Sail Away – Chapter Eight – The Unsullied

Chapter Eight – The Unsullied

 

Polpollo Academy wasn’t all that bad. Aside from Jodie Craddock’s little gang of psycho-bitches and the fact that Barry, James and Phil could pretty much go and fuck themselves, it was quite chilled. There weren’t really any gangs like there had been at St Catherines, no Kebabbys or Merc-yas, and, although there were fights, at least nobody had been stabbed or set on fire yet. It was pretty relaxed to tell the truth and I soon got into the groove, taking notes and enjoying my own company.

I got weird looks from some of the other kids, but I didn’t want to be accepted, I didn’t need their approval or respect. I was enjoying the space and lack of social pressure. In Bristol there’d be a party every weekend at someone’s house while their parents were out, or in the park near the school, basically just an excuse for everyone to steal booze off their parents, get wasted and try to finger each other. If that happened in Polpollo, I wasn’t invited and I didn’t care; I had more time to rinse Kart-toons. I had just completed the game on the hardest difficulty setting without a single race loss. In short, in my own head at least, I was the man. Now I just needed the internet connection to prove it.

Art class was probably the best. We usually listened to the teacher Miss Howe for the first ten minutes as she outlined a particular artist like Paul Klee or Kandinsky before sticking on some music on the iPod dock and screwing around with paint and clay or whatever and basically doing whatever the hell we wanted to for the next hour and a bit. Miss Howe was easy to listen to with her breathy voice like Jessica Rabbit made flesh. She always wore the shortest dresses and the most inappropriate low-cut tops and heels, tottering around the class-room, bending over desks to help with anything you might need.

As you can imagine, a lot of the guys seemed to need assistance with the strangest things in Miss Howe’s class. Somebody (Aaron Cardigan) had even made a website, a sort of shrine, to Miss Howe’s behind, Howedyalikethat.com, complete with pictures taken on their smart phone. Whoever it was that made it (Aaron Cardigan) had taken to setting “traps” for Miss Howe like a trainee paparazzi, gloating over the latest “up-skirts” or “nip-slips” in the comments. Despite regular and in-depth viewings of the site (especially downloaded to my USB stick at lunch-time in the library), I couldn’t bring myself to condone their (Aaron Cardigan’s) actions, but I somehow felt that I couldn’t entirely condemn them either.

Sully had suggested I download the site so that I could judge it “critically”. Sully, or John Sullivan as his parents had christened him, sat next to me in class. He was pretty cool to be honest; he was into gaming as much as I was, although he preferred the blood-soaked battlefields and HD gore porn games over the Italian plumbers and super-fast hedgehogs of the world. His favourite game was “Headshot”, set in a never-ending modern conflict between the evil Red army and the friendly Blues. I had the game myself, but hadn’t played it much and now with Uncle Archie’s backward self-imposed internet drought, I couldn’t play it at all. However, Sully liked “Kart-toons” and had even got a gold ranking for the second hardest difficulty setting which made him alright in my book.

Sully had the unfortunate honour of being the only non-white kid at Polpollo Academy, and as I had the distinction of being the only non-local pupil, we got on immediately. While Sully was revered as something of a celebrity by some of the kids for being black, he was teased mercilessly by the more racist, sorry I mean “retarded” kids, to the point of bullying. I, on the other hand, barely existed. I had failed to make a blip on most people’s radar and that was the way I liked it. I’d rather not exist than get the crap kicked out of me again by Craddock’s coven or the rugby boys.

He was into decent music too, everything from AC/DC to Public Enemy, and actually played me a few new things I hadn’t heard before like Ghostface Killah and Fat Freddy’s Drop to name just two. He lent me his hard drive to copy his music and TV shows too, so soon I was immersed in “The Wire” and “Breaking Bad” in the evenings alone at Uncle Archie’s, glued to my laptop screen as I followed the fate of Stringer Bell et al. Yeah, John Sullivan, Sully, with his prematurely receding hairline and wispy moustache was alright. I’d done the unthinkable; I’d made a friend.

The weather had been too bad to go out in the boat with Uncle Archie last weekend, so in Miss Howe’s class I asked Sully if he wanted to tag along on Saturday. I figured if he was there I wouldn’t be so tempted to drown Uncle Archie in the briny depths, or at least if I was I’d have an accomplice.

“So what do you think Sully? Are you up for some hot fishing action?”

I peeled dried PVA glue from my fingers and looked at the mess I’d made. It was supposed to be an Easter Island style head of Sully, but it looked more like a deformed skittle made of cereal boxes. He looked at my efforts before shaking his head slowly and flicking it off the desk.

“That ain’t me G, what the hell have you been smoking?”

I was a little offended. His take on me looked like a Mr Men character with Down’s syndrome made of a Weetabix box. I bent down to pick it up and caught a glimpse of Miss Howe’s shapely legs for my troubles.

“Yours isn’t much better asshole.”

“Nah man, I meant the fishing, not that piece of crap. Floating about in boats and shit, gutting guppies, that’s not me.”

I didn’t want to tell him that he’d managed to glue glitter on to his fledgling moustache, especially not now he’d insulted my cardboard tribute to his face. No, I’d leave that as a nice surprise for after class.

“Fair enough Sully. I didn’t know you were scared of water.”

I knew I’d hit home as he looked momentarily taken aback before taking his usual cocky high-road defence mechanism out on me.

“I ain’t scared of water G, what do you think I am; some kind of pussy? It’s just boring man.”

He looked like a disco-loving cat with his glittery bum-fluff and half-popped collar, but I knew better than to take the piss too much. He was my only friend, sometimes I just had to let things slide.

“I’ve never been on a boat before. Uncle Archie wants us to “bond”, it’s his idea of fun. It’s his idea of life actually; he’s out at sea more than he’s on land.”

“Sounds like it mate, that no-internet Captain Birdseye-looking crackpot. Nah, I’m playing football Saturday anyway. You’ll have to come down the park sometime when you’re not getting all wet with your crazy uncle.”

Miss Howe called the class to attention, something that only she could do so painlessly, and set us our homework for the week (which she knew we wouldn’t do) to the sound of rustling bags. Lunchtime meant queues in the canteen and that meant first come, first served. The bell rang and, before it had stopped, we were gone.

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Sail Away – Chapter Seven – Back to School

Chapter Seven – Back to School

 

Monday morning reared its ugly head through my dreams, roaring its Kings of Leon battle cry through the fog of exhaust hanging over the cartoon racetrack in my mind; an unstoppable evil dragon made of textbooks, body odour and chips. It was time to go back to school. And, unfortunately, unlike in the song by the Deftones of the same name, I was far from being “the leader of it all”.

I was still the new boy. My debut on the Polpollo Academy scene had been so short no one would remember who I was, I was sure of it. Even Jodie Craddock’s only impression of me would be the one she’d left on my face with her big fat fist. I had to endure day one all over again, a sort of Grange Hill version of Groundhog Day minus the “just say no” kids and Bill Murray.

These thoughts kept bouncing around my brain like the least fun version of “Pong” ever (even less fun than the original) as I walked to school in the drizzle in my ill fitting coat. I counted myself lucky that Uncle Archie hadn’t made an appearance to offer me his pearls of wisdom for breakfast. It was then I realised that on top of skipping breakfast, I’d forgotten my wallet and had nothing for lunch in my bag. I turned tail and ran back to my new “home”, hoping he was still out messing about with this boat or whatever it was he actually did.

Uncle Archie, predictably, sat at the kitchen table loading his pipe as I crashed through the front door. We looked at each other without saying a word. I just stood there and panted as he frowned and stroked his yellowing beard with the end of his pipe, a cross between Captain Birdseye and a bad Gandalf.  I made for the fridge. The silence couldn’t last.

“Who’s that there then? That can’t be Greg, can it Michael Parkinson? He’s at school.”

I shivered in the cold light of the fridge. It wasn’t the way he said it, it was what he said. It was so predictable, so leaden and unfunny. It made me want to throw the cling-filmed plate of kippers at him, or hit him with the half-eaten custard pie in my hand (Uncle Archie’s battered old fridge seemed like it had been previously owned by a man named “Bobo”).

I hadn’t been planning to skive off, but as I stood there shuffling through the packet of ham I realised that even if there had been a window of opportunity, Uncle Archie had now slammed it firmly shut, catching my fingers in the act. There was no point trying to be funny. He wasn’t. He was sticking to clichés.

“I forgot to take lunch. Don’t worry, I’m just grabbing a couple sandwiches… I’m not trying to skive or anything.”

The words rang hollow as they left my lips. He didn’t buy it, not that I was selling.

“Greg, sit down a minute will you?. I’ll call the school and let them know you’ll be late. We need to talk.”

I closed the fridge door with hands full of sandwiches and sat down on the rickety old pine chair. Uncle Archie meant business. “We need to talk” sounded odd coming from his wizened mouth like Tom Jones covering a Snoop Dogg song. I sat.

“Greg, I know things have been tough for you these last few weeks. I want you to know you can talk to me, about anything. I’m sorry if I haven’t been around enough. Truth be told, I’ve been avoiding you. I’m not much good at saying the right thing, never have been.”

Michael Parkinson leapt up onto the table and made for the open packet of ham. Uncle Archie swept his hand towards the cats backside scornfully.

“Get down Parky!”

Michael Parkinson leapt down with a slice of ham in his mouth and disappeared through the open window like a streak of furry ginger lightning. Uncle Archie slapped his hand down on the table, knocking over the pepper shaker.

“That bloody cat will be the death of me, pardon my French.”

There was a moment of awkward silence as we watched the pepper shaker clatter to the floor and roll beneath the fridge, trying not to catch each other’s eye. Clearly Uncle Archie found this kind of conversation as alien as I did. It seemed like the type of thing that happened in “Eastenders”, not in real life.

“Look, see, there’s you and there’s me, and we’re in this together for a while longer yet. I don’t want things to be, awkward, between us. I want you to come fishing with me this weekend.”

That was unexpected. I was annoyed that he had been avoiding me, but now he wanted to talk, wanted to spend time with me and that was somehow even worse. I clutched at straws.

“There’s you and there’s me, and there’s Michael Parkinson too! Why do you hate us so much?”

He seemed taken aback at this, his little shrivelled eyes opening wider than I thought possible and his mouth hung open for a second or two before he spoke.

“Greg, I don’t hate you boy! I just don’t know you yet, that’s why we’ve got to go fishing. It’s for the best. Michael Parkinson can come too if you want, he likes the boat. He stows away under the bench sometimes, the crazy little bugger. Let’s try again eh? What do you say?”

I thought about chucking the open ham packet into his face and watching the pink pig flesh slither down his rotten beard. I wanted to tell him to fuck off, pardon my fucking French. But something about his pathetic expression made me relent.

“Ok, let’s do it, let’s go fishing. I’ve never been on a boat before, it could be fun.”

I didn’t believe that for a second but it seemed to calm him down. He beamed at me, revealing a selection of nightmarish grey and yellow teeth that would stay with me for several nights. I stood up, chucked a piece of ham between a couple slices of bread, grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl and packed them into a carrier bag.

“Ok boy, Saturday it is then, the weather should be fine. We’ll set out in the Molly Sue at 7 in the morning, that’s low tide. Now be off to school with you, I’ll call them up and tell them you’re coming in.”

That was enough for me, 7 AM on a Saturday! What had I signed up for? I threw my lunch into my back pack and made for the front door.

“Thanks Uncle Archie. See you later.”

I knew he’d have to have the last word as I dashed out the door.

“Don’t go beating up any little girls today boy! That’s not how a man behaves! Go careful.”

Go careful? He was going to have to go careful on Saturday, careful that I didn’t push him out of the damned boat with a knife in his back, the old prick.

Sail Away – Chapter Six – The Great Outdoors

Chapter Six – The Great Outdoors

Uncle Archie had taken to ignoring me already. He hadn’t said a word to me for two days as I alternated between lying in bed watching DVDs and sitting up to play games in my pyjamas. On occasion, I would get up and make a lightning raid on the kitchen for such delicacies as bread sandwiches (two slices together, no spread, no filling) or digestive biscuits, my uncle’s one concession to sweetness, a decadent treat compared to the rest of the cupboards and refrigerator stuffed with pasta, rice, potatoes, bran flakes and fish.

When it was dinner time, he would knock at my door but I refused to acknowledge him. He would knock twice before silently shuffling back downstairs for his plate of kippers or whatever. The kitchen always smelt of fish; I’d always disliked the stuff, now I fucking loathed it.

With one more day of suspension left to serve and then the whole weekend to endure before my next day at school, I finally grew tired of being depressed. I’d completed all my games and seen every episode of ‘Peep Show’ twice or more. Michael Parkinson came to see me as was becoming his habit, sitting his big ginger bum down next to my head and swishing his tail in front of my eyes. I sat up and shooed him off the bed.

He hopped down to the floor and ran across to the window. I watched him as he leapt up to the windowsill with agility that should not have been possible for such a fat old beast, but he made it look easy. He began to paw at the catch. As I stood and opened the window to let him out, he looked me in the eye, sizing me up before he jumped from the sill to the flat roof some eight feet beneath. He looked back up and caught my eye before disappearing down into the garden below. I felt as though that fat old cat had just called me a pussy.

I began to dress, driven on by an irrational anger at Michael Parkinson. How dare he be so cocky, so damned care-free? I’d find him and kick him up his flabby ginger ass, teach him a lesson he’d never forget! I threw on my old red hoody and jeans and set off down the stairs. Uncle Archie was out, probably on the boat. I didn’t care. I kind of hoped he’d drowned.

I went out the back door, leaving it open behind me and searched the garden for Michael Parkinson, between the bushes and beneath the hedges, up the trees and under the benches. He was nowhere to be seen. I sat down in the chair beneath the old oak tree, looking around the place. It was a bit wild, but a nice size, perfect for a game of hide and seek.  It was a shame that that was a game for babies. Now laser tag on the other hand, that was a game for men. We’d had a pretty decent game or two back in Bristol in the playground on the estate. I still had two guns tucked under my bed. Unfortunately, that was currently one gun too many for my friendship group, and I didn’t fancy running around in circles, shooting myself in the head. Not yet anyway.

Suddenly, a scraping sound behind me made me turn my head. It was Michael Parkinson, standing atop the fence amongst the ivy. As he caught my eye, he turned, waved his ass at me, meowed and leapt down and out into the street behind the house. I picked up a stick and threw it over the fence after him. He’d done it again, that Garfield-looking prick! I ran to the gate in the corner of the garden, threw open the rusted latch and set off down the street just as Michael Parkinson nonchalantly turned the corner at the far end.

Around the corner lay a problem. The street split into three narrow cobbled lanes, each one maybe six feet across, one heading up hill, one straight along and one sloping down towards the harbour. Remembering the weird old Scottish song I took the low road, although I hoped I wouldn’t have to get to Scotland before I found Michael Parkinson.

The narrow lane was enclosed by terraced cottages on both sides, places painted pastel shades with low doors, subdued blues with hints of pink and the odd glint of green like a retirement complex for aging houses, crowding together to get a glimpse of the new visitor. A few had fairies mounted by the doorbells and most sported net curtains to protect the modesty of their nether regions from the gawping holidaymaker. They had names like An Dyji, Chi Lowen and Mulligatawny, bursting with Cornish pride and strangely placed y’s and w’s. I felt every curtain twitcher in town convulsing at the nets at my sudden appearance. It was, however, undeniably pretty.

Michael Parkinson had disappeared. I walked the lanes to make sure, but he had disappeared like a fat ginger ninja in a puff of fishy smelling smoke. There was not a soul to be seen in the lanes, which was good as I tripped on the cobbles and swore loudly as I hit my funny bone on an inconveniently positioned gnome. It was fucking hilarious. With my quarry gone, I walked down towards the harbour realising all I had seen of Polpollo to date was what little of it lay outside Uncle Archie’s windows and between his place and school.

Now I’m not usually one for scenery, landscape paintings and that sort of shit, but I felt a strange calm come over me as I sat on a bollard and watched the waves lapping at the entrance to the harbour, dirty looking brown water washing over green algae-stained rocks.

There were several small sail boats, certainly not grand enough to call yachts, tethered alongside a couple larger fishing vessels and several small wooden rowing boats in the harbour itself. Here, seagulls swooped down at fallen chips near the bin, flashing white against the grey English summertime sky, cawing madly and wheeling away in the wind.

Two men were working on a boat on the far side of the harbour, hammering and sawing timber. Being nosy and a little bit bored, I walked around towards them, tapping a beat on the rusted railings at the harbours edge.

As I approached them, I heard the tinny sound of cheap radio speakers blaring out a fuzzy sea shanty like something from a clichéd ITV drama serial. But here they were, two men in coarse jumpers and corduroy working on a boat, relishing the stereotype. Perhaps they knew how ridiculous they were, perhaps this was just the way they did things here in Polpollo, people fallen straight out of postcards into the real world. I leant against the railings and watched them work from the corner of my eye. Perhaps they just didn’t care what people like me thought.

People like me. That’s a strange thought. Who exactly was I? Greg Wright, male, 15 years old. Was my age or sex really the defining aspect of my character? Was I just as two dimensional as the postcard people I had just mocked?

I resolved to stop asking myself rhetorical questions as I’m sure that, not talking to yourself, is truly the first sign of madness. I walked slowly back up the cobbled lane to Uncle Archie’s place. Polpollo was not as busy, as “happening” as Bristol, but it was peaceful, sort of soothing in a way. If only Uncle Archie wasn’t such an asshole and my friends were here, I could almost relax.

As I turned the final corner, almost inevitably, I caught a flash of orange tail disappearing back over the fence, flicking my way like a feline middle finger. So that was the how it was; Michael Parkinson 1, Greg Wright 0. I aimed a kick at him as I climbed the stairs but narrowly missed, and he had his revenge that night as I was rudely awoken by claws padding playfully at my face, his eyes glinting green evil in the dark. I was growing to like the old bastard.