‘Hey Cory. Everything OK?’
‘Sorry, Matt, I know it’s your day off, but it’s all going tits up here.’
‘Tits up how?’
I’d left everything in perfect working order yesterday, so as to be able to have a rare match day off to celebrate my fortieth and Rosa’s first birthdays.
Dec and Amy’s fourth, and allegedly final, child had been born exactly a year ago, on my birthday. She had caused all sorts of drama, right from the start, with Amy suffering horrendous morning sickness, then seriously high blood pressure, then having a nightmare labour resulting in an emergency caesarean, before arriving a month early, on the afternoon of my thirty-ninth birthday, and spending the first two weeks of her life in an incubator, tubes erupting from nearly every orifice.
She was a bloody little fighter, though, with her shock of red hair and her indignant cries as she protested her lot in early life. It wasn’t until she was released from the hospital, and got some serious cuddles from her relieved parents and wider family, that she calmed down, as if she’d been yelling for that attention all this time, and finally people were giving her what she wanted, dammit.
Rosa always wanted cuddles, from everyone, possibly a throwback to her early experiences when they were few and far between, and one of my joys has been the tiny redhead clambering into my lap for a story, or just to sit sucking her thumb while she gazed spellbound at a DVD.
But anyway, so now she was one year old, and we were having a joint party, because turning forty makes you feel like being a big kid, and it was going to be a bit of a Scott free-for-all, naturally organised by Beth, except that now I was talking to Cory, it sounded very much like I wasn’t going to make it to my party.
This big ‘0’ birthday could not have been more different from my thirtieth, when nobody had really seemed to notice and when I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of interest. This time, well firstly there was the party, which yeah was mainly for the kids, but I was excited about it too. And then, I’d woken up this morning with Lau’s tongue in my mouth and her hands on my balls, and she wasn’t trying to get me out of bed; she was trying to keep me in it so she could get into my pants. Awesome.
Unfortunately, before we could complete proceedings, the door handle rattled and Josh and Ella were there with cards they’d made and presents Lau had bought for them to give me, and we had a big family smush before breakfast, and I really hardly minded about not completing proceedings.
There had been texts from hilarious people all day, reminding me how ancient I now was, but the truth was, I didn’t feel it. I had felt older at thirty, probably due to being with a girlfriend who a) didn’t care that it was my birthday and b) was several years younger than me, so had no idea what a big deal an ‘0’ birthday was.
But now, loads of people were letting me know they knew it was a big deal, and I felt great about it. Hey, I had everything, didn’t I? Well, not everything, I wasn’t sitting on my private island, hopping on my private jet to my private skyscraper or some such shit, but I was pretty happy with life. Oh, except now it looked like there was a cloud on the horizon regarding the party. Fuck it.
‘The system’s crashed.’
‘All of it.’
That meant serious, unmitigated, fuckety fuck fuck fuck disaster time. Full Titanic meets iceberg. With – I checked my watch – less than five hours until kick off, none of the ticketing systems would be working, which meant no new tickets could be sold, the bar code scanners wouldn’t recognise tickets or season tickets, the cash registers in the bars would be locked up, the scoreboard wouldn’t work, the player GPS would be down, and any number of similarly disastrous things that wouldn’t be happening.
‘Any idea why?’
‘Not yet, it just happened. Sorry, Matt, me and Jenna have tried, but nothing’s worked.’
‘Have you tried turning it off and on again?’
‘Oh ha ha. Actually, yes. Can you think of anything else?’
‘I think I need to be there.’
‘But isn’t it your party?’
‘Yeah, Cory, but I think I’d rather have a job on Monday than be full of cake and fizzy pop tonight. I’ll be there in … give me half an hour so I can explain and escape.’
‘Beth, really sorry, major disaster @ work, will b late. Save me some jelly.’
‘Oh no, Matty. How late?’
‘Not sure, dep on size of iceberg.’
‘Don’t count on me. Sorry.’
‘Hello Malcolm, what can I do for you?’
‘Matt, I just wanted to thank you for your efforts today. I don’t think anyone noticed the glitches, but I appreciate you giving up your time and making sure the game went ahead.’
‘Oh, er, how did you know I was there?’
‘I don’t miss much when it comes to Raiders. You averted a fairly catastrophic situation for us – today was a sell out, and we would have had to postpone.’
‘Well it just took a bit of jiggery-pokery. Cory and Jenna had most of it covered.’
‘You are a very modest man. Your efforts have not gone unnoticed, or the fact you gave up a family celebration.’
‘Oh, well, thanks Malcolm.’
‘I’ll see you on Monday. Goodbye Matt.’
I’d missed the party. Not all of it, I’d made it back in time for the last of the pass the parcel, and to get a goody bag (Beth had made me a special one which included miniature whisky, some chocolate body paint and a condom – at least I hope that’s not what was in the ones she gave to all the kids), but I’d missed the jelly and ice-cream, the joint birthday cake, the musical statues, the murder in the dark and all of the squealing.
Josh and Ella were full of sugar and e-numbers, and were running about the hall Beth had hired like things possessed, along with all the other hyped up Coke-heads. The day was saved, for me, by Mum and April offering to have all of the kids, at Dec’s house, while Dec, Amy, Jay and Beth took Lau and me out to dinner. It was a more grown-up celebration than I had been planning, but it meant that Dec and Jay could be there. They hadn’t made it to the party either, because of the Raiders home game.
So in the end, it all worked out, as it tended to, and I got brownie points aplenty for being a) a work hero and b) chilled about it all. Oh, also, I let Lau get in my pants later as we’d been so rudely interrupted earlier. Result.
Ayesha Chaudhry. Quiet, unassuming, totally hot (not that I noticed of course), science project partner. When we were assigned partners, I didn’t give much thought to who I was going to get. They usually paired boys up with boys and girls up with girls, but there must have been an odd number, so Ayesha and I ended up growing plants in the dark together.
I got home one night, and Lau was waiting for me, like she wanted to say something. I thought about the date, and what it might be that she wanted to say, and I was excited, as I had been every month for the last year, since we’d stopped using contraception. I knew these things often took a while, and I wasn’t in any particular mad hurry to expand our family, but it was just … something to look forward to, in the fullness of time.
‘Hey gorgeous. You look stunning today.’
She was distracted, as if she hadn’t heard me.
‘What’s up, Lau?’
‘My period started.’
I was disappointed, but not crushed, there was always next month, or the next, ad infinitum.
‘Bugger. Well, we’ll just have to get cracking on this month’s instalment of The Baby-making Tales then.’
I hugged her, but she pulled away slightly.
‘I don’t think it’s good for us, living from month to month like this. It feels like a lot of pressure.’
I had tried so hard not to put any pressure on Lau, to try to let things happen naturally, no ovulation charts or rushing home because the temperature was just right, or getting stressed because we missed a chance, none of that bollocks. Just Matt and Lau having a good time, getting it on when we felt like it, see what happens. It had worked for me, maybe I hadn’t been paying close enough attention to whether it was working for Lau.
‘So are you saying … what? You want to stop trying?’
She shook her head.
‘No, of course not. I just … think we shouldn’t be expecting it to happen. It might not. I’m nearly forty, and you already are. Maybe it’s too old for another one, maybe it might not happen anyway.’
‘What are you talking about woman? We’re in the prime of life. You’re gorgeous, and so am I. We’ve got plenty of time to make the world’s most gorgeous babies, at least ten more.’
She looked at me, sadly, and stroked my face.
‘I hope so. I’m just saying we should be realistic about our chances.’
‘Lau, you’re giving up.’
Now I was crushed. It felt like she was saying never.
‘No I’m not, my love, I’m truly not. I still want it, so much, but I have to let it go, this hope, every month. It’s not doing me any good.’
‘Fuck, Lau, I didn’t think.’
Lau would let me get away with the occasional ‘fuck’, as long as a) the occasion demanded it and therefore it wasn’t gratuitous, b) the children weren’t within earshot and c) I didn’t go overboard in the cursing department. Obviously the occasion merited it this time, as yet again I’d been an insensitive bastard. It was easy for me: First, get my end away with as much regularity as I could muster, and I could muster pretty damn regularly. Second, wait for any ensuing offspring to appear.
It honestly hadn’t occurred to me that Lau might be going through a different emotional process. Every month it had been more like ‘oh well, let’s get trying again’ rather than sackcloth and ashes, and she’d managed to hide how she felt from me with startling aplomb.
‘It’s OK, it’s only really the last couple of months, I just don’t want us to spend the next however long with it being all we can think about. We need to live our lives with the children we’ve got, not spend it being sad about the ones we haven’t.’
How did she do it? I found myself wondering how she did it at least twice a week, when she just said exactly the right thing to make me see the sense in something.
‘You’re right, Lau. You always bloody well are. OK, from now on, it’s if it happens it happens, and if not, well, we already have the world’s most awesome family anyway, so fuck you fertility.’
‘So no more planning the colour of the nursery.’
Her mind-reading voodoo was starting to scare me now.
‘How did you know that?’
‘Saw you looking at colour charts on the iPad. And no more eyeing up Tottenham babygros in the online shop.’
Shit, the woman had spies everywhere. I almost looked around me for hidden cameras.
‘Tell you what you can do, though.’
‘G and T, ice and a slice?’
‘Ooh, yeah, in a bit, but first, kiss your wife.’
‘Oh, gladly. I thought it was going to be something difficult and unpalatable.’
‘I might not have brushed my teeth.’
‘I’m feeling reckless, I’ll chance it.’
We started off a bit unsure of each other, got to know each other really quickly and ended up being great friends. I know what you’re thinking, that I hadn’t learned my lesson from before, from when Chrissie was my girl friend, then my girlfriend, and then my everything, then my nothing; but I had. I’d learned. I didn’t fancy Ayesha in the slightest. Her long, thick wavy hair, her deep brown eyes, her skin the colour of toffee, her full, dark lips, I didn’t notice any of it. We were just mates.
We talked, right from the start. About the project to start with, then she asked me about Katya, because she’d been bullied a bit by the Holy Trinity and was checking out whether I was in or out of their circle of influence. I was happy to report that I was so far out of the circle that I was practically a little square all on my own, and then she smiled at me from underneath her eyelashes, and that was that.
How did this happen? How did my tiny babies end up dressed in a school uniform, on their first day at St John’s Primary? I just stared at them both, until they giggled nervously.
‘Daddy, why are you looking at us?’
‘You just look awesome, Squeaks. You’re so grown up.’
Ella rolled her eyes, her favourite facial expression.
‘I’m five, Daddy. I’m not growed up until I’m ten.’
I hid a smile.
‘Oh, my mistake. I like your backpack, Joshy. What’s in it?’
Josh shrugged. ‘Mummy put things in.’
Ella tutted. ‘Your lunch is there, and a drink, and some pencils. I’ve got Barry Bear in mine, and you’ve got Buzz Lightyear in yours.’
Josh nodded, happily, always confident that someone else was going to sort his life out. It was an occupational hazard of living surrounded by so many Scott control freaks.
Lau called from the hallway.
‘Have you both got your shoes on?’
‘Give Daddy a kiss, then, and come and get your coats on.’
Josh launched himself at me, small hands wrapping round my neck and a sloppy kiss splatting itself on my cheek. I ruffled his hair and hugged him to me. Ella hung back, not as demonstrative, then ran up and kissed me briefly in the same place as Josh, and ran out to Lau, wiping Josh’s slobber from her mouth as she did so.
‘Bye Matt. See you later.’
‘Bye, guys, have an awesome day.’
And then they were gone, and the house was silent, and it felt … eerie. Not that it hadn’t ever been silent before, but it hadn’t been empty before, kids out all day somewhere that wasn’t with Lau or me, or one of the family. It was going to be like this every day, although, obviously I wasn’t going to be here either, so Lau would be all on her own.
No new baby had been forthcoming, and we had admitted to ourselves and each other that a) it was unlikely now, and b) it was unwise given both our ages. The chances of any baby having some kind of disability got higher with every passing year, and although we would have loved any child of ours, it wasn’t something we actively sought. So we not only stopped trying, we started using contraception again, and that was done and dusted.
So Lau’s days were going to need filling with something. We were giving thought to what that might be, and she’d thought about working, not in the bastard MS service, as she’d given that job up for good a few years ago, but maybe some nursing bank work, or a few hours volunteering, or something. But for now, we were going to get the first day, week, month of school over, and make sure everything was OK for Josh and Ella.
I sat reading the paper and drinking tea until I heard the car come back, and Lau opened the front door. I looked up, to see how she was. I wasn’t surprised to see tears on her face, and I stood up and held my arms out. She fell into me and cried for a bit, then stopped, wiped her eyes and looked up and me.
‘Oh, I wasn’t going to do that. I’m so proud of them, they just toddled off, Ella saw Mary-Jane, and Josh joined in with some boys playing football, they hardly looked back. God, it’s quiet here, isn’t it.’
‘I was just thinking the same thing.’
I stroked her hair, and wiped her tears away.
‘They fill up this house. We should make the most of the silence, though.’
I raised my eyebrows suggestively.
‘Aren’t you going in to work?’
‘It’s my day off.’
‘Doesn’t usually stop you.’
Lau wasn’t being critical, just stating a fact. I couldn’t keep away from work, there was always some thorny problem I wasn’t happy until I’d solved, and I usually ended up at Raiders for a while, even on my days off.
‘It’s stopping me today. I want to spend the day with you, in our spookily quiet house, maybe making some noise of our own.’
‘Ooh, what did you have in mind? Turn the stereo up, bit of a party?’
‘Well, that could be part of it, if you like. Or, maybe –’
I pulled her to me again and kissed her, to leave her in no doubt about the sort of party I was suggesting.
‘– more that type of thing, with no one to ask why Mummy was shouting at Daddy in the night.’
‘God, noisy sex. I miss that.’
I nodded. ‘Me too. I bet we could be bloody noisy. I’ve got a decibel counter on my iPad, how about trying it out? First one to a hundred.’
‘OK, then, beach boy. Race you.’
I haven’t told you much about Baggo yet, have I? Maybe it’s time for him to have a starring role of his own. OK, so we’re seventeen. Baggo is still at school, just prior to jumping before he was pushed. He never really took his classes seriously, although he was a lot more brainy than he made out – Matty sussed that out once, when Baggo got the right answer to some quiz programme that was on the telly. We were all chatting, and the telly was just on in the background, we weren’t paying attention to it, and Baggo just said ‘quantum’, out of the blue, and none of us noticed except Matty, who said afterwards, ‘There’s more to your Baggo than meets the eye.’
But anyway, I keep getting sidetracked. So, we’re seventeen. Baggo is in more trouble at school than he knows what to do with – it’s coming from all sides. He’s not doing his coursework, he’s bunking off all the time, he’s giving the teachers lip, he keeps getting sent to the head teacher. His mum has been up there I don’t know how many times, but that doesn’t do much good because she hasn’t been able to tell him what to do since he was four, when his dad left.
Baggo had decided that Katie Rivers was the girl of his dreams. That was how Baggo did things. He didn’t just fancy someone, or slowly build a relationship out of a friendship, or any of the normal ways boys and girls got together. He went all out, total commitment, leading, usually, to total heartbreak. He would just come to school one day, usually a week or two after his last romantic escapade had hit the headlines, and declare that, in this case, ‘Katie Rivers is the one for me. I must have her in my arms, or preferably wrapped around my waist, by the end of the day.’
No amount of reminding him that Katie Rivers, or Lucy Fletcher, or Courtney Blenkinsop, you get the picture, had a boyfriend already who she seemed pretty into made any difference. It was as if he had tunnel vision, and could only focus on the object of his desire, whilst filtering out the unnecessarily inconvenient facts.
Sometimes it had worked for him. Courtney, for one, had ditched her boyfriend not long after Baggo began his chase, and they had four whole weeks of passion before he set fire to her mum’s coffee table by mistake, and the ardour cooled. But usually it led to tension, threats of beatings from the boyfriends, and me picking up the pieces.
By then, by the time we were seventeen, I was almost with Ayesha. I guess I’ll tell you that whole story later, because this is about Baggo, but it meant I was in a different place to him – I wasn’t experimenting, I was kind of settled, if you can ever be settled at seventeen, and I think Baggo felt I was a bit of calm at the centre of his storm. Or maybe he just liked Mum’s cake, and that’s why he was round at ours all the time. You could never tell with Baggo.
But anyway, back to Katie Rivers. Katie was the head girl at our school, and because these things have some kind of weird life of their own, she was going out with the head boy, Darren Stamp. They would sit and snog in the sixth form common room at break, do their French homework together in an empty classroom at lunchtimes, and be otherwise nauseatingly wrapped up in each other at most other hours of the day.
Why on earth Baggo set his sights on Katie I could not begin to guess at, but he has always relished a challenge, and maybe someone unattainable ticked the right boxes and pushed the right buttons. Perhaps it was the romantic equivalent of snowboarding down the North Face of the Eiger.
So on that day, when he made his declaration of his undying love for Katie Rivers, I groaned inwardly and got ready for a bumpy few weeks of trying to talk him out of it, while simultaneously keeping an eye out for an angry Darren Stamp, and at the same time attempting to keep him away from Katie as much as possible.
‘No, it’ll be alright, though. I’ve got a plan.’
‘Baggo, you’ve always got a plan. They’re always bloody terrible.’
‘They are not. My skateboard plan worked, my throw the shoe over the hedge plan worked, my –’
‘You nearly broke my leg with your skateboard, and you had to buy Cassandra a new pair of fuck-off expensive shoes. And she still didn’t go out with you.’
‘Well, OK, maybe not the shoe thing again, then. Right. Bugger it, I thought I was onto a winner. I’ve got a back up though. I’m learning the guitar.’
‘Since Michael got me one from his mate down the market.’
‘You can’t play the guitar.’
‘Dur, that’s why I’m learning. There’s this YouTube vid, I know two chords already.’
‘Er, A and, er, oh fuck it I can’t remember which letter it is. H? Is there an H?’
‘I don’t think so, Baggo. So this plan. Does it involve playing the guitar? Could be some time before it gets a run out.’
‘Fuck off. I’m gonna be great. I’m gonna serenade Katie. Tonight.’
I shook my head. Luckily I was at rugby training this evening, and would not have to witness or in any way be part of the humiliation.
‘You’ll come, right?’
‘Can’t mate. Training.’
‘Oh bollocks to your bloody training. Bloody rugby’s all you ever bloody think about. Oh, unless it’s football, or cricket or tennis or some other bloody knackering stupid-arse ooh-look-here’s-my-shiny-trophy sport shit. Ditch it, just this once. I need you, my plan won’t work without you.’
An excellent reason not to be a part of it, as far as I was concerned.
‘You don’t need me to make an idiot of yourself. Just turn up with your guitar and your one chord –’
‘One of which you can’t even name, and no amount of help I could give you is going to change the outcome.’
‘I’m going to sing ‘All of Me’. I’ve got it nailed.’
If Baggo had one thing going for him, it was his voice. Not much about him was cherubic, but he had the voice of an angel. If he’d been able to resist looking up the music teacher’s skirt, he’d have been in the school choir, probably the next Charlotte Church by now. If he was going to impress Katie, then singing to her was the one thing that was likely to work – what was I thinking? It was a terrible plan. Nothing about it, apart from Baggo’s voice, was in any way a good idea. But a small part of me, the part that Baggo had nurtured all these years with his schemes and adventures, wanted to see if it worked. I was tempted. But rugby training was not ditchable. When your dad is the coach, he kind of notices when you’re not there, and when he knows your every movement because you live with him, and your mum is Beth Scott who has radar instead of a brain, you don’t stand a chance of having a lie believed. It was probably what had kept me out of all the trouble Baggo seemed intent on landing me in up until now.
‘Eight thirty. It’ll be after the soaps and before I’m a Celebrity. It’s my window. I’ll be at her window in my window. Geddit?’
Baggo’s attempts at humour were best ignored. It only encouraged him otherwise.
‘How do you know she’ll be at home? She might be out with Darren somewhere – you remember Darren? Her boyfriend?’
‘No, he’s doing some Duke of Edinburgh thing, camping on the moors or something. He’s away all night. Come on, Cal, it’s my one chance.’
I weakened. He saw it.
‘All I need you to do is –’
‘Hang on, I haven’t said I will.’
‘But you will, though.’
‘Not until after training. Definitely not at eight thirty.’
How the bloody hell had that happened? I’d just found myself agreeing to help him out, without even knowing what he wanted me to do. Calum Scott, you should be ashamed of yourself.
‘Oh but –’
Baggo stopped himself as he realised he’d achieved a victory of sorts.
‘– OK, maybe later would be better. She might be in her nightie when she leans out of the window to listen.’
‘Ten. I can do ten. For half an hour, then you’re on your own.’
‘Awesome, mate. I just need someone to help me lift the amp out of Harry’s car.’
‘Er … amp?’
‘Yeah, you know, big speaker, and you plug a microphone in it and everyone can hear you.’
Oh sweet Jesus.
‘Baggo, you can’t do this with amplification. You’ll have the coppers round for disturbing the peace.’
‘She won’t hear me if I just warble away on my own. I need her to hear me. ‘All of me loves all of you, all your curves and all your edges, all your perfect imperfections.’ How could she not love it?’
‘You said you would now. I’m borrowing Harry’s car and his mate’s amp. I’ll see you there at ten. Cheers mate.’
And there we had it. That’s how I ended up explaining to two very nice policemen why my mate Baggo was passed out in the Rivers’ front garden, with a screeching amplifier keeping the whole street awake and a car that was on the verge of catching fire.
This is how it happened.
I was a bit late, because I’d had to stay behind at training to talk to the backs coach about the game on Saturday. I’d hoped that when I got to Katie’s house, Baggo might have thought I wasn’t coming and gone home, but wasn’t really surprised when I saw his brother’s car outside, and walked over to it.
‘Caaal. Ohh maaate. You caaaame.’
My heart sank when I saw the state of him, and smelt the booze drifting out of the open car window.
‘Shit, Bags, you didn’t drive over like that, did you?’
‘M’not pissed. Jus hadda coupla shots. Cutch dourage. Dutch. Whaevs. Nah. Drank it whenni got here. Wan some? Oh. S’none lef. Soz.’
‘Maybe we should just go home.’
‘Wha? Nononononono. I’m gonna sing to my ladily lovey, my lovedy lalidy, to Katie. You’re gonna help me witha amp. S’in the back.’
He leaned forwards and pushed the button that released the boot catch, then he opened the car door. I hoped he might find it too difficult to get out of the front seat, but he poured himself onto his feet and pulled me with him to the boot, where he stood swaying and looking slightly puzzled.
Baggo wasn’t a huge drinker; I mean, we’d both experimented with the contents of our parents’ drinks cupboards, blagged cheap cider off Baggo’s brothers, and been to parties where everyone was off their faces on something or other, but it was only a kind of social thing, in that vomming all over your mate’s shoes is ever particularly sociable. It didn’t take much to get Baggo shit-faced, and he paid heavily the next day, and as a consequence he didn’t overindulge very often. I could only think that he was more nervous about that evening’s planned performance than he had let on.
‘Hmm. Oh. S’right. Amp.’
Light dawned, and Baggo lifted the boot lid, displaying the amp, an electric guitar, a microphone and a tangle of leads.
‘Baggo, I really think –’
He cut me off.
‘Nonono, m’gonna do this. No poopy partying from Callywally. Gonna win my girl. Gonna winna girl. Like a prize, like a prize girl. Help me lif this motherfucker.’
He started pulling the enormous amp towards him. If I didn’t help, he was going to hurt himself, so I helped. The amp wasn’t easy to manhandle out of the car, and despite our efforts it crashed to the ground, wobbled a bit, and then sat in the road. Baggo leaned back into the car and pulled out the guitar and cables.
‘Michael sez it’s one a these bastards. Dunno which one.’
He held the tangle out to me, as if I was going to know.
‘Don’t look at me, mate, I haven’t got a bloody clue about all this. And what are you going to plug it into? There’s no electricity out here.’
‘Ahahaha. Tha’s where you’re wrongobongowrongowrongobongo. Gonna ‘tach the amp t’the car battery witha jump lead.’
‘Yeah, Wheels showed me, you use a leetle teeny tiny clip. It’s here somewhere … oh! Gottit. Hello, leetle teeny tiny clip.’
He held up more leads, these ones with crocodile clips on the end.
‘You’re going to blow us both up.’
‘Nonono, s’all perfectily safe. You getta mic out, ana cable for the guitar, I’ll hook th’amp up.’
Baggo went to the front of the car and popped the bonnet catch. Sighing and shaking my head, having serious misgivings, I did what he had asked. I hoped the whole thing just wouldn’t work. I couldn’t imagine it working, but if I let myself I could imagine it not working in some pretty spectacular ways.
Baggo fiddled under the bonnet for a while, turned the car engine on, then came back with the other end of the leads, which he connected to the amp. He took the guitar from me and plugged a cable into it and then the amp, and flicked a switch. There was a hum, a tiny protest of feedback, and Baggo tried a strum. No noise came out of the amp, for which I was very grateful. Baggo wasn’t put off though. He lurched back to the boot, seeming less coordinated than before, and grabbed the microphone and another cable, plugging them both into the amp as well. He fiddled with some knobs, and then held the microphone out to me.
‘What? I’m not singing.’
‘Hahahaha, no bloody way, wanna win her not kill her. Wan you t’hold it, got no stand.’
The microphone was picking up his words, and I could hear them coming out of the speaker, albeit faintly. Baggo picked up the guitar and slung it over his shoulder, then beckoned me to follow him through the gate to the front garden.
Baggo stood a bit like a rock star, legs wide apart, swaying wildly, and gestured to me to hold the microphone in front of him. He grabbed hold of it with both hands and yelled into it.
‘Katie Rivers, this one’s for you.’
There was a squeal of feedback as the decibels reverberated around the neighbouring houses. Lights turned on along the street, and I felt more and more uncomfortable. A face appeared at an upstairs window, but it didn’t look like Katie. At least not to me. To Baggo, he had achieved his objective.
With a wink at me, he revved his arm up, placed his fingers on the fretboard, and slammed his other hand down on the strings. A ghastly noise exploded from the amp, I mean literally exploded (yep Matty, literally), with a bang and a flash, and the bang and flash were echoed back in the road, from the car. A screeching howl burst forth from the road, making me flinch and drop the microphone, as I covered my head with my hands. When I looked up again, Baggo was lying on his back on the grass.
‘Shit. Baggo? Jake?’
I sank down next to him, thinking he had been electrocuted, and frantically trying to remember my first aid. I shouldn’t touch him, should I? Get a dry stick or something, wear rubber boots, call an –
Baggo started to snore. He had passed out, not been knocked out. As relief washed over me, I became aware of people standing near me. One of those people was Katie Rivers, who did not look overjoyed to see either of us, and I presumed that the other people were Katie’s parents. They also were not overjoyed. And now Baggo was sleeping it off while I had to explain it all.
‘We’ve called the police.’
This was (I assumed) Katie’s father. He was a big bloke with a very stern expression.
Oh shit. I was really going to cop it now, and Baggo was just going to sleep through it.
‘Do we need to call an ambulance too?’
Another loud snore from Baggo announced that an ambulance wouldn’t be necessary; I felt an apology of some description was in order.
‘Look, I’m really sorry, I tried to stop him, but he was determined –’
‘Just turn that racket off.’
I looked back towards the amp, which was still squawking to the street.
‘I’m not sure I know how to. Baggo hooked it all up.’
‘You’re disturbing the whole neighbourhood. Turn it off.’
I was panicking. I suppose if I’d just turned the car engine off, it would have all stopped, but I couldn’t think because of the noise, the embarrassment, and Katie’s dad clenching and unclenching his fists in front of me. To put the icing on the cake, a blue flashing light announced the arrival of the police. Now I was really panicking. I briefly registered that Katie had her phone out and was recording everything.
The police car stopped and two policemen got out. I didn’t know what to do, so I stood where I was while Katie’s dad went to meet them. I didn’t know where to look, so I looked at my shoes, finding the laces fascinating. I really didn’t want to be here, and a small part of me just wanted my mum. I pulled my phone out and sent a quick text.
‘Help. 14 Bigbury Avenue. Sorry.’
Usually the last person I’d contact if I was in trouble was Mum. She was very likely to go off on one, she was always saying Baggo was a bad influence on me, and I wouldn’t hear the end of it for days and days. But right now that seemed a small price to pay, because Mum was great in a crisis. I hoped she wouldn’t text me or call me for more information, as I doubted I’d be able to answer her. But even if she came, and came right away, I was going to have to deal with this myself for the time being.
The policemen walked into the garden with Mr Rivers, who gestured at me and at Baggo, still lying on his back, guitar on top of him, microphone to the side.
‘Good evening sir.’
This was addressed to me, and even I could hear the sarcasm in the ‘sir’. I just nodded and waited.
‘Having a bit of a party are we?’
‘No. I’m sorry, I don’t know how to turn it off.’
One copper gestured to the other one, who went to the car and, presumably, turned the engine off, while we all watched him. The squealing stopped, mercifully, but now I noticed that the air was full of the smell of electrical burning. Wisps of smoke seemed to be coming from under the bonnet.
Constable Evans came back into the garden.
‘Can I take your name sir?’
‘And your friend’s name?’
‘Jake Bagwell. Look, if I can just wake him up, we’ll just go, and –’
‘Your friend makes a habit of falling asleep in people’s front gardens does he?’
‘No, he, er …’
… was underage, and who knew where he’d got the booze from.
‘… er, he fell over when the amp blew.’
‘And does he require medical assistance?’
‘No, he’ll be fine.’
If the smile on his sleeping face was anything to go by, he was already fine, as he cuddled his guitar to his chest.
‘Mr Rivers, sir, has any damage been done to your property?’
‘Well, no, but this pair of hooligans have disturbed the whole street with their rumpus.’
I nearly laughed; I hadn’t heard the word rumpus used in all seriousness before. I controlled myself and tried to look contrite – I needed to get Baggo and me out of this with as little fuss as possible.
‘I’m sorry, Mr Rivers. We’ll pack all this up and go. Sorry for disturbing you. It won’t happen again.’
It was my best smarmy adult-pleasing voice, and it nearly worked, until Baggo started to wake up, and was noisily sick on the grass. A look of extreme distaste came over Mr Rivers’ face, and his wife muttered something about ‘undesirables’ just loud enough for me to hear.
‘Get off my property now, or I’ll have you charged with trespassing.’
He sounded deadly serious, and the policemen looked like they were serious too, so I knelt by Baggo and tried to pull him to his feet; he resisted, shrugging me off with a loud expletive.
‘Bags, we’ve got to go. The coppers are here.’
‘Wha? Nonono, gotta singta Katie – oh! She’s here. Kaaatie, baaaby. Gotta song forya. All of me loves all of you…’
Despite Baggo’s drunken state, his voice was in remarkable shape. Sadly, it didn’t impress the object of his desire as much as he hoped, and she span round and went inside, slamming the front door behind her.
‘Kaaatie, come ba’, gotta finisha song.’
‘Bags, come on.’
I put as much urgency as I could into my voice, but Baggo was having none of it. I saw Mr Rivers move towards the policemen, and knew I had to do something drastic to stop things getting any worse, but couldn’t think of a single thing. Then the cavalry arrived.
Mum’s little red car pulled up outside, not in a hurry, not in a squeal of brakes, just as if she was calling round for a cuppa. She got out of the car, adjusted her scarf, slung her bag over her shoulder and smiled brightly at us all.
‘Hello Jennifer, Gary. Just picking up Cal – oh, and Jake. Are you ready, Cal?’
Boy was I ready. I started to walk towards the car, but it wasn’t going to be as easy as that. Of course it wasn’t. This was one of Baggo’s schemes, and now Mum was involved too. It didn’t get much less easy.
‘Hang on, he can’t just go. He’s caused a lot of upset here.’
Mr Rivers moved to block the gate, stopping Mum getting in and me getting out. Baggo was still looking forlornly at the front door, and I thought it wouldn’t be long before he either started singing or puking again. I tried another tug on his arm, still to no avail.
‘Oh. Cal, what’s been going on?’
Mum would without a doubt have sussed out most of it within seconds of arriving. She never missed a thing, and would have clocked the amp, the car with leads attached, Baggo’s unsober state and the guitar and come to her own, most likely correct, conclusion.
‘Baggo wanted to sing to Katie.’
‘I see. And you thought this was a good idea because ..?’
‘I didn’t. I tried to stop him.’
‘Mm hmm. Jake, go and get in my car.’
‘Hang on …’
Mr Rivers still wasn’t happy for us to just leave. He probably wanted us to get a telling off from the police.
‘Sir, I think if we can just clear the property and ensure the items and vehicle will be removed, we’ll be on our way.’
There was nothing more for the police to do. We hadn’t broken the law, and they had some innocent teenagers to arrest for sitting in a bus stop or something. They moved towards Mr Rivers, and he reluctantly stepped aside from the gate. As they passed me, the one called Constable Evans stopped and looked at me.
‘Make sure you clear this up, son. Don’t want to have to come back and talk to you about criminal damage.’
I didn’t know if he meant the amp, cables and car, or the vomit. They didn’t wait to see if I did as I was told, but got in their patrol car and drove away. Jake was still looking at Mum, as if he was trying to work out what she was doing there. He looked like he was trying to work out what he was doing there, as he swayed on his feet, still gripping the guitar.
‘Missis Scoh. Wha ya doin ere?’
‘Get in the car, Jake. I’m taking you home.’
Baggo’s face fell.
‘Ohnonono, not hoooome. S’only me an Mum, an she’s fallen out with Aunty Marion, an she’s all wearing black an cryin an shit. C’n I come back with you? Have ya got cake?’
Baggo’s mum got depressed on a regular basis. Baggo usually coped with it with the help of his aunt, but sometimes looking after his Mum in one of her dark phases got too much, and if he was on his own … well I had a sudden flash of insight into his reason for both going after Katie, and drinking so much just prior.
A similar thing seemed to have occurred to Mum, and her face softened. She put a hand on Baggo’s back and pushed him towards the car, gesturing to me to follow him. I took Baggo’s arm and tugged him to the road, while Mum stayed back and talked in a low voice to Katie Rivers’ mum and dad. I don’t know what she said, whether she told them everything she knew about Baggo’s life, but there was a lot of nodding of heads while I was attempting to get Baggo in the passenger seat of Mum’s car, and by the time she walked up the path towards us, the Riverses had smiled and patted Mum on the shoulder, and all had departed friends. At least that’s what it looked like.
Meanwhile, Baggo was in the front seat of Mum’s car, with the window wound down in case of barfing. I started to open the back door, but Mum stopped me.
‘You need to sort out this mess.’
She pointed to the amp, the guitar and the car. Surely she didn’t mean I had to sort it? It wasn’t my mess, it was totally and utterly Baggo’s fault. I stared at Mum.
‘I can’t do it, not on my own.’
Mum looked at the car and the amp, and seemed to realise that I would need help.
‘Get Dec to come and help you lift it then. Maybe Matty to help with the car.’
‘It’s not eleven yet. They’ll both still be up. Just call them Cal.’
And so my shame was complete. Not only had I been humiliated in front of the head girl and her parents (and by the way, the video was doing the rounds at school for weeks), but now I had to admit to my part in the whole thing to Dec and Matty. I was never, ever going to live this down.
Of course, they both came straight over when I asked them, and Dec helped me lift the amp back into the car, and Matty helped me start the bloody thing and drove it back over to Wheels’ house, where I had to explain to him why his battery was knackered without making him mad at Baggo. I make it sound like it was easy, like I didn’t have the piss taken out of me the whole time they were helping – ‘Oh Cal, give us a tune while we’re working’, ‘What’s your favourite karaoke, Cal? Is it ‘I Like Driving in my Car?’, yeah it was hilarious.
And when I finally got home, Baggo was still there, being fed cake and black coffee by Mum, and he was more sober, but a bit tearful, which wasn’t completely unheard of, he didn’t have it easy really, and he apologised over and over again.
‘Oh mate, I’m so sorry, I’ve fucked up your evening, we could have been in deep shit with those coppers, I’m such a dick, if it hadn’t been for your mum –’
‘You should be more worried about the shit you’re going to be in with Wheels.’
‘Oh fuck. You didn’t tell him about his car?’
‘I told him he might need a new battery and you’re going to pay for it. I didn’t tell him exactly what you did. I thought he knew what you were doing?’
‘Well only in theory. I kind of asked how you might hook up an amp to a car battery, like if you wanted to. Didn’t tell him I was actually going to.’
‘I know mate, I know, I’m a twat, you should get shot of me while you can.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous, Jake. Cal’s your friend.’
This was a lot different from what Mum said to me when Baggo wasn’t there. I was always being advised to hang out with him less. But once Mum was in Florence Nightingale mode, she was on your side and that was that.
‘Aw, Mrs Scott, the best mate a bloke could have. Thanks for helping me. I should get going.’
‘Have more coffee first, then James will drop you home.’
‘I can walk, it’s no trouble.’
It was about five miles to Baggo’s house from ours.
And so Baggo was sobered up, and invited to stay the night, but he was worried about his mum, so he went home in the end, and it wasn’t the last time things got too much for him and he acted the fool to distract himself, not by a long way, but it was the first time Mum really got it, why he was like he was, and she got off his case after that. Well, as much as Mum ever got off anyone’s case, I suppose.
Things have often been that way with me and Baggo: him having mad ideas, going totally all out to do something off the planet, me chasing along after him, trying to achieve some damage limitation, but getting dragged into the middle of something wild (off the top of my head, I remember ‘borrowing’ his neighbour’s German Shepherd to impress some girl then having to leave it tied to a lamp post when the Facebook search and offers of reward got too intense; jumping off the footbridge into the river after his school bag, which he had tossed there in a moment of madness and regretted whilst it was still in mid-air; flooding his bathroom doing a ‘science experiment’ involving plasticine, bubble bath and bicarbonate of soda. The list could go on and on).
It wasn’t always Baggo getting into unwanted situations, though. Sometimes it was me – I owe him a lot for getting me out of trouble with the Holy Trinity, for a start. And despite the trouble we got into, we were always there for each other. A lot of people wouldn’t touch Baggo with a barge pole, but they don’t know how loyal he is, what he’d do for anyone he calls a mate. They just see the headlines and assume. But anyway, he’s been a great mate, still is.
Do you remember when I was trying really hard not to think some things were meant to be? Well, I’d given up not thinking it, and my non-scientific conclusion was currently that some things are just destined, somehow. Meant by the universe at large, unstoppable.
When the next thing, this big thing in Matt Scott’s timeline, happened, I also came to the conclusion that some things are meant not to be, and much as you want them, when they don’t happen, you look back and see why they didn’t. How, even if you think they would make your life better, you see, later, what a calamity it would have been, how much harder it would have made an already hard time. If we’d had another baby …