Monday, 13 September 2010

Voyage XIV – Kids today

Today is quite stormy out and the ship is rolling somewhat. I’m told it’s not possible to be seasick here (or any other sort of sick) but Liz is making a fuss anyway and Harry is taking the opportunity to show what a big man he is by comforting her and taking the piss out of her more-or-less equally.
‘Anyway, how old were you?’ he says turning unexpectedly to me. Apparently it’s been a subject for debate in my absence. I shrug, trying to smile enigmatically. I’m not telling them, not after what Lucy said. I’ll let them guess.
‘What do you reckon Ray?’
Ray shrugs. Solly pretends not to have heard. He looks at his cards and takes a sip of his drink. Harry squints at me.
‘Eighteen’ he says at last and I’m disappointed that it’s so obvious. I don’t confirm his guess but he takes it that he’s guessed correctly anyway.
‘What was it then? Some sort of accident?’ Again I see Liz flinch and look away. I shake my head. ‘Suicide?’ he says loudly. I look away but I can feel him looking at me. ‘Got no fucking time for them. Fucking loser’s way out. Have to learn to fucking face up to life like the rest of us. You’re not going to tell us then? How you did it?’
‘It was exposure’ I say quietly. ‘I died of exposure.’
‘You what? Exposure? How’d you manage that?’
I don’t answer. He goes back to his cards, still muttering about suicides. I decide to say something anyway. What’s the worst that can happen?
‘I do think people should be free to decide if they don’t want to live any more’ I say, as inoffensively as I can.
For some reason there is very little reaction. I’m slightly disappointed.
‘What about their mums and dads?’ he says quietly, looking from his hand to the cards on the table and back again over and over again.
‘Well, if they’ve tried their hardest... if there doesn’t seem to be...’
‘You think it’s alright to top yourself’ he says, still not looking up.
I look around at the others. Brenda is the only one looking at me. I can’t tell what she’s thinking.
‘I’m not saying it’s alright’ I say. ‘I’m just saying maybe, sometimes it’s understandable.’
I notice Liz is crying again. Solly’s expression tells me I should have known to expect this.
‘What, even if it breaks his poor mother’s heart? It’s understandable is it?’
‘If he’s that unhappy... and there’s no way...’
‘How can you be so insensitive?’ he says putting his cards down and looking down at his wife. ‘You alright love? Can I get you anything?’
Liz shakes her head and we play quietly for a while.
‘Kids’ says Harry cheerfully, flicking a card neatly onto the pile ‘Who’d have them? Not like it was in our day is it love?’ Liz, still facing away from us, shakes her head.
‘I can’t keep up with it’ says Ray.
‘You were a teddy boy weren’t you saying Ray?’ asks Brenda.
‘I was. Well, you knew what was what in those days. Not like now.’
‘Punks and Rude Boys. What’s that when it’s at home?’ says Solly.
‘New Romantics...’ adds Ray.
‘Bunch of poofs’ adds Harry, predictably.
‘And that music they listen to – fucking racket some of it. You see them on Top of the Pops, can’t even sing most of them.’
‘Can’t even play their instruments. I reckon, put them up against Buddy Holly...’
‘Roy Orbison.’
‘He could play...’
‘The Shadows. Not that nancy-boy Cliff Richards though.’
‘Ooh I used to like Cliff’ says Liz and she starts to sing ‘We’re all going on a... Summer holiday’.
‘Cut it out I’m trying to concentrate here’ says Harry, shrugging her off. ‘You seem to have got over your sea-sickness remarkably quickly.’
I watch her wonder if it would be too obvious if she tries to look sick again. She decides against it. She wasn’t getting much sympathy anyway.
‘What I don’t get, right, is that Boy George’ says Solly. ‘I thought it was a girl at first. I didn’t half feel like a plonker.’
I can see none of them feel comfortable with this image and they all look at their cards.
‘What about Adam Ant?’ says Ray, ‘What’s that supposed to be?’
‘Let’s ask Gabriel’ says Solly. I knew this was coming. ‘Hey, Gabriel. What do you make of all this new romantic stuff?’
I see Harry lining himself up to enjoy himself at my expense. I can’t think of a way out. I try to look like I’m thinking about it.
‘Do you like Adam Ant Gabriel?’ says Harry, asking as suggestively as he can.
‘Some of it. I quite liked their second album.’
‘What’s your favourite song?’ says Solly.
I avoid their gazes. I know they’re not even slightly interested in Adam and the Ants. I know this is a wind-up. I cast my mind back. All the titles sound stupid anyway – Ant Music, Ant Invasion, Prince Charming. I liked Killer in the Home best.
‘I don’t know’ I say casually. ‘I wasn’t that into them to be honest.’
‘So who did you like?’ says Solly. ‘Seriously, I’m interested.’
I don’t trust him but I give them a list anyway ‘Talking Heads, The Specials, Ian Dury, The Cure, Bowie of course...’
‘I liked David Bowie’ says Brenda. ‘What was that one – Major Tom to ground control?’
‘Space Oddity’ I say, knowledgeably. I didn’t like that one so much but I humour her, trying to keep on her good side.
We sit and play a bit more. I actually have a good hand. I feel a win coming on perhaps.
‘It’s not like the old days is it though’ says Ray. ‘You can’t dance to it can you, or sing along?’ and he starts into Only the Lonely with lots of exaggerated yodelling. People turn and look. He pretends not to notice, rearranging his cards. Then Solly leans in and starts singing too. It’s very embarrassing.

After they’ve finished (and got a small round of applause from a group near the bar) Ray says ‘Well, at least we knew how to have a good time, didn’t we Sol’ and I assume that’s today’s lesson over but I assume wrong.
‘Fucking kids today’ says Harry ‘Don’t know nothing. That fucking David Bowie’s queer too.’
‘He’s not’ says Brenda, aghast ‘Is he?’
I nod. ‘Bisexual’ I say, and I know I’m asking for trouble.

‘What’s that mean?’ says Harry.
‘You know, AC-DC’ explains Liz out the side of her mouth, nudging him with her elbow. He doesn’t react, just carries on rearranging his cards. There’s still time to get out. I just need an excuse.
‘Talking of kids’ he says, laying his cards down and glancing at me, ‘our youngest... Sodding waste of time. Let us down twice he did – I won’t tell you what with. I don’t want to embarrass Liz here...’
‘Stop it Harry’ she says quietly, stroking his arm pathetically.

‘I said if you want to do that sort of thing you can do it in someone else’s house, not under my roof. I told him didn’t I...’
‘Yes dear. You did’ she affirms, head bowed, tears beginning to fall, still stroking his arm. No one speaks. We sit and wait to see what comes next.
‘My eldest’s the same’ says Brenda. ‘He used to be such a lovely little boy. I don’t know where he gets it from.’
‘Gets it from the telly I expect’ says Ray, throwing his cards in, picking up his glass. ‘Not like in our day.’
‘Kids at school...’ says Brenda.
‘Fucking disgrace’ says Harry.
‘That’s the trouble with young people’ says Ray. ‘Think they know the lot just because they’ve been to college. I tell them – when you’ve been around as long as I have, then you can tell me how to run things and not before. Bloody out all night then they expect me to put up with them in the morning. It’s my house I tell them. If you don’t like it...’
‘But we used to get up to some tricks Ray, didn’t we’ says Solly, winking at me inexplicably. ‘We had some laughs.’
‘Not like now, all the blokes in makeup and green hair.’
‘We’d have decked them if they’d turned up looking like that.’
(This is weird actually. I’m fairly sure Ray and Solly never knew each other in life. I suppose it was all much the same wherever you went back then – teddy boys, mods and rockers. I might ask them about it another time.)
‘What I don’t get is why they want to fucking look like that. It’s ridiculous. Who’s going to fancy them looking like that, well, except other you-know-whats.’
‘Jamie had a nice girlfriend’ says Liz. ‘You remember Karen don’t you?’
‘I don’t want to talk about it. Go and do your mascara. You look like shit.’
We sit in silence for quite a while. It occurs to me that one of the reasons I’m not moving is because I want to know what’s going to happen, which surprises me.
Liz comes back and sits down. ‘All I was saying Harry, is that Jamie hadn’t changed that much...’ Harry glares across the table – not specifically at me, just generally. Liz strokes his shoulder ever so gently. ‘He’s still your son.’
Harry stands up explosively. Cards and drinks go everywhere. He holds his hand up as if to slap her but doesn’t for some reason.
‘I said I don’t want to talk about him’ he shouts down at her. ‘You got him admitted, you can deal with it. Right?’
‘But I can’t, not now, can I?’ she says, cowering defiantly.
‘Fucking waste of space’ he says and stomps off. Liz gives him thirty seconds and goes after him. I make my excuses and head out too. I note Lucy and the others are at a table not far away and have been listening. I give them a shrug and carry on to my cabin.
Once there I realise I feel incredibly angry. Why do people let him get away with it? I don’t understand it. And I wonder what happened to Jamie. What was he admitted for? Drugs? Mental illness? Attempted suicide? Being bisexual perhaps? I wouldn’t be surprised. Jamie has my sympathies. He’s better off without his father anyway, wherever he is.
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A life backwards

It's in the nature of blogs of course that you come across the latest postings first (or you find yourself in the middle.) Normally it doesn't matter but if you want to read my novel in order, the first installment is as you'd expect, the oldest posting.
Thanks for your patience.