back past the takeaway. They were still in there chatting an eating their lunch. As soon as I was out of sight I sped up again. I stopped at a clothes shop on the way back to the station an bought a new beanie hat an a new tracksuit top, opposite colour to the one I had on. I put the new shit on and stuffed my old cap an jacket into the carrier bag. I checked the time an saw the train was leaving in fifteen minutes. I got a move on an got back to the platform with about five minutes to spare. Jack was nodding off in the waiting room, the bottle still in his hand. Rah, he looked like a flipping tramp guv, telling ya. Luckily there was no-one else about. I took the bottle out of his hand and shook him awake. We got on the train an found our seats an then Jack fell straight back asleep again, into the land of nod innit … he looked in a bad way to be honest never knew at that point how old Jack was, ya get me. I knew he was an old geezer an that but I didn’t know his exact age.
I wondered what dreams Jack was having on this half empty train, slumped down in his seat, fast asleep with his chin on his chest. He looked about a hundred years old when he was asleep. He looked like shit, to be truthful, guv. Like death warmed up. For one brief minute I panicked that the man might pass away on the train, ya get me? That would be all I flipping needed, taking his body back to his people, having to explain to them what had happened. The guard came along checking everyone’s paperwork so I kicked Jack’s foot to try an wake him up but he was out for the count. I had to dig about in his jacket pocket to get the tickets. The guard was hovering over us as I was fumbling about an I was sweating like a pig. I could tell he was looking at us thinking yo, what these two oddbods doing travelling together ya get me? I finally got the tickets out an the guard punched them an went on his way but I was starting to get the jitters again. I nearly got off that train guv, for real. We came to a stop an I looked out the window an the sign said Luton Airport Parkway. Rah, airport! I stood up an tried to shake Jack awake but he wasn’t having none of it guv, just twisting an muttering an trying to bat my hand away. I was like Jack Jack, I’m getting off man, look, there’s an airport bruv. The doors had opened and people were stepping off the train. I got my bag down an moved out of my seat, I was that flipping close man, when I heard Jack saying don’t go, don’t go. That’s what he said guv, don’t go. I thought it sounded like the man was crying as well, ya get me? Crying in his sleep like a dog sometimes do, ya get me? Whimpering guv. The man was whimpering; don’t go, don’t go, don’t go. Over an over like that: don’t go.
He said that to you?
O dunno, I dunno if he was like dreaming or whatever, but it was that what slowed me down for that vital split second, that hesitation innit. I was like, what Jack, what you saying? I was bent over him, shaking the man an his eyes fluttered open an rah, they was all shiny wet with tears or sleep or something. He rubbed his hands over his face an he was like what you doing, what’s happening? For a second it was like he didn’t know who I was or where we were or anything. I told him I was getting off an he looked all confused but just nodded an went aye alright, you get off.
So why didn’t you then?
I couldn’t flipping move guv. I just could not leave the man. Don’t ask me why cos I don’t know. I should have got off that train. I should have took my chances at the Luton Airport. I could have been sat on the beach right now instead of sat here in this room with you two. But I didn’t go guv. I stayed put. The sign started moving sideways in the window an the train set off again. Jack seemed to get his act together after that, seemed to wake up an snap into battle station mode, ya get me? Captain Jack, leader of men innit. Man with the hand on the wheel, so to speak. He starts talking about his pal in Nottingham who’s going to lend us the car to get to Hull. This person called Terry who he knew from back in the day. I asked him when was the last time he saw this Terry an if he could be trusted to keep his mouth shut an that. Man just about pissed his pants laughing at that one. Aye son, he says. Terry is part of my secret society. An he was still chuckling as we pulled into Nottingham station. We got off straight to the public phone box and Jack belled his pal up.
Anyway, he gets this Terry character on the blower an we go outside to wait for them to show up. We stand apart from each other in different places, me in a bus shelter an Jack stood in a doorway, both of us looking for this old yellow VW Beetle. I was feeling a bit more confident out on the street there than back in St Albans. Nottingham looked to be a bigger city an it wasn’t just bare white faces, ya get me? I zipped my tracksuit up to my chin an kept my eyes peeled for yellow Beetles or po-po rollers, which ever came first. Eventually though this battered old yellow car rolls past an pulls up to the kerb right next to Jack. First thought I had was rah, I know he said yellow man, but that car was flipping yellow, ya get me? It was like an electric banana on wheels man. An it was old as well, nearly falling to flipping pieces. Not exactly, what’s the word, conspicuous, ya get me? Inconspicuous. Whichever one it is, that car was not the car we needed to be rolling around in. Like something a cartoon character would drive, trust me. Like a clown’s car, one of them cars in the circus where the horn goes beep beep an the door drops off. Second thought I had was; who the flipping heck is that? The person driving I mean. All I could see was this big crazy mane of white hair an the person was fat, ya get me, I’m talking flipping enormous guv, trust me. It was like someone had poured them into this little yellow car. Big fat person with bare rings on their fingers innit, big chunky fingers gripping the steering wheel.
Who was it? Jimmy Savile?
No, it was this Terry, yeah? Jack opened up the passenger door an told me to climb in the back. I gets into this lame old yellow thing an I’m having to clear trash off the back seat before I can even sit down, there’s newspapers an food wrappers an empty water bottles an even a flipping woman’s slipper man. Jack says Terry this is Carlton, Carlton – Terry. An Ronnie twist round in the seat an says hello darling an I see this person Terry is a woman, an older woman with big thick glasses an this flipping mad hair that’s all stood up on end like it’s some mad wig or something, ya get me? Like she’s had some electric shock or something. She’s grinning at me with these bright red lipstick lips an she’s like, ooh aren’t you pretty an she laughs an Jack says alright, come on, Mother Theresa, lets get going. We pulled out into the traffic an moved off in this flipping clown car, me, a half drunken old sailor man an this fat lady from the circus driving through a town I never been to before in my life, on our way to God knows where guv an I’m think oh my flipping life, how the flipping heck did I end up here?Terri lived on this estate somewhere out of the city centre. I can’t tell you the name of it or anything about what it looked like, really. All estates look the same everywhere in the country guv, I reckon. Just bare houses an garages an sometimes a patch of green or a playground with coloured swings an slides an stuff. A row of shops with metal shutters an that. They’re all the same. That one in Hull I just been to, that was no different either. Even the pubs all look the same man. They give them all different names for the different cities, but they all look the same. Terri’s house was flipping crazy guv, trust me. From the outside it looked like any other house on the block, but walking through the door was like stepping into some movie stars dressing room, some old film star from back in the day, ya get me? First thing I noticed was the smell of cats. She had bare cats man, two of them curled up on the back of the sofa, another one winding itself around her legs as we came in the door an another one darting through into the kitchen an scratching at the back door. Terri was like OK my darlings Mummy is here an she waddles through to the kitchen an scoops this cat up an starts smothering it with kisses. She tells us to make ourselves comfortable while she gets the kettle on an she starts clinking about in the kitchen singing away to herself. The front room was like something else guv. You ever see Scarface? You ever see that film, yeah?
I’ve seen it, yeah.
That bit where the man has made all his dough an he’s got this pad with all the silver and black and bare chrome and glass everywhere? Leopard skin rugs an plastic palm trees an all pimped up to the max? Well imagine all that kinda scene, but all crammed into this little front room guv. It was like some bad taste pimp had set up shop in there. But it was definitely a woman’s pad, ya get me? A single woman’s place. There was no kids toys or mans stuff in the house. None that I could see anyway. There were all these old film star posters on the walls an then this big painting hung over the gas fire, this picture of a nude woman lying near a lake with like leaves an flowers spread out all over her tits. I spotted a picture on the sideboard of that same guy in Jack’s yard, that American guy, the greatest singer in the history of the world. Frank Sinatra, guv. I spotted him an a few other old school singers and movie stars staring down at me from the walls an the shelves.
I leaned across to Jack an whispered, yo, is she a mentalist? Jack just shook his head an held his finger up to his mouth for me to be quite as Terry come back through with a tray of tea an biscuits. Her an Jack started yapping away. At first I tried to tune in to what they were saying but it was all names from back in the day an reminiscing about this an that. They obviously knew each other for time, ya get me? I just kept it on the D.L, just dipped my biscuits in my drink and kept my mouth shut an my ears wide open.
I was trying to figure out who this Terri or Theresa person was to Jack. At first I thought she was maybe family. I had never heard Jack mention his people at all, never once. I think I heard him once say to Chantelle he was divorced, one time in the bar when she was teasing him about needing a good woman to sort him out an ting. I think he said something about once around was enough or something like that. I thought maybe this Terri was Jack’s ex wifey yeah? But I though nah, from what I could gather his ex wife was not on speaking terms with the man. I could believe that. I could believe that Jack was one of them characters who would burn his bridges, ya get me? I couldn’t imagine no wifey putting up with his drinking an gambling an all that nonsense.
So who was it then? His ex missus?
That’s what I asked him, but he just laughed. So I thought maybe she was like a distant relation, not close family but some blood relative who felt obliged to help out in his hour of need. They had a similar sort of accent, both northern folk, true, but she was talking in all that la-de-da kind of put on way, all darling this and sweetie that, like she was the queen or something. But she seemed OK, ya know? She wasn’t like stuck up or anything. She seemed a bit crazy to me guv, but I didn’t sense any side to her, no badness or anything like that. She reminded me a bit of that old gyal who’s on the telly. You know the one? Her with the glasses? She was like her, but about ten times fatter. She sat there in that armchair waving her cigarette about like she was conducting an orchestra. Eccentric, that was the word man. She was an eccentric. Eventually her an Jack finished their stroll down memory lane an this Terri turned her eyes on me. So, sweetheart, she says. Jack tells me you’re going to Jamaica. Is that where you’re from originally? Nah, I tell her, I’m from London. Hackney. I got people over there though. An I pull out my postcard from my pocket an show her my Dad’s bar. That’s my Dad’s place, I tell her. I’m gonna go an work there. Oh wow, she says. Do you have brothers and sisters over there as well or is it just your Dad? Just my old man, I tell her. Then I think she’s maybe getting too much info out of me so I turn the tables an ask her how she knows my man Jack. I was curious too, genuinely, ya get me? Me an Jack go way back, she says. We grew up together, more or less, didn’t we Jack? Gillet Street. Hessle Road. Happy times. She smiles across at Jack and he just sorta rolls his eyes and says aye, if you say so Theresa. Oh come on you Jack she says an she leans across an smacks his knee like he’s a naughty little boy. We had some laughs, she says to me. Best bopper in Kevin ballroom was our John Henry. We used to clear the floor, didn’t we darl?
So she was like an old flame, yeah?
Yeah, this is what I think. Cos then they get to all the reminiscing again, this pub an that pub an back in the day etc etc. An I’m sat there on this settee with the cat hairs an the leopard skin cushions with my cup of tea in my hand thinking, John Henry? Who the flipping heck is John Henry? …
That’s his full name.
I know that now, I never knew that then.
Alright, so what next?
Plan was that we stay the night at Theresa’s yard and set off for Hull first thing in the morning. Jack got on the blower and belled up his man in Hull who was gonna sort the boat thing an he said it was all good, we just had to stop off at his bar tomorrow an get it all plotted out. Then Terri rang up for a big Chinese an I paid it for out my cash roll. It was the least I could do to say thank you to her. I offered her a few more dollars but she just laughed an would not hear of it. She was a good woman, true. A bit freaky yeah, but I could tell she had a good heart. After we had our food her an Jack got the bottles of wine out an started playing the old time tunes on the tape player. Rah, tapes guv, her an Jack were like proper old school dinosaurs on the tunes front. Never mind an iPod or MP3 player, she didn’t even have any CD’s! They were both singing along and the drunker they got the worse the singing. They were not gonna be winning no X Factor them two trust me. They kept skipping back to this one track about some chandeliers hanging on a wall or some such nonsense, kept playing it over and over again. Some old cowboy geezer or something. After a bit I got fed up of this an went looking through Terri’s collection for some decent tunes but all I could come up with was that Bob Marley Best Of, the one that everyone’s got. Legend innit. Terri was like oh yeah I love reggae music but what she meant was she liked Bob Marley. So I started telling the pair of them about all the other bare tunes that come out of Jamaica, all the righteous toasters like Big Youth and King Tubby an all the other sick artists like Toots an The Maytals an The Congos an how Jamaican music changed the world, cos it did. I’d had a few glasses of red wine an I was chatting away like a living idiot, giving them the word from Haile Selassie, but they weren’t listening guv. They were singing along to One Love an after a bit I just joined in with them even though I can’t sing to save my flipping life guv. In fact, to be truthful I aint ever done no singing til that night, never in my life. That is a fact, now I come to think of it. Anyway, the next day I woke up on the settee with a blanket over me. First thing I sees is a naked lady covered in flowers by a lake. The picture hanging above the fire innit. I was thrown for a second, didn’t know where the flipping heck I was. For one tiny second I thought I’d dreamt everything up; the car at the services, the feds in the take-away, the train ride, the old yellow car. Even everything back home, even what happened to Knowledge. What I did to Knowledge, I mean. Anyway, Jack an Theresa come down an she fried up a pile of egg sandwiches an made cups of tea while I went an got a shower. I still couldn’t work out their thing, whatever it was. There was only three rooms up there, a bedroom a bathroom an one other room which just had a dressing table full of make up and crap an a big pile of clothes and shoes an stuff, all scattered about on the floor. But no bed though. There weren’t no spare bed. I’m figuring Jack must have bunked up with Terri. I got showered an changed an had my egg banjo an we got off.
Rah, I’m even talking like the man now.
set off in that lame old yellow car from Terri’s house
Plus the vehicle is bright flipping yellow, ya get me?
Then I remember something that Terri had said the night before an I says to Jack, yo, Jack, who is John? An he sort of stiffens up in his seat an says what you on about, how do you know that name? An I’m like woah, slow your roll man. Terri called you it last night innit, John Henry. Is that you then, I ask him? Is you John Henry? Yeah, that’s my name he says. I thought you was called Jack, I says. I am, he says. Jack is short for John innit. How can it be short for John when it’s the same length of name I says. Cos it just is, he says. That’s just how it is. Then he says, well you’ve got two names haven’t you? You’re called Carlton but I’ve heard people call you Kez. What’s all that about? Kez, I say, like short for McKenzie, ya get me? Kez is like a street name innit. I thought you was named after the bird says Jack, an he starts chuckling away, which leads to one of his coughing fits.
I don’t know what he meant by that, named after a bird. I didn’t say anything though cos I didn’t want hm to think I was ignorant. There must be a bird called a Kez, yeah?
It’s a film about a bird.
Well, I didn’t know that guv. I aint no bird watcher, trust me. But names, like, say, Terri an Theresa, or Les an Lesley, or Kez for McKenzie, that makes sense, yeah? . But I never knew you could do that, like with his name. Jack aint short for John, John is short for … er, Johnny innit. Or Jonathan. I thought Jack was just a like a separate name, yeah? I didn’t know you could have one for the other an they were both the same thing. I couldn’t imagine him as a John. To me, he was just Jack, ya get me? Did Terri used to be your woman, I asks him. What the fucks this, he says, twenty questions? Haven’t you got enough to worry about? He was right.
It was in me mind to stop off and see Ronnie at this point. Ronnie would sort everything out. I still had his number and I reckoned he could lend me a few more bob to tide me over. We hadn’t spoken for a couple of years or so, but I knew from mutual friends and acquaintances that he was still living in Nottingham.
Old pal of mine. I just hoped he was still on the same number. That was what I was banking on, anyroad. Like I say, it weren’t the most foolproof plan in the world.
I was convinced it was only a matter of time before we were pulled over. So I took command of proceedings and I told Carlton we were going to see my pal Ronnie in Nottingham. I knew he’d lend me a few bob til I got across the water. Me and Ronnie went way back. Known him for time, as me laddo would say … Anyway, where was I? … Oh yeah … I told him I was gonna get a train to Nottingham and then stop at Ronnie’s for a night and then get another train to Hull.
OK, shall we get back to Nottingham. You’re at the train station?
Yeah, anyway, we gets on the rattler and I’m totally cream crackered, me … I remember thinking, go on then, I’ll just get comfy and shut me eyes for two minutes. Me laddo was chirruping on and on about Montego Bastard Bay and all the birds he was gonna shag and all the cocktails he was gonna make on the beach and how he was gonna catch his dinner in the ocean and all the rest of it, and I’m not responding, like, but he keeps yapping away regardless, and I thought, well, if he sees I’ve pulled the shutters down maybe he’ll get the hint and give me five minutes bastard peace. It was bloody warm on that train. I could feel the sunlight through the window pressing down on me eyelids … and what with me laddo there droning on in the background and the clickety clack of the train tracks it wasn’t long before I was soon drifting off … See, it started off … the last thing I remember thinking … I was trying to plan ahead, to where I’d go to from Holland. Where I’d end up, so to speak. Cos this was gonna be me last voyage, oh aye, no doubt about that. There’d be no more wandering the planet for me after this trip. Me pal in Haarlem like, I knew I could stop with him for a while, but I’m thinking, well, what after that? Where do I actually drop anchor for good? I’m thinking I could maybe stop in Haarlem for a few months while everything died down over here and then maybe slip back across on the boat. Finish me days back in Hull, where I started off, like. Full circle, like. There’s a few of the old crew still knocking about the city, them who are still clinging onto the raft. Cos you notice it, yer know, when you get to my age. Everyone you know starts supping off. Every day I wake up and if I can’t feel wood either side of me I know I’m alright for another day, at least.
That’s one way of looking at it.
You know they say yer see yer life flashing in front of yer eyes before yer peg it? Well I saw mine crawling past me on that train to Nottingham. I don’t know what happened, whether it was like a day-dream or if I had actually just bobbed off or what, but it wasn’t like a normal dream, this. Much more vivid, this was. … like me body had gone to sleep but me mind was still awake … or half awake, at least … and I was watching a film … no, not watching a film … like I was being shown a film. Aye, that’s what it was, like I was sat in Regal Picture House when I was ten years old and there’s one of them old style projectors firing this movie up onto the big screen in me head. Most bloody peculiar it was. I’m thinking about a few old faces from Gillet Street days and then all of a sudden I’m stood on Hessle Road with me Mam, she’s got tight hold of me hand but I can’t see her face, she’s towering above me. We’re outside Clothing House, looking in the window. I’m stood staring at me own reflection. I’m fascinated by me own image. Mam, its me, I says, look Mam, I’m little again. You need some new shoes you John, she says. You need some new shoes for school. And make these ones last, she says, you’re going through em like I don’t know what. And I looks down at me shoes and I’ve got these suede brothel creepers on me feet, I remember em like it was yesterday, my pride and joy they was, bought em soon as I got settled off me first ever trip. Best pair of movers I ever had they was. I’m grown up now Mam, I says and I look up to try and see her, but then I’m sat in the classroom, me old classroom at West Dock School and there’s Blackie in his gown and he’s chalking summat up on the board and he’s saying Shepherdson what is the answer and I’m trying to see what he’s got up on the board but it al looks like a foreign language to me, like them pictures they have inside of the bloody pyramids and I can’t make head nor bloody tail of it and Blackie’s shouting SPEAK UP BOY, WE CAN’T HEAR YOU and then he pelts the blackboard rubber at me, that was his favourite trick and by hell did it hurt if you got cracked round the napper with that bastard, it comes spinning towards me in slow motion and then I’m fighting this Yank in a pub, this big Yank who I remember was shouting the odds in this bar in Bermeo, back when I was fishing out of Spain. Giant of a man this Yank was and here’s me swapping punches with him surrounded by the entire bar cheering us on like, we’re in the middle of this ring of people and they’re pushing me in the back shouting go on Jackie boy, do this fucking Septic, like, but it’s like I’m trying to scrap underwater and I can’t lift me arms up to swing a punch, me arms are laden down with bloody lead and this Yank’s laughing and dancing round me, planting punches on me kisser and there’s blood spraying up everywhere and this Yank’s saying you had enough man? You wanna quit? And I’m saying I do … I do … and then I can hear an organ, a church organ and Dorrie’s stood next to me saying I do and I’m at me bloody wedding and I looked down at Dorrie, she’s smiling up at me, so happy, so so happy she was, and I look behind me and there’s an entire congregation sat there staring at us, everyone, all our families and friends and half of Hessle Road sat there, all dolled up in their best bib and tucker and I can see Carlton sat there among em, he’s all dressed up an’all in a smart suit and a tie and he’s staring right at me, slowly shaking his head, and I get me right doe down then, start yelling out in the church, what the fuck you shaking yer head at then eh son? You weren’t even bastard born! You’re not even born yet! Then everyone else in the congregation lifts their fingers to their lips and they start going shuuuussshhhhhh, shuuuusssshhhhh and I turn to look at Dorrie and she’s doing it an’all, finger held up to her lips saying shush, be quiet … and … then it’s dark and quiet, I’m sat in this room on me own and there’s a bird cage on a table and I think oh aye, I remember this, I’m in Jimmy Hick’s coal shed and I’m in charge of looking after this bird, this canary that Hicksy had. Him and our kid and a few others had put me in charge while they went off and larked in the street. I remember it clear as day, I was about seven or eight, no more than that. I remember thinking I must be an important kid to be given a job like this, being in charge of this canary. I was sat there with just this candle for light, I sat there all night and I never took me eyes off this little yellow canary bobbing about in this cage. Me legs went to sleep and I had to keep banging me feet to stop the pins and needles, but I never deserted me post. After a bit I realised they’d kidded me up, Hicksy and our kid and the rest of them. They didn’t want me to look after the canary at all, did they hellers like, they just wanted me out of the way while they went and larked out. In real life I think I just went home and went to bed, but in this film or this dream or whatever it was, I took the cage out into the street and opened the door and let the canary fly off, flew straight out like a tiny yellow dart it did, away over the rooftops and out towards the docks and then a sudden awful dread clamped hold of me guts and I thought oh Christ, what if it dies, what if it dies, Hicksy’ll kill me and then I was running down Gillet Street with this cage, the door flapping open shouting come back, come back … next thing I know I’m stood on deck in me slippers and me dressing gown. We’re off the coast of North Iceland, just off the Cape, and we’re in the middle of this raging bloody storm. The ship’s running in to get to shelter, running with the wind on the starboard quarter like, yer know? More or less on the stern. I can hear the Mate calling out above the roaring of this wind saying we’ve got to turn Skipper, we’ve got to turn. But I know we couldn’t turn straight away else we’d be beam on to this weather, y’know? What we needed to do was run further down so we could get the wind on the bow, like. Then someone’s shouting and pointing and I can see these two bloody great icebergs on the shore water, just outside the fjord. We’re about half a mile off these bloody things and all of a sudden we take all this water on board and we’re lurching over and then we’re upright again. All of a sudden I’m on the bridge with me hand on the wheel and this time I’ve got me waterproofs on. Where’s the skipper, I’m shouting, where’s the bloody old man? I’m turning the ship and we’ve broached this weather but now we’re heading for these bloody icebergs. I can see these coloured lights on the land, all different colours in the distance reflecting off the ice, all reds and yellows and greens, and I can hear this music, like hurdy gurdy music, like a bloody carnival, y’know? And then I’m saying to the Mate, let’s put these engines on and get between these flaming things and get to shore. But then I looks back down on the deck and all the gear’s out, all the nets, and bloody hell fire, it’s not chained down and half of it’s over the side. So of course I can’t get the engines fired up in case all this gear gets wrapped round the propeller. And these bloody bergs are getting closer and closer. I turns to the Mate and I tell him we need to get down there and get this gear lashed down and pretty damn fucking quick an’all. And the Mate smiles at me and me heart nearly goes, cos it’s John, it’s me lad. But he’s a kid again in this dream, like. He’s in his old school uniform, about eight or nine years old. Then it switches, quick as a wink, and me and John are on the deck and I’m in me dressing gown again and this gears getting winched back up from over the side.Who’s on the winch, I says to our John, who’s on the winch? But he doesn’t hear me or if he does he’s not taking any notice, he’s scrambling about on deck, getting this gear from over the side and getting it lashed down, so I’m helping him like and it’s pissing with rain, freezing rain flying into us, like nails it is, like gun fire, and I keeps looking up and these bastard bergs are closing down on us, massive they are, filling all the sky, all lit up, reflecting these different coloured lights from the shore and it’s like the sky is falling down on top of us, on top of the ship, and I says John, come on son, we need to get back on the bridge and get these engines on, John, I says, get the engines on, we’re going to hit em, we’re going to run ashore and then there’s this big fucking BANG! and there’s water coming aboard and the ship’s lurching to the side and we’re laying over, oh Christ we’re laying over, and then I woke up. Me laddo’s stood over me, shaking me awake. I can see his lips moving but I could still hear our John in me head. It’s alright, Dad, he was saying … it’s alright …
OK … well … back in the real world …
Yeah … so … we got to Nottingham, I phoned Ronnie up from the station and he came and picked us up in his car. He hadn’t changed much. Put a bit of beef on, like, and there was a bit more snow on the roof, but he didn’t look too different to how I remembered him. Still an ugly bastard, like. We drove out to his house. No idea where it was so, don’t even ask me. Just some little estate on the way out of town. Could have been anywhere, and besides, I don’t know Nottingham at all. Only ever been there once before and that was to see Ronnie, but he lived somewhere different then.
How did you explain Carlton?
I introduced Carlton as a pal, just said he was travelling back with me to see some mates from University. I could tell Ronaldo wasn’t too convinced by this, but he didn’t launch an enquiry or owt like that. Just asked Carlton what he was studying. Guess what he said? History! Ha! There’s a bloody laugh. Daft bugger doesn’t even know what happened five minutes ago, never mind frigging history. But Ronnie seemed to accept this. I think he could sense not to ask too many questions, like. It was good to see him though. We’d crossed swords in the past, me and Ronaldo, but
So you didn’t tell him anything that had gone on?
No, did I hellers like.
He must have wondered what you were doing, turning up like that?
I told him I was up seeing Colin
Colin, this is your mate in Hull with the pub?
And Ronnie knows Colin?
Oh aye, from way back. In fact, he’d had a night out with Colin not long back, Colin and a few of the other lads we used to sail with. We had a few drams and a bit of a wander down memory lane. He reeled off a few people who’d let go of the rope, mutual friends and acquaintances, like. Then he got onto all the other creaking gates; so and so’s got cancer, someone else has just had a stroke, their Bill was in Infirmary and had to have his leg off. All good cheerful stuff. In the end I had to tell him, I said alright Ronnie, fucking hell, that’ll do, ta. Christ I felt like pelting meself off the fucking Humber Bridge. Haven’t you got any cheerful news Ron, I said to him. I could see me laddo was sat there thinking Jesus Christ, why’s he brought us here?
It’s old age though, it can sneak up on yer if yer not careful. Can drag you down into some right corners, oh hell aye. Been there a few times meself. But you can’t let it get yer down, can yer? Life, I mean. Or death. What yer gonna do? It’s like Francis Albert said, you got to stay young at heart. Got to have that rosy outlook. That’s what Ronnie used to be like. Always had a smile on his face, did Ronnie. That was one of the greatest things about him. We’d get into some right scrapes, me and him. I’d be the one quaking in me boots and he’d just laugh his cock off, would Ron.
So what did Ronnie say when you told him you’d killed someone?
Fucking hell, you’re mustard you, aren’t yer? …. I told yer, I never told Ronnie what had gone on. I didn’t want to involve him any more than I had. He’d done more than enough to help us and I didn’t want to make things any more awkward than they already was. What he didn’t know you lot couldn’t beat out of him, eh?
C’mon Jack …
Yeah, well … anyroad, we had a spot of supper and then we had a few drams, the three of us. Made a proper night of it
So I’ve heard.
We had a good drink, me Ronnie and me laddo. Course, he didn’t know any of the old songs, Carlton, but he sat there smiling away and joining in on the bits he could pick up. Then he managed to dig out some Bob Marley from deep in Ronnie’s collection so we all had a bit of a sing-song to some of that. I don’t mind Bob Marley. I don’t like most of that other stuff that me laddo plays, all that bloody echoey nonsense. What does he call it? Rub a dub dub? Can’t be doing with any of that. I like summat you can sing along to. I like a tune, me. But I think he enjoyed himself, me laddo. First time I’d seen him smile for weeks. It was good to see him happy.
Aye, it was a good night
– You’d been through a lot together then?
– Oh hell aye, yes. I remember one time when we were both out of graft and we got this job picking strawberries on this farm. Somewhere near Yarmouth this was, I think. That long hot summer we had when they had the hosepipe ban. When was that? Late seventies I think. When all them ladybirds descended, whenever that was. Anyway, it was a roasting hot day and we were set to work in these greenhouses. We were getting paid on weight, on how many we managed to pick, like. Course, Ronnie, the greedy get, he was slotting em down one after another. For every one he picked another two were going down his Gregory. I says to him, hey you, we’re meant to be picking em not scoffing the bastards. They’ll have to weigh you on the way out, I says. So of course, yer can guess what happens. It gets to the end of the day and I’ve got a decent haul of strawberries and Ronnie’s got about half a fucking dozen. We goes to see the farmer and he takes one look in Ronnie’s basket and says aye aye, what’s this then? Where’s all the fucking strawberries gone, like? Course, he knows exactly where they’ve gone and he throws a paddy, tells us to get off his farm, he’s not paying us, get to fuck, like. I’m fuming, me. Ten hours under glass with that sun blazing down yer neck and we come away with empty pockets all cos of fucking Greedy Guts there. I was all set to stick the nut on this Farmer Giles character but Ronnie’s like, nah, leave it Jackie Boy, and he’s pulling me away. We gets round the corner and Ronnie says come on, we’ll pinch one of the bastard’s pigs.
You stole a pig?
Listen, right … So we scoots round to this barn where these pigs are in their quarters, all laid up amongst all this shit and straw and Ronnie reaches down and lifts out this piglet. It’s wriggling and squealing like a bastard but Ronnie sticks it under his jacket and we trot back to the car and stick it in the boot. I’m like Ronnie, what the hell are we gonna do with a pig? Take it to butchers, he said. We’ll get a few bob for this. Anyroad, we sets off to the town centre and this pig’s going crackers, slinging itself around in the boot, thumping and squealing and what have yer. We finds a butchers and Ronnie asks him if he’s interested in buying this pig, like. Well let’s have a look at him then, he says. So we all troop out to the car and Ronnie opens the boot and this fucking pig comes flying out, screaming it’s head off like a banshee from hell. It takes off down the High Street with Ronnie in hot pursuit. There’s old women diving into shop doorways to get out the road. There’s fruit and veg stalls going over arse over tit and Ronnie’s knocking folk over left right and centre. You’ll not catch that, says this butcher. He just fucks off back into his shop and Ronnie’s shouting Jack, help, help, come and help me. But I was helpless, me. I was in fucking fits.
Aye, that was Ronnie. We never made our millions but we had some proper good laughs. And that’s what’s all about at the end of the day. Got to keep smiling, haven’t yer? No matter what the gods choose to throw at yer …