Tom doesn’t like the word snog.
Snog. Bog. Dog. Clog. They all sound a bit clumsy. Anyway. Snogging is what Jaqui does with the dangerous boy with the very white trainers. Snog isn’t the right word for what happened in the nano-space between his and Kathy’s lips.
As for Tongue Sandwich; well that’s just nasty. French Kiss? Not bad thinks Tom. No idea what it means but it sounds quite exotic – though the French part is maybe a little bit rude.
No. The Kiss is its formal name: and the ‘The‘ with a Capital T is important.
Tom draws the back of his hand across the chipped desktop, pushing down on the lead end of the pencil making the rubber end boing into mid-air. A small see saw of joy.
Even The Kiss does not describe the kiss. That’s Tom’s problem. The Kiss or the memory of it is something that hangs over Tom like a bat (a random creature selected by Tom for its ability to explain the feeling of a flappy dark thing that hovers above you in a scary way. He likes it because it is scary but not scary-bad in an Angel Of Death kind of way. The dark ominous bat thing works – though Tom’s creature of choice to describe a floaty nice moment – a small white hovering pony – needs a lot more work).
The Kiss was kind of an accident in a way but sort of on purpose in another because he’d been planning it in the corner of his mind for so long and dreaming of it for even longer.
Tom had literally bumped into Kathy while walking along the Avenue: and not just as a turn of phrase.
He had walked straight into her. This was quite embarrassing given the width of the road, the emptiness of the pavement, that fact that it was broad daylight and, worse of all, he was apparently looking straight at her when he walked straight into her.
“What the Fuck are you doing?”
Afterwards, the only explanation Tom could offer for ‘what the fuck’ he was doing was that he was so busy looking at Kathy in his mind’s eye that he failed to notice the real her coming towards him – until it was too late.
Tom remembered obsessing on this point at the time – which was rather pointless as Kathy was patently preoccupied with other things. Her swearing had only added to his confusion. Kathy had an older sister and so sometimes sounded a lot older than she was.
The ‘crashing into each other’ thing was quickly forgotten.
Kathy began talking in a kind of off-hand way about things Tom couldn’t quite hear properly. This was because he was still talking to her imaginary self inside his head, which made it hard for him to hear the real conversation going on outside his head; not that Kathy seemed to mind.
Tom wasn’t very good at stopping the chat inside his head when the outside one started – which was mostly due to lack of practice.
Until that moment 90% of all of Tom’s chats with Kathy had been imaginary – pure invention – so there hadn’t been much call for him to figure out how to have a real one – or at least move from the one happening inside his head to the one happening outside his head.
They ambled along the Avenue for a short way, Tom talking to Kathy in his head about Kathy in the flesh while Kathy in the flesh talked to Tom in the flesh about, well, something else that he wasn’t listening to.
They turned into the wood at a small opening in the bank. As they climbed up the bank the air changed colour turning from a grey white to a cool swampy blue – or at least that’s what it smelled like to Tom as the air wrapped around his neck and head.
The bank dropped away in front of them, its surface scattered with flints and roots.
They walked slowly, their chats tipping along nicely – including the one inside Tom’s head that he couldn’t quite bring himself to finish.
In fact, up until this moment, the two of them had managed to engage in two totally separate conversations. In Tom’s case three to be precise – as there was the Kathy chat inside his head, the one going on outside – and of course the little voice in the back of Tom’s mind covering off immediate questions and detail in regards to the general situation.
“Why’s she talking to me?”
“Do my trousers look cool or just OK?
“I wish my shoes didn’t make me feel like a loser”
“I wish I was wearing after shave.”
It was in the midst of this two way three voice conversation that the big moment – The Kiss – happened, totally out of the blue.
Thinking back on it Tom had put it down to a number of random coincidences.
He had been over this a number of times: to quite forensic degree and yes, he was going with coincidences.
As he remembered it, he had been talking to Kathy in a kind of ‘sideways-on-not-looking-at-her-but-feeling-the- electric-buzz -of-her-almost-touching-his-arm’ kind of thing.
Eventually Tom said something outside his head directly to the real Kathy.
“You’ve got a blue ring around the outside of your eyes”
SUBTITLE: I fancy you like mad.
The first coincidence dictated that she had spoken at the same time as him just to add to the confusion.
“Why are you always being so… weird?”
SUBTITLE: I like you-ish
This caused what Tom could only describe as some kind of rip in the space time continuum: a momentary pause in the outward expansion of the universe and a moment of alignment in the cosmos never to be repeated again.
The second and third of the coincidences were a sort of knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone event. Tom’s left foot stepped on a root sticking rather irresponsibly out of the ground, at which point mysteriously his right ankle did a rubbery bendy thing turning Tom in such a way that instead of falling away from Kathy and down the side of the bank – which in any universe at any given time given any law of any Physics is what ‘should’ have happened – he tipped towards Kathy.
Kathy was mid-question as he fell towards her.
“Want to go to the beach?”
At exactly the same moment that she had asked the question, and without any loss of concentration, she had turned her upper body towards Tom’s body as it fell forwards.
Multitasking. Tom had read an article on it in one of his mum’s magazines.
Tom remembered that it was at this point of no return – his body leaning towards her with one foot off the ground, his eyes closing and a hand pushing into the space between them – that the dizziness hit him.
As his body hit 40 degrees (he’d worked this out with his school protractor), his lips had come into contact with something warm, soft and tasting of bubblegum.
His eyes startled open and there right in front of him, nostril-to-nostril, was Kathy. Her eyes had been shut, which was deceptive given that from what Tom could remember her lips had been quite open.
Tom felt as if one half of him was moving at a million light years a second while the other half, mainly his legs, had been wrapped in lead or iron or something else really heavy.
Tom had had that ‘going really fast while standing really still’ feeling only once before, after standing in front of the Headmistress’s office for half an hour having forgotten to eat lunch.
It was like that feeling but really nice.
Tom distinctly remembered feeling as if someone had popped some warm pebbles into his pants: warm pebbles that had suddenly started to tumble around.
The Kiss was not the problem of course. The Scream was.
In the middle of The Kiss, it hadn’t been what shot out of her mouth and into his that was the problem. The problem had been what came out of his when it did.
At the very point of The Scream leaving his lips, Kathy’s eyes had opened, and the blue ring around them seemed to turn in a circle like a really cool gas-like flame – at which point she rocketed back at hyper-speed, far, far into the distance, smaller, smaller, smaller; only stopping when she was a whole arm’s length away.
The Kiss had been really, really nice up until then if a bit weird.
At that point both of them had sort of stumbled back from each other, beck into their own little worlds. The rest was a smudge in Tom’s head.
They did go to the beach. He did remember sitting close to her. He flip flopped from feeling OK to feeling like his head was about to pop and then wondering whether not looking at her made it too obvious that he fancied her.
The warm pebble feeling had come back to Tom quite often when he thought about the Kiss really hard.
The mere thought of The Kiss makes Tom’s breathing sound a little weird.
Tom draws his hand along the desk, flicking his pencil drumstick-like against the varnish-crusted wooden surface. Tom drops his face back on to the wood. He likes its feeling cool against his face.
He listens to the pencil-tap echo around inside his mostly empty desk, not dissimilar to the sound of his dad coming up the stairs after a quick one after work at the Golf Club with his friend who’s a member.
He looks up. The clock’s arms seem to stretch out in a big yawn and come to rest at 4.23pm precisely.
Not long now.
The phone call had taken Michael by surprise, though he had in some ways been expected the call.
The world was a different place now since the Action: a place where the old lines, tiers, barriers, borders, snobberies and demarcations had been marched out and summarily burned in the centre of the road.
Yes, the world had turned and though some doors had closed, many others had opened: doors that would make the hearts of two people he could think of leap like children.
He had not heard that voice for twelve years. It seemed a little heavier than he remembered but he put this down to the weight of time that had passed since then.
The last time they had seen each other, the world was younger and so were they, the Boat Man or Boat Boy as he was then especially so.
They had met, covertly in a coffee shop under the arches of the old St. Pancras station, long before it became the new, glittering terminus and embarkation point of recent years.
The Action had of course forced the temple of travel to revert to its more traditional nationally minded self, given the absence of a tunnel through which to whip its beautiful shining tubular trains and no Europe on the other side for that matter to embrace them as they burst out the other side.
The cafe was a dingy little place. Condensation misted the window, souring the lights of the passing cars on the Euston road into small fizzing pools of red and yellow.
As he stepped across the threshold, the pale yellow-tiled floor seemed to tip itself towards him, the edges of its bleach-scorched tiles reaching up to the strip lights humming above his head.
The tables shone, their formica tops burnished, their patina lost, brushed bald by decades of cheap elbows furtively skating back and forth across them.
On each table sat a plump red plastic sauce container shaped like a tomato, its plastic edges bearded by unknown grazing.
Michael’s predatory senses had scrutinised the habituees of the only three occupied tables in a sweep of the eye disguised as a search for a table. Old habits.
Two of the tables were populated with haggard young bags, sipping stained brown tea with their snaggle-toothed teenage pimps, their legs finally pointing downwards after a long day in the opposite direction
The middle-aged, mustachioed man behind the counter – a Shi-ite Lebanese – judging by his physiognomy, eye and hair colour – stopped toweling the small heavy-bottomed tumblers for a moment, looking up disinterestedly, then returning to the impossible job of wiping away the millions of scourings that turned the glass to a milky white.
Ah. There you are. The man sitting at the third table was too vital to be one of the alchos or smack heads that would normally drift into the fug of one of these places: too vital and also too solid. The usual wasters developed an almost translucent look: see through: the stained and torn butterfly wings of humanity.
The young man was also the only one to look up and directly meet Michael’s eye. His gaze was steady and true. B was right. He did have eyes like oceans. Michael had always despised clichés. But on this occasion he would have to make an exception and simply bow to her greater descriptive ability.
A large calloused hand swept up across the young man’s face, its fingers tracing the line of his jaw from his ear to his chin. A nervous tick Michael thought at the time – one of the rare occasions where he had been in fact quite wrong in his reading of a physical intention.
He sat down in one measured muscular sweep, not unnoticed by the Boat Boy. Intriguing. Michael registers nothing more intensely than that which is noticed by others. Michael sensed that to survive in the world where this boy came from, you needed to be very clear about what a man might be physically and mentally capable of – and be able to respond to it in a whisper of a second.
Michael ordered a tea, gesturing across the café, the moustachioed man already turning to the large stainless steel pot sitting beneath a steaming trigger tap nozzle slung beneath a hunching steel cylinder.
Michael remembered the hope in the young man’s eyes at the beginning of the meeting.
He had watched the light fade slowly in painful increments, its brightness decreasing with every carefully metered sentence. B had told Michael what she wanted to say and Michael did exactly as he was told.
The undertaking of her wishes had induced a funny thought in him.
B had been so emphatic in her delivery and spoke with such clarity on the cadence and meaning of every line that, as Michael spoke her words, he could hear her voice so loudly in his head that it seemed to him that he was actually speaking in her voice.
The young man had tracked her down somehow, which was flattering – and renewed her belief in the strength of love and kindred spirits. But that this was not how it was meant to be. They had agreed – both of them – hand in hand as foaming sea was rolled up the beach in front of them by a strong So’westerly . The world was not ready for them and their dreams. The world was not kind to fractured boat boys and peculiar girls and their unexpected progeny in the small world in which she had chosen to stay.
‘The passionate fire of our intense beginning will eventually fade and the steel trap of the beige life will snap shut around us, we will cease to be extraordinary, the ‘everyday’ of our togetherness would slough up about us, suffocating, and the cord that attaches us will fray, and split, eventually snap at the end of some meaningless argument over nothing, and we will both retreat alone into the rooms of ourselves. The way the world was made right now, a life together would tear us apart. To be apart is the only way to be together’.
She had told Michael these things with great emphasis though he struggled to understand how the bright, forceful young woman he so admired had seemingly acquiesced so suddenly to such a narrow conservative view of the world more akin to that of her father and his friends.
It smacked of cowardice to Michael – cowardice in someone who he had, up until then at least, deemed extraordinary in so many ways. Something in the corner of him died at the realization.
But then he realized that perhaps the most extraordinary thing about her was that, unlike the usual renegade teenager throwing caution and clothing to the wind in pursuit of wild freedoms, B had minutely dissected her situation, her relationship with the Boat Boy and the product of that relationship soon to burst into the world – she had studied herself and deciphered with an extraordinary and naked candour that, in reality, she would never be quite extraordinary enough to pull off an action of such immensity: and subsequently decided that these life changing, world-shifting undertakings were miracles best left to others of greater intention, spirit and courage than her.
Perhaps she had realised that one far more capable of destroying the ugly inane truths of her father’s grotesque little world would come – and something more powerful would come of it – and her. The world would turn – and she and the Boat Boy would be once more.
The young man in front of him was visibly shrunk by what Michael had said to him. He seemed fixed in his seat, uncertain as to what to do. It was as if his whole emotional and physical being had never considered for one moment that his mere presence, his pursuit, would have any effect other than that of a swift dispatch to her arms and a life lived richly in love and hope with the shoeless girl with the eyes that made everything alright.
Michael’s steady silent gaze, held for what seemed like hours, had eventually filtered through to Doug.
The immovability and the inevitability of B’s decision communicated by the laser straight eyes of this Bear-like man with the vaguely school-boy flop of hair and unnervingly precise movements was clear enough.
Watching the back of the young man as he walked straight out of the café, Michael noticed a ripple run across his shoulders. It was as if the sea was far more than just some rolling strap that he trawled across endlessly in search of a living – it was if it was at work within him.
Before Doug walked out, Michael had handed him a package. In a red plastic bag too large for its contents was a box. In that box was a radio.
B had been very particular in which radio she had chosen for him. She had bought two: one for herself and one for Doug, the one small thread she was prepared to tie between them.
She promised that every night she would listen to the Shipping Forecast and hear the names of the places and spaces across the sea that he had spoken so lyrically and rhythmically of as they lay wrapped in each other.
She would listen and she would remember. And she would wait for the day the world turned.
Michael had thought her stupid. Her ridiculous idea that anything would ever change to such a degree was beyond his comprehension.
Her perceived cowardice needled at him. It could have been such a final and devastating act to unleash upon her father.
Why hadn’t she done it? Michael was too in awe of her ever to consider then that perhaps it was simply beyond what she was capable of.
He was also a romantic; a troubled one perhaps but a romantic nonetheless. The intense degree of his mawkish sentimentality was in fact equaled only in the polar opposite intensity of abject brutality that he had witnessed or had unleashed while propped up inside his uniform, under the excuse of an order to be executed.
Tom had originally planned to wander to the bus stop and day-dream his way along the 12 mile bus journey to Auntie Bea’s village, staring out of the window, his head empty bar a neon sign spinning in the dark, its flashing lights reading ‘Closed For Refurbishment’.
But his master plan of genius had been cut short by his mum turning up, toot toot tooting at the end of the school drive.
Tom walks up to the car and opens the door. He climbs in awkwardly, met by his mum’s unusually tense face and the collected, warmed smells of sweets (powdered and boiled), petrol (the cap was leaking) a particularly punchy citrus air freshener and the sticky make up smell from his mum’s lipstick.
Tom looks into the foot-well. There are crumbs and pieces of grit and dirt gathered in one corner, bunching up around a ball of fluff.
He moves the toe of his shoe up and down across the tops of the grit to make a remarkably annoying scraping noise. He draws his foot back. The action had reminded him that his school shoes are crap and the scuffs along the side prove that they are coated in some plastic stuff to make them ‘scuff proof’!
The grit speckles along the grooves in the standard inset plastic foot-well mat. He runs his heel up and down the grit until it annoys him again.
His mum seems lost in thought and is not immediately annoyed by what he is doing which is odd.
The lack of additional mats in the car was typical of his mum and her scattiness. Two weeks ago there were mats in the car. Now there weren’t. Nobody knew why. Stranger still was that no-one bothered to ask.
Tom looks sideways at his mum. The sun lights up the powdery foundation on her downy cheeks in a way that makes it look like she is glowing.
Tom thinks she is pretty. Big blocks of sunlight move across her face. They make her look really young.
He has an urge to reach out and touch her cheek. She looks at him, the light suddenly shifting behind her eyes like the sun he watches chasing clouds across the sea. He scrunches his hand, and fidgets it in his lap.
He looks down into the foot well again and shifts the ball of fluff a little further west: just to see if anything happens.
Tom takes a peek skyward. The vapour trails seemed to have calmed down recently: but maybe that is because the Captains and Navigators on the planes have figured out that the poor old Auto-Pilot is having a bit of a wrestle with things not being quite where they should be.
Tom had read in the newspaper about some big argument about autopilots and pilots and airlines that made him slightly go off the idea of flying somewhere exotic.
Having realised that some of the pilots relied a little too heavily on the autopilot to fly the plane (something to do with excessive inflight sleeping and flying in the face of an alcohol curfew 12 hours before flying), the airlines were planning to sack half of them when the Unions reappeared from the lost world they had been in for the last decade, coming out in favour of the Pilots: until that is one said pilot inadvertently parked a plane partially filled with primary school children into a tree just outside Northallerton, having just avoided even greater tragedy by hopping over the A1, skipping like a pebble across about a mile and a half of ploughed field, and jumping skyward again via the half-finished sand and gravel slip road ramp on the new by-road.
There were few injuries but a lot of angry parents – and one very noisy newspaper petition making them change their collectively unionized mind sharpish.
The car idles slowly. Traffic jam. Rubbish. Tom thinks that there is always a traffic jam when you’re in a hurry: it is compulsory.
The journey from his school to Aunt Bea’s village is lined with small nothings. Drake’s Shopping Village. The Burham Industrial Estate: ‘the home of Anglian Engineering Excellence’. And the Fudge Factory. The Fudge factory had a guided tour chaperoned by a woman with dark brown hair and cocoa powder on her hands. She was very smiley and Tom liked her. She did this mad thing with cocoa butter and paddles and they tasted chocolates at the end of it and were given some to take home.
His mother’s car snudges along, at one point pulling up alongside the bus that Tom would have been on had he taken one. Two girls sporting the almost a school uniform look are screaming and swearing from the back seat of the bus. One girl empties the remnants of a crisp bag out of the window on to the roof of a silver car.
Tom knows the girls from school. Tom looks down at his hands as he hears their attention turn to him. They shout out of the window.
They laugh. Tom isn’t sure why they find themselves so funny.
“Oi loser, what you looking at down there?”
They screech to each other again. Tom‘s mother speaks.
“Do you know them love?”
“They seem to know you”.
“Yeah well, I don’t”.
“They’re a bit rough aren’t they”.
He finds himself beginning to feel like he should stick up for them, even though they are being really nasty to him. How weird is that.
“Wasting your time, there’s nothing down there mate” shrieks Crisp-bag Girl.
Her screechy laughter makes Tom feel quite sick.
The Wicked Witch of the East. His Mum looks at him, her mouth half opening and shutting, like a fish. She says nothing. He looks up: watching her closely. He is reminded of the animated Human Biology film they were shown at school on Speech & Behaviour.
He looks to see if the ‘thought’ in her mind will become brightly coloured with a face and bounce over loads of synapse things to pop smiling out of her mouth with a ta-da!
She looks at him again, her mouth eventually closing shut and she turns away. No. She had no idea how to deal with stuff like that. She could have tried though. She should try being twelve years old and a boy at his school. She should try being him – or the version of him that he thought she and his dad wanted him to be.
He slouches further into his seat. One girl, the one with mousier hair looks at him directly. They recognize each other as mutual friends of Kathy’s. They silently and invisibly make their peace: and the girl turns to someone inside the bus. A screech and caw lets Tom know that there’s a new victim in town, and they’re inside the bus somewhere.
The car radio is on. The news is packed to the brim with things that, had Tom not been the cause of them, would have been quite amazing to listen to.
They would normally have filled Tom with hope for the world because they were just different. In the last few weeks the hysteria had grown a little, fueled by programmes and newspapers pumping everyone up.
Tom had got a little nervous at one point because the man on the telly was talking about hunting down the cause of Britain floating off into the sunset (or sunrise depending which way you and it were pointing on any given day). Hunting the cause like a murderer or some bloke who’d been dodgy and who should therefore be arrested.
Tom looks out of the window and spies a Cumulus Nimbus slightly lost in the middle of the sky. He remembered it was a Cumulus Nimbus from his wall chart. Even the clouds were confused.
Britain (the definition in this instance meaning the English Scottish Welsh mainland with Cornwall knocked off and minus the Hebridean bits) had moved/sailed/floated/mooched (the verbal/adverbial definition of their passage changed depending on the journalist and circumstance) due North for a month or so at 18 Knots before veering to the left in a wide arc – its current trajectory taking it around and down the east coast of North America.
People are weird.
One report told of groups of people attending gatherings at both the English and the French ends of the channel tunnel. It was a ‘sharing thing’ apparently. In some ways they were mourning what was, like amputees who still felt the tingle and itch of limb long since departed.
The two sets of people, bought together by a separation (which was confusing in itself), agreed that it was really weird that the distance between their respective Chunnel entrances, was increasing at a rate of knots, literally.
These two points, the respective mouths of the channel tunnel were so firmly fixed in their own worlds. Nothing had changed. The distance from each of their respective homes villages and towns to their respective Tunnel entrances was no different. Same roads. Same distance. Same time to get there. It was just that ‘the other side’ was missing now: an abstract concept.
The gathered people said a lot. Sometimes nothing. What they really wanted to say to each other was that, on reflection, they missed it, the being attached bit, even though they did not know all those people who lived on the other side. They just missed them being ‘there’. A television program the other evening had shown how the two tunnel entrances had become little shrines to the departed ‘other’.
It showed a load of people walking up and down with placards and candles. And then a bearded bloke in elaborate robes had told a crowd of candle wielders that ‘the ever-increasing distance between the two fixed points of our English and the French tunnel entrances is, in a way, somewhat symbolic of the time that had elapsed and that which continues to elapse between Our Lord Jesus and Christians today’.
‘It is symbolic’ he said ‘of how a flock and their shepherd can become separated yet still be ‘as one’: fixed in our individual truths and spirituality, yet still deeply connected; both moving in our own mysterious ways: in a state of anamnesis: of living memory’ our being together as real as it ever was.
Then there was a whole bit after that about how increasing distance space and time only strengthens some connections – how time ‘is like a rope, the relationship a loose knot at its middle – pull the rope in both directions and the relationship only tightens, ever stronger.’
Tom had glazed over by then.
Any reference to ropes and knots just made him very, very nervous and he didn’t really understand what the man was talking about.
The up side was that that man in the robes had a rabbi Jewish bloke and Ayatollah Something or other from the British Muslim Society standing next to him, nodding a lot: which made a change
The breaking news about the Tunnel had begun as a ‘Leak and a crack in the Channel Tunnel EXCLUSIVE’ story – growing into an engineering flaw, which in quick succession turned into a crises that became a phenomena.
In the beginning three maintenance men on the French side on entering the works access walkway had been met by a wall of salty channel water traveling in the opposite direction. They had watched in awe, wondering what would happen once the funneling tongue of water ran itself down to a trickle.
To answer their question the tunnel’s structure promptly collapsed in front of them – a happening echoed at the English end almost to the second, tidily sealing the holes forever.
The warmth in the car around Tom was knitting itself into a fat blanket. The flat field between the car (now full of glass trapped heat) and the high blue of the sky caught Tom’s attention. He tried to pin-point the spot in the sky that hovered above the sea where the Tie stood, impassive, as the gurning, churning sea relentlessly rolled up to meet it.
For a moment he imagined a big globe turning in space, a huge peg sticking out of a little bit of the world. The Earth’s Axis. Axes? No. Axis. Or were they powers? They were powers weren’t they? Tom remembered that the word Axis in his history book meant bad things so he closed that random line of thought.
There had been riots in Northern Ireland. From what Tom could see of the archive news footage of past troubles, they loved a bit of a riot over there. The Unionists, a Protestant political party, claimed that ‘the shift is not just physical but spiritual: a desertion, a plot by the Government in Westminster to lose the whole Northern Irish problem in the slopping wake of the Island as they wander off northwards to Greenland’.
Tom remembered that the Unionists had something to do with the union between England and Scotland and some Dutch king called William who was always painted on a prancing horse. Tom sensed that it didn’t take much to see that History was not his strong point.
He turned his hand inside his pocket until he could turn it no further. His inner elbow pointed upwards now. It felt tight and began a dull ache towards hurting. They seemed quite angry, the people in Ireland. Tom’s mum had begun sighing now, and looking sideways at him in a way that made him feel weird. Auntie Bea. He really needed to get to Bea’s house.
He sighed along with his mum. Tom noticed that the man on the radio at the moment couldn’t say his r’s. They came out like ‘w’s like that bloke Jonothon Woss that his mum and dad liked.
There is a girl in Tom’s year who has the same speech thing and he kind of likes it. The radio man’s reference to a ‘pwess welease by the Fwench Govewnment that had aggwavated and inflamed Anglo-Fwench policy by pointedly announcing their pleasure at Les Anglais finally retweating in the face of a gweater Power within the Euwopean State’ ended up sounding like one of the highly un p.c. comedy sketch shows his dad watched.
Tom thought that the man with the w’s sounded a little uncomfortable; like he wanted the ‘w’s to go away. Which was sad.
The stubble ruts in the fields to the right of the dual carriageway were smoking. Twists of white puffy smoke floated upwards to suddenly stop and hang in the air suddenly with no particular intention of wafting anywhere. Thinking of which the fires in Penzance were still burning from two nights of rioting. Blimey. Rioting everywhere. He didn’t want to be someone who caused riots. Only losers and wasters rioted, or so his dad said.
Tom was 12. And from East Anglia. And he had scuff-proof school shoes. He wasn’t a rioting natural.
The riots had begun more as a celebration of the fact that the Cornish were to be ‘finally rid of the ‘foreigners’ (as the rest of the English were known).
While it was still mainly theoretical, all seemed very chirpy and friendly – the odd barricade and a lot of beer to be fair.
The right royal result came as, in floating off northwards with the rest of the country, Cornwall had snagged the southern tip of Ireland, crushing between six and eight miles of coast-line on both landmasses at the point of impact. The only victims had been one shoal of herring (numbers unknown but large), 16 surf huts, three hundred sea birds of varying breeds, two fishing boats, a number of mobile homes and one Irish couple who were up to ‘ungodly acts’ in a hut on the southern reaches of a particular cliff, though the Priest who was in the throes of witnessing said ungodly acts seemed to have got off lightly with only a broken arm and 2nd degree burns.
But the minute that Cornwall realized that it had fully detached itself to bob happily next to the Scillies in the bubbling gulf-stream, it all kicked off.
It seems that a local Bobby, one PC Peter Hudderwell, on secondment from Hatfield Police Station and suddenly feeling very isolated as he watched the other two thirds of the country sail into the distance, took severe exception to the Wicken dancing, dwarf baiting, Cider shot-gunning and general English bashing that was taking place.
He baton- charged a small group as they stood by the bus stop eating chips, each taking a well-deserved break from the general madness.
Five minutes later, with one PC Hudderwell hanging by his foot from the Wicken giant on the green, the fires began to be lit along the coastline.
As he listens to the various news pieces Tom feels exhausted by the fall out from his extraordinary action.
Tom slips his last chewing gum from the wrapper tube and rolls the foil paper in his fingers. He winds down the window to the accompaniment of a rather loud air buffeting noise. He tips his head forward as a fat load of warm air rushes up from where it had been sitting happily behind him in the car. He wonders if he stuck his head out far enough whether his cheeks would do that flappy dog cheek thing?
He flicks the paper out of the small opening and winds the window up again. Tom likes to look at the litter by the side of the road. He likes to wonder how long it’s been there. He wondered if one day he could go back to that very place and find some trace of the litter he had jettisoned out the window; a small flag to his existence, a connection to an earlier him.
Everything is connected.
There were bets being laid at the bookies as to where we’d end up. Scrunched up against the US of A? Or next stop South America? Or would we swing left again at Jamaica to turn up at our original latitude and longitude. A sort of 3 point turn if you like.
If we misread that thought Tom we might well end up plugging the hole at the mouth of the Meditteranean Sea.
Having read one particular newspaper article, Tom’s Dad had got very over excited when he heard that ‘we seem to be taking the faintest turn to the left, potentially taking the island round to the left of Greenland and directly towards his beloved America
This had left him already quietly contemplating the pros and cons of each state, on the basis of which state to move to when we were close enough to claim Citizenship.
A fat woman with bright blonde hair pictured on the right of the article had stated that we would come to a grinding halt in the middle of the Atlantic (dead in the middle of the Gulf Stream most hoped purely for sunbathing reasons) and in due time raise the flag of the new ‘Atlantis’.
She was mad.
Tom thought that people wondering where they might end up was fun. The bit that wasn’t was what seemed to happen to some people when they were done with their wondering and the novelty had worn off.
Tom was used to grown ups being just there; solid and dull and unsurprised by too much.
Since he’d untied the Tie and they’d all floated off towards a new beginning or a different end, a lot of grown-ups had begun to act strangely. Nervous. Jittery.
Tom couldn’t figure it out. But then he thought about it some more and supposed that they had always lived in a world where life was quite straightforward: sort of fixed.
You had a name, you lived somewhere, in a region of a country, in a town, a village or wherever. It was you that moved if you wanted to, not the thing you lived upon. So that was a bit hard to get used to he thought.
He realised that so many people were attached to so many things in so many ways. To their they way they spoke. To their town. To the fields opposite their house. To the shadows falling in a particular place in their bedroom at 4.30pm when they read a storybook. To the sun rising in one window and setting in another.
Something as simple as going to the supermarket actually involved a whole load of things, and times and memories, and people and places and action and noises and smells, all tied together, in some ways slightly different every time but in other ways always the same.
Tom felt like that scene in Mission Impossible where the bloke reveals loads of red tracer lines of the burglar alarm criss-crossing the big vaulted room. And Tom was in a sling hanging above it, his nose and right elbow, millimeters away from breaking the lines.
It really mattered where the sun rose and set in people’s world. It mattered to them which way was North.
Tom was also beginning to realize that it mattered even more ‘who’ was North. If they carried on as they were, North would soon be somewhere quite different thinks Tom, and South somewhere else. And the West, well, who knows where the west will turn up. The only thing certain being that it would be on the opposite side to the East.
Tom wonders where this will all lead: the floating off and the dipping and turning and people’s world being turned upside down.
He reckons that it might be towards a slightly sicky feeling and your head feeling like a big exploding melon if the time Mike and Paul tied him upside down-ish from the goalposts was anything to go by.
He had felt quite scared as he span slowly from the rope tied around one ankle. He’d never been tied upside down before and the blood rushing into all the corners of his brain made his head feel fat and stuffy. It felt like his brain had a blocked up nose.
However much he understood that his up was down and his other the wrong way around, he still felt lost and powerless. He felt really stupid because he wasn’t meant to be that way up: or down.
So perhaps he’d kind of tied everyone upside down from the goalposts. They were certainly looking a bit lost that was for sure. The man with the slightly irritating voice on the TV programme who waved his hands about all the time had said that ‘the cumulative effect of thousands of years of the interbreeding and interweaving of tribes, Ley lines, Roman roads, and expanding empires sit hunkered in pubs up and down the country wondering what will become of them’.
This seemed a little over the top to Tom and in other ways a bit hard to understand but he got the general idea.
He was in fact getting a lot of ideas from everywhere at the moment. His friend John’s dad was one of those ‘where’s. Tom hadn’t seen John properly for a week or so now.
They’d been having one of those ‘pass-you-on-the-stairs-at-school-and- say-hi-without-being-weird-or-horrid-but-its-cool-that-we’re-doing-different-stuff-see-you-round’ patches recently.
John’s dad though was popping up a lot recently. Not physically in the flesh. But on the net – he had become a bit of an event on the net.
John’s dad it turns out is a ‘Blogger’.
Which Tom thought was funny as he also went jogging which made him a Jogger Blogger or Blogger Jogger.
Tom’s a bit miffed that his dad doesn’t even know what a blog is really. Let alone be cool enough to write one. His dad had no idea what a blog was till two weeks ago.
Now it seems that if he had half a chance he’d be writing one himself. John’s dad’s blog was on a site called ‘whowherewhen.com’.
The whole website is all about how we’re connected in all these brilliant ways with all these parts of our history and the countries around us.
It also banged on a bit about the danger of leaving all of that behind, but Tom tended to ignore that bit as that was the bit he felt guilty about. The blog announced that ‘if the island swings left-hand-down and turns on its head, the Scots will become the Soft Southerners; Kent and Sussex will face the North West winds (whoops, that Kentish confidence would be going South metaphorically speaking, along with that prize-winning sunshine basking Marrow).
Tom looked across the hedge that had appeared on the right-hand side of the car, its flat tall green-ness making him feel a little claustrophobic all of a sudden.
Left-hand-down. Funny that someone should describe the instruction for the totally mad idea of a whole island changing direction like they’d describe a wheel turn while reversing into the car park at Sainsbury’s. John’s dad was very clever. He was also the one who took Tom’s dad to the golf club as a ‘guest’.
Tom’s dad had a friend called Alan who sounded a lot like Tom imagined John’s dad to be like. Maybe they were the same person. Tom had realised that he had never actually seen John’s dad, even though he popped round sometimes to pick up Tom’s dad and drive him to the Golf Club.
When Alan came around his dad tended to sit there and listen with lots of deep thinking expressions on his face, though Tom reckons that it was more to do with the fact that his dad found it hard to keep up, was really bored, or was in fact desperately trying to think up smart stuff himself.
Alan had pointed out that ‘if we turn all the way around, East Anglia will finally face up to its anthropological history both symbolically and physically, given that the Atlantic Ocean would be all that sat between the United States and the East Anglian coast, bringing the descendents of the Pilgrim Fathers on both sides of the Atlantic just that little bit closer together’. Tom remembered them from history: the Pilgrims that is. Funny bunch. Big hats.
Alan had also pointed out that the Welsh would be looking across the water at the Dutch and the Danish which would be funny: and make a welcome break from the Irish some Welsh thought, audibly, though some other people who were not Welsh, people in the Midlands specifically, thought it would serve the Welsh right for reasons no-one was able to quite figure out.
Genius Tom had thought. But strangely enough the exact same points had been made by John’s dad in his blog. Tom’s dad had looked at him in a funny way when Tom had leapt at the next available opportunity to ask Alan whether he went jogging. Especially given that the opportunity had arisen yesterday teatime just as Alan opened the Kitchen door and was mid-way through saying his usual greeting of ‘Anyone in the nuthouse’.
Tom’s dad didn’t realize that it was a clever question to trap the fake Alan who was really John’s dad into admitting that he and John’s dad were in fact one and the same.
Tom’s dad just thought Tom had finally lost it – shooting from weird awkward to plain bananas . Tom had never really thought about where we all came from til recently.
He’d certainly never thought about the things that tie people together in their own little worlds.
Tom thought that was all just brilliant. But his head hurt. He could hear the hum of billions of ropes twanging now: really, really noisy: lots of ropes connecting everyone to everything, twisting and turning and stretching and humming.
They would never be in the same configuration again, all the ropes that attached people to who they were, where they were, where they came from and where they dreamed they would be going.
All those ropes were stretched and twisted to breaking point now, the hum getting louder and louder, A deafening hum. Like when Godzilla falls onto the electricity cables, and they stretch and wine and then whiplash slash through the air, the hum broken by the odd ping and snap as one after another after another finally snapped altogether.
Part of Tom thought that was bad – very bad. And it was all his fault. But another tiny part of him thought that it might just be great. And maybe all the bad things in the world would get turned upside down and good things would appear on the surface: like the shiny worms that popped up all over the place when his dad used the big fork on the flower bed.
Maybe the United State Of Englain was not such a bad place to end up. Tom turned his head; but very, very slowly, applying his mind to the delicate and enormous job of moving a head now filled with billions of thoughts and other general amazing stuff (and of course quite a lot of weird and upsetting things too) from left to right.
The temperature in the car had become uncomfortably hot. They turned off the ring road onto the A31 something or other. The sun was now baking the side of his cheek, and it felt like there was a hot hand trying to pull his eyes shut.
It crossed Tom’s now more-than-half-baked mind that this road pointed roughly due south, and, if they were crawling along at about 14 miles an hour in its southerly direction at the same time as Britain was heading north at approximately 18 Knots, they were, in global terms, effectively standing still. In fact, if the traffic got any slower they would achieve the cosmic feat of traveling both backwards and forwards at the same time. Double Genius. Tom silently added the institution of Time Travel to his list of Super- heroic abilities.
Tom felt quite old suddenly. Having to think about what other people might feel was making his head hurt. That must be what it was like to be a grown up; to not be the only person in your life and to have to think about other people a lot – for your head to hurt a lot all the time. No wonder his mum and dad were so weird.
Time travel. Hang on? What would happen if they crossed a time zone? Black squiggles crowded up around the back of Tom’s eyes. A small phut sounded in the middle of Tom’s head. Thankfully the further they got from the beach and the closer they got to Bea’s village, the lighter Tom’s head began to feel.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: In the process of publishing this story to the blog I am altering the original text of the Kindle Version. The blog published version will be the most up to date edition.