I was quite content, lying on the floor of the front room watching Grange Hill. My parents were both sat in their reclining chairs, my mam reading the paper, my dad reading a book. We’d had quite an exciting game that day that my side had lost narrowly by forty-five goals to forty-four. Whilst the television was on I wasn’t really watching. I was reliving the game in my mind, particularly the Brazilian like, curving free kick I had scored with.
It was quite a hot summer that year and the field had become rock hard over the last few weeks due to the lack of rain. We played football nearly every day. Occasionally changing to cricket when the mood took us. There were times whilst Wimbledon was on that some of the lads brought out tennis racquets, but it never caught on.
“I see they are building houses out the back,” said my mam.
“Are they? How many?” said my dad. They regularly had conversations like this. Neither of them looking up from whatever it was they were reading. Sometimes they might not even get a response.
“Two. It’s amazing how small they build houses these days.”
“Means you will need to find somewhere new to play football now, Pete.”
“What?” I was confused.
“Aren’t you listening? They are building houses on the grass out the back. Looks like you’ll have to use one of the proper football pitches.”
“It is a proper football pitch.”
“It’s not. Whoever heard of a footballer playing on a little bit of mud like that?”
“Pelé learnt to play on the beach and Kevin Keegan used to practice against the back wall of his house. They didn’t even have grass. I know because I’ve read the books.”
“That’s beside the point. Football field or not, they are building houses on it.” My dad always had to be right.
“They can’t. That’s our field,” I said.
“They can do what they like, and they would like to build houses. Therefore, that is exactly what they are doing.”
I was disgusted that my dad wasn’t taking this as seriously as me.
“It’s not a bad thing. It’s getting far too dangerous out there. Look at the state poor Paul is in. Mrs Morris is beside herself.” My mam had now decided that the field had some strange power of its own that had willed Elvis to run out onto the road.
“They can’t. We won’t let them. I’m going to see Elvis.”
“Not until you’ve finished your tea.” I rammed the remainder of my ham sandwich in my mouth and ran out of the door with my cheeks bulging. I hated ham sandwiches.
Elvis couldn’t believe it either.
“They can’t do it. We’ll have to stop them.”
“We’ll go on strike.”
I had to admit it was a great idea. Elvis may have walked with a crutch, but his brain had obviously had a nudge in the right direction during the accident.
“Fantastic,” I said. “How?”
“I don’t know. I’ve seen a few on the telly, they just seem to shout a lot and wave banners around.”
“That’s right up our street. We can all shout and wave banners, even Gilbert.”
“My mam was right when she said I should watch the news. It’s an education in itself.” Elvis was proud of himself.
“That’s the thing about strikes, they’re always on the news,” I said. “Nobody’s going to take a field away from kids who have been on the news.”
“Come on, I can’t wait to tell the others.” Elvis hobbled towards the door.
“I can’t believe it. We’re going on strike,” I said. “and we’re going to win.” I leapt triumphantly in the air, accidentally rapping my knuckles off the doorframe.
“I’m going out, Mam,” shouted Elvis as we ran for the door.
“Where are you going?”
“On strike,” we said.
“We’ll be famous when we go to St Patrick’s. There’s not going to be many kids who’ve been on the telly during the school holidays.” Bumper seemed to like the idea.
“Apart from James Duffy,” said Elvis, “he was stuck on the cliffs at Seaburn when the tide came in. He cried for his mam and the helicopter had to be called out.”
“I would love to go in a helicopter,” said Bumper.
“Me as well, that would be fantastic,” Gilbert agreed.
“Not if you’re James Duffy,” said Elvis, “his mam knacked him when he got home, he was grounded for the rest of the holidays. They even had a close up of him with tears streaming down his face, the big lass. You can keep your helicopters, I would rather go on strike.”
“Where did you get them from?” said Elvis.
I was carrying two bed sheets.
“From the airing cupboard, my mam won’t miss them. There are only two beds in the house, my parents’ and mine. They’ve both got sheets on, so the ones in the cupboard serve no purpose whatsoever. I’ve no idea why my mam has them.”
“Wasn’t your dad on strike a few years ago down the shipyards,” said Elvis.
“You’re right. He must have intended to use them as banners and never got around to it.”
“You’ll never believe what I found.” Bumper produced two tins of paint from behind his back. “I couldn’t believe my luck when I found them in the cupboard under the stairs. The house is already painted, so I’ve no idea why they were there.”
“We couldn’t be luckier if we tried.”
The plan was coming together. All the other lads were getting involved. Some, I must say, were a little more reluctant than I would have liked, especially Gilbert.
“My mam’ll knack us.”
“Look Gilbert, she’ll be proud of you. How many of your brothers have been on the news?”
He still wasn’t convinced, but Bumper intervened.
“I know we said we’d never mention this again, but this is an emergency. Remember the programme incident, Gilbert? You wouldn’t like that secret to get out now, would you?”
“That’s not fair.”
“True, but like I said, this is an emergency. Are you with us or not?”
Gilbert reluctantly agreed.
“Right everybody, go home and watch the news,” I said, “we need ideas.”
We all ran home eager to watch the news.
We met up the next day, dismayed that there hadn’t been any strikes on the news the previous night. We had to make the slogans ourselves.
“Builders go away,” suggested Elvis.
“Stick your houses up your bum,” said Bumper.
We all laughed at this one. Except Gilbert who was a bit concerned at the logistics of it all.
“Keep off the Grass.”
It was inspired, it was my idea, and everybody loved it. Better still, I knew where I could get some signs that were already printed. We were off to the park.
The park keeper wasn’t pleased to see us on the grass.
“Get off there,” he shouted. I thought it was a good idea to do as he said. Bumper had other ideas.
“Because you’re not allowed on the grass, that’s why.” He was going red.
“Where does it say that?” said Bumper.
He had a point. There were no signs. We had them all in our bag. It was time to run.
After a pretty fruitful trip to the park we painted the remaining banners. We decided against Bumper’s idea on the grounds that our parents would definitely kill us and stuck with ‘Builders go away’ and ‘Football not Houses’. We got to work painting the banners then hid them in the bunker. We needed an early night, as tomorrow was strike day.
I was up as soon as my dad 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 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, 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 turnout. 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 number of signs were placed along the Back-Lane end. Bumper and Gilbert held up the banner proclaiming ‘Builders go away’ and Elvis and I held up the one with ‘Football not Houses’.
“How long do you think we will be here?” said one of the other lads. “My mam’s taking me to the Town this afternoon.”
“All Day at least,” I said. “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 must 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.
“It’s the builders.”
“Stand your ground lads,” I said. He didn’t seem to be slowing. “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 said.
“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 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 were due to start St Patrick’s, and I knew that somehow, life would never be the same.
“Are you alright son? Do you need a cup of tea or a glass of pop or anything?” Kev shook his head.
“Can you tell me in your own words what happened? Take as much time as you like.”
DI Carter looked at the young lad in front of him. Barely eleven years old and he had spent the previous night sitting with his dead father as he lay in a pool of blood. Carter fully understood why the boy was silent. Kev sat staring at the table, occasionally biting his nails. The social worker put her hand on his shoulder, he shrugged it off.
“Where’s my sister? Is she alright?”
“She’s being looked after. You’ll be able to see her as soon as you’ve given us a statement.”
“What’s going to happen to us?” said Kev, “I’m not going in a home.”
Carter looked at the social worker who shrugged.
“We’ve got plenty of time to discuss that, Kevin. Do you want to tell me what happened?”
“My dad had been out. Just for a couple of hours mind, he wasn’t drunk.”
“It’s okay, son. We know he’d been down the pub, we’ve spoken to the barman. What happened after he returned?”
“He’d brought me a bag of nuts back from the pub, dry roasted they were. He told me I could eat them and then I had to go to bed. Elaine was already asleep. He poured himself a whisky, just to help him sleep.”
Carter already knew how drunk Albert had been when he left the pub. The interview with the barman had revealed that he had been asked to leave the pub after a fight over a card game.
“I went to bed after I’d eaten my nuts, but I wasn’t tired. I read my comics for a bit. My dad wouldn’t have been happy if he’d caught me, so I used my torch under the blankets. I’d been in bed for about half an hour when I heard my dad arguing with someone. ‘Who are you looking at?’ He shouted, but nobody answered. ‘I said who the fuck are you looking at?’ still nobody answered. I knew that my dad would only get angrier when this man didn’t answer. I heard him get up from his chair. I got out of bed and went to the top of the stairs. My dad was in the hall. He was pulling his shoulders back, the veins bulging in his temples. I tried to stop him. ‘Dad, who are you shouting at?’ I told him that that there was nobody there.”
Kev was now crying, and the social worker handed him a tissue. He refused it and wiped his nose on his sleeve.
“He kept on shouting ‘This bastard here. Who do people think they are, staring at me? Not good enough for them eh?’ He was staring at the door. I tried to tell him. I told him that the face he saw staring at him was just the light of the moon reflecting through the door. He took no notice. It was as if I wasn’t there. He went to headbutt the face that was looking at him. His head went through the glass in the door and it sliced his neck open. There was nothing I could do.”
“Why didn’t you phone for an ambulance?” said Carter.
“My dad would have killed me. He told us that you never call the police. No matter what the reason was. I knew that if I called an ambulance then you lot would turn up. You’d put us in a home, saying he couldn’t cope. I tried to stop the bleeding, but nothing worked. I sat with him all night, I don’t know when he died.”
Kev took the tissue from the Social Worker and dried his eyes. He sniffed loudly.
“Thanks, son. I know how difficult that must have been for you.”
“At least we don’t have to wear short trousers anymore.”
Elvis and I were making our way to St Patrick’s for the first time. My mam had wanted to walk me to school, but luckily, she had to go to work, so I avoided the embarrassment. On arrival we were ushered into the hall where Mr Burns, head of first year, greeted us. I sat cross-legged on the floor as he introduced himself and told us how proud we should all be to be there. Elvis had been given a chair to sit on, as his leg hadn’t healed yet. I searched along the row looking for familiar faces and smiled at Bumper and Gilbert.
Mr Burns told us all to stand for the first hymn. As he was booming out the first few lines, the door to the hall opened. I glanced around to see who it was and was horrified to see the familiar face. Whilst he was slightly taller now, there was no mistaking Kevin Davison.
I tried to attract Elvis’ attention, but it was no good. Sitting with the teachers, he had no choice but to sing along. I was convinced that Kev was being sent to Maplewood special school after the fire, I was wrong. I looked to Bumper. He looked straight ahead. I knew, through the lack of colour in his face, that he had also seen him.
My mind raced with excuses for the fire. I’m sure he would understand that it was all a big accident. My heart was racing, and I began to feel sick.
Karen Walker nudged me.
“Mr Burns. He’s just said your name.”
“Well then, Peter. Do you not want to be in the top class?”
“Wake up, Wood. I’m reading out of the name of people who are going into ‘Class A’ and you are first on the list. Come up to the front, son.”
I stood, but my legs were like jelly and I nearly fell straight back down again. I approached the front of the hall where Mr Burns ruffled my hair.
“We’re not afraid of the big school are we, Peter?” The hall echoed with the sound of laughter. I didn’t like this man.
The first punch took me by surprise, the second I saw coming, but I could do nothing about. By the time I hit the floor the kicks had started, each one aimed with precision on my temples. “Curl into a ball, curl into a ball,” I kept telling myself, but it was too late, my senses were going. I knew I was bleeding, but I didn’t know where from. The last thing I remember before I passed out was the fire; the bastards had set me alight. “My mam is going to kill me.”
I heard the bells as I was coming around, the Police? The Fire Brigade? No, I remembered, the dinner bell, dinnertime’s over.
“GOD, I HATE SCHOOL!”
Foolishly I assumed that Kev would have forgiven me. For a brief moment at St Christopher’s we had been friends. Then I threw it all away by setting fire to the bushes. It was all an accident, there was no reasoning with Kevin Davison. From day one at St Patrick’s I had been public enemy number one. We had all mistakenly thought that Kevin Davison was going to Maplewood, the special school over the road. We were wrong. Kev’s dad had died during the summer and I think the authorities must have taken pity on him. The rumours had been circulating but Elvis had heard his mam telling the woman next door the story. The whole thing did his reputation no harm whatsoever.
“What do you reckon,” I asked Elvis, “hearts and flowers or something funny?”
“You’re wasting your time. She’ll never look at you.”
“She smiled at me the other day,” I said.
“She didn’t smile at you, she was laughing at you; exactly the same as everybody else.”
Elvis didn’t understand. Claire Pearson felt the same about me as I felt about her. This Valentine’s card would cement our relationship.
“Love or laughs, what do you think a girl goes for?”
Elvis shook his head.
“If you must get one, get something funny. Girls like a laugh.”
I ignored him and bought the soppiest card I could find.
I’d been at St Patrick’s for five months now. I was still finding my feet and Kevin Davison wasn’t making it easy for me, but most other people seemed to be leaving me alone. Everyone was giving out Valentine’s cards, it seemed like the thing to do at the time. If I started going out with Claire, I would be accepted by everyone in the class.
“Can you give this to Claire please?”
I handed the card over to Karen Walker. She was Claire’s best friend and sat next to her. The message read ‘All my love P’. I wanted to be a bit mysterious, but not too much. After all I was the only lad in my class whose name began with a P except for Paul ‘Elvis’ Morris and he was far too immature to have an interest in girls. Claire would definitely know who it was from.
“Are you sure you want to give this to Claire?” said Karen.
“Of course,” I said.
“Okay then, if you’re sure.”
I’d fancied Claire since St Christopher’s, but hadn’t quite built up the courage to tell her. She was beautiful, a perfect specimen. I knew that I was taking a big risk, but Claire was always nice to me. I thought I could be in with a chance.
How wrong could I be? She waited until the class was full before tearing the card up right in front of my eyes.
“Why on earth did you think I would want a card from you?” Everyone was pissing themselves by now, laughing at me. It was the first and last Valentine’s card I ever sent.
The next chapter will be released soon. If you can’t wait, Leg It is available on Kindle, Paperback and Hardback.