I have been dwelling on my early teenage years recently – it’s funny because at that point in your life, it could be argued there is not too much greater thought going on! It’s very “I want this!’ and “I hate this!”, possibly with a sprinkle of “this is shit!” But something is happening, you are blossoming into whatever you will be in later life…it’s not clear then, but it is obvious when you look back and connect the dots…I look back and I see, a shy spotty kid, with goofy teeth and braces…whose biggest concern was whether some moron at school would rhyme my surname Taggart, with faggot.
The usual teenage insecurity and self-consciousness I had then, was buried deep down never to be looked at – never to be examined for fear someone might think I was weak. It is only now that I have started being able to channel that into my writing to create humour. It’s about fucking time! Now I am thankful for every situation, good or bad – because there is always a story, always something positive that can be drawn, even in the darkest of times. And that’s a lovely thing.
This is one of the stories from those hazy days. It may well be my favourite actually, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t the most bizarre tale imaginable! I am not really sure how to explain it…well I can explain it to you, but I certainly cannot understand it…
It was a weekend like most others, and I was spending it as most 15ish year olds do in my hometown…and that is to hussle to acquire alcohol by any means necessary…whether it be from a friendly stranger, older sibling, or an innovative friend with a fake ID…you just had to have something, anything. Once you had acquired it you would scuttle as surreptitiously as possible to the nearest park, to down as much revolting cheap cider as humanely possible, until you either pass out or are sick in a ditch somewhere. I hope the level of glamour isn’t too shocking…because where I am from this is very much “normal”…anyway, you had to do all this without hoping to get caught by people intent on ruining your fun – you had to be on constant lookout for concerned pensioners, police, and community support officers (don’t ask).
If the police did catch you and your rascal posse, then they didn’t arrest you…oh no! The cells would be at bursting point should they throw every underage weekend drinker in there! Instead they took you to the nearest gutter, and made you watch as they poured every last wretched drop of your hard earned alcohol down the drain. Often they had watched the whole procedure…so you had literally just got it, and then…poof! Your dream is over in an instant.
It was painful to say the least; such a deeply emotional loss.
This time we were lucky, and had no such run-in. Instead we were probably lying under a shady tree, discussing our limited grasp of the complexities of life, and telling each other just how much we love one another – and that we will be best mates for life…something like that, there were probably a bunch of man-hugs going on, and lots of sudden admissions that we love each other…you know how it is. You worry there may never be another opportunity for some strange reason…if I remember rightly someone was playing Lighthouse Family – High from their phone, which was odd – but is an undeniable sing-a-long anthem…we couldn’t help but belt out that chorus as loud as possible!
“U FUCKIN’ GAAAY BASTAAARDS!”
The song went off straight away – you can’t really look “hard” with that kinda noise going on in the background. We saw nothing though, so where had this bigoted siren came from? Who had dared to break our slurred affectionate moment? Who could possibly not like that song?! It’s a feel good classic! Anyway, we carried on looking – probably looking like a confused group of diseased meerkats – you see each turn of the head made me queasy, my vision took a couple of seconds to become level, so the whole process of looking and seeing objects was taking a little longer than usual. Eventually the top of the grassy hill came into focus…and a huge mob of track-suited teens, (or charvers as they are known in the North-East) entered my vision. Oh, shit – the fun times were officially over. They didn’t take kindly to people having fun on their turf…
A few started to head towards us, they were a few years younger than us – so wouldn’t have been an issue ordinarily, was there not a bunch of twenty-odd year olds up there in the group…seriously was this an outdoors daycare for disadvantaged kids?! What were they playing at? Maybe it was like an urban version of Boy Scouts, except instead of like knots and bob-a-job, it was how to avoid CCTV, and burgle old people. Well whatever it was they were here, and they wouldn’t leave us alone.
The girls in our group clearly had a bit more in the brain department, and suggested that we just walk away – which was a fantastic idea. Although some of us had already made the mistake of engaging in some kind of conversation, one which led to my friend Jonny being floored with a punch out of nowhere…I believe he had said “why don’t you just leave us alone?” NEWSFLASH: LOGIC DOESN’T WORK! We pulled our friend up as they all laughed at his expense, he was disorientated and bloody…and wasn’t making much sense – just jabbering, and spitting every so often. The group of charvers reconvened, (I think they were probably about to go to a lecture on Dostoevsky) – so they were off our back at least.
Once we had walked far enough, we plonked Jonny down and had a good look at him – he zapped into life, although he was still groggy…he began to wipe the blood from his nose – but then insisted on wiping the sweat from his brow with the same hand…this led to him having blood literally all over his face, like some bizarre war paint – it was a very, very scary sight. The girls suggested we take him to a hospital, but OBVIOUSLY that was a stupid idea…a good idea sure, but a stupid idea for reasons which should be obvious.
Someone’s finger started wagging – interrupting the argument…everyone’s eyes followed the same direction, and spotted Jonny running away as fast as his legs would carry him.
We all looked at each other, totally speechless – and then instantly sprinted in the same direction screaming out his name. Anytime we caught up with him, he would murmur a few nonsensical syllables and then dash off again. People began to lose their patience, so after a while it was just a couple of us chasing after this bloodied wide-eyed man child, screaming and begging him to stop so we could catch our breath. His path was odd, and didn’t seem to conform to any map – he didn’t care if he went down the same path twice, looped around and repeated back on himself – there was never any rhyme or reason.
It got too much eventually – we tried to pin him against a wall, but he punched and kicked violently – there were only two of us remaining so it was difficult to keep him in one place for long…when we finally did, we attempted to ask what is going on – where was he heading to, and why?!
“HE’S TELLING ME?! HIM?!”
“WHO?! WHAT?! YOU’VE GONE FUCKING MENTAL MAN!” screamed my friend, with a little less subtlety than I would have tried myself.
“HIMMMMM! HIMMMM! HE’S TELLING ME TO GOO! HIMMM!”
He pointed up at the sky, his eyes bulged from his head and the moist blood that covered his face looked even more vivid than ever. A single string of bogey ran from one of his nostrils, on to his lips. I looked at my friend, the one remaining companion on this strange thrill ride from hell – and shook my head…and with that lapse in concentration, Jonny was off again – this time running around side streets, deep into one of the worst parts of my city…we passed boarded up houses, smashed windows, and stray dogs – just where was God’s messenger taking us? Because by now we were well and truly lost…
We were sweating, well and truly exhausted – he had stopped too, and was puffing and panting, maybe this would all just end? Well of course not. Instead he spotted a rusty fence with a small gap in it, and God told him this was the way he had to go…we tried to pull him back as best as we could, but he couldn’t be convinced. I forced myself through the gap as the fence ripped at my clothes – Jonny began to wander off as God’s GPS sent him new coordinates…I looked behind to look for Mark – he was larger than myself, and couldn’t get through the thin slit of the fence…“JOHN…JOHN…I can’t…I can’t…” my heart sunk, I begged and pleaded for him to just get through – “PLEASE DON”T FUCKING LEAVE ME ALONE WITH THIS, PLEASE!!!” We pulled at the fence – tried to widen it as far as possible, but nothing…I could have cried…I now had to go on God’s mission alone, on my own with the blessed messenger…
The place was totally deserted, it clearly hadn’t been used in any conventional sense in years. There was a strange tunnel with scratched graffiti scribbled all over the sides – you could hear cackles, and barks in the distance…that didn’t phase Jonny at all, we kept on trudging further towards the sounds. As we paced around the corner there was a large gang of people in a ring, their attention was on something else thankfully – a car they had set alight just to watch burn. “WE CAN’T GO THIS WAY!” I urged Jonny, in one of those really loud whispers. “Yeah…yeah…HE says it’s not the way – it’s this way…”
With that he began walking up the steps at the side of the tunnel – they were about a foot wide, and very slippy – there was also no hand-rail, so I had to have my arm outstretched, expecting him to fall to his death at any second…“CAREFUL…CAREFUL…FUCKING CAREFUL!!!” I can remember myself saying, still annoyed that I had been left alone to do all of this – still annoyed that a day spent chilling out with my friends, had switched scenes completely; and now looked more like a Mad Max post-apocalypse nightmare.
We got to the top somehow, and we were greeted with a run-down overgrown railway that was no longer in use. Jonny insisted that this was the right way…that if we keep on going this is the right way. But an hour passed by. Then two hours. Still we were walking on this abandoned railway, I had given up talking to him…I was just going to wait it out…I had also given up answering the many phone calls, and replying to the many text messages. After all I was beginning to sound like a broken record…“yup, yup – still on the train tracks…yup…yeah – still on the mission from God.” It got boring after a while…I was exhausted, so every so often I would interrupt the silence and ask “what is he saying now? Can we stop walking yet?” The answer was always the same; “soon, soon!” God was overdoing the built up I feel – it would have to be something spectacular for this to be worth it.
Fast forward, and we are both stood at a cliff-face…staring out at the expanse of the North Sea. We may have stood there for fifteen minutes, it may have been longer – the cool sea air was refreshing on my tired skin so I didn’t really mind…it made a change from the other spots his trail had taken me to. He turned to me, and looked in my eyes…this was it, this was what it was all leading to, God had a message for me…
“Did everyone ditch us? Where did they go? Ahh…I need a piss.”
And with that he was back to normal. We walked back into the center of town – which took a little longer, as I had no clue where we were. Once we arrived he hopped on a bus, and that was that.
That following Monday I was in the playground, and debriefed everyone on what had happened that strange day – URGHHH! A sharp shot to my kidneys out of nowhere – I felt sick instantly, and struggled to stand. I turned to see Jonny there, of all people.
“You left me by myself?!”
“Are you joking? Tell me you’re joking – I went on a whole mission from God with you for HOURS!”
“WHAT?!” (Everyone else scampered off slowly, leaving me to fill in the blanks…the HUGE blanks.)
“Yeah…whatever. Well I woke up in a field somewhere. In a bush. Didn’t wake up till a fella was walking his dog, and it tried to pee on me.”
“Errr, wow – we’ll take it easy next weekend, perhaps?”
We laughed as we always did, and then ran off to class together – we were late as usual, but at least we had a funny story to tell everyone, even if we couldn’t quite grasp what had happened!Real life is truly more bizarre than fiction at times!
(This is dedicated to an old childhood friend of mine, Jonny Burke – who was sadly killed in a traffic accident in 2012, aged only twenty-one years old. I was in China at the time, but the sad news soon reached me – it was devastating to know that one of my best childhood friends was gone…and that I wouldn’t be able to say goodbye. This is one of our crazy stories from those adolescent days, which we always recounted and laughed about together. I often think of this silly story, and smile – yes, he left us too soon, but his friendship left me with a lot of happy memories. Rest in peace, mate.)