For those that wanted to know about Tim and the rock concert...
Boy’s Night was off that week, because Piet was apparently tied up in sorting out paperwork for some new young player that the board were anxious to get, a French guy, and had said he didn’t know what time he’d be finished, and Phil was in London and didn’t know what time he’d be back either, so as Jim and Mary had been saying that we must come over for a meal, well: 2 birds, and all that.
And it was nice, Mary cooked lasagne (and there’s no lasagne like the lasagne you grew up with) and Hansie and I had tossed to see who drove home, and he lost, so I was able to have a glass or several from Jim’s wine cellar. And then, when we were sitting down after dinner, Mary oh-so-casually said:
“I thought you might like a look at these, Hansie.”
And these, it turned out, were the boxes of old photographs from up in the loft.
Families will do that to you, won’t they? Keep the incriminating evidence from your childhood ready to spring on you in front of your boyfriend/girlfriend and embarrass the hell out of you?
“Oh no,” I moaned, making a half-hearted gesture to pull the box away from my grinning aunt. “Put them away, I’m sure he doesn’t. . .”
“I’m sure he does,” said Hansie enthusiastically. “Tell me, Mary, are there any deeply, deeply embarrassing fashion mistakes in here, hey? Only he is always telling me that I have no sense of style, and I would so like to see him suffer.”
“Well, now that you mention it,” said my treacherous aunt without the slightest hint of shame or reticence, “there is – this.” And she delved in the box and pulled out the picture of me and Don Cunningham in stripy matelot shirts and black eyeliner, emulating whichever band it was we were mad for that week.
Hansie, the bastard, fell about laughing.
“Hansie, we were sixteen, for f- God’s sake. Everyone does stupid things at sixteen.”
Hansie’s only response was a further outburst of giggles.
“Yes,” agreed Mary slowly. “Of course, you and Don did seem to do more stupid things than most.” She looked at me, and I knew perfectly well what she was thinking of.
It was true, Don and I did seem to bring out the worst in each other. But it always seemed so justified at the time. . .
“Did you get the OK?”
“No,” I said bitterly. “They say that it’s too far, and goes on too late. My uncle can’t bring us, because he’s busy with that stupid rugby club, and they don’t trust us to go on the bus, and anyway it’s a school night and this is an important year. For fuck’s sake” – I had recently taken up swearing, and rather liked it – “anyone would think we were six instead of sixteen.”
“Bad luck man,” said Don sympathetically. “Parents can be so grunt.” Grunt was part of our home-made slang. Bad lessons were grunt. Falling off your bike when you were doing wheelies and trying to look cool was really grunt. And parents – yeah, parents were dead grunt.
“They’re not even my proper parents,” I said bitterly.
“But you said they. . .”
“Never mind what I said. Why should my aunt and uncle say whether I can go into town to watch the concert on Wednesday night? I mean, we’re adults now, we should be able to decide for ourselves.”
Don thought about that. “Are you saying. . .?”
“Yes. We’re fucking going, and that’s that. Unless you’re scared.”
“Hey, I’m not the one who’s banned, my mother said I could go.”
“Yes, if Jim or someone took us and brought us back.”
“Whatever,” he replied sulkily. “I could go with Martin Alsop, his dad is taking him. Anyway, I’m not the one who’s likely to get his arse roasted if he gets found out.” I punched him in the arm, and got a kick in the shins for my trouble, after which we decided to consider honour satisfied.
“So how do we do this?”
I considered. The concert started at 8, which meant that we had to catch the bus at 7, which was far too early to pretend I was going to bed. Besides, I’d been caught out so many times telling fibs, due to an unfortunate tendency to blush and look away (especially under Mary’s pale blue stare, which could penetrate your thoughts with devastating ease), that I’d more or less accepted I was no good at it. No, it would be better if I avoided saying anything.
“You invite me to tea. And we’ll make sure we have something to eat before we go. Then when I say I’m going over to your place to have tea and get in some music study I’ll be telling the truth, won’t I? And you’ll tell your mum that Jim is picking us up from the end of the road, but he has to do it at 7 because he’s got to drop in to the rugby club on the way. That's true too. Mostly.”
Don shook his head, amused. “OK,” he agreed. “Man, you really go round the houses.”
“Look, we have to take this seriously. Don’t goof around the way you usually do, or you’ll land us both in it.”
“I said OK, didn’t I? Your secret’s safe with me.”
There was a slight edge to that, that made me wonder for a moment if he had guessed my real secret. The strange, shameful feelings in me. The fact that when someone at school had passed around torn pages from a porn mag – look, you can actually see them doing it! – it wasn’t the awkwardly spreadeagled woman I was looking at but the man pumping away between her legs. The way I increasingly felt uncomfortable showering and changing after PE, in case a look or some tell-tale sign I didn’t know about gave me away. And Don was my best friend. Dared I tell him? And then I thought of him comfortably dissing Max Withenshaw as ‘a perve’ or calling me ‘you big poof’ when I missed a goal in a playground football match, and thought: no. No way. Not safe.
“All right then,” I said a bit grumpily. “So it’s sorted?”
“Of course.” He suddenly broke into a huge grin. “It’s going to be so cool. Imagine them coming all the way to England, to here!”
“Well, to Barchester Arena, if you want to be technical. That’s twenty miles away.”
His only reply was to make a rude noise and pull my blazer over my head, then run off in the general direction of the Science Block, laughing like a woodpecker. Yeah, OK, sometimes we were more like 6 than 16.
“Oh for fuck’s sake, what now?” groaned Don, as the support band came back on for yet another encore. It was already nearly 10 o’clock and the headline act, the band we’d actually come to see, hadn’t even come on stage yet. There was a chorus of whistling and booing from the increasingly restive (and increasingly drunk) audience, drowning out the youngsters on the stage (who actually weren’t that bad, and under other circumstances would probably have been well received). A beer bottle sailed out from somewhere in the crowd to spin across the stage, and the Arena security staff promptly waded in to try to drag the culprit out. As the crowds swayed and pressed, I started to feel a bit scared. There were so many people around, and the atmosphere, the electricity in the air, had abruptly shifted. It had felt exciting, and comradely. But now, suddenly, it felt dangerous.
Don felt it too.
“Shit, I hope there isn’t going to be trouble,” he muttered to me.
“Yeah. Do you – do you think we should have chosen a place a bit nearer to the exit?”
“Too late now,” he said, jerking a head back at the tightly packed crowds behind us. He was right, we couldn’t easily move.
Another beer bottle. This one fell short, into the crowd, and hit someone on the head. I heard cursing, and then it sailed back, only it went sideways and hit a woman just in front of us and to our left. I remember clearly seeing her expression of shock and pain as her hand went to her head and came away streaming blood.
And then, as suddenly as if a switch had been thrown, it was pandemonium. Security men started streaming into the crowd trying to grab the troublemakers, and, as the crowd surged away from them, jostles and shoves turned into arguments and fist fights. An unexpected surge nearly knocked me off my feet, I felt myself slipping, going under. In a moment of clarity I realised that if I went to the floor there was a good chance that I would be trampled and not get up again, but there seemed no way I could resist the downward pressure. . .
A ham-like hand grabbed me and pulled me upright, and I looked into the face of a very large man who had his arm round a shaken looking girl. There was something about him that seemed familiar, but I was too shaken to think what.
“No worries. Listen, you need to get out of here, and so do we – somebody’s going to get crushed if they aren’t careful.”
“No, wait, my friend. . .” but here was Don, white-faced, forcing his way over to us.
“This him? Right. OK, grab hold and come with me.” With his girlfriend in the shadow of one massive arm and the other round the pair of us he put his head down and started to sweep us all through the press in a sort of rolling maul, and I suddenly realised why his face rang a loud and insistent bell. He was Scott McAlister, the Gryphons’ Australian-born lock. I had shaken his hand once, along with half a dozen other kids, had a rugby shirt with his signature (and those of the rest of the team) on my wall. Jim had arranged that. . .
“What is it?” asked Don. “Tim, did you get hurt?”
“No, no, it’s nothing, shut up,” I hissed. By this time we had made it to the doors at the west end of the venue.
“Fuck,” said Scott. “The stupid bastards have them locked.”
“Not at that end,” I said, pointing. There were actually six doors in a row, and the one at the left appeared to be open.
“It’s not enough,” he muttered, more to himself than us. “Unless they let the pressure off now, there are going to be some nasty statistics in tomorrow’s paper.” He pushed back against the resistance of the increasingly panicky people behind us, fended off a punch from one man, and kicked.
The guy had legs like tree trunks, and those doors were never meant to take that sort of abuse. Something made a splintering noise, and the door flew open, and we all popped out like a cork from a shaken champagne bottle.
Two startled looking attendants came running towards us.
“Hey, you can’t. . .” began one of them indignantly, until Scott grabbed his shoulder and squeezed.
“Get those doors open now,” hissed Scott through clenched teeth. “Otherwise you’re going to have dead people in that arena. It’s mayhem in there.”
The battered, weeping, screaming crowds surging through the open door at the end and through the breach that Scott had unceremoniously made rather confirmed this statement, if confirmation were needed. The other attendant nodded.
“OK, we’ll open them. Come on Charlie, you call up the East entrance and get them to open those, and the emergency exits onto Malham Place, and I’ll do these.” He ran to the remaining exits and began to unlock them with shaking hands.
“Thank Christ,” said Scott, and winced.
“Scott, are you all right?” asked the girl.
“Sorry, Marina, think I’ve done my foot in. Guys, mind helping me get over to those seats?” Leaning on us he managed to limp through the milling crowds over to a row of plastic seats.
Sirens filled the air as the emergency services began to arrive.
“Scott, I think you’d better go to the hospital and get that foot looked at,” said his girlfriend.
“What about these kids – Tim, Don, how are you going to get home?”
I looked at my watch and then looked again in shock. It was a lot later than I had realised.
“Fuck – Don, I think we’ve missed the last bus.”
“Language,” said Scott sharply, indicating his girlfriend.
Her lips quirked. “That’s all right, I’ve heard worse. Usually from him. Can you call your parents to bring you home – are you brothers?”
“No, just friends. Oh God, they’re going to kill me.”
“It won’t be that bad, mate,” said Scott comfortingly. “I expect they’ll just be glad you got out of it. Here, ring them.” He handed me a mobile phone. A mobile phone! No-one I knew had one, though Jim had a phone in his car, which I had thought pretty neat. Having your own mobile was cool, if you liked.
“No, you don’t understand. . .” but he was grinning.
“Oh, I bet I do. You aren’t supposed to be here, are you?”
“No,” I admitted, studying my shoelaces. “And my uncle is going to go mad.”
He shook his head. “Kids. Go on, mate, better get it over with and take your medicine.” He held the phone out to me again.
I passed it hurriedly to Don. “Ring your mum. Maybe she’ll come and pick us up, and. . .” my voice trailed off.
“And what? You don’t imagine she won’t tell them, do you?” But he took the phone, dialled, rather hesitantly, his home number.
“Hello, Mum – no it’s, I’m all right, we’re all right – no, the door by the steps. No, he’s – but Mum – yeah. Yeah, OK. No we will, we’re with someone – yes, Mum. All right. Yes, Mum.” He pressed the off button, swallowed heavily, turned to me looking sick.
“They know. Your aunt rang my mum to ask her to remind you of something, and of course Mum said we’d gone with Jim, and now they all know. And it was on the radio about the panic, and people are badly hurt apparently, and they’ve all been going mad, and your uncle is on his way, looking for you. For us.”
I sank slowly down on to the floor. Oh God, what must they have thought? What must they have feared? There was a bitter taste in my mouth, and my head spun. I was going to die, I wouldn’t sit down for about 50 years, and I had to admit, I deserved every last stroke.
A look of understanding dawned in Scott McAlister’s face. “You’re Jim Hamilton’s boy, aren’t you? I thought the name and face were sort of familiar. I think I signed a shirt for you.”
“Yes,” I admitted.
“My God, Jim Hamilton. Do you know what a player that guy was in his time? He was one of my heroes.”
“He’s going to kill me,” I wailed. “Oh God, this has all gone so wrong, and we only wanted to see the stupid concert. It isn’t fair.”
“Hey, life isn’t, mate. Time you found that out. And if people were badly hurt, I think you got off lightly. You were going under.”
I blinked. It was like the shock of cold water, bringing me for a moment out of teenage self-absorption. I could have died in there. “Yes,” I admitted slowly, and feeling rather sick. “Thanks to you. We owe you - I think a lot of people owe you for tonight.” I held a hand out, and he smiled and took it.
“A pleasure, mate. And you too,” he added, as Don added his own thanks.
“Tell you what, maybe you’d like to come and watch the match next week? I don’t think I’m going to be playing with this,” he indicated his foot, “but you can sit with me and watch from the touchline.”
“That’d be great,” said Don enthusiastically, but I thought of those hard plastic seats.
“I – er – think I might not be allowed,” I said.
“Gonna be grounded, huh?” he said sympathetically. “Well, think yourself lucky. My dad would probably have striped my arse.”
“His uncle will stripe his, too,” said Don, cruelly.
“Ah, and you’ll get off scot free?” said the rugby player, with, I thought, a touch of coolness.
“I – no, my mum will probably cut off my allowance for ever,” he admitted. “Tim, this was a really really bad idea, wasn’t it?”
“I would say that of the many bad ideas the two of ye have hatched up between ye,” said a familiar accent, “this one would be among the worst.”
“Jim!” and I ran to him, not caring that I was supposed to be an adult or what I looked like or what anyone thought, and received a brisk, crushing hug. It was only afterwards that I realised that it never even occurred to me to doubt that there was a welcome for me in his arms. It must equally be said that it was immediately followed by a swift clip round the ear, and a muttered “ye stupid wee hellion!”
“Mr Hamilton,” said Scott.
“Mr McAlister. I just met your fiancée – Marina, isn’t it? She’s had no luck getting you transport, the ambulances are all full of people who’ve been fairly stepped on, so I’ve said I’ll bring you to the hospital. My car’s just round in Chancel Street, it was as near as I could get. She’s waiting there.”
“Jim, he was fantastic, he got us all out, kicked the door down.”
“So I hear. Scott, I think my family and a lot of others owe ye a debt of gratitude.” Jim shook the lock’s hand firmly. “Come on lad, lean on me, and we’ll hop ye down these steps.”
Looking rather dazed, Scott was helped down the steps and round into the street where his girlfriend was anxiously waiting by my uncle’s Jag. We used Jim's car phone to call Mary and Don’s mum and confirm that Jim had retrieved us safely, and then it was off to the hospital to get Scott’s foot X-rayed.
“I’ll take these two home, and then I’ll come back and collect you,” said Jim. I noticed that his accent softened when he spoke to the big Australian, just as it thickened when he spoke to me. I was really in disgrace, then. “No, not a word. I insist, it’s the least of what we owe you, and you won’t get a taxi for love nor money this evening with all the walking wounded from this fiasco.”
It was very quiet in the car on the way home. None of us felt much like talking. It was sinking in how lucky and how stupid we’d been. Don’s mother was out of the door and half way up the garden path before we’d even parked – she must have been watching out of the window for our arrival.
“Donald Stuart Cunningham, come here this minute!” and she grabbed him, checked him for signs of obvious damage, then flapped him down the path into the house with a series of rather hit and miss smacks to his bottom, that he fended off as best he could. After a moment, she reappeared, walked heavily up the path to us, and said quietly to Jim:
“Thank you, Jim. I don’t know what I’d have done, if. . .”
“Don’t fret over what never happened, Maura. I think it’s down to Scott McAlister that things weren’t any worse for them, but they’re safe now and that’s what matters. Good night.”
“Good night.” She looked at me. “I’m glad you’re all right too, Tim. But please, the pair of you – be careful. We can’t – I can’t take the worry of never knowing what you’ll get up to.”
I swallowed. “I’m sorry, Mrs Cunningham. We never meant to worry anyone.”
She smiled weakly. “No, children never do. But we do worry, you see, parents, your uncle and aunt. We worry all the time.”
I thought about that the rest of the short journey home. Was it true, and if so, how did they bear it?
“In,” said Jim, briefly when we got there. “Go and get changed, and go to bed. You’ve school in the morning.”
“Jim, I. . .”
“No laddie. We’ll talk tomorrow. We’re all too stirred up to discuss this tonight, and I have to go back and pick up that lad that saved the pair of ye. I hope his foot will be all right. An injury like that could ruin the rest of his season, maybe more.”
I hadn’t even thought of that. Oh God, I had so much on my conscience after tonight.
Mary met me in the hallway. I couldn’t meet her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Yes dear, I’m sure. So am I,” she said. But her embrace was as warm and sweet as ever, as she rocked me in her arms and gave me a kiss.
“I’ve told him to get to bed,” said Jim. “We’ll discuss it all tomorrow evening. I have to go back to the hospital, get Scott McAlister home. He may just have saved the lives of these stupid wee idiots.”
As you can imagine, I didn’t sleep very well that night, and seeing the headline in the local paper the next morning ‘TWO CRUSHED TO DEATH IN CONCERT HORROR’ didn’t exactly make me feel any better, either. When I met Don at school he looked as if his own night had been just as miserable and sleepless as mine.
“So are you sore this morning?” he asked, looking off into the middle distance as if there was something of great interest there.
“No. We’re talking tonight. That means the cane talks and my bum listens,” I replied to the same spot.
“I’m grounded for a month, no pocket money, and my bike is confiscated.”
“Shit!” I looked at him for the first time, got a pursing of the lips and a resigned shrug.
“Yeah. But we were really stupid.”
That day lasted a thousand years. Every tick of the clock on the classroom wall sounded like the swish of a cane. I knew I was going to get it, and I really wished it was just over with. That wasn’t going to be the worst bit, though. See, the cane hurts. It hurts a lot. But one thing I've discovered is that actually, being hurt isn’t that bad. I can take that. It passes. What stings and burns and doesn’t pass is the knowledge that I’ve been stupid, that I’ve let people down, that I’ve hurt them. I hurt Mary and Jim, whose only mistake was to love me, to take me in when. . . when. . .
“Perhaps you’d like to explain to the class in your own words what I’ve just told you all about katabatic winds.”
“I – er sorry, sir, could you explain it to me again?”
“Idiot boy! Pay attention.”
“Do you ever pay attention when I tell you something?” my uncle enquired. “Or am I just talking to myself?”
“No sir. I mean, no, you aren’t talking to yourself.”
“I sometimes wonder. I mean, for all the notice you pay to it I might as well be.”
“I’m sorry,” I wailed. “I know I was stupid. I didn’t mean to hurt you and I know I did.”
“Yes, you did, both of us.” He glared at me sternly for a moment, then his face softened. “Timmy, Timmy, what are we going to do with you? Lord, boy, you scared us silly. I really don’t want another drive like last night’s.”
“I’m sorry.” Tears began to well despite my best intentions – it was so embarrassing, being such a blubberbox.
“Hey, laddie. I know, I know.”
“Is it really true, what Mrs Cunningham said? Do you really worry all the time?”
“Och, no. Only ninety per cent.” He looked at me, ruffled my hair. “Tim, we love you, we want you to be safe and happy. The good times outweigh the bad. The worry is just the price you pay for loving someone.”
“So, shall we get this over with?”
“Yes please, sir.”
“Right. You understand what you’re getting this for?”
“Yes, sir. Lying to you and Mary.”
“Yes. You also disobeyed us, when we specifically told you not to go to the concert, and for that reason you’re also grounded until I’m convinced that you’ve turned over a new leaf. No staying out, no visiting friends. No!” he held up a hand as I started to protest. “I mean it. You may have friends over here, under supervision, but until you show us you can be trusted, you aren’t to spend your free time anywhere we can’t keep an eye on you.”
“Yes, sir.” Oh my God I was grounded For Ever!
“Good. Now drop your shorts and bend over the end of the bed, please.”
It was so unf-OOH!
I’ve said it before, Jim never ever gave more than a dozen, no matter what the provocation. It was a dozen this time. And he made every single one of them count, oh my Lord didn’t he just.
But the hug afterwards went a long way to convincing me that everything was going to be all right.
“We were so stupid,” I admitted, putting the photograph back down. “I don’t know how we ever survived. I don’t know how you survived us.”
“Well it did feel like touch and go sometimes,” admitted my aunt. “But there. We did. You did. It all works out in the end.”
Hansie looked at her a touch wistfully. “Promise?”
She laughed, and hugged him. I’ve noticed that she and he hug a lot these days. I’m glad, for both of them.
“Promise,” she said.
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© , 2006