Chapter Four – Robot in Disguise
I had resorted to unpacking. The school had been on the phone to Uncle Archie that morning; I was suspended for a week. I’d managed a morning, and I was already on the naughty list. The head teacher, Mr Swain, told Uncle Archie that I should be ashamed of myself for beating up a girl. This would never have happened at St. Catherines.
I tucked my boxer shorts away in the small, pink chest of drawers. Most of them had holes in. Where would I get them from now Mum was in a coma? Pants and socks were the type of thing that just arrived of their own accord, spontaneously appearing on my bed when I got home from school. We never talked about it. There was no need to. They were just, there. She was the tooth fairy of underwear.
At St. Catherines, my old school on the outskirts of Bristol, I’d been something of a golden boy. I’d never had an after-school detention, just two lunch-times, and they were for the whole class. I never did figure out how I was involved in either. After all, James Jackson had just pissed in the bin, he didn’t ask my permission, and I certainly had nothing to do with tying the condom to the blinds in Religious Education, although if laughing until I choked made me guilty, then I guess I deserved it. We all did.
I never had to worry about parent’s evenings, all the teachers ever said was that I was “on track” but they worried that I was “coasting along”, your basic “acceptable-but-must-try-harder-for-the-sake-of-league-tables” assessment as Dad had called it. I was predicted all A’s and B’s. I wasn’t worried.
I punched a hole in the empty cardboard box, squashed it flat and pushed it under the horrible bed. In the two weeks and two days I had been in Polpollo, I had slept for a total of two nights, at a rate of around an hour every twenty four. I tried to bring it up at breakfast, but Uncle Archie had just slammed the plate of kippers on toast in front of me, pulled on his yellow hat and left without a word. I’d thrown the disgusting kippers away and eaten seven digestive biscuits instead.
In the next box, I found my old toys, chucked in together, Action Men tangled with Transformers (Optimus Prime did not look happy in the arms of Dr X), Buzz Lightyear, Anakin Skywalker kicking Pikachu in the nuts (do Pokemon have genitals?) and various other action figures, Nerf guns and my old bear, Teddy Ruxpin. Dad had bought him from a car boot sale, which went some way towards explaining why he had a cassette deck in his backside and whirring eyes. Apparently, Dad said Teddy Ruxpin was the star of a cartoon in the eighties, but the Youtube videos I found were cringingly lame (like most things from the eighties).
I left the toys, apart from Optimus Prime, in the box and pushed it under the bed. I stood Optimus on the window sill, looking out into the leafy garden. “Transformers” was still kind of cool, I could get away with it thanks to Megan Fox and that kid from “Even Stevens”.
Finally, I found my Xbox 360, wrapped carefully in a duvet in the last box. I pulled it out, tossed the duvet on the bed and set the console up next to my little 15” flat screen, a present for my fifteenth birthday. I pulled out my games and piled them next to the console on the desk. I had all of the “Call of Duty” games, but they were for show. My real passion was the kind of game I should have probably stopped playing when I was ten; Super Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog, Spyro, and my all-time favourite “Kart-toons”. I opened the case and put the game into the yawning disc drive.
“Kart-toons” was awesome. Part “Mario Kart”, part cartoon, it was the most fun I’d ever had. Admittedly, I’d never been to Disneyland or Alton Towers, I’d never been to the back row of the cinema with Lindsay Mancini except in my head, but “Kart-toons” was something else. A hundred-mile-an-hour racing as Paul the Penguin or Carl Croc and friends, shooting balls of energy at the other go-karts in a world where it never rained and all beaches were equipped with a racetrack and loop the loops.
I looked at my in-game records with a real sense of achievement. I’d completed every grand prix with record times, I had three gold stars on my completion file, the maximum possible to get. I’d beaten every time trial and the game with every character. The game held nothing but nostalgia for me now, a familiar retreading of my own glorious path, and the best thing of all; the ability to beat Japanese kids at their own game.
I moved the cursor to Race Online and pushed start. Nothing happened. I tried again, the same error message, “No Internet Connection.” I opened the internet connection wizard. No connections found. Something was wrong.
As I checked the wiring on the back of the console and found that everything was firmly connected, Michael Parkinson padded quietly into the room and leapt onto my lap. Don’t be disturbed, this was no Jimmy Saville situation. Michael Parkinson was Uncle Archie’s fat orange cat, a big bristling ball of feline fury, all claws and fishy whiskers. He had one wonky eye that made him appear to be constantly distracted by something just over your shoulder. I sat back and ruffled his fur. He purred and craned his neck regally.
I’d never seen Uncle Archie touch Michael Parkinson. His sole contact with the cat came twice a day when he’d put down a saucer of milk and a bowl of cat food or, on special occasions, a plate of kippers. Uncle Archie had a thing about kippers. Evidently, you never really retired from the life of the professional fisherman. Uncle Archie left the house every morning in his beaten up old Land Rover and went down to the harbour, where he took his dinghy, the “Tigress”, out on the tide. He’d offered to take me fishing, but I told him that fishing was boring. I think that was the moment he gave up hope that I was “normal”.
I turned the Xbox on and off, once, twice, nothing. No flicker on the wireless signal meter. I turned my laptop on. Surely not, not in this day and age, it was impossible; Uncle Archie had to have an internet connection. How else would he buy his dusty fishing books? Polpollo didn’t even have a Waterstones.
The laptop told the same story. No connection! I stood suddenly, depositing a hissing Michael Parkinson to the floor in a ball of claws and fur, and ran downstairs. There was the phone, a brown plastic 1970’s model sat next to the front door. No router. I ran from room to room, opening the doors. It was true. Uncle Archie didn’t even have a computer!
I kicked the wastepaper bin in the sitting room over, spilling the banana peels and old newspapers across the scratchy thin brown carpet. What kind of place was this? No internet, no computer, no Sky+, no flat screen TV. Uncle Archie didn’t even have a mobile phone! I felt like that helicopter had smashed a hole in time when it landed, catapulting me back to before my birth, to a brown and grey land with only four channels, where Snakes and Ladders had been the very cutting-edge of entertainment. Uncle Archie had made me play him seven nights in a row before I faked a headache and went to bed without any tea.
I’d had enough. No internet, fish every day, a disgusting pink girl’s room, a stinky old cat, no friends, no family, no conversation! I ran upstairs and buried my head in my pillow, wondering how long it would take for someone to notice I’d smothered myself to death.