I left home for the last time
the day after my fifteenth birthday.
I’d worked everything out very
carefully with the idea of going on my actual birthday but they told
me that my gran was coming and, as she always
gave me a cash birthday present, I decided to hang on for twenty-four
hours. It was good that I did as the old biddy gave my fifty quid and
you never know when dosh like that will come in useful. I’d been
hoarding cash for several months and Gran’s present meant that I
had nearly three hundred quid in my pocket when I left.
I’m not going to tell you my
name. I hope that isn’t a problem for you. If it is, you can make
up a name. I don’t care. Most people call me Jack because that’s
the name they gave me in the Millers. You’ll find out about the
Millers if you read on for long enough.
Someone once told me that a
story has to start with a bang if you want
anyone to get beyond the first page. I think that’s rubbish. Some
of the most famous books of all time start off with no bang at all
and then wander on for pages with nothing very much happening. Jane
Austen? Tolstoy? Dickens? You’ll have been forced to read beyond
the first page of some of them at school and, unless you’re a
dickhead, you’ll have found some that you enjoyed. Anyway, it’s
up to you. I believe in people doing what they want to do providing
you don’t harm other folk. Come to think of it, the Millers think
that as well.
I’m sixteen now and this is
the story of me from my fifteenth birthday until my sixteenth
birthday. Twelve months of my life. It didn’t start there, of
course. Nothing ever does start at the beginning. I suppose for me it
started the day I decided to clear out. Or perhaps it was when my dad
walked out on my mother when I was thirteen. Or perhaps it started
when I was eleven and my Mum started going out with this dipstick of
At that age I didn’t think
much about it. In those days, I didn’t know which end of a dog had
teeth and when the dipstick started giving me money not to say
anything, I thought I was on to a good thing (I wasn’t all that
green!). Anyway, one thing led to another and before you could say
“Mum’s a slut” the dipstick was history and a whole gaggle of
other dipsticks came sliding through my life.
Not that I blamed Mum exactly.
Dad was a real loser. He was never in work. Of course, lots of guys
can’t get work but my dad didn’t try – in fact, the only place
he was ever ‘in’ regularly was the local pub, a grotty, cess-pit
of a place called the Grosvenor, if you can believe it. I didn’t
know how he managed to come home half to three-quarters
drunk so often when he only had his benefit until one time when he
got done for burglary and went off to do a stint in the nick. He
surprised us all by having thirty other offences
taken into consideration. How the retard managed to keep the
fuzz at arms length while he clocked up thirty TICs I’ll never
Anyway, he went off on this
‘business trip’ and one of the dipsticks came to live with us for
a while. Things were actually better for a bit. He must have been
giving my Mum some regular housekeeping, so we ate better and even
went on holiday – to Marbella, no less. But he soon learned from
the neighbours just what sort of a family he had logged onto and that
was the last we saw of him.
It was as well he cleared off
when he did because, a few days later, my Dad turned up again and
when he heard about the dipstick he went ballistic and my Mum
ended up in A&E. She said she’d
walked into a lamp post or something and although the fuzz knew what
had happened, she wouldn’t change her story.
The fuzz came on to me as well
but, hey, you don’t kick the family, do you? Especially when you’ve
been guaranteed fifty quid if you don’t say anything and when your
dad’s learned some dirty tricks in the nick. Perhaps I thought that
things might get better after the dust up – if so, perhaps I was
still as green as a granny smith. In fairness, things were
better for a bit but my mum picked up with more dipsticks and for
ages dad never knew. Or if he did, he didn’t care any more. I don’t
know how he couldn’t have known because everyone else knew and it
was a source of aggro for me at school.
I should say something about
school. I had three problems at school. First off, I’ve always
looked younger than my age. I got the nickname
‘Pretty’ for this reason and when you are twelve that hurts. (It
wasn’t actually ‘Pretty’. I’m not telling you what it was –
but you’ll get the idea.) Second, I was never any good at games and
at my school that counted. Third, I was about the only kid in my
class who could read anything harder than Beano. I didn’t
actually enjoy Jane Austen, Tolstoy and Dickens but I did once read A
Tale of Two Cities right the way through and I used to enjoy
reading things by Chris Ryan, Andy McNab and Dick Francis – serious
literature in my school. You may notice that the grammar in this
story of my life isn’t half bad. You can put that down to Todge
Billingham, my English teacher. I mention Todge (that wasn’t his
real name) because it was he (not him, you’ll notice) who taught me
the importance of planning and whose guidance led to me giving the
fuzz and the social services the slip for a year.
Not that Todge knew what he was
doing, he’d have had a fit if he had, but he recommended me to read
a few books about the second world war and these always emphasised
the importance of carefully planning every operation so that the
Germans didn’t capture you. There was one book in
particular that impressed me and that was an account of the
Long Range Desert Group that operated in North Africa under the
command of David Stirling who later started the SAS. Now the SAS are
experts at planning. Read Chris Ryan and Andy McNab and you’ll see
what I mean.
As I say, my dad walked out on
us when I was thirteen and that was the last I heard of him. My mum
said she didn’t know what had become of him either. A few months
later, the dipstick who had lived with us for a while turned up
again. That lasted nearly a year and then there was a tremendous bust
up and he cleared off again. I never knew what the bust up was about
but, even by the standards of my family, it was what Saddam Hussein
would have called the mother of all bust ups. My mum ended up in A&E
again, furniture got smashed up, and a neighbour called the fuzz.
I think it must have scared my
mum for a bit because things were quiet for a couple of months – no
new dipsticks and my mum even got a job as bar maid in the Grosvenor.
I guess it was there that she met Duncan (not again, his real name and
the Grosvenor wasn’t the name of the pub so if you didn’t believe
it when I said ‘the Grosvenor if you can believe it’, you were
right.) Anyway Duncan moved in and we hit it off straight away. In
other words, I kneed him in the crotch the very first night and he
took a swipe back at me. He must have thought he could get away with
it but my baby face didn’t mean that I couldn’t look after
myself. I’d had to learn to look after myself at school for all
three reasons, and Duncan got a bit of a surprise when I gave him a
hefty one back.
It was my baby face that did it.
Mum had gone off to her job and I was having a bath. The bathroom
didn’t have a lock and Duncan just walked in and stood there. He
knew I was in the bath before he had the door properly opened because
it opens back against the side of the bath and I yelled out that
there was ‘someone in’. Stupid thing to say because who else
could it have been but me. Anyway, he just stood there, stark naked,
looking at me. I tried to cover myself up and yelled to him to get
out. He stood there a moment longer and then he said ‘sorry’ and
sort of dawdled out of the bathroom just about as slow as he could.
Later, when I was washing the
dishes he came up behind me and said, “Sorry about that. I didn’t
know you were in there.”
“Right,” I said. “I
suppose you didn’t hear me yell there was someone in.”
“I wasn’t really thinking.
You’re a good looking lad, though.”
“We could be friends.”
I suppose I wanted to give him
the benefit of the doubt and I’d never
met a perve before so I didn’t know what to expect. The loo was in
the bathroom so perhaps that was where he was heading. Kids at school
fooled about in the bogs but that was just other kids and, of course,
you couldn’t watch the telly without knowing what goes on in the
world but that doesn’t really prepare you for it in real life.
I said, “You reckon?”
He said, “Look, I know you’re
missing your dad. Who wouldn’t? But your mum’s invited me to live
with her and I’m sure you’re old enough to understand things like
that. Aren’t you?”
I said, “Yeah. Like it’s not
been like it for years. My mum and her boyfriends. And my dad can get
lost. He doesn’t mean anything.”
“I can understand if you feel
For a while I thought he was
trying. I didn’t feel bitter but I guess he was entitled to think I
was. Lots of guys would be bitter but I’d been living with it too
long to feel anything like that.
I said, “I’m not bitter. My
dad’s been gone for yonks and he wasn’t much good before that.”
My hands were deep in the sink
and he said, “We could be friends, you know?”
I felt his hands going round me
and groping me. So the doubt was gone and I turned round, my hands
still covered in lather and kneed him as hard as I could, straight in
the crotch. He doubled up with the sort of ‘oomph’
noise like you read about in comics but he was a biggish git
and he came back at me with a belt to my jaw. Well, as I say, I’d
learned to look after myself and perhaps I wasn’t as young as he
thought either so I didn’t mess about. While he was still grabbing
himself and prancing about, I stepped back and let him have it in the
belly. I think he realised that I meant it and he backed off.
“Hey! Calm down. I didn’t
mean any harm. It’s just that you’re a good looking lad and I
thought we could have some fun. You’re mum doesn’t have to know.”
I glared at him. I wasn’t
really ready to take him on in a fist fight yet. As I said, he was a
“Sod, you,” I said. “I’m not
into that sort of fun. With you or anyone else.”
“Well, my mistake but there’s
no need to go off the deep end. You’ve half crippled me.”
“Try anything like that again
and I’ll finish the job off.”
“Yeah? You and who else?”
He was right. There was no way I
could take him on. He was easily in his thirties and I was only just
fourteen and hadn’t had any combat training in those days. I’d
got into fights at school but no-one had taken those seriously enough
to want to injure anyone – they’d just been enough to show who
was boss of the yard, if you know what I mean. Like stags having a go
at each other and the one who lost out would keep out of the way or
eat dirt for a day or two.
Nevertheless, I pulled myself up
as tall as I could and said, “I’ve got a knife.” It sounded
pathetic even to me.
“You do anything like that,
sonny, and you’ll regret it.”
“There’s a place for gits
“Gaol. And I’ve got friends
who don’t like perves. You try anything again and we’ll sort you
out, quick time.”
It was an empty threat. I didn’t
have the sort of friends that I could call on for that sort of thing.
Most of us thought that gays could please themselves providing they
didn’t go at young kids and my friends would laugh if I asked for
help in sorting him out. Even those who took it seriously wouldn’t
risk that kind of action. I could anticipate the response. “Just
keep out of the sod’s way.” And I wasn’t going to tell my mum –
we didn’t have that kind of relationship even if she’d have
believed that her boyfriend was a pervert. And in my family, such as
it was, we didn’t involve the fuzz. No way.
Perhaps Duncan knew it was an
empty threat because he didn’t come back at me. But he often used
to touch me accidentally-on-purpose and he’d make sure my mum’s
bedroom door wasn’t closed so I could see him doing his thing when
I went past. If only he could have known what a git he looked. I told
him so and several times we came to blows. Even if I sometimes gave
him something to remember me by, he always won in the end and I got
sick of telling my mum that my black eyes were from fights at school.
She said she’d come and see the teachers about ‘bullying’ but I
knew she wouldn’t even if I asked her to. And, of course, I didn’t.
It was shortly after he’d half
killed me one time that I decided to leave home. As I say, I planned
I knew I needed
money. Dosh isn’t hard to get if you aren’t too particular where
it comes from. Mum and Duncan weren’t going to miss the odd few
quid lifted from their pockets provided I didn’t go for big money.
Some parents would know immediately if they were fifty pence short.
My family was too slapdash to notice if ten times that went missing.
There was a bit of a hoo-hah when I lifted a twenty pound note but I
don’t think either of them trusted the other that much and they
didn’t accuse me. Even so, after that, I kept it to cash – never
all of it, but say, seventy pence from a handful. And if you go
around the supermarkets you can often lift a purse while shoppers
can’t decide between two bottles of
plonk. I always went to the booze aisle because I decided that anyone
who can afford to buy wine can afford to lose a bit of cash in a
good cause – me being the good cause. I know that’s rubbish but
what the hell?
It’s amazing what you can find
in a woman’s purse. You’d think they’d keep condoms and love
letters in their handbags but I once found sixteen condoms and
love letters from four different guys in one woman’s purse.
And she was a woman I knew bloody well was married to another
guy altogether. She must have had a fit
when she realised what had been lifted. For a while, I was tempted to
try for a bit of serious money but in every book you ever read, the
blackmailer gets caught and getting caught wasn’t part of my plan.
I grabbed quite a few credit cards, too, but with chip and pin coming
in that’s a mug’s game unless you’re a professional and, in
those days, I wasn’t.
Part of my plan was to have a
clear run of twenty-four hours before the police were after me so I
started to go missing for short periods. I’d clear off after tea
and miss the ten o’clock curfew. The first time it was just after
midnight when I got home. My mum had just phoned the police and she
had to ring them back to say I’d turned up. The fuzz came round the
next day and gave me a ticking off but there
was sod all they could do and they knew it.
The second time, I left it until
nearly two o’clock. This time, the fuzz were at ours when I got
back. A very kind policeman told me that I was causing my ‘parents’
a lot of worry. They wanted to know where
I’d been but, of course, I didn’t tell them. The third time, I
stayed out all night. I kipped in an equipment store at the local
cricket club and it was quite comfortable. I could even see the telly
playing in the bar – couldn’t hear the words though!
Gradually, my mum and Duncan
started to take less interest in my absences. When I got back on one
occasion, they said they were just going to ring the police. I’d
been gone for nearly twenty-four hours and
I reckoned that I’d got them to the point of believing I’d come
back eventually and that they wouldn’t report me missing too
quickly. The fuzz were getting used to my disappearances, as well,
and I thought they wouldn’t look too hard if I was reported missing
yet again. Sure, they’d put out a routine call but they wouldn’t
mark it ‘Urgent – Decent kid at risk’.
It took me three months to
collect two hundred and fifty quid and I’d planned to go on my
birthday. I reckoned it would add a bit of irony to my departure
(thanks for that word, Todge). Then, as I say, I got to hear that my
gran was coming for my birthday and I decided to leave it another day
and grab the birthday dosh to add to what I already had.
I walked out of the house with
£300 in my pocket at exactly five past ten on Tuesday 14th May.
I caught the ten fifteen bus from down the road. For once it was on
time. I reckoned I had twenty-four hours to get myself to London and
sort out a squat before they thought it worth telling the police I