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Sunday, 29 May 2011

Wayne and Lisa

One of the first things I remember about the new place at Appleton Crescent was meeting Wayne and Lisa, who lived down the street from us. Wayne was around the same age as Suzanne and Lisa was about the same age as Andrew so of course, once we all started 'knocking about' (do people still use that phrase, I don't think I've heard it in a while?) with each other there was much joking amongst the adults about them pairing off and being boyfriend and girlfriend. Oh the hilarity.

In fact, it was a joke that very nearly backfired on them when one fine morning my mam went out into the back garden to find Andrew and Lisa, who were about 4 at the time, cuddled up on the bench together and talking about 'sexing'. Much panic ensued.

I met Wayne and Lisa on the Sunday of our first week in the new house. We'd been at school all week and had to 'help' unpack on the Saturday - a process which involved wandering around aimlessly while my Mother shouted at us - so Sunday was our first chance to really explore our new surroundings. Having gotten up early, as was my wont in those days - young me was weird, we all know it's not natural to be awake before noon on Sundays - and after eating my hot weetabix paste and watching a few cartoons I was on the starters block ready for 9am, which was the earliest time that we were allowed to leave the house on weekends because, well, I don't actually know why but that was the rule.

Our first port of call was the Spectrum Leisure Centre, or 'Speccy' as pretty much everyone called it. The Speccy was comprised of a sports hall, adventure playground, weightroom, snooker/pool room, dry ski slope, bowling green, tennis courts and a mythical function room that we kids never, ever saw in all the time we lived there. In all, a pretty impressive facility to have on your doorstep when you are a small child. It has to be said though that the biggest attraction very quickly became the woods that the centre was set into, which very quickly became a home away from home for us. It became our 'home turf' if you like, as my uncle Darren would find out to his cost later on. (Check out my last post for the thrilling details of that little adventure)

Anyway, we head on over to the speccy on that fine and lovely Sunday morning and we find, swinging about on the playground apparatus, Wayne and Lisa. Suzanne and Wayne already knew each other, being in the same class at school, and Andrew and Lisa, in that way that the smallest kids have, accepted each other instantly and were playing like they'd known each other their whole lives within minutes.

At first I hung right back. My 'little voices', while not yet the socially crippling nightmare they would one day become, were by no means absent at that point in my life and they were making their presence known here in a big way. The others had paired off so quickly, and so naturally, that anything I said and did would, I was convinced, be an unwelcome interruption. I was an outsider; a distraction. What I had failed to take into account was the fact that I was the oldest one there and at the ages we're talking about, 2 years is a big deal. To the others, I was cool, purely by dint of the fact that I was older. Looking back, it's obvious that while I was terrified that this little group of kids would never want to play with me, they were constantly showing off to try and impress me and earn my approval. Poor bastards; when I'm the coolest role model in your life, you're really in trouble, let me tell you.

Wayne became my best 'home' friend for a long while, purely because he lived closer to me than any other boys I knew. We didn't socialise at school of course, because the rules were different there. You socialised with your own age at school; the younger kids weren't cool enough and the older kids, well, they thought the younger kids weren't cool enough.

Others would come and go from our little group. My cousin Ian, who had a very tumultuous relationship with Wayne, as I'll go into at a later date; Philip, who tried (or his parents did) to get me in trouble with the police for theft; the twin girls whose name I can't remember for the life of me (despite one of them being my first post-Anne puppy love); Aisha and Lee (she was gorgeous and he was the coolest person I'd ever met, and gave me my first ever proper nickname); the twin boys, Mathew and Richard, one of whom was borderline psychotic and would scare the life out of us on his 'bad' days, and numerous others. Until the day we moved out of that street though, myself, Suzanne, Andrew, Wayne and Lisa were the core; we never fought - well, there was that one time - and we never drifted apart. It was us against the world and we loved every second of it.

So far as I know, Wayne never 'sexed' Suzanne, nor Andrew Lisa. Although years later I met Lisa again and I have to say, I don't think either one of us would have turned down the chance then. She grew up absolutely beautiful. Sadly by that point any lingering hero worship had long since worn off. Never mind.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Hot Pursuit

My heart trying it's hardest to beat it's way out of my chest and rivers of sweat coursing down my face I force myself to keep going, knowing that if I slow down now, even for a second, he'll be on me.

I pound across the car park and down the alley at the side of the centre. Risking a glance behind to make sure he hasn't turned the corner yet I leap up onto the wall, scrabble up the grass verge and reach the hedge. There's a patch, I know from past experience, where the base of the hedge is thinning. It's not really visible, certainly not to a casual glance, but if you know where it is you can slide through quite easily, no worse off than a couple of scuffed knees and a few scratches on your arms; a small price to pay in the current situation. In seconds I'm through, and off.

It's not match day, thank God, so I'm able to cut across the bowling green without upsetting too many people. The couple of old blokes in the far corner aren't happy (what's their problem, I've not gone near their balls?), and their yells follow me as I reach the end of the green and pause for breath. I know thy won't chase me, they're too old for that, but their cries will alert my pursuer, putting him back on my trail much faster than I'd hoped. This breather would have to be a short one.

I see him coming round the corner. There's nothing for it, I make to cut through the ski lodge. He doesn't know the terrain, he'll try to follow me, not realising that he could easily cut me off if he circled behind the building. That's the plan anyway. I make my move, pushing into the building past the two members of centre staff on their way out to investigate the commotion. Good; I'm past them before they can react but maybe they'll slow him down.

I pelt full speed through the lobby to the doors at the far side - earning myself a lot of disapproving glances from the stern looking customers, balls to them, this is an emergency - and straight out to the slope area. I briefly consider making a run straight across the slope but I know from bitter experience how treacherous a dry slope can be; one foot in one of the divets and your ankle's a goner. So it's down to the bottom and around past the crash barriers or up to the top and around that way. It's quicker going up, but it means braving yet more centre staff when I get to the rope pulley machine. No, down it is. I again hope that going the long way will confuse him.

The steps down are out of the question, you can't pick up a decent head of steam, so headlong plunge down the embankment it is then. Flailing my arms wildly for balance, I'm off. I've done this a hundred times before, I know what I'm doing; angle yourself just right and you can hit the crash barrier at the bottom of the slope. Don't, and you're over the drop, into the beck, and sporting wet trouser legs all the way home. Something else that will hopefully slow him down. I reach the bottom, hit the barrier - Bullseye - and skirt around it to the far side of the slope.

From here the plan is to follow the beck all the way. But which way? Downstream is back the way I came but it's fed here by two upstream flows. Which do I follow? Both lead to a similar hazard, which is the easiest to pass? I risk a look back, and up, and see him at the top of the embankment, looking down at me. He can see, but obviously isn't keen to follow me down. Have I lucked out? He's shouting something I can't quite make out - "Come back"?, "It's alright"? - but I'm not risking it. Decision made, I choose my path and am off.

I've got my breath back now - that little pause has helped - so I can pick up the pace a little. I make pretty good time along the beck bank, slowing only slightly as it starts it's pretty steep rise and then I've reached the tunnel that allows the beck to run uninterrupted under the centres top car park. There isn't much in the way of water coming through - never more than a trickle in this warm weather - but it's the height that's the difficulty; or not, if you've done it as many times as I have. I swing in, keeping a firm hold on the roots I know to be sturdiest, hang for a second, and then my feet find their accustomed perches. The brick and blockwork around the tunnel is old - there are more than enough foot and handholds if you know where to look and remember not to think about the brief moments that you're hanging over nothing - and it's not long before I'm in the mouth of the tunnel. I crouch, far enough back that I'm half couched in shadow,and wait.

Has he followed me? Or did he give up at the top of the bank. He's out of shape, put on some weight recently, maybe it seemed too much like hard work. I relax a little, allow myself to settle. I sit down - there's plenty of room, the flow is about 2" wide in the centre of the tunnel - and, thinking of the madness of the last few minutes, I start to chuckle.

Then his foot appears in the opening and I can hear swearing as he fumbles his way down to me. Shit, one of the skiers must have pointed him in the right direction. He's not as surefooted as my experience allowed me to be but he's not being overly cautious either so he'll be on me in no time. Rising to my feet with a resigned sigh, but remaining hunched,I head deeper into the tunnel. It doesn't take long before I am in complete darkness. I don't panic, I know that it won't last for long; the tunnel is straight as they come and doesn't cover a particularly large distance. The other end will be visible before I know it. As soon as the far opening becomes visible and I have enough light to see my feet - blurrily though it may be - I pick up my pace and it's not long before I'm almost out. Then I hear it.

"Bastard!", closely followed by "Fuck, Jesus!" I smile, exit the tunnel into the farmers field at the other side of the carpark, make my way up the grass to the stone wall, clamber over it and head home at a pleasant saunter.

Know your terrain, that's the key. When you've been in that tunnel as often as I have, you know that a few seconds after you hit total darkness, the roof drops by the height of a couple of bricks. Why? Who knows. Perhaps that was the original opening years ago, before the carpark was built, and the extension didn't match up exactly. Or perhaps repairs over the years have been less than uniform - I mean, who's going to see it, right - but for whatever reason, you are really going to want to crouch that little bit more when you hit that spot. I hadn't even though about it, it was just instinct now. He wasn't so lucky.

I arrive home, bruised, slightly bloodied, and with the bottom of my trousers a trifle wet, but exuberant nonetheless. He hadn't caught me. As cocky and arrogant as he had been, I'd beaten him.

He arrives home drenched in sweat, barechested because he is clutching his T-shirt to his forehead to staunch the bleeding, and with a massive grin on his face. "Alright, clever shit, but I'll get you next time."

My Uncle Darren, everyone. Cool, even when concussed.