Parallel Lives

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic


For me the 1990s were a magical decade. Forget what they said about the Swinging Sixties, to be young in Manchester in the 90s was to be on top of the world.


The headmaster, Mr Keegan, looked down at us from the stage. We stared back. This was it. One last bullshit assembly and we were free. The middle aged man from leafy Cheshire glared at the hundred Salford kids. Both sides thinking the same thing. Not long now. After one last assembly we’d be done with each other. We would no longer be pupils of St Mary’s. He could get back to enforcing his petty rules on unruly children and we could start our adult lives.

‘Well, boys and girls,’ he began. A murmur went through the hall. Boys and girls? In a few moments we’d be making our way in the world. And yet this prick was addressing us like we were still eleven years old. I can’t remember what he said after that. None of us were listening.

Then we were free. Stepping out of those gates was like getting out of Strangeways prison. I turned to my mates. They both grinned at me. I went to speak. Phil and Andy both cheered like United had won the Cup Winners Cup. I laughed and punched the air. All around us our classmates were celebrating.

‘What do we do now?’ I asked.

‘With our lives?’ replied Phil.

‘No, with the afternoon.’

‘This is the Nineteen Nineties, man. Anything is possible.’

‘The off licence?’

Still wearing our school uniforms we marched into a near by off licence. The tiny shop was crammed full of bottles and cans, all of which would get you nice and pissed. Just what today called for. The bald old feller behind the counter eyed us with suspicion. Typical of the older generation. They thought we were scum. Growing up in Thatcher’s Britain, what chance did any of us have?

I pulled a crumpled fiver from my blazer pocket.

‘Quart bottle of whiskey, please.’

‘Get lost, kid. Come back when you’re old enough.’

We turned to leave. This was turning out exactly as expected. As one, the three of us grabbed any booze we could get our hands on. We charged out the door into the street. The shopkeeper followed us out, shouting and swearing. Clutching two large bottles of cider I hit the pavement at a sprint. I ran as fast as I could. I glanced over my shoulder. Andy was just behind me, mad grin on his face, four pack of lager in each arm. Behind him Phil struggled along as fast as he could. Always the least fit, he shuffled after us. In his arms he carried a twenty four pack box of lager.

We darted down a back entry. We slowed and waited to see if the shopkeeper was still in pursuit. Panting and laughing, we headed in the direction of the park to make a dint in our stolen alcohol.

That evening a lad we knew was having a party. Walshy’s parents were away for a few days so everyone was going round. Having changed into baggy jeans and t-shirts, we took what booze we had left round to his house. We could hear the music from the bottom of the street. What the music press had started calling Indie music we just thought of as banging tunes. We knocked and waited.

‘Walshy! Alright mate?’

‘Hey up, lads.’

‘Let us in then.’

We waved the beers. He nodded in approval and opened the door wide.

‘Nice one, Walshy lad.’ I said.

The place was rocking. Most of our school friends were there. A lad whose name I couldn’t recall gave me a hug. He stunk of weed and his eyes had a far away glint. Nobody there was sober. Couples were kopping off and vanishing upstarts. People swayed and danced to the music blaring out of the stereo speakers. Sit Down by James came on. A cheer went up. I cracked open a can and joined the bouncing throng. Sing myself to sleep, a song from the darkest hour.

Two days later I bumped into Walshy in Salford precinct. I was coming out of John Menzies with my copy of the NME. Walshy’s left eye was black and swollen.

‘What happened to you?’

‘My dad found out I had that party.’

‘It was a great night, though.’

‘Yeah, it was quality.’

‘You upto owt at weekend?’

‘Our kid is gonna rent Reservoir Dogs out of the video shop.’

‘That’s supposed to be mint.’

 

One Saturday night Andy and Phil picked me up in a new Ford Mondeo. I jumped in the back and we shot off down the road. I had to shout to be heard over the cassette player.

‘It the car yours?’

‘Mine?’ Phil laughed. ‘No.’

‘Have you borrowed it?’

‘Who fucking from?’

Phil and Andy burst into laughter. I made myself comfortable in the back of the stolen car.

‘When did you learn to drive?’ I asked.

‘Our Paul taught us, before-’

‘Before he was sent down for nicking cars?’

Phil slammed on the accelerator. We raced through red lights, swerved in and out of traffic. The River Boat Song by Ocean Colour Scene came on. Andy turned up the volume. We sang along wit the chorus. Andy pulled a spliff from his tracksuit top.

‘Here we are, lads.’

‘Did Jarvis sort you out?’

‘Yeah, he always comes through.’

Jarvis was a few years older than us. He was making a name for himself in the local area. They reckoned he could sort you out with anything. He could get you weed, could sort E’s if you were a raver, pirate videos, snide trainers.

Andy popped the cigarette lighter on the dashboard. He lit the joint and took a drag. He handed it round, nodding at the effect it was having on him. I’d had weed before. Like most people my age in Nineties Manchester we smoked a joint when we could. Mind you, smoking a joint in a stolen car with my best mates was literally a new high.

 

The following April I turned seventeen. None of us had found jobs. We weren’t looking. Why would we? What jobs would a bunch of deadbeats like us be able to get? We got by and blagged any way we could.

Our days were spent round each other’s houses. We’d smoke weed and play Street Fighter II and Mario on the Nintendo while tunes blared out from the ghetto blaster.

Every Saturday night we went into town. Oasis were the biggest band in the world. Manchester was the centre of the universe right then. My dad would bang on about how me and my mates were trying to be like the Gallagher brothers. My friends got the same kind of stick from their parents. What they didn’t understand was it was the opposite. We weren’t like the Gallaghers. They were like us.

Dressed in our finest Ben Sherman shirts and fake Levi jeans we would head into the city. Those nights were just magical. On the bus into town the atmosphere was like Old Trafford five minutes before kick off. The excitement and anticipation was electric.

We’d go round the pubs first. The pubs were full of people our age. We’d drink, smoke, talk and laugh. We seemed to know so many people. It was like we were all one massive gang. We were young and free. We had no hopes or dreams but we had nothing to lose. And we were all up for a great night.

By eleven o’clock we were pleasantly pissed. We would pile into 42nd Street. The small club was the place to be. They served cheap lager and played the best tunes. The DJs played it all, classic Stone Roses, the Smiths, the Charlatans, Soup Dragons and Shed Seven. We would balloon around the smoke filled room. We sang along like we were at a football match. Our national anthem was Don’t Look Back in Anger.

At two o’clock in the morning every club in the city closed for the night. At chucking out time everyone would be out on the streets. On the way home we’d maybe get into a fight, then grab a kebab before jumping in a taxi home.

One evening as we swaggered along Deansgate a group of five people came in the other direction. Check this lot out, whispered Andy. They were in their mid-thirties and they just oozed posh. The men wore long wax jackets like they were heading off pheasant shooting or something. The women had shawls and cardigans over their shoulders. The five of them were probably off to the theatre. We brushed past them on the pavement.

‘Scallies.’ Muttered one woman.

I stopped and stared at her.

‘What did you say?’ I growled.

Her friends stopped, as did mine. We faced each other like two armies on a battlefield. I glared at the toffs.

‘How dare you look down your noses at us. You think we’re scum. At least we’re honest. We do what we do because we want to, not to impress our fancy friends.’

‘We don’t want any trouble.’ said one man in a turtleneck jumper.

‘You’ll get no trouble from us. I will tell you something, though. You lot may think you’re better than us, but you don’t look any happier.’

‘Come on,’ called one guy. ‘the table is booked for eight.’

I laughed and went on.

‘Run along to your swanky restaurant, Tarquin.’ I ranted. ‘But know this, the bloody Tories won’t be in power forever. John Major and his cronies are on their arses. Mark my words. Times they are a-changing.’

Andy and Phil applauded. The toffs chunnered to each other as they strolled off. I shook my head.

‘Unbelievable. They think we’re scum.’ I grumbled.

‘Don’t worry about it.’ said Phil. ‘I got the lad’s wallet.’

We headed for the nearest pub to get a round in with the pinched wallet. Phil gave me a nudge.

‘Did I tell you our Paul gets out of prison next week?’

‘Really? That’s good, innit?’

‘Yeah, my mam’s proper chuffed.’

 

‘Alright fellers?’

To us, at seventeen years old, with life yet to beat the crap out of us, Paul looked old, weary and fat. His belly bulged under his sweatshirt. He had this edge about him, like he couldn’t quite wash the stench of prison off him. He shook our hands and pointed to the bar.

‘What you having? I’m buying.’

We took our pints and found a free table. Paul was twenty two years old. As far as we were concerned anything over the big two-zero was fucking ancient. We had respect for him though cos he was Phil’s older brother and seemed like a good lad.

He took a swig of his pint. He looked about before speaking in a hushed voice.

‘You know that catalogue warehouse in Patricroft, down by the canal?’

‘Bloody hell, mate. You’ve only been out five minutes.’ I said.

I turned to Andy and Phil for support. They said nothing, looking at Paul, waiting to hear what he had to say.

Paul explained how a friend had heard of a shipment of computers that were coming into the warehouse next week. This friend knew one of the warehouse lads. For a small cut he would leave one of the fire escapes unlocked.

‘And that’s where you come in.’

Paul would sort us out with a van. We were to drive to the warehouse, get in and fill the van with the gear. Paul would then get rid of the stolen cargo.

Phil and Andy seemed up for it. They just kept talking about the money we’d be making. Over the next few days I tried to express my doubts. I’d mention how it wasn’t really our thing, that it was different from nicking a video from Virgin Megastore or pinching the odd car. The lads would reply that they’d be able to go into town and do more than shoplift with the money coming their way. They seemed so eager that I kept my reservations to myself.

We did it. We scrambled into the warehouse, scarves over our faces, beany hats pulled low. We grabbed the boxes and stashed them into the van as quickly and quietly as we could. To be fair to Paul, it worked exactly the way he said it would. I was just glad it was over.

But, of course, it was just the first of many jobs he put our way. Under his guidance we robbed stores and warehouses. We broke into wagons and got away with their load.

Up until then we’d been breaking the law just for the thrill of it. Nicking the odd car, picking a pocket of some snob in town was one thing. These jobs were more planned, organised and professional. That just didn’t sit well with me. We were chancers and blaggers, not real criminals. I wasn’t sure of the direction we were heading. Don’t get me wrong, the money was fantastic. Whatever I saw I could now treat myself to. I bought a lime green Ben Sherman shirt from C&A. I thought I looked the absolute bollocks heading out into town in my bright green shirt.

 

One Friday night I was watching The Word in my room. I heard my parents come home from the pub. Seconds later my mum crashed into my room. Stinking of lager, she looked down at me in disgust.

‘When are you gonna get off your backside and get yourself a job?’

‘Like you?’

‘I work!’

‘Aye, in fucking Greggs. I’d hardly call handing out sausage rolls a career.’

The slap stung my cheek. She slammed my bedroom door behind her. I turned back to the TV. I was fuming. I would bloody show her. I’d show the lot of them. All of those people who’d been telling me for years that I’d never amount to anything. I could still hear the teachers with their snide comments, and those snobs around town looking at us like we were nothing. Watch this space. This was the nineteen nineties, anything was possible.

On Monday morning I was at the job centre for when it opened. I wanted to get my mam off my case. I picked a handful of cards from the board. I went through them all with the woman behind the desk. I applied for all sorts, even things I didn’t think I’d get. Let them turn me down.

An hour later I was round at Andy’s house. Him and Phil were playing a new game called Tomb Raider. I flopped down on the sofa. I didn’t mention my visit to the job centre. They’d only take the piss and rib me about being the next Richard Branson. Besides, there was nothing to tell them yet. It could all come to nothing.

‘Our Paul has got another job for us.’ said Phil.

That wasn’t exactly the kind of job I was after but the money would come in handy. I could even get a suit for my job interviews, if I got any.

 

And so we went to the warehouse in Trafford Park. We got in, filled the van. Like with the jobs so far, it ran like a dream. We jumped back in the van. A good night’s work done.

Then it happened. Police cars and vans appeared from nowhere. Sirens blaring, everything bathed in flashing blue lights.

‘Quick!’ I yelled.

We dived out of the van. Andy ran in one direction, Phil and I raced in another. We cut down narrow side streets, running as fast as we could. The coppers on foot were right behind us. Phil was lagging. He was slowing down, gasping for breath. I was about to tell him to get a bloody move on when he tripped. He hit the pavement hard. The cops were almost on top of us. I stopped.

‘Go!’ Phil screamed.

I nodded. I turned on the balls of my feet and ran on. They swarmed all over Phil. I ducked down an alleyway and away into the night.

 

A few days later Phil was up in court. All the lads were going along to support him. Me and Andy knew he’d take the rap. Since we were kids the rule was that you didn’t grass on your mates.

I didn’t go to the court. I had a job interview. While one of my oldest friends entered the dock, I was in my new suit giving the best account of myself as I could in front of the interview panel.

I must admit I played a blinder. I portrayed myself as an honest, sincere young man who, given the chance, would be an asset for their company. The three men interviewing seemed impressed. They nodded at my answers and exchanged pleased glances.

‘Just one last question. Any criminal convictions?’

My thoughts went to my recent criminal activities and my friend in court.

‘No.’ I said.

Phil was sentenced to six months. His lawyer said he’d get out in no time and his brother was helping him and giving him advice. I did feel guilty about it, but what can you do?

I got the job. I was delighted. I showed up for work on the Monday morning. I was clean-shaven, smartly dressed and raring to go.

 

I didn’t really see much of my old friends after that. We kind of drifted apart. I was at work all day and spent my evenings watching TV. I couldn’t really be up all night playing computer games, smoking week and drinking. I had to get up early for work.

I started knocking round with a few of the guys from the office. I was suddenly moving in different circles. Then I hit it off with a woman called Claire. She worked in the sales team. Twelve months later I was moving into her city centre apartment.

Twenty years later, we’re still married. Our eldest child has just started high school.

The last I heard Andy was working for a local drug dealer to help pay for two kids he didn’t see. Phil was back in prison. It seemed that his first run in with the law had just been the start. They reckoned that at any one time either Phil or his brother was inside.

Every now and then my mind goes back to those days. I raise a toast to the lads. Sometimes I’m tempted to go back but I never do.

 


Submitted: February 13, 2018

© Copyright 2021 CTPlatt. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Jim Green

Wonderfully written. It is amazing how quickly time flies by. I think everyone looks back at their youth at some point and remember old friends that we lose contact with. Everyone's journey is different and yet many look the same. I feel the irony of change is that it's constant. In any case this was a wonderful read. I not only hit the like button but I also shelved this. Well done.

Tue, February 13th, 2018 1:14pm

hullabaloo22

Well, CT, what can I say. You captured the time, the place, the 'Us and Them' perfectly. So well-written it was like viewing a scene. Brilliant!

Wed, February 14th, 2018 8:56pm

MissFedelm

Well written and fascinating. I really enjoyed this.

Thu, February 15th, 2018 6:25am

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