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.