Oasis, Blur, The Spice Girls and Tony Blair. 1997, an optimism is washing over the country, things can only get better. The 80s were about easy money, cocaine, riots and feeding the starving in Ethiopia. The star of the show Freddie Mercury is dead while Geldof and Bono are still lingering around telling us we’re wankers for not giving money and boosting their own profiles. We don’t give a shit though because the world is a different place, the wall has long since fallen and the USSR has imploded, Yeltsin is pissed in his office and the commies can no longer come and get us. The 90s are about living life, ecstasy, new found disposable incomes and some new thing your mate has on his computer where you can watch porn for free. No more going down the newsagents and nicking magazines from the top shelf.
John Flynn is sitting in a bar pondering his future as those around him celebrate the victory of the Labour party. He takes a long pull on his cigarette and throws it on the floor and walks out. They’ll be no different to the last lot and all these students will be baying for blood in a couple of years. He had always thought philosophy was for pretentious pricks from the home counties or stoned people who thought smoking weed suddenly made them geniuses. His own moral dilemma is making him rethink that. His old man had suggested it, three years ago he’d have told him to ‘fuck off’ but now he’s giving it serious thought. Become a copper, old bill, the fuzz, bacon.
When you grow up in certain areas you don’t respect the police but you never know why. It’s just what you do. Your best mate’s old man regales you with stories of how he had the shit kicked out of him by five coppers because…well just because. That’s what he said anyway. He tells you this while you’re sitting in a room filled with stolen televisions, video tapes and microwaves. When you leave he tells you to make sure you tell your dad he’s got a few microwaves if he wants one. He never done nothing though, those coppers just picked him up off the street and kicked the shit out of him.
The thing is, Flynn isn’t particularly bothered either way. His mate’s dad just wants to make a living, it ain’t the most honest of livings but it’s how he does things. He doesn’t hate him for that, nor does he want to go on a moral crusade. So if he chooses a career path that goes against not just his best mate’s dad but half the people he grew up with, does that make him a traitor? Does it mean he has no love for them? They chose their way so why can’t he choose his?
That oh so famous zebra crossing comes into view as he turns the corner into Abbey Road. During the day it’s filled with tourists posing while cars beep their horns wishing they’d fuck off, calling Lennon, McCartney, Starr and Harrison wankers for fucking up their day and making them late for work. Reaching the crossing Flynn looks left and right, there are no cars coming, he steps out onto the black and white lines, stopping half way across, posing. If anyone is looking out their windows now they’ll think I’m a nutcase he thinks to himself. A car comes around the corner and beeps, Flynn lifts his middle finger, the driver beeps again.
“You wouldn’t have done that to John Lennon!”
“I wouldn’t of, I’d have run him down the Scouse prick!”
The engine revs and tires screech, Flynn jumps out of the way to safety as the man in his Mercedes tears off down Abbey Road. If he was a copper he probably could have nicked him for that. He’s not sure but the thought of nicking him makes the whole idea of becoming a policeman a bit more enticing. He crosses back over and gives the finger to zebra crossing as he walks away. He never liked them anyway, not since that art teacher made them watch ‘Yellow Submarine’ twice a week because he didn’t know how to teach.
He’s still feeling warm from the six pints of beer he drank earlier in the evening, the streets are quiet and he’s feeling brave. Passing his old school in Maida Vale he chuckles to himself. After school three or four of them would pile into a shop and nick as many sweets as they could. Once they got outside they’d throw half of them away because they didn’t like them. The old woman behind the counter either didn’t see or was too scared to say anything. The thought that she was too scared makes him cringe, he runs his hand through his hair and scrunches up his eyes, as if that’s going to make the memory suddenly disappear. He looks up at the high fence of the school, climb it or don’t climb it? Them cameras probably don’t work.
Up onto the wall and then over the fence, letting himself drop to the other side. He should have been a burglar. Now what? The school doors are locked and the playground is tiny. He sits down on the wooden bench which is set against the wall. This wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had he thinks to himself. He pulls out a packet of cigarettes, pulls one from the box and lights it up. Can’t stop me smoking now he says to the invisible teachers who aren’t prowling the playground.
This bench was where his mates, his best mate specifically, Rob told him some girl in the year above them fancied him. He remembers going red and them all laughing at him. She was talking to three boys from the estate opposite his. ‘Go over to her, ask her out, she was asking about you the other day.’ He walked over, the three boys eyeing him up with suspicion, the girl Katrina’s eyes questioning why he had dared to enter her presence. He knew he was being setup, he asked her anyway, she laughed and told him to fuck off. The three boys still with scowls on their faces. No wonder he’s so shit with women, childhood scars from your mates making a fool of you.
He hears a siren in the distance and panics. Surely they wouldn’t be coming for him? He’s only gone to sit in his old school for five minutes, jumping back up the wall and over the fence onto the pavement and then walking casually down the road. The siren gets closer, he hears the car slow down and then turn onto the same road as him. His heart starts to race even though he hasn’t really done anything that bad. The car pulls up next to him, he keeps walking, scared to look. ‘It ain’t him’. The car speeds up and races off into the night. He berates himself for being such a pussy.
Almost home, the skyline looks different. His block is still there but those two tower blocks, the dystopian looking white ones with square windows which he used to stare at when he was a kid, are gone. Full of asbestos, they moved a load of homeless families in there even though they knew it was fill of asbestos, then they moved them out when it became public. Then the junkies moved in because, let’s have it right, junkies don’t give a fuck about asbestos, it’s the least of their worries, they’d probably try and take it of the walls and stick it up their arms to see if they could get a buzz from it.
There’s a geezer hanging around at the bottom of his parent’s block. He looks at Flynn with suspicion, wondering who this geezer is. A glint of recognition comes into his eyes, and he nods his head at him. Used to be in the year below him, seemed like a nice enough kid, quiet, now he’s standing outside tower blocks shotting rocks to crackheads at two in the morning. He wonders if things will get better for him? You know, like Blair says. Or maybe things are good enough for him, them rocks in his pocket are feeding him and a bit more. Dilemmas, making excuses, seeing it from their point of view, is he really cut out to put a uniform on?
He presses the button for the lift but nothing happens. He knew nothing would happen but he tried anyway, a little bit of hope never hurt. The hope vanished with the press of a button, he braces himself to walk up the eighteen flights of stairs to his parent’s flat. Halfway up he stops, opens up one of the windows and lights another cigarette. From the window he can see up to Hampstead and Primrose Hill, he wonders if George Michael is wandering about up there, looking for a bit of danger on the heath. Probably not, it’s a bit cold out tonight. He pushes himself up on to the window ledge, ten stories up, looking down that kid he passed at the bottom hands something to a passerby then walks off into the night.
His old man is asleep in the chair by the window, the television still on. He switches it off, takes the bottle of whiskey his father has by his side and pours himself a drink and fills up his dad’s empty glass. He shakes him, his father is startled, seeing his son he smiles. Flynn sits down on the armchair points at the glass and then holds up his own, his dad picks up his and sips from it winking at his son.
“I’m going to do it. I’ll join the Old Bill.”
“Good lad, just don’t nick me when I’m skint and selling stolen CDs from the back of the car.”
“Things can only get better, dad. Things can only get better.”
This excerpt is a character introduction for my new series of books which are each based in a different decade. This is from the first one ‘Angels Pop Pills Too’ which is set in the 1990s. The book follows the intertwining lives of three people who are trying to discover where they are going in a decade where there was new found optimism throughout society.