In between holidays Elvis, Bumper, Gilbert and I went to St Christopher’s primary school. I enjoyed school, not that I would admit it, but apart from football and watching Claire Pearson, it was my favourite pastime.
Claire was in my class and she was beautiful. We were the two top performers in our year and always got chosen for the special tasks like doing readings in assembly. This was great as I always got to sit next to her. I knew I was going to marry her when I was older, I loved her.
“Pete, could you go and see Sister Mary? She wants you to take a message to St Patrick’s for her.”
It was always a bonus when I was sent to the big school as the school secretary, Mrs Patterson had a jar of swizzle lollipops and she always gave me one when I went there.
I walked the couple of hundred yards from our school gate to that of St Patrick’s, clutching the brown envelope in my hand. A stone bounced in front of me and ricocheted across the pavement. At the far side of the road, a group of about a dozen lads sat on the wall next to the all-weather pitch. They weren’t from St Patrick’s as they were wearing different ties; they all carried sticks or bats of some description. Mrs Patterson ran from the main entrance and ushered me inside.
“Are you alright, Pete love?” she asked with concern as she took me into her office. The stone throwing hadn’t bothered me, but she seemed to think it was serious. “Phone the police, Linda. They’re back again.” The three women in the office stared out of the window as Linda picked up the phone. “It’s okay Linda, Mr Swinbank’s going to have a word with them.”
I watched as a great hulk of a man, bigger than Uncle Tim, walked across the road towards the group of lads. He had two other teachers with him; they each carried a hockey stick and a brief discussion followed. The young lads walked off grudgingly, scuffing their shoes on the ground as they left.
Mr Swinbank came into the office to make sure that everyone was alright.
“I’ll walk you back to school, son. You never know what that lot will get up to next.”
I agreed with Mr Swinbank, disappointed that Mrs Patterson, who was now busily munching on a cream cake, had forgotten to give me a lollipop.
The four of us were lucky enough to all be in the same class. Elvis and I always sat together although Bumper and Gilbert generally stayed apart. They were friends outside of school, but Gilbert was what was known as a ‘Special Child’ who needed extra attention. They sat in the corner of the classroom in their own group however as I was always top of the class, I sometimes got to help him with his Maths.
I’d never been to Gilbert’s house; it was rumoured that they didn’t have a television. He didn’t have a dad either; I wasn’t sure which was worse. The lack of a television, however, might explain why he wasn’t very bright.
Mrs Matthews was a pleasant woman who always had time for us. She had a jar of sweets in her desk and she used to give them out for good work. Bumper was always good at painting. Elvis and I were good at Maths and I also excelled at English. Gilbert was good at remembering to turn up, but very little else.
We were in the middle of an art lesson when Karen Walker, who was Claire’s best friend, raised her hand.
“Please Miss, Kevin Davison’s escaped.”
And he had. As we looked out of the first-floor window we saw the tubby shape of Kevin disappearing over the school fence. He removed his elasticated red tie and threw it to the floor.
“Let the Bugger go,” said Mrs Matthews.
We watched as Kev ran across the road and flicked the Vs to the bus driver who honked his horn at him.
We found out the next day that Mr Rowcroft had invited Kev to the front of the class to get his backside warmed by his trainer. This was due to the fact that Kev had attempted to set fire to Kelly Atkinson’s hair. He deemed this an unfair punishment and decided to go home. Whilst Gilbert was a ‘Special Child’ there was something a little more special about Kevin Davison as we would all discover.
“Have you seen this?” Elvis waved a copy of the Echo at me.
“No, what’s up?”
“Elvis Costello is playing at the City Hall. We have to go and see him.” His eyes seemed to double in size beneath his glasses.
“How are we going to manage that?” I said. “I get ten pence a week pocket money and the tickets will cost at least three quid.”
“I’ve got a plan,” said Elvis. “We can take all the empty pop bottles back to the shop and make money that way. Then we can do odd jobs for people, gardening and stuff. We’ll make a fortune.” He wasn’t being distracted from his task.
“Who’s Elvis Costello?” Gilbert looked confused.
“Who’s Elvis Costello?” said Elvis. “Are you joking? He’s the greatest pop star ever. Oliver’s Army, Accidents Will Happen, you must know who he is.”
“No, never heard of him.”
“Tall bloke, skinny, with thick glasses, ring any bells.” Bumper joined in nodding in Elvis’ direction.
“I never knew you were a pop star, Elvis.” Gilbert was more confused than ever.
“He’s not the pop star, idiot,” Bumper shook his head “he’s named after him.”
“I wish I had a pop star named after me, it must be great.” We looked at each other in disbelief; this was going to be harder than I thought.
“Come on, we’ll explain it on the way.” Bumper put his arm around Gilbert.
We were off to work.
“Sorry son we don’t have a garden.” The old woman shut the door on us.
“Whose stupid idea was this,” Bumper looked at us all, “deciding to become gardeners in a street of terraced houses? We’ll be lucky if we get a window box to work on.”
We’d been trying all day and hadn’t earned a penny.
“I knew it was a waste of time,” said Elvis.
“No, you didn’t,” I said, “it was your idea.”
Elvis stormed off down the street in the huff. I looked at my watch; it was nearly tea time.
“I’m off home, see you tomorrow.”
Gilbert and Bumper were left leaning against the wall. “I still don’t get it,” said Gilbert, “if Elvis is a pop star, why can’t he get us free tickets?”
I slammed the door behind me as I walked into the house.
“Don’t slam that bloody door,” my mam shouted.
I slumped on the settee and noticed Tim sat there. “Alright, Tim?”
“I’m okay, what’s the matter with your face?”
“We’ve been trying to earn money all day to go and see Elvis Costello and we haven’t made a button.”
“Just as well,” my mam had come into the sitting room, “if you had made the money you still wouldn’t have been able to go.”
“You’re eleven years old, Pete. I wouldn’t let you go to Newcastle on your own.”
“I wouldn’t be on my own. I’d be with, Elvis, Bumper and Gilbert.”
“That doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. You’re not going and that’s final.” My mam went into the kitchen to finish the tea.
“That’s a shame,” said Tim, “seeing as I’ve got these.” He produced four tickets from his pocket.
“Are they what I think they are?” I said.
“They are, but your mam said you can’t go on your own and I’ve got to agree with her.”
“It’s not fair.”
“It’s lucky I got one for myself then, isn’t it?” Tim smiled as he took a fifth ticket from his pocket. I somersaulted off the settee and gave him a hug.
“I’m going to tell Elvis,” I shouted as I ran for the door. “Oliver’s army are on their way.”
Bumper picked at the hot tar with a lolly stick as we sat in the lane against my back wall. It was a hot day, so we had to take a break from the football.
“I’m not sure I understand this, why do we want to fight?” said Elvis.
“We have to find out who is the hardest,” I said.
“Why? We’re all friends. We don’t need to fight. I don’t want to fight.” Elvis removed his glasses, using the lenses to magnify the sun’s rays and melt the tar.
“Are you bottling it?”
“No. I’m not bottling it. I just don’t see the point. Who’s involved?”
As with all young lads, some in our group were harder than others. The trouble was we didn’t know which ones. As we had never fought each other we could only assume. With this in mind we agreed to have a boxing competition to decide.
“Everyone’s involved. We want to see who the hardest lad in Southwick is.” I knew this wasn’t strictly the case.
“But we don’t know everyone in Southwick and if you think I’m fighting Kevin Davison you can get stuffed.”
Elvis was losing his temper, which I must admit, wasn’t good for whoever was fighting him.
“Okay. Fair enough,” I had to agree with him. “It will just be the lads we play football with. The winner will still be the hardest lad in Southwick, we just won’t tell anybody else in case he gets beaten up.”
Elvis reluctantly agreed to the fight and wrote everybody’s name on a piece of paper. As it had been my idea, I got to draw first.
“Who’ve you got?” said Bumper, who was shadow boxing against the wall.
I unfolded the small square of paper and read the name to myself. A look of relief spread across my face.
Gilbert had a reputation for being soft, so I was quite confident that I could take him.
We took our shirts off and stood in the middle of the field. Gilbert was far bigger and heavier than me, but I was quicker and brighter. I would defeat him with cunning. Everybody crowded around.
“How do we start?” said Gilbert.
“I’m not sure.” It was at this point that I realised that I had never been in a fight before.
“Most of the older lads just shout come on then,” said Elvis.
“You could hit him,” suggested Bumper.
“What do you mean hit him?”
“It’s a fight. That’s what you are meant to do. Punch him,” said Elvis. “Go on. You can’t have a fight without hitting each other.”
I threw a wild punch at Gilbert and he hit the ground like a sack of rubble.
“He’s out cold.” Bumper stood back and looked on in amazement.
“What are we going to do? His mam’ll kill us.” Elvis began to panic.
“Get some water.”
“Throw water over him. That’s what they do with boxers.”
As Bumper said this, Gilbert came around to relieved cheers from everyone.
“I’m not sure I want to fight,” said Bumper.
“Me neither,” said Elvis.
Nobody had considered the fact that you could get hurt fighting.
“Fancy a game of football?”
“Bags eye I’m Gary Rowell!” shouted Bumper.
When Elvis had gone chasing down the bank after the ball I took Gilbert to one side. “You took a dive, didn’t you? I never touched you.”
“You won’t tell anyone will you?”
“Course not, but why did you do it?”
“Who wants to be known as the ‘Hardest Lad in Southwick’ when Kevin Davison finds out?”
We were about four hours into the second half when Elvis had his accident. My side, including Gilbert and Bumper, was in quite a commanding position with us leading thirty-five goals to twenty-four. This was mainly due to Elvis’ team including Gilbert’s older brothers Gerald and Bernard Douglas. You’d think that experience would have given them an advantage over us however they seemed to have just learnt more mistakes and clumsy challenges. Whilst most of us attempted to wear some sort of football kit, Bernard took us all by surprise with his outfit. He wore a patterned, woollen sweater, paisley boxer shorts, the like of which we had never seen, we were used to Spiderman y-fronts, and a pair of navy socks and brown brogues.
“What’s he come dressed as?” said Elvis.
“His todger’s going to come out of those shorts if he’s not careful,” said Bumper.
We shrugged and got on with the game. I had run down the right wing and chipped the ball to Gilbert who attempted what could only be described as a tricycle kick with arms and legs flailing everywhere. The ball, which should have been nestling in the imaginary net at the back of the bush end, had flown in quite the opposite direction and had gone out of play on the Tate side. Elvis chased after it.
He wasn’t looking where he was going when he slipped.
That’s when the car hit him.
To say that Mrs Morris was less than pleased was an understatement.
“What have you done to our Paul?”
“I haven’t done anything. He ran out into the road,” I said.
“You’re his friend. You should have been looking after him.” The police were now redirecting the traffic down the back lane as Elvis was loaded into the ambulance. The sirens and blue flashing lights had brought out the crowds. Elvis was a celebrity. “Why don’t you have ball boys like they do at real matches?”
I think she was being a little bit unreasonable now.
“I’ve got to go. Your mother will be hearing about this, Peter Wood.” Mrs Morris followed Elvis into the ambulance.
“What’s that smell?” She climbed back out of the ambulance pinching her nose. I could smell it from where I was. It really was a pungent stink. I hoped that Elvis hadn’t disgraced himself and had two accidents for the price of one.
“It’s his trousers, Mrs Morris,” said the ambulance man. I feared the worst. “Looks like he slipped in some dog muck.”
I glanced at Gilbert. It was his poor shot in the chod chucking competition two days earlier that had caused the accident.
“Isn’t that meant to be lucky?” said Bumper. “Next goal the winner?” he said as we kicked off again.
The next chapter will be released soon. If you can’t wait, Leg It is available on Kindle, Paperback and Hardback.