Do you remember Pavlos Maropoulos from school? Was in the same class as us all the way through middle school. I think you do, actually, because I seem to remember you seeing a girl for a while about ten years ago that you told me was Pavlos’ ex. I think. Wasn’t she the girl that used to live at the bottom of the hill next to the cemetery? It sticks out in my mind now for the fact that you told me at the time that she said Pavlos had beaten her up when they were together and that he was a loose cannon. I remember I believed it at the time, mostly because I hadn’t spoken to him since school but had seen him walking around the streets a few times and noted that he had looked angry and weird. He’d grown his hair long, was always dressed in black with angry slogans on his t-shirts, wore dog collars and spikes and stuff like that, and when he walked past you you could hear the tinny noise leakage emanating from the headphones that covered his ears, aggressive screamy metal music. And he had been lifting weights since we’d left school, had added a bit of bulk. He always looked like he might throw a brick through a glass bus shelter, just for the hell of it. So the idea that he would partake in a bit of domestic abuse was easy to buy into. Then again, though, at that age I used to pretty much believe anything I was told, so long as it was interesting. As I sit here now I’m not so sure that I believe the story. I’m not as prone to judge people on rumours as I once was. Especially considering how many tall tales used to get thrown around our neighbourhood. Anyway, the reason I ask if you remember him is that a couple of weeks ago he sent me a friend request on Facebook. Out of the blue. I hadn’t spoken to him in 15 years, not since we left school, and hadn’t thought of him in about ten years, not since you were seeing that girl.
Except I wasn’t concentrating on what he was saying because I was reading this article on the internet about a kid in New York who had been arrested on suspicion of stealing somebody’s rucksack, just 16 years old he was, and they stuck him in jail to await his trial, except his trial never came up, so he spent three years in this prison, three years! waiting for the opportunity to defend himself, his day in court, but it never came and in the end all charges were dropped as there wasn’t enough evidence to even prove he had committed the crime. So they just said sorry and opened his door. Like that kind of thing was alright. There’s no way they said sorry. And I couldn’t stop imagining that happening to me as a 16-year old. All the firsts I experienced between the ages of 16 and 19. First smoke, first pill, first sex, first job, first holiday without supervision. Exciting years; the world in front of you; free from school; young, able-bodied and full of energy, often misplaced, but full of energy all the same. A good time to be walking around the streets. This kid wasn’t afforded that luxury. But even worse, this kid’s time inside was horrific. He decided not to join any of the gangs that operated in the prison. Then one day a gang leader spat in this kid’s face in the canteen and this kid knew that if he didn’t stand up for himself then his face would be spat in every day, so he punched this gang bloke on the nose, bang, and within a couple of seconds this kid was having his head kicked in by like 50 gang members, and the wardens basically stood and watched. The attack went on for ages, this kid was beaten senseless.
The reason the story was being reported now was that CCTV footage of the incident had been released, showing the brutality of the attack, and this video accompanied the article I was reading, so I saw it. I’m not just going on hearsay. And after that day life in the prison wasn’t safe for that kid so the guards moved him to solitary confinement. And that’s where this kid spent three years for a crime that he was never convicted of. But the thing I found most interesting was that the person who had written the article seemed as outraged by the fact that this kid had had to endure solitary confinement as he or she was at the violence he’d been subjected to. I found this curious because to me solitary confinement seems like the perfect scenario to hope for if you ever get caught doing something naughty and have to go away for a bit. I always assumed everybody else was with me on this. This isn’t just something I think now. I have always had it in my mind. You remember how I was always in trouble when we were at school? Hardly a day went by that I wasn’t sat outside Miss Bleatley’s office on detention. Usually for fighting. Nah, it was for everything, come to think of it. Stuff that I had done and stuff that I hadn’t. How many times was I suspended from school! I felt like I couldn’t avoid trouble even if I tried, which on rare occasion I did, unsuccessfully. So my natural fear during those years was that authority would continue to pick on me after I left school, and that detention would be replaced by prison. It genuinely occurred to me. And so I had this plan ready. The first night of my stint behind bars I would do something fucked up, like do a shit on the dinner table, inside a Yorkshire pudding or something, and then vow to squeeze out a shit every time someone said the word sausage. Or cigarette. Or bird. Or another word. Some really messed up shit like that. Just to get stuck in solitary. Because the last thing I want to do in prison, just the same as on the outside world, is socialise with other humans. I wouldn’t want to know my fellow inmates, I wouldn’t even want to know what their faces looked like. I imagine the prison social club is an alright place to hang out if you’re like a natural criminal or something, they say that when you come out you’ve learnt from all the other criminals in there and you’ve honed your skills, ready to go back to your life and start doing naughty stuff again but only better than you did it before. But the thing is I’m just not a natural criminal. I don’t want to learn how to blow open a safe or nick a car without detection. I can’t drive. So I wouldn’t fancy it. I’m a disobedient little bastard, but not a criminal. Not a real one. I suppose this is obvious enough already for the fact that this prison story of mine is hypothetical. But what I planned to do in prison once I’d got myself sectioned off to solitary confinement was to spend all my time reading literature, teaching myself a foreign language or two, if they’d let me get the books from the library, and if not I would just meditate facing the wall. In peace. Not getting in any more trouble. Not having to talk to anyone. Not having to listen to anyone. I always thought that would be alright, actually. No one boring me. Just send the guard along twice a day to push my little bit of food through the flap in the door, I’d be sorted thank you very much. And I’d exercise a load, too. Push-ups round the clock. Healthy body, healthy mind. One thing my environment during adolescence taught me was that prison gave you muscles. Every single one of the kids from my year that did end up going down after we left school together went in there the same size as me and came out a couple of years later a gorilla. Seriously, arms like Popeye, every one of them. But this kid’s experience of solitary confinement didn’t play out like that. Another released CCTV tape showed the morning that one of the guards came to escort the kid to the shower. The guard had had a row with his wife or something before coming to work, had the right ‘ump, and so when he opened the door to the kid’s cell and the kid stepped outside, the guard just laid into him, slamming his head repeatedly against the floor. You don’t need that when you’re serving time without trial for a crime that you’re never going to be convicted of. All of a sudden solitary confinement didn’t seem like the paradise I had conjured it up to be in my mind. What’s the point of not having to worry about other prisoners if you still get kicked around by the guards? That’s even worse, cos you can’t really fight back. Well, you can, but you can’t win. I really felt bad for this kid, it moved me, made me angry and sad at the same time. And yea, I really couldn’t get out of my imagination that this could have happened to me. Only, it wouldn’t happen to me. Because I’m not black and I’m not in America, and what happened to that kid wouldn’t ever have happened to a white kid, of this I am positive. The system wouldn’t let it get that far. There would be press outrage for a start, and from the beginning, not just some article published more than three years after I was arrested. And that actually made me feel even sadder and even more angry. Anyway that kid’s out now.
The narrative above is fiction and just an excerpt from a longer story that I am currently working on. However, the story about the kid in America, sadly, is a true one.
‘It’s like the film Being John Malkovich, innit?’ he said to the man standing over him. And then he remembered that the man didn’t speak his language. So he asked it again, this time in the man’s national tongue. The man’s response was ‘What?’ except it wasn’t exactly ‘What?’ because it wasn’t said in English. But it meant ‘What?’
‘You wouldn’t get it,’ he said, reaching down into the side pocket of his bag that sat between his feet and pulling out his ticket, which he handed to the man. The man took it, crossed it with a biro, handed it back, and carried on down the carriage. He turned his head to the left to stare out of the window, to lose himself on the distant horizon, to be taken there by the current and left to float over the edge, peacefully on his back, he imagined a bottomless waterfall, perpetual motion, the eternal drop. Would it be noisy, he wondered. What did it matter? He’d get used to it. That’s what you do; you get used to stuff. He had forgotten that it was past ten at night, that the sun had long since set, that the window at his side now only served as a mirror, revealing his surroundings, bright under the train’s lightbulbs, as it rolled along the tracks that hugged the shore line. He fought the temptation to check his reflection, he knew what he looked like; tired. And empty. But mostly tired. He didn’t need reminding. His eyes looked older than they were. As luck would have it, the rest of him didn’t. Not that it mattered. There were people, about eight in total, sharing the carriage with him. Eight other humans, possibly nine, and not a sound to be heard. Not a voice. Not a laugh. Not a sniff. Not a shuffling of papers. Not an itchy arse being scratched on a seat. Just faces looking at mobile screens. Or in the case of one lady, looking at the backs of eyelids. She was asleep. But she wasn’t resting her head on anything. She sat upright. And she dozed peacefully. He thought this must have taken training.
The woman sat opposite him was also surveying the scene via the reflection in the window. Their eyes met in the glass. She had nice hair, he thought, and pretty eyes, hooded, deep. No make-up. None needed. She didn’t smile, she wasn’t a smiler. He used to be. She just looked into his reflected eyes. The glass a bulldozer to the social No No wall that existed in the physical. Without the glass to act as a filter, this kind of behavior would not be acceptable. You do not stare at strangers on public transport. It’s bad form. She had started it, though.
‘Don’t you eat?’ she meant nothing by it, but it cut. Of all the times he didn’t want to hear it, now, her wrapped round him, fingertips pulsating down his back, clothes discarded carelessly across the floor, humans glowing, sweat, saliva, now was definitely one of those times. Normally the next words to leave the offending female’s lips were, ‘I’ll have to cook for you.’ And he always clammed up. And he didn’t see that woman again. But tonight she didn’t say, ‘I’ll have to cook for you,’ in fact she made no unfounded assumptions about his future, she invited herself to no parties. Instead, as she felt the backward shift in his comfort, she said, ‘It’s just that you’re so thin!’
‘Did not need this,’ I sighed to myself. ‘Really did not need this.’ My likely-soon-to-prove-fatal torment was accompanied temporarily by a soundtrack, one that brings me out in a cold sweat and the kind of rash that has people around debating the potential need for quarantine, each and every time I hear it, right up to the present day. And you’d be surprised just how often that mocking sound worms its way into my life, even now. Even now….. in my 30s. The taunting repetitive mechanical wheezing audio accompaniment to what I was sure were to be my final moments as a living human was coming from Thomas. Well, I called him Thomas, we were mates; but to those not on familiar terms, he was Mr. Tank Engine. I once heard The Fat Controller call him Tom. Thomas just muttered, ‘Don’t call me Tom, you fat controller.’ ‘What was that?’ ‘Oh nothing, I was just saying ‘choo choo!’’ And then he slid off along the tracks. But that had been then, and this was now. And now, Thomas was staggering around my kitchen floor, like a hairless hamster on ketamine (as a sidenote, once many many years later I found myself in the uncomfortable position on a stranger’s kitchen floor where I believed whole heartedly that I was a hairless hamster, only not one on ketamine. Turned out it was just me on ketamine) bumping occasionally into the skirting board. I couldn’t see him – I am having to trust the information my ears provided me to make this observation – all I could see was the top half of the mirror on the wall above the sink; the gap in the door to my left, on the other side of which Thomas mooched about aimlessly. (He would tire soon, his current burst of energy had been provided him by the turning of the key in his side, which I had taken care of just a couple of seconds before pausing our joyous play session, leaving the room and finding myself fighting for my life); and my knees. I could see my knees. I couldn’t really miss them, they were at eye level, a few inches from my face. I tried to move myself; to wriggle free. My knees were now above eye level. My feet were pointing up at the light in the ceiling. If I had been religious (or a moth) instinct may have driven me to attempt to go into the light. Who knows; for fortunately I was neither. I was also unable to move. Worse than all of this, the bottom of my arse was getting wet. I was sinking! I was going to get flushed away like a turd. A little, hairy turd. Again I sighed to myself, ‘Did not need this,’ (I had quite an understated and dry way of looking at the world as an infant) before shouting, ‘Help! Help!’
I may have blacked out for a moment, such was the traumatic nature of this episode, because I have no recollection of any moments passing between those cries and what I experienced next. I managed to open my eyes (which had both been closed due to fear) and there, standing over me, looking down with love in his eyes and a warm smile across his face, stood my granddad. He had heard my pleas and arrived from the living room to save my life. I would owe him for the rest of it. I was overcome with a feeling of complete love and gratitude towards this 50-year old man. He was clearly overwhelmed himself with the powerful bonding that was taking place, so overwhelmed in fact that it rendered him motionless to free me from my predicament. The realisation then hit that I had misinterpreted my granddad’s warm smile. He was laughing. The silent kind of laughing, induced by looking at something so funny it disables your voice box. I just looked at him. He looked at me. Nobody doing anything that could be considered productive. And then my granddad cleared his throat in an attempt to find his voice. ‘Janny, come and see this! It’s funnier than anything I could’ve imagined!’
‘Well then you are clearly the owner of a very poor imagination, Granddad. Would it not be funnier, for instance, if you had walked in here to find my head stuck in the tap? That’s just one example off the top of my head. I could think of loads,’ I said in my head.
Yesterday afternoon I was lying on my bed, bored. Just staring at the ceiling and thinking about Angel Delight. And then to ease the boredom I did what I think any one of us would do in the same situation – I wrote a letter to Angel Delight headquarters, in which I pretended to be a 38-year old woman from Dudley in the West Midlands. I got up early this morning and posted the letter. I don’t know why. I will share the contents of the letter with you.
First, though, let me say something. I am aware that some of you (you know who you are) aren’t satisfied with merely words when you come here. Some of you want your literature sweetened with images, much like putting a bit of roast potato on the fork with the brocolli to help it go down. That’s okay, I can relate. I also know there are two types of people that wish for pictures with their text. The highbrow arty lot, educated, the ‘thinkers’, they like something tasteful, subtle and thought-provoking. For them what I’ve done is taken individual photos of all of the pages of the letter, and then I’ve mounted them onto a purple background using Paint, to create a classy looking Angel Delight letter montage.
You’ll get to that in a moment. There are also the other lot, the lowbrow mob, uneducated, the simple to please. And I tell you something, we are an alright group once you get to know us. Anyway for them (us) what I’ve done, again using Paint, is create a collage that appears to depict a smug-looking man ejaculating to the vision of a packet of raspberry flavoured Angel Delight. Extra comedy weight is added by the placing of the words ‘Whip up with fresh milk’ at the top of the packet, with a picture of a winking star next to the words. It’s as if the star is egging the masturbating man on. Saying ‘Oooh yea, go on then, whip up some fresh milk, ooooh!’ but in Ray Winstone’s voice. If you are a bit more juvenile you might just imagine the star is the winking bumhole of someone you know. Or of someone you would like to know. It’s up to you. I knew a girl once, years back, whose bumhole spoke in Ray Winstone’s voice. I did not. I made that up. Continue reading
‘He’s English. From Kent, I think. I’m not sure he’s a very nice man, though, cos when your sister was out here Matt passed him on the road and said ‘hello mate’ to him, and he got the arse, didn’t like being called mate, told Matt not to call him mate, said he wasn’t his mate. He really didn’t like being called mate! So if you do see him, I wouldn’t call him mate.’
That was my mum describing her middle-aged next door neighbour to me the first time I’d walked past his gated off property. As she told the story, the little pair of hands that reside inside my head rubbed themselves gleefully together. The first time I saw him I was gonna call him mate. It goes without saying, doesn’t it? I mean, come on. Well that was two months ago. I never saw the bloke! Until this afternoon, that is, when I was walking down the dirt path that constitutes the road here, on my way out, and he happened to be out collecting his post from the outside box.
Before I tell you about our encounter earlier this afternoon, I’ll just tell you a couple of other quick things about this guy. His house is the ‘big one’ in the area, the luxury pad, you know. It is mostly hidden from view by the huge fencing and walls he has had put up around the land, which have been painted black, he has a massive electric gate, and unlike every other household within a 10-mile radius, he doesn’t have any dogs. This is dog country out here. Everyone’s got dogs. They serve two purposes, that of pet, and that of guard dog. But this bloke doesn’t like dogs. Instead, his ‘fortress’ is protected by a thousand and one different security cameras, whose images are monitored 24-hours a day by some bloke in an office somewhere. If you believe all the massive stickers the guy’s got plastered over his gate and fences, that is. If you look through the gaps in the fence, you can see his grandiose patio and inviting-looking swimming pool. A few times I’ve glimpsed him through the gaps as I’ve been walking past, sitting poolside on a luxury sun lounger, in his Ferarri baseball cap, sipping a cocktail that Del Boy would send back for being too colourful, with his English ‘lady friend’ on a lounger next to him, reading what I can only imagine is the Daily Mail. Just blocking out the world. Erecting barriers.