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Monday, 26 January 2009

20 years on

I read the other day that the most difficult thing about writing a blog is starting a post. There are, apparently, three main approaches: 1. Make a witty observation. 2. Pose a thought-proving question. 3. Go on about about how hard it is to start a post. So here we are...

It's been a while since the last one. Over five months to be precise. Sorry. I missed one week, then another and before I knew it a couple of months had gone by and then it was Christmas and I ate so much chocolate that I could barely get out of my chair. It tastes sooooo good. Anyway New Year, new blog, although I'm sure I said much the same last year).

So here's my big news. We're having another baby. Another mouth to feed as we stumble into the biggest economic crisis since the 1930s. Impeccable timing. It's pretty grim out there now. I'm never entirely sure how recessions affect book sales - do people view books as luxuries and so buy fewer of them, or do they spend more on them, because they end up going out less? One thing's for sure and that's that people are going to be flying a lot less, now that the pound is making the Zimbabwean dollar look like the gold standard, which can't be good news for the old airport thriller sales.

In fact the last time I remember things being this bad was in the late eighties (hence gratuitous Miami Vice pic above). One moment, in particular, from that period stays with me - a school trip up to Liverpool where we were due to give a concert in the Cathedral. In between rehearsals I remember following everyone out to the neighbouring park to read a book. An hour or so later and with the light fading fast, I looked up and realised that everyone else had wandered back inside, leaving me on my own. Well not quite alone. Three "youths" (yobs and ASBOs hadn't been invented back then) spotted me from where they were stamping on a bike frame and surrounded me like hyenas might a wounded zebra. In retrospect, a white shirt, grey mini-me suit and polyester tie wasn't exactly great inner-city camouflage.

"What's that?" One of them pointed out from under his hood.

I looked down and realised that he was pointing at my standard schoolboy issue Parker pen, neatly secured inside my top-pocket with its arrow-shaped clip. It was a birthday present and was very cool (or at least as cool as a Parker roller-ball pen can be to a seventeen year old) with a Rambo inspired camouflage pattern.

"What are you listening to?" The second one asked with one of those feral faces you just wanted to slap. I had a Walkman strapped to my belt - a huge thing the size of toaster that I had borrowed specially for this trip from my friend Faraz, on the condition he could borrow my Sam Fox Penthouse special for a week. Before I could answer he took the headphones from around my neck and put them on and started rolling his shoulders to the beat. (In case you're wondering it was U2, or Duran Duran or something cool like that. It definitely wasn't T'Pau.)

"Nice watch," Another one giggled through his acne, pointing at my wrist. This was my pride and joy - a Casio Databank received the previous Christmas that I had painstakingly loaded up with every conceivable date and phone number I could lay my hands on, including the Samaritans number that I had spotted on the side of a bus, which my mother found rather worrying when she absent-mindedly scrolled through my contacts one day. "Can I try it on?"

Now at the time I wasn't exactly what you might call "street-smart" - an over-protective mother and safe, suburban upbringing had seen to that. But even my blunted instincts could tell this was not good. Alone. In a park. In Liverpool, a city that to my fearful mind might as well have been Kabul. It's getting dark. I'm surrounded. One of of them's wearing my mate's headphones. And now another one wants to try on my watch? Computer says ... shit!

But then I had a brainwave.

"Forget the watch," I said, taking the headphones back. "Look at this."

I reached into my pocket and pulled out a ... flick knife. No I'm not joking. You see when I said I wasn't exactly "street-smart" I was lying. I was actually a complete and utter muppet. I mean, how many people do you know who when finding themselves being mugged would then hand their attackers a knife?

Actually, strictly speaking it was a stiletto - green with a three inch blade that shot up when I pressed the little black button on the side. I'd bought it on a school trip to Boulogne a few years before along with industrial quantities of bangers, and then smuggled it back into the UK in a teddy bear that had a zipped compartment in the back for keeping my pyjamas in. You see - I was knocking on the door of 00 status even then.

My thinking was that if I gave them this, I might be able to somehow distract them from my pen, watch and Walkman and ensure the safe return of my Sam Fox special. But it didn't take me long to realise the scale of my naivety when the eldest grabbed the knife from me.

"Great. We'll have this and everything else you've got," He sneered with the satisfaction of someone who had just seen every stereotype of how stupid, feckless and pathetic all Southerners really were, resoundingly fulfilled. And in retrospect, who can blame him?

By now I was getting desperate, and a little scared, but I spotted my opening. As the two other boys crowded around the knife, the third away so he could have a better look. Clenching my fist, I swung out and punched him in the stomach. In the same instant I started to run, not stopping to look if they were following but convinced they must be, not sure I'd even really hit him. Down the hill, through the park, up through the cathedral gates. Laughing maniacally, although I can't remember whether this was out of fear, or relief that my Sam Fox special was safe.

It was only later, when I was trying to rationalise the whole "hand your attacker a knife" incident as a clever diversionary tactic that I had ruthlessly followed through with a clinical punch to the solar plexus, that I realised they had won after all. My camouflaged Parker pen had gone, slipped from my pocket when I had been distracted. I felt sick.

Of course the poetry of this escapade was lost on me at the time, although I see it clearly now:
I handed them a sword. They took a pen. It's a beautiful thing.

5 Comments:

Blogger Daryl said...

Brilliant story James! Part of the Author Origins series - classic!

I never had a run in with bullies demanding my possessions, although I was often picked out as a "challenge" to youths looking for a fight (probably due to my height - tall at a young age). Those fights never came to be when they discovered what a wimp I was.

Congratulations on the baby news!

January 30, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another one Jamie! Congratulations.

Sean

January 30, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You think you know someone... and then bang! You hear a story you never knew. Brilliant!.

My brother had a flick knife once. It was surprisingly similar to the one you describe. He took pleasure in taunting me with it (blade in, blade out, blade in, blade out - you get the picture). Until one day, muppet that I am, I got scared and put my hand on it (when the blade was in - clearly) shouting for him to stop. Unfortunately, he didn't react in time and out came the blade, right into my palm where it lodged itself. Pain. Ecstasy. Peace.

I still have nightmares about it.

February 28, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

truly poetic,i recently finished all three of your books [read them on my weekend off]and i must congratulate you on your style and authenticity as a retired thief myself i can to a small degree relate to the characters you portray suffisic to say bravo keep up the good work

March 23, 2009  
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