Big, heavy raindrops lashed the windscreen as I drove along the seafront. Two minutes ago the sun had been shining and then the black clouds appeared and the heavens opened.
It seems to have done nothing but rain since I came home. I thought to myself.
Through the rain I could make out the blurred figure of a man walking down the middle of the road. “Who’s this fucking idiot?” I was about to beep the horn when I recognised the walk, shoulders hunched against the rain, and the black, biker’s jacket. I pressed the button, lowering the electric window.
“Gilbert?” I got no response. “Gilbert, it’s me Pete.”
“Fuck off.” His jaw wasn’t broken but it took a lot of effort to speak.
“Not the most stimulating conversation I’ve had recently.”
“Don’t take the piss, I’ve had enough of it.” Gilbert winced at the pain.
“Sorry, I was joking.”
“Yeah, just like everybody else.”
“I’ve said I’m sorry. Now are you going to get in the car? It’s pissing down.” I noticed the blood on Gilbert’s face. He headed for the passenger side door.
“Thanks. Are you going to get in?”
“I’m soaking now. I’ll mess up your seats.”
“Sod that. Get in.” I leant over and opened the door. We didn’t speak for about five minutes then I broke the silence.
“What happened to you?”
“You look like you’ve been run over by a train. Nothing to do with your illustrious employer was it?” I handed him a handkerchief.
“How did you guess?” Gilbert wiped the blood from his face.
“Some things never change. Are you all right? What was it about?”
“I’ve no idea. Like you say, some things never change. When Kev’s in one he always takes it out on someone who can’t fight back.”
“What if you could fight back? What if he couldn’t push you around anymore?”
“I wish.” Gilbert stared out of the window.
“You never know,” I replied, “I might just know someone who could help. What’s that in your hand?”
“A camera; well at least it used to be. I saved for ages to get this and now that pig’s ruined it.”
“What do you take pictures of then?”
“What do you care?”
“I’m your friend Gilbert, I’m showing an interest. That’s what friends do.”
“Nobody’s taken an interest in the past, except Claire. But she’s the only one.”
“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”
“Anything really,” he explained, “people, places, anything that catches my eye.”
“Sounds like it means a lot to you.”
“Yeah, it used to.” We pulled up outside Gilbert’s house.
“Why don’t you take this? Get yourself a new one.” I took a handful of notes from my wallet.
“No, I don’t want your charity. You can keep it; you’ve obviously worked for it. Smart suits and flash car. You must be doing really well,” Gilbert went to open the door. “Thanks for the lift.”
“All right. If you don’t want to take charity, as you call it, how about selling me a couple of photos?”
“Well, I’m assuming you’re good.”
“What would you want with my photos?” Gilbert was chuffed but didn’t like to show it.
“I’ve just bought the old lighthouse. I’ve converted it but it’s still lacking something. I was hoping you would have some pictures to make the walls a little less bare.”
“Fair enough. Do you fancy a coffee then?” Gilbert seemed quite excited at the prospect of being a professional photographer.
I was up as soon as my father left for work. I had taken the precaution of going to bed with my clothes on so I didn’t waste any time in the morning. The rest of the lads had obviously done the same as they were at the front door when I got downstairs. They had done well. Not only did they have the banners but they had also brought supplies, Penguins, cola cubes and a big bottle of pop. We were going to be there for the long haul so the provisions were welcome.
“Bye Mam,” I shouted through to the kitchen as I ran out of the door. She won’t have been happy that I didn’t have breakfast but this was an emergency.
It was 7.45 and we headed for the field and set ourselves up for the day. It was a good turn out. Every lad who ever played football with us had turned up. The signs from the park fitted nicely along the side of the grass beside the road that had now been named the Elvis Morris left leg memorial Stand. It was a mouthful but it meant a lot to us. A couple more signs were placed along the Back Lane end. Bumper and Gilbert held up the banner proclaiming ‘Builders go away’ and Elvis and myself held up the one with ‘Football not Houses’.
“How long do you think we will be here?” asked one of the other lads. “My Mam’s taking me to the Town this afternoon.”
“All Day at least,” I told him. “We need to give the news crews time to turn up. We’ll be on the telly tonight.”
It didn’t take long for us to gain our first supporter. A silver Escort drove past and honked his horn in a sign of solidarity. Either that or he wanted Gilbert to get out of the way after he had gone to recover a five pence piece he had seen in the road. After a couple more cars honking we were satisfied that we had the locals on our side. I have to admit that having Elvis stood there on crutches did help us to get the sympathy vote.
A JCB approached and the driver also honked his support. We waved back cheerfully.
He wasn’t smiling. He was coming straight for us.
“Christ it’s the builders.”
“Stand your ground lads,” I shouted. He didn’t seem to be slowing down. “He’ll notice that it is a legitimate strike and go away.”
The teeth of the digger were getting closer. The ground shook beneath us as it rumbled towards us. I don’t mind admitting that Gilbert wasn’t the only one on the verge of repeating his programme incident.
The giant yellow digger ground to a halt just in front of us with the shovel hovering menacingly above our heads.
“What are you doing?” shouted the driver.
“We’re on strike,” I explained.
“What?” I think driving a noisy digger must have turned him deaf.
“We’re on strike. This is our field so I’m afraid you can’t build any houses here. You will have to go elsewhere,” I explained rationally and politely. Completely in contrast to the reaction it provoked.
The builder, who was roughly seven foot tall and twenty stone, jumped down from his cab brandishing a spade in his muscled, tattooed arm.
“Now FUCK OFF the lot off you!”
It’s not often that you hear a word like that when you are eleven years old however in my limited experience I had learnt that it usually preceded a good beating.
The strike was over. The summer was over. The field was gone.
We started St Patrick’s next week and I knew that somehow, life was never going to be the same.
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.