The Reds and the Blues (In Old Ingham Town)

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Chapter 3

I can always refer back to somewhere I have been to, or someone I have been, to relate to who or what ever. Life’s a crippler or booster, but it’s at those times that we really do learn. I may have been seen as a waster, or arrogant, or cowardly, but I tried and cried just like everyone else. A child is a young animal that can get by with a bit of attention and the ability to follow the pack. A teenager develops the need either to be part of the pack or against it, but in either way acknowledging the power of it. Deep down and in all honesty, I wanted to be part of the pack. Deep down and in all honesty, we all do. Even great rebels themselves do, because they do not become packless but rather start a new pack of their own.

What was someone saying when they said ‘Drop Out’? I was not a drop out at school, because I enjoyed school as I thought it was supposed to be enjoyed, having a conscience that told me I would one day mature and repent. Too many children are treated like adults, and I was one of them. They saw my adolescent wanderings as the fledgling behaviour of the man I was to be. Funny that the same ignorant reckoning did not apply to a good many of my peers. Bobby Walsh won some kind of star badge for swimming, but no one tipped him to be the next Duncan Goodhew. I can see why, and if I had won the same starbadge they wouldn’t have tipped me either. It was much easier for them to see a train going round the bend than a prospect in the making. And the same goes for all of us. Patience is not just about stopping ourselves from getting angry, but about having the sophistication and imagination to see a story develop. People are the greatest of stories, for we are all continuously writing them, stories writing stories, and can join in with whichever ones we like or have the balls to. We are not completed works, on the shelf at sixteen. They gather dust, just as corpses become dust.

I found my inspiration in the most unlikely of sources. I wasn’t doing my homework at night, but I was smoking in school and what memories they were. School didn’t ‘bore’ me, because the rigidity and echoey eeriness of it all sent shivers down my spine, especially after a reefer. If those teachers didn’t think I was learning, then we must have gone to different schools. They didn’t know what sort of shit was going on in my head, because there was all sorts of it.

I stopped worrying about image and authority and all that jazz when I was fourteen, but only for a while. A monumental thing happened, which as a special code word I will call ’Azid’. There is no madder thing than Azid, though it has many names (like Stripz, ‘Coolz’, and cheeba). It is many things, but it is just well mad. It is all sorts of things, but it really is just mad. It is completely mad, don’t do it.

As I don’t want to sound like a proper scientist, I will not go into all the different stages of the Azid experience or ‘trip’. That would be old hat, and not only that, but old hat done in a better way by countless others before me. My profoundest experience of the whirlwind that it is can only be dishonoured with words, and so I will merely try to discuss my general state of mind in that general time of my life. I have always believed in destiny, albeit now only because I believe in all things because everything thought of or felt or seen is real. In those days, however, I believed in the unreal, but did not put destiny in this category. I liked it merely because I liked the sound of it.

Destiny is that lovely concept that led me to doing the deed; thinking it was my time and rebellion and all that gear. Not peer pressure at all, you see, because it wasn’t all that fashionable at the time. Our Jon was always jabbering on about it, thinking he was the king of it, so I thought I’d try it for myself. He and Carl had tried to explain what it was and what it did, but they could only really outline its practical and physical effects, such as hallucinations and hysterical laughter. They tried to explain that it was some kind of higher learning experience, but naturally I could only relate to the concrete terms. I looked forward to seeing ‘things that are not there’, and had witnessed others laughing their tits off and fancied a piece myself. Jon told me about something called the ‘Astral Plain’, and going to that place sounded nought but groovy. All these things and more led me to take it, but it was it itself that led me to take it again and again and again.

Rather than be the wildest point of my first trip, my first ever and real Azid hallucination was little more than a spot of comic relief. My soul was tortured and my mind was in turmoil, having wandered into the dark and lonely unknown with total strangers all but one. Rick Flanagan, a mate from school who lived in Elmswood, a posh suburb of South Manchester, had invited me to stay at his place for the weekend. On a frosty Saturday night in January, he had shoved a tab in my face and said, “Now’s your chance”. No way would I refuse, as it had been on my mind for some time, and no one at home could get me any. I dropped on the spot and without thought for the consequences, and then proceeded to spend the night gallavanting around Elmswood and surrounding areas with a hoarde of total strangers. Rick did absolutely nothing to help me out, and I followed this wild new gang like a sheep. I said nothing to anyone, losing the ability to speak through fear and sheer confusion. None can know the pain I went through but that little boy lost, who somehow swam that night. An adult in his position may have gone home, or hid, or smoked or drank himself stupid. None of those options were open to me. I was completely at the mercy of the generosity of my hosts, and their ability to look after a mindless baby after having Azid themselves! Later on in the night, coming down at about 3 o’clock, only me, Rick, and some older guy were left. We were walking an eternal walk from Elmswood to Soley, a distance of about ten miles and a million hidden tears, when I realised we had stopped. I looked up and down the pavement on a leafy suburban street. Out of the ice, figures began to form. To begin with, they were mashed up and unclear. As I looked harder, however, my magic eye began to distinguish them. They were Indians! Native Americans I mean, with spears and head-dresses and tomahawks and all that gear. I followed the pavement up, and could see them everywhere. I even put my head to the ground to be at ground level, and was amongst them. The whole road, about one hundred feet long and twenty wide, was the complete picture. To top it all, the central figure was none other than that king of acid and revelry and death and pictures himself, Jim Morrison! Thanks for the time, Jimbo! You were sat centre stage on a wooden throne, with a sceptre in your hand.

Having done all that myself and off my own back, I resumed the Azid activity with my new Ingham friends Kev Merriot, Mike Wilson and Chris Beresford. The summer of ’91 was one in which sleeping rough in one or more of the many Ingham wasteland resorts went hand in hand with tripping our tits off. We didn’t drink or smoke much, for we had no money, but we could stay out all night – getting to know ourselves, each other, and the universe, and robbing milk off doorsteps in the morning. My belief in destiny was such that I feared little, because I was convinced that my time to die was not yet. Among the boys, my only fear was ridicule, for I held myself in such high regard. To be laughed at was not just embarrassing but, and more importantly, unjust. I could see a larger picture, and cared for the world. To see my own self and my own beliefs ridiculed was tantamount to seeing a great poet mocked, or an inventor rebuked. If I saw such injustice incurred on anyone else, I would in all honesty have felt the same. I had a great gift for self-pity, and anger builds in this way.

On one trip, some sort of fury leapt from me. Kev had been winding me up all evening, as he usually did. This time, however, his jabs went right to the bone. He usually teased me about spots, or my hair, or the fact that my mum used to be a nun, but this time it was different. He made some remark about me being a shit singer, and that I’d never get a girl with a voice like that. It made it even worse that Mike agreed. Oh dear God forgive me now for being so trivial and vane, but I found my very essence knocked in such a way that I couldn’t possibly tolerate. A hedge was beside us, and I threw poor Kev into it and started to throw the punches. Before too long, he was utterly trapped at the bottom of the hedge. I wrapped the thorns around his head, and jabbed twigs into his eyes. His eyes were bleeding, and he was balling like a baby. Mike dragged me off, and got rid of me instantly. Kev got his own back, but he didn’t see me in the same light again. Neither did Mike, for that matter.

So pubescent anxieties did exist after all, but I clouded them with fantasy and experiments of the mind. If you were to ask me then, I would have said that my biggest fears were nuclear war and Armageddon. In actual fact, however, my fears were just like any other teenager’s. I must have subconsciously realised this at some point, for I put my growing paranoia down to drug abuse, when I was wrong to. Sometimes it is wise to follow your heart, even when you know that your mind is off the wall.

Arrogance may be a weakness, but it is the weakness of the strong. At fifteen, I really did know all there is to know. No one could touch me. No one, that is, but the demons in my own head. If I were to explain it somehow, it would go something like this:-

When a lad, and I mean a proper lad, grows up being so well adjusted to the supreme praise that is wielded upon him in the guise of ‘he could do so much better’, he mistakenly assumes that what he is actually ‘doing’ is still marvellous enough, without even trying. He convinces himself that to try is to fail, because winners don’t need to try. This jizzed-up notion is understandable, however, when we take into account the matter of the boy only seeming to succeed when he isn’t trying to. As with dancing, he only does it well when he doesn’t care if anyone’s watching; when he loses all inhibitions enough to let the magic take over; when ego and vanity and inadequacy and all those giddy things are left on the shelf with all that other human shite. He is an animal. It is ridiculously ironic, however, that he succeeds best at human things, like speaking singing and charming, when he is that animal (!) How well can you dance? Leo Pallace can dance as well as you want him to, just as long as you like dancing and want to do it with him. And if he is leathered enough.

Azid comes along into his sweet little life, and unlike beer which turns you into the animal, and weed which, like some sort of macabre priest, tells you you are animal, it does both. You can let yourself go and be wild and daring and witty and pinpoint, but at the same time you can stand back and take a good look at what is going on with you. It is a marvellous experience, which is at once educational and spiritual. Of course, some people will just never get it, no matter how much Azid they take. One of these people was my friend, Mark Salsworth. Sallie.

We camped out on the Bootworks, an area of derelict wasteland, every weekend. At about three or four in the morning, we would start coming down. After the giggling and hallucinating period, this was what I like to refer to as Crunch Time, or No Man’s Hour; a time when it is no longer dark, but the sun has not yet appeared, like Twilight. It is when we are still tripping, but with the clarity of pure reason and reflection; a time when we can really know ourselves, and see how others see us, and know our place, and dream and make supreme plans. The word to sum it all up is ‘sigh’, as opposed to the ‘swoon’ of the trip’s earlier period. To Sallie, however, Crunch Time was no more than headache time, and he would go to sleep while Mike, Kev and myself would put the world to rights. He missed out on all the great philosophies that came out of our young, brave minds. He had spent similar nights with my brother, but had missed out then as he missed out now. The poor boy was wasting his time.

We took it upon ourselves to punish him one morning, although it was a subconscious decision; a ‘joke’. Sallie had been asleep for hours, all tucked up; warm and snug in the belly of the bug. We were all set for doing the milk doorstep challenge, when Kev stumbled upon a novel idea that reeked of originality and maturity. His big blue eyes lit up, his teeth shone, and I could almost see baby horns grow out of his head as he proclaimed “LET’S ROB HIS CLOTHES!”, like a man on fire. It took me all of less than a second to agree, whereas Mike pondered for a full five, and then said, “WHY NOT TAKE THE SLEEPING BAG ASWELL?” Get in! There should be more mischief in this morbid little world.

The original plan was to simply take his clothes and sleeping bag (after the arduous task of taking his naked body out of it without waking him) with us on the milk run, and return after two hours or so, just in time to relieve him of his panic and all have a good laugh about it. After all, this sort of shit had been done before and would no doubt be done again, and who were we to break the chain of the ages? Things do not always go to plan, however, and shit happens. The milk grab, for a badly timed change, was not as straightforward as usual. Perhaps we had left it too late on this occasion, or the guy that caught Kev in the act had awoken earlier than usual, but in either case poor Kev was sprung by a furious, dog-toothed couch potato in a wifebeater vest. He couldn’t get away, for the man had not opened the door to see him there but had rather sneaked up behind him with a hammer in his hand.

Mike and I were elsewhere, and so took a while to run to Kev’s aid. After hearing the screaming and dashing round, we were horrified to see that the mass of blubber was attempting to pull the poor boy into his house! I actually remember being more concerned for Kevin’s dignity, as the rolls of fat pressed into his sweet little face and the rancid armpit juice mingled with his unspoilt hair, than for his health or the prospect of a criminal record. “Uurgh” is the way I think the noise is described, but fury welled up in me for the urgency of not allowing my friend to be shat upon. I went about the task in much the same way as a dog owner goes about cleaning his pet’s dung off the kitchen floor: all hell for leather and let’s get it out of the way. Mike, being the more experienced of us, had the sense to pick up a brick from somewhere. We charged in.

Mike didn’t even need to use the brick, for I had leapt on Cyclops’ back and tried gauging his eyes out, whilst Kev had wriggled out of his grip and was biting his nuts or something. Mike was telling him to “calm down” and that “he wasn’t doing himself any favours”, but I must state categorically that the brick was not used. The struggle took a while, however, and quite a crowd had gathered by the time that we had got the better of him. We gave it legs as best we could, dodging old bags and bored housewives with screwed up faces through years of wingeing about the weather and some ball going over their fence, and other Cyclopses with axes to grind and wives to impress and satisfy. We made it round one corner, and then another, and thought we were home and dry. Of course, we weren’t. The boys in blue are never too far away when a fat bastard’s milk intake is threatened, and this time was no exception. They got us at the bottom of a dead-end street, and I didn’t even bother trying. Why be a clown? One can be arrested with all the dignity and style of a veritable ‘Raffles’.

We spent more or less the rest of that day in cells and interview rooms, with that little fun bit when fingerprints are taken and we smile for the camera. It wasn’t the first time I had been nicked, but this here little anecdote is here merely to explain how Sallie ended up being naked and alone in the tent that day; made to undress in the wilderness. Of course, we had no way of getting the clothes back to him, even if doing so would have been at the forefront of our minds. We could hardly ask the Police if they wouldn’t mind taking this here bag of clothes to a young naked lad in a tent camped on private wasteland, could we? Poor old Sal was left there in disgrace, whilst the rest of the summer trippers were coming down off Azid in comedic cell situations, with pissheads and mongs and scary characters who wanted to rob our trainers.

In referral to that reflection thing I spoke of earlier, however, the cell I found myself in on that day was a sanctuary for thought like no other. ’What am I doing?’ was the question I constantly asked. ’I wasn’t brought up to lawbreak and fight and take hallucinogenic drugs. I used to be an altar boy, and now I’m reading the depravity and witless abuse of criminals who spend their entire lives writing on these walls.’ It then hit me, however, that the words of the prophets, in the words of the Simon and Garfunkel, really are written on the subway walls, or in this case ‘cell’ walls. This was truth at its very basest. Truth without ambition. Instinctive.

One of the drawings put the fear of God into me. It was a stick figure, done by no Michaelangelo of course. He or she had a noose round the neck, and was hanging with the head down. Below the body, in glorious technicolor too, was a grand fire with heads and knives and eyes and all kinds of evil shit coming out of it. I couldn’t believe my eyes at first, but it started to sink in, and there was no way in the world I was getting to sleep for a while. I then viddied the caption below it. It read:

‘HELLS A LONG WAY DOWN…AND THE FALL MIGHT KILL YOU FIRST!’ I shit my pants. I had been viewing my cell as a seedy and sweaty place I didn’t belong in, but now it had become a place of evil and depravity that I had no choice but belong in. I had made my own bed, and now I was lying in it, but it was a bed that I was in no way comfortable in. The even more horrific thought, however, was that I may, sooner or later, actually become comfortable in this world, like so many possessed souls before me. Was I possessed? Or was I just tripping? Jon once told me about something called ‘Ergot’; a natural fungus which can be found in yeast; a fungus that is highly hallucinogenic, being a relative of Cellacarbon. Apparently, Ergot was responsible for a great deal of witch hunting in the Middle ages. Many unlucky poor sods were unfortunate enough to eat bread that had Ergot in it, and it made them trip. Naturally, in such superstitious days such behaviour, as was mental illness in all its forms, was associated with possession by evil spirits. The townsfolk would round up the lunatics, and burn them as witches at the stake. I could now see that, had I been born a few hundred years earlier, I too would have been arrested for being a witch. I would have been burned at the stake, and the stick man on the cell wall could just as easily have been me.

I made the decision, there and then, that I would never be quite at home in the lowly Ingham community unless we were all ‘mad’. At that time, it seemed clear to me that this was in no way the case. Mike, Kev and myself were banged up for more than lawbreaking. We were outcasts; poisoned, unholy demons who were starting to get noticed. Like Jesus and his apostles, we were getting far too loud; being seen at unGodly hours with pupils as big as saucers, perhaps even being heard discussing matters normal folk did not discuss. It sent a shiver down my spine, but a panic needed to warn my conscience that I and my friends were breaking away from the pack, and that if we were not careful, or at least broke away completely and moved to another country, the vicious pack would chase us and rip our limbs apart.

Poor old Sallie, however, was not one of us. If he stayed with us much longer, he would not be allowed back into the normal community when the inevitable time came when he realised that he had no place in our ‘coven’. Fortunately for him, that time came on that very same day. As I realised that we were outcasts, so did he. It was a bitter process for him; a series of hours in which he could not leave the tent. Of course, it was easy at first, as he simply had to prolong his sleep. But, as the morning turned into afternoon, the odd man and dog began to stroll nearby. His panic at wanting to go home was equalled by the panic of the prospect of having to cope with the embarrassment of being found fully naked by a member of the public. Of course, any reasonable adult would know instantly that he was the victim of a kids’ prank, but in his mind he was an adult, and so dodgy conclusions would be jumped to. He could be a paedophile, or a rapist, or just a downright lunatic living off the land setting his soul free. Either way, he was not looking at clear skies.

As day turned to night again, however, his fear of embarrassment or possible torture subsided to his need for basic survival. He was cold and starving. Ironically, though, as he finally plucked up the courage to ask for the help of one of these lonesome dogwalkers, it dawned on him that there would be no more till the following morning. Then came the most terrifying prospect of all: in an hour or two, the Bootworks would be full of kids his own age!!! How in a million moons could he ever cope with that?

The answer is: not very well. Girls, girls, girls came onto the Bootworks that night. They were giggling enough as it was, finding hilarity in everything from rude words to vicious rumours, and poor old Sallie didn’t stand a chance. As soon as the tent had been clocked, curious silence fell over them, “Who can it be?”s and “Shhhh!”, etcetera. Before too long, however, the inevitable approach came. They decided that no one was actually inside, for they would have come out by now. With a “Should I?” and a few giggly “No, don’t!”s and “Yeah, go on!”s, the bravest of the girls went for the zip of the tent. Sallie, in distressed panic, grabbed the zip on the inside with the same fury as a high-class lady has when putting her foot against the lockless door of a public lavvy when someone tries to open it. The brave girl jumped back in fright, and giggled nervously, and was astonished, and panicked, and all those things, and ran away, giggling and screaming “Aaargh!!! There’s somebody in there! Get away! Run like [email protected]*k!”. The collective went wild, and ran off laughing and shouting and being silly as young girls do. Sallie sighed relief.

But the cunning little vixens had not yet had sufficient prey. Their first instinct was to imagine that young lovers were having sex in the tent, and so they did not run far - for mischief could be wreaked. They found a spot over the hill, where they could listen, laugh, and of course learn. After a while, they came to the obvious conclusion that no sex was being had by anyone. They wondered why. Or why not, as the case may be. Having nothing else better to do, they had a group meeting and decided that the best course of action would be to sneak back, in complete silence, and get a good look at who these silent shaggers were, before legging it off once again. Aaahh! The projects of youth!

Of course, Sallie naively thought the fillies to have gone, and attempted to get some shuteye. Adolescent girls would make fine terrorists, for their feet can be light as feathers upon the ground. The brave girl was chief sneaker, and made it to the tent door without a sound. All giggling had been hushed, and chief sneaker’s comrades gathered behind her to see the tentshow. “With a one…and a two…and a three!”, and down came the zip, and with it the tent door, and with it Mark Salsbrook’s reputation. The flee from the scene was begun by the girls who weren’t fully watching, and were more eager to dash, but the brave girl and a few others froze in delighted shock. Sallie covered his bits like someone from a Carry-On Film, and then, before you could say ‘More Tea Vicar’, the brief silence was dangerously headbutted by the good-old outbreak of honest, communal and uniquely British laughter. It was about time these deprived youngsters got something really worth laughing at, at last. Half of me wishes I had been there myself!

Of course, the other half wishes that it had never happened. Guilt is not the best of burdens, as we all know. The story only serves to be a silly allegory of the fate that was bestowed upon me. Like Sallie, I had chosen alien company (Azid) that I did not understand. Like Sallie, I had been left alone to cope with it. Like Sallie, my loneliness had been exposed to the public. From the day of my incarceration and onward, I was branded. I was branded a criminal; an outcast; and someone who ridicules his so called friends.

My punishment would come in a way I did not know. But already, as I looked at the cell wall and read, ‘SEE YOU BOTH IN HELL- J.P. AND HIS BROTHER, L.’ I got a brief idea.

It did not come as much of a shock to read, one morning, that Wayne Ross of Elswick was dead, at eighteen. He was always in the shit for something or other, and his lifestyle was so public that it was obvious that someone or some thing would get him in the end – and that end would never be too far away.

What intrigued me, however, was the mysterious nature of his demise. It had been a car crash, he was more than six times over the limit, and had been alone at the wheel. This was quite strange, however, when one considered that he did not, because he could not, drive a car. One of his biggest delusions of grandeur was that he was the Godfather, simply because he was chauffeured around everywhere. Foul play was obvious, if anyone cared enough to see.

When most Ingham folk heard of the death, they rubbed their hands with glee. I found, and will always find, this sort of behaviour at once disgusting and idiotic. It is disgusting from a spiritual or moral point of view, because it shows a total disrespect for life, and nature or God’s plan or the Universal Mind, or whatever we choose to believe in. How can we be arrogant enough to think that our minute, human view of justice is as big as God’s or Nature’s? How can we say ‘he deserved to die’ when we don’t have a clue as to why people die in the first place? Death may just as easily be a reward as a punishment. It is simple logic to know that human justice only applies to the reward or punishment of the living, for natural life is the only thing we have any knowledge of. From a purely selfish point of view, it is idiotic to celebrate a death. How can we know that the deceased may have one day done us a great assist? How can we be stupid enough to think that we have a supreme overview of the forces of cause and effect? Wayne Ross may have been killed in a car crash, but for all we know, the grief of the event may influence his aggrieved mother to go nuts, buy a gun, and blow away the entire neighbourhood. So much for ‘justice’ there, then!

The hypocrisy of my town astonished me. Here they were, rubbing their hands with glee in exactly the same way that Wayne Ross did when he was alive. If they wanted rid of him so much, why didn’t they have the balls to do away with him themselves? Fucking cowards, to sum up. Perhaps the murderer or murderers thought they were justified in what they did, but the odds-on bet is that they did it for personal revenge, and not in defence of the land. People often like to say ‘He needs to be done away with, before he does any more damage’, but what they actually mean is ‘He needs to be done away with, because I fucking hate him’. They would just as well like to see a Saint massacred, if he had somehow pissed them off in the past. And so the malice continues, and the only difference between Wayne Ross and the mob that wanted him dead is that he could actually carry out what their sick little minds could only dream of doing.

Now comes hate, hate and pure hate for my ‘fellow’ human beings, who are animals just like me but don’t even have the decency to admit they are, even though they are not even decent enough to be described as such. ‘Animals’, to human beings, are a lesser kind. To me, they are superior. People seem to think that animals are lesser because they aren’t as intellectual. Well, in that case, I should have the right to put ninety-five percent of humanity in cages and pens. Let’s see how funny it is to see me and my kids waltzing through the human zoo, laughing and pointing and spitting at the pieces of crap lined up before us. “Check out the thick bastards, Tommy. We evolved from them, you know!” Arrogance has always been a weakness of mine, but when I was fifteen I realised that that same weakness is something a great deal of idiots try to copy. They are actually jealous of arrogance, like little lambs who are jealous of big lambs first in line for the slaughter. Alternately, they mock those great enlightened souls who are free from material ‘glories’ such as fast cars, clothes etc. Even my mother, who taught me the lesson in the first place, has a penchant for possessions. They’re all at it. The world is a stinking mess of brainless idiots. What makes it all the more ridiculous, and infuriating, is that these idiots actually have the idiocy to think that they are important. It is no fucking wonder that God decided to play a supreme trick on us all. If I were Him, I would have done far worse.

I let Jon know of my feelings. He listened with care, and nodded, and said that he thoroughly respected my opinion. He had something to tell me, however. He wasn’t going to tell me at first, but he thought that I now ought to know:-

“Leo, erm…e y’are listen, right…do you remember the Old Youthy?”

I nodded. Of course I did.

“Well…do you remember the time that it got proper mashed up? I mean…wrecked, like?”

I nodded. Of course I did.

“Well THAT’S who it was”

“Who?”

“Wayne Ross. It was him, and his mates.”

I was almost distraught. For all this time, for all the bother with Nusam and Simpson, the interrogation of Matty and Kev, I had thought there to be no connection between the newly dead ruffian and myself.

“But why?”

Jon took a while to answer at the best of times, but this one was nothing short of ridiculous. Jon’s stories were the most compelling of all, for they take so torturously long. He had a great respect for communicating in the perfect way, and so with that a deep fear of jumping the gun and saying the wrong thing. He needed to be understood, to the slightest meticulous detail. It comes from being a meticulous artist, of course. His face would gurn and contort like an e-riddled dancer, as he strived to say exactly what he meant, and I couldn’t help but be all ears:

“It was…right…it’s because…Leo, you’ve gotta understand that….Do you know Hawke? Well, I used to go around to…Dominic Bell’s. Hawke used to go too…and Wolfy…and Mal Bellis…an’ all them. We used to have tonnes of Azid Leo.”

“I know”

“Anyway…we used to do loads of mad…nutty paintings…all the time. One day right, this lad…from Elswick, who Dominick knew…he was in the flat, bonging with us. He was looking at all the paintings…an’ he really liked ’em…anyway, after a bit, he said he wanted to buy one.”

“No shit? What did you do?”

“I told him to fuck off”

“What?”

“Yeah, I didn’t want to sell it because I liked it too much myself. Anyway, he should have just left it at that but he just kept on and on and on like a right cunt. Hawke…ended up throwing him out. He just couldn’t take no for an answer Leo.

Anyway…after that, he wanted me dead.”

“What? Because you didn’t sell him the painting?”

“Exactly! And I’m as baffled as you are.”

“So what’s Wayne Ross got to do with it?”

“For some reason, this lad got Wayne Ross to do his dirty work. Didn’t want to dirty his own hands, I suppose.”

“Right…so why was the painting so important?”

“You tell me. Or even better, why don’t you ask Wolfy or Hawke yourself- because I haven’t got a fucking clue.”

Perhaps I didn’t mention that Jon and Alicia had produced a beautiful bouncing boy, Billy, in June 1991. Well they did. Moreover, I was asked to be Godfather – and accepted. Alicia and the baby lived at our house for a while, but things didn’t quite work out, and they went back to Alicia’s mam’s after a month or two. The new family got a dodgy flat in Salsworth a few months later, but were out before Christmas. In February, 1992, they eventually got a half-decent residence, and were overjoyed. The only snag however, and there has to be one, was that it was in Elswick.

I say a snag for the obvious reason that Elswick is, for want of a better word, rough as f***. On a selfish level, however, it suited me down to the ground. The flat was right near my school, and so I could wag school there and get wrecked and all those lovely things. On one occasion, the Games bus was taking my class to Caswick Recreation Centre for the afternoon. I would rather have been bonging, so I told the teacher that I had diarrhoea. He ummed and arred, like I knew he would, and said that it was too late to turn back now. “A-ha!”, I said, “Don’t worry about me Sir! It’s not too far back, and if you let me out now I’ll make my own way, like the jolly little Roger that I am!” “I respect your guts and determination, young Pallace!”, he answered with glee, “-Even if your guts really are a mess, which I suspect their not. You have my blessing to get off this bus! And may the Force be with you, my little trickster!” And with that, I really did bong all afternoon. But all that is completely beside the point.

With a new place for prospective bong sessions in the offing, Hawke and Wolfy and the boys were quick to the call. They were round there pretty much all the time, as Jon had a cellar for them to smoke in, where the baby could be undisturbed. It was in frequenting that cellar that I became acquainted with the crowd. It was in frequenting that cellar that I also became acquainted with over-indulgence of the tallest order.

As the youngest, I would usually go green long before anyone else. But, yet again, that too is beside the point. The point of this 1992 episode is that I got familiar with the persons of Hawke and Wolfy. Before this period, I had seen them to be primarily friends of my brother, and not myself. During this time, I cemented strong relationships with the boys, despite being green all the time. Hawke was terrifying; a six-feet-something daft-giant who could monster whatever came into his path, be it human, smoke or liquid. He spoke all the sense, being the eternal realist and cynic. We relied on him not only for that sense, but for his unbending determination to do whatever was needed when the occasion required it. He was our true leader, for he made us feel safe. Wolfy, on the other hand, was someone I feared but without the same respect. He was older and wiser than myself, but he was continually trying to assert his authority as though he was desperate for it, like some insecure control freak. He was funny though. He could do an assortment of wild things and party pieces, like drinking someone else’s sick or running through the street naked. He could be annoying, but hilarious. He expected much, but gave much back. He would scav all kinds of shit off other people, but was the first to hand the beers round if he had some. I had mushrooms once with Wolfy, but I never tripped with Hawke. Not once. By the time I came onto the scene, he had put such madness behind him.

I have never felt as secure as I did on one particular night. We were in the middle of a very heavy session, listening to Jean-Michel Jarre and Pink Floyd. I was flat on my back in the middle of the floor, not sleeping but nonetheless in the land of dreams and poetic images. The music was a soundtrack for a scene in which an elderly French lady was lamenting the death of her young son in the First World War. She was stood at the front door of her shack, dressed in rags, surrounded by the endless golden barley fields of whatever area of the South of France it was. I was in tears at such a sight, and somewhere in the mournful music I could hear the sound of gunfire, screaming and bombs. Ironically, though, it was these sounds that kept the music going. The lament became angry; the woman was not mourning any more, but clasping the air with her withered hands and clenching her teeth as if every last nerve and sinew in her were willing her to hold on; to carry on the fight. In her eyes was the resilience of all those who fight for good in the world. Every Champion of freedom and justice and decency would not exist if it were not for those eyes; the eyes of all mothers who bear great sons. I cried with the guilt that I had not seen the beauty of these eyes sooner, and then cried again with the guilt of all of my complacent kind who do not acknowledge the debt we have to those who made us. If that was not enough, my heart was ripped apart with the most awful realisation of all: perhaps the debt never would be acknowledged, and man would continue to destroy his mother – the Earth.

But as the Mother’s tears dried with anger, so did mine. I raged at God, for playing the sick trick that is humanity, which, in essence, is nothing more than men raping women and the young killing the old. The Mother had that same rage, and together we raged at ourselves for being what we were: a Killer, and the mother of a Killer. But, as real beauty goes, in this anger we found union, and with this union the guns and smoke and uproar in the background transformed the music into something triumphant. Alexander the Great was with us and in us, and the trumpet of Gideon sounded, and God liked us that much that even He gave his support. “I am not afraid,” said the Mother, “I have retaken my weapon!”. With a new found laughter that only Heaven knows, I kissed my Mother on the forehead and sang to the world, “I will be my Mother’s weapon, for she is my ammunition and love is our ally. She will lament her son’s death no more, for he is back. He will be lost no more, for he is found!”

Well so much for being an outcast, then. I was in the centre of a circle, being watched over by loyal Knights as I dreamed the necessary dreams. The soldiers were not exiles at all, but the exact opposite. They were pioneers; adventurers who braved alien territory for the sake of their families, friends and loved ones – all of whom are also on the receiving end of God’s supreme joke. I had been brought along on this expedition like the gun that I was, and love was the ally of us all – the entire circle. We were in the middle of Elswick; camped on enemy soil. But, for now at least, there was no enemy but fear itself, and that was very far away. My dreams were shared by all my apostles, but I was in no way Christ. I may have been the gun, but I was the baby they were all watching over. If ever there was a reminder to the soldiers of why they were fighting a war in the first place, it was me. I was carried to the centre of the circle like a mascot; the souvenir of home.

The Last Supper, however, was more than just a feast of friends. Somewhere in that circle, someone was sharing my dreams in much the same way as Judas shared Jesus’ bowl. Moreover, he had love on his side, just as the rest of us did. Purity can never be attained on this Earth, if indeed it can be attained at all.

After seeing him around on various occasions, like the Park gig for one, I finally had my first direct encounter with the mythical Mal Bellis on October 6th, 1992 – the day before my sixteenth birthday. I was visiting Jon in hospital, as he had somehow contracted facial herpes by smoking too many bucket bongs with unclean water (when I say unclean, I mean fucking rancid) (!) (?) yes, I think that’s a ‘!’. Mal, on the other hand, was in the place to witness the birth of his first child, a bouncing baby boy who he and his partner, Marie, named Adam. It would have been fascinating enough to meet him on any occasion, but it was that little bit more riveting to catch him on the day he became a father. I can safely say that he really did have fire in his eyes.

We found a rapport almost instantly. In his excited rambling, he mentioned somewhere that he had filmed the event with a camcorder. I interrupted him to say, “Wow! It’s pretty mad though innit, when you think that, what with all these videos of babies’ births, at some time, not too far into the future, people will be able to see their own births!”

When I said things like that, most people thought I was either barmy, funny or boring, depending on how clever they were. Not Mal. Mal shared the same breed of imagination, with the same thirst for knowledge. Moreover, he was brave in facing the possibility of hellish outcomes.

“Shit, yeah!”, he said, as some sort of penny dropped. He was thinking what I was thinking, and said just as I was about to:- “There’s got to be something supernatural in that, eh?” and already, thirty seconds into our first meeting, we had made a profound observation together. When I say that Mal Bellis was brave, what I really mean is that he was fearless. The profound observation, that people will soon be able to see their own births, and therefore remember them like no-one else before has been able to, was one which would affect himself, and so he was not an innocent bystander who could be flippant about what he saw. He and Marie had planned to film the birth for their own benefit probably; the video would be a souvenir. Now arrived the prospect that their son would watch it too. And it came from the gob of yours truly. And Mal liked me.

Mal, Maria and the baby lived above Smith’s Newsagents in Ingham at the time, and so I would often bump into them. Mal invited me in once, and told me about the time that the guy from Elswick got shirty over Jon’s painting. Apparently, he had reckoned himself to be a major art collector, but was full of shit as he was obviously no more than a dirty scally. For some reason, I could see that Mal had chosen to omit some of the details.

Mal introduced me to a very many people, who knew Jon too. In this crowd, I found a new bunch of protectors. I still knocked around with my younger friends, Carl and Sallie, and Hawke etcetera, but poor Kev had gone completely off the rails. I was a deviant in as far as taking drugs and having abnormal ideals, but he was now a fully-blown criminal who took part in armed robberies and the like. It was sad to see, because the world now viewed him as someone it didn’t want, and I knew otherwise. This boy had a passion for justice which went unnoticed. He didn’t commit crimes to impress people, like many cowards and idiots do. He needed a vent for his rage at the world. Very few people actually knew how clever he was, and so they would not listen to his ideas and opinions. This was why he was angry, and the angrier he got the less he was listened to, and this made him angrier, and so the vicious story continues.

If Kev would have had the same calming influence that I did, I’m sure that he would have been saved from destruction. For me, life was a chaotic whirlwind of bad home life, the pressures of school and puberty, drugs, and dangerous imagination that made me do too much too soon. For him, it was the same, but he didn’t have the hope that I had. He wasn’t allowed to, for his parents and teachers and God knows who else never told him he was an ‘under-achiever’, as they did with me. Such a label let me know that I always had a few tricks up my sleeve when I got older. Kev, on the other hand, was not given this confidence. Call a snake a snake, and in Kev’s case it will be the deadliest of all.

All around me people dying, fighting, panicking, hating. Just before Mal jumped in to calm me down, I had what can only be described as a nervous breakdown. It all came to a head one night, after having a substantial dose of Mushrooms at Wolfy’s. I had gone home, and was upstairs in my loft room. I sat on my bed with my head in my hands, and it was as if the weight of all that was wrong in the universe was bearing down on me. Firstly there was the schoolboy stuff; worrying about ‘under-achieving’, not having a girlfriend and so on. Then, I went deeper into my psyche. I thought of my past, my passed-on relatives and the grief of losing youngsters in the community. I felt guilt at having put my parents through so much, and remorse for having put so much pressure on my little brother Theo to be as stupid as myself. It all came flooding back. The bullying I had been a party to. The sick pranks I had played. The complacency I had, thinking myself so magnificent while others broke their backs to achieve what I could do easily, and while my Dad broke his back to feed me. I then felt frustration at not being independent enough; at being just a kid who was powerless to make an impact other than by pissing everyone off. I was simultaneously disgusted with and feeling sorry for myself, tearing my fancy hair out like a mental patient.

The true madness, however, and I can not say that it was madness for sure as to reason is to be sane, I think, came when I entered fully into the Universal Mind. Everything. Sorrow first, knowing the full tragedy of all destruction, wars, tragic loves, death of spirit, loss of God, deceit, cowardice, a planet being destroyed by a human race that will go on to destroy all the other planets. Endless streams of tears gave birth to a greater cavalcade of tears, and I was blinded to any light that might just about have been there. But in this liquid blindness, like a phoenix from the ashes and the great white light at the end of the tunnel of death, came beauty like a victorious army. Creation, community, successful love, triumph over death and the power of the human spirit, harmony, art, and the innocence of children. All these things and more jumped in to revive my drooping spirit, and then spirit was all that I was. But sorrow intervened again, and a battle raged between it and the Joy that played music in my brain. My mind, being only mortal as it is in Earth life, could not withstand the noise of the war that was using it as a battlefield. The wailing and the Music were too much for me, and I forgot who I was or where I was and whether there was reality at all. The noise, finally, became a whistle of the highest pitch, like that of a life support machine when the patient has died. I too may have died, if it wasn’t for destiny letting me live. The ringing stopped, and was replaced with the sound of the ‘Cuckoo’. Cuckoo. My bubble had burst, and my mind would never be as great again.

I woke up for school the next morning, and knew that I would have to hide from now on. It is not healthy to have such a ‘gift’.

I stopped taking drugs completely, but knew that would not be enough. I needed a complete overhaul; new friends, a change of scenery, and perhaps image too. By Christmas, that’s what I had done.

I had known the two Pauls, Mcmahon and Rice, practically all my life. Macca was my first real friend outside the family, with the exception of Jon and Anna’s friends, who I hated anyway. He and his huge family had moved into the next street to us, and about two weeks before I started primary school too. He was just in time to be my first best mate.

Ricey lived in Rosemary Road, which ran parallel to both our streets, but I never really saw much of him at school until I, he and Macca become Altar Boys at seven or eight. What a giggle we had. For Catholic boys like us, Church was our social life. When we became A boys, we no longer had to sit with our parents like the girls had to, and we were a proper crew having a bona fide lad’s crack. We went to all our first discos together, kissing girls with braces and all that gear. We went on school holidays, sneaking around in the middle of the night and telling ghost stories. So many kids are there to be mentioned; characters who are as fresh in my memory now as they ever were. Sadly, they are not relevant to my new thread.

At sixteen, they wanted to be doing what I had been doing for years. They admired me for my street suss, but I envied them for the innocent times I had missed out on. They had grown up in the usual, healthy fashion, whereas I had done too much too soon and my head had popped as a result. But, thanks to their arrival, I did not go too far. I am forever in their debt for making me more sociable again. They are, after all, my oldest friends, and underneath the status we were all woven of the same fabric.

For the first time in a long time, I began to feel like someone who had a future in society, as opposed to a future in a mental asylum or some sort of infamous hall of fame for people who society couldn’t actually believe existed. Through Macca, Ricey and the boys, I met a girl called Geraldine. Gorgeous Geraldine. Geraldine was the most wondrous dream of a girl, and all the other superlatives. Somehow, she became my first real girlfriend…Ahhhh. I had known her since the first year of St. Pete’s, when we had fancied each other straight away, but I didn’t meet her properly, in her own confident and challenging element, until I was sixteen.

If ever I felt safe in my life, it was with her. Despite having all that feminine sweetness and panache that sparkled in the first place, she was a force to be reckoned with. Her mother was a teacher who divorced when Geraldine was in her formative years, and so she was baptised with fire really. To be the son or daughter of a teacher is to be somewhat set apart from the rest; not necessarily in a negative way, but in the sense that one’s peers can never view that parent as just one of the Mummy and Daddy crew. As a result, teachers’ children will always be slightly different from others. Moreover, the divorce of Geraldine’s parents was a bigger deal than most. Without wanting to sound prejudiced, the divorce of those who have a higher status in the community is, unless kept a secret, greatly publicised. The gossip and unfounded rumours (after all, only the family and close friends can ever really know for sure what happened) had a deep effect on the eleven year-old Geraldine, as the break-up itself did. She was at a turning point in her young life: the time of leaving behind little school, and facing a new chapter in which puberty and self-establishment beckoned. She had expected to face this trying time with harmony in the family at least, but instead got a kick in balls she did not have.

These things, however, can make or break us. When our eyes first met across a crowded playground, I could see her sadness. But what actually appealed to me most was the spirit of resilience and optimism in her baby browns. I too had been kicked in the balls; not with disaster, but with a sense for the awful truth of things that children do not usually have. Somewhere, in that first gaze, we made allies of each other.

Four years later or so, we had both grown immensely. She had faced puberty and self-establishment without her father, and passed the test with flying colours. I had gone to the edge, and turned back before it was too late. The new gaze we shared was accompanied with confidence and a sense of achievement, and for all wants and purposes we got it on to congratulate each other. She was a young woman now, just as pretty as ever but with a wry grin, bold wit and the warmth and approachability of a rock for her peers and the less fortunate. Indeed, asking her out became a farce, because she talked me through the procedure! We had united like a modern day Bonnie and Clyde. She had all the sexual prowess of a panther with all the brains and I, well…I was just happy to show lovers what real love was. If ever there was a ‘meant to be’, it was me and Geraldine and Geraldine and me. Geraldine. Geraldine. Ahhhhhhhhhh…….Geraldine.

Geraldine and I, Macca, Ricey, Mickey (I think I forgot to mention him, but he had been a mate for years too), and a whole host of other boys and girls, made the most out of our last year at school. Unlike our parents’ generation, the year was not so much of a crossroads, as we could prolong any sort of commitment to a career or vocation. We had Sixth Form College to look forward to, and only after those two years were up would we have to make any sort of decision. Despite seeing my brother and sister making attempts at settling down (Anna had given birth to a bonny baby, Lizzie, in March ’93) me and my mates were on the brink of bringing pubs and clubs into our social life equation; a time of house parties and seeing schoolpals dressed in gear they couldn’t wear at school. Until this point, I didn’t realise how downright fit most of the girls in my year were. I had always fancied the wayward sexpots of Ingham Park and so on, but now I was getting the horn from bespectacled swats who I had previously heard only in whispers from the front of the class. “What’s that love? Speak up pumpkin!”. “Oh, I’m sorry Leo, what I actually said was: COME OVER HERE AND FEED ME SIDEWAYS. I’VE TAKEN MY GLASSES OFF, MY JUMPER AND TIE ARE ON THE FLOOR, AND THE REST MIGHT AS WELL BE ’COS YOU CAN SEE RIGHT THROUGH ’EM! BUT DON’T WORRY HONEY, I’VE LEFT THE PANTIES ON ESPECIALLY FOR THE DELIGHT AND PLEASURE OF YOUR RAVENOUS, CAT-LIKE TEETH. COME ON IN, TARZAN!” Oh boy, was it good. But, unfortunately, there was only one girl for me, and I was faithful because she was the only one I wanted. Awww.

At this one party, Geraldine was arm wrestling lads. She wasn’t a beefer or anything, but she was embarrassing anyone who gave her a go. I couldn’t arm wrestle for toffee, but everyone assumed that I must’ve been hard as f***, simply because my bird was. Some sort of brawl kicked off. Naturally, I sidled up to have a peek at what was going on. Within seconds, all sorts of nutters were holding me back and telling me not to ‘get involved’. I tried to convince them all that I was only planning on watching, but they wouldn’t believe me. Before too long, someone was swinging a baseball bat in front of my eyes and saying, “Leo! I respect you, and we’ve been good friends for years, but I WILL use this if I have to!” It was hilarious, particularly as I’d never seen the bastard before in my entire life. I decided to leave at that point, and went looking for Geraldine. It didn’t take me long to find her, as she was sat on the outside front gate with another girl. Both these fillies were laughing their balls off. Apparently, Geraldine’s friend had started the whole fracas. Earlier, her boyfriend had come out to find her. He had got more than he bargained for, and quite a shock, as she was copulating with someone else. For fear of being humiliated, he went inside and waited for his bird in order to speak to her alone. When she returned, he was furious, and began to interrogate her. Some lad tried to calm him down, but the boyfriend went nuts, wrongly assuming that this boy was the one that she had been snogging outside. One thing led to another, and fists flew. Everyone joined in. Furniture and crockery was smashed. Girls started to cry. The Police were called. And all because of a girl’s infidelity.

If the boyfriend, however, would have stuck around long enough to confront the long-haired ponce who was sucking his girlfriend’s face off, he would have discovered that it was not a long-haired ponce at all. It was my beloved, Geraldine! Apparently, she was into that sort of thing. If I’d known sooner, not only would the fracas have been avoided, but I would’ve been slightly more keen to be introduced to Geraldine’s ‘boring’ friends! As would the angry boyfriend, no doubt.

Despite all my good intentions, before too long I had the whole group partaking in all the old shite I used to get up to, and had tried to get away from. Smoking weed wasn’t such a big deal, but by Summertime I was on Azid again – and they with me. So much for the new start.

Macca, Ricey and Mickey were fast becoming the most hysterical people I had ever had the good fortune to come across. Gradually, however, they were becoming even madder than I. To begin with, I was the one in the know; the one who knew all the faces and was responsible for integrating us all into the circle of pub regulars when we started going to the locals. On a completely mental weekend in Wales one time, I was the only poor sod who could get served, but the landlords must have been a bit silly because I was buying about ten beers a go, and a mass crowd of sixteen-year olds were gathered around their tables. I was the only one who could skin up, and make bong mixes. They didn’t bother learning because they didn’t have to. Give an inch and they’d take a mile, like men after my own heart.

Somehow, they got to know Nusam and his now smaller crew. Years had passed since the fight, and no longer were they the scourge of Ingham. He and I got on much better now, although I still kept him at arm’s length. They had pubs to amuse themselves now, and young women to chill them out. Life was easier, for they no longer had to prove themselves. In actuality, it was Macca and the boys who had to do the proving. They had to show that they could handle their intoxicants, and pull the birds etc. And far from being the wise owl, even yours truly was not devoid of the urge to make a good impression. They were still my elders, after all.

Nusam was the type of trickster who didn’t care too much for who was good at this or funny at that. He was more interested in the capacity to which he could use, or be used by, someone. Therefore, he could not be impressed other than by kicking his little head in. Of the others, though, one lad became generally interested in us, and loved our company and hit it off with us on a bona fide friendship level. He was Jimmy Johnson; Jonno; the guy who had been fighting with Pete Rainer some three years before. Since those days of being desperate to impress his crew, he had let drinking and ballooning become his main goal. He still got into fights, but now he wasn’t the one starting them. He got into trouble with fully-grown heads; well established Ingham figures. The typical scenario is that he’d fall on their tables and knock all their beers over, or accidently trip up and land in the bosom of some nutter’s wife. He was quite a card.

I really grew to like Jonno at this time, but he could be the most irritating person on Earth. He was the stereotype bad influence; the guy who’d knock you up at three in the morning, despite it being Tuesday, to go fishing. “I don’t like fishing Jonno”, I’d say, “Neither do I,” he’d reply, “But we can get loads of beer and a smoke and just chill out!” “Then why bother with the rods and bait?” “Cos it’s ace. Fishing is a man’s best friend, Leo!” Once again, he was quite a card.

At first, he was merely irritating, and only at the worst of times. But he began to follow me everywhere, and when he wasn’t following me, he was following Macca, and when he wasn’t following Macca, he was following Ricey, and so on. I was still courting Geraldine at the time, and Macca was with Louise, and someone like Jonno causes endless problems to young lovers. Not only was he a bad influence on the boys, but a blatant flirt with the girls. They did not respond, but his advances (however jokingly he may have intended them) were enough to keep Macca and I on the edge of our seats. I began to fear him being around Geraldine. She may have been fiercely independent and committed to me but, as any boyfriend can understand, the paranoia that she may be tempted was still there. Even more so when we had a tiff, for all she would’ve had to do was click her pretty little fingers.

After a while, however, my paranoia grew, and for an entirely different reason than Geraldine. On one particular night, I saw something that brought back the same fear that I had had at some obscure time in the past.

When I say night, I mean late afternoon. I had been on detention again, so it was about five o’clock on a crisp January twilight. I was on my way to the bus stop, alone. Each and every Inghamer had to walk through a dodgy Elswick area after detention, but regulars such as me were used to it. I was well adjusted to the barking dogs and eerie looking bagheads, but for this very reason did not prepare myself for shock. Shuffling along in my dreamworld, composing tunes and thinking of new scenarios in which the world might end, I heard the sounds of youths in the flats nearby. Of course, slight panic set in as this was not my territory, but I had kept my head down before and I could survive again. The boys weren’t looking my way anyway, so I only had to glide like a panther to ensure safety.

They made enough noise for me to be able to decipher how far away they were when I had reached the point that I could no longer dare to look. I calculated that they were headed in the opposite direction to me, and so deemed it safe to turn and get a look at them as they walked away. They walked in single file, like some perverted baghead army, and this state made it easier for me to focus on each individual in turn – like an identity parade.

The first was a tiny, skinny redhead with a baseball cap. The second was a beast of a lad; six- foot odd, built like a brick shithouse, arms longer than his legs, and wearing a black bobble. The third was about the same height, but skinny. The fourth, who was about the same height and weight as me, turned to the boy behind him and nearly clocked me looking. He too was wearing a cap.

In turn, they each turned a corner of one of the blocks to go out of sight. Not one looked back but number four, who as I said nearly saw me. But he too turned the corner and was gone. The boy at the back to whom he had said something, however, had a familiar walk. Who are you, I thought. I had to get a proper look at him, but in seconds he too was gone with the rest.

They say curiosity kills the cat, but a cat I am and there’s no denying it. Once the question had been raised, I had no choice but to find the answer even if my safety was at risk in doing so. I shimmied after them to the block corner, and peeped around to have a look. The gang had intermingled again, and I could not see which one was the familiar walk. They turned another corner.

I repeated the last action, and they had intermingled again, and then disappeared around another corner. And then another. The maze of corners made it splendid for my invisibility, and as I pursued these Elswick bagheads I actually began to enjoy the hunt, and who wouldn’t? Duckin’ and-a divin’ is a fine pursuit, especially if there’s some sort of risk involved. What’s the point of fishing for something you know you can easily catch, or something that won’t possibly bite back at all? None at all, unless you’re a coward, and I may have been a lot of things but a coward was not one of them. My pursuit began to make progress when I recognised one of the boys. I couldn’t think of his name until I rounded the next corner, when I made out the face of the beast of a boy boy. At this point, it didn’t take me long to dawn that I was getting carried away and should perhaps turn back. A more sensible Inghamer would have, when they recognised the beast-of-a-boy boy to be none other than Gary Swales, one of the crew that, some three years earlier, had demolished Nusam, Jonno and co., and given poor Ste Simpson what can only be described as brain damage. It was him alright, and I had no business being there.

These different realisations, however, happened in the same millisecond, and before I could turn away I saw still more. In one fell swoop, I identified each of the others. The tall, skinny guy was Ian Hart; Hartsy, and he too had been there that night. The big-ish guy of my size was Danny Mace, and he also was one of the culprits. The tiny, skinny, annoying and downright evil little f*** of a redhead, toothless devil was unmistakable, and I wondered why I hadn’t figured him instantly. He was Yahoo; otherwise known as Andrew Ross, little brother of the recently-demised Wayne. I was in the wrong place and time entirely.

That leaves the fifth member; the boy whose distinguishable walk inspired me to take up the chase in the first place. He too had a black bobble on, and so I couldn’t fully make out his face. He was wrestling with Danny Mace, like a proper mate to him. They were laughing and chaffing as proper mates do; getting all excited and frustrated and trying their hardest to impress their friends and each other. As I said, I couldn’t see him properly, and so when Macey gripped him in a headlock, it was his voice that gave the secret away. There he was, wrestling with someone as if he’d known him for years. Perhaps he had, but they had in no way been friends for this length of time. Or perhaps they had. You can never ever really know where you stand with Jonno.

Aye, that’s who it was: my new mate and leading bad influence, Jimmy Johnson. I’d recognise that foul mouth anywhere, even if it was rolling around on the floor and grunting. There he was, before my very eyes, cavorting with the sworn enemies of the Nusam crew. They had wanted to kill him once upon a time, and would have too if it wasn’t for the intervention of the Police. Not too long ago, they had put his childhood pal Ste Simpson in a critical condition, and now he was damaged for life. Not too far away in the past, they would have done the same to him had he had any kind of substance to him; substance that would drive him to help out his allies when they needed it. I had never wanted to be involved in the pointless wars of my obscure neck of the woods in Manchester but, for the second time in my life, I felt a certain loyalty. The first time was the night in Brookview, when I almost took leave of my senses and jumped into the carnage. These bastards made me sick. Moreover, I had a new name for pain, and it was Jimmy Johnson. What merry dance was he leading us all into, and when would I feel the brunt of knowing so much but doing so little?

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