After our drive around Southwick, the driver took us into Sunderland City centre. It had only been a town centre when I left. I tipped the driver and said I would give him a ring when we needed picking up.
“Eeeh, are youse famous?” a young girl asked as we stepped out of the limo.
“Aye pet,” replied Bumper, “this lad here is Elvis.”
“Frig off you cheeky bastard.” Was her less than cheerful reply.
We climbed the flight of stairs that took us into Gillespies and I was taken aback when we got to the top. The place was packed and I suddenly felt old, everyone was about fifteen years younger than us. We fought our way to the bar and I got the beers in. Kylie Minogue blasted out of the speakers and the atmosphere was electric, a smile spread across my face. This was a side of Sunderland I had never experienced and I knew I was going to enjoy tonight.
The next pub was Sinatra’s and Gilbert was bursting for the toilet. “Here get them in while I go to the bog.”
He handed me a twenty pound note. I got the beers in and slipped a couple of extra twenties into his change. He wouldn’t notice and even if he did I could claim that the barmaid must have made a mistake and thought he had given me a fifty. On his return, Gilbert slipped the change in his pocket without checking.
We went on a pub crawl. Marlowe’s, The Borough, Chaplin’s, Fitzgerald’s (definitely more to my taste and our age group), Baroque, Master’s, The Londonderry then I don’t know, it all became a bit hazy. Perhaps the shooters in Fitzgerald’s were a mistake, the tequila in Baroque definitely was.
We sat slumped in the kebab shop. I’d ordered a pizza, the other three had ordered kebabs with extra chilli sauce. Bumper asked for a side order of cheesy chips while we were waiting for my pizza. I phoned for the limo and we could tell the driver wasn’t overly pleased with our choice of takeaway food but I tipped him well so he let it go.
We cracked open the cans when we got back to Bumper’s flat but I knew I was done in. It wasn’t long before I drifted asleep on the couch only to be woken by the ringing of the phone.
As much as I tried to move, I couldn’t. I was lying face down in the ditch unable to move the top half of my body. Had I been shot? The whistling stopped. Although I couldn’t see properly, I could feel the crowd move away.
Then it went cold and dark.
“What are you doing down there, Wood?” said a loud, booming voice. I recognised it instantly. I was in the shadow of Mr Rowcroft.
With hindsight I realise that a group of lads who had, no more than two minutes ago, been happily playing football, shuffling around and whistling as if they had invented some new low-key dance was likely to arouse suspicion.
Mr Rowcroft had a fearsome reputation. He was known to beat kids to within an inch of their lives with whatever he could lay his hands on. Trainers, large wooden rulers, football boots. It was even rumoured that he had hit Kevin Davison with his running spikes although this had never been confirmed. Did he now have a gun? Was it Mr Rowcroft that had shot me? I had held the record as being one of the only boys in the school never to have been attacked by him but I knew my time had come to an end.
Then I was free, Mr Rowcroft un-snagged my hood from the bottom of the fence. I wasn’t paralysed.
As I was marched across the playground back towards the school, all of the lads bowed their heads not wanting to make eye contact with Rowcroft. Bumper did begin to whistle the Great Escape theme again but a sharp clip to the back of his head soon put an end to it. He was joining me on the trek back to school.
Now I have no idea why a Primary school teacher would have a hammer in his hand but it certainly added to the tension in Mr Rowcroft’s classroom.
“What do you think I am going to do to you both?” He asked menacingly. I went for the obvious answer.
“Hit us with the hammer?”
He just grinned. Bumper didn’t.
“No, not this time. You and Barry are now banned from the large playground for one week. You, for being stupid enough to think that you could get under the fence without me knowing and your friend here,” he said pointing the hammer at Bumper, “for being such a bad player that he should never be allowed near a football again.”
As we left Mr Rowcroft’s classroom we were both relieved.
“A week in the small playground?” said Bumper. “Can’t be that bad? I thought we were definitely going to get the hammer.”
“Me too.” We both laughed.
Then Bumper went white. “The Small playground.”
Another installment to follow same time next week.
If this has whetted your appetitie and you would like to buy the book for a bargain £1.99 on Kindle please click here.