1965: Remember Remember The Fifth Of November!
Martin Mitchell and his cousin Paul Mitchell.
Thomas and Evelyn (Evie) Mitchell: Martin’s parents.
Laura Archer: Martin and Paul’s best friend.
Frankie Hall: Martin, Paul and Laura’s sworn enemy.
A dangerous trick leads to trouble for Martin and Paul, followed by a long week of misery for Martin.
“Aw, go on, Martin,” Paul grinned wickedly. “I dare you. In fact I double dare you.” “It’ll be a beauty laugh.”
“Not if mum and dad find out it won’t,” Martin shook his head, trying hard not to let his cousin’s enthusiasm and insatiable appetite for mischief rub off on him. They were already on a warning and Paul had only arrived the evening before.
“They’ll never know. Uncle Thomas is at work, he isn’t due home for ages yet and Aunt Evie is at her Church meeting. Go on Mart, be a devil,” Paul’s bright blue eyes sparkled with laughter. “You know you want to.”
“Okay,” Martin capitulated, he just couldn’t resist. “But if it all goes wrong, it’s your fault, right?”
Paul nodded impatiently, “Yeah, yeah, all my fault. Where’s the stuff stashed?”
“Under my bed, I’ll go get it,” Martin dashed off. He soon returned carrying a large brown paper bag. Closing the living room door the two boys examined the contents with gleeful anticipation. It was full of fireworks, rockets, jumping jacks and bangers, all highly explosive and wonderfully dangerous.
Martin’s father was strongly opposed to such objects being sold to children, very strongly opposed, in fact he had written to his local MP in an attempt to pressure him into supporting a campaign to have the sale of fireworks to children made illegal. Martin and Paul had of course been expressly forbidden to have any dealings with gunpowder products. Thomas Mitchell would not be pleased to discover that they had disregarded his wishes; he would view it as no less than treason. He’d be even less pleased to discover the methods plotted and employed to get the currency to buy the contents of the bag. Martin, with the help of Laura, Colin and Amy had made a guy, keeping it at Laura’s house. Every evening after school for the past three weeks with Paul joining them at weekends, they had touted it around, setting up camp on street corners and outside pubs asking merry punters to shell out a ‘PENNY FOR THE GUY.’ Begging, common begging, that’s how Martin’s parents viewed such activity, and the two boys would have got into trouble for that alone, never mind for hanging around outside pubs. Being strict Methodists they did not approve of alcohol, or the places where people gathered to consume it. And begging outside of pubs wasn’t the worst of it. Martin had even thrown caution, not to mention scruples, to the wind and joined in with Paul and Laura’s old trick of pinching empty pop bottles from the back of the Off Licence. Keeping watch as they climbed over the wall he had then packed the bottles into bags as they were handed over. They took turns taking them back, brazenly claiming the deposits that the unsuspecting licensee had already shelled out once.
Yes indeed, Thomas Mitchell would be furious if he knew half of what his son and nephew got up to. Begging and stealing, that’s how he’d describe their activities. And to what end? To buy dangerous explosives that no child should be allowed within a mile of. Not that Martin and Paul thought of themselves as children, not for a second, at fourteen and thirteen respectively, they considered themselves virtually grown up.
Paul picked out a rocket and lovingly caressed it. “I bet you half of this week’s allowance that it’ll work.”
Martin shook his head, “I bet it doesn’t. I reckon there’s a twist in the chimney that’ll stop it going straight up and out. It’ll just explode and fall back down.”
“The force of the explosion will propel it past the twist, you’ll see. You go outside and I’ll prepare to launch it. Tell me when you’re ready.” Paul, his skin prickling with delicious anticipation, removed the fireguard while Martin opened the front door and stepped out into the darkening garden.
“I’m Ready!” bawled Martin, setting a neighbour’s dog barking madly.
Paul stuck the rocket’s wooden shaft firmly into the fires glowing embers. Speedily ramming the fireguard back in place, he stepped back. The rocket ignited almost immediately. Paul jumped as it went off with a scream and a whoosh of sparks, propelling itself up the chimney. He charged down the hall leaping out into the garden just in time to see it explode out of the top of the chimneystack.
“Ye-es,” he leapt up and down whooping joyfully. “I told you it would work, I told you, didn’t I?” Paul raised a fist and struck the air, “you owe me half your allowance.”
“Just a lucky fluke if you ask me,” Martin grinned, just as delighted as Paul that the experiment had worked. “I bet you the other half that it won’t work a second time.”
“You’re on, but it’s your turn to do it.”
“No problem,” Martin went back indoors and happily sorted through the bag of fireworks, selecting another rocket before deciding that the call of nature he’d been putting off for the last twenty minutes couldn’t wait any longer. He headed for the bathroom. It wasn’t long before he heard his cousin’s inpatient voice hailing him from the hall below.
“Hurry up Mart, its bloody freezing out there. What are you doing?”
“I’m having a wee. I won’t be long, put a coat on if you’re cold,” shouted Martin.
Thomas drove his car onto the drive and got out, noticing with some irritation that the front door was wide open. He reached for his briefcase from the back seat, muttering something about open invitations for thieves. He was starting a cold and if there was one thing guaranteed to make him irascible it was getting a cold. His secretary had been mightily relieved when he had decided to leave work early and head for home.
Blissfully unaware of his father’s impending cold, and its consequences on the length of his working day, Martin duly took up position by the fire place, while Paul joyfully charged out of the open door...rocking back on his heels with shock when he saw his uncle standing on the drive. They stared at each other for a split second. Thomas opened his mouth to speak, but before he could utter a single syllable Paul ran back inside, slamming the door behind him and dropping the latch.
Thomas stared in disbelieve, and then gave a roar of anger, “Paul what the Dickens are you playing at?” He began rapidly searching his pockets for his house keys; he could never find the wretched things.
“Martin, Martin,” a panic stricken Paul galloped into the sitting room, “it’s Uncle Thomas for God’s sake don’t put that bloody...”
But it was too late. Martin had already rammed the stick into the embers. Paul’s shout only served to startle him and he dislodged the rocket so that it was facing forwards instead of upwards. Before they could shove the fireguard back in place the rocket ignited and exploded out into the room. With a joint scream of terror both boys threw themselves onto the floor, hands over their heads. The rocket began to ricochet off the walls, scattering multi coloured sparks and leaving a trail of destruction before finally exploding in a corner.
Thomas heard the bangs and crashes as he frantically tried to get his key in the lock. He began bellowing, demanding to know what was going on. He finally got the door open, marching quickly down the hall and into the living room.
Paul and Martin rose shakily to their knees looking with fearful trepidation upon the horror stricken countenance of Thomas Mitchell. His roar of anger was lost as the bag of fireworks, ignited by the sparks shed by the rocket, began to fizzle and pop. Suddenly it was World War Two all over again with screeches, bangs and sparks shooting off all over the place.
A rogue jumping jack, nastily snapping and popping, headed in Paul and Martin’s direction. Quickly inserting a hand into each of their collars, Thomas dragged the two terrified teenagers to safety, thrusting them into the hall and slamming the door closed on the impromptu fireworks display.
At last the noises died down and Thomas cautiously opened the door, coughing and waving his arms as smoke billowed out. The rug in front of the fire was smouldering, and his own easy chair, where the bag of fireworks had been residing, was blazing merrily. Thomas quenched the flames as quickly as he could, checking round to make sure there were no other fires burning. There were numerous scorch marks on the carpet and curtains, ornaments and pictures lay smashed and the acrid smell of smoke and burning was unbearable. His blue eyes swept round the room, hardly able to believe what they were seeing. Then, with freezing intensity, they came to rest on his son and nephew.
Martin and Paul clutched at each other, staring at the chaos they had created. Slowly, they met the gaze of Martin’s father. Neither had ever seen such a look of cold fury on his face. He stepped towards them.
“LEG IT!” Screamed Paul making a sudden move. Martin panicked and dashed after his fleeing cousin who was heading for the open front door, presumably with the intention of seeking out the relative safety of the French Foreign Legion.
Moving like greased lightening, Thomas got there first, blocking their path, and throwing it shut. The next few minutes were like a West End farce with the two boys charging down the hall aiming for the escape route of the back door. They all ended up playing dodge round the kitchen table.
Martin was collared first. His father cunningly wrong footed him, making him think he was going one way when he actually intended to go another.
Paul dropped to all fours and shot under the table trying to go back the way he had come, but was collared as he crawled out. “Sorry, uncle Thomas! Sorry, sorry,” he blurted as he and Martin were marched into the dining room by the scruffs of their necks.
“Of all the stupid, irresponsible, downright idiotic things to do,” roared Thomas as they stood tearfully in front of him. “It’s bad enough that you flagrantly disobeyed my wishes by buying fireworks in the first place, to then set them off in the house is beyond belief. You could have burnt the entire street down. God knows how much it’s going to cost to repair the damage you’ve caused. It’s a miracle that neither of you were maimed. You’ve had a fortune spent on your education and you’ve still got no more sense than you were born with.” He shook his head, running a hand despairingly through his hair, “it’s one incident after another with...” a loud scream interrupted him and he hurried to open the door. Paul and Martin cautiously followed in his wake.
Evie, standing among the wreckage of her elegant living room, a room that she had tidied, cleaned and polished that very afternoon, glanced up at them as they emerged from the dining room, a broken photograph of Jane held to her chest, tears pouring down her face. “What have you done,” she whispered, “what have you done?”
“Mum,” Martin stepped forward, “I’m...” He was cut off before he could finish the apology as his father, taking a firm hold of his elbow, then Paul’s, whisked them back across the hall into the dining room.
“Stand there, don’t move, don’t speak, I’ll deal with you presently!” Thomas thrust each of the boys into opposite corners of the dining room and marched out closing the door behind him.
Paul risked a peek over his shoulder in the direction of his cousin, “do you think he’s mad with us then?”
Martin didn’t answer, he was too busy fighting tears of shame as he pictured his mother clutching the precious photo of his sister, and crying.
Paul sighed, “Colin is going to be even more mad at us, when he finds out we’ve blown up the fireworks, and he wasn’t there to see them, he’ll want his share of the money back.”
“Shut up Paul, you heard dad, no talking,” Martin finally glanced around, “we’re in enough trouble as it is.”
They both stiffened, hurriedly turning their noses to face their respective corners as the door opened.
Thomas pulled out a dining room chair, setting it in the middle of the room. He called his son out of the corner, eyeing him coldly. “What were my instructions to you and Paul with regard to buying fireworks?”
Martin examined his shoe tops, mumbling, “you said we were on no account to use our allowance to buy them.”
“But we didn’t use our allowance, did we Martin, we...” Paul suddenly blushed bright red, quickly turning back to face the wall as he realised he’d just got them into even deeper water.
“Please do continue Paul, no, there’s no need to turn around, I can hear you perfectly well from that position.”
Martin tried desperately to defend the indefensible in the wake of his cousin’s unintentional slip, “you never said we couldn’t use other money to buy fireworks, and you didn’t directly forbid us to go Guy Fawking.” The look on his father’s face told him that none of this was washing at all well. His eyes widened as he was told to take his jeans down, “but dad!”
Thomas was in no mood for argument, “do you really think I’m going to waste my energy patting at the seat of those heavy jeans after the way you’ve behaved, get them down, or I’ll take them down for you!”
Martin tearfully complied, pushing them down to his knees. The pattern on the carpet suddenly loomed large as he was swiftly pulled across his father’s knee. A cool draught around his posterior confirmed his worst fears, he let out a yell, gripping the chair leg as his father’s hand exploded onto the centre of his buttocks. By the time the hand stilled, his bottom was blazing as hotly as any bonfire and tears were pouring down his face, dripping onto the carpet. He tried to lever himself off his father’s lap, thinking punishment was over, but found himself held firmly in place.
“We’re not finished young man,” Thomas reached for something he’d placed on the table when he’d come back into the room. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so disappointed with you Martin,” he spoke quietly, “you wilfully disobeyed me by buying those fireworks, quite aside from the methods employed to get the money, but to then jeopardise your personal safety and put your home at risk in that foolhardy manner is just beyond the pale. I consider what I’m about to do to be well justified, and I can only hope it will make you think twice before acting in such a way again.
Paul had kept his eyes fixed firmly on his corner and his shoulders unhappily hunched throughout his cousin’s spanking, knowing that all to soon it would be his turn. At his Uncle’s ominous words he couldn’t resist taking a peek over his shoulder. What he saw made his eyes widen in horror, and it wasn’t just the sight of his cousin’s very red bare backside. Heart hammering he turned back to the corner, oh God, he’d almost rather be a Guy waiting to be put on top of the bonfire than be in this corner waiting for his turn to be put over his uncle’s knee. He knew he shouldn’t have listened to Martin with regard to that rocket trick.
Martin let out a scream, his eyes flying wide open in shocked surprise as, for the first time in his life, something other than his father’s hand contacted his already sore bottom. He managed to twist his head round just in time to see the second descent of the large tortoiseshell hairbrush that usually resided on his mother’s dressing table. She had often threatened to spank him with it, but never had. He shrieked as it struck his bottom again, trying frantically to get a hand behind himself to block a third landing. His father merely gripped his wrist, held it against his back and continued wielding the hateful device until poor Martin thought he’d truly never be able to sit down again.
“I hope that serves as a good lesson to you,” Thomas spoke sternly to the two boys as they stood before him, weeping pitiably, hands clamped to their punished backsides. He was at the end of his tether with their tricks and disinclined to feel any stirrings of sympathy for their self-sorrow, “I’m deeply ashamed of you both, go to bed at once, out of my sight.”
Martin lay miserably in bed. His father’s anger and disappointment, not to mention the almighty walloping he’d given him, had been bad enough, but even worse had been his mother’s reaction.
Paul finally broke the silence, “I’m awfully sorry Martin. This was my fault.”
Martin gave a watery smile, “we were both to blame. I feel really bad about mum though, she was so upset, especially about the photograph, that was her favourite one of Jane.”
Paul groaned, “I know, we’ll have to make it up to her somehow.” He squirmed slightly, “God, Martin! Uncle Thomas didn’t half smack my arse, it’s still hurting.”
“Huh,” Martin gave his cousin a comical look, “he didn’t exactly tickle mine, and seeing as I got it first, I reckon he used most of his strength up on me, so I don’t know why you yelled as loud as you did!”
“I didn’t yell half as loud as you did,” said Paul hotly, “and I didn’t start crying as soon as you did.”
“Yes you did, you liar, you were crying even before dad laid a handprint on your bum.”
“It was seeing that bloody great hairbrush hovering over your backside, I knew it was soon going to be hovering over mine, and anyway, you put the wind up me with the racket you were making, I thought you were being hung, drawn and quartered like poor old Guy Fawkes!”
“It felt like I was, that thing really stings, I don’t want to earn a dose of that again.” Martin sighed a little wistfully, “I always hope that if I screech loud enough, it’ll put dad off his stroke, it hasn’t worked so far, but at least I know I give him earache in return for the bum ache he gives me. I thought he was never going to stop tonight.”
Paul ruefully rubbed his tender nether region, “I don’t suppose we’ll get any pocket money tomorrow.”
Martin laughed, humourlessly, “I doubt we’ll be getting pocket money again this century, not that we’ll need it, because we won’t be allowed out anywhere to spend it.”
Paul turned on his side, propping himself up on an elbow. “I bet I get another spanking when my dad finds out about this, it’s not fair!”
“No you won’t,” Martin tried to lie on his back, but thought better of it, taking a leaf out of his cousin’s book and rolling onto his side. “Dad will tell him that you’ve already been punished.”
They looked at each other as an almighty clattering reverberated around the house, saying simultaneously, “Lollie!”
Martin’s face clouded, “there’s not a chance in hell that I’ll get to see her tonight.”
Laura, having assaulted the front door with the knocker in her usual heavy handed fashion, pushed it open. “Hiya,” she called, “it’s only me.” She wrinkled her nose as the smell of gunpowder and burning crept up her nostrils.
“Laura, how many times have you been told that it’s completely unnecessary for you to knock like that, no one in this household is deaf, though they will be if you continue to pound that knocker like a confounded vandal!”
“Hello Mr Mitchell,” she looked up at him questioningly as he walked into the hall, he didn’t look to be in a very good mood.
She was just about to ask where Martin and Paul were, when he took hold of her wrist.
“Come with me young lady.” He pulled her into the lounge, where she stared in shock at the devastation, “I hope you’re proud of yourself, because you’re partly responsible for this.”
Laura gaped at him, “ME! How do you work that out, I’ve just got here?”
Thomas wagged a finger in her face, “you helped that pair of idiots upstairs to raise the money to buy the fireworks that caused this, that’s why, and you know my opinion on fireworks. I’ve expressed them often enough. You’re always involved somewhere aren’t you Laura, wherever there’s any trouble, any wrong doing?”
Laura stared up at him, then she angrily wrenched her hand free, “you’re so unfair Mr Mitchell, you always think the worst of me you do. For your bloody information I didn’t want them to buy fireworks with the money, I wanted to buy a new pop record. I hate fireworks, they frighten me. I told them that, but they bought them anyway and I said I wanted nowt to do with them, so there!” Her eyes glittered angrily, “you’re a sodding big pig. Just cos I’m not posh or privately educated doesn’t mean I don’t have bloody principles you know.” She burst into noisy tears.
Martin, hearing the commotion, came bounding down the stairs to see why Laura was yelling and crying. Thomas rounded on him. “Go back to your room young man,” he snapped coldly, “this is nothing to do with you. I don’t want to see your face again tonight.”
Martin didn’t dare argue, not with fireworks still fizzling on his backside, he gave Laura a sympathetic look and fled.
Thomas turned back to the sobbing girl who was now being comforted by Evie.
“I’m sorry Laura,” he said quietly. “I made assumptions that I had no right to make and I sincerely apologise for taking my anger and disappointment out on you.”
Laura stopped crying, smiling in that sudden sunny way of hers, “that’s okay Mr Mitchell. Boys can be so stupid can’t they, even boys like Martin and Paul? I’ll stay and help you clean up if you like.”
“Thank you Laura, you’re a sweet girl.” Evelyn hugged her fondly.
Thomas smiled, tweaking her nose, “friends again?”
“Friends,” she grinned.
“Good.” He pointed a finger at her, “incidentally, if you ever yell, or swear at me like that again Laura Archer, I’ll show you just how hard a trotter this particular pig has.”
“Yes Mr Mitchell, sorry Mr Mitchell.”
They sorted the broken things into a box to be thrown away. Evelyn picked up the shattered photograph of Martin’s sister.
“She was pretty wasn’t she Mrs Mitchell?” Laura watched her carefully remove the photo from the broken pewter frame.
Evelyn nodded, tears springing unexpectedly to her eyes, she forced them back. “Yes, she was very pretty. Same dark hair and lovely blue eyes as Martin. I still miss her very much.” The badly cracked frame was put into the box to be thrown away. “I loved that frame,” she said sadly, “it was a christening gift for Jane from my father, he made it himself, he was good at metalwork, a real craftsman.”
“I’m sure Martin and Paul didn’t mean for it to get broken Mrs Mitchell,” Laura tried to defend them.
“Martin and Paul,” said Thomas handing her a glass of homemade lemonade, “are a pair of naughty, thoughtless nuisances, and I for one have had enough of them. You won’t be seeing either of them this weekend, or Martin for the next week, because he’s not allowed out after school.”
“But we were going to the pictures tomorrow,” Laura gazed at him appealingly, “can’t you let them out just for an hour or two? I promise to bring them straight home afterwards!”
“NO!” Thomas sent her an emphatic look that travelled the full length of his aristocratic nose.
Laura knew that look only too well, she buried her own, slightly upturned nose in her glass of lemonade.
“What did you just say madam?”
“Not a sausage Mr Mitchell,” she smiled engagingly, “it was my lemonade fizzing. She jumped, slopping liquid down her front as a particularly loud bang sounded from outside. As the night darkened more and more explosions could be heard as people let off their fireworks.
“Wretched things, they ought to be banned.” Evie handed her a handkerchief to mop the stain, “one thing’s for sure,” she glanced grimly around her shattered sitting room, “we certainly won’t forget this fifth of November!”
Martin had a poor time of it over the coming week, he was well and truly in the dog house, and, once Paul left for home on Sunday evening, he was in it all on his own. His allowance had been stopped indefinitely, as had Paul’s. He was not allowed out after school and his bedtime was brought forward by a good hour, but worse than all of this, was his parents coolness towards him.
His mother placed meals in front of him as usual, polite enquiries were made about school, good morning hugs and goodnight kisses were given, but they lacked spark and warmth, he was in no doubt that his behaviour had upset and disappointed his parents. If he stayed downstairs on an evening there was a heavy atmosphere. He would sit, pretending to read, hoping that one of them would start to chat to him in the normal, easy way, but apart from the wireless the only sound was the ticking of the clock, then the chimes as it struck the hour and half hour. As soon as it struck nine his father would glance up from his book or newspaper and say. “Time for bed young man, off you go.”
Martin had never felt lonelier in his life. It was almost a welcome relief to leave the house in order to go to school.
“Well, well, if it ain’t Master Mitchell, the jailer’s kid.”
Martin had been so busy dwelling on his misery at home that he hadn’t noticed the Hall brothers and their friends standing on the corner of Laura’s street, if he had, he would have turned round and hurried in the opposite direction, as he usually did. Deprived of Laura’s company all week, he’d decided to take a detour on his way home from school, just to catch a few words with her.
“Get lost,” Martin hurriedly tried to side step the leather jacketed thug who blocked his path. Frankie Hall had taken to fancying himself as a bit of a hard man biker, a ton up boy, but everyone knew he didn’t have so much as a push bike. Martin felt a knot of fear tie in his stomach as Frankie moved in front of him again, draping an arm round his shoulder in a mock gesture of friendship.
Turning to his admiring cronies, he said, “me and Mitchell here are practically family,” he paused as his brother and friends sniggered. “His dad is governor of the nick that our dad is banged up in - how about that then?”
“Where’s your motorbike then Frankie, have you left it at home, has it got a flat tyre?” Martin regretted the words at once. The knot of fear in his stomach tightened as Frankie suddenly stopped smiling and slammed him against the wall.
“He’s a right evil bastard your dad, you ask our Vince here.”
Vince stuck his face in to Martin’s. “That’s right, he’s withdrawn our dad’s privileges, and he didn’t even start the fight. That’s not a very nice way to treat a friend and virtual neighbour, now is it?”
“That’s nothing to do with me, let me go please.” Martin tried to move forward, but was roughly pushed back against the wall. He moistened his lips, feeling very small and vulnerable as his tormentors crowded in on him.
“Don’t he talk nice Vin,” sneered Frankie.
“Yeah,” Vince began fingering the lapels on Martin’s school blazer, “isn’t he nicely dressed lads, look at this lovely badge...Oops, its come off in me hands, clumsy me.”
Martin gave a gasp of dismay as Vince ripped the badge from his blazer pocket, looking at it, as if surprised to find it in his hand. “Hey, give me that, you fool!” He tried to grab it back, but Vince held it up out of his reach.
“Fool am I? Did you hear that lads, he thinks I’m a fool, just cos I didn’t go to a posh public school like him.”
“From what I’ve heard you never went to school at all, unless it was approved school,” Martin was frightened, but he was also angry about his blazer, he’d get into trouble from his headmaster for that. He gave a shocked yelp as Vince suddenly slapped him hard across the face.
“Don’t talk down to me, you snotty over privileged little bastard.”
Martin looked round desperately, but it was growing dark and the streets were deserted. His persecutors were busy rifling through his school satchel, pulling out text and exercise books.
“Ooh, Latin verbs,” mocked Frankie, “very fucking useful, I don’t think.”
He tossed it to his mates who solemnly tore it apart, chanting, “rubbish, rubbish, rubbish!”
Vince began searching Martin’s pockets, looking for money. “A rich kid like you must have some money, where is it you little shit? Hand it over and we might let you live.”
“I haven’t got any money, leave me alone, I have to go somewhere,” Martin, his heart hammering, tried to wriggle out of Vince’s grasp.
“Going to call for your bit of rough are you Mart?” Frankie leered at him. “ I’m surprised that dear old daddy allows you to knock around with some one as common as Laura Archer. Bit down market for you Mr Public School; a gypo’s sprog! What’s she like in the hay Mart, if you know what I mean?”
Martin blushed crimson as they all started laughing and shouting lewd comments about Laura. They circled him, shoving him from one to the other until he was dizzy and out of breath. “Shut your filthy, ignorant mouths,” he yelled in tearful defiance, “leave Laura out of this.”
“What’s up Mart, haven’t you managed to get your leg over yet? I’ve heard she’s a right tart, she’s been with just about everyone in the district, ‘cept you of course.” Vince shoved him towards his brother.
Not sure what to do with your tackle, is that the problem?” Frankie suddenly grabbed Martin between the legs, twisting sharply.
Martin gave a scream of agony, dropping to his knees, he thought he was going to retch with pain and shock.
“Think you’re fucking better than the rest of us, don’t you Mitchell, just cos your old man is wealthy and you go to a posh fucking school?” Grabbing Martin by the hair, Frankie forced his head back and fisted him full in the face.
Huddling on the freezing pavement, arms over his head, knees drawn up, Martin tried to make himself as small as possible to reduce the surface they could hurt with their feet and fists. He tasted blood in his mouth, felt his eye swelling and closing from the punch, an atmosphere of real, sickening violence had replaced the childish shoving and pushing, he could almost smell and taste his own fear, and sensed that they could too, and moreover, that they were feeding on it.
“Gerrup shit face.” Vince reached for his victim’s collar.
Martin found himself being dragged to his feet, a sneering face thrust itself into his.
“We’ll give you a fair chance, we’ll count to five, then we’re coming for you.”
Frankie put on a mock upper class accent. “Can’t say fairer than that old boy, what, sporting chance.”
As soon as his collar was released, Martin took to his heels, running wildly down the street.
Vince, not bothering with the preliminaries of one to four, yelled, “FIVE...let’s get him lads!” Whooping and screaming, they hurtled after their quarry.
Martin now knew how a fox felt as it was pursued by hounds. He also knew without a doubt, that if the pack behind him caught him, they would tear him apart. He headed for the safety of home, turning into Schoolhouse Lane, gasping for breath, they were almost on top of him and he was just about spent.
With a sob he launched himself desperately from the curb...straight into the path of a car turning in. Bouncing off the bonnet he fell sprawling across the pavement on the opposite side of the road.
Thomas didn’t at first recognise the dishevelled figure that ran out of the darkness into the path of his, thankfully slow moving, car. Heart pounding with shock, he drew to a halt, got out of the driver’s seat and hurried towards the crumpled figure on the ground. “Martin!” He stared in horror at his son, the headlights of the car illuminating injuries that it definitely had not caused, “who did this?”
Martin heard the voice, but half stunned with the impact and witless with fear, didn’t recognise it. He scrambled to his feet, yelling as his arm was taken, flailing about, screaming to be let alone.
“Martin, it’s me!” Thomas spoke sharply, giving the child a shake to bring him to his senses. He half carried him to the car, asking him a few questions in a low voice, “sit there darling, I won’t be long,” he closed the car door, turning to face the small group of hard faced youths who had made no attempt to run off. He knew two of them, all too well.
Martin sank thankfully into the car’s leather upholstery.
“Daddy to the rescue,” jeered Frankie, “how touching!” He raised his voice, “but we’ll get you next time, you little shit.” Suddenly, without warning, he found himself dangling a foot from the ground, held effortlessly by the scruff of the neck.
“Tell your brother to get my son’s belongings,” Thomas shook the struggling figure like a terrier shaking a rat, but his voice was icily calm, “and tell him to do it quickly, or I’ll let you hang yourself with your own weight.”
Frankie could hardly breathe as the collar of his leather jacket tightened round his throat, “do it Vince,” he choked, his eyes popping, “he’s strangling me.” He struggled wildly, but it only made the choking sensation worse. “DO IT!”
Once Vince had taken off, Thomas allowed Frankie’s feet to rest on the ground. The other youths, standing well out of reach, watched the proceedings with interest.
Vince soon returned, holding the school satchel in his hands. He threw it across the pavement. Thomas shook his head, dangling Frankie off the ground again, “pick it up,” he barked, “let me see inside!” He gazed in disgust at the mutilated books.
Vince staggered back, dropping the bag in shock, as the back of a hand flicked across his mouth, drawing blood as his bottom lip scraped across his teeth.
“Nineteen,” spat Thomas furiously, “you’re nineteen and picking on a child of barely fourteen. Perhaps you’d like to pick a fight with me?”
Abandoning his brother to his fate, Vince took to his heels and fled, closely followed by the other two youths. Frankie felt a squeeze of fear as a pair of cold eyes turned on him.
“Just you and me now Francis. Still, that’s better odds than you and your mates gave my son.” Thomas curled his lip in contempt, “feels good does it, beating up a younger, much smaller boy?” He dragged him towards the car, opening the door, “say sorry Francis, say it really nicely and I just might keep the police out of this matter, I don’t think your poor mother could stretch herself to visiting all her family in prison.”
Frankie hastily bleated an apology.
“If you or your despicable brother ever lay hands on my son again, I’ll not only thrash you both to within a hair’s breadth of your life, I’ll make sure you do a spell in Borstal.” Thomas let go of the boy’s collar, watching as he raced off in the direction the others had taken. He climbed back into the car, driving it the short distance home without saying a word.
“I wanted to see Laura.” Martin winced as his father checked him over properly, and inspected the damage to his face in the comfortingly familiar light of the kitchen.
“Disobeying my wishes, yet again,” said Thomas sternly. “I ought to put you across my knee, but I doubt you’d notice a pat on the bottom amongst all this. It wouldn’t have happened if you’d come straight home from school, as you were supposed to.” He shook his head despairingly, “this is the second time in your life I’ve almost run you over Martin, what is it with you? God knows what would have happened if I hadn’t had an important church meeting this evening that meant me finishing early. I’m absolutely fed up with your behaviour. You’re always complaining that I treat you like a child, but the fact is you behave like a ten year old. If you’re not doing something stupid with Laura, you’re doing something even more stupid with Paul. Now this. You’ve been given a good education, good opportunities, but you’ve made little attempt to take advantage of them, preferring to run around the streets, coming up against yobs like Frank Hall and his brother.”
“Sorry,” Martin covered his face with his hands, snuffling and snorting, crying awkward, clumsy, teenage tears.
“Alright darling,” Thomas relented, putting his arms round the trembling boy, drawing him close, comforting him, stroking his hair gently. Sometimes he wondered if they’d sheltered and protected Martin too much, particularly in view of the area in which they’d made their home. It was a tough part of the country, children were expected to grow up fast, earning their own livings as soon as possible. There weren’t many who would be dependent on their parents, going to school until they were eighteen. He dropped a small kiss on Martin’s dark hair, “alright, it’s alright, shush now, you’re safe.”
“Daddy,” Martin sobbed, clinging tightly to his parent, leaking blood, snot, and tears down the front of his shirt. “I was so frightened daddy, I thought they were going to kill me. I’m such a coward.”
“No,” Thomas hugged him tighter, touched by the childish reversion to calling him daddy. “You had every right to be frightened. They’re all older and bigger than you, as well as being practised thugs. The only cowardice on show was theirs. Now,” he took a deep breath, “let’s clean and patch you up, before your mother gets back.”
“Too late, I am back.” Evelyn gave a cry of dismay as Martin raised his face from his father’s chest, she hurried over to him, “oh, my poor baby, what happened, who did this?”
“Goodnight Martin,” his mother embraced him gently so as not to jar his bruised ribs.
“I’m really sorry, about the fireworks and everything.”
She kissed him affectionately. “I know you are darling, let’s say no more about it.”
“Goodnight dad, I promise never to do anything like that again.”
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep Martin,” Thomas smiled wryly, then also embraced and kissed his son. “Goodnight, I love you.”
Martin ached all over, he had a black eye, a cut lip, a bruised cheek, a sprained ankle, as well as numerous other bruises on his body, but he went to bed feeling happier than he’d felt all week.
Laura called next day, after school, the dolphin knocker on the door taking a trouncing as she insistently whammed it up and down. Evie was glad that Thomas was still at work, he’d threatened to unscrew the knocker if she banged it like that one more time.
Laura beamed at Evie. “I know Martin isn’t allowed out, but it’s you that I’ve come to see Mrs Mitchell, I want to give you something.” She handed over a small gift wrapped package.
Puzzled, Evelyn opened it, giving a cry of surprised delight, before promptly giving way to tears.
“I thought you’d be happy Mrs Mitchell, I didn’t mean to upset you.” Laura stared at her friend’s mother in consternation.
Evelyn reached out and drew the girl into a warm embrace, “I am happy Laura, believe me. Come and tell me all about it.”
Laura had sneaked the broken frame out of the box of items destined for the bin. She had taken it to her father who had taken it to work, carefully soldering the soft pewter frame back together, matching the elaborate pattern, and mending it so neatly that it was almost impossible to tell where it had been broken. He got someone to cut a piece of glass to fit, and presto, the frame was almost as good as new.
Evelyn took the precious photograph from the drawer, placing it back in the frame and setting it back in its familiar place on the piano.
“Thank you Laura, this means so much to me, I’ll go round and see your father later to thank him, so very kind of him” She sighed as a pair of brown eyes gazed at her imploringly, “go on then, go up and see Martin, he’s poorly in bed, he could do with cheering up.”
Poor Martin was so stiff after the beating he’d received, that he could hardly move when he woke up that morning, and his parents had agreed that he was in no fit state for school.
Evie watched Laura bound happily up the stairs and leaning against the banister she waited. Her cry of horror reverberated around the house almost as noisily as the sound of the doorknocker.
“BLOODY HELL, MARTIN, DID YOU GET THE NUMBER OF THE SODDING TRUCK?” Then again, “I’LL BLOODY KILL THEM, THE COWARDLY BAS...”
Evie cleared her throat, calling out sharply, “you stop that bad language at once, young lady. Do you hear me?”
“Yes Mrs Mitchell, very sorry Mrs Mitchell, it just slipped out with the shock of seeing Mart.”
“Hmmm,” Evie suppressed a smile and went back into the sitting room to admire the photograph frame.
Copyright Ester Phillips / Cat 2006 - 2015