Authors: Ross Gilfillan
There’s the first of many pauses.
Then Frank coughs again and says, gazing about at the pristine room of many colours and unexpected items. ‘We was at Hillsborough but this eagle-eyed twat—’
‘On the fucking turnstiles,’ Harry says.
‘Recognizes us from our mugshots.’
‘And has the old Bill escort us off the premises.’
‘No fucking football for us today.’
‘So being as we was up your way,’ Frank says. ‘We thought we’d take you up on your invitation, like.’
Les breaks his silence with an economic, ‘Yeah.’
Frank’s taken a good, hard look at the strange way Nutter’s chosen to sort out his place up North. But it’s not the room but
Roger himself that Frank’s looking at now.
‘Nice fleece,’ Frank says, then turns to see Clive coming in with the beers. ‘Fuck me, does everyone wear them up here?’
Clive offers around a tray of small, lager-filled glasses. They have never had beer from anything but pint pots and bottles before and each man takes the little glass gingerly, as if he’s not sure what it is. They drink, however and Les shows that although he might be quiet, thoughtful, if you like, he’s also the sophisticated one. He grips his glass and cocks his little finger.
There is another pause. Frank tries to throw off first impressions and be as genial as surroundings permit. He coughs again. ‘So, Nutter, my old old mucker, how’s life treating you up here in the sticks?’
Roger says he’s doing okay, business going well and everything on the up. He’s not going to tell them that he hasn’t felt so happy in years and the reason for this is that he’s shortly to marry a woman more beautiful than any they will have ever seen in Peckham, or Peckham, New Cross and Lewisham put together, for that matter. He knows instinctively that having them turn up at the Registry Office might not be a good thing.
‘We had some times, didn’t we?’ Frank says, thereby opening a fertile field of reminiscence as he and Harry try to outdo themselves by recalling ever more violent incidents in their not-too-distant pasts. Like the time Harry and Les picked up a security guard and tried to use his head as a battering ram against an off-license window.
‘He was a Northerner too,’ Harry says. ‘Ain’t that right, Leslie?’
‘He was thick-headed, all right,’ Les agrees.
‘There we were, banging his head against this plate-glass window and all he can say is—’
‘Gee’ o’er, lads, tha’s giving me a headache.’
There’s some more chat along these lines and Frank fills Roger in on what’s happened to which of their old mates, who’s got
hitched, who’s still in hospital and who’s in which prison. Then they all look into their empty glasses until Clive takes the hint and carries them off for refills. The men watch him leave.
‘Dainty on his feet, innee?’ Les says.
Harry gives him a look. They’ve all had their suspicions about Clive since he took his embroidery along to a gentleman’s boxing evening in Catford, but he’s Nutter’s boy and Nutter is, or at least, was, Nutter. You don’t go casting asparagus, as Clive would have said, at members of their firm, past or present. Or their offspring. They have a code of honour, these men. Roger has begun to relax. He talks about my dad and the trouble he’s had running a business when he’s had a barrage of complaints via the Council, all emanating from the house over that big fence out there.
Now it’s my turn to feel uncomfortable. The lads immediately offer their services. They’ll fix him good, they say. Trash his garden, torch his car. Post something nasty through his letterbox. Threaten the cunt. But Roger says, no, that’s not the way you do things in places like Laurel Gardens. What you do, Roger says, is you ignore such provocations.
‘Ignore them?’ Frank says, clearly amazed.
‘That’s right,’ Roger says. ‘You rise above them.’
‘Fuck me, I see. It’s different up here, innit?’
For his part, Frank seems prepared to ignore Clive’s dainty walk as he returns with another tray of little glasses and perhaps to overlook the way Roger’s gaff has been decorated, entirely by Clive, he’s certain of it. And also to overlook the way his old mate dresses himself these days. Though, fuck me, I can hear him thinking, it’s all going to make for some funny stories down the Dog and Duck when they’re all safely back down South. But what he can’t ignore is whatever bulky item he’s sat down upon, and which he’s been aware of ever since but has been too uncomfortable in other ways to do anything about. Now he reaches under his big arse and pulls something from under it. It’s a
magazine, or something. It’s porn, a jazz mag, he reckons. Looks like Asian Babes. No, wait a minute, he thinks, as he holds it up to get a better look and the thing becomes a magnet for the gazes of everyone present, it’s only a fackin’ catalogue for mail order brides!
But he doesn’t say that, just flicks through pages and pages of smiling female faces, while everyone else is silent and then he finally pronounces, in an almost amiable way, ‘You’re a bit of a dark horse, Nutter. I didn’t know you liked a taste of the tar brush.’
But no matter how Frank has tried to treat it lightly, Harry and Les snigger behind him like a pair of Muttleys behind Dick Dastardly. Roger himself is wearing a look like Frank has probably never seen before, because the magazine has naturally fallen open on Pao-Pei’s page and her silk-covered breasts are beneath Frank’s fat thumb. Frank sees he has made some sort of a mistake, a little
, and tries to back-pedal.
‘Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mate, not in this day and age. And to be honest, now, who could blame anyone for fancying a piece of that, eh? I mean, Harry, you’d poke that, wouldn’t you?’
‘She’d look all right with a bit of British beef inside her,’ Harry concedes.
Les’s turkey neck is craning for a better view. ‘I’d not kick her out of bed, either,’ he says. ‘Not until I’d given her a proper porking, anyway.’
Roger is doing his best to keep a lid on it, but Clive recognizes the danger signs. If he looks carefully, he can see that his dad’s eyeballs appear to be rolling independently of each other. Only a little, but he’s sure he’s seen it. It’s not good. But Frank and Harry haven’t noticed. Harry’s now on about a piece of scientific evidence a friend of his read about on the internet, saying that coloured people were 85 percent less intelligent than white people. All of them, even their doctors, he’s saying.
‘That’s right,’ Les says. ‘I heard that.’
Frank’s unsure about the figure and says so, though he thinks the general idea is right enough. But, he says, having another glance at Pao-Pei’s smiling face, that needn’t stop you wetting your willy where you want to, need it? Especially if you wore a nice, thick condom.
Which is where Clive thinks it might all kick off. But it doesn’t, as at that moment, the door chime plays I Will Survive and Clive goes out to let in Faruk, with two of his mates from the mosque. ‘Fuck me, blinding game,’ Faruk’s saying. ‘Four nil. Four nil, Clivey! I’m fucking fucked! Got anything to drink? Is BJ here? I thought we could all go down the Casablanca. You up for that?’
But Clive isn’t saying anything as he leads the three newcomers into the living room, where jaws do a little dropping at the sight of the two Asians and Faruk.
‘Tell them we don’t want any,’ Harry says. ‘Whatever they’re selling.’
‘Christ,’ Frank says. ‘Can’t an Englishman have a little privacy in his own castle?’
‘This is Faruk,’ Roger says. ‘A mucker of my boy’s.’
‘I don’t give a toss about him,’ Frank says. ‘It’s the monkeys with him.’
‘They’re my friends from the mosque,’ Faruk says. ‘Khalid and Sadik. What’s your problem?’ Having a low fear threshold has often been a problem for Faruk.
‘Oi, Roger, Clive’s mate or not, this bloke’s out of order,’ Frank says.
There’s a moment when it seems to me that positions are being reconsidered. Then—
‘They’re all fucking Muslims!’ Harry says, remembering what a ‘mosque’ is, at last.
‘No, no,’ Roger says. ‘That’s Faruk. He’s not a Muslim.’
‘Um,’ Clive says. ‘I think he is, Dad.’
Roger takes a minute. ‘But he’s white.’
Another minute. Roger’s face performs some awkward contortions.
‘Well fucking hell, so what?’ he says, when he’s straightened things in his mind, apparently. ‘He’s still Faruk.’
Which, of course, doesn’t play well with Roger’s mates.
‘He’s a Muslim but he’s white,’ Harry says.
‘Which makes him not just a Muslim, but a traitor,’ Les says, fingering something in his pocket.
‘I don’t think it does,’ Roger Dyson says, uncertainly.
‘Tell that to some squaddie who had his legs blown off,’ Frank growls.
‘What’s a poof like him know about real men, anyway?’ Harry says.
I have an awkward feeling that I ought be standing up for Clive at this point.
‘You call my son a poof and you’ll answer to me, you cunt,’ Roger tells Harry.
Is it now, Clive’s thinking, will it all kick off now?
‘He’s just saying, Nutter,’ Franks says. ‘That’s all.’
‘I’m not having it, Frank,’ Roger says. ‘You come around here, insulting my boy and his friends…’
‘But come on, Nutter, they’re fucking Pakis,’ Frank says, reasonably.
‘And Muslims,’ Les mutters from behind.
‘What need teaching a fucking lesson,’ Harry says, ‘if you ask me.’
It’s now, Clive’s thinking.
And he’s right.
Frank, Harry and Les are on their feet. Les has something in his hand. It’s a Stanley knife, probably made in Sheffield. I’m pumping adrenaline, heart hammering. Roger clocks the knife but keeps his hands in his pockets. Faruk and his mates stand
their ground, the silly sods. Clive is with them, but must be wishing he wasn’t.
‘I want an apology, Nutter,’ Frank is saying.
‘An apology? For what?’
‘For putting three Englishmen in the same room as these fucking Muslims and Pakis. For this poncy house. For leaving Peckham. For fucking changing, Nutter. I want an apology for all of that. And especially’ — he points a broken-nailed forefinger at Clive, who is flicking back his floppy hair – he does it unconsciously in times of crisis — ‘I want an apology for him.’
One final, brittle pause. And then:
‘This is all the apology you’re getting today, Frank.’
Nutter swings a brick fist squarely at Frank’s jaw. Something flashes – who would have thought there was a knuckleduster in his Hugo Boss chinos – and there’s a sickening cracking of bone or tooth. Frank spins about and lurches backwards, smacking into Harry and Les and all three land neatly on the sofa, looking briefly like visitors just arrived for tea before scrambling to their feet, Frank with a nasty, bloody mouth, Les nursing his craft knife and Harry wielding one of Roger’s bone china vases.
‘Not here, Frank,’ Roger’s saying, casting a rueful glance about him. ‘We’ll finish this outside.’ But though Faruk’s flung open the French windows, Frank, Harry and Les are going nowhere – until Frank takes a fatal step forward – which is when Clive stuns everyone by making the first move. He picks up something from a side table and throws it – it’s his prized Lalique glass bowl. It misses whoever he might have been aiming at but smashes expensively against a wall.
But his father’s face lights up. ‘Nice one, my son!’ he growls. Taking advantage of the moment, he helps himself to a big handful of Harry’s denim jacket and – shaking him like he’s plumping a big blue cushion – he sends him crashing heavily into Frank. it’s cushions that Clive’s brandishing now as he swipes repeatedly at Les’s surprised face. Whatever Les was
expecting, it clearly isn’t a pair of burgundy scatter cushions, which distract him just long enough for Roger’s Burberry boot to connect forcefully with his balls. I can feel his pain as he drops his knife and doubles up on the floor.
Whether the cavalry is needed or not, this is when it turns up, in the forms of Jalil and Zahid, the remaining members of Faruk’s five-a-side team, who have apparently stopped off to buy packets of crisps and big bottles of Coke. They’re still wearing their football boots for some reason. These two are much bigger and older than Faruk and the others and visibly fitter than anyone present. Jalil is known as The Taj, ‘because he’s built like the fucking Taj Mahal’. They’ve sized up the situation in a flash and while Zahid plays cat and denim mouse with Harry, the enormous Jalil pursues Frank around the sofa, totally oblivious to Roger, who’s chasing them both, screaming, ‘Not in your football boots, for fuck’s sake! Not on this fucking floor!’
The French windows being open, everything spills into Clive’s garden. I follow, but not being a fighting man, there’s nothing much I can do but spectate. It’s total chaos – Neighbourhood Watch, if they’re watching, must be having heart attacks – and it’s noisy, too; 13, Laurel Gardens is sounding like Wembley after a disputed goal by Germany. I wonder if Dad has heard the shouting and is now peering from his lookout on the stairs landing. If he is, he’ll see several blokes in football strips dodging and weaving about with no actual football in sight. He’ll see Roger chasing after someone who’s holding a camel coat but doesn’t appear to have the ball either. And it’ll look like this game of invisible football is getting out of hand, because now a couple of the players are swapping punches, and there’s no sign of the ref.
And then they’re all at it and I wouldn’t like to be the little bloke in the broken glasses or the fat one in the denim with the crushed pork pie hat. I’m dodging here and there, undecided whether I’m looking for an easy piece of the action, so I can claim
to have got stuck in, or for a safe way through the melee to the garden gate – which I see swinging open now to admit a familiar figure. Predictably, it’s my dad – afternoon in deckchair with Alan Titchmarsh on
Desert Island Discs
ruined, he’s storming up the garden path to complain about the racket from over the fence. As soon as he sees Roger, his hand shoots up like a referee with a yellow card. He was very probably about to say, ‘Hoi, you! Dyson! Just what is the meaning of this?’
But at the moment his hand shoots up, Frank is in the wrong place as he swerves to dodge Roger’s boot. He catches Dad’s fist full in the face and topples over like a sack of spuds. Dad springs back as if he’s been attacked himself, then Roger’s all over Frank before he can recover himself and together with Rashid and Jalil, he teaches Frank that trespassing on Dyson turf can be a very dangerous business. It’s not at all nice.