Sail Away – Chapter Ten – (Gonna Get Myself) Connected

Chapter Ten – (Gonna Get Myself) Connected


Lynx is a lie. It does not work like they would have you believe in the adverts. I have been dousing myself liberally with my own special blend of Africa and Java daily but, to date, no women have been drawn to me across the street, causing a pile-up and probably, many deaths. In fact, the only response I’ve had from a member of the fairer sex came in double Science when Hayley Jones made choking noises and asked to work alone rather than with me “because of her allergies”. I conclude from my experiment that this is not an overwhelmingly positive result. I will tone down the Java.

Sully wears Adidas Pure Game. He says that he is a player. I’m not so sure. He does play “Headshot” nearly every night alone in his bedroom, camping in a quiet corner of the map and obsessing about his KDR (Kill to Death ratio). I’m not sure that this makes him more sexually attractive than me.

Art class was good fun today. We spent most of the lesson building a scale model of a trebuchet (a Roman catapult) from rolled-up newspaper which we then used to shoot wads of chewed-up paper at the back of Simon Humphries head. Mr Clarke didn’t even notice. He was too busy helping Hayley Jones and Sinead Murphy with their model of an amphitheatre. I think he has a thing for Sinead. She always gets good marks even though her work is shit. Mr Clarke says that all art is subjective and that critical opinion is in “the eye of the beholder”. I’ve seen what his eyes behold.

Sully invited me back to his place to play games after school. We stopped by the shop for “supplies”. Sully bought a quid’s-worth of ten pence mix-ups and a multi-pack of Wotsits. I spent my last £2 on a family-sized packet of Frosties. I’ve decided that I now need a contingency plan for Uncle Archie’s cruel and unusual approach to dinner. Cereal, as it always is, was the answer. I didn’t have a fridge and Uncle Archie didn’t buy milk, so I would have to eat them dry, straight out of the box, as nature intended.

John Harvey Kellogg, pious inventor of breakfast cereals, invented them to stop people wanking. This is one of my favourite facts. He once wrote:

“If illicit commerce of the sexes is a heinous sin, self-pollution is a crime doubly abominable.”

He believed that a healthy diet would stop people committing the sin of jerking off and in so doing would also be saved from mood swings, fickleness, boldness and bashfulness (if masturbating caused both, wouldn’t they cancel each other out?), acne, epilepsy, bad posture and a fondness for spicy food amongst other things.

If this was actually the case, people addicted to “World of Warcraft” would be the very picture of health as cereal forms the fundamental backbone of their diet but, unfortunately for them, they are still doomed to an eternity of bad posture, acne, crying and wanking themselves to sleep despite Kellogg’s best intentions. I cancelled my subscription during the free trial.

At Sully’s, we played “Headshot” all evening and listened to Ghostface Killah. Sully kicked my ass every time, so we played Co-op online, setting traps for the other players and bullying somebody called “CheeseMonkey1994”, killing them over and over again. We both agreed that calling yourself something with “cheese” or “monkey” in it was a desperate attempt to appear “random” and funny, and that this was punishable by death. Sully’s gamer tag is “MercXperience”. This is much cooler despite the bad spelling.

My gamer tag is “GorgonZILLA93”, I didn’t tell Sully this. Instead, when I got home, I went on to my settings and changed it to “AK-WRIGHT93”.  This is better for two reasons.

ONE: It is the title of a song by Dr Dre, “Ackrite”, and it is also slang for oral sex.

TWO: In my version, it contains both AK, as in the AK-47 assault rifle and WRIGHT, as in me, Greg Wright. The 93 is for 1993, the year that I was born.

Hanging out with Sully was already making me cooler. The other kids at school had stopped bothering me at lunch, and I was allowed to play football on the concrete tennis courts with the others, though they still made me go in goal and shouted at me whenever anybody scored. Even Jodie Craddock had stopped calling me “Gregnant” and “Pussy Boy” and now seemed content just trying to push me other the low fences that lined the paths between lessons when we passed each other.

When I got home from Sully’s, full for once from the pizza and chips kindly provided by his adopted parents Will and Sally, I was on a high. Uncle Archie couldn’t bring me down, not tonight! He was waiting for me, sat at the kitchen table clutching a letter from the school, his beard yellow under the kitchen strip-light.

“Greg, this came today. It’s a letter from the school. Your head teacher says that your teachers have reported that you are not coping with the workload in the sets you are currently in. They want to move you down to some of the lower ability groups.”

I sat down at the table and slung my back onto the slate tiled floor. My pencil leads would be good for nothing now.

“Which classes?”

“Maths, English, Science and History it says here. Apparently you excel yourself in French and Art and your Geography and IT teachers “express no concern” with your behaviour, although it does say here that your IT teacher recommends that you “need to be able to access the internet at home to complement your studies”.”

Good old Mr Harris! I’d moaned to him about Uncle Archie’s cocoon against the modern world last week during class. He had asked me why I hadn’t done my homework, a Flash animation. I’d told him that Archie was determined to make me irrelevant in the modern world by depriving me of the internet, the single most powerful tool in collective human intelligence. Mr Harris had liked that line. He’d begun to rant at the class about humanity’s “collective consciousness” and the “richness of knowledge in our modern information-centric world”. I’d stopped listening and started doodling pictures of “Jet the Rabbit”, my character in “Kart-toons” blowing up a building to be honest, but he’d come through for me! I went in for the kill.

“Yes Uncle, Mr Harris said that if I didn’t have the internet, the best I could hope for was a couple of D’s and a job at the McDonalds at the service station. I told him we couldn’t afford it…”

Archie interrupted me.

“Well, they’ve given me a number to call about some sort of subsidised internet thing. If I call them Greg, I want you to understand, we’re getting it so that you can study. Not so that you can spend all night looking at pictures of women. You got that? I’m no fool Greg Wright.”

I promised him, and he lapped it up the old fool. He promised me in return that he’d call the number the next day. I told him that he should get the fastest connection available so that I could learn things more quickly. He’d gobbled it up the old technophobic fisherman, hook, line and sinker.

I slept well that night for the first time in Polpollo. I dreamt of crossing a finish-line in front of a crowd of screaming, topless women. I’d got one over on beardy, made a mate and would soon be back online to boot. For the first time in a long time, things were finally looking up.


Sail Away – Chapter Nine – I Am Ahab

Chapter Nine – I Am Ahab


We took Uncle Archie’s little white fishing boat the “Tigress” out in the early spring sunshine that Saturday morning. The sea was deep blue and calm, and between the gentle rocking of the boat and soft put-putting of the outboard engine, it was relaxing, sort of hypnotic.

As Uncle Archie reeled in fish after fish, I watched the waves and forgot my fear of the sea. I still hadn’t been sleeping properly and as I sat there in silence, contemplating my “Kart-toons” high score records, I fell asleep.

I awoke to Uncle Archie shaking my shoulder and a different scene entirely. Gone were the idyllic cotton white puffs in a powder-blue sky, replaced instead by an angry black cloud that stretched above us as far as I could see. The sea had begun to swell and drop, chopping up surf that splashed down onto us like a salty preview of rain to come. I pulled the zip of my coat up close under my chin as the wind whipped around the small white vessel.

“It’s blowing up a storm Greg. Get under the cabin, we’re heading back in.”

Uncle Archie cut quite an imposing figure, towering above me, his white beard framed against the black sky, staring out into the distance. He was clearly in his element, a man of the sea battling against the whims of the weather. He was ready for action. I just felt a bit ill.

Rubbing my eyes, I stood up, and stumbled into the shelter of the cabin as the boat tipped madly beneath me, scattering the rods and bucket full of mackerel (all Uncle Archie’s work, I hadn’t had a bite) across the deck. My stomach churned like the waves licking over the sides of the “Tigress”.

Uncle Archie handed me the now empty mackerel bucket and took the wheel. As he spoke, a shaft of sunlight burst through the swelling clouds above and lit him against the dark waves like King Neptune himself.

“Use that or hang your head over the side. You’re a bit green around the gills lad. Hold on tight.”

Behind him, something enormous and green surfaced from the ocean, just for a second, before disappearing into a gigantic wave. The “Tigress” rose up and up, tilting as it climbed the frothy peak. I ducked back down and held on for dear life.

One of the mackerel thrashed wildly against the wooden post of the bench-seat, its gills opening and closing desperately. I threw up my cornflakes and then some into the stinking fish bucket.

The rain began to fall, huge drops bouncing back up from the boards of the deck as we rocked crazily from side-to-side like a bad, fishy-smelling fairground ride. I led groaning in the corner of the cabin, soaked to the skin through my hoodie, covered in sick and bits of fish as the boat rose and fell beneath us. Uncle Archie started whistling some cheery shanty. What an asshole. He looked down at me and smiled.

“Cheer up boy, just a little squall, nothing to worry about lad! We’ll have fresh mackerel for tea, how about that?”

I lowered my head into the bucket and threw up again. I was dying. How could he be so cheerful? His confidence didn’t make me feel better, it made me feel pathetic, flapping about on the deck like a gasping fish. My friend, the mackerel, had given up the ghost. I took his lead, curled up into a ball and closed my eyes.

Now if this was a Hollywood movie, I’d leave it there, in the foetal position balanced atop a wall of water, caught between the heavens and the briny depths, Uncle Archie cackling like a bearded madman. But I feel at this point I should come clean.

I opened my eyes to a beautiful morning, floating serenely on a sea so calm it could have been a mirror. Uncle Archie showed me how to cast my line correctly and I caught three fish, one of which was bigger than any that Archie managed to catch that morning. He had packed a picnic lunch which we ate together, cheese sandwiches, apples and, bizarrely for him, a grab-bag of cheese Doritos.

As we ate, he told me a little about his wife and daughter, my aunty and cousin, and how they used to come out on the “Tigress” every weekend the weather allowed. My aunty used to make the picnic and they would spend hours floating and chatting, my cousin sunning herself on the deck. It made my weekends spent trawling around DIY stores after Dad seem even worse than they were. I was jealous of my Uncle and his idyllic life by the sea.

Out there, on the boat, away from the distractions of modern life, I suppose I felt happy for the first time in weeks. Although I didn’t want to admit it, my Uncle seemed more human, more normal than at any time since we’d been forced together. I had met him for the first time that Saturday morning on the sea.

We moored up at the harbour and carried our gear home together through Polpollo. As we walked Uncle Archie told me stories about the village; about the time a fat Labrador got his head stuck in a bin in the square and the time when a masked man from the next village across had held up “Miss Miggin’s Tea Shop” with a dessert fork and made off with £8.39. Best of all, a woman that lived at number 49 Betty Woons had been arrested for riding the cannon on the harbour wall in “a state of undress” and rather worse for wear one slow Sunday afternoon. I began to look at Polpollo in a different light. It wasn’t just a diorama, People, real people, actually lived there in amongst the painted cottages and postcard views. I looked forwards to meeting some of them.

When we got home, Uncle Archie asked me what I wanted for dinner. I suggested we order a pizza. This was almost as bad as if I’d suggested we stick Michael Parkinson on a spit and roast him in the garden. Archie was incensed.

“What do you want that foreign muck for? Bread smeared with god knows what and they charge you fifteen bloody quid. We’ve got the fruits of the ocean here boy.”

He thrust the bucket at me.

“I don’t like fish Uncle Archie, you know I don’t. It was fun catching them with you, but…”

“But, what? Spit it out lad! You don’t like fish because you’re used to McDonalds and all that towny rubbish. Do you want to eat or not?”

I held my tongue. He’d set his jaw at me and I could see the fires of righteous indignation burning in his eyes. He was on to his favourite ranting topic now, The Modern World. I left the room. He called after me.

“Mackerel it is then Greg! I’ll do some mussels too if you’re lucky”

He always had to have the last word. I went to my room, shut the door and piled all my stuff against it. I would not be eating tonight. I laid back on the disgusting bed and listened to the entire discography of Green Day over and over as, outside the window, the sun set and then rose again.