Authors: Dan Tunstall
Five Leaves Publications
Out of Towners
by Dan Tunstall
Published in 2011 by Five Leaves Publications
PO Box 8786, Nottingham NG1 9AW
Â© Dan Tunstall, 2011
Five Leaves acknowledges financial support from Arts Council England
Five Leaves is represented by Turnaround and distributed by Central Books
Cover photograph and design: Heron
Typesetting and design: Four Sheets Design and Print
To the spirit of The Legend Inn 1990
With thanks to Penny and Jennifer Luithlen, Ross Bradshaw, Bali Rai, everyone at Leicester Libraries, Carey, Alex, Lily, Mum, Dad and all my mates.
There are moments in time that you just know you're going to remember for as long as you live. This is one of them. I check my watch. It's half past two on Friday 26th of June and the National Express 677 coach is pulling into Whitbourne Bus Depot. Me, Robbie, Dylan and George are grinning like fools. It's almost too good to be true. We're sixteen. We finished our GCSEs last Friday. The summer is stretching out in front of us. And we're on our first lads' holiday. It doesn't get any better than this.
As the coach grinds to a halt, brakes hissing, Dylan stands up. He pulls his rucksack down from the rack.
“Right then boys,” he says.
My stomach flips over. From the minute Robbie suggested having a weekend at his mum and dad's caravan in East Sussex when GCSEs were over, it's been about the only thing I've thought of. Which didn't help with my revision. Still, I reckon I did okay. And now the exams are done and we're actually here.
I'm the next one on my feet. It's good to be able to stretch my legs. Apart from half an hour in Victoria Coach Station in London, we've been wedged into these seats since nine o'clock this morning. All the way from Letchford. I get my bag and follow Dylan to the front of the coach. Robbie's behind me and George is at the back, stooping forward slightly so he doesn't hit his head on the ceiling.
I jump down onto the tarmac, pulling my bag onto my shoulder. The air smells of diesel fumes and oil. We stand to the side while everyone else gets off and then we wait for George to get his case out of the luggage hold. Me, Robbie and Dylan have got sports bags or rucksacks. George has got a huge bright red capsule suitcase with wheels and a handle. It's like something my uncle Keith would take on a Mediterranean cruise. As George trundles it towards us, Robbie starts to laugh.
“Can't believe you brought that.”
I pat my pockets, checking my wallet, change, key and phone.
“Come on then,” I say. “Are we getting off?”
Dylan and Robbie nod, but George is fiddling about.
“Wait a sec,” he says. He stands his suitcase on its end, gets his mobile out and wanders over to where a bloke in an orange reflective jacket is brushing litter into a big yellow scuttle.
“Excuse me,” George says, holding his phone out. “Could you take a photo of me and my mates?”
The bloke looks at him for a second or two. Eventually he nods.
George gives him the mobile and walks back across to us.
“Right lads. Smile for the camera.”
We all stand in a line. I feel a bit of a nob.
The bloke takes the shot, hands George his phone, then gets back to his sweeping.
“Cheers,” George says, but the bloke isn't listening.
George has a look at the picture. He tosses the phone to me.
“Here you go Chris. What do you think?”
I squint at the image on the screen, checking myself out. My mum reckons there's a resemblance to Jamie Redknapp. I don't know if I can see it, but I'm not unhappy with how things turned out looks-wise. My face is quite long, but my cheekbones are good, my nose is straight, my skin is clear and girls say they like my brown eyes. It's a bit vain I suppose, but I'm down here for more than the sunbathing. It's the seaside. There's going to be girls here.
I have another glance at the photo. At everyone, this time. We don't look like a gang. Me and Robbie are both about five-nine, but you've got George who's six-three, and at the other end of the scale you've got Dylan who reckons he's five-six, but he's definitely adding an inch or two. And then there's the haircuts. My brown crop, brushed up at the front, Dylan's number two, Robbie's curls, which he gets from his Jamaican mum, and George's blond Brillo pad. Even our clothes don't match. Me and Robbie are in jeans and hoodies and Etnies trainers, but Dylan's in sports gear as usual and George is in the sort of stuff only he would wear. Three-quarterlength shorts and a T-shirt with a picture of Sylvester the cat holding a surfboard. Like I said, we don't look like a gang. But we are.
I chuck the phone back to George. “It's a good shot mate,” I say. “I'll get you to BlueTooth it to me later on.”
All the other passengers have gone now. The coach driver has closed up the luggage compartments and he's setting off for the canteen.
“Okay then,” Robbie says. “Let's rock and roll.”
We head for the exit. The automatic doors swish open and we're out on the streets of Whitbourne. It doesn't look much different to Letchford. Across the road there's a launderette. Mario's Washeteria. Mario's looks like it closed down a long time ago. The windows are boarded up and someone's put a brick through the Perspex sign above the door. Every dog in the surrounding area seems to have taken it in turns to crap outside the place and graffiti is daubed all over the walls. A few swastikas and
ANTHONY IS A TWAT
in big capitals.
Dylan raises his eyebrows. “Welcome to Whitbourne,” he says. “Ain't exactly St Tropez, is it?”
I laugh. Whitbourne's just a knackered little resort between Brighton and Eastbourne. It doesn't matter though. The sun's struggling to get through a bank of grey cloud. There's a bit of a wind blowing and a slight chill in the air. But there's nowhere on earth I'd rather be.
“Which way are we going then Robbie?” George asks.
Robbie rubs his nose. He doesn't answer.
Dylan cocks his head on one side.
“Robbie,” he says. “It's your mum and dad's caravan. You know how to get there don't you?”
“Yeah yeah yeah,” Robbie spits, machine-gun style. “Course I do. Just need to get my bearings. Not come here on a coach before, have I?”
A few more seconds pass. Robbie looks left and then right. A smile spreads across his face. He's got it sussed.
“Okay,” he says, pointing. “It's this way. Got to tell you though, it's quite a long walk.”
We set off. All the buildings on the street look the same. Two-storey, flat-roofed boxes with warped wooden cladding along the front and shops on the ground floor. Most of the shops are shut down, but a couple of spot-cash places are still open for business. We come to a corner by a big CarpetWorld. There's a sale on and someone's tied bunches of red and green balloons either side of the doorway. The car park is empty.
Turning left, we come past a red brick building.
, a sign says. A few dodgy characters are smoking on the pavement outside. At the top of the steps, a fat security guard is frisking an agitated-looking bloke in a beige Lacoste shellsuit. Seagulls are wheeling and screeching overhead, but there's still no sign of the seafront. There's still not much sign of the sun yet either. If anything, it's getting colder. I zip my hoody tight under my chin.
After a couple more minutes, Dylan starts up again.
“Shit, man,” he says. “You weren't kidding about it being a long way, were you Robbie? If I'd known it was a walking holiday I'd have brought my hiking boots.”
“Shut up Dylan,” Robbie snaps.
He's annoying, Dylan. Always winding people up. Robbie's usually fairly laid-back, but Dylan's starting to piss him off.
As usual, George acts as the peacemaker.
“Hey you two,” he says. “Stop messing.”
Robbie and Dylan keep on scowling at each other, but they do what George says. George is the Voice Of Reason. He moved to Letchford from Birmingham when he was eleven. With his Brummie accent and the way he looks, he reminds me of Adrian Chiles off the telly. The one who's always banging on about West Brom.
On the face of it, George is totally different from me and Robbie and Dylan. We all play football. School teams, Sunday league, that kind of thing. We're all pretty decent players. But George is the sort who gets picked last in PE. He's such a good lad though. The soundest bloke you could ever find. And he cracks me up.
I look around, taking in a bit of the local colour. There's a cross-eyed bloke in a flat cap with a can of own-brand lager in his hand weaving our way. Outside the Health Centre over the road, a junkie is staggering up and down with a handful of prescriptions and a dog on a string. I can hear a thud-thud-thud sound coming from somewhere. Loud music on a car stereo, getting closer.
Robbie's calmed down now.
“Come on,” he says. “Let's get going.”
A few hundred metres further and we come to a pedestrian crossing. We're just stepping out when we nearly get cleared up by two cars screaming past, music blasting. Before I can register what's going on, Dylan's jumped into the road grabbing his balls.
“Tossers!” he shouts.
There's a sudden screech of brakes. The cars have stopped.
Dylan lets go of his balls and gets back onto the path.
Two seconds later, six white lads are bundling out of the motors. Four from a sky blue Peugeot 205, two from a black Citroen Saxo. They're a few years older than us. About eighteen to twenty. Baggy trousers, logos and chunky jewellery. They're heading our way.
“Oh shit,” I say. “Great start to the weekend. A slapping from the local chavs.” We're all rooted to the spot. Running's not an option with all our luggage.
The lads from the cars are right in our faces now. A big geezer with gelled black hair and a green hoody seems to be the leader. He doesn't look the sharpest tool in the box. He's breathing through his mouth, eyes half-closed. There's a tattoo on his neck.
. I assume it's his name. Having it tattooed probably comes in handy if he ever forgets what he's called.
“Got a problem?” he says, diamond earring glinting.
Dylan's straight in there. He's got a habit of acting the hard man.
“You virtually ran us over,” he says.
One of Kirkie's mates pipes up. He's about Dylan's height, wearing a red baseball cap. He's got the kind of acne I thought people didn't have in the twenty-first century.
“You should watch where you're going, shouldn't ya?”
Dylan's puffing out his chest, like he always does when he's in a confrontation. He's about to say something else but George steps in.
“Yeah, we're sorry,” he says.
Kirkie's little mate spins round to stare at George.
“We're sorry,” George says again. “We don't want any trouble.”
For some reason the lad in the cap looks like he wants to kill someone.
“Shut your mouth you lanky twat,” he snarls. He seems to have taken George's height as a personal insult. It wouldn't be the first time George has ended up as a target.
Another of Kirkie's crew comes forward. He's got fag burns in his tracky bottoms and a pair of very clean fake Timberlands on. His head is the shape of one of those old-fashioned lightbulbs, hair receding at the temples. He looks at our bags and George's case. You can almost hear the cogs whirring in his brain.
“We don't like out of towners,” he grunts.
I don't know why, but I find this dead funny. I bite my tongue and stare down at the ground. I look across at Robbie. He's trying not to laugh too.