Monday, 5 September 2011

Extract from ABIDE WITH ME - Chapter One

Two boys growing up in London's East End of the nineteen-seventies. John, from a streetwise and fanatical West Ham supporting family; Kenny, across the street, slow-witted, living in a world of dreams and shadows, beaten by his father, bullied by life.

And one day, Kenny, he just breaks right in half and the two boys are forced apart by a society crumbling around them.

Fourteen years later, after c up finals of joy and personal loss too searing to contemplate, the two boys are reuinited, fronting up local gangster Ronnie Swordfish.

It doesn't start well. And from where John is, laying on the ground, beat half unconcsious with a metal bar, seeing Ronnie lifting up his sword to cut down his childhood friend Kenny, it don't look like it's going to get much better.

But Kenny, he's got other ideas.

He always did.

ABIDE WITH ME is a story of football, community, friendship, hope, and biscuits. Oh, and gangsters.

A tale of two boys walking blind into the darkness of their shattered lives and their struggle to emerge as men.

There's things happen in your life what go clean out your head. They don't mean nothing, see. Most of your life's like that. And there's some things you remember cos they was good and they make you smile even though you know nothing's ever comin back, no matter how hard you wish it. And there's people. Good people. People you won't never see again. People what you loved so much it tears you apart just thinkin of em. It tears you apart cos you know you won't never see that look in their eyes or feel their hand on your shoulder or what it was like just bein with em. 
It's all gone, see. And there ain't no way now you can tell em how much you loved em. Not fuckin ever. 
But there's other things what happen, other things you don't never wanna remember, cos they hurt. They hurt too fuckin much. And when you close your eyes it's them things what come shoutin and screamin and crawlin out the mist in your head. 
Every fuckin time. 

May 5th Nineteen-seventy-five 
Elvis is blarin out Blue Suede Shoes in the front room. Me and Mum's in the kitchen, makin claret and blue paper chains. We got loads of em piled up all over the floor and the table. Bloody loads of em. Dad reckons the house gotta look proper for the match, you know. He's already got em stuck round all the windows, up the tops of the walls, hangin off the ceilin, up the bannisters. Absolutely bleedin everywhere. We been at em since last night, me and Mum, makin em quick as we can, and we got up early to finish off the rest but Dad's stickin em all over the gaff and we can't hardly keep up. He pops his head round the door. His quiff's all fucked and it's hangin over his face like a dead cat. Gives me a wink, he does, and a big thumbs up, grabs handful of paper chains, and he's off. 
Fuckin cracks me up, my dad. Mum just ignores him. She don't like it when he starts on the sauce early. Don't like it one bit. Me, I just think it's funny. 
We're comin to the end of another lot, me and Mum. Nearly out of sticky tape. Then there's this crash comes out the front room. We both fly in there. Dad's on his arse, paper chains over his head, pissin himself. Thinks it's fuckin hilarious. Mum don't. She's seethin. Her face is all red and everything. But she holds it in. Second time he's come off the ladder this mornin. Silly sod. He'd normally be up for a right bollockin by now, but today's different. 
Ten years, see, since the Hammers was at Wembley. Nineteenth of May, nineteen-sixty-five. Cup Winners’ Cup Final. Mum and Dad got married the Saturday before, so they was down some caravan at Clacton when the match was on. His mate, Tommy Fuller, he had tickets and everything. Dad watched it in the social club on the site, pissed, Mum reckoned. Yep, he gave up bein at Wembley that day, all for Mum. That's fuckin love, that is. Dad reckons today's the biggest day of his life since then – the match, not marryin Mum – even bigger than when the Hammers won the World Cup in sixty-six. 
I know Dad's breakin his neck to get to the game today. I been hearin him and Mum shoutin loads lately, you know, about how tight things is at the minute, so there weren't never no chance he was gettin there. I reckon that's why he's pissed this mornin. So close, you know. So fuckin close. 
Mum's holdin the ladder this time, but Dad's nearly come off again. Swayin all over the place, he is, and he's gettin some right filthy looks off Mum. Back steady now. That big grin. I'm layin on the floor, lookin up at him. Wanna get a good look for when he goes next time. He's reachin up, about to hang some paper chains round the light, when he looks down at me, steadies himself, and takes a deep breath like he's about to say something really important. 
'Like Christmas in claret, this is, son,' he says, startin to sway. 'Christmas in bleedin claret.' 
Makes no fuckin sense to me, if I'm honest, but Dad says it like he's Winston bloody Churchill. 
Mum shakes her head at him slow, raises her eyebrows and rolls her eyes all in one hit. Makes me smile cos when she does that, I know she loves him more than anything in the whole world. 

By kick-off, the house is packed. Mum, Dad, me, Nan and Grandad, Auntie Ivy, Auntie Gwen. Me uncle, Uncle Derek, he's Spurs and Dad won't have him in the house. Not on a day like this. Fuckin fair enough, when you think about it. 
Auntie Gwen's brought me round a claret and blue scarf she's knitted special and Auntie Ivy's done some fairy cakes with claret and blue icing. The cakes look fuckin ropey, tell you the truth, but they're all gone by the time Bonzo's leadin the lads out at quarter to three. 
Nan and Grandad's sittin on the settee and Mum's on the arm, ready to jump up to make a cuppa at a moment's fuckin notice. Nan used to be the same till she got ill. Now she don't hardly move at all. Auntie Ivy's on her knees behind Nan and Grandad, pokin her face out the top of the settee, and me Auntie Gwen's in the other armchair, suckin on a fag. I'm about two foot from the telly. I got me light blue school shirt on and me mauve tank-top, and me heart’s beatin ten to the fuckin dozen inside. Dad's behind me. In his armchair. I've just looked round, and he's sittin there like he's plugged into the fuckin mains. 
'John?' Mum says. 'Where's Becky?' 
I know Becky's me little sister and all that, and I love her to bits. But fuck me, she's hard work. 
'She's over here, dear,' Auntie Ivy says, holdin her up from behind the settee. 
Little mare's got a mouthful of paper chains. Auntie Ivy ain't got a clue, but Mum's see em. 
'Becky!' she says. 'Take them out of your mouth right this instant!' 
Becky gives Mum one of her big grins. She looks just like Dad when she does that, like what he does when Mum's tellin him off when he's pissed. 
'You naughty girl,' Auntie Ivy says, pullin the paper out of Becky's mouth and holdin her close at the same time. She rubs her nose on Becky’s, both of em gigglin, and puts her down so we can all go back to the telly. 
The players are all lined up now. Some Duke of fuckin somewhere's goin along the line shakin hands with em. 
Mum pipes up again. 
'Who's he, dear?' she says. 
Mum likes to know things like that, you know, useless shit what don't mean fuck all. But Dad don't answer. He's in a world of his own. 
The bloke on the telly's goin on about Bobby Moore bein captain of Fulham after all them years at West Ham. I can hear me dad whisperin behind me, choked, like it's right from his heart, you know. 
'You'll always be an ‘ammer, son,' he's sayin. 'Always a fuckin ‘ammer.' 
I look round. Dad's got his eyes bulgin like they're gonna burst out his head and his knuckles have gone all white where he's holdin on to the arms of the chair so hard. 
The whistle goes. Dad goes bang. 
But Dad ain't takin no notice of Mum. He don't mean it. Can't help it. Like he says, this is the biggest day of his life for ten years, and he ain't gonna smooth off the edges for no one. Not even Mum. 
Dad don't stop screamin and swearin till the final whistle. Fulham’s much better than us first half, and we all know it. We’re a division above em and should be strollin it, but they’ve got guts they have. And they’ve got Bobby Moore. We sneak a couple of goals in the second half from Alan Taylor, and win two-nil. Fuckin lucky, if you ask me. I’m watchin Bobby Moore goin round shakin hands with the West Ham players at the end of the game, head held high, stridin. And I’m thinkin, that’s a real hero. I got a lump in me throat and I got no idea why. Not really. Thought Dad'd be jumpin all over the place by now, up and down like Auntie Ivy and Auntie Gwen, but when I look round, he's just sittin there. Not a sound. And I know he’s been watchin Bobby Moore, same as me. 
But when the West Ham players start climbin the steps to get the cup, it starts. A sort of low murmur behind me, strained through gritted teeth, like a shit ventriloquist. 
'I'm forever blowin bubbles, pretty bubbles in the air.' 
There's tears comin down his face and there's car horns soundin outside, cheerin and shoutin and yellin and whoopin from kids runnin down the street. 
'They fly so high, nearly reach the sky, then like my dreams they fade and die.' 
Bonzo's liftin the cup, and I got this tinglin all over, like I got a little bit of what Dad's feelin. I look round at him again, and he's stood up clappin with the hundreds and thousands of other Hammers in the ground. He's got the biggest smile you ever see, and them tears are still runnin down his face. 
Then he starts singin again. This time, top of his voice, arms up. 
Becky waddles up to Dad and he picks her up under his arm. 
'Come on, son,' he says to me, and picks me up under the other arm like I'm light as a fuckin feather. Becky's squealin, and Dad's marchin us out to the front door like he's got the strength of a thousand men. When he gets out in the hall he stops cos he ain't got no more hands left to open the front door. Silly bugger. Mum comes out in the hall after us, fearin he's gonna drop us all, squeezes past, and lets us out. 

Street's fuckin teemin. Front doors wide open, people singin, slappin each other on the back, huggin each other. Bubbles everywhere. Even Old Cartwright next door – a miserable bastard at the best of fuckin times – is kitted out in an old Hammers scarf. Claret and blue. Him and his scarf, faded to fuck. 
Dad puts me and Becky down, cos he's fuckin knackered, and starts jabberin with Old Cartwright. 
Every house in the street's got some sort of West Ham on it, banners, flags, all sorts of shit. All other than the house opposite, they ain't got fuck all. That's the new people. Moved in a couple weeks back. Ain't seen nothing of em, meself, but Mum says the woman's friendly enough. 
So here's me, holdin Becky's hand, wonderin why the new people's house ain't got nothing up, when the front door opens and this fat kid comes tumblin out, door slammin behind him. He don't even try and get back in. Just sits on the front step and puts his hands over his ears and closes his eyes. He's got on these grey trousers and white shirt, and he's wearin shoes, and even a fuckin tie. Cup Final day, and he's all got up in his bleedin school uniform. Gotta be some kind of fuckin idiot, obviously. 
Dad's still talkin to Old Cartwright, and I'm lookin at this fat kid sittin on the step, sittin like he's shut the whole fuckin world out. I leave Becky holdin onto Dad's legs and go over. The kid’s got his hands over his face now, and when I get close, I see he's got blood comin through his fingers and his whole body's shakin. 
'You all right, mate?’ I says. 
He turns his back on me and don't say a word. 
'Just askin, that's all,' I says. 
Fuckin arsehole. 
I sit down on the step next to him. He don't move a muscle, just sits there with his back to me. And then I hear this racket goin on in the house like you wouldn't fuckin believe. Shoutin and crashin and breakin, and shit. 
After a while, Dad comes over. 
'I'm off down the boozer, son,' he says. 'Tell your mother for us.' 
It's like Dad ain't even see the fat kid next to me. Like the kid ain't even there. 
Dad come home two days later after he'd pissed all his wages up the wall. Mum had him in the fuckin doghouse ages for pullin that stunt. 
The last few weeks of school fly by. Summer's the same. Every day, me and Dad, over the park, doin the Cup Final all over. When September rolls round, I'm in a new class at school - and I got an empty seat sittin next to me.

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