“I might as well talk to the bloody wall. A class of thirty kids and not a sign of life from any of them.”
A copy of the Guardian rustled at the other end of the room. Someone marked off one of the last days on the 1985 calendar.
“It can’t always have been like this, I’m sure that when I was at school we at least pretended to listen. Now they’re either hung over, drugged up or just plain, bloody stupid,” Mr Burns had started on one of his speeches. “Take that Kevin Davison for instance,” he said,” personality of a house brick and all the girls love him, can you believe it? I know he’s had a hard life, his dad dying the way he did, but he just sits there, with about as much get up and go as a koala bear on dope.”
Burns tipped his cigarette in the general direction of the ashtray, missing and dropping ash on the already worn and stained carpet.
“At least his dad was interesting, an insane alcoholic admittedly, but interesting all the same.” He slurped at his coffee and shook his head.
“Then there’s Peter Wood, strange little bugger. He’s got all the brains in the world, has two lovely parents and what does he do? Sod all. Walks about like he has the whole world’s worries on his shoulders. What’s a young lad like him got to worry about? School days are the best days of your life so start bloody enjoying them.”
Burns had gone red in the face and had spilled his cigarette ends and coffee all over. He brushed the ash from his lapels.
“Do you know that he refused to play in my chess team? He should be honoured that I even asked him. I’ll not let him get away with it. Nobody ever crosses Jackie Burns and gets away with it.”
He shrugged his shoulders and scanned the yard. He turned for recognition of his latest put the world to rights speech but found the room empty and his tweed jacket with a large coffee stain down the front.
“Bollocks to you all. Set of bastards. You’ll see I’m right.”
He placed his now empty cup in the sink at headed back to class.
“Why are boys so immature? They’re always farting, fighting or wanking. Then if they’re not doing one of those three things, you can bet your last quid they’ll be talking about one of them.”
Claire Pearson was leaning against the radiator in the girl’s toilet. Surrounded by mini skirted, bubble gum munching friends who were almost indistinguishable. They were now the oldest in the school and hogged the radiator from the younger girls.
“I’ve got my eye on someone, not that I could tell you who it is, you would only laugh.”
“You’re joking, who is it, Claire?” said Sara. “Come on, we’re your closest friends. You have to tell us.”
“No, like I said, you’ll only laugh.” Claire knew how to play to her audience.
Sara shrugged and edged her way onto the radiator as she took a drag from her cigarette. She blew the smoke skywards, an action that would eventually colour the pink walls with a tinge of yellow.
The door crashed open.
“What the frig are you doing, Wood?” said Sara.
“Sorry, I was pushed,” I said.
“I don’t care. Get out you little pervert.” Sara aimed a kick at me.
Karen Walker gave me a hand up. I brushed myself down as I edged, blushing out of the girl’s toilets. Davison and his friends walked away laughing.
“Come on then, what are they like?” Elvis was stood beside me.
“What do you mean?”
“The girl’s toilets. You’ve been in that many times you should be an expert by now.”
“I’m serious, what are they like?”
I must admit that the girl’s lavatories had always been a mystery to the boys at school.
“Claire was there,” I said.
It had been nearly five years since I had sent her that card. She had just about stopped laughing about it. I think she was beginning to warm to me.
“Is that all you think about,” said Elvis, “Claire, sodding, Pearson?” He stared at me through his milk bottle lens glasses.
“The girl’s toilets are just the same as the boy’s, only pink,” I said, as I feared he would walk off if I didn’t answer his question seriously.
“What so they piss in urinals?”
“So, they’re not the same then?” Elvis was beginning to annoy me.
“You know what I mean. All the girls stand around the radiators smoking and chatting, exactly the same as the boys.”
“And that’s it?”
“Yeah, apart from the cigarette machine.”
“Yeah there’s a machine on the wall, it must be selling tabs.”
Elvis stared at me in disbelief until a grin appeared across my face.
“I was worried about you for a minute there, Pete.”
“I’m going to do something with my life,” said Claire, “get a decent job away from here. I might even become famous, who knows? I don’t mean become a model or an actress or anything like that. I want to use my brains, make something of myself.” Claire waved away the smoke from Sara’s cigarette.
“I don’t want to sound big headed, I know I’m good looking, the number of lads following me about tells me that, but I’ve also got the brains to get me where I want, and I don’t care what I use to get there.”
“Shut up will you,” Sara broke Claire from her daydream. “Let’s get back before somebody misses us.”
Mr Burns addressed the class, “I want you to write a short story. A story about what you think will make you happy.”
Claire sat at her desk scribbling away. If you love someone, you have to marry them. It’s the law. I’m in love with someone, but he doesn’t know yet. I’m going to marry him when I grow up. Claire looked over to where Kev and I were sitting. Kev was trying to pull my book away from me. I hated Burns for putting us next to each other. I put my arm around my work, not letting Kev see what I was writing. Claire smiled. It’s the law, she wrote, I’m telling him at the Christmas disco.
Karen looked over Claire’s shoulder and laughed when she read what she had written.
“You’re mad if you fancy him.”
I arrived around six and the lower school hall was already half full. The Saratoga Roadshow was in residence and the music was blasting, well as much as it could be in a school disco. Elvis and I had arrived together, not the most fashionable lads in the hall by a long way. I had on my Christmas clothes, a pair of baggy, tapered Geordie Jeans, a checked blue shirt and light blue, slip on shoes with white socks. Elvis wore a pair of light grey trousers that resembled Farah slacks, but, as all the fashion victims would tell you, they weren’t the real thing as the pocket was in the wrong place and they were missing the crucial ‘f’ tag. He had a pair of dark grey slip-ons and wore a navy body warmer over a Madness T-shirt that he had owned since he was thirteen. It was getting a little tight on him, but he liked it and that was what mattered.
We bought a cup of orange squash each and entered the hall. There were a handful of girls on the dance floor, swaying to some poppy, soul number. The lads were dotted around the edge of the hall, attempting to look cool, not sure whether to dance yet. Bumper had on a red, Michael Jackson style, leather jacket. It might have been plastic, but the effect was great. He also had on the tight, black sta-press and black slip-ons with white socks. He stopped short of wearing a hat but was still by far the sharpest dresser in there. The lads in their Pringle jumpers may have disagreed, but Bumper wasn’t a label guy, he had style. He practised his moon walking by the side of the dance floor. The girls stopped dancing for a while to watch him, but only because he was about to bump into Mr Burns.
I looked about and as yet, Kev and his mates hadn’t turned up. They had made noises that they were too old for school discos, but we knew they would be here. A Christmas Disco was a Christmas disco after all, and nobody wanted to miss out.
Claire had arrived with Karen and looked fantastic. She wore a white A-line skirt and turquoise blouse. I could just make out the pattern of her bra under the thin material. I said hello as she walked past and blushed when I thought about her underwear. I also thought about what my chances of getting a Christmas kiss off her were; I decided I was wasting my time despite it being a well-known fact that the girls were more up for it at Christmas. Just asking for a Christmas kiss was likely to be successful, unless you were a complete cheb like me.
The wallflowers were soon sprung into action when Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic by The Police came on. There was a surge onto the dance floor while everyone pogoed and tried to emulate the dance that Sting performed in the video. I looked over to Claire who was now dancing with Karen. Her breasts jiggled ever so slightly under her blouse and I smiled over. I’m sure she smiled back. Spirits were high; it was going to be a good night.
After the Police had been on we all had an excuse to stay on the dance floor. Despite her smile, I knew that I would have no chance of a Christmas kiss from Claire, so I looked about for a victim with lesser morals. There was a commotion at the door and the teachers ran towards the entrance hall. Sara Nesbitt had downed the best part of a bottle of Strongbow before she arrived and had now thrown up in the entrance hall. They left her in the staff room until her parents came to collect her, and somebody went to find some sand to cover the pile of vomit. By Monday the story would have been exaggerated to the level where she had drunk a litre of vodka and two bottles of whisky.
Everyone went back to dancing just as we saw Davison and friends arrive. After Sara’s entrance they were now checking everyone’s breath to see if they had been drinking. To a man, every one of Kev’s gang’s breath stunk of extra strong mints. It did little to hide the smell of cider, but it did enough to gain them entrance. This was mainly because the teachers gave up after smelling Tomma’s breath that stunk more of halitosis than cheap cider. They all lined up against the back wall looking edgy.
We danced, jumped about and pretty much enjoyed ourselves for the rest of the evening. It was getting towards the end of the night when the Thompson Twins ‘Hold me now’ came on. It was one of my favourites at the time and became one of my all-time favourites when Karen Walker asked me to dance. I had spent all evening wondering how to ask someone to dance and she had saved me the bother.
I hadn’t taken that much notice of her before apart from her being Claire’s best mate, I couldn’t hide my grin, I really liked her. She was about an inch taller than me and had brown, bobbed shoulder length hair. She had a pretty, slightly up turned nose and a beautiful smile. She looked cool in her pink and grey, diamond-patterned sweater. I realised that as I was taking all this in, I hadn’t replied.
“Come on then, are you dancing or not?”
Taking my hand Karen led me away from my friends. She placed her arms around my neck and, as was the custom, I placed mine around her waist. We shuffled about. I’m not much of a dancer, so I doubt we were in time to the music. Her head was on my shoulder as we danced. Elvis, Bumper and Gilbert had now stopped dancing and were stood behind Karen with their thumbs up. All apart from Bumper who had formed a circle with the thumb and forefinger of his left hand and was poking the index finger of his right hand through it repeatedly. I mouthed “fuck off,” as I shuffled, so that Karen was facing them. I wish I hadn’t. I was now looking straight at Claire Pearson who was dancing with Kevin Davison. The earlier feelings of elation now sunk to the bottom of my stomach. I felt sick. I knew I shouldn’t be feeling like this, I was with Karen after all. I shuffled around again, so that I couldn’t see Claire and Kev. The record had now changed. It was the last one of the evening. ‘It must be love’ Madness’ cover of the Labbe Siffre classic.
“Am I going to get my Christmas kiss then?” Karen shook me out of my thoughts.
“What? Yeah. Certainly.”
Whilst this was my first kiss, I knew what to do; I’d been practising on my pillow for long enough. We snogged for the length of the record. To be honest I didn’t know when to stop, but Karen didn’t seem to mind, so we carried on. We left the hall hand in hand and kissed again as we left. Her dad was waiting in the car park for her. Bumper, Elvis and Gilbert were waiting for me outside.
“Well done mate, what was it like?” Elvis shook my hand.
“You know,” I said.
“I don’t. That’s why I’m asking,” said Elvis. They all slapped me on the back and congratulated me on the way home, but I wasn’t as happy as I should have been. I hadn’t seen Claire kiss Kev, but she had been dancing with him. That was bad enough.
I went straight to bed when I got home, not sure how I should be feeling. My tears soaked the pillow as I cried myself to sleep.
“Mr Burns wants to see you.” Sara Nesbitt approached me in the yard.
“What for, I haven’t done anything?”
“How would I know? He was giving me a bollocking for Friday night then said that you had to meet him in the entrance hall.”
I headed off to meet Burns, unsure what I was meant to have done. I passed Claire and Karen on the way. Karen smiled over, I pretended not to see her.
Burns wasn’t there, and I had to wait ten minutes until he arrived.
“I’ve been picking the football team,” he said, “and you will be playing at right back. I hope you can be bothered to turn up this time.”
I had to admit that I was surprised at my inclusion. Not that I was the worst player in the school, but I certainly wasn’t the best. I was usually overlooked because of my size. What was all the more surprising was that Mr Burns was picking the team and we had a history after I refused to play for his chess team.
When you are being bullied at school it’s best to keep a low profile and being on the chess team was the last thing I needed to do, but Burns hadn’t understood. This had been four years ago, and I think he still held a grudge. I tried to act cool, inwardly I was chuffed, I’d never been picked for anything before, except the chess team, of course, and that hardly counted.
None of the lads seemed that surprised that I had been picked for the football team. By the time the game came along I had begun to become accepted as part of the team. I hadn’t been able to resist telling everybody that I had been picked and today was my big day. I couldn’t wait for the end of school, so the match could start.
Mr Burns knew this, and he had me exactly where he wanted me. When I was boarding the bus, Burns pulled me to one side.
“Where do you think you are going?”
“On the bus, Sir,” I said.
“No, you’re not, we don’t need you.”
The bastard had stitched me up. Now I had to walk home on my own, in my football gear. I forced back the tears as I trudged home and hung around for over an hour before I went in for my tea.
“How was the match?” said my mam.
“Will you be playing in the next one?”
“I doubt it. Most of the other players were much better than me.”
“You don’t know that. I’m sure you’ll be picked. Why haven’t you come home with your dad?”
“They let him finish work early, so he could go and see you make your debut. Didn’t you see him?”
The next chapter will be released soon. If you can’t wait, Leg It is available on Kindle, Paperback and Hardback.